MOM’S CORNER

Bon appétit      MY MOM’S COOKING

Cooking is both a cathartic hobby and survival for me since I live alone and retired from active cooking except for Holidays, and volunteering for charitable events and causes that interest me.  Whether its food prep and burger flipping for 300 kids at a Rotary summer camp, Steak Meistering at a Golf Tourney for Charity, or helping do prep and PR at the Catholic Charities to feed those less fortunate, I make myself available.  On this day, the Governor Charlie Christ and his wife showed up to pitch in. Literally I try to keep my irons in the fire on days of grace when those who don’t have or can’t get a little love.

I learned to cook from two wonderful sources, my Mom and a couple guys in NYC who owned small eateries.  My mothers kitchen, a middle class apartment in Brooklyn NY, was eight feet wide, ten feet long with a dumb waiter and provided a style for food that had heart, soul and a lot of ‘ Ta’am'.   "Ta'am" in the language of the Hebrews means taste and flavor, and eye appeal.   I’ll have to ask my nephew the Rabbi If I spelled it correctly.

It’s a subtle richness, not based on butter and sugar but the love in its essence   Our kitchen was barely big enough for two people to eat in but such delicious food came from it.  As I got older I watched and learned a little. So when some of my friends and colleagues tell me about food with soul in it, I understand, they too had their food made with love when they grew up.

She cooked by taste, no books, learned it all from her mother passed down through generations.  If my mother said it had "No 'ta'am", it meant it tasted like one of those bargain $5.00 pizzas, they make today, hmmm, like prefab cardboard smothered in catsup with synthetic cheap cheese.    You get what you pay for, she could tell you the construction of most dishes in any restaurant with one taste.  

One evening years ago at an upscale place on the beach, the Chef came out to greet the patrons and when he got into a conversation with her at our table, he invited back to the kitchen, one of the most prestigious places in our area.  He commented she had a unique sense of  taste and soon we had the unique culinary experience called deserts on the house.

She never measured, nor learned metric, everything was a pinch, a little or a fair amount! It was all by taste. I learned a lot from her. The girls from the St. Petersburg Times Newspaper who came out to write about ethnic food on the Jewish Holidays had to reconstruct every dish and measure it for the article in the paper. 

Mom had it all in her head. Then I got a real job to pay for school. I was cooking in a joint 100 feet from a college where we never asked the customers about their eating habits, I know, I know…you order we’ll make it your way…strange customs and tastes.


MOM’s STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS - INTERNATIONAL FOOD
Growing up in Brooklyn, both my mother and grandmother made “ Stuffed Cabbage" the same way as it was handed down from generation to generation.  I can only estimate the ingredients as both cooked by taste.  My Mom used to say, cookbooks look great on the shelf, but the taste is great on the plate. So many things I cook today, I realize I do by instinct and taste and don't reference the pages that often, I guess that makes me a hand-me down too. 

This is a bit more complex than simple versions on the web and yet very similar, noting the raisins and the brown sugar were the keys in the similarity to the recipe on the TV by the Barefoot Contessa and others. Sixty years ago Mom used the raisins, carrots and brown sugar to sweeten things before the Contessa became a Contessa. The recipe is quite similar.  Till she passed away she would call me and tell me she had made stuffed cabbage and would I like to come over baring speeding tickets in a heartbeat.

I know I emphasized carrots, raisins and brown sugar a lot but thats what made Moms special.  I have never tasted anything close. That’s how you get picky kids to eat "things like cabbage".  Mom was pretty smart,  first the simple generic version.


WORLDLY DISH
Basically they (the world) all had the same idea. Stuff the cabbage with meat and rice and the differences are in the spices and sauce usually determined by whats locally available.  The basic version below starts with and uses Italian sausages (not kosher)  mixed with the ground round or chuck meat for flavor.  Mom used 50% chuck and 50% round ground by the butcher and then he mixed it a second time in the grinder.   She didn't realize this was what we call "lean" today and still retains the taste.

VARIETY 

  • You can experiment with fresh Cumin, Chili powder, some diced Jalopena and a four way Cheese sauce using a blend of pork and meat.   Sort of a Cabbage Burrito.  Maybe I can sell the idea to Taco Hell. They need all the help they can get with the junk food they sell.

  • A simple Jewish version would substitute the sausage, which contains pork and is a no-no. You may substitute 1/2 lb. ground veal, turkey or ground chicken spiced with oregano, sage and thyme. In other words, increase some of the spices to make up for the blander meat equal to the spicy sausage.
     
  • For classic Greek style, we substitute a Lemon Sauce and "Lemon-Pepper" for the pepper, and also add some Rosemary and Thyme and increase the amount of spice.  This is to offset the cream sauce and lemon the Greek people favor. The basic difference in these countries is the use of the available resources and vegetables.  In Israel they have great hydroponic tomatoes, across the Aegean sea on volcanic soil the Greeks grow lemons, and we use a simple lemon sauce for the Greek version.

  • All countries of the world eat Meat, Fish or Fowl in some form or another.  Many dishes are one of those ingredients simply changed or altered based on the availability of the spices and herbs in their region.


Simple Lemon Sauce - Ingredients

1  cup sugar
1/2  cup butter or margarine
1/4  cup water
1  egg, well beaten 
1/4  teaspoon grated lemon peel 
3  tablespoons lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:
Mix all ingredients in 2-quart saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly; cook 1 minute. Serve warm or refrigerate. 


BASIC STUFFED CABBAGE

1 large head of cabbage
1 1/2 lb. hamburger meat 
2 Italian sausages (see note, use mild or hot)
1-cup rice, 
2 cloves garlic, minced (more, I like a lot)
1 onion, grated 
1 egg beaten 
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS FOR THE CABBAGE
Core the cabbage. Cook the leaves in a large pot with just a touch of boiling water until leaves wilt and can be easily removed. You can do this in stages by using a carving fork inserted near the core area as a handle. Cook it too long and you will have cabbage soup known in Jewish Circles as “The one who died in the Kitchen from the smell”. 

ALTERNATE METHOD - FREEZE the cabbage for two days and then defrost the night before. Some believe the cabbage is softer when boiled and some believe the freezing is easier. Drain and leave until cool enough to handle. Peel leaves carefully, without tearing or shredding. Chop remaining cabbage; place in the bottom of a casserole dish so the stuffed cabbage rolls don't burn.

DIRECTIONS FOR THE FILLING
Remove casings from sausage, and mix with meat or add ground veal or chicken, additional spices to taste and mix with the hamburger.  Add the egg, cup of rice, garlic, salt and pepper. Spoon a few tablespoons onto a cabbage leaf and roll up. Place in casserole dish. Repeat until all filling is used, laying rolls side by side. Bake 60 minutes at 350F°F or until cabbage is tender and filling is cooked.

DIRECTIONS FOR THE SAUCE
Cover with tomato soup undiluted and add salt, pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, and a few pepper flakes, or a commercial can of tomato sauce flavored with spices and sugar.  (See Sauces below)

 

MOM'S VERSION OF THIS DISH

MEAT FILLING

  • 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck and round mixed  (Lean Hamburger at 85-15)
  • 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten, do not whip
  • 2 cloves garlic pressed (or more)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Visalia sweet or yellow onions
  • 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup uncooked white rice, Basmati or Jasmine long grain
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp if dried
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


DIRECTIONS FOR THE FILLING

For the filling, in a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, rice, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add ¾ cup of the sauce to the meat mixture and mix lightly with a fork, set aside.

THE SAUCE

  • 3 table spoons olive oil
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced very fine, almost minced
  • 1 and 1/4 cup sweet or Vidalia onions, also finely chopped (sub: Shallots)
  • 3 tablespoons chicken stock cans tomatoes, finely chopped, diced or diced and sauce. (Hunts 28oz)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar or rice wine, malt vinegar
  • 1-teaspoon fresh oregano, minced or 1/2 dried
  • 1/2-cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2-cup raisins (bashed or crushed with rolling pin)
  • 1/2 cup carrots shredded fine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


DIRECTIONS FOR THE SAUCE
For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions, and wait till the onions are translucent. Add the Hunts tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside. 

Taste and correct with the usual pepper and salt, or aromatics you prefer. This makes a sweet tangy sauce and the raisins are a key element she used.  Ground carrot, I use a fine grater, added to the mix with the brown sugar and raisins sweeten the pot. I put the raisins between two sheet of saran wrap and crush with a kitchen hammer or rolling pin, scrape and add to the sauce.  This one tip alone changes the complexity of the taste and makes a winner.

PREPARATION OF THE LEAVES
Alternate choice; FREEZE the cabbage for two days and then defrost the night before. Some believe the cabbage is softer when boiled and some believe the freezing is easier.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove the entire core of the cabbage. Immerse the head of the cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it’s flexible.  Another way is to stick a carving fork in it and only pull the outside leaves. Set the leaves aside. No waste as the excess leaves will be used to bed the pan to prevent burning the stuffed cabbage. Do as many as you can and chop the leftovers for the bedding.


PUTTING IT TOGETHER
You will need a large Dutch oven, and preheat the oven 350 degrees. Assemble is simple, place 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the oven.  Cut the stem portion or the rib off the leaf.

Place filling in an oval shape, like finger Sushi near the rib edge of the leaf. Roll up toward the outer edge of the leaf, and tuck in the sides. Secure with a toothpick, which is a smart move. If you don't you might be making cabbage soup.

Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, over the sauce. Keep adding rows of sauce and rolls until you run out. Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls or save it for the table. Cover the Dutch oven, and bake for 1 hour. Check to see if the meat is cooked and the rice is tender.  If it is not ready, give it another fifteen to twenty minutes while you enjoy some fine wine. The extra sauce is great on garlic-mashed potatoes…


SERVING SUGGESTION

Garlic Mashed Potato's, and a medium sweet red, white wine or the traditional Manischewitz Medium Dry Concord which is sweet enough to promote drinking water from the Dead sea to kill the aftertaste.  I like white and semi-sweet, or fruity since most bodied red wines give me a headache and the Concord gives me a migraine.


THE GOOD STUFF

I usually order at this time of the year, a simple white Chenin Blanc or their ‘ special Reserve'  Chenin Blanc from the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina which has a fine vineyard and they sell on line.  Their wines are exceptional and moderately priced.

They are located at http://www.biltmore.com/
Surprise and delight your guests by offering both a red and a white wine option to pair with the Thanksgiving meal or for any other occasion. Our winemakers recommend selecting our buttery, complex Biltmore Estate® Chardonnay and our elegant and medium-bodied Biltmore® Reserve Pinot Noir to grace your holiday table in November and December.

copyright 2017 aljacobskitchen.com