In compiling the cookbook, "Polish Classic Recipes," an extension of a critically acclaimed cookbook called "The Art of Polish Cooking," by his mother, Alina Zeranska in 1968, Peter and Laura Zeranski created a book of traditional recipes handed down through the generations. And it was the topic of discussion at the Lunch with Books program at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling on May 8.
"We wanted to stay with three key ideas in the cookbook: Staying true to the roots of the Polish dishes, presenting the recipes so the reader could prepare them successfully and seeing smiles around the table at the end of the meal," Peter Zeranski said.
Peter was born in Europe to Polish parents who immigrated to Canada and then moved to Bethel Park in Pittsburgh. Laura was a Pittsburgh resident then as well.
FAMILY COOKBOOK — Peter Zeranski shows off the family cookbook, “Polish Classic Recipes,” put together in honor of his mother, Alina Zeranska. The book was the topic of the Lunch with Books program at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling on May 8. From left are Zeranski; Sean Duffy, Ohio County Public LIbrary programming and publicity; and Laura Zeranski. The cookbooks were for sale, and samples of food from the book were served.
-- Esther McCoy
Laura, who came into the family in 1973, wanted to prepare dishes like her mother-in-law and became very adept at Polish cooking and in time took over cooking the Sunday and holiday meals.
"Smacznego," Polish for Bon Appetite, was the greeting Zeranski used to start his program to a packed auditorium, many who came with a sack lunch. He spoke other words that those familiar with the Polish language knew and responded.
"I am not a professional chef. I cooked with a grandmother who had Polish roots," she said. In perfecting recipes for the cookbook, the couple spent much time working on the correct ingredients, with Peter serving as the palate who would check to see if the food would taste the same as that of his mother.
"We went to Pelican Publishing to update my mother's cookbook, written in 1968, but it was suggested that we do our own cookbook. We put together 96 pages of recipes for our presentation," he said.
The cookbook was for sale and the couple signed each one, including the one written by his mother that was brought in by a cook who had purchased it nearly 40 years ago.
Dishes from the cookbook were prepared by the Zeranski's and Sean Duffy, Ohio County Public Library programming and publicity director. This included Hunter's Stew, Beets with Horseradish, Marinated Beet Salad, a slice of Polish ham that is much leaner than the American brands and Chocolate Mazurka, with a base that resembles shortbread and is covered with chocolate topping.
Here are some of the recipes from "Polish Classic Recipes."
This dish featured on the front of the cookbook is an excellent way to use leftover meat in a one-dish meal.
1/4 cup dried mushrooms
1/2 cup water
2 pounds sauerkraut
1 large apple, peeled, cored and sliced
2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 cup cooked Polish sausage, sliced and quartered
1 cup leftover meat, such as pork, beef or veal, chopped in 1-inch pieces
1 cup coarsely chopped bacon, pre-cooked
Soak dried mushrooms in the water for 2 hours. Place mushrooms and water in a small pan. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid. Chop mushrooms into rough pieces. Wash sauerkraut thoroughly and squeeze out the water. Put sauerkraut in a large pot. Add mushrooms and reserved liquid. Add apples, tomatoes, peppercorns and bay leaf. Break up tomatoes into small pieces. Cover and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add meat and bacon. Cover and simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally. Serves five to six.
Note: There is no strict recipe for making an amazing Hunter's Stew. The apple, tomatoes and proportions of meats to sauerkraut can be easily varied to suit anyone's taste. Dried mushrooms are key to this particular version, and if you can the get the ones imported from Poland, the earthy flavors will be more intense.
Pierogi dough needs to be rolled out very thin or the finished product will be doughy, according to Laura. You should be able to nearly see through it.
2/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water for sealing
Whisk together two eggs and salt. Stir in half of the flour until it is incorporated, then add the remainder and continue to stir. When the mixture forms a thick, sticky dough, place on a floured surface. Using additional flour, knead until you have a smooth, supple dough that is soft but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic or cover with a bowl and let rest for 15 minutes. Take half of the dough and roll out as thin as possible on a floured surface. It should be almost transparent, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Cut the dough into 3- or 4-inch rounds or circles. For the filling, place a small amount of filling in the center of a round. Be sure to leave a 1/4-inch edge around the entire circumference. Don't use too much filling or the pierogi won't fold in half properly, the filling could spill out or dough will tear. Also, over-stuffed pierogi can burst during cooking. It is better to under-fill than over-fill. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. In batches, place the pierogi in the boiling water. When they float or sail to the top of the water, continue to boil for 10-12 minutes. Cooking time will vary according to the size and filling type. Test one to see if the dough is cooked. It should be the texture of moderate to firmly cooked pasta. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. For storing and serving later, pierogi may be partially cooked and frozen. Freeze individual pierogi on a covered tray. Try not to stack against each other. After they have frozen, they may be stored in portion-sized plastic freezer bags for up to 6 months. When ready to serve, remove pierogi from plastic bags and drop in lightly boiling water. Cook for a few minutes until thoroughly heated and the edges are the texture of moderate to firmly cooked pasta. Makes 45 to 50 three-inch pierogi.
Potato and Cheese Filling for Pierogi
Pierogi z Ziemniakami i Serem
1 pound uncooked potatoes
2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons butter
8 ounces cottage cheese, well drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook potatoes until fork tender and mash. Don't add liquid when mashing. Heat butter in a saute pan on medium high heat. Add onions and spread out evenly in the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and caramel colored. Combine onions with potatoes and cottage cheese. Season to taste. Put filling in the pierogi dough, seal and cook as directed in the dough recipe. Pour a little melted butter over the tops before serving. As another traditional option, melt butter in a skillet and lightly fry the pierogi on both sides until golden. Top with crisp, crumbled bacon and fried onions.
This filling is without potatoes and using a different cheese.
Pierogi z Serem
1 pound farmer's cheese
Salt and pepper
Combine cheese and egg and mix thoroughly. Put filling in the pierogi dough, seal and cook as dough recipe directs.
This is more like a dessert pierogi. It can be filled with any fruit, but this recipe is with cherries and covered with a creamy sauce.
Pierogi z Owocami
2 cups fruit, can be pitted cherries or peeled apples or blueberries
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 to 4 tablespoons fine, dry bread crumbs, optional
Toss the fruit with flour. Combine fruit, water and sugar in a saucepan. Over medium heat, bring fruit mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until fruit is tender and water is almost evaporated. Remove from heat. Add cinnamon to fruit and mash slightly. Cook mixture over low heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. The bread crumbs may be added to thicken the fruit mixture, if necessary. Put filling in pierogi dough, seal and cook. Combine 1 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Serve over pierogis.
Here is a quick method of making pierogi. The filling ingredients are inside the actual dough.
1 pound farmer's cheese
1 tablespoon butter
4 eggs separated
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine cheese, butter and egg yolks. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Alternating with the beaten egg whites, add flour and salt to the cheese mixture. Mix lightly. Place dough onto lightly floured board. Form into three long rolls, about 1-inch wide. Flatten rolls slightly with the blade of a knife. Cut at a slight angle into 2/3-inch pieces. The pierogi will look like small pillows. Cook in batches in boiling salt water. Pierogi will float to the top after about 3 minutes. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes and check for doneness. Surest way is to cut one in half to see if it is cooked through. Cook for an additional few minutes, if needed. It should be pillowy soft and cooked through the middle. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.
Note: For toppings, melted butter can be poured over the lazyman's pierogi and then sprinkled with butter-browned bread crumbs. Or, melted butter can be poured over pierogi and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
Another note: The pierogi dough will be sticky. Before working the dough, lightly flour the hands, cutting board and knife to avoid a sticky mess.
Laura identifies this as one of her favorite dishes. She makes it for Christmas Eve suppers, following the traditions that her husband, Peter, grew up with, the same traditions that his parents and their parents grew up with. She noted that Peter was the one to make the crepes for the dish.
Crepes with Sauerkraut and Mushrooms
Nalesniki z Kapusta i Grzybami
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix milk with the eggs, flour, water and salt in a blender or hand mixer at low speed. Heat a small non-stick skillet which measures 6 to 7 inches across the base. If you have a crepe pan, this would be great. Brush with or lightly spray the bottom with cooking oil. Pour a small amount of batter into the medium hot skillet. For a 6-inch pan, use just under 1/3 cup batter per crepe. Start swirling the pan around so the batter will evenly cover the bottom and put back on the burner. When the crepe becomes firm on top, between 45 to 60 seconds, and just starts to lightly brown on the bottom, turn over and cook the other side for another 15 seconds or so. Remove from the pan and stack on a plate with wax paper between to prevent sticking. Continue the process until all batter is used. You should get 8 to 10 crepes from one batch.
1/2 pound sauerkraut
2 tablespoons butter or bacon fat
1 onion, chopped
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 egg beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
Rinse sauerkraut thoroughly in a colander. Squeeze to remove excess water. Place sauerkraut in a small amount of boiling water. Cook for 20 minutes and drain. Heat the butter or fat in a skillet. Add onions and fry until golden. Add mushrooms and fry an additional 3 minutes. Add the sauerkraut and fry until golden. Season to taste. Remove from the heat and add egg and sour cream. Mix well. Spoon a small amount of filling into the center of a crepe. Fold in envelope fashion to completely encase the filling. Roll the stuffed crepe in egg and then in bread crumbs. Fry in butter until golden on both sides. Serve either hot or warm. Makes from eight to 10 crepes.
My Grandmother Kollar and mom made these, although they did not make them into angels. They were just strips that curled up a bit. Peter told me that Czechoslovakian cooking is much like Polish cooking, and this is an example. I really loved them.
Angel Wing Crisps
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons light rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon both orange and lemon extracts
1 teaspoon both lemon and orange zests
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil for frying
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Additional flour for kneading
Cream egg yolks and whole egg with sugar. Add the sour cream, rum, vanilla, extracts and zests and mix until smooth. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Mix into the egg mixture a little at a time to make a stiff dough. Turn dough onto a floured surface, Knead dough, keeping it and the surface well floured as you knead. Allow the dough to absorb as much flour as possible until no longer sticky. Separate dough into smaller portions and roll very thin, The dough should be almost transparent. Cut strips about 1 1/2 inches wide and 4 inches long. Make a 1-inch slit, lengthwise, toward one end of the strip. Pull the long end of the strip through the slit. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry cookies in small batches in the hot oil, turning once. The cookies will fry quickly, in a minute or less. They should be evenly golden, not brown. Drain on paper towels. When cool, dust with powdered sugar. Cookies are best when eaten right away. However, they may be stored in an air tight container with wax paper between the layers, without powdered sugar. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.
Note: With a deep fryer, the cookies may crisp up more evenly because the oil will hold its temperature more consistently. Also, using a standing mixer with a dough hook works just as well as hand kneading and is considerably easier.
(McCoy can be contacted at email@example.com.)