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Monday, July 9, 2012

Cookbooking It

I've had a lot of friends ask me "When are you going to make a cook book?" This question has bothered me because, I don't like cook books. I don't buy them, and I don't think cooks need them. With the internet, Food Network and the Cooking Channel, you don't need to spend $19.99 on an illustrated food book with anyone's name on it. Really. But, what I've learned in my years spent playing in the kitchen, is that not everyone cooks the same way. I like to experiment, and my mistakes are just as important to me as my successes. When my health became an issue in my life, I started thinking about our family's favorite meals and how most of them, if not all of them, reside in my head. Not a scribbled note, a circled magazine recipe, a passed-down letter to my name. If I die, my poor sons won't ever be able to recreate those favorite comfort-food dishes that have become a staple in our home. So, to honor them more than me, I decided to go for it. Yes, I said it. I've decided to make a cook-book.

It's been a slow start. I've got about three, possibly four recipes down. The funny thing is that I don't often remember what I know how to cook until I cook it. So maybe this cook-book is a good idea for me too. I've also decided not to only include recipes the kids like. I'm putting it all in, even the "gross" stuff. The title? That's simple. It's something that captures my desire to be a part of my sons' lives forever, even when they've flown the coop. I've named the cook-book "Dear Future Daughter In-Law." :-)

Below is a recipe that is going in my book for middle-eastern beef-stuffed cabbage rolls in a spiced tomato-wine broth.They don't really like this one, but one day, it will remind them of me, and hopefully, how much I loved them.

Mahsi Malfouf

2 small heads of napa cabbage, leaves blanched in hot salted water and set aside to cool.
2 cups of ground beef (or lamb, turkey, chicken, etc.)
1 cup uncooked basmati rice
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
5 cloves fresh garlic, mashed
2 eggs
1/3 cup ghee (clarified butter or if you can't find, substitute extra virgin olive oil)
1 large yellow onion or 2 small ones, minced
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch spanish saffron (the real threads, no powder!)
1 tablespoon of turmeric powder
1 whole star anise pod, dried
2 sticks of cinnamon
1 teaspoon grains of paradise, whole (buy online if you can't find, or skip completely)
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of crushed red chiles (dried) divided into 1/2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/3 cup ras el hanout spice blend (buy online if you can't find at your store, is great as a kabab marinade spice too)
2 cups of sweet baby tomatoes (grape/cherry), pureed in blender with:
2 cups of chicken stock
1/2 cup merlot
6 tablespoons Hunts Tomato Paste
salt and pepper to taste
after blanching the cabbage leaves and letting cool, cut a triangle out of the bottom of each, removing the tough center. You can mince up half of these "cores" and add to the ground beef stuffing mixture. Otherwise, discard.
Melt the ghee on medium high heat. Add 1/2 the onion, 1/2 the garlic, saffron, and the entire bell pepper. Sautee for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the cup of basmati rice, and sautee in the ghee and vegetables, adding more if needed. Saute the rice until golden. Stir in 3 tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir till the tomato paste has coated the rice and vegetables. Remove from heat, scoop into a bowl and set aside to cool.
Mix the ground beef with the eggs, turmeric powder, half of the dried crushed chiles, half the grains of paradise, the cinnamon and ras el hanout. When the rice mixture has cooled, mix that into the beef too. Season with a generous sprinkle of salt (roughly 1 teaspoon) and a few pinches of black pepper.
Now it's time to start the sauce. Take the remaining onion and garlic and saute on medium high heat with olive oil until they are soft and fragrant. Add the star anise pod, the whole cloves and the remaining dried chiles and stir, lightly toasting the spices. Then, add the pureed sweet tomatoes and the merlot to the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce down by half, then reconstitute by adding the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has reduced by 1/4. Set aside. It's time to preheat your oven to 400F.
Lay the cored and blanched cabbage leaves one at a time in front of you with the cut side down. Place one tablespoon of meat and rice stuffing into the center of the cabbage leaves. Bring the two pointed cut edges together and up around the stuffing. Tuck in the sides, then roll the top down creating a tight cigar shape. Place in a glass baking dish. Continue until all of the cabbage leaves are rolled. If you have extra meat stuffing, place it in a large ziplock bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing. It will keep in the freezer for about six months!
Pour your sauce over the stuffed cabbage rolls. It should sink down to the bottom as well as completely cover the top. It will be extremely wet looking, but don't worry, as it boils in the oven the rice will absorb the excess liquid and all that will be left is a thick tomatoey sauce clinging to the softened cabbage rolls.
Bake for one hour. The first thirty minutes, keep the rolls tightly covered with foil, and remove the foil during the last thirty minutes. When most of the liquid is gone, the rolls are ready to come out.
Let them sit for about 15 minutes before serving. Your house will smell like a spice bazaar and your mouth will feel like it took a trip to Morocco. Enjoy!


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