Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hill's Kitchen Cooking Class

Hill’s Kitchen is an independent gourmet kitchenware store that opened in May 2008 adjacent to the Eastern Market Metro station. The store occupies a renovated and extended townhouse built in 1884 in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C.  In addition to fine kitchen products, a knowledgeable staff, and excellent service, classes and demonstrations are available upstairs.

When looking for a fun activity to do during Keith's birthday weekend, I looked up classes offered and the pierogi class caught my eye. Pierogi are Polish dumplings of unleavened dough – first boiled, then they are baked or fried usually in butter with onions – traditionally stuffed with potato filling, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese, or fruit.  We often get pierogis from Keith's parents when we go home to visit them.  They get the cheese filled ones from either a Polish market or homemade from Keith's grandfather.

This was a participation class taught by Marta Mirecki, a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine’s Culinary Arts Program. She has worked as a line cook at French restaurants, taught cooking classes at community centers, and cooked up 80 gallons of soup at a time for Food & Friends, an organization that provides meals and groceries for people with HIV/AIDS and other life-challenging illnesses. These days Marta is the head cook and bottle washer with Tiny House Chef Personal Chef Service.

During this hands-on class we learned techniques for perfect dough, delicious fillings, and easy assembly.  First, we made the dough simply using flour, egg, and water.  After kneading until done, we split our dough in half and saved the rest under a towel.

Next, we rolled out the dough using a pasta rolling machine, which made it super easy to keep the dough at an even thickness. However, we learned you can easily do this with a regular rolling pin too.  Marta came by each table to ensure our dough was coming along properly.

Once the dough was ready, we grabbed our prepped fillings.  Marta explained the fillings earlier in the class, and had prepared them the night before in an effort to save time in the class and ensure the fillings were set up and easier for us to handle.  Three of four pierogi fillings we used in the class were vegetarian and one had meat.  But you can get as creative as you want at home, and make a variety of sweet or savory pierogi.

Clockwise from top: potato & farmer's cheese, meat & onion, blueberry, lentil & mushroom.
After cutting out little circles in the dough, put a little of the filling off-center.  Fold the dough over and use some water to seal up the edges.  Marta pointed out a good tip was to make only one or two at first, boil it, and then taste it. That way you know if you have to adjust the seasoning of the filling first, before making a whole batch of bad pierogis. 

Continue making all the pierogis and then boil them for about 4 minutes in oiled water, watching that they don't stick together or to the bottom of the pot.  After the pierogis are boiled, you can either eat them right away, pan fry them in browned butter, or freeze for later.  Marta mentioned we should never freeze un-boiled or raw pierogi, as the egg in the dough will spoil and turn everything gray.

Since we were a class of about 12 people, Keith manned the boiling station while I continued to fill and fold away. It was a little tricky to keep an eye on which pierogi was which, and whose was whose in the shared pots.  But everyone had their own style of folding so we were able to identify our own.  It was fun to be able to eat the pierogis right away and enjoy the fruits of our labor. 

We had plans after the class, so instead of taking any home, we stuffed our face with all the cooked ones we made. No complaints - as they made a great lunch!  The potato and cheese were the favorites in the class and had a classic flavor.  The lentil and mushroom were most unique and very tasty.  The blueberry were a bit tart and could have used more sugar, but overall all the pierogi were delicious.  This class super fun and Marta was an excellent instructor.  She was very clear in her instructions, took time to check on everyone, and moved us along at the right pace.  At $50 per person, the price was a bit high, but all the equipment and ingredients are provided in the 90-minute hands-on class.  Plus you are able to eat or take home whatever you make.  The class was really fun and engaging and a great event for couples, siblings, or mother-daughter teams.  Check out the other classes offered by Hill's Kitchen as well as my recipe for making pierogis at home.

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