Debra Tomicich and her husband, Ed, moved to the Kansas City area about 10 years ago and made a home for their three children in Olathe.
Debra, who loves to cook, works in customer service, while Ed works with stairlifts and elevators. They enjoy their three adult children and sharing family meals.
Q: Tell us about moving to Kansas City.
I am from New York and we moved here for my husband’s job. It was hard to leave my family.
Today, my family, including my mom, still lives in New York, Massachusetts or Maryland. Living in Olathe, in a suburban neighborhood is very different than living in New York, but we adapted and enjoy living here.
Q: How did you learn to cook?
My mother taught me to cook when I was just a child. I love cooking all kinds of food, both sweet and savory. I am creative and love the challenge of cooking new and beautiful foods. For example, trecolori, or Italian rainbow cookies, feature the colors of the Italian flag and I enjoy making the precise layers and identically cut squares. I love to try new recipes and especially enjoy making dishes associated with my family history.
Q: Please tell us more about your family.
Family is really important and I want my children to know their heritage. Family dinners, with traditional family recipes, are a great way to share our cultural heritage. My mother was Polish and my husband’s family was from Yugoslavia. We also have German and Italian roots. Now, I try to incorporate a dish or recipe that is traditionally Polish, German, Italian or Yugoslavian into every holiday or special meal for my family.
Q: What are pierogies and when do you serve them?
Pierogies are dumplings that are commonly filled with mashed potatoes and they are a traditional food from Poland or the Central to Eastern European countries. I always serve them at Christmas and Easter, or at other celebrations, but my children wish I would make them more often.
The recipe is named for my mom, and while her name is Olga, everyone calls her “Cookie.” My mom, and my great grandmother Julia told us not to count the pierogies before boiling them, since to do so would be bad luck and that meant they would open up at the seams.
Q: What tips do you have for those learning to cook?
Have fun when cooking and try new recipes.
Grandma Cookie’s Polish Pierogies
Makes about 72
5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
4 ½ to 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for dusting the board
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
Butter or margarine
Sour cream, optional, for serving
To prepare filling: Place potatoes in a large saucepan with water to cover. Heat until boiling, reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender and pierce easily with a fork.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently until the onions are tender.
Drain the potatoes and place in a large mixing bowl. Mash, using a potato masher (not an electric mixer.) Stir in the sauteed onions, cream cheese and salt and mash to incorporate the ingredients. Do not over mash. Set aside.
To prepare the dough: In a large bowl, using a spoon, mix together the flour, salt, eggs and water. Add a little additional water if needed to make the dough slightly sticky.
Divide the dough into thirds. Set one third out onto a lightly floured board. Cover the remaining dough to prevent drying. Rolled the dough until even and thin, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into circles using a 3-inch round cutter or a glass. Roll out each circle slightly.
Spoon about 2 tablespoons of potato filling into the center of the pastry circle. Fold the pastry over and pinch edges to seal. If needed, moisten the edges with a little water to help the pastry edges seal, but do not make the edges wet. Set each filled pierogie aside to dry.
To cook the pierogies: Fill a large cooking pot about ¾ full of lightly salted water. Heat water until boiling. Place several filled pierogies in the water and boil for 4 to 5 minutes.
When fully cooked, the pierogies will rise to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pierogies, drain and place on a wax paper lined tray to dry. Turn after a few minutes to dry both side and replace with new wax paper as needed. Repeat, boiling all pierogies.
When ready to serve, melt butter or margarine in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pierogies, in batches, in the butter for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Serve warm, with sour cream, if desired.
Tip: To freeze the pierogies, boiled as directed, then arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. When firm and frozen, seal the pierogies in a freezer bag, label, date and return to the freezer. When ready to serve, thaw in the refrigerator, then cook in butter until hot and serve.
Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published over fourteen cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com . Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com