Sugarbird's Sweet Nothings

I am passionate about food. And cooking. And baking. And running. Come and find a new recipe, a funny story, some strong opinions and whatever else I feel like throwing in the mix today.

Archive for the ‘Daring Cooks Challenges’ Category

August 16th, 2010 by Clarabella

The interesting world of pierogi

The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

This was an interesting challenge. I had never heard of pierogi before and the concept was new to me. But after doing a lot of reading up on the subject and reading of various recipes, I came to the conclusion that pierogi are almost like a type of filled pasta, reminiscent of ravioli or any other filled pasta. The dough is essentially the same ingredients, and they are filled and boiled in a very filled-pasta like way. 

Part of the challenge was an option to make a filling that included our local/native ingredients. I currently live in Manchester, England but I am not originally from Manchester, or from the UK at all, and although there is a lot of local food that I enjoy, I could not think of a filling that would be considered ‘Manchesterian’ (not a real word I know but this is my blog and I am allowed to make words up). I am South African and had I been home I am sure that I could have concocted a biltong/boerewors/bobotie filled pierogi, but not being home I don’t exactly have any good local ingredients to hand. So, in the interest of trying original pierogi i thought I’d try Anula’s family recipe for the Russian style pierogi.  

The process of making the pierogi was fun. I love cooking that is an experience, a project, and this was certainly that. The dough was a good kneading effort, and a lot of muscle power went into the rolling out. If I had to make them again I would make use of my dear pasta machine to save my arms the fight with the dough and the what felt like hours of rolling out. 

Then the cutting out and filling and cooking was fairly straightforward and although I couldn’t stop myself from adding ‘a bit of this and a bit of that’ to the filling as I am prone to do, I tried to stick to the recipe. 

The end result was fairly successful, and quite enjoyable with my roast lamb and salad on the side, but I think I would do a few things differently if I made them again. The pasta machine for one, to get thinner, smaller parcels. And fill the parcels a bit more as my filling seemed to shrink while the pasta grew in the cooking process, leaving the end result a bit out of proportion. But it was certainly a learning experience, and one that I hope to build on in future experiments. 

Russian style pierogi (makes 4 generous servings, around 30 dumplings)

(Traditional Polish recipe, although each family will have their own version, this is Anula’s family recipe)
2 to 2 1/2 cups (300 to 375 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
About 1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water
3 big potatoes, cooked & mashed (1 1/2 cup instant or leftover mashed potatoes is fine too)   
1 cup (225 g) cottage cheese, drained       
1 onion, diced & sauteed in butter until clear
3 slices of streaky bacon, diced and fried till crispy (you can add more bacon if you like or omit that part completely if you’re vegetarian)
1 egg yolk (from medium egg)
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, melted       
1/4 (1.25 ml) teaspoon salt       
pinch of pepper to taste    
1. Combine all the ingredients for the filling (it’s best to use one’s hands to do that) put into the bowl, cover and set aside in the fridge until you have to use it.
2. Place 2 cups flour in a large bowl or on a work surface and make a well in the center. Break the egg into it, add the salt and a little lukewarm at a time (in my situation 1/2 cup was enough). Bring the dough together, kneading well and adding more flour or water as necessary. Cover the dough with a bowl or towel. You’re aiming for soft dough. Let it rest 20 minutes.
3. On a floured work surface, roll the dough out thinly (1/8” or about 3 millimeters) cut with a 2-inch (5 cm) round or glass (personally I used 4-inch/10 cm cutter as it makes nice size pierogi – this way I got around 30 of them and 1 full, heaped teaspoon of filling is perfect for that size). Spoon a portion (teaspoon will be the best) of the filling into the middle of each circle. Fold dough in half and pinch edges together. Gather scraps, re-roll and fill. Repeat with remaining dough.
4. Bring a large, low saucepan of salted water to boil. Drop in the pierogi, not too many, only single layer in the pan! Return to the boil and reduce heat. When the pierogi rise to the surface, continue to simmer a few minutes more ( usually about 5 minutes). Remove one dumpling with a slotted spoon and taste if ready. When satisfied, remove remaining pierogi from the water.
5. Serve immediately preferably with creme fraiche or fry. Cold pierogi can be fried.  Boiled Russian pierogi can be easily frozen and boiled taken out straight from the freezer.
July 18th, 2010 by Clarabella

Daring Cooks – Nut Butters

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

This months challenge was deceptive in its simplicity I think. I did fine it very simple and easy to do, but the effectiveness of the nut butter and the totally unique element that it added to what would otherwise have been a very simple pasta dish was extraordinary. 

I would never have thought up the idea of making a nut butter myself. I am a huge fan of peanut butter and the delicious satay sauce I have made with it, so why it has never occurred to me to make a nut butter myself and think up some applications – I don’t know. I can’t say that I am the world’s most creative cook so that is probably why I can take someone else’s recipe and put my own twist on it and make it uniquely mine, but to think up something from scratch is sadly beyond my talents I think. 

This is why I am grateful for the Daring Cooks and Bakers. It inspires me in completely unique ways, allows me the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone, and try something different with the moral support and inspiration of all the other Daring Cooks. I have to admit that I was not sold on the idea of mushrooms and pecan nuts but it is a gorgeous combination and one that I will certainly be trying again. 

Chicken with Pecan Cream & Mushrooms
Yield: 4 servings
Pecan Cream:
3/4 cup (180 ml) coarsely chopped pecans*, toasted
1 cup (240 ml) water
¾ teaspoon (3 ml) salt, more as needed
½ pound (225 g) pasta
4 (6-ounce / 170 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) deglazing liquid (water, broth, wine; optional)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil, more as needed
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped shallots
½ pound (225 g) mushrooms, sliced
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
Chopped pecans, (optional garnish)
  1. Prepare pecan cream. Grind pecans in a food processor for about a minute or so until smooth, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed. Add water and 3/4 teaspoon (3 ml) salt; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Set aside pecan cream. (*If starting with prepared pecan butter, blend ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons (90 ml) pecan butter with the water and salt until smooth.)
  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water. Drain, rinse, and keep warm.
  3. Cut chicken into even strips/cubes as desired. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken; sauté 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, adding more oil if needed for second batch. Set aside cooked chicken on a clean plate, cover to keep warm.
  4. Add deglazing liquid to pan if using and stir up any browned bits. If needed, add another teaspoon (5 ml) of oil (or more) to pan for sautéing the shallots and mushrooms. Sauté the shallots and mushrooms over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and starting to brown. Add fresh thyme to the pan. Stir in pecan cream; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 minutes till reduced slightly.
  5. Slice chicken into thin strips. Divide the noodles among serving plates. Add a scoop of the mushroom pecan sauce on top of noodles. Lay sliced chicken on top. Garnish with fresh thyme and/or a pinch of chopped pecans if desired.
May 14th, 2010 by Clarabella


Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.

When I first read the details of this challenge I honestly did not think that it would be all that challenging (this months daring bakers has been the one giving me nightmares!). How little did I know. My first challenge was sourcing ingredients. The only tomatillos that I could find ANYWHERE were the tinned variety. As i have never seen these before let alone used them in my cooking I was not certain that these would suffice, but I did not really have much of a choice. The next challenge was the chillis to use for teh green chilli sauce. Nowhere I hunted had large, no-so-hot green chillis of the type described in the recipe and in all my online research I could not find any alternatives locally available. So I had to get creative with the ingredients.

I also thought that I’d make my own tortillas which was not a requirement but I thought would be fun (ha!) and not that hard (ha ha!). This, was a disaster, to say the very least. The first batch were a total write off and the 2nd batch were barly passable because we were so tired by that stage that we did not much care what we were going to eat as long as we could eat and then go to bed! I don;’t know whether it was my lack of tortilla pan that was the issue or some part of my dough-mixing technique but the tortillas did not look pretty and they tasted barely edible.

But, it was a good laugh so I can’t really grumble. My chilli sauce ended up being a red chilli enchilada sauce rather than a green one due to the (un)availability of ingredients but it had a good flavour and packed quite a kick which went really well with the chicken, tortillas and cheese (although I ran out of cheese so had none left to put on the top). I also made mango salsa and guacamole to go with the enchiladas as no mouthful of enchilada is complete without them. My final verdict? I do love a good enchilada, but (and I know its complete and utter sacrilege) I may stick to the Old El Paso kits in future!
Or at least that is how I was feeling at 9pm after making overly hot chilli sauce, bizarre tasting mole sauce and the ugliest tortillas that I have ever seen. Honestly, I will probably attempt these guys again some time, maybe when I have a whole day to spare and not feeling under the week-day pressure. I may resort to store-bought tortillas though as mine were just too horrendous for words.  That will teach me to underestimate the challenge of a DC challenge!

I am now determined that next month will be better and I will NOT underestiamte the challenge and I WILL make a sucess of it!

April 16th, 2010 by Clarabella

A very New Taste

The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.

Although the principle of most stews are generally all pretty similar, they can have very different flavours and this one is not exception. I can honeslt say that it is a unique taste and I have never tasted anything like it. I do love trying new things and experimenting and to make something like this that was unlike anything that I have attempted before, was a great adventure.

Unfortunately I really had no idea where to get rabbit, so I ended up using chicken and pork, which I would hardly call adventurous. Regardless this culinary foray into the unknown was nonetheless distinctive in flavour. I don’t know what it is about the recipe that makes it so different. Maybe it is the lack of herb, maybe the vinegar which i rarely use, but whatever it was it was an education to my palate. being of South African origin, and having lived in New Zealand and now Manchester, England, I have never, ever made anything that is from the South-Eastern of the US of A. When I was reading about the origins of the dish, I was fascinated by the 2 possible origins for the original and first ever Brunswick Stew. We may never know where exactly it came from but I know where its going, into my recipe book for future use.

In a very TV-chef like fasion I tried to be very organised with this recipe and prepped all my ingredients before-hand and put them into cute little bowls for ease and speed of constructing the final dish. It takes some time but it does make the cooking process much simpler and easier by doing all the prep ahead. I may work like this more often from now on. I did use pancetta in the recipe instead of the specified slab bacon as I could not find slab bacon on my shoppint trip and I thought pancetta would suffice, and it certainly did. My only other variatios were using pork instead of rabbit and using Adzuki beans instead of butterbeans. Although i would love to try cooking with it I did not know where to buy rabbit, and I’ve never been a huge fan of butterbeans so I used what I had in the cupboard.

The stew did take some time to make but it is a nice Sunday afternoon endeavour and the finished result tasted fabulous. Its also so verstaile that you could tweak and change it as you like to suite your taste. A definite keeper! Now bring on the next Daring Cooks Challenge!

Recipe One, the Long Way-

From “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners” by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

Serves about 12

1/4 lb / 113.88 grams / 4 oz slab bacon, rough diced
2 Serrano, Thai or other dried red chiles, stems trimmed, sliced, seeded, flattened
1lb / 455.52 grams / 16oz rabbit, quartered, skinned
1 4-5lb / 1822.08- 2277.6 grams / 64-80oz chicken, quartered, skinned, and most of the fat removed
1 Tablespoon / 14.235 grams / ½ oz sea salt for seasoning, plus extra to taste
2-3 quarts / 8-12 cups / 64.607-96.9oz Sunday Chicken Broth (recipe below)
2 Bay leaves
2 large celery stalks
2lbs / 911.04 grams / 32oz Yukon Gold potatoes, or other waxy type potatoes, peeled, rough diced
1 ½ cups / 344.88 grams / 12.114oz carrots (about 5 small carrots), chopped
3 ½ / 804.72 grams / 28.266oz cups onion (about 4 medium onions) chopped
2 cups / 459.84 grams / 16.152oz fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob (about 4 ears)
3 cups / 689.76 grams / 24.228oz butterbeans, preferably fresh (1 ¼ lbs) or defrosted frozen
1 35oz can / 996.45 grams / 4 cups whole, peeled tomatoes, drained
¼ cup / 57.48 grams / 2.019 oz red wine vinegar
Juice of 2 lemons
Tabasco sauce to taste