Ukrainian Perohi – A Holiday Favorite

I am pleased to be part of the 3rd annual Pittsburgh Guest-Blogger Event! This event is otherwise know as The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015. Today’s blog post comes from the talented team of Fox and Michael from the blog 101 Achievements. You can see my post over on In Pursuit of Simple where I share with all of you my reason why I will not be getting the mother of the year award.

Michael and Fox from 101 Achievements here; we are so thrilled to be guest blogging on Nicky D Cooks for The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015!

We’d like to share one of our favorite “peasant foods” that we often make for our families. That food is homemade Ukrainian-style perohi, better known around Pittsburgh as pierogies.


Buttered Perohi Cooling

While most ‘Burghers know that you can put pretty much anything you want into a pierogie, we make our pierogies for Christmas Eve and the Lenten season, which in the Ukrainian tradition are meatless. So, we use Fox’s Baba’s recipe to make a potato-and-cheese pierogie, as well as a prune pierogie.

Now, before you get grossed out over prune-stuffed pierogies, just trust us that they’re a delicious, desserty counterpart to your typical savory pierogie.

A word of warning before we begin: if you embark upon this adventure, it’s important to note that pierogie making is an all-day affair. The recipe we’re sharing makes between 6 and 8 dozen pierogies, depending on how thinly you roll your dough; that’s a lot of pinching, boiling, and frying. The more family members you can recruit to help, the faster, easier, and more fun this process will be. In addition to the two of us, our assembly group has included our mother, grandmother, aunt, cousins, and occasionally a father (whose pierogies resemble a handlebar mustache more than your typical pillow of dough).


Raw Perohi

We often prepare the dough and the filling ahead of time, as that alone can take quite a while. For the filling, there are a variety of cheeses that you can use; Fox’s Baba always used Velveeta cheese block, though, and even as die-hard buy-fresh-buy-local folk, that’s what we still use to this day.

Dough ingredients:
• 24oz farmer’s dry cottage cheese
• 2 eggs
• 2 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1-1/2 tsp salt
• 4 cups flour

Potato filling ingredients:
• 1 1-1/2 pound jar sauerkraut
• 1 small onion
• ½ stick of butter
• 7-8 medium potatoes
• ½ pound Velveeta cheese block (or roughly 8-10 slices of American cheese)

Prune filling ingredients:
• 7oz dried prunes

Frying ingredients:
• 2 sticks butter
• 1 large chopped onion


To make dough: stir and mix up the cottage cheese until it is reasonably smooth (it will still have some fine lumps). Beat eggs, oil, and salt into the cheese. Gradually add flour. After three cups, the dough may be dry enough to roll. Reserve the remainder of the flour for rolling the dough out.


Dough ready for rolling


Dough circles cut with pint glass

Dust a flat surface and a rolling pin with flour; roll out the dough to about 1/16th of an inch thickness. Cut the dough into circles—the mouth of a pint beer glass is the perfect size to do your cutting.


Potato filling ingredients

To make potato filling: pour sauerkraut into a colander and rinse with cold water to take out some of the excess salt. Place drained sauerkraut in a pot. Saute a small onion in butter. Add butter and onions to the pot containing the sauerkraut. Add water to the pot until it reaches the top of the sauerkraut. Simmer until most of the water evaporates—the kraut should be soft, not crunchy like when first out of the jar. Drain well. Peel and boil the potatoes until soft; drain and begin mashing. Slice the cheese into 8 to 10 chunks and stir into mashed potatoes. Add sauerkraut-onion mixture and stir until everything is blended. Allow filling to cool.


Prunes-more delicious than you think!

To make prune filling: add dried prunes into a pot and fill pot with water until tops of prunes are covered. Simmer gently until prunes are soft. Cook out most of the water and let prunes cool until they are comfortable to touch.


Better and onions; smells like Baba’s kitchen

Assembly: fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. In a separate pan, melt two sticks of butter. Chop a large onion and fry it in the butter; remove from heat when onions soften. Take a circle of dough and fill with either a small scoop of potato mixture, or one prune. Fold dough and pinch the edges, forming a complete seal.


“Pinch them till they hurt”

If the dough has begun to dry, dip your fingertips in water before pinching. Repeat until you have about 1 dozen uncooked perohi. Carefully drop the dozen perohi into the boiling water, letting them sink to the bottom.


Boiling perohi

Boil until perohi begin to float; lower the heat and let them cook for three minutes more. Remove with a slotted spoon and let drain them in a colander. Move perohi to a bowl and coat them with onions and butter to prevent sticking. Place perohi on a pan covered with wax paper and allow them to cool. Repeat process until all dough and filling has been used; makes approximately 6 to 8 dozen perohi.


Perohi ready to serve


Our Lucy, an honorary Ukrainian

At this point, the perohi are ready to be eaten or stored. They can be refrigerated or frozen. The perohi can be reheated in the microwave, but they taste best if reheated by frying them again in fresh butter and onions, until slightly crisped.


The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015

sunshineOn Wednesday April 1, I am partaking in blogger event in Pittsburgh known as The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015.

It is blog swap that involves about 40 Pittsburgh bloggers. We will be guest blogging for one specific blogger on this day.

Here is what you will see on my blog- I’ll be featuring a guest post from another talented Pittsburgh blogger. And yes it is a food themed blog- but I can’t tell you what it is because it is a secret, but all I can say is that it is incredible and I am putting this on my must try list soon.

You will be able to read my post that I have written for this occasion on another amazing Pittsburgh blog.

It has been such a wonderful opportunity and I am so excited to be part of such a great event.

A special shout out to the person who put this together Alex. A talented writer, witty twitter person and an all-around great human being to know.

Check out his blog@

Fish Pizziola- A perfect dish for any season

first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh March, 6, 2015

The Lenten Season is upon us again and I believe that there are only so many fish sandwiches this gal can eat.

pizziola-3-225x300My thought was always why limit fish to just this season? There are numerous fish recipes out there to try, perhaps I should expand my fishy repertoire and see what else I can make?

So throughout this year I did try many new fish dishes, and there were several that I really liked. However, there is one dish that I keep coming back to and it is the one that I just adore- Fish Pizzaiola.

Fish in Pizziola Sauce is a simple peasant dish, and is one that I grew up on. To me it is a comfort food, a dish that takes me back to my childhood.

This Neapolitan peasant sauce is made from tomatoes, olive oil, and oregano (and sometimes other spices). Pizzaiola sauce I have read loosely translates to “in the style of the pizza maker”, so the ingredients replicate what one may see one the base (red sauce) of a pizza.

My spin on this dish is that the sauce isn’t cook separately like some recipes call for. For my recipe, the fish and tomatoes are cooked together. This was the way my family made it and the way I make it now.

Growing up in Rhode Island, Cod Fish was abundant so it was the fish of choice in our family. It was cheap to buy and you could feed a large family with this fish. If you were adventurous enough, you could buy the salted cod (Baccala), prep it and make with that.

Usually we went to the fishmonger to buy our fresh fish or went to the dock to see what the local fishermen brought in.

What I like most about this recipe, is that is marries nicely with most white fish. Haddock, Cod, Tilapia all work well with this dish and I use them interchangeably. I have seen families use Swordfish and other fishes with this and it looks really delicious.

This is a very forgiving dish, it is easy to prepare and cook. So here are some things to note when you make this dish: cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of the fish that you are choosing to use. Fresh fish will cook quicker than frozen. A thin Tilapia fillet will cook quicker than a thicker piece of cod. The fish will be done once the middle is opaque, and becomes easy to flake into pieces with a fork.

pizziola baking in pan  (2)When I make mine, I prefer to lay my fish piece on a bed of slices onions before I bake it. I find that it also will prevent burning of the thinner pieces of fish, however this is optional. If you want some heat, add a pinch of crushed red pepper to the layer of tomatoes.

I hope that you try this delicious dish, I promise that it will be one that you will return to over again. Don’t let the simplicity of this recipe fool you, it has rich flavors that are prefect when you want just a great fish dinner.

Buon Appetito,

Nicky D Cooks: Pesci Pizzaiola

White Fish in herbed tomato sauce- a simple peasant dish that goes perfectly over rice pilaf, couscous or lightly dressed orzo in olive oil.


1 ½ lbs cod fillets or a light white fish
1 -2 cans small tomato sauce
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup (about) olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
Coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Place the sliced onions on the bottom of the pan, then put fish on top of the onions. Pour a thin coat of the tomato sauce over the fish. Sprinkle oregano, garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and cheese over the fish. Cover and bake fish in the oven about ½ hr (approximately) or until the fish is done. The fish will become white and flaky- this is when it is done.

Soppressata Making- Old School Pittsburgh Style

sopresatta makingI wanted to share this great video of a friend of mine making Soppressata Italian Sausage, called “The Lost Art”.

Pittsburgh native Michael Pizzuto, shares with us a glimpse of what it is like when his family gets together for the annual Soppressata making.

Sopressata is a cured dry sausage, and honestly it is one of my favorites. It is different than other types of cured sausage, because of the spices used and the way the meat is ground for the process. If you have a chance to get to taste homemade Sopressata, it is amazing and something that you will never forget.

Michael Pizzuto is carrying on the old world Italian traditions that were taught to him by his family. Michael is serious when it comes to the art of sausage making. He along with his friend chef Blair Hahn III and Brandon Gajdos are the owners of the local Pittsburgh sausage company The Salted Pig.

Michael, Blair along with several member of the Pizzuto family gather for this annual Sopressata making tradition. Check out the video below and you can tell it is one heck of a time.

Thanks Mike for sharing this video, it is really great!charcuterie plate


Recipe for Hope: A Benefit for Hair Peace Charities and Cancer Patients

2015 rfh card backI have the pleasure of being part of a wonderful event: RECIPE FOR HOPE
This amazing event benefits the Hair Peace Charities- a charity which raises money to help women and girls buy wigs while undergoing chemotherapy treatment for any type of cancer.

Come and eat some specially prepared dishes all the while supporting a noteworthy cause. Many local celebrities will be donning special aprons while serving guests mouthwatering food.

Included on this list are Dave Crawley @DaveCrawleyKDKA KDKA-TV Reporter, Val Porter @DVEValPorter WDVE- FM Morning Show, Jennifer Antkowiak KDKA- TV Morning News Anchor @jenantkowiak, Rick Dayton @rickdayton KDKA-TV Morning News Anchor, Michelle Wright @MichelleWTAE WTAE Morning News Anchor, Cris Winters 99.7 WSHH Radio personality , Scott Harbaugh @WPXIScott WPXI – TV Meteorologist, Cara Sapida @WPXICara WPXI – TV News Reporter, Doug Oster @dougoster1 Pittsburgh Post Gazette Writer, Heather Abraham @KDKAHeather KDKA-TV Reporter, David Highfield @DavidHighfield KDKA-TV Reporter, Sheri Van Dyke, 94.5 3WS radio personality, Shelley Duffy @ShelleyDuffy Star 100.7 Morning Show, Flick and Kelly @FlickFM Star 100.7 Afternoon show @KelOnAir Star 100.7 Afternoon show, Melanie Taylor @meltaylor1007 Star 100.7 Morning Show, Bill Rehkopf @BillyRayKDKA KDKA Radio News Anchor, John Chamberlin from YaJagoff blog @YaJagoff and many more….

For more information about Recipe for Hope and Hair Peace Charities
Hair Peace Charities
102 Cleveland Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15202
Phone: 412.327.5177
Or visit their webpage at


Football food: A Game day tradition

With the Superbowl just around the corner, I wanted to re-post one of my favorite pieces from the past.  This originally appeared on on January 31, 2013.

finishes calzonesI have a great Dad. While I was growing up, he was the best Dad any kid could ever ask for. He could put my hair in braids, play games with me and bring me a glass of juice while I was sitting on the couch watching my favorite TV show.

I guess you could say I was Daddy’s little girl. Yes, he spoiled me. How could he not, I looked like a mini version of him growing up. Even now I still look just like him, nothing really has changed. The only difference is that we have aged a bit and have gotten a few more grey hairs.

From my parents, I inherited the best traits each from them. I look like my mellow, Portuguese Dad but I have my mother’s fiery Italian personality.
I would say it is a healthy combination of the two, I guess I have the best of both worlds.

The other familial trait that was passes along to me from my parents was the ability to cook. Both parents cooked meals in our house growing up; they were equally adept in the kitchen.

I was a lucky to have this experience as a kid growing up. It explained why I always loved to be in the kitchen with them.

One of my fondest memories of my Dad in the kitchen is of him cooking his famous football food. As a child, I liked football season. Not only did I get to hang out with my Dad and watch football, but there was a shift in the type of cooking that went on in the house.

We called it football food. This genre of food that my Dad would make that only came out during football season, hence the term football food.

My Dad would help cook throughout the year but all that changed when football season started. During this time, my Dad began to cook the “Sundays Dinners”. Sundays were usually reserved for big Italian dinners, but not during football season.

My Dad is a huge football fan. He would watch his favorite team, and also would like to watch other games. On Sundays, the TV went on after lunch and stayed on most of the day. He just liked to watch football and eat good food.

We still ate our big dinners together as a family, that was a must and that never changed. The cuisine was different, it was football food. We went about our business on Sundays and life went on, however there was always the din of the football game in the background.

It was always fun to help my Dad cook on game days. We would be in the kitchen preparing the food and the football game was on the TV, there was just a hint of excitement in the air. I loved the way the house smelled on these days.

My Dad could make almost anything and it would be incredible. He could cook some Italian dishes, but Ma did most of that type of cooking. Dad’s pot roast is mouth wateringly fork tender, his BBQ spare ribs are mind blowing, he makes a mean beef stew and his chicken soup is to die for. My Dad is the master of the crock-pot, the czar of grilled sausage and the tycoon of tacos.

When the play offs came and during the Super Bowl, my Dad stepped up his game. He then brought out some favorites that only came out during these types of games. He would make his special game day chili and chicken wing, nachos, assorted dips and chips.

Sometimes we had a large crowd and other times it was just the immediate family. No matter the amount of people, the food portions never changed. My Dad’s worst fear was that half time would come and he would run out of food.

My Dad would always have his favorites stand by foods during these big games, but he would always like to add a few new dishes as well. That was always exciting because you never knew what he would make until it was game day.

I always think about how much fun the Super Bowl was for me growing up, and now I try to the same for my family. I do enjoy a good game of football but I think that I enjoy the football food a little more.

cooking in the kitchenMy Dad recently came in for a visit and I had to have him make one of his specialty football foods while he was here. It was so much fun to cook with my Dad; it reminded me of being a kid in the kitchen again with him.

It was a special for me to do this again, and my children loved coming in from school having these delicious snacks waiting for them.

He shared one of his recipes for a great game day snack

I hope that you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,

Dad’s Mini Italian Sausage Calzones


1lb Italian Chicken sausage- removed from casings
2 small onions- finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cans large of refrigerated biscuits
Marinara sauce or pizza sauce for dipping

Preheat oven according to biscuit directions. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat and add the sausage and the onion.

Cook it until it is golden brown, season with salt and pepper to taste and drain off any excess oil. Let it cool.


Roll out biscuits into a large circle. In the center of the biscuit add a heaping tablespoon of the sausage, and then add a heaping tablespoon of shredded mozzarella cheese to that.

Fold the edges over and bring together to seal. Use a fork to seal the edges together. calzone-making-copy-150x150Bake according to directions or until golden brown.

Serve with warm marinara sauce

These mini calzones work well will pizza dough or readymade pie crust, just cut into desired mini size and roll into circles, bake @ between 350- 375 for 20-30 min or until golden brown (oven times and temperature may vary depending on the size and thickness of the dough)

inside calzone (3)

Check out Nicky D Cooks on Cookspeak

profile picHappy New Year!

Please join me this Sunday January 4th at 11am for another podcast adventure with the Cookspeak host Tom Totin. This is my second time talking with Tom and I am really looking forward to another fun interview.

We will talk more on my favorite subjects- food, cooking and kitchen life. Of course we talk about my comical life being an Italian and coming from in an Italian American home.

You can listen to the interview by going to a few minutes before the interview. The Cookspeak icon will appear on the screen and you can then access the podcast. Or if you want to listen by phone, call the same number that you will call to access the show- 724-444-7444. If you miss the live broadcast, the archive of the podcast will be on this webpage as well.

For more information on Tom Totin and his podcast, check him out on twitter @cookspeaktom or on

I hope that you join in with me this Sunday.

Italian Style Fried Cauliflower


Originally appeared on ciao Pittsburgh, December 19, 2014

My Italian Grandmother decided to bestow some advice to me when I entered adulthood.

The first tidbits came in the form of kitchen wisdom; when you are cooking always bless your food, cook in odd numbers and throw the salt over your shoulder for good luck in your kitchen. These were pretty much straight forward and easy enough to follow. I still do these to this very day.

The second piece of advice came before I met my future in- laws and their extended family. As I was getting ready for my trip out to Pittsburgh, my grandmother told me, “don’t be nervous… will never be alone in a crowd if you find a couple of Italians (Italian Americans)…they will always make you feel welcomed”

The latter piece of advice was so heartfelt and sincere. I knew that she was a wise woman and would not steer me wrong.

I just had never thought that some twenty years later, I would hear my Grandmothers words echoed when I embarked on my professional career.

When I started out blogging and writing, I set out trying to preserve a piece of my family’s culture and history. Italian American peasant food is about a life style, a reflection of a group of people ( mostly immigrants) who endured hardships yet managed to feed themselves and their families with what they had available.

When you meet a fellow Italian American, you feel a connection or a bond with that person because you have similar backgrounds and shared stories. You have walked a mile in their shoes, you know where they are coming from.

Talking about food creates an instant connection to people. This is especially true in the Italian American community. If you gather a few of us together, inevitably the subject will always will come around to the subject of food.

So much of our lives is dictated by food- holidays, family gatherings and celebrations. I know other cultures do emphasize food, but I can only speak for my ever loving crazy Italian family. It was always about the food and the important role that it had in our lives.

One of the greatest things in writing about food is hearing from people that read my blogs. I love to hear the stories about how Italian American peasant food relates to their lives. So many times I have had people tell me that a recipe I wrote about has triggered a memory of a dish that they had grown up with, or that it reminds them of a dish that their grandmother used to make.

I find that food and recipes do connect people, and I am so happy to be the conduit to which make this happen.

The holidays are by far my favorite. I enjoy the cooking and baking chaos that goes with this holiday season. I also truly enjoy hearing what others are doing to prepare for this holiday.

I especially look forward Christmas Eve and La Vigilia or the Feast of the 7 Fishes.
The Feast of The 7 Seven Fishes is a truly spectacular event. People dusting off recipes and don their buffet pants. It is a meal that comes once a year, filled with much anticipation and festivities.

When I moved to Pittsburgh several year ago, I had found that there was one dish that was continually being made that for the Christmas Eve Feast, one that I had never heard of.

It was Italian Fried Cauliflower.cauliflour2

This dish was served as part of the dinner and it seemed that many Italian Americans in Pittsburgh were making it or eating it. I was very curious about this dish; it sounded absolutely delicious.

I finally had a chance to learn a lot about this dish from Chuck Johnston, a local Italian guy who grew up in Western Pa.

Chuck traces his Italian heritage to his mother’s side. Her family is from Abruzzi in a town called Pescocostanzo. On Christmas Eve, there were always fish dishes (a favorite of his is Tuna in Spaghetti Sauce) and always lots of Italian cookies and nuts rolls for dessert. There was also Italian Fried Cauliflower.

Chuck told me about his family and the tradition of eating the Italian Fried Cauliflower on Christmas Eve. He was kind enough not only to answer my questions, but shared his family’s recipe for amazing dish.

Chuck no longer lives in Pittsburgh, but his roots still run deep here, especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas Eve. He told me that the Italian Fried Cauliflower was always a favorite part of the Christmas Eve Dinner, and he still makes it to this very day.

The cauliflower is really delicious and straightforward. Chuck says that if he could convince his mom, he would ask her to make it for other holidays as well. He explained that the key to a successful Italian Fried Cauliflower is that you need to steam it so it is cooked, but not cooked fully because you will be frying it again in the oil.

Once the cauliflower is steamed, you bread it and fry it. He also suggests that you have salt, pepper and grated cheese available for your guests for serving this dish.

Chuck has solution for any extra breadcrumbs that you might have leftover. According to him “if you have any breadcrumbs and bread left over….mix them together and fry it…. I know it’s bad for you – kind of like hush puppies”.

Thank you Chuck for sharing his family’s recipe. I have tried this several times already and I will be making this on Christmas Eve this year.

I hope you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,

Chuck Johnston’s Italian Fried Cauliflower

Seasonings are arbitrary. That is, ultimately you will make it the way you like it. This is the way we like it. The great thing is, you’ll have to make it more than once to see how you like it best! We love this!


Cauliflower – one large head should make enough for eight or ten people (or depending on how greedy they are….haha!)
Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
Oil – we use a combination of Safflower and olive oil.
Onion salt
Black pepper
Parmesan Cheese

cauliflour5Cut the cauliflower into smallish pieces (not bite-sized) and steam for a very short time; maybe five minutes, but you don’t want it too soft, because you will be frying it for ten minutes or so.

Mix salt and pepper into the flour (or you can add it to the breadcrumbs if you want) – not too much. Add Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs (we use a good amount – you will probably have to experiment a little).

Scramble the egg.

Get the oil hot, but don’t keep the heat too high – you don’t want the cauliflower to burn.

Dip it into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Put it in the pan, and fry until golden brown. When done, put it on a plate with paper towels to soak up any extra oil (you can keep it in a warm oven if you’re not going to eat it right away).

Have plenty of salt, pepper and grated cheese for your guests to season their Italian Fried Cauliflower.

Feast of The 7 Fishes Class

heins logo 14I  am very excited to be cooking with my friend Mary Menniti from The Italian Garden Project, this Saturday at the Heinz History Center, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014.

Join us at the History Center as we share our knowledge about the rich Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Learn the origins of this holiday tradition as well as samples of some of the foods prepared for this feast.

This program is presented in partnership with UPMC Health Plan and the History Center’s Italian American Collection.

At this point the event is sold out; this Healthy Heritage program is at capacity.
Please contact Melissa Marinaro at 412-454-6426 or with any questions.