Sunday, January 24, 2010

Un-Stuffy Cabbage

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A few weeks ago in the Commercial Appeal Food Section, there was a recipe for stuffed cabbage leaves. I was thinking "Boy! I love stuffed cabbage." But then I thought about all the work in blanching and peeling off whole cabbage leaves a few at a time, and then stuffing them all, and if they don't fit just right in the pan they fall apart. So I just knew I wasn't going to make them anytime soon.

But why not cook the cabbage and pour the stuffing part over it? I tried it. I cooked wedges of cabbage and put a tomato sauce with ground turkey in it over the top. The results were not felicitous--I wasn't all that crazy about it, and neither was my husband.

But now I had a challenge. I wanted all the flavor without so much work. Here's what I did: I used a package of pre-chopped mirepoix mix (carrot, celery and onion) from the freezer section of the supermarket. I made turkey meatballs, baked them briefly then simmered them in a sort of sweet-savory tomato sauce. I bought a bag of cole slaw mix from the produce section. I sautéed the slaw mix in some bacon fat (olive oil would work, too). I cooked chunky pasta shapes, drained them and mixed the cabbage in with it. With the sauce and meatballs over the top, I don't think it could have been any better.

I tossed greens with a light vinaigrette and I had a very good dinner. And all together, it didn't take much longer to make than it might to just get the cabbage leaves ready to stuff. Best of all, my husband pronounced this version quite tasty.

Unstuffy Cabbage Pasta

Spice blend:
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano, crumbled finely
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

To finish:
1 bag frozen mirepoix mix, divided (12-14 ounces)
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 lb ground turkey (see note)
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or 1 tsp ground ginger)
1 can (14-16 oz) diced tomatoes
1 tbsp hoisin sauce or soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp (packed) dark brown sugar
1 bag cole slaw mix
2 tbsp bacon fat or olive oil
1 lb chunky pasta shapes (e.g. fusilli, rigatoni)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Blend the spices in a small bowl. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add about one-third of the bag of mirepoix mix. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Remove into a medium bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Add the ground turkey and one-third of the spice blend. Mix lightly to combine and form meatballs a little smaller than a golf ball. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, until set but not browned. Remove from the oven and reserve.

In the same skillet heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the garlic and ginger and stir a couple of times. Add the remaining mirepoix mix. Cook, stirring, until soft. Add the remaining spice mix and stir briefly. Add the tomatoes and their juices, hoisin or soy sauce, wine vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the meatballs and continue to simmer while cooking the pasta.

In a large pot, heat the bacon fat (or olive oil). Add the cole slaw mix and cook, stirring frequently, until just barely soft. Remove to a serving bowl. Don't rinse the pan, but add 3 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, add the pasta and cook until just al dente. Drain and add to the bowl with the cabbage. Toss to combine, top with the meatballs and sauce and serve. Serves 6.

NOTE: I used ground turkey with light and dark meat because I find it stays moister. All white turkey meat is lower in fat and calories, but you must be very careful not to overcook the meatballs if you use it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spiced Cider Pork Chops

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Over the holidays, I like to do hot spiced apple cider on chilly evenings. I did just that one evening when we had a friend of our daughter joining us for dinner. I put it in one of those air pots that will keep it hot for hours. I just used a mulling spice mix I picked up at the supermarket.

I had a good bit left over and stuck it in the refrigerator for another time. Then the "big chill" came. We had a week of temperatures that never went higher than the 20's. And in Memphis, that's COLD! I had a day off. Rather than bundling up to go to the grocery for dinner makings, I dug around in freezer and fridge, and found a package of butterflied pork chops, and some frozen skinny green beans, and one giant sweet potato. And then there was the spiced cider.

I braised the pork chops and sweet potatoes in the cider. I blanched the green beans and then tossed them in good French butter with a little garlic simmered in it. We had a great meal, and I got to stay warm and cozy in the house.

If you happen to have spiced cider on hand, that’s all well and good. But I’m guessing that you don’t, so I’ve given you a way to replicate the flavor without it. This seems to me to be definitely chilly weather food, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have some more coming before the warm spring winds blow.


1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 pork chops, about ¾" thick (boneless or not, your choice)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 large pinch each ground nutmeg and cloves
1 1/2 lb. sweet potato, cut into largish chunks
1 1/2 cups apple cider or apple juice
1/2 cup orange juice (optional)

In a plastic bag, mix the flour, salt and pepper. Add the chops one at a time and shake to coat evenly.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the chops well on both sides and remove to a platter. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent. Add the spices and stir for another minute or two.

Place the sweet potato in one layer over the onion mixture. Lay the pork shops on top. Pour the apple and orange juice (if using) over it all, cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until chops are done and potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes. Remove the cover and let the juices reduce for about 5 minutes. Serves 4.

NOTE: If you have leftover potatoes, but not pork chops, which was my case, whirl them with the pan juices in a food processor. Add chicken or vegetable stock to thin if necessary and serve it as soup the next day. You might stir in a spoonful or two of sour or heavy cream if you have it, but it’ll be good without it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fancy Mushroom Soup

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Ginger is a wonderful flavor. Grown in warmer climates (Australia, India, China, Jamaica), it isn't actually a root; it's a rhizome. We won't get into the difference here.

Available in many forms, we tend to associate it with savory Asian foods. Used fresh, we like it either grated or minced in a marinade or seasoning, or in chutneys. The powdered form is more likely to be used in sweets, such as ginger snaps or spice cakes. The candied form makes a great garnish for fresh fruits or tarts, and, as a bonus, is widely used as an antidote to nausea and morning sickness.

But I like to combine ginger with more "Western" flavors. In the winter, I like to start meals with soup. This particular recipe makes a wonderful first course. It could even be served in mugs to guests as they arrive on a chilly winter evening. Smooth and easy to sip, the zip of the ginger flavor gives a whole new dimension to cream of mushroom soup!


3 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces portobello mushrooms, chopped
8 ounces white button mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 cups chicken or vegetables stock
1/2 cup crème fraîche (see note)
1/4 cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Powdered ginger for garnish

In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and the stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Puree in a blender, food processor, or with a hand blender. Stir in the creme fraiche. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

When ready to serve, beat the heavy cream with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Bring the soup back to a simmer and pour into soup cups or cappuccino cups. Top with dollops of the whipped cream and dust with powdered ginger. Serves 6 as a first course.

NOTE: Crème fraîche is a cultured French style cream, available in specialty markets. Similar in thickness to sour cream, it is slightly tangier but not as sour. And it has the advantage that it will not curdle upon boiling. You may substitute sour cream for the crème fraîche, but be very careful not to let it come to a boil when reheating to serve.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An Embarassingly Simple Salad

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Back a few months ago, in the heat of summer, I talked about New York Times’ Mark Bittman’s list of 101 easy summer salads. I shared one of my favorites, a tomato and peach salad. I’ve still got the list and some aren’t just for summer.

One I’ve used recently was easy enough to adapt to non-summer shopping. Instead of great summer tomatoes, I used a carton of grape tomatoes. I’ve been sort of addicted to them since my friend Reed Malkin turned me onto a great appetizer: drizzle them with lemon olive oil (or finely grated lemon zest and a good fruity olive oil) and sprinkle with a good flaked sea salts (Maldon is my sea salt of choice).

This salad is so easy that it’s almost embarrassing to talk about. I’ve made it several times, and I find that in spite of its definite oriental flavors, it goes with a wide variety of main dishes.

And as a bonus: after a recent dinner, I had a bit of the salad left. I also had one lone green bell pepper in the fridge. I cut the pepper in half from stem end down. I brushed the outside of the pepper halves with some of the dressing and filled them with the tomatoes and the rest of the dressing. I baked them in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, and they made a colorful and tasty side dish for a simple grilled pork chop.


I carton grape (or cherry) tomatoes
1 very small onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Oriental sesame oil
1 tbsp. minced parsley or cilantro (optional, if you don’t have them, it will still be a delicious salad)

Cut the grape or cherry tomaties in half. Toss with all the remaining ingredients. Let set at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally. Serve as it, or on a bed of greens. Serves 4 to 6 as a side salad.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Great Chicken Roaster Pan!

For one of our wedding presents, we got an All Clad chicken roaster. I had seen this in a Williams-Sonoma catalog, and couldn't wait to try it out. Following instructions, I pushed the chicken over the rack (which, incidentally, has a little cup to hold flavoring liquids; I used white wine). After a few tries, I got it all properly trussed. Then I put chunks of potatoes to roast in the buttered pan below. I brushed it with butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper and set it to bake in the oven.
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Then I blanched a handful of brussels sprouts and when the chicken was about halfway through its designated cooking time, tossed them with the potatoes to finish cooking. As you can see, I got a chicken with a very evenly browned and crispy skin all over. It was moist and tender, both in dark and white meat.

I can see this is going to get lots of use at my house!