Ye Olde Family Recipe
April 30, 2008

We interrupt this program to bring you ...

... a cooking show. I know, I know.

I have never been a big one for cooking. It's usually long, involved and tedious (at least when your attention span for such things is about that of a hyperactive gnat). However, there are a few recipes that I'll suck it up for.

Koogali, is our one "old family recipe." I used to think that we also had a pecan pie "old family recipe" and a chocolate cake "old family recipe." The pecan pie recipe is apparently the standard Karo syrup recipe, and my grandmother's SCRUMPTIOUS chocolate cake recipe (coming from someone who doesn't really like cake) is really just Texas Sheetcake made in a 9x13 pan instead of a sheetcake pan. (No nuts in the icing, please. I like nuts, just not in this recipe. Besides, they tend to make the roof of my mouth itch. Wha? I keep telling you my body is NOT wired like normal people's bodies ... oops, I've digressed again, haven't I?)

My grandmother's family came to the U.S. from Lithuania. I cannot for the life of me remember if Grandma Rosie was born in Lithuania or the U.S., however. The Americanized form of the surname became Kalasky (and if you've watched Rugrats, you can probably guess that I enjoy pretending that I'm related to Arlene Klasky), but no one seems to recall what the original last name was. Makes it kinda hard to trace our roots back to the old country. The one really big thing that was passed down was our Koogali recipe.

We had this every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas and it was usually a family production to get it made. I usually proposed that we didn't need a ham or turkey or whatever, that we should just make a meal of the Koogali. Sadly, I was always shot down.

What is it? Well, the short form is that it's a Lithuanian potato dish. Serious Old Country cooking, mind you. Bacon and potatoes and an onion. Then, my other half discovered a few years ago, that it's actually spelled Kugelis ... the link goes to Wikipedia's recipe. Turns out, it's the national dish of Lithuania. Eh, who knew? The name means "flat potato dish" and that about sums it up.

Here's our recipe, complete with photos of the process. Keep in mind, you have to process the potatoes VERY quickly once you've peeled them or they begin to turn brown. It's not that they go bad that fast, but it doesn't look as appetizing and it can affect the flavour.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of bacon (I used low salt this time around - didn't notice a difference, really)

  • 4 eggs

  • some starch (old world recipe, remember? this equals a palmful to me

  • 1/2 of a large onion

  • 1 T sugar

  • handful of white flour (your guess is as good as mine)

  • 6-8 large potatoes

  • 1 1/2 cups of milk

  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder (NOT baking soda, Chelle)

Fry up all the bacon and then save the grease. I told you this was an old world recipe, right? You should cook the bacon until it's pretty darn crispy rather than chewy. You're going to be breaking the bacon up and it's easier to do if it's crispy. It's gonna wind up soft when it's baked inside the mixture anyway, so you might as well make the shredding part easy on yourself.

Cut up the onion and fry it in some of the bacon grease. I used a shortcut of pre-cut red onion this time. We usually use the white onions, but I like the stronger flavour of the reds, myself.

Next, beat the eggs until they're foaming, then add the sugar, milk, starch, flour and baking powder. Mix this really well.

Ingredients

Now comes the tricky part. You need great timing here and that's why we usually had a slew of family members in the kitchen working on this.

Prepare to be shreddedPeel the potatoes and then grate them. You have to do this quickly so they don't turn brown, but if you have about 3 or 4 people doing the grating, it goes fast enough - this is definitely the best way to do it. If you don't have enough people to do it this way, you can use a Cuisineart to "grate" the potatoes, but the texture of the finished product is not as good. Look, I'm not one for the finer details like texture, but even I can tell the difference between the cheat method and the grating method. Grating rocks.

Since I was making this alone, I had to use my bitty tiny Cuisineart. Which is fine, because as you can see, we have a bitty, tiny kitchen as well.

Tiny KitchenGotta stop here for a funny story. One of my mom's cousins was making Koogali one year. He was doing it mostly from memory and he SWORE up and down that they had to boil the potatoes first and then grate them. His wife looked at him like he had lost his fricking mind. He insisted, "That's how we've always done it." So they boiled the potatoes and then burned their damn hands trying to grate the things.

There, that bit of family history is now preserved for the ages. Grate boiled potatoes! LMFAO

Oh, you should probably flip the oven on now. Preheat to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit).

Anyhow, I had either five or six of the biggest damn potatoes I have ever seen. I'm telling you these were frigging TEXAS sized potatoes. Normally it's 6-8 large potatoes. I peeled them, cut them up into pieces the teeny tiny Cuisineart thing could handle and put those pieces in water to keep them from turning brown. As you do this, you'll notice the water turning murky-white. This is normal, it's starch leeching out of the potatoes (which is why you put starch in the liquid mixture earlier). Here's the shredded potatoes:

Shredded Potato 1

Shredded Potato 2And you can see just in the time it took to take that picture, it was starting to go brown.

Now, quickly, mix that liquid mixture up some more, to make sure the semi-solids didn't fall to the bottom. (This is the milk, egg, flour, baking powder, sugar, and starch concoction from earlier.) Pour the onions and bacon in with the potatoes. Mix with your hands. Using a big-ass spoon does not cut it. Use your clean hands.

When that's nicely mixed, pour in the liquid concoction as well and mix with your hands. Then, take some Pam and spray the heck out of a non-stick 9x13 pan. I mean spray like you've never sprayed before. The original recipe calls for greasing the pan with the leftover bacon grease. Umm, in an attempt to not completely and totally clog arteries, use Pam. It works. After you've Pam'd the pan, pour in your concoction.

Mixture in the pan

Now comes the bacon grease. I have tried multiple ways of using Pam instead, but it's just no good. The recipe completely dries out on top and does not taste very good. So, you need to use the leftover bacon grease and pour some of that on top of the Koogali. Spread it out over the entire top, a nice thin layer like so:

Greased top

Now put it in the preheated oven at 350 ... for about an hour. When is it done? Well, you'll need to cut into the center to check it. It should be moist, but not runny. The top should look something like this:

Fresh out of the oven

Cottage cheese and sour creamThought we were done? No way! While the Koogali is baking, we have to make the topping, but this is an easy-peasy deal. Take a tub of large curd cottage cheese and an equal amount of sour cream. Mix together. There ya go. The topping is ready. (We usually pour it back into the sour cream and cottage cheese containers and mark them with a big K.)

Now, just let me take a moment to tell you this: my dad HATES sour cream and DESPISES cottage cheese. HATES them. They are nasty spoiled uckiness to him. But even he swears by this mixture on top of the Koogali.

And now, I present to you ... the finished product:

Presenting - Koogali

But, we're STILL not done. I know, this is like an old Ronco commercial, isn't it? But wait! There's MORE!

Anyhow, every year there is an argument over whether or not Koogali is better the first day, fresh out of the oven ... or the second day.

Prepping for the second day is simple: cut a rectangular slab of Koogali out of the pan, Pam the heck out of a frying pan and make sure to fry the Koogali on all four long sides. After you've done that, you can attempt to fry the short ends, too, if you're silly like I am. The fried Koogali is generally solid enough that you can at least get a touch of browning on those sides before it falls over or your relatives tell you the damn thing is cooked and get the hell outta the way so that they can cook theirs.

I probably shouldn't have put the fried version on my favourite green plate ... but you get the idea:

Fried Koogali

And there you have it. My family's one claim to ever-lasting fame: Koogali.

(Unless it turns out that we really are related to Arlene Klasky and then she pretty much outshines anything else we've done. Well, unless you take into account that my aunt gets interviewed on NPR and has been quoted in USAToday and ... oh heck, so SHE's famous. The rest of us are schmucks.)

P.S. Want to try the recipe and you don't wanna wade through this long-ass post? Click here for the PDF recipe, text only, no side commentary. :)

Posted by Red Monkey at April 30, 2008 2:56 AM | Blog | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

Yum! This looks like a heart attack waiting to happen, but what a way to go! Family recipes are the best. We have a few, too, and I've compiled them for a cookbook, which is currently at the publisher!! So exciting!
Thanks for the PDF; very thoughtful~

April 30, 2008 9:03 AM

 

Maria said:

I am starrvvviinnggg!!!

April 30, 2008 1:24 PM

 

LiteralDan said:

Ohhhh man, this was a bad post to read while way late for lunch. Nothing in my kitchen will live up

I should have stopped reading long before, "Now comes the bacon grease." In fact, I think I'll make that a new general rule for emergency page closing!

I bow to your skills.

April 30, 2008 2:10 PM

 

PandoraWilde said:

It does look like cholesterol on a plate, but since the recipe for my family's must-have starts with a pound of butter (Sandbakkelse--awesome shit) I have no room to talk.

April 30, 2008 6:55 PM

 

Nola said:

That sounds delicious! My husband's father's family if also from Lithuania. but they don't have any family recipes.

May 1, 2008 10:21 PM
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