Although my father was of Hungarian descent, Eastern European traditions, including foods, were not part of our holiday celebrations. We ate ham and turkey and green bean casserole in December. The stuff on tables in Norman Rockwell paintings.
My husband’s family, meanwhile, basically dragged Poland with them when they moved to the U.S. To walk into his parents’ house is to giant-step across the ocean—especially on Christmas Eve, when the whole clan gathers for something called wigilia.
It’s a feast of symbolic foods, and, I’m going to be honest, I dislike nearly all of them, from the multiple manipulations of cabbage and beets to the mushrooms with something called “groats.”
My saving grace at this meal?
Dumplings filled with potatoes, drenched in butter and caramelized onions and slathered in sour cream… My mouth is watering right now.
Better yet? There is a quiet pierogi war among the women of the family, who bring the same dish, yet their own distinctly different variations, to the table each year.
A holiday dough-and-’tater grudge match with jealousies simmering like dumplings in water?
Count this murder mystery writer in!
In fact, one year, I couldn’t stand just sitting ringside anymore. Ignoring my children’s warnings, and my husband’s desperate pleas, I brought my own pierogi to wigilia, springing the lumpy little pockets onto an unsuspecting crowd. Several dumplings were politely eaten. Many were sent home. Much laughter probably ensued after we drove away.
But you know what?
Each year, I get better. And, because pierogi require, above all else, patience, I’ve come to appreciate the time I spend in my cozy kitchen, working with the comforting foods while the newly arrived winter frosts the windows, the radio plays Christmas songs, and a fire burns in the fireplace. That’s my take on the tradition.
You, too, can enjoy this wonderful Polish dish at one of your holiday celebrations. It just takes a few hours, a willingness to make some initial mistakes—and butter. A lot of butter.
Wesołych Świąt! (Happy holidays!)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ stick butter, plus more as will be needed
- 2 pounds sweet onions
- 5 cups mashed potatoes (I make them with milk, butter and sour cream.)
- 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg whites
All-purpose flour as needed
1. To make the dough, combine the egg yolk, milk, 1/2 cup water, and the vegetable oil. Mix well. Place flour in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients, about one-third at a time, using your hands to incorporate the wet ingredients between additions. Add a little extra flour if the dough feels too sticky, but keep in mind that it will pick up flour when rolled out. Don’t make it too dry.
2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and knead for about three minutes. When the dough is smooth, form it into a ball, transfer it to a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
3. While the dough is chilling, caramelize the onions by melting butter in a skillet, adding the onions and cooking over medium heat. The longer you do this, the better the topping. If you’re patient, the onions will turn deep brown. This may take as long as a half hour and require more butter as needed.
4. In a large bowl, combine a generous half cup of the onions and the cheese with the mashed potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reserve the remaining onions.
5. When the dough is ready to roll, combine the eggs whites with a few splashes of water, keeping that mix handy. Divide the dough into four roughly equal parts. Place one part on a well-floured work surface and roll it out to about 1/16 of an inch. Use a round cookie cutter or wide-rimmed drinking glass to cut out circles.
6. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle, brush the egg white mixture on the outer edge and fold the pierogi into crescents. Crimp the edges firmly with a fork. This is key! If your pierogi aren’t sealed well, they will fall apart in the water.
7. Boil water in a pot. Using a slotted spoon or spider, lower the pierogi several at a time into the water and cook for three to four minutes. Remove with the spoon or spider and drain.
8. Repeat rolling, filling and boiling until all the dough and filling are used up.
9. If you like your dumplings with a little crunch, fry lightly in butter before eating. Either way, top your masterpieces with the reserved onion and a generous glop of sour cream.
My three daughters have embraced the pierogi tradition. Hint: Use a plastic table cloth for easy clean up!
Professional pet sitter Daphne Templeton loves the holidays in Sylvan Creek, Pennsylvania. And nothing gets her into the spirit more than the town’s annual Bark the Halls Ball. The whole community will be there to wag their tails, especially this year’s special guest—Celeste “CeeCee” French, founder of a national chain of pet care franchises, who’s returning home to announce plans for a bright new flagship store.
But not everyone’s celebrating CeeCee’s homecoming. Daphne’s friend Moxie Bloom, owner of Spa and Paw, a unique salon for people and their pets, has plenty to growl about. So when CeeCee is found face down under Sylvan Creek’s town Christmas tree, stabbed with a distinctive pair of professional-grade pet shears, suspicion lands squarely on Moxie. Despite Daphne’s promises to Detective Jonathan Black, she quickly reprises her role as amateur sleuth. Ably assisted by her basset hound sidekick, Socrates, she must hurry to prove her friend’s innocence before a killer barks again . . .
Includes recipes for homemade pet treats!
“Doggone charming from start to finish!” —Cleo Coyle, New York Times bestselling author on Death by Chocolate Lab