28 August 2023

Slavic Hand Pies and Pastries

 Koláče vs Klobásníky vs Bierocks vs Runzas vs Pirožkí vs Pierogi vs Pączki vs Makowiec

Recently, one of my favorite web series to watch is "Really Dough?". The series follows Scott Wiener, a self-proclaimed pizza enthusiast who gives pizza tours across New York, trying to expose traditionalist pizzaiolo Mark Iacono, owner of New York pizzeria Lucali, to new and interesting "pizza" styled items.  They go through ramen pizza, gold-covered pizza, pizza bagels, grilled pizza, etc. to try and come up with a real definition of what pizza really "is".  Much of the series is Mark telling Scott "That's not pizza" but when it comes to calzones... he is MUCH more flexible.

Comfort food is so incredibly personal.  With more immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe and a greater interest, at large, of cultural foods, it is easier than ever to confuse many of these items with each other.

What I respect about the show "Really Dough?" is that they showcase all these restaurants and praise the taste and quality of their food, but in the same breath can say "This is not pizza".  I respect that.  I love that Shipley Donuts, Buc-ees, and Texas at large sell "Kolaches".  I have to control my expectations because I know that when I see them on a menu, the odds are that I will not get a traditional koláč like the ones I grew up with.



As any self-respecting human being, Texas occasionally offends me.  Don't get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for a lot of Texans.  They are a mecca for BBQ and they have kept key pieces of Czech culture alive.  That being said, the Klobásníky vs Koláče vs "Texas Kolaches" debate always rankles me a bit.  I am not the first, nor will I be the last, person of Czech-American heritage to point out the difference between the pastry, a kolach, and the pigs-in-a-blanket item, properly called a klobasnek, that Texans insist are kolaches.  To be completely honest, I don't get frustrated with the normal Tom, Dick, or Harry that don't understand the difference, it can be incredibly niche.  I get frustrated when people who know better continue to use the wrong term because they like to get a rise out of people.  If you want to borrow from someone else's culture, at least have the common courtesy to represent it appropriately.


With that rant over and sorted, the reality is that the various Slavic cultures (predominantly Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and even Hungary to an extent, although Hungarian is really more developed from the Finno-Ugric language family, they count) have similar food items, or at least food items that heavily influence each other particularly during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  That being said, Slavs are proud of their heritage and really cling to the comfort foods of their youth. 

Today's topic is on filled bread.  I will caveat this by saying that I am Czech from Nebraska so my opinions are influenced by that life.

Apricot Koláče


(Singular Koláč) English spelling is generally Kolach or Kolache.  It is incorrect to refer to these in the plural as Kolaches, as that is not the way most of the Slavic languages make things plural. Originate in Czechia and Slovakia and it literally refers to a circle/wheel, or kolo.  The dough is ever so slightly sweet, but not as sweet as a cinnamon roll dough, and usually enriched with eggs, but not as rich as a brioche.  Many of my friends and family will just use frozen Rhodes dinner roll dough in a pinch.

My family's favorite filling is cream cheese.  Traditionally this would not be made with cream cheese, but rather a really large dry curd cottage cheese.  I really like poppy seed filling, which is just what it sounds like, enough poppies to make you fail a drug test thickened with sugar and lemon juice.  Otherwise, I am always game for a cherry or apricot kolac.  

Some groups will put a streusel (drobenka) topping on top, but my Grandma never did... so I don't either.  I could be swayed, however, because they don't stick to each other as much when you add the topping.  If you do need to add drobenka, keep it simple: 1 TB Soft Butter, 2 TB Sugar, 3 TB Flour.

A note on sizes.  I like a slightly bigger kolace, so around 50g.  Rhodes Rolls, if you know you know, that are often used as a substitute for fresh dough are closer to 39-40g.  Lots of people do about an ounce and a half... or 42.5g.

Koláče Dough (adapted from Czech and Slovak Educational Center and Cultural Museum in Omaha, NE)


544.5 ml  Milk
108 g       Canola Oil
100 g       Granulated Sugar
2              Large Eggs
21 g         Instant or Active Yeast
5.7 g        Salt
875+g      All-Purpose Flour


  1. Heat milk, oil, sugar, and salt until very warm (almost 170-180°F) and then allow to cool to BELOW 130°F.
  2. Beat in eggs and add yeast.
  3. Let sit for 5 minutes
  4. Add liquid mix to a stand mixer and add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of flour at a time until it starts to pull away from the bowl.
  5. Add more than the prescribed flour if not pulling away, but it should be sticky.
  6. Knead dough by hand or with a dough hook till stretchy and smooth (about 5 minutes on low)
  7. Allow dough to proof in a large, covered, greased bowl for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
  8. It CAN be punched down and proofed one more time if you want, or it can be shaped and filled and allowed to rise.

This dough is pretty multi-use, but for koláče, I like to form balls that are about 50g a piece and then press the center down forming a disc-shaped pastry that can be filled with whatever you like, and baked for about 20 minutes at 350°F.  For a shiny surface brush with egg wash (1 egg to 1 tbsp water)

Cream Cheese Filling 

(will fill about 12 Koláče)

8 Ounce Cream Cheese
1 Egg Yolk
4 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla

Mix together till smooth, and fill.

Larry D. Moore, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons


(Singular Klobásnek) This Czech word comes from the diminutive of Klobasa (yes it sounds like Kielbasa, they both mean sausage).  So it refers to "Little Sausages".  These are often more square-shaped.  In the United States, these are often filled with a pre-cooked smoked sausage.  The confusion comes in that they use the same dough as the koláče above.  Some mistake this use of dough as meaning they are the same thing... the reality is that the dough used is just the most common generic dough used by Czechs for rolls and these sorts of baked goods.  You can follow the recipe for koláče and just use 80g of dough per klobásnek and wrap the dough around a sausage, or other filling.  

In the Czech-lands (Czechia or Czech Republic depending on who you are talking to) you will not find a klobásnek nearly as often as Párek v Rohlíku.  Párek is the Czech word for hotdog and rohlíku means bread-roll.  Rohlíky are ubiquitous in Czech communities and were on the table at every meal my Grandma served.  The ones we ate were normally "horn-shaped" like a crescent, but they are certainly made straight for use with a hot dog.  These are very similar to a Hungarian kifli.

Photo at Párek v rohlíku – Ladislav Červený by Luboš Lagin

Back to the meat of the matter.  Párek v rohlíku can be made in two different ways.  The most common is the street food version where a rohlik is simultaneously pierced and toasted with a heated spike, then toppings and a parek are placed into the roll.  Very handy!

Párek v Rohlíku z Trouby by Michaela Rau

The other version, párek v rohlíku z trouby, is a baked version.  The baked version takes the raw dough and wraps it around a sausage and they are baked.  Sound familiar?

I have an almost sick fascination with the trny na párky, sausage spikes, that are used to pierce and toast the rolls, but I am afraid of what my children would do with it, or what the ER would say the first time we have an injury.

Trny na Párky (Heureka)

Trny na Párky for use on a Gas Stove (Bazarbox.cz)



120ml warm water
4g granulated sugar
3g / 1 tsp active dry yeast
130g  all-purpose flour

28g canola oil
14g salt
390g all-purpose flour
160ml warm water


1. Dissolve the sugar in lukewarm water. 
2. Combine Yeast and Flour.
3. Slowly add wet and dry ingredients till well combined.
4. Leave it in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes.

1. Combine remaining ingredients with starter and mix/knead till soft and elastic.  It should be soft, but add flour as needed.
2. Allow to rise for about 1 hour till doubled.
3. Divide into two haves.
4. For each half, roll out to a flat circle, about 12 inches, and cut like a pizza into 4 parts.
5. Roll each triangle from the widest end to the tip.
6. Set on a baking tray tip side down.
7. Allow to rise for another 30 minutes till puffy.
8. Bake at 450°F for 10-13 minutes till golden brown.

- I grew up with these as crescent moons, but they can be straight to receive a hotdog, or long and thin as a pivní rohlík, beer roll.
- Brush with an egg wash to make them shinier, or top with poppyseed, sesame, etc.  Or brush them with melted butter afterward... all delicious.

When you do find klobásníky in the Czech Republic, they are more often stuffed with a raw, uncased sausage and then cooked till the sausage is done and the outside is golden brown, not completely dissimilar to a British Sausage Roll, albeit not as flaky of a crust.  Whether they originated in Moravia, are a version of párek v rohlíku z trouby, or were a Czech-American invention in 1953 by "Village Bakery" co-owner Wendel Montgomery in West, Texas they are certainly delicious!

My stipulation with calling something a klobásnek is that it does contain sausage... because it is in the name.  I love sausage, egg, and cheese klobásníky.  If it has brisket or something like that, it is still amazing, but it is a slightly different item.  That being said, I would rather see a brisket-filled bierock/pirožkí called a klobásnek than see the bastardized term "Texas-Kolaches".

Klobásníky Filling


1000 g Pork (preferably on the fatty side)
17.5 g  Kosher Salt
4 g       Black Pepper
2.2 g    Granulated Garlic
4 g       Garlic Cloves
1.5 g    Marjoram
30 g     Potato Starch
2          Egg Whites
100 g   Breadcrumbs
50 ml   Water


  1. Cube pork to fit through the grinder
  2. Combine with Salt, Pepper, both kinds of Garlic, Marjoram, and Potato Starch
  3. Place in fridge for several hours
  4. Run the mixture through a coarse plate on the grinder
  5. Mix with Egg Whites, Breadcrumbs, and Water until a good bind forms (should stick a gloved hand)
  6. Form into 2-3" logs and wrap with dough
  7. Bake at 350°F until probe reads 165°F

Traditional Bierock with Beef, Cabbage, and Onions

Bierocks vs Runzas vs Pirožkí 

Much as Kleenex has become a generic term for facial tissues, Runzas, in Nebraska, are a generic term for these loose-meat-filled bread rolls.  Elsewhere in the midwest, they will most often be referred to as Bierocks.  

Bierocks are a derivative by Volga German immigrants of their homelands pirožkí.  Volga Germans, while ethnically German settled east of Ukraine and latter in Russia proper.  When they fled persecution they brought pirozhki or pirog with them, pirog = birog = bierock.  

A Runza with Cheese (Runza)

Sarah "Sally" Everett (née Brening), originally of Sutton, is credited with adapting her family's bierock recipe into the runza and also inventing the name for the sandwich. In 1949, Everett went into business selling runzas with her brother Alex in Lincoln (NE). - Wikipedia

Much like the klobásníky above, they are yeast dough stuffed with a delicious filling.  While you could probably use a klobásníky dough and fill it with a filling more traditional to bierocks, I have always thought of bierock as having a slightly leaner, less rich, dough.

As far as the differences between Bierocks vs Runzas vs Pirožkí much is in the shape.  The way my mother, and many of the Germans I worked with in Kansas make them, bierocks are round.  Runzas are more of an oblong or rectangular shape.  Pirožkí are more boat-shaped and may have the seam on the top, crimped like a pie (interestingly pirog is the Russian word for pie) instead of hidden on the bottom like the others.  Pirožkí may also be made fried instead of baked.

Growing up, the filling for bierocks or runzas was a mixture of ground beef cooked with shredded cabbage and onions.  As more Russians immigrated in the last 50-60 years, we have certainly gotten a broader range of fillings at places that serve pirozhki.

Traditional Midwestern Bierrock
(This is my Mom's Recipe, Scaled up for our family of 9)

makes about 2 dozen Bierocks



21g yeast
720g water
72g sugar
17g salt
84g oil
1080g AP flour


  1. For dough, dissolve yeast in water in a large mixing bowl. Allow to sit for 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in sugar, salt, oil, and enough flour until the dough comes together in a ball. 
  3. Knead dough for 6 to 8 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  4. Let dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes. 
  5. Punch down dough. Cover; let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Grease a baking sheet with shortening. 
  7. Portion out 80g balls
  8. Roll out each ball into a circle, fatter in the center than the edges.
  9. Place ½-⅓ cup filling (#8 Portion Scoop) in the center of each circle. 
  10. Pick up the sides of each circle and pinch them together. 
  11. Pinch each diagonal seams so the roll is sealed well. 
  12. Turn each bierock seam-side down onto a greased baking sheet.
  13. Bake in a preheated 400° F oven for 15 to 18 minutes.
  14. Serve warm or freeze and reheat. 
    (Microwave from frozen for ~1.30 on high, wrap in a towel for first 1.15)

Traditional Bierrock Filling:


2268g Ground Beef (~5lbs)
1-2 Onions Chopped
567-700g Shredded Cabbage
Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Prepare filling by browning ground beef, then thoroughly drain. 
  2. Add remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook on low, covered, until vegetables are tender or disappear altogether. Season to taste.
  4. Drain, and cool slightly. 

Pierogi and Kielbasa


(Singular Pieróg, there are no such things as "pierogis") Of all the stuffed Slavic food in this post, I think pierogi are the most recognizable, and the most likely for someone to have tried.  Despite having a similar root to pirožkí these Polish delicacies have very little in common with the previous food mentioned.  Instead of a yeasted baked dough, pierogi are made with a sour cream or lard-enriched "pasta" style of dough.  They are filled with meat, potato, fruit, etc., and are then cooked by boiling them.  They can then optionally be, as I prefer them, pan-fried.

SUPER sized pierogi from Stoysich in Omaha, NE

There is a question as to whether these came from Chinese Dumpling and Italian Ravioli lineage, and whether or not this is the case, I will argue that the fillings are what make them unique.  They are much more filling and stout than either of those other stuffed pastas.  Personally, my favorite are the pierogi filled with potato and cheese... and maybe some bacon for good measure.

Rmhermen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


(Singular pączek) If klobásníky are Czech yeasted dough baked with savory sausage, pączki are their sweet, rich, fried cousins from the north.  These Polish donuts, made with a very rich dough of eggs, fats, sugar, yeast, spirits, and sometimes milk, are traditionally eaten right before the Lenten fast begins.  Since the strict abstinence fast of Great Lent includes abstaining from all meat and meat products, eggs, dairy, oil, and wine, many of those are "used up" in the making of pączki.

While I certainly wish more bakeries would embrace the idea of pączki before lent, instead of just making king cakes.  I would say the biggest difference between a jelly donut, a Long John, or a Bizmark is in the dough.  As I think about it, we have a local bakery that does brioche buns for their breakfast and lunch sandwiches but bills themselves primarily as a donut shop.  I do wonder how much I would have to plea to get them to make a proper pączki... it is not far from a brioche dough, just richer.

For those from the East Coast who have experience with fastnachts, these are certainly a similar idea.  They are both traditionally served on Fat Tuesday (the day before Lent starts in the West) but fastnachts are more German, made with potato dough, and usually more square or triangular shaped.  Czechs will call pączki, koblihy but they are almost indistinguishable from their Polish cousins.

Hu Totya - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Nut Roll

I feel like, of any of these, this is the most self-explanatory.  Nut Rolls are ubiquitous across central and eastern Europe.  The reason they are included in this list is because some cultures refer to them as Kolac/Kolach.  As we learned earlier, the root of the word is kolo, which means wheel or circle.  In my mind, even though this is not the way Czechs use the term, it is an appropriate term to use for this loaf of bread... it is rolled up.  One of the best ones I have had was served at a food festival by the Russian Orthodox Parish just north of town, and that one had an almond filling.  I will be the first to say that almond filling is not traditional.  Not only are walnut and poppyseed the most common fillings, but some even call the end product completely different names.  Orechovník is made with walnut, but Makovník is made with poppyseed.

In Summary

Koláče: Czech - root word of kolo means "wheel" - flat and round sweet-filled pastry.
Klobásníky: Czech/Czech American - root word means "little sausage" - enclosed yeast dough with sausage inside.  Cousin/Fraternal Twin of párek v rohlíku z trouby.
Pirožkí: Pirozhki (Russian), Piroski (Greek),  Speķrauši (Latvia) - root word from "pie" - boat-shaped yeast dough filled with sweet or savory fillings. 
Bierocks: Volga German variation of Pirožkí, brought to the USA by immigrants.  Generally round or sometimes square shaped.  Predominantly filled with a Beef/Onion/Cabbage mixture.
Runzas: Nebraska brand name/resteraunt variation of the Volga German Bierrock.  Usually rectangular like you find in their restaurants.
Pierogi:  Polish, Varenyky (Ukraine), Derelye (Hungary) - Various fillings, but frequently savory, in an unleavened dough cooked in boiling water and sometimes fried. 
Pączki: Polish - Root word pąk means "bud" - rich yeasted donut filled with jam and cream, often eaten before Lent.
Nut Roll: Orechovník (walnut filling), Makovník (poppyseed filling), Povitica (Croatia/Slovenia), Bejgli (Hungary), Kolach (various wheel/rolled) -   Yeasted dough, rolled flat, spread with filling, rolled, and baked as a loaf.

How upset are we all when we purposefully get called by the wrong name, or someone gives us a nickname we don't care for?  I feel like no one would call an open-face sandwich a pizza long after they were corrected by the Italian population at large; likewise, these Slavic dishes deserve to be called by the correct name.  It is certainly understandable that recipes change as people emigrate away from their homeland, and it makes sense that fillings change somewhat depending on the area they settle in.  Certainly, klobásníky, bierocks, and Runzas are a direct result of immigrants trying to share their cultural food.  While people obstinately calling the food of my culture by the wrong name irks me, I was, ultimately, motivated to write this post after my oldest daughter asked me why we call beef/cabbage/onion stuffed rolls "bierock" but call sausage/egg/cheese stuffed rolls "klobásníky".  

  • Koláče are sweet round pastries.  They can be the size of your face as in some Moravian towns, or slightly smaller than a cheese danish.
  • When I stick meat that is not sausage into yeasted bread, I call it a bierock, even if I use the same dough I would use for the klobásníky.  
  • When putting any form of loose sausage (sausage/egg/cheese. sausage gravy, sausage/rice), an uncooked/uncased sausage, or a smoked sausage in dough, I call it klobásníky.
  • If I put a hotdog/weiner/frankfurter/párek or any sausage slimmer than about 30mm in dough it is a párek v rohlíku... if it is all baked together then párek v rohlíku z trouby.
  • Bierocks with the traditional beef/onion/cabbage mixture get equally called Runzas in my house, depending on who I am talking to, and even then may get called both things in one sitting.
  • Pierogi and Ravioli are two completely different things... BUT in my mind, the deciding factor is more the filling than the shape.  Certainly, Pierogi have a richer dough, but I have seen them in a number of shapes; meanwhile, ravioli have a thinner dough... but also have lots of shapes.
  • Italian seasoned meat filling = Ravioli.  Ground meat with garlic and marjoram = Pierogi.  Potato and Cheese = Pierogi.  Butternut squash and browned butter = Ravioli.  Anything with kraut = Pierogi.  Squid ink = Ravioli.  Strawberries/raspberries/prunes/blueberries = Pierogi.
  • Grandma never made nut rolls, in my memory so I am most likely to cede to the baker.  I have a lot of respect for the term "Kolach Bread". Note the addition of the H and plural would be "Kolach Breads" because they are rolled bread.

25 August 2023

Supplì al Telefono / Arancini di Riso


Two disclaimers: 1. This is my ultimate "non-recipe" and 2. I know Arancini and Supplì are technically different, but I am going to treat them as a variation on a theme (no horse heads in my bed, please).

Basically, the process here is to assume you have leftover risotto, or to make some, fill it, roll it in bread crumbs, and fry it.

First of all, let's get the recipe out of the way, and then we will discuss it amongst ourselves.


1 batch of cold Risotto
2 Eggs Divided
1-2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup water
8 oz Low Moisture Mozzarella cut into 12 -20 pieces (You can use fresh, but you will have a lot of moisture inside the Supplì)
Oil for frying (If you want to deep fry them, 4-8 cups depending on your apparatus. If you shallow fry, then halfway up a 10" frying pan.)


  1. Crack one egg into a bowl with 1/2 cup of water and beat.
  2. Crack the second egg into the cold risotto and mix well.
  3. With damp hands, form a clump of risotto mixture around nob of mozzarella cheese.
  4. Dip in egg and roll in bread crumbs
  5. Fry in batches until golden brown and cheese is melted

These re-heat VERY WELL from frozen for 20 minutes in a 425°F oven.

There are two MAIN variations of Italian fried rice balls and LOTS of little variations.

Depending on the region, you will see these referred to as Supplì or Arancini.  

Supplì are from Rome, the name comes from the "surprise" of cheese when you bite into them.  They are smaller and often elongated.  I go for golf ball size or a little larger.  The "al Telefono" refers to the stretch of cheese, like a telephone cord, when you separate the two halves.

Arancini are from Sicily.  Their name comes from the oranges that are plentiful in the area.  The shape is larger and often filled with a beef ragu.  These can be as large as a softball.  In eastern Sicily, they are conically shaped in honor of Mount Etna.  Arancini has, supposedly, been around longer.

For the feast of Santa Lucia, in Palermo and Trapani, arancini are eaten to commemorate the arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s day in 1646.  On St. Lucy Day, they also, then, abstain from grain and pasta. 

There are many variations.  

  • Supplì bianco: This is easily my favorite.  Simply, it means there is no red sauce or minced meat in with the mozzarella.  We will use Risotto alla Milanese if we have it, to give them the extra flavor and a beautiful golden hue.  I recognize that this addition is more common in Arancini... but I am Roman Catholic... so Rome sweet home!
  • Supplì alla Romana: The most common method now, is to add a little red sauce and minced meat (or traditionally chicken gizzards) to the rice mixture, and stuffed with mozzarella.
  • Supplì di prosciutto e mozzarella: This one has either the rice mixture prepared with some tomato sauce or bianco with the addition of Prosciutto, ham, to the cheese center.
  • Arancini al ragù: Unlike the Supplì, the risotto is not prepared with ragu, but instead prepared with saffron and then STUFFED with ragu.  Again, these are much larger and can be a meal unto themselves.
  • Arancini ragù e piselli: Very similar to the Arancini al ragù, but with the addition of peas. (Pictured Below) 
  • Arancini al burro: Literally, the name is "with butter" but really refers to a béchamel sauce, often containing some form of ham.
  • Arancini con funghi: These contain a stuffing of mushrooms, garlic, Ragusano cheese, and parsley.
  • Arancini di riso al pistacchio: As strange as pistachios might seem in a fried rice ball, it's more of rolling the nob of cheese in ground pistachios before covering it in rice. 
  • Arancini agli spinaci:  As the name might suggest, these are filled with a mixture of spinach and cheese, sometimes with the addition of ham.
  • Arancine alle melanzane:  Eggplant, these contain eggplant.  Not my thing, but I have never had a ton of eggplant around.  If eggplant IS your thing, or you have leftover Aubergine parmigiana this might be the one for you!
There are, of course, lots of fusions and modern takes on both of these excellent rice croquettes.  I am not generally a fan of modernizing or fusionizing classical dishes, but in this case, the reason for these dishes is to use up leftovers, so go wild.  I prefer the classic, Supplì bianco, with the addition of saffron in the risotto, but this is one where little surprises are fun.  We also make these cows dairy-free with sheep's milk Romano cheese and Water Buffalo milk Mozzarella.

Arancini ragù e piselliPhoto credit: Francesco Zaia

01 May 2023

Risotto (Tips and Tricks)


Risotto is one of our family's comfort foods.  In the realm of Italian Foods, this ranks right up there with Pizza, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  It may even outrank them since risotto often means Supplì are not far behind. 

I have a basic recipe that can be changed depending on what you are serving with it, or what is on hand. I would not say we are "strict traditionalists" when it comes to risotto, but that does not mean I am not full of strong opinions!  I do reject a fair bit of modern notions when it comes to risotto; why fix what isn't broken?  I do not like a lot of the fusion recipes out there but to each their own. I reject the notion of Risotto alla Carbonara.  While we are at it... why do some people put cream and peas in their Spaghetti alla Carbonara! It is so wrong. Sorry.  There are some choices we make because of who we are feeding, or what we will be doing with the risotto, and there are some choices we make because it's just better.

Use Carnaroli Rice.

Yes, Arborio Rice is the most available, and it's fine... it's just fine.  I enjoy this article: 3 Types of Rice to Use for Risotto (and Which to Skip).  I agree with the assessment of Carnaroli rice.  The biggest reason I like it is that it is very forgiving.  I usually have the kids help, particularly in ladling and stirring in the broth.  Arborio goes from perfect to mushy very quickly, in my opinion, whereas Carnaroli can take a lot more liquid before it moves away from al dente.

Use the Right Wine.

Un-oaked dry white wine... unless you use something else.    Honestly, there are a lot of choices.  You want to use some sort of alcohol to dissolve alcohol-soluble flavors... and just make it all taste good.  If in doubt, use a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio.  Both are very good, and good bottles are not real expensive.  Do NOT use cheap cooking wine.  Use something that you would be willing to drink by itself. 2 Buck Chuck is borderline, depending on the day.  Avoid Chardonnay, it's too oaky.  Leftover Champagne is a great choice, just nothing too sweet, and then you would call it Risotto allo Champagne.  Barolo or another dry red is another great choice... then you would have Risotto al Barolo.

Use Quality Ingredients.

Risotto is, at its essence, a method of concentrating flavors into the rice.  You have to remember that whatever you use, is going to get distilled down and concentrated.  If you use cheap stuff, it will taste cheap.  That is not to say you have to make it super expensive either.  Use homemade broth, fresh vegetables, good wine, and nice cheese.  I would recommend Bon Appetit's Vegetable Stock Recipe and a combination of Michael Ruhlman's and Judy Rodgers's recipes for broth.

In the above picture, I am using dried garlic and shallots.  I have two reasons for this.  First and foremost... I couldn't be bothered to cut up fresh ones.  Second... Sometimes I prefer dried spices for their consistency, especially if I am going to make Supplì with the Risotto.  I do rehydrate them in some wine, and they work just fine... if you use quality spices.


Mise en place

I can not emphasize how important it is to get everything together before you start.  The first thing I do is get my broth heating.  Salt and Pepper the broth to taste. I get the cheese grated, and if I am using dried stuff, I start that soaking in wine.  When the broth is hot, I pour a little into a cup with a pinch of saffron.

Il Soffritto

Lightly cook the Onion, Garlic, and Shallot in a little butter or olive oil till soft and fragrant.

La Tostatura

At this point, you can add the rice.  You want to draw moisture out of the rice, so you can get maximum flavor INTO the rice, and you want a little bit of toastiness to it.  If it starts smelling like popcorn kernels, you are going to far... add the wine right away.  There is some debate on this.  Some places say you want the rice to take on color... so cook 7-10 minutes.  Some say to say only coat with oil and then add wine.  I am in the 2-5 minute camp.  I look for the outside of the rice to become translucent.

(not my picture... it was floating unclaimed out in the forums on the internet)

Lo Sfumato

This is my second favorite part.  Add the wine.  I feel like this adds more flavor in one punch than anything else.  The pan gets deglazed, alcohol-soluble flavors get... dissolved and stuff... and the rice absorbs it all.  You want the wine to be all but completely absorbed at this step.

La Cottura

This is where I most value my helpers.  My 10-year-old is just about completely trained in the art of stirring risotto.  I know people, a couple of my sisters included, who will use the oven method of making risotto, and I am sure it is very tasty... but I think risotto should be stirred for a superior taste and texture. You want to be stirring often, but not constantly.
The broth is added a little at a time, kept at a gentle simmer.  The first bit will be the most, and you want it to cover the top as pictured above.  Note I am using chicken broth this time, that is what I had.  Some people will say Risotto alla Milanese should only use beef broth.  I have seen a lot of contradicting recipes.  If it is Lent, we might even use Vegetable Broth... scandalous... I know.  If you are not adding saffron to make it alla Milanese then you can throw tradition to the wind and use whatever will compliment your meal.

When the broth gets low, add more.  Around the second time adding broth, also add the broth that has been soaking the saffron.

After 10 minutes of cooking, start checking the risotto for doneness.  The grains will get plump, and change opaqueness to be very consistent all the way through.  When you stir, you will go from feeling like you are stirring through pebbles, to stirring soup.  Finally, the taste will go from gritty to firm.  You don't want mushy.  Carnaroli rice is very forgiving, so if you are a little unsure, it is fine to add a titch more liquid and try again in a couple minutes.  Al dente is the key here.  You may need to add some hot water if you run out of broth.  This is ok!

La Mantecatura

If you are following along at home and say, "Hey, what about Il Riposo?"  You would be right, and I would ask you why you are bothering to read this, you are already learned in the ways of risotto!  Traditionally there would be a short rest of a few minutes, before adding the last flavorings... but I am not super patient and I just push past it.

At this point, off the heat, add your cheese, fat, and parsley.  Stir vigorously.  If I am making this for the whole family, we use sheep's milk Pecorino Romano, because we have a daughter that has cow dairy issues.  We have had good luck with Earth Balance butter substitute.  If it is just the two of us, I use butter and whatever hard Italian cheese is in the fridge.  Yes, I know the fake stuff should be frowned upon, but it is the difference between her not being able to enjoy this dish or it being too dry.  Salt and Pepper to taste again, and maybe add some granulated garlic if you feel like it.

...What to do with the leftovers... if you have any?  Supplì al Telefono!



Olive Oil
Shallots chopped (or 3 tsp dry)
Garlic cloves minced (or 3 tsp dry)
1 Small Onion chopped small (or 1 1/2 tbsp dry)
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli Rice (or another short-grained Italian rice)
1 cup dry white Wine
4-5+ cups good broth (32 oz store-bought... if you must)
Pinch of Saffron (Optional)
3/4 cup Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Grana Padano, or Asiago)
Nob of Butter (or Bone Marrow, or Butter Substitute)
Fresh cracked Pepper
1 tbsp Parsley


  1. Heat broth in a small saucepan till simmering.  Season with Salt and Pepper to taste.  Turn heat to low.
  2. Set everything out.  Hydrate dried herbs in wine.  Soak saffron in about 1/2 cup of hot broth.
  3. Coat a medium-sized saucier or saucepan with a generous amount of olive oil. Heat over medium flame.
  4. Saute onion till starts to color, add garlic and shallots and cook till fragrant.
  5. Toast rice with vegetables till coated and edges are transparent.
  6. Pour in wine and stir.  Occasionally stir while the rice absorbs the wine.
  7. When wine is absorbed, add broth about a cup at a time, allowing it to partially absorb between ladles.
  8. Add cup of broth with saffron with the second ladle of broth. Stir often but not constantly.
  9. Cook risotto till al dente.  Some resistance is good, grittiness is bad.
  10. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and butter till creamy.  Season to taste. Stir in parsley and serve.

28 September 2022

Svíčková and St. Wenceslaus

 Dedicated to my little sister Alžběta who has never had a poor critique of my Czech roast.

This is an excellent time of year for my family, both of our Confirmation Saints are celebrated within days of each other: St. Wenceslaus and St. Therese of Lisieux.  We also get to celebrate the great traditional feast of Michaelmas / The Feast of the Archangels.  Sept. 28th is my eldest daughter's baptismal day, so she also renewed her baptismal promises that evening after vespers.  Good Times for all.

Every year, we have a Czech feast, and most years we post pictures and my little sister asks me for recipes, and I tell her I will get them sent.  She has been very patient with me. 

Svíčková na Smetaně 

Basically marinated beef in cream sauce, we had been eating this by the pound from Bohemian Cafe long before they even thought about closing their doors.  The problem with the recipe is that it is a matter of proportions, time, and what is available.


Some roast like meat, sirloin is classic, tenderloin is tasty, chuck is just fine
Root vegetables: onion, carrots, celery, parsnips.
Seasoning: salt, peppercorns, allspice, marjoram, bay leaves
Liquids: Vinegar (I like Apple Cider), Topping off liquid (I use apple juice if the 3-year-old prince is not looking.
Sour cream... and corn starch..... and some milk type liquid...

If you have days to marinate, use a little less vinegar.

If you have a day and a half to 2 days:

Lard the beef with the bacon: cut into the meat, force bacon inside.

Season roast with salt and pepper.... just for good measure  

Stick in a non-reactive container or plastic bag with cut-up vegetables.  

Fill halfway with vinegar and halfway with topping off liquid.

Use your common sense.  you want the liquid to be in contact with everything, but you don't want to stick it in a giant metal stockpot, so don't chop up 12 onions and 2 large parsnips and then use a whole jug of apple cider vinegar for a 2-pound roast.

When the time has come, remove the roast from its bath, sear on all sides and place in a pan so that when you put the vegetable bath in, it only goes halfway up the roast.

Roast at 350ºF till it's done.  Seriously, it depends on your cut of beef.  

Take the roast out and let it set.  Strain the juice from the veggies, discard the veggies.  Bring the jus to a boil.  On the side mix some milk or water, or almond milk with cornstarch and add to boiling liquid to thicken.  Season to taste.  Remove from heat and stir in 2 spoonfuls of sour cream.

While all this is going on, make some potato dumplings that are the size of your child's forearm and cook them

And serve
We didn't have sourcream that the Eldest could have this year.... so it doesn't have that classic look to the gravy.... my bad.

Betty, I am sorry this was so late in coming..... if you can even call it a recipe.

Eat Kolaces for desert

09 May 2022

Top 10 Pitfalls of an Microsoft Office 365 Migration

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Email is one of the resources in IT that people take most for granted. There are so many expectations attached to the email resource. It is expected to work… no … matter … what. More and more companies are finding that it is most cost-effective to migrate from on-prem self-hosted email solutions to cloud solutions. Unfortunately, once the decision is made to migrate, there is an unrealistic expectation that a systems administrator will wave a magic wand and 25 years of email boxes will suddenly be in the cloud, and end-users, least of all the C-Level, will be not be impacted.

There are lots of pros and cons to hosting email in the cloud versus self-hosting on-premises, but that is outside the scope of this post. I will say, my favorite email system I have gotten to use is still SquirrelMail while I was in college. It was certainly not very feature-packed, but it did give me an ssh login to the mail server. That server was one of the few things that was not rate-limited on the network… and ssh proxying was not blocked. Oh, the good-ole days! This also shows how much we have grown as a community. In researching this post, I saw old forums where people needed help migrating, and they were resorting to using each employee's outlook, essentially, to pull then push the mailbox from old to new.

Bil Keane 2016

Since then, I have been responsible for countless migrations: SquirrelMail to MS Exchange 2003, Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007, Exchange to Gmail, Gmail to Office 365, Exchange to O365, Exchange 2016 to Hybrid O365, and plenty of derivatives in between. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee, and take a deep breath. You can do this migration and you can avoid these top 10 pitfalls of migrating to Office 365!

10. Buy-Off Your Users (with Training)

If this was a “Top Two Pitfalls” post… they would both be End-Users. I have been asked several times prior to a migration “This will be seamless, right? No interruptions? Users won’t need to do anything?” The simple answer is NO. Sure, in the perfect world users are using a modern version of Outlook autodiscovery will switch them over, however, this is the time to have proper training rolled out for the new technologies, web portals, and policies that O365 will afford your company. Don’t take the easy out, don’t make promises you know you might not be able to keep. Yes, users will be impacted, but it is a good thing.

9. Poor Planning Produces Poor Results

There are many steps that go into a proper migration. A Minimal Hybrid Migration where you have coexistence between your on-premise and cloud tendencies is still an involved process:

Step 1: Verify you own the domain.
Step 2: Start express migration.
Step 3: Run directory synchronization to create users in Microsoft 365 or Office 365.
Step 4: Give Microsoft 365 or Office 365 licenses to your users.
Step 5: Start migrating user mailbox data.
Step 6: Update DNS records.

It is not as simple as changing an MX record and hitting a button. Take the time to do the research and then convey those expectations. Microsoft has a lot of resources to help you estimate the time it will take… double it.

Public Folders, Shared Mailboxes, and custom groups will all take extra time. If you can skip migrating Public Folders… do so. It is much preferred to start using modern solutions such as shared resources. Some people do not want to spend the time doing the migration and training involved in a new resource, but if you stick with Public Folders, remember that your only viable option for managing them is going to be PowerShell.

8. “Let it Go, Let it GO”

“Can’t we just apply the retention policies AFTER we migrate?”

I once worked with a large international media company. There were video editing departments, still graphics, animations, radio, etc. Many of these departments did not want to develop a standardized workflow and so used the email system for copy-approval. We are not talking proxy copies either… original full-resolution media. Needless to say, the company did not want to pay for more than the basic 50GB mailbox for most employees, and most of those mailboxes were much bigger than 50GB. You can get an idea of your larger mailboxes with the following PowerShell command:

[PS] C:\>Get-Mailbox -ResultSize Unlimited | Get-MailboxStatistics | Sort-Object TotalItemSize -Descending | Select-Object DisplayName,TotalItemSize -First 100 | Export-CSV top100mailboxes.csv

Even older versions of most email servers have a way to apply retention policies and most companies have a records management policy on how long things must be kept… and how long they should not be kept. This is a great time to make sure those are being implemented. Retention Policies are very straightforward but should be tested first following Microsoft Documentation

7. Be Exceptional! (But Don’t _Have_ Exceptions)

There is a place for granular policies and permission, and while I think those should always be applied to groups and then groups be applied to users, either way, that place is really not in the basic setup of a user mailbox. The more mailboxes are standardized, the easier it will be to diagnose problems.

I had a migration in the last few years for a company and a higher ranking manager was having terrible problems with his emails not being able to be opened by some board members. Turns out there were lots of exceptions made on his account, among which was allowing him to continue using Rich Text Format for everything. RTF is only readable by a few email clients. The excuse was that no one wanted to make him switch or modernize, etc. The result was that he was one of only a few people that actually had problems during the migration.

6. If you always do what you have always done… you might not get the same results…

This goes along with proper planning, but there are a particular number of unnecessary headaches caused by changing email systems and thereby changing spam rules. Spam rules are a necessary evil, but technology has gotten a lot better. Too often, companies just want to migrate their old rules into their new system. I would caution against this, in large part because newer systems, like the Baracuda and Proofpoint’s cloud offerings, or even Microsoft’s built-in rules rely more on artificial intelligence to filter out spam and bad actors, whereas old systems are generally more explicate.

5. Garbage In — Garbage Out

A migration to a new system will not wipe out a decade of bad practices. You can’t blame Twitter for not blocking you from posting that embarrassing tweet, it is no more magic than the import tools Microsoft offers. Moreover, if you are moving from an on-premise system to the cloud, you a going to have to pay for each of those mailboxes from past employees that were never cleaned out. The same goes for retention policies, litigation holds, weird routes, old groups, ancient contacts, and the disclaimer/company footers. Clean it up ahead of time, and use the momentum to push best practices going forward.

Fortunately for all of us, Microsoft includes some best practices scanners, there are also many great resources out there devoted to the topic.

4. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks (As long as they don’t require TLS)

Photo by Richard Bell on Unsplash

Often overlooked, but never forgotten by the people who use them, legacy clients, like copy machines, will need an SMTP connection. It is also necessary to evaluate any DMZ, CHD, or other isolated networks you may have that don’t have clear access to the Office 365 servers. If you use a TAP/SPAN port on your network, these are pretty easy to find using your network monitoring solution, otherwise, you can use Wireshark to monitor and log internal SMTP connections

The easiest solution is to make sure that your firewall and routers have access control lists and routes to the O365 servers, but it may also be necessary to run a small SMTP proxy server. I like running a small containerized appliance, but you can also use a simple Linux server.

3. Only YOU can stop security breaches

1989; Smokey Bear poster showing a half body image of Smokey pointing at the audience with one hand while holding a shovel in the other hand. Poster reads “Only You”. This work is maintained in the National Agricultural Library, in Beltsville, MD.

Too often, in the middle of a migration, I have heard the phrase “we will only open it up till we get this migration done.” This could be the firewall, the SSL requirements, or giving more permissions to a service account than necessary. Just say NO. Always get things working the right way and don’t cut corners. Exchange servers are in no way immune to malicious attacks and when your focus is on the migration, it is easy to let your guard down keeping the on-premise system safe. Make sure you are keeping up on your daily/weekly/monthly security tasks:

  1. Keep Exchange servers up to date
  2. Maintain Firewalls
  3. Keep security appliances and software up to date and keep checking logs(Symantec, Barracuda, Proofpoint, etc)
  4. Secure network hosting Exchange
  5. Monitor server logs
  6. Use certificates for ALL external services
  7. Limit administrative access and elevated accounts (including service accounts)
  8. Enable role-based access control and require strong passwords
  9. Audit admin and other mailbox activities
  10. Use Microsoft’s security Utilities (Safety Scanner, Defender, Security Configuration Wizard, Security Compliance Toolkit, Exchange Analyzer)

2. But it was going so well… (Plan B)

As we go back to number 9, I have to reiterate that having a good plan is necessary. There is nothing worse than doing an overnight migration and finding out at 7 am that the system is hosed and you have to figure out how to get the email back up and running. Each step needs to be thought out. One thing we did at a previous place was to set up a temporary email portal for checking incoming emails by using the portal feature on our enterprise spam filter.

So often the problem is just an internet interruption in the middle of the migration, sometimes a firewall rule was changed, or your on-premise public IP may have changed. In these cases, you can just restart the batch that failed. Very rarely have I had to resort to pulling a PST (or a backup) of that user's mailbox and pushing it to the new system.

1. Buy-Off Users… again


Finally, as I said before, email is one of the technologies that is most taken advantage of; people just expect it to work. The electric grid, gas companies, and telco do not have 100% uptime, email doesn’t either. While I pushed end-user training in number 10, this is also a great time to get better buy-in and understanding from management. There are so many options and solutions in modern email services. Make sure you are using those things that are best for your company. This migration can be as much about moving to better practices and better technologies as it is moving to a cheaper platform in the cloud.

Good Luck! If this is your first time doing an email migration or your fiftieth time, let me know how it went. Reach out on Twitter and let me know if you learned anything new this time around.