Friday, December 9, 2011

Russian Food Festival, Halupki, Family, and Vodka

The past week has been an awesome chance for me to spend some time at home in Pittsburgh, PA.

Being home was a wonderful opportunity to spend some time in December with family and friends (sadly though husbandless :( ).  Truth be told, it has been more than hard working and living out west so far from home, and to make up for it my family was sure this weekend was packed with adventure, birthdays, shopping, and most importantly:  Food!!

That's One Hot Momma (and it's her Birthday!)
For those unfamiliar, Pittsburgh is a city made of steel and full of heart for sports and strong Eastern European influences.  It is a city that holds so many secret traditions and wonderful food festivals, that unless familiar with the territory, it is easy to miss out on what goes on behind the scenes.  Lucky for us, I was able to not only attend, but help work at one great secret:  The Russian Food Festival!

This festival was unlike many of the others, as it was hosted at my family's church and the church I was raised and baptized in:  The Holy Russian Orthodox Church of Carnegie, PA.

Having the opportunity to help at this was such a great opportunity to give back to my home town!  Being someone who loves to cook, and visiting home with a mother who also enjoys the kitchen, I was able to prepare and serve some delicious Russian food with the community:  Halupki.

And so, my mother and I, well we went on a literal head hunt (cabbage that is) to make about 50 Halupki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) for the event (and a few dozen to keep at home).  Yum!!

Earlier in the month over 1000 dz (yes 3 zeros there) of Pierogies (Pirohi) were rolled, stuffed, pinched, and sautéed to serve as well.  My mother had helped in a big way, so yes Utah (and husband), I will smuggle a few dozen in my carry one, embracing the butter and onion smell as I sit next to someone I do not know for 5 long hours, winking if when they notice (and they will) my scent or yum.

You know what, if I could bottle of the scent and wear it, I would totally rock the odor or deliciousness days on end!  I am completely obsessed with butter and onions!

So, back to the food festival:  There was so much food and fun at the event I couldn’t help but share.  How could I not post about cabbage, meat, homemade kielbasa, shots of vodka, (vwod-kah), sauerkraut, soups, pigs.... deliciousness!? 

Often this season wraps us up in cookies, shopping, and children’s songs.  Well today, its all about food, fun, and a few shots to stay warm!

And so I documented our journey:  Two women without their babushkas, pounds of cabbage, and a whole lot of Russian Fun.

It all started in my favorite aisle at the grocery store (2 days until the festival) as we hand selected the perfect heads of cabbage for our rolls.  The chubby, tall, heavy heads are best:  long wide leaves for stuffing, and tons of them for simplicity.

After our Head Hunt was successfully completed we returned home to start boiling and removing the leaves of our perfectly selected cabbages.  To do this, place the entire head into a pot of unsalted water.  Bring to a boil and boil stem side down 10-15 minutes.  Flip the head and boil another 10 minutes.  (take a shot of vodka or pour some wine).

Next, lower the heat so the water is near a boil, and slowly being to cut around the core.  You will go layer by later, removing cooked leaves and letting the cabbage remaining in the hot near boiling water, to continue to cook through the head. (take another shot of vodka or fill your wine glass).


As you remove leaves, stack them in either a roaster or large pan, to allow them to cool.  You want to really go layer by layer and fan out the leaves to allow the hot water to cook them to the core.  It's pretty when you do this -- the cabbage looks like a stinky flower.  Love it!!  We did this the night before rolling, then chilled the leaves while we slept.

The morning of the rolling (1 more day until the festival!) we chopped and sautéed 4 yellow onions.  There is nothing like a house smelling like butter and onions (and fresh pine) by 8:30am.  Yum!  My coffee was so much better this day! 

The filling of our rolls included cooked rice, the onions we sautéed, canned tomatoes that we squeezed between our hands to break up, 1 can of tomato soup, garlic powder, ground beef, and eggs.  Of course salt and pepper to taste went in as well.

Now, stuffing and rolling is one heck of a process, so I wanted to really show you how it’s done.  I have no idea of adding video clips to the blog was a good idea, but today I decided (and maybe it was the wines fault) to go big or go home!

Remove the stem part, add about 1/2 cup beef mixture, fold, wrap, roll, stuff the ends

Whisk tomato sauce, tomato soup, and water to give the rolls a juice to cook in.  Now that you have dozens of rolls (ok more realistically a dozen or two if you ware making these personally), layer the really green cabbage leaves along the bottom of the roaster, fill your roasting pan (or a large baking pan) with the rolls, and cover your rolls with your tomato "juice" mixture.  The sweetness in that soup brings flavor to the hearty beefy rolls.

I think some people call these "pigs in a blanket"... I see why now ;)
Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour then raise to 350 degrees for 2 more.  Yes, 3 hours.  This will really sweeten the beef with cabbage, cook the rice all the way through, and make a wonderful meal.  I promise.

Baked and ready to eat....
Extra sauce on top, Steaming Hot.... the best part?  The Cabbage!!
Its best to chop the cabbage into the filling, to make a perfect bite!

Back to rolling.  If you find that one thing in life you struggle with is rolling cabbage (oh the humanity!) then have NO FEAR!  Make a cabbage casserole by layering cabbage with the same beef mixture, and pour your tomato juice over than.  Same goodness, less stress ;)

Bake this at 250 for 2 hours.  A little less time, a lot less work, and still the sweet flavor of a cabbage roll!  Brilliant!

Which brings us to the Festival!  How wonderful!  Hunky's (thats what we call ourselves), Chaos, Vodka, A BonFire with Chickens Roasting (Vodka rubbed chickens), Cabbage, Onions, Butter, Pirohi, Borscht..... Russian Food Paradise!

Not to mention the great support of many hard working volunteers who, no matter how stressful the day got, managed to work through the day and provide the best in service, food, and respect for the church and community!

We had Smoked, Regular, and Wine and Cheese homemade Keilbasi! 
Pirohi (pierogies) with Cheddar and Potato filling are my Favorites!!  I like the ones what get a little brown and crisp!
Hours and many plates of Russian food later, the festival came to an end.  And although it was tough to leave behind the feasts of good fun and friends, there were pirohi and halupki at home in our freezer anxiously waiting for another day of food and festivities.

These were soon eaten too -- What a Hit!
Haluski (cabbage and noodles) is a personal favorite... many of those containers we bought to take back to Utah!
In all, although a tough journey home, and a hard day at work, the festival was, and will be again, a wonderful opportunity to eat a great Russian Feast!

See you next time!


  1. It looks delicious! My husband is from Pittsburgh and he's been bugging me to make halupki's. I guess it's really time! Have a GREAT visit!

  2. LOVE THIS AIMEE! Lots of good food, and love the pics of you and your mom (what, no pics of me in my lovely hairnet?). Great job niece! Keep sending me links to your blog... LOVE IT!

  3. Aimee,
    Does your mom know she's on Facebook? hahahaha Love and miss you already,
    Crazy Aunt Debbie

    ps. hahaha

  4. Ann,
    I am so excited your husband is from the burgh! I bet he also loves pierogies (pirohi), haluski (cabbage and noodles) and french fries on everything! haha

    Debbie - She knows. We bought matching aprons to look adorable, and so she gave me permission to post her on the blog! SHe looks fabulous serving up those halupkis! I wish I had pictures of Traci in her hairnet... she looked Awesome!

    Much love from Utah!

  5. We have almost every dish in-common where I grow up....I just made those stuffed cabbage rolls had a post on Mon. and I love, love, love pierogies..
    By the way Happy B-day to you hot mama!!!!:)Awesome post!

  6. Thanks Sandra!

    I'll send your wishes to my momma! Haha! I am super excited to hear that you are familiar with all these dishes -- Living in Utah has really taken me far from home-style dishes!

    I can't wait to see what else we have in common!!!!

  7. Being raised in Russian orthodox church as well, I loved this post!! I almost felt like I was there)))

  8. Aww Kate!! How exciting! It's hard for me to find fellow hunkys living in Utah. I'm always excited to meet one!!

  9. Everytime I look at this I CRAVE cabbage!


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