watch out 2013!

After being knocked around for a couple of years, life decided to take off the gloves in 2012.  What violence! What misery! What an intolerable piece of work!

If the looming storm clouds on the metaphorical and literal horizons are any indication, 2013 is going to be even more horrendous than its older brother.  So what can we do? My goal is to bike straight in to the eye of the storm, for yea, o readers, I am the newest thing on two wheels.

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Retrogrouch has several fancy bicycles, and if I had my druthers, I’d have a Dutch-style old commuter bike.  But I’m rather smitten with this new one.  It’s as basic as can be as a one-speed, but I’m enjoying it.  I need to buy a basket so I can ride off to the market.  I’m trying really hard to resist the urge to buy streamers and a neon orange flag with a pirate skull-n-crossbones drawn on it, as I had on my former bike two ack, three! decades ago.

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All this bike action means, I might add, that my knee injury is doing pretty well after being laid up for two months, then another four months of learning to move again with physical therapy.  As you might imagine, there is considerable trepidation to ride in traffic, but I do think this fear is worth conquering, especially when it makes one hesitate to interact with the world.  I have most of my range of motion back and a good deal of strength, and although it still hurts pretty much all the time and has affected other parts of my legs and feet, my limp is only really noticeable on stairs.  A pox on the careless driver who hit me: I won’t wish you injury or death, but instead a thousand thoughtless acts to nestle up with you in bed, like a chef dropping your chicken on the floor and putting it back on your plate, or your keys falling into a clogged toilet, or an airplane screw left unturned causing you several hours on the tarmac. May you forget your wallet on your date; be served ruined holiday meals; run out of gas on a deserted highway; be abandoned by clients, friends, and family on important occasions.  I hope these things will make you learn why life is not best lived on autopilot.

Sound bitter?  Perhaps.  It’s been a rough year.  But these fragments I have shored against my ruins…and turned them into a shank.  So bring it on, 2013!

a world of possibilities for stuffed cabbage rolls, fermented!

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Polish stuffed cabbage (golabki, or little pigeons, pronounced, basically, Guh-WUMP-kee) was never a favorite of mine growing up.  I don’t particularly like the mixture of ground beef, rice, and sweet tomato sauce — often ketchup — in the funky steamed cabbage that forms the roll.  It is rarely seasoned properly, so it lacks salt and flavor, and with its yellow-grey leaves and smear of orange sauce is just about the ugliest thing to emerge from a pot ever.  And the name is vaguely horrifying.

But, I reasoned, if a dish has survived generations across an entire continent, it should have a good reason to continue.  I do like meatballs, and I do like cabbage, and I do like the Greek dolma stuffed grape leaf filling with lemon.  I’d try to pull together a tomato-free version of the classic stuffed cabbage recipe, something that improved the taste and the look as much as possible.

Turns out I can’t stop eating them now.  They’re surprisingly light and flavorful, and would make a great new year meal.

The beauty of stuffed cabbage is the variety of possibilities.  If you can break away from your Eastern European traditions, or look more deeply into them, you’ll see that stuffed cabbage has as many flavors as Eastern Europe had geopolitical borders.  And the little pigeons graciously subjugate themselves to our new emphasis on local and whole grains, too.

The basic recipe is 1 cup of rice, 1 lb. of ground beef, and an egg, with seasonings.  Instead of a boring swap to brown rice, we could start with kasha or buckwheat groats (or cracked grains), a traditional substitute for rice golabki.  Quinoa or couscous would be similarly mushy and appropriate. And if we go there, we could easily move over to wheatberries or rye berries or frikeh or fregola sarda for a less firm stuffing, but still very delicious.

We used black “forbidden” rice, then swapped out the ground beef for some ground veal and pork sausage I had languishing in the freezer.  The pork sausage added a moistness and flavor from within.

From without, well, I had the brilliant…I’m going to go there, BRILLIANT…stroke of BRILLIANCE to use whole leaves of fall cabbage that I had fermented sauerkraut-style a few months back.  These sauerkraut bombs I nestled in between rolls wrapped more conservatively with savoy cabbage, a light variation on the more traditional round cabbage leaf wrappings.  When cooked in chicken broth instead of tomato sauce, it make for a tangy and delicious stuffed cabbage.  Don’t have whole cabbage leaf sauerkraut?  Just use regular sauerkraut, mixing some in with your filling and adding a layer or two in the cooking pot for more flavor.

If you’re meat-free, I suggest using any number of fillings to substitute for the meat.  It’s perfectly traditional to use farmer cheese or potatoes or mushrooms with your rice/kasha (try this Jewish version with mushrooms, kasha, and a cream sauce). And why not lentils and chopped walnuts and carrots?  Kohlrabi!  Leeks!  Parsnips?  If you’re afraid of the filling not holding together, just add another egg.  I also suggest bread crumbs to help on that score.

The decadent can skip the grains altogether. Chopped pork shoulder is divine.  How about a traditional tamale stuffing of shredded pork or beef, almonds, and raisins?  And think about it: do you like stuffed peppers?  Same filling, so why not make an inverted stuffed pepper, and put the peppers inside the cabbage rolls?  Chef Tiffany Norton at PartyCart even uses pickled ginger for her forcemeat.  Why can’t you?

Yes, the world is your cabbage.  You can stuff it with anything.

EDITED TO ADD:  More ideas from the Queen of Preservation, Linda Ziedrich!

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD:  A vegetarian Polish option from a reader, Linda Peterson Adams.  Thanks, Linda!  “Parboil the cabbage to remove leaves. [Mix] 2 cups cooked dry rice, pearl barley or buckwheat groats, a few tablespoons soaked and chopped fine porcini mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stuff rolls with this mix. Put a layer of leaves in a dutch oven, and add 2 cups fermented rye liquid or stock with the mushroom soaking liquid. Dot with butter. Cover and simmer until tender, about an hour. Thicken leftover liquid with beurre manie. You can also add sour cream at the end. You can also use sauerkraut to nestle the birds in in cooking.

Tangy Stuffed Cabbage Master Recipe

  • 1 large head savoy cabbage
  • 1 cup cooked grains (try short-grain rice, black rice, kasha, quinoa)
  • 1 lb. ground meat (try a combination of beef, veal, pork, pork sausage, etc.) or 2 cups farmer cheese or sauteed wild/button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs IF you are using the vegetarian fillings only
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-4 cups sauerkraut, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika to taste (optional)
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Cook the rice or other grains as necessary and cool.

Prepare the cabbage leaves.  Heat a pot large enough to submerge whole cabbage leaves with enough water to blanch the leaves.  Carefully remove the core and outer leaves, keeping the whole cabbage intact.  Peel off the layers of leaves without tearing if possible, and rinse thoroughly.  Reserve the inner, smaller leaves for the bottom of the pot.

Trim the thick bottom vein of each leaf by either cutting it out or shaving off layers until it is almost as thin as the surrounding leaf.  (If you do not do this, it will make rolling harder.)

When the water comes to a boil, blanch the prepared leaves for about 30-45 seconds, or until pliable and easy to roll.  Note: plain cabbage should be blanched longer, about 2 minutes; if you are using whole-leaf sauerkraut instead of savoy cabbage, just rinse the leaves, don’t blanch them.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place the smallest leaves in the bottom of a dutch oven or similar large pot with a lid.

Mix up the filling.  Add the cooled, cooked grains, the meat/cheese/mushrooms, a large egg, and a cup of the sauerkraut (eliminate sauerkraut if you are using whole leaf sauerkraut as a wrapping, add breadcrumbs for structure if you are using the vegetarian fillings).  Drop a bit of the filling into the steaming water or the microwave for a few seconds, so it will cook enough so you can taste for seasonings.  Adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, and paprika.

Roll the cabbage rolls by placing about 2 tablespoons full of filling at the thick end of the leaf, folding the end over the filling, then folding the two sides over the filling, then rolling up to the end tightly.  Place seam side down into a dutch oven.  Repeat for all rolls.  If there is filling left, roll it into a meatball and nestle it among the rolls.  Nestle the rest of the sauerkraut between rolls and between layers.

Add chicken stock, cover, and cook for about 2 hours, or until the filling is firm and most of the stock is soaked up into the cabbage rolls.  Better the next day.

Serves 4-6.

another crabby christmas

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Hope you had a happy Christmas, either celebrating or not celebrating.  We had our usual feast of crab.  Just crab.  Nothing else.  Simple, no?  We usually get enough for leftovers — sometimes I make traditional crab soup.  This year, I’m making California rolls from the crab, tobiko fish eggs, and avocado. It’s appropriate, since we had to buy California crabs this year due to the Oregon crab season’s delay.  Not opening ’til December 30.  Argh!

Retrogrouch is from Baltimore, where they eat crabs whole and hot, so we’ve learned instruct Oregon fishmongers not to clean our crabs or (egads) put them on ice, and then I quickly re-steam them with Old Bay and beer.  Boris the cat helps by eating the mustard, the yellowy innards that are harder to eat on a Dungeness crab than on a Maryland Blue crab.  Yes, he sits at the table.  No, he isn’t allowed to do this at any other time.

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We finished off the evening, or I should say *I* finished off the evening, with the rest of my special Tyrkisk peber (a salty, spicy black licorice candy from Finland) cocoa gingerbread cookies.  They are the ugly ones above. And a serving of eggnog bread pudding as a nightcap.

I suppose I should really cook the crabs properly by purchasing them live, but they’d have to hang out for a day and I’m not sure I need that hassle.  Christmas is a day of indulgence for me: no errands, no real cooking, no email, nothing but being present in the moment.  Very hard to do.  I flirt with the idea, occasionally, of following the Jewish Shabbat traditions where one just checks out for a day of rest each week from sundown to sundown, Friday to Saturday, to enjoy the company of one’s family and friends.  Unfortunately, this is difficult to manage when one’s family and friends are connected mainly by internet. :) Not to mention, of course, you wouldn’t see an observant Jew eating crab to celebrate Christmas.  But dunno. Maybe this idea is worth pursuing in the new year.  I need a little more peace.  Don’t we all?

eugene restaurants open on christmas and eve 2012

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Jan Steen’s portrait of a baker and his wife, 17th c.

This post is from 2012.  For 2013, click here!

A skosh late, but here’s the annual update of restaurants that will be open on Christmas in our fair (and currently not raining!) city of Eugene, Oregon in 2012.  What else is open on Christmas?  Please comment with additions to the list.

Christmas Hours:

  • Eugene Coffee Company for all your caffeination needs (8 am – 2 pm). “It’s always a fun and busy day on Christmas at the shop. So few places to go and be with people but we are here for you! And a big thank you to Brandie and Jess for offering to work today! Have a great day everyone.”
  • Izakaya Meiji — open normal hours (5 pm – 1 am).
  • Marché Restaurant — open until 1 pm for breakfast/brunch.
  • Barn Light — 6pm – Midnight (only open until 8 pm Christmas Eve).
  • Sweetwater Grill’s Christmas Buffet — open 12 pm – 6 pm
    $ 45.00 adults $ 20.00 children 5-12 years
  • Sixth Street Grill — open 2-10 pm.  “It’s Tuesday which means it’s Burger-n-Brew night! A charbroiled burger topped with cheddar & swiss, thick smoked bacon, avocado, grilled onions & mushrooms on a toasted bun with mayo, lettuce & tomato. And it comes with fries and your choice of a pint of beer or soda for only $7.50!”
  • If you’re interested in national chain restaurants in Eugene and elsewhere open on Christmas, try this helpful link.

Plus, two special Christmas Eve Dinners (call ASAP for reservations — King Estate is 541-942-9874 ext. 132 and Marché is 541-342-3612):

King Estate’s Specials — Christmas Eve

  • Whole Dungeness Crab with Orange Cranberry Slaw, Pommes Frites, Aromatic Butter and Aioli, $27
  • Holiday Meats: Venison Sausage, Duck Breast Prosciutto, Crispy Pork Belly, Lamb Rillet, Sweet Potato, Braised Winter Kale and Apple Cider Sauce, $28

Marché’s Reveillon de Noel Christmas Eve

A Menu in the Spirit of the traditional Christmas Eve Supper in Provence, $40.

  • Hors d’Oeuvres Varies: brandade in puff pastry, celery salad & anchovy dressing, and tapenade croutes
  • Mesclun avec Fromage Frais de Chevre et aux Oranges: mixed winter greens with goat cheese & oranges
  • Canneloni Aux Champignons Sauvages: pasta with wild mushrooms and truffles
  • or Gigot d’Agneau a la Provencale: roast leg of lamb with herbes de provence, creamy polenta & roasted root vegetables
  • or Bouillabaisse: pacific rockfish and shellfish poached in a saffron broth with fennel and leeks, served with croutes & aioli
  • Les Treize Desserts: lavender honey nougat & hazelnuts, pistachio ice cream & dried cherries, date & walnut cake with tangerine creme anglaise, milk chocolate coins with figs, almonds & orange peel.

last minute food gifts?

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If you’re anything like me, you’re out on the sodden streets of Eugene today, scrambling to buy some last minute gifts.  Here’s stuff that appealed to this cook.  May it appeal to the cooks in your life, too!

A beautiful, high-quality, sturdy, imported Swiss fondue set.  Even better, buy one yourself and have friends over for a fondue party.

Good recent cookbooks from the PNW, plus Hank Shaw’s (who gets a geographic pass), curated by Kathleen Bauer.

Naomi Duguid’s new Burma cookbook (available locally at Provisions).  I have a number of Thai cookbooks, and none is perfect.  So I’m ready to move to Burma, whose food is close to Thai but has more Indian influences.  I noticed that interpretations of many of my favorite Thai recipes are in this book, and the pictures are gorgeous.  Even better: we’re hosting Duguid on our next show on KLCC’s Food for Thought!

A set of teenage-oriented cookbooks from British celebrity wunderkind chef Sam Stern. They seem less fussy than Rozanne Gold’s teen cookbooks, and much less insulting than the “OMG I am a cooking idiot!!” style book of basics. I don’t love the whole celebrity chef thing, but he seems to have a good sense of what teens might like to cook and eat, so I bought one for my seventh-grade nephew for Christmas.  We’ll test this idea out.  Could crash and burn.  What do I know?

A set of soufflé dishes made from French porcelain in 1/1.5/2 quart sizes.  Alas, I bought the Chinese stuff because I’m cheap.

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Speaking of cheap, these gorgeous stainless footed perforated bowls are not.  Modeled on the complex pattern of an elegant lacy sea fan by my childhood classmate Anna Rabinowicz, either a nut or fruit bowl would make a lovely conversation piece. (Photo is RabLab’s.)

Since the Mason Shaker is sold out, consider this DIY bar shaker made from a canning lid and a drill.  Redneck Manhattans.  Then you wouldn’t feel bad about spending all that money on the soufflé dishes and the nut bowl.

A little terrine mold, complete with a wood press.

An All-Clad food mill.  Between that and the terrine, I’ve become very interested in mashing all my food together lately.  Not sure why.

A meat grinder attachment for a KitchenAid mixer.  See above.

An Imperia pasta machine.  You spend too much money on crackers and should be making them at home, to say nothing of pasta.  This machine would do the trick.

Put your mashed foods on a pedestal, literally.  I saw these clever Serveitup pedestals that can attach to any dish with a suction cup while I was shopping at a local kitchen store today.

A pH tester suggested by Punk Domestics alongside many other DIY gifts.  It can give you a sense of which fruits and vegetables are low acid for canning (but do use a safe recipe).

Imported yellow Nordic split peas (they have them at Newman’s Fish Market, where you should also pick up some smoked whitefish dip and wine-marinated herrings).

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Little packets of ground chile powder in all kinds of colors and flavors done by the chile farmers who roast ‘em live in season at the Lane County Farmers Market.  In the winter, they stock single-strains of various smoked chiles from mild to hot — find them at the holiday market at the fairgrounds.  I’ve been relying heavily on the green pasilla chile powder this fall for everything I’d normally use with paprika — baked winter squash, mashed potatoes, popcorn…

And speaking of spice mixes, I was rather obsessed for a while with the Bengali spice mix called Panch Puran (a blend of fenugreek, cumin, black mustard seed, fennel seed, and onion seed); it’s terrific with fruit chutneys, cauliflower curry, and baked quince.

A bottle of the herbal liqueur Bénédictine to make the classic drink B&B with equal parts brandy and Bénédictine.  This wintry cocktail was introduced to me by my neighbor the other day, and I’m sold.

Aaaaand, Michael Ruhlman’s new offset tasting/basting spoons.  Seems like a simple thing, doesn’t it, so why hasn’t anyone made them ’til now?  Buy three bundled with some lovely wood “paddles” and a slotted offset serving spoon.

A RELATED NOTE: do not buy the following — a hunk of pink salt; a panini press; pretzels topped with white frosting and pink and green squiggles; this banana slicer (read the reviews); Christmas ceramic anything; mulling spices; pocket-sized one-ingredient cookbooks; plaques that make pronouncements about the cook’s mood or sexual availability or types of food being served here (with or without prices).  If you can’t think of anything, just go to a wine shop and ask them for a nice bottle of wine.  Maybe something to go with fondue?

PLUS EXTRA POINTS for anyone who can tell me more about the white sticks on a string used as Christmas decorations in Amsterdam, above.  Anyone?

fortified mash: dutch escarole potatoes with sausage

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One can’t help but be delighted with Dutch mashed potatoes. They like mashed foods in general, and I’m not sure I’m fully supportive of that instinct, but I do endorse the will to survive the winter by adding nutritious produce to a potato base, good crops like hearty greens or carrots. Why not? It completely changes the character from bland to either sweet or crunchy or slightly bitter, and this makes mashed potatoes worth eating in my book.

With our winter CSA producing several wonderful chicory crops, I knew I’d have to run home and try one of the more popular combinations: leafy escarole and mashed potatoes (Foeksandijvie or Andijviestamppot) served with sausage.

The Dutch Table, a wonderful Dutch cooking blog in English, sets out the basics here. The escarole, which looks a bit like romaine lettuce, is shredded and added to the cooked potatoes raw. I really like the simplicity of the traditional Dutch method — no milk or butter is added, just the potatoes and the leafy greens. The Dutch Table offers a buttermilk-salt pork gravy to go with the foeksandijvie, and I’ve seen a range of interpretations of the dish that include bacon or other cured meat studding the potatoes, or perhaps even mushrooms, or maybe a bit of cheese. Usually, the salted water used for cooking the potatoes is reserved and added back when one is mashing for creaminess.

I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and bake my sausage in a bit of water before frying it. That way, the sausage provides its own stock that can be used to flavor side dishes. First, I boiled the raw Italian sausages in a 350-degree oven in a Pyrex dish in about a half-inch of water until firm.

As the sausages were cooking, I shredded and chopped a fine, delicious head of sugarloaf escarole from Open Oak Farm.

Then, I peeled 4-5 nice-sized Yukon Gold potatoes (the Dutch use floury russet-types but I didn’t have any), cooked them until soft in salted water, then mashed them with a bit of the sausage water and some salt and white pepper.

After mashing the potatoes, I added the raw escarole and mashed some more. Then I quickly fried up the boiled sausages and served the dish in bowls with the drippings deglazed with sausage water poured on top. It’s a wonderful winter meal. Try it!

crawfish and year-old eggnog: it’s christmas at food for thought!

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Never say we didn’t bring you anything unusual!  It’s going to be a fascinating show this week on our merry Food for Thought with Ryan et moi.  Ryan’s booked one of his longtime food heroes, erstwhile New Orleans restaurant critic and food writer Tom Fitzmorris of The New Orleans Menu, who wows us by hosting a food radio show not once a week for an hour like us, but six days a week for three hours daily!

And I’ve finally managed to corral our favorite bartender in the world, Jeffrey Morgenthaler.  Since leaving Eugene’s Bel Ami a handful of years ago, Jeff has met with great success in Portland, managing the bar at Clyde Common and traveling the world looking for new drink combinations.  Still blogging occasionally, he’s been featured in print all over the country for his famous eggnog and his barrel-aged cocktails, and has recently finished his first book and is opening a new venture, too.  Whew!

All this, more on my Amsterdam trip, Ryan’s dispatches from the front lines of Eugene holiday commerce, and more!  Listen in at Food for Thought on KLCC Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations in Oregon, or live on the web.

By the way, if you’re thinking of the perfect Christmas gift for your local business, consider becoming an underwriter for our show!  We have a slate of wonderful guests in the upcoming weeks, including renowned authors Naomi Duguid, Paula Wolfert, and John T. Edge. For a few hundred bucks, you will get many months of exposure and your shop announced live on the show each week to a targeted group of listeners interested in buying local food.  Best deal in town!  Contact underwriting at klcc@klcc.org or 541-463-6005.