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Stuffed cabbage

4 Oct

stuffed cabbage

Sukkot, the 7-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot that commemorates the ancient Israelites’ wandering in the desert and also celebrates the fall harvest, starts on the evening of October 13 this year. It’s traditional to serve fall-harvested vegetables, and stuffed cabbage is one of my favorite Sukkot dishes. It reminds me of my Polish- and Russian-born grandmothers. They called the rolls prakas. Others called them holischkes.

How can something that smells so awful taste so delicious? Cooked cabbage is a that cliche of novels and movies about immigrants in tenement houses. I will be the first to admit that the scent of cooking cabbage is not up there with fresh bread and popcorn as an enticing aroma. Cooking it as stuffed cabbage is not as bad, because you also get the bouquet of cooking meat and tomato sauce. But don’t be put off by the fear of cooking cabbage! The end result is well worth it. (When you’re done you can burn a nice-smelling candle to deodorize your kitchen.)

Lots of recipes tell you to boil the head of cabbage and then separate the leaves. This is a mess, because you need a huge pot, and then you have to handle a hot head of cabbage. Others say to cut the leaves off the head of cabbage and parboil them. This is also unsatisfactory, because it’s very hard to get intact leaves off a raw head of cabbage—and then you still have to deal with hot cabbage leaves dripping hot water all over your kitchen.

I have a better way, which I learned from my beloved late Aunt Lili. The only drawback is it takes some planning. At least a week before the holiday, buy your cabbage, wrap it well in foil, and stick it in the freezer. A few days later,  take it from the freezer and put it in your fridge. A block of frozen cabbage takes a long time to defrost, so allow at least five days! You can speed up the process by defrosting it on your counter, but you’ll still need a day or two. Put the frozen cabbage into a large bowl or deep platter, because a lot of water will seep out as it defrosts.

When the cabbage is completely defrosted, cut out the core, and the leaves will just fall away, nice and soft and ready for rolling.

Some people like to make “unstuffed cabbage” by chopping up the cabbage and making meatballs out of the stuffing, then cooking it all together in the tomato sauce. This may be slightly less work, but honestly, the taste is not as good, and you still have to roll the meatballs. The only excuse for doing it this way is if you forget to freeze and thaw your cabbage.

Six years ago I was writing another food blog called Feed the Spirit, part of an online magazine called Read the Spirit, which is still published weekly. I wrote about the Sukkot holiday and included this recipe for stuffed cabbage, and I made this little video to show how easy it is to stuff the leaves.

Ingredients

One large, green cabbage, frozen and then defrosted
2 lb. ground beef
1 cup cooked white rice
1 small onion, chopped fine, or 2 Tbs. dehydrated onion flakes
Garlic powder to taste
1 egg
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 cups water (use the the tomato paste can to measure so you can rinse out the paste that sticks after you spoon it out)
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. brown sugar
½ tsp. salt or to taste
Black pepper to taste
A handful of black raisins

Directions

Combine the ground beef, rice, onion, garlic and egg. Mix well.

Cut the core out of the cabbage and separate the leaves. Cut off any really hard core pieces from the bottom of each leaf, but save the pieces you cut off. Pile the leaves on a plate and set aside.

Place a cabbage leaf on a cutting board or counter and place a few tablespoons of the meat mixture on the leaf near the bottom; mold it into a log shape. Fold the bottom of the leaf up around the filling, then fold in the sides and roll up the leaf into a neat package. Set the filled rolls aside, seam side down, on a plate or cutting board.

When you’ve used up all the meat, chop up any remaining cabbage and put it, together with the pieces you cut from the bottom of the leaves, into a large Dutch oven or slow cooker. Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, over the chopped-up cabbage.

Combine the tomato paste, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. The sauce should be fairly thick. Take a tiny taste to see if you like the balance, and add more lemon juice, brown sugar or salt and pepper if necessary.

Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Try to cover the tops of all the rolls with sauce, but the rolls won’t be submerged in sauce yet. The cabbage and meat will produce a lot of “juice” and increase the volume of sauce, so don’t fill your pot or slow cooker to the very brim. You may need to use two pots.

Throw a handful of raisins into the pot(s) after you’ve put in the sauce.

If you use a slow cooker, cook the dish on “high” for at least six hours. If you use a Dutch oven, cover the pot and heat on a medium-high flame until the liquid boils. Now you have a choice: you can continue to cook on the stovetop at a simmer, or you can put the pot in a 300-degree oven. Either way, you will need to cook the stuffed cabbage for about three hours.

You can probably use an Instant Pot, but I haven’t done so and I can’t advise you on how long to cook it — probably about an hour.

Another suggestion, useful if you plan to freeze the cabbage rolls: place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in an oblong aluminum foil baking pan and pour the sauce over. Cover with foil and cook in the oven. Then you can just pop the whole pan into the freezer after it cools.

Check periodically to be sure the tops of the cabbage rolls aren’t getting too dry and that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water as necessary. As the cabbage cooks, the sauce should get much thinner in consistency.

This amount of meat, rice and cabbage will make about 20 cabbage rolls of varying sizes.

The cabbage rolls will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. They also freeze very well.

Sweet and Sour Meatloaf

25 Apr

Who doesn’t like a good meatloaf? It’s one of the world’s great comfort foods. Kids will like this one too, because of the tomato-y sweet and sour flavor.

Ingredients:

2 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
1½ tsp. prepared mustard
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 lb. ground chuck
1 small onion, finely minced
½ tsp. garlic powder or 1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 egg
½ cup bread crumbs or corn flake crumbs
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Make a sauce with the brown sugar, vinegar, mustard and half the can of tomato sauce.

Mix the ground beef with the onion, garlic, egg and bread or corn flake crumbs, salt and pepper. Form into a loaf shape and place in a greased baking pan. Pour the sauce over the top.

Bake about one hour.

Serves 4 to 6

Sinaya

3 Nov

SinayaI don’t even know how to pronounce the name of this dish! Is is sin-A-yah? Is it sin-EYE-ya? No mattter really!

It is adapted from Balaboosta, by Einat Admony, an Istraeli American of Yeminite and Persian ancestry. She describes it as “Palestinian comfort food at its best.”

I must admit it’s a real “patchke” to make, so I’ve only made it twice, both times for big company meals. A friend who joined us last week made me promise to put it on the blog so here it is.

The recipe calls for a pound of ground beef and a pound of ground lamb. Kosher ground lamb is really hard to find so I just used all ground beef both times.

You can buy baharat, a Middle Eastern spice mixture, at a Middle Eastern grocery, but the first time I made this, I made my own from the recipe Admony provides in her book. That was a patchke in itself! But if you make it using the recipe below the main recipe, you’ll have enough to make this dish several times. Actually, I reduced the quantities in the baharat recipe below by half and it still produced an ample supply.

You can also buy tahini (sesame paste) at a Middle Eastern grocery or specialty store.

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 large, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1 Tbs. toasted pine nuts

Tahini Sauce:

3/4 cup tahini
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup water
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1 Tbs. kosher salt (use a little less if you like your food less salty)

Meat Filling:

3 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground lamb
2 tsp. baharat (see below)
2 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Combine the spices for the meat mixture in a small bowl (the baharat, paprika, cumin, kosher salt and black pepper).

Cut the eggplant into 1/4-inch thick slices and sprinkle each slice with kosher salt. Set the slices in a colander, weight them with a plate and let them sit for an hour in the sink or on top of paper towel to drain off some of the moisture. Rinse off the salt and pat the slices dry.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a large baking dish and place the eggplant slices in it, overlapping a little if necessary to cover the whole bottom of the dish. Drizzle with 2 Tbs. of olive oil.

Bake the eggplant for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven but keep the oven on.

While the eggplant is baking, make the tahini sauce. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend till smooth and creamy (it’s not that large an amount, so I used an immersion blender instead, which worked fine.)

Slice the tomatoes thinly and place the slices on top of the eggplant. Set the dish aside.

Heat 3 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the ground beef and lamb, breaking it up into small pieces. Add the baharat, paprika cumin, salt and pepper, and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Drain off any excess liquid and place the meat in the baking dish with the eggplant and tomatoes.

Spread the tahini sauce over the top of the meat.

Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Garnish with pine nuts.

Serves 6 to 8

Baharat:

1 Tbs. ground black pepper
3 Tbs. allspice
3 Tbs. ground coriander
5 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. ground cloves
3 Tbs. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cardamom
4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbs. sweet Hungarian paprika
1 Tbs. dried lemon zest (optional)
4 tsp. dried ginger (optional)

Combine all ingredients well and store in an airtight jar.

Vegetarian Sausage, Bean and Tomato Ragout with Polenta

5 May

Vegetarian Italian sausage, bean and tomato ragoutI clipped this recipe from Cooking Light. It wasn’t meant to be vegetarian, but first of all, it’s hard to find kosher Italian sausage, and secondly, I preferred to make it veggie. Just know that the original recipe called for meat sausage. You could also use soy crumbles instead of veggie sausages, but the taste would be different; the Italian sausage has unique spices.

The original recipe called for instant polenta and plain yogurt, neither of which I had on hand, so I looked up another recipe. Polenta is really bland, so I added a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese, making the entire dish dairy.

There are a lot of ingredients, but the recipe is easy. The ragout recipe says to cook for 8 minutes, but you can keep it simmering while you cook the polenta. (Or you could start the polenta and make the stew during the 30 minutes the polenta cooks over a low flame.)

When you serve the polenta straight from the stovetop, it will be creamy. If you have leftovers, put them in a flat-bottomed container. The polenta will harden. To reuse, you can cut it into slices and fry them up in a little olive oil or butter, or bake them in the oven topped with a sauce (or leftover ragout).

The Cooking Light recipe said it serves 4, but the two of us ate large servings and there was still enough left over for 4 more, so I’m saying it serves 6!

Ingredients:

For the ragout:
6 oz. bulk hot Italian sausage
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbs. tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup vegetable stock
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Dash crushed red pepper
1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (or 2/3 tsp. dried)

For the polenta:
3 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. fresh rosemary (optional)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 Tbs. butter (optional)

Directions:

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. If you use real sausage, crumble it in the pan and cook for until browned; remove from pan. Add oil to pain, then saute onions for 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add wine, cook 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen any browned bits. If you use vegetarian sausage, which is pre-cooked, crumble it into the pan now.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Simmer 8 minutes or until slightly thickened. If you browned the sausage at the beginning, add it back in now and heat through.

For the polenta, bring the water and salt to a boil in a 2 or 3-quart saucepan. Add the cornmeal gradually, whisking vigorously as you do so no lumps form. Cook for about 10 minutes, whisking frequently. Lower the heat as low as possible and continue to cook for 20 or 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot when you stir, so the polenta doesn’t stick. Whisk in the rosemary, butter, cheese and rosemary (if you use dry rosemary — use 1/2 tsp. — add it when you put the cornmeal into the water).

Serves 6

Irma’s California Brisket

10 Feb

Brisket, Irma's recipeI used to have a good way to make brisket. I would slice a large onion thin, put a layer under and over the brisket in a roasting pan, add lots of garlic and a little wine, cover and cook for several hours. Then I would cool the brisket before slicing, add sliced mushrooms, and reheat in the gravy.

This is still a good way to make brisket — but I have a new favorite that comes from Irma Zigas, the woman my uncle Art married a few years after my Aunt Connie died at the too-young age of 36.

Here’s a link to a wonderful video my cousin made about cooking brisket with Grandma Irma.  (Part of a wonderful YouTube series called Cooking With Grandma.) It’s not quite as easy as the other method, but it’s easy enough and it’s absolutely yummy. I always get rave reviews when I serve it.

Ingredients:

Beef brisket (about 3 lb.)
Salt, pepper, garlic or other seasoning to taste
1 Tbs. oil or non-stick cooking spray
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small can tomato paste
1 can whole-berry cranberry sauce
1 package dry onion soup mix
½ cup water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a heavy skillet with non-stick spray or put 1 Tbs. oil in the skillet and heat on a medium-high flame.

Season the brisket with salt (not needed if using kosher meat), pepper, garlic powder and other spices to your taste, or a blend like Mrs. Dash.

Brown the brisket quickly on both sides, and remove to a large piece of aluminum foil (enough to seal the meat after all the ingredients are added)

Cook the onion until soft and just starting to brown, and scrape them over the top of the meat.

Add the tomato paste, cranberry sauce, onion soup mix and water. Bring up the edges of the foil and seal, then repeat with a second piece of foil.

Put the foil package in a roasting pan and bake on the center rack of the oven for at least two hours – more for a larger piece of meat.

As with the “classic” brisket recipe, the brisket will be even better if made ahead of time, sliced when cool, and reheated. By cooling it first you can also remove much of the fat, which will solidify on the top so you can pick it off.

The number of servings depends on the size of the brisket: figure about 3 people per pound of meat.

World’s Easiest Meatballs

14 Jan

Sweet & Sour MeatballsMy granddaughter is coming for a visit — hooray! So I’m whipping up a batch of these sweet-and-sour meatballs. It has got to be one of the world’s easiest recipes, and it’s yummy. My kids loved it when they were little, and I’m hoping the next generation will too.

Ingredients:

1½ lb. lean ground beef
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 egg
1 bottle chili sauce
1 can whole cranberry sauce

Directions:

Combine the chili sauce and the cranberry sauce in a large saucepan and heat on a medium flame until the mixture simmers. While it is heating, mix the ground beef, garlic powder and egg. When the sauce is hot, make meatballs the size of walnuts and drop them into the simmering sauce. Stir gently so that all the meatballs are covered with sauce. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for about 45 minutes. Serve over rice or noodles.

Serves 6

Slow-Cooked Short Ribs

25 Feb

slow-cooked short ribsI had some boneless short ribs and wasn’t sure what to do with them. I had a couple of recipes that sounded good, but they all called for short ribs with bones, and I wasn’t sure how the quantities would translate. So I looked online and found this excellent recipe on www.grouprecipes.com; it’s been modified only slightly. There’s quite a bit of measuring of ingredients involved, but otherwise this recipe is very easy. It cooks all day in the slow cooker; start it in the morning, and it is deliciously tender and flavorful by dinnertime. It has a sweet and tangy taste.

This dish is good served over rice or with garlic mashed potatoes. You can easily make half as much by reducing all the ingredients appropriately.

Ingredients:

⅓ cup flour
1 tsp. salt (optional – since we use kosher meat, we don’t usually see a need for additional salt)
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
2½ lbs. boneless beef short ribs (flanken)
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup beef broth
¾ cup red wine vinegar
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup chili sauce
2 Tbs. catsup
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. chili powder
1 cup chopped onion
2 Tbs. minced garlic

Directions:

Put the flour, salt (if you use it) and pepper into a plastic bag. Add the ribs and shake until they are evenly coated. Shake off the excess flour.

Heat all but 1 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet, and brown the meat on both sides. Move the meat to a slow cooker.

Combine the beef broth, vinegar, brown sugar, chili sauce, catsup, Worcestershire sauce and chili powder. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet and sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes, then add the other ingredients that you have mixed together. Bring to the boil while stirring, and pour over the ribs.

Cover and cook on the low setting for 9 hours.