2014 Kugelis Cook-Off Champion: Jurate Krokys Stirbys
To participate in the Kugelis Cook-Off, I undertook a little bit of research: I studied my mom’s recipe, went online to look at YouTube recipes and demonstrations, looked at a few more Lithuanian cookbook recipes and finally settled on a basic recipe in Lithuanian Traditional Foods published by Baltos Lankos (1998) containing recipes compiled by Birute Imbrasiene. I was most motivated to avoid the greatest fear there could be with kugelis: having the potatoes turn dark.
And so my poor family was my guinea pig: I made various versions playing around with types of potatoes, degrees of draining potatoes, amounts of bacon, fried or raw onions, and time in the oven. Here is my final version which I entered in the Kugelis Cook-Off. I hope it works for you. The hardest part of the baking is to step away from the oven. Although Kugelis will look and smell done at 1 hour baking time, it MUST stay in the oven baking for at least 1hr 15 min. (if a thinner version) to 1 hr 30 min. (if the mixture comes close to the rim).
Kugelis By Krokys (1st Place: 2014 Kugelis Cook-Off)
- 5 lbs. Pennsylvania Butter Potatoes (Yukon Gold will do)
- 2 cups scalded milk (scalding the milk helps to distribute the potato starch)
- 3 brown eggs (I like to use cage-free I think it adds color and flavor and I feel less guilty)
- 1 medium Vidalia onion, finely grated
- 1 lb. bacon, finely chopped and fried, do not drain fat
- 1 cup minced ham
- Salt to taste
- Butter for the casserole dish
- Cheesecloth to squeeze out excess moisture from the potatoes
Although I believe that the grated onion quickly applied to the grated potatoes helps to keep the potatoes white, it is important to prepare all of your ingredients in advance and to work quickly so that the potato batter does not darken.
1. Butter the 10” x 16” (thereabouts) casserole dish (I like to use a glass dish) and set aside.
2. Set up your potato grater. I am lucky, I have the electric kind, otherwise, find a couple of people to help you grate, speed is of the essence.
3. Peel your potatoes and submerge them in cold water. Peel your onion, set aside.
4. Measure out the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan and turn on very low. You will know the milk is scalded when tiny bubbles begin to form along the edges. You can keep an eye on the milk while you are doing other preparation, just don’t forget. Turn off the milk once the bubbles appear. By the way, I used 4% milk.
5. Whisk the eggs and set aside.
6. After you have crisped the bacon, add the ham and mix, and turn off the heat.
7. Set up your cheesecloth so that it sits over a colander which sits over a bowl. You will also need another large bowl in which you will put the squeezed potato mass and into which you will add the other ingredients.
8. Drain the water off of the potatoes. Grate the potatoes. If by hand it must be through the small openings, the potatoes must come out like a fine batter. I suggest that you alternate grating potatoes with grating the raw onion. Same if you are doing it through the electronic grater.
9. Take about ¾ cup of this potato-onion mass and place on the cheesecloth which you then use to squeeze out the excess liquid by hand. I actually squeezed out a lot of the liquid; not all of it but enough to be able to peel off the wet potato-onion mass and place it in the larger bowl. Work quickly.
10. Once you are done with squeezing off the liquid, take the scalded milk and pour over the potatoes and mix with a wooden spoon.
11. Add the whisked eggs, mix.
12. Add the bacon-ham mixture, mix.
13. Add one teaspoon salt, mix.
14. Pour into the buttered casserole dish, and say a prayer as you put it into a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven, the middle of the oven.
15. Plan for 1hr and 30 minutes of baking. If after 1hr. 15min. it looks browned on the top, check with a toothpick in the center. The toothpick should come out completely dry. If not, give it another 10-15 minutes.
We eat Kugelis with sour cream, lots of it. I found that Russet potatoes worked OK but the color was bland. Also, if you don’t have ham that’s ok, but I thought it gave it nice texture. I tried one version with frying the Vidalia onions but I really liked the taste raw onions gave to the kugelis. Good luck!
Family Fun At Kugelis Cook-Off Fundraiser
Kugelis: it’s Lithuania’s comfort food! A decadent concoction of grated potatoes and crispy bacon baked to perfection and served with sour cream, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Kugelis is the standby favorite of Lithuanian households and if you haven’t tried it, you’ll soon understand why.
Hungry yet? Then join us for a Kugelis Cook-Off and taste kugelis from the best of the Philadelphia region’s Lithuanian-American community! Whether you are a chef competing for cash prizes or an attendee feasting and partaking in the festivities, you’ll be supporting the Lithuanian Music Hall Restoration Project, which preserves Lithuanian arts and culture for future generations!
Guests, you’ll have a chance to sample and savor kugelis baked by every contestant chef. That’s at least 12 slices of fantabulous kugelis! As you contemplate who will win the People’s Choice awards, you’ll experience nuances in flavor and texture among competing family recipes. Plus, you’ll have a chance to meet the chefs and hear their stories before casting your votes for “Best Kugelis,” “Best Table Display,” and “Best to Absorb Lithuanian Beer.” This event is fun for all ages, so bring your entire family!
Contestant chefs, by competing in our Kugelis Cook-Off, you’ll have a chance to win one of three cash prizes and a People’s Choice award! Plus, you’ll be interacting with our celebrity chefs and the area’s most avid kugelis fans as you present your best homemade kugelis. Cash prizes are $200 for first place, $100 for second place, and $50 for third place. We’ll provide you with a table and a chaffing rack. It’s up to you to decorate your table and serve your kugelis to the judges and attendees.
Winners of the 2014 Kugelis Cook-Off:
1st Place: Jurate Krokys Stirbys
2nd Place: Virgus Volertas
3rd Place: Kristina Rociunas Volertas
People’s Choice “Best Kugelis”: Rev. Peter Burkauskas
People’s Choice “Best Table Display”: Joyce and Kestutis Lukas
People’s Choice “Best to Absorb Lithuanian Beer”: Rev. Peter Burkauskas
We are grateful to everyone who participated in 2014’s Kugelis Cook-Off on May 3rd! Our 12 enthusiastic chef contestants were Jurgita Arteoggi, Rev. Peter Burkauskas, Andrius and Vytas Duncia, Joyce and Kestutis Lukas, Dan McIntyre, Angele Puodziunas , Violeta Sadauskiene, Jurate Krokys Stirbys, Dana Surdeniene, Terese Vekteris, Virgus Volertas, and Kristina Rociunas Volertas.
Judges were renowned Chef Georges Perrier, award-winning writer Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell, and Honorary Consul Krista Butvydas Bard.
We asked our 1st place winner, what she enjoyed most about the event and for Jurate Krokys Stirbys, the fun started well before the Cook-Off. Initially, Jurate joined the competition out of a sense of duty to her community. However, that feeling of duty quickly faded as the pursuit became a personal challenge. Kugelis wasn’t a big tradition in Jurate’s childhood. Since she hadn’t grown up watching her mother prepare kugelis, she didn’t have a favorite heirloom family recipe. Instead, she challenged herself to create her own. Winning was not on her bucket list, but she also never dreamed of receiving a 1st prize from Georges Perrier! Now that is a bucket list.
Throughout the week leading up to the Cook-Off, Jurate experimented with her method and ingredients; baking several iterations of kugelis. As she and her family tasted each version, Jurate kept thinking she could do better and kept tweaking. After a high-calorie week of taste testing at the Stirbys residence, Jurate finally arrived at what she believed was her best entry. While so much about the Kugelis Cook-Off itself was special to Jurate – including the thrill of renowned Chef Georges Perrier tasting and evaluating her kugelis — the personal challenge was best of all! Thanks to Jurate for sharing her winning kugelis recipe with us.
When questioned about his favorite part of the competition, our 2nd place winner, Virgus Volertas responded that he enjoyed the “enthusiasm and excitement this event generated amongst participants and event attendees. The competitors exhibited camaraderie, but hidden below this was a competitive spirit of ‘making Philly’s best kugelis,’ especially when being judged by admired and world renowned chef Georges Perrier, and the notable Don Russell, a.k.a. ‘Joe Sixpack’.”
Two-time People’s Choice winner, Rev. Peter Burkauskas shared his experience: “I was thrilled to be a participant in the ‘Kugelis Cook-Off’ and to share my recipe with so many people! It was an emotional experience to think how honored my grandmother from Zemaitija would be to know that the recipe she had brought from the ‘old country’ and made in her small kitchen in Connecticut was now being made by her grandson and enjoyed by dozens of people in Philadelphia. She would be proud to know that her recipe won First Prize as ‘People’s Choice’ and that her grandson has kept her memory and Lithuanian heritage alive in such a wonderful and tasty way!”
Special thanks to Lietuvėlė.com for their generous raffle prize donation of an authentic Lithuanian potato grater!
Planning is underway for 2015’s Kugelis Cook-Off. The field is open and yours to win! Are you entering?
Įdarytos Vištienos Blauzdelės: Stuffed Chicken Legs
Ina Radziunas, an active member and contributor on Our Mom’s Lithuanian Recipes shares fond memories of her beloved culinary mentor, Joana Bubulienė and translates her recipe for stuffed chicken legs. We are grateful to both Ina and Joana for this wonderful recipe!
Joana Bubulienė was a very well known Lithuanian cook and caterer in Toronto. Everyone would look forward to her amazing food at weddings and other functions in the Lithuanian community. In 1981 she offered to host a Lithuanian cooking course to teach us her famous traditional recipes and to share some of her culinary tips. She also included recipes for some of her most sought after contemporary dishes. It was held at the Lietuviu Namai (Lithuanian House) – traditionally referred to as the “LN”, in Toronto.
A group of us young, novice cooks took this course with her, held in the LN’s catering kitchen. When we finished, she presented each of us with our own copy of “Lietuviškų Valgių Patiekalai” (Lithuanian Food Dishes). To this day – many of us still have this cherished cookbook and follow her recipes.
Although, sadly, Ponia Bubulienė is no longer with us, her fabulous recipes live on. We still often recall how much fun we had in these classes, remembering this famous culinary tip and wonder how many of us went on to fry our bacon in butter…
Joana Bubulienė‘s Stuffed Chicken Legs
- 10 large chicken legs (1/2 lb each)
Debone them – but leave the skin ON. I think that skin-on, boneless chicken thighs would work well.
Salt and pepper them and refrigerate overnight or at least two hours.
- 1/4 lb butter
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 lbs ground chicken
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3 slices white bread that have been soaked in milk, wrung out
- 2 TBS chopped fresh parsley
- 1 TBS chopped fresh dill
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter and sauté onions. Combine with all the rest of the ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Knead and make sure the ingredients are very well mixed.
Stuff deboned chicken thighs or legs with meat stuffing. Fold skin over to cover and shape nicely.
Place chicken pieces, folded side down, on a greased cooking pan. Brush with oil.
Bake 350° F for 45-60 minutes.
Note: Can bake along with pineapple slices and pitted prunes – that’s how she would serve them. Stuffed chicken legs go well with mixed vegetables and rice.
Ruginė Duona: Lithuanian Dark Rye
We are pleased to present this traditional Lithuanian rye bread recipe from the kitchen of Rima Kleibaitė who was born in Vilnius, Lithuania and now resides in Toronto, Canada. Rima is an active member and contributor on Our Mom’s Lithuanian Recipes and we are honored to share her recipe!
- 5 TBS rye flour
- water, at room temperature
- yeast (optional)
Preparation time: 3 days
In a half-liter glass jar, mix the rye flour and some room temperature water and keep it in a warm place. The consistency has to be like sour cream. Mix every 12 hours and keep it like that for three days. It will have a nice yeasty aroma and it will start to bubble. If it is not bubbling, you may add some yeast. Don’t get discouraged – just have patience.
After three days, you may either start the process of bread making, or put the starter in the refrigerator. If you refrigerate it, when you take it out you need to “restart” it again by adding a few tablespoons of flour and some water and then keeping it at room temperature (the warmer the better) for 12 hours.
While it is in the refrigerator the starter needs to breathe. A good idea is to punch some holes in the metal lid that goes with the jar in which you have mixed your raugas (starter).
This is the raugas in the morning after three days. The bubbles are a great indicator of how the bread will look and that the starter is working.
Rye Bread (Ruginė Duona) Base
- 2 kg (about 5 lbs.) stone ground rye flour
- 1 to 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 TBS caraway seeds, optional
- 5 TBS sugar
- 3 TBS honey
- 4 tsp salt
Preparation time: 30 hours
Step 1: Pour the raugas into a bowl and add 2 TBS of rye flour. Add some lukewarm water and mix. You can use a metal or glass bowl for that since a good raugas may “climb out” of your half-liter jar. This will be the base of your bread.
Start on a Friday morning, before work, and bake it Saturday at about 2 p.m. Also, on Friday evening you must be able to mix the dough and you will need about 20 minutes for that.
Step 2: After your base has rested on the counter for 12 hours, take a very large bowl (would not suggest using plastic) and into it add 2 cups of rye flour and the caraway seeds (if you are using them).
Boil about 3 cups of water and pour over the flour and caraway seeds. Mix well using a whisk or wooden spoon. Mix it quickly and well, so there are no dry spots. Let it cool to room temperature. You can keep on mixing it to cool faster.
Step 3: Once this mixture from Step 2 is at room temperature, add your base and mix well. Add another two to three cups of rye flour.
Step 4: In this picture, the additional rye flour has been added to the base. You will have to use wet hands at the end to make the top nice and even.
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel. A rolling pin can be laid over the bowl to keep the tea towel from falling into the dough.
Leave this mixture rest overnight for 12 hours in the kitchen in a warm place with no drafts.
Half way through the proofing, this is how the bread dough will look (Figure 4A).
Step 5: This is what you should see the next morning (Figure 5).
Step 6: IMPORTANT! At this point, before you do anything else, add to a half-liter glass container 2 – 3 TBS of this risen dough! Add 2 – 3 TBS rye flour and some lukewarm water. Mix and let sit in a warm place. This is how to produce the most important ingredient, the raugas/starter for the next time.
After the new starter has had a chance to sit for 12 hours in a warm place, place it in the refrigerator. It can stay there for a long time (up to half a year). The next time you are ready to bake bread, take the starter from the fridge, add 2 TBS of rye flour and some lukewarm water. Mix and keep it on the counter for 12 hours. It should have the consistency of sour cream. This is usually the first step that should be done a day before you plan to bake.
Step 7: In another small bowl mix 5 TBS sugar, 3 TBS honey, and 4 tsp of salt. (If you are allergic to honey, omit it and use more sugar). Add some hot water to help with mixing it. When the mixture is not hot anymore, pour it into the bowl with the risen dough.
Step 8: Add another 3 cups of rye flour and 1 cup of regular all purpose white flour. Mix it all very well. If it gets too hard to mix with a wooden spoon, ask someone to help you, or wet your hands and mix with your hands. This flour is extremely sticky.
TIP: before putting your hands into the dough, get the baking pan ready. You will need a 9″ by 12″ pan lined with parchment paper.
Mixed all of the ingredients well; wet your hands and place the dough into parchment lined baking pan. Keep wetting your hands and make the top nice and even. You may rub some oil on top of the dough to prevent it from drying. It also gives the crust a glossy look.
Let bread dough rise for another four hours. In the winter or in an air-conditioned place, it might have to be left to rise overnight.
Step 9: Here the bread has risen nicely and is ready to be baked.
Step 10: Bake for the first 10 minutes at 400° F, then turn down the oven temperature to 350°. Bake time will vary with loaf size — usually 55 minutes to an hour. After 45 to 50 minutes, check the bread with a toothpick and also knock on the bottom of the loaf after lifting it from the pan with the parchment paper just slightly. If the sound is nice and clear, it is ready.
Step 11: SKANAUS – ENJOY!
Celebrating Easter in Lithuania
For Lithuanian Christians, Easter (Velykos) is the most sacred of holidays. It follows 40 somber days of Lenten moderation and marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each spring, Lithuanians commemorate the Passion of Christ by attending church services throughout Holy Week on Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
While the rites of these services are comparable to those in other parts of the world, many Easter traditions observed outside of church liturgy are uniquely Lithuanian.
One of these unique Lithuanian traditions is seen on Palm Sunday. In many parts of the world, churches provide their parishioners with palms. However, in Lithuania, churchgoers bring homemade palms with them to the church to be blessed. Since the climate is too cold for palm trees, Lithuanians weave branches of indiginous plants into decorative palms (verbos) for Palm Sunday. More like bouquets than common palm branches, typical verbos include sprigs from juniper, misteltoe, weeping willows, pussy willows, and osier decorated with colorful dried flowers.
On Holy Thursday, Lithuanians clean their homes vigorously to ensure an upcoming year of abundance and good health. They wash and scrub floors, windows, pantries, stoves, and laundry in preparation for Good Friday. Beyond bringing good health and abundant harvests to the household, this ritualistic spring cleaning is thought to ward off fleas and evil spirits.
Holy Saturday is dedicated to painting Easter eggs (margučiai) and preparing the Easter Sunday feast. Traditional Lithuanian Easter eggs are stained with natural dyes extracted from bark, leaves, fruit, and vegetables. Stained margučiai appear in solid colors or patterns created when leaves or other materials are pressed onto the eggs during the staining process.
More famously, Lithuanians are known for their ornate margučiai, which are either hand-painted or hand-carved into magnificent works of art. With the hand-painted method, they use the tips of needles and other sharp objects to paint intricate patterns with hot wax. Then, after the wax hardens, they dip the eggs into colorful dye. After the eggs dry, they are heated and then pressed gently with towels or paper to remove the wax and reveal the pattern. With the hand-carved method, wax is not used. Instead, these eggs are dipped in dye first. After they dry, designs are etched into the shells with a finely tipped, sharp object. Both methods require artistic talent and patience and both result in extraordinary, heirloom quality margučiai.
In Lithuania, the Easter Granny (Velykų Senelė) delivers Easter eggs and treats to children. Children often prepare for the Easter Granny by leaving empty homemade egg nests outside their homes in gardens and shrubs. On Easter morning, they wake to search for their hidden margučiai treasures.
The Lithuanian Easter buffet is a lavish contrast to the meatless Lenten fast. Opulent displays of roasted pork, baked ham, lamb, veal, sausages, roasted duck, and roasted chicken abound. If lamb is not served, then butter or cheese is molded into the shape of a lamb and served to symbolize Easter. Accompaniments include homemade cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, sautéed or creamed mushrooms, kugelis, rye bread, assorted salads, and horseradish. Wine flows and an equally impressive dessert selection of poppy seed rolls, nut rolls, honey cakes, and raisin and/or dried fruit “boba” breads follows the meal.
We should mention two final uniquely Lithuanian Easter traditions. Before everyone indulges in the Velykos feast, the dinner host slices a hard-boiled egg into as many pieces as there are guests and passes the plate around the table to share this one egg with everyone. This sharing of the egg is believed to bring harmony and unity to the household.
Another tradition is egg rolling. Players prop one end of a rounded chute fashioned from bark or wood (or cardboard in modern times) at an angle from the ground. They take turns rolling an egg down the chute attempting to tap another’s egg. If they succeed in tapping another egg, they claim both eggs. The player with the most eggs at the end of the game wins.
Watch a beautiful, tranquil video of Lithuanian artists decorating margučiai via both techniques: etching and painting. As the film concludes, you’ll see the egg rolling game.
Linksmų šv. Velykų! Happy Easter!