Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage Rolls
I've already had so much rich holiday food and it isn't Christmas yet, that I was honing for something a little less festive.  Not that these aren't festive, I guess I should say a little less "rich".  The Barefoot Contessa's recipe for these stuffed cabbage rolls struck just the right chord.

I believe that many of my friends in Nova Scotia actually have cabbage rolls as part of their Christmas dishes.  And I think that is a good tradition to follow.

Ingredients *

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes and their juice (I used two 14-ounce cans of diced tomatoes.)  
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large head Savoy or green cabbage, including outer leaves (I used the green cabbage.)

For the filling:

2 1/2 pounds ground chuck (I used just a pound.)
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten (I used two large eggs.)
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 8 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the 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.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Remove the entire core of the cabbage with a paring knife. Immerse the head of cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it s flexible. Set the leaves aside. Depending on the size of each leaf, you will need at least 14 leaves.
For the filling, in a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, rice, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add 1 cup of the sauce to the meat mixture and mix lightly with a fork.

Remove core.

Boil, and remove leaves as they become flexible, remove central rib. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To assemble, place 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Remove the hard triangular rib from the base of each cabbage leaf with a small paring knife. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling in an oval shape near the rib edge of each leaf and roll up toward the outer edge, tucking the sides in as you roll. Place half the cabbage rolls, seam sides down, over the sauce. Add more sauce and more cabbage rolls alternately until you’ve placed all the cabbage rolls in the pot. Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the dish tightly with the lid and bake for 1 hour or until the meat is cooked and the rice is tender. Serve hot.

Sauce in bottom of pan. 


Layer of stuffed cabbage rolls. 

Top with remaining sauce. Ready to cook in oven. 

Ready to eat. 

* Since I was making a serving for 4 instead of 6, I modified the amounts of some of the ingredients.

The "Children's" Table This Christmas

Since there will be ten for Christmas Eve Dinner, I will have to set up the card table in the den for the "Children's Table".  Actually the children are now grown, 15 to 22 years of age, so some of them will sit at the main dining table.  I may sit at the "Children's Table"---it's for the young at heart.  I did a trial run of decorating it today.  I had a red table cloth and will use my white dishes, but I did have to buy a few things.

I found a gold colored jewelry tree that I thought would be perfect as a centerpiece when adorned with small ornaments.  Using a Santa theme, I found these tiny little Santa ornaments at Pier One---they fit perfectly on the little tree.

I needed napkins to match the red tablecloth so these were just the thing---again at Pier One.

Carrying out the Santa theme, I found these little reindeer antler napkin rings.

I think it all went together nicely with a touch of whimsy for the young at heart. Maybe there will be jockeying as to who sits at this table.

Planning the Dining Table for Christmas

Table planned for Christmas Eve Dinner.
I've not yet cooked anything special for Christmas this year, but I have planned the dining table for our Christmas Eve Dinner.

My friend Boguska was here and she reminded me of the Christmas Dishes we bought last year. She and I were at a thrift store not long after Christmas last year and there was a 12 place setting of Christmas dishes with several serving pieces on sale for $60.00.  These dishes were made in Poland and Boguska came here from Poland many years ago. She wanted the dishes but didn't want to sink that much money into them.  I offered to buy half of them and then she and I would each have a six place setting and if we ever needed more we could borrow from each other.  I never thought it practical to invest in dishes that could only be used at Christmas, but for $30.00 I thought what the heck.

I decided the dishes were "fancy" enough to be the focal point of the table so I tried to keep other things simple.  For the centerpiece the grands had given me three small poinsettias that fit in the center of the table perfectly.  Those with a couple of silver candlesticks and green candles both of which I had and a string of silver beads was enough.

My white napkins I use only on special occasions so I washed and ironed them.  I looked around at several places for napkin rings with holly to match the holly on the dishes, but in the end I decided to use some silver ones that I already had.

The dishes are trimmed in gold, and I usually use silver rather than gold decorations, but if I can find a strand of gold beads I will add them to the center piece. Actually I think mixing gold and silver is rather nice.  I used my rattan chargers to not detract from the dishes and to keep things simple. The champagne glasses with the green stems will add a little color and will be perfect for the bubbly wine that I will serve.
Champagne glasses with green stems.

A place setting with dessert dish to the right. 
I like the simple holly design shown on the dessert plate here.  
The finished table. 

I can only comfortably seat six at the dining room table, and I'm expecting ten this year, so I will still have to decide on the decoration for the small table that I'll set up in the den.  Decorating the tables is one of my favorite things to do at Christmas.

Spicy Savory Pecans

Pan of toasted pecans.
Each year at Christmas I make batches of spiced pecans as gifts for neighbors and friends.  I usually make the savory variety rather than the sweet.  This recipe is super easy and the results are yummy.

Recipe: 2 cups pecan halves
             1 tablespoon butter
             2 tsp soy sauce (lite version with less salt)
             1/2 tsp salt (optional)
             1/8 tsp hot sauce (I use Texas Pete)*

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  In 8 or 9 inch cake pan, combine pecan halves and butter.  I usually melt the butter and then add the pecan halves.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter.
Add 2 cups of pecan halves to butter in pan.
Toast for 30 minutes in preheated 300 degree oven.
Toast in oven 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from oven and add other ingredients.  I usually mix the soy sauce and hot sauce together before adding to the pecans.  Toss to mix well.  Yields 2 cups.
Mix 2 tsp soy sauce and 1/8 tsp hot sauce and add to toasted pecans. 
 * These are not actually very hot--just enough spice to be interesting.

Apple Cranberry Tart

Apple Cranberry Tart. 

Along with an advertisement for Viking River Cruises came this recipe for an Apple Cranberry Tart.  I had apples and cranberries, and I made my own almond paste (a new experience) so for Thanksgiving this was a different dessert.
Adding a layer of almond paste in crust. 

Add apples and cranberries.

Add topping. 

Out of the oven.  

Taking one of the Viking River Cruises is on my bucket list, and if this recipe is indicative of the kind of food they serve, then I'll be in for a treat.

This was good, but perhaps a little too sweet (I suppose because of the almond paste which was very sweet.)

Making My Own Almond Paste

Almond Paste

I have a recipe that calls for almond paste that delicious something that is found in lots of Danish and French pastries.  The recipe I was using for an apple cranberry tart called for almond paste.  Sure I could go out and buy some already made, but since I am trying to learn new things in the kitchen why not make my own especially since I had a bag of whole almonds.  First I had to blanch (remove the skins) from the whole almonds.

Place whole almonds in bowl.
Pour boiling water over almonds and let stay for 1 minute.  Do not oversoak.

Now the skins will peel off very nicely.  Let the blanched almonds dry. 

Once the blanched almonds had dried, I was ready to make the almond paste.

1.1.2 cups blanched almonds
1/1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon almond extract

Add almonds and sugar in a food processor and process until  the almonds are finely ground.  Add remaining ingredients and blend until the mixture forms into a dough and pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Wrap the almond paste tightly in plastic wrapp and store in a ziploc bag.  Can be refrigerated up to 3 months or frozen for up to 6 months.

This was used in the apple cranberry tart I made for Thanksgiving this year.  Another blog will feature that tart.

Of Course I Know How to Cook Steelcut Oats, But.....

A Bowl of Trader Joe's Steelcut Oatmeal. 

I've found a way to have quick cook steelcut oats, and that may sound like heresy to those who love steelcut oats and who know that it takes about 45 minutes to cook them. ( I need to mention here that I do NOT like quick cook oat flakes that you get in little individual packets.  Those are not steel cut.)  Trader Joe's has developed frozen steelcut oatmeal that is absolutely delicious and quick. *

For $1.69 you get two plastic-wrapped hockey pucks of cooked-then-frozen steelcut oatmeal. Hard as a rock, they go into a bowl and into the microwave for two minutes on high. Take them out and stir and back in the microwave for another 1 or 2 minutes.  You can add raisins, or diced apples, or fresh blueberries at this stage if you wish. 
After two minutes stir, and here's where I add raisins or apples.
Add some pecans and half and half and you are ready for a healthy bgreakfast.

Of course, I could cook up a  batch of steelcut oatmeal myself, then divide it up into an ice cube tray. Depending on my hunger level, I could go for a couple cubes, or more. This is more time consuming and not really any less expensive. By the time you buy the steelcut oats, and cook them for 40 or 45 minutes, you're really not saving money and certainly not saving time.  

With the frozen cut oats from TJs I get two servings out of one hockey puck at about 42 cents per serving.  And even if you want the whole puck it is only 85 cents.  An inexpensive and healthy breakfast.   Not to mention what I save in time.  I am certainly planning on keeping a box of these on hand for the cold mornings when I am hankering for a quick breakfast of a bowl of steel cut oats.  

* A Disclaimer:   I need to mention that I am in no way compensated from Trader Joe's for promoting their product.  But hey, Trader Joe's if you are listening maybe this is worth a free box or two, what do you think?

Not My Usual Thanksgiving Pecan Pie This Year

About this time of year I venture over to the Farmer's Market and get my yearly supply of pecans. I use the pecans for pies and for making Hot Pepper Pecans. One of the pies I usually make at Thanksgiving (and again at Christmas) is the Southern Pecan Pie.  I ran across a recipe recently for Pecan Pie Bars, and I've decided I will break from tradition and try these.  These can be frozen and can be used for finger food should I decide to have an open house or whenever someone drops by unexpectedly.  They will also make good holiday gifts.

Pecan Pie Bars

1 1/2  cup butter, softened
1 2/3 cup brown sugar
2 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (if you are using unsalted butter)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons of creme fraiche or heavy cream
2 cups of chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a 9x13inch pan with foil, leaving enough for a 2-inch overhang on all sides.

Make the crust by creaming together 1 cup butter, 2/3 cup brown sugar, in a stand mixer.  Add flour, salt, and mix until crumbly.

Press the crust into the foil lined pan and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

As the crust bakes, prepare the topping by combing 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup brown sugar, honey, and creme fraiche in a saucepan over medium heat.  Simmer for one minute and pour in the pecans.

Remove the crust from the oven and immediately pour the topping over the hot crust spreading it to cover the entire surface.

Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Remove the pan and allow the bars to fully cool in the pan.

Use the foil to lift the bars and transfer them to a cutting board.  Peel off the foil and slice into bars.

This recipe doesn't use eggs, but many of the recipes that I checked for pecan pie bars do.  I think I will make a second batch using a recipe that calls for eggs, because I always use eggs in a pecan pie.