Have a Cabbage Roll, Mikolai

Back in the days when “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was new — or at least recent, one of Carol’s favorite dishes was Chou Farci, stuffed whole cabbage.

Here’s what Julia had to say:

“To stuff a whole cabbage you first make a delicious [stuffing] mixture. You then pull off the cabbage leaves, boiling them until pliable, and re-form the cabbage into approximately its original shape with your delicious mixture spread between layers of leaves. Finally you braise, sauce, and serve it up, and it looks just like a beautiful, decorated, whole cabbage sitting on the serving platter.”

We did it — just that way — once. And what a presentation it was. But that method is fraught with peril. One thinks of a cabbage as orderly layers of leaves formed around a core. In reality, the layers have wrinkles that clench to one another, and are a bitch to separate without tearing. Second, putting the head back together and holding it together while braising is a culinary feat of some majestic proportion.

But I like the idea of meat stuffed cabbage with a nice tomato sauce to round out the flavors. So we simplified to a wedge version. Cut the cabbage into wedges, let the leaves be connected at the core, stuff your meat mixture between the leaves, braise and sauce, etcetera. Not as impressive a presentation, but easier by a factor of about 10, and tastes about the same… and nice looking in its own way.

Fast forward to 2010. Influenced by our Ukranian daughter-in-law, we purchased the brand-new Veselka Cookbook, Recipes and stories from the landmark restaurant in New York’s East Village by Tom Birchard with Natalie Danford. From that, we made their version of Meat-Stuffed Cabbage, I call them cabbage rolls.


“At least one day before you want to make the stuffed cabbage, core the head of cabbage, place it in a large freezer bag and freeze. When you are ready to stuff the cabbage… place the cabbage in a large bowl of warm water to defrost.”

This works beautifully; the leaves are pliable and separate easily. Too bad, that in my opinion, the cabbage loses all of its flavor in the process.

Otherwise, the Veselka cabbage rolls are steamed, not braised, and sauced separately during serving.

Armed with that experience and information, I set out yesterday to make my own cabbage rolls. I looked to the more recent Julia Child and the master-of-technique, Jacques Pepin for their inspiration.

my desk with source books

my desk with source books

Indeed, there is a recipe for stuffed cabbage in their book, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. The dish is called Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage, but its much like Julia’s Chou Farci from Mastering the Art. Whole head, deconstructed, stuffed and reformed, but Jacques uses different stuffing and saucing ingredients, uses the frozen cabbage technique, and uses heavy duty aluminum foil to hold everything together once stuffed. Good for him. He also suggests as a “Cook’s perquisite,” using the odd leaf and leftover stuffing to make “Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.” THAT’S the way I wanted to go. Continue reading

Reinvented Chop Suey

Not your Mom’s Chop Suey

To say that chop suey gets a bad rap is a gross understatement. Its origins aren’t entirely clear, but some believe that while the wealthy miners were eating Hangtown Fry during the Gold Rush, Chinese immigrants with limited funds were scrounging together meals with whatever they could find.

Chop suey can translate as “chop into bits” or “odds and ends.” Everything from celery and carrots to chicken parts and onions (thickened with some kind of starch) went into this ultimate scraps dish.

It was among the first of the “Americanized” Chinese dishes, thought to be mild enough for Western palates.

From Amanda Gold’s 5 Classic Dishes published in the SF Chronicle, May 2009.


Ah yes, odds and ends in a wok, my favorite kind of thing. Back in the day, my Mom had a chop suey recipe — which no doubt circulated among the women at Westgate Methodist Church — that was made entirely of canned ingredients. This one — reinvented by the chef at Betelnut, an Asian restaurant on Union Street that’s been there as long as I can remember — is the antithesis of that; nearly everything is fresh. A trip to Chinatown was in order to deal with an ingredient list like this one that includes:

Shaoxing rice wine
fresh water chestnuts
garlic chives
Shanxi black vinegar
bean sprouts
Hodo Soy brand yuba (tofu skin) omelet

Parked my scooter on Jackson Street at Stockton and went into the store on the corner. Right away, I saw fresh water chestnuts and picked out five. That set me back 35¢. That store had none of my other needs, so I crossed Jackson to the store on the other corner. Not much there, I went to the next store and scored the rice wine $1.59, and the bean sprouts 34¢. They had the black vinegar, but it doesn’t say Shanxi on the label. I have the same black vinegar at home. Most stores have ginger, but its in net bags of a pound or more.

I crossed Stockton to the biggest store on the block and bought one piece of ginger. Nowhere have I seen garlic chives or even chives. No matter, I don’t think this dish is going to break the bank.

I have everything else in my fridge or pantry.

Ready, set, chop… Continue reading

Oh Oh Orangey Mac n Cheese

The next installment: Annie’s saves the day.

Now that I’ve found a happy canned spaghetti, I need to figure out how to make that orange, cheesy tomato sauce. Perhaps that will be the next installment. Meanwhile, I found some recipes starting with a box of Annie’s Original Shells & Cheddar. I’ll give that a shot.

I did… I gave it a shot. I got a couple of boxes of Annie’s pasta; Original Shells and Cheddar and Shells and Real Aged Cheddar.Here’s the recipe I went for, copied from Annie’s web site.s_orange_shells_2

Cheesy Tomato Shells

1 box Annie’s Original Shells & Cheddar

2 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced (It being winter, I used a can of diced tomatoes, drained.)

1-2 large cloves garlic, finely minced

1-2 tbsp. olive oil

¼ cup low-fat milk

1 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Boil pasta shells according to directions on box. Drain and set aside.
Sauté garlic in oil over medium heat, stirring, until just beginning to color.
Add tomatoes and cook a minute or two longer, stirring, until soft.
Add cooked shells, mix together, and remove from heat.
Whisk together contents of cheese packet and milk until blended; fold into shells and tomatoes, add basil, season to taste, and serve.
Serves 2 grownups or 3 small children

I tried the first box first — Original Shells and Cheddar — but that used white cheddar and milk… adding the tomatoes didn’t make it orange, but mildly tomatoey and pretty good tasting.

Nothing to do but move on to the second, Annie’s Shells and Real Aged Cheddar. I did wait a couple weeks; I needed to take an Annie’s break.

Back in the kitchen, the “real aged” cheddar was orange, so I got me an orange sauce. Now that I have mastered the orange sauce, I am a happy camper. It doesn’t hurt that this stuff is moderately healthy and tastes good.

s_orange_shellsYummy lunch.

One Pot Cod

Shopping at the Farmers Market on Saturday, my head was all over cooking for the Super Bowl, so I limited myself to the bacon and sausage I ordered at Fatted Calf for the Bacon Explosion, eggs, and some pea greens and Bok Choi shoots that I came across. I was well stocked with onions and potatoes.

cod recipe

Wednesday afternoon, I looked up from working on my Income Tax and posed the magical question, “What’s for dinner.” The answer at a time like that is most usually, “fish.” Fish is easy and quick to prepare and I like to buy it fresh on the day I’ll cook it. Looking for inspiration in the Fish and Seafood zone of my cooking files, I came across “cod potatoes greens.” I have potatoes and greens so all I need is the cod. I especially liked the idea of using my unusual greens with this simple dish.

I got the recipe from the Boston Globe back in ought-eight… I think son Brian emailed it to me as he reads the Globe on line pretty regularly for news of the Red Sox and Patriots. It was in a group of recipes called “One Pot Wonders.” Here’s what the introduction had to say:

Alice Miller’s two boys don’t like fish. But the real estate agent, who lives with her sons in Beverly Farms, loves to cook and to experiment with recipes; she has made this one with scallops and with lobster, as well as cod. The reason she finds one-pot cooking appealing is simple: “I hate to do dishes.” Miller makes a smaller version of this recipe, usually for herself and a friend. With only two plates, there’s even less cleanup.

Now I don’t really hate to do dishes, but I do like the simplicity of one pot cooking. She says she does a smaller version for, “herself and a friend,” but I prefer to do the whole recipe using less fish, then I can eat the leftovers with sausage or something as a change of pace.


Start by getting out your Black Cod. Rinse it and season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. While you’re cooking, it will come to room temperature. I was lucky enough to find Black Cod at Whole Food –  in fresh today. Love Black Cod. I did a Mark Bittman recipe for Black Cod broiled with Miso last week, but they didn’t have Black Cod then, so I used what they call True Cod; good but not great. (More on that later.) Continue reading

Spring Vegetables garnished with Steak

Pan-Roasted Spring Vegetables with Brown Butter Sauce and Hanger Steak garnish

Leftovers + leftovers + new vegetables = a good meal; and the right equipment helps.

My brother accused me of openly coveting his Circulon skillet the last time we visited his South Carolina home. I believe we were cooking shrimp and grits.

My covetous manner paid off. Last Christmas; he gave me a Circulon 10 1/2-inch open skillet, 3-inches deep. Since I’m a mature home cook, I already had a 10-inch cast iron skillet and 10 and 12-inch stainless steel sauté pans, but to my mind, this was something special. Often, when I’m thinking about what to cook for dinner, I think about the pan to use and visualize the cooking procedure.

I had some leftover grilled hanger steak and a couple sprouts of broccoli, not used when I did a veal scaloppini with morel sauce, steamed broccoli as the vegetable. I thought of a pan-roasting procedure from a Cooks Illustrated recipe for Pan-Roasted Broccoli with Lemon Browned Butter. It’s something I’ve cooked many times, one of my favorite broccoli recipes. I can pan-roast the broccoli and garnish with the steak. Viola, a meal easily prepared in my Circulon skillet.

mise en place

mise en place

As it turned out, there was a bit less broccoli than I thought, and a bit more steak than I thought. I needed other stuff I could cook in the same pan with the same procedure. Summer squash and tiny new potatoes from the Mariquita Mystery box will work. More vegetables than meat, that’s good. All cook in about the same amount of time. Good again. While I prepped the meat and vegetables, I put some rice in the rice cooker to catch the juices.

the vegetables brown

the vegetables brown

Brown the broccoli stems, squash and potatoes with a little oil… add the broccoli flowerettes and brown… add some seasoned water, cover and cook for a couple more minutes, uncover and cook off the liquid. Reserve the vegetables in a bowl.


Brown the steak in the same pan and reserve on a plate in a warm oven. Deglaze the pan with butter while making a brown butter sauce with a chopped shallot, garlic, salt, pepper; finish with lemon juice and fresh thyme. Add the vegetables to the sauce and toss – easily done in the deep skillet. Serve over rice, garnish with the steak.


Carol noted that the potatoes were superfluous with the rice, but I consider those fine tiny new potatoes a vegetable, rather than a starch.


But wait… there’s more; the Caprese Salad also featured leftovers. Half of a big pineapple tomato – I had the other half for lunch with cottage cheese (a favorite lunch in tomato season). A bit of Buffalo Mozzarella – most of it used on pizza Sunday night. The basil, OK, fresh from the Mariquita box.

One fine meal. Yum. And I have only the one pan to wash and a bunch more refrigerator space.

Great Balls o’ Lamb

Greek-Style Braised Lamb Meatballs


Brother Tom is in the food service industry so he gets all the trade publications. He sent me a bunch of meatball recipes from Restaurant and Institutions Magazine (what a melodious name!) and asked me to give this one a test drive as I had served goat meatballs when he last visited. Carol is a lamb lover, so this was very appropriate. I got the ground lamb from Marin Sun Farms at the Farmers Market. Lucky it’s almost spring; hothouse tomatoes and mint are available at the Market, as well.

Apropos of many restaurant recipes… this has lots of ingredients in small quantities. I guess a restaurant always has cooked rice, lamb broth, fresh mint and dill on hand. I had to break out the rice cooker and make a batch for the three tablespoons and buy a whole bunch of mint for two tablespoons. One tablespoon of dill? Fahgeddaboutit. I used one teaspoon dried dill. Lamb broth? Nope, I used demi-glace gold. Also — oops — I put all the olives in the balls instead of reserving some for garnish. No matter. The baking time seemed right… balls browned; gravy bubbly and thick. Yum.

The labor was worth it as the balls were very good and very rich. I served them in a bowl with the gravy, chopped tomato and garnish as noted. C thought I should serve over rice or noodles. Maybe, but they were good straight, accompanied by a fine, big salad and good bread.

All was not lost, as I mixed up the leftover rice, salad, and garnish to make a rice salad for lunch the next day.


For this recipe – for all recipes as far as I’m concerned – it’s really important to get your mise en place together before starting. For the balls themselves, everything goes into one bowl and gets mixed up, but the sauce ingredients come into play one or two at a time. Here are breadcrumbs, herbs, spices in the big bowl. Lurking beneath them are the bread cubes and cream. Chopped olives and the famous three tablespoons of rice are in the smaller bowl.


I’m starting to make the balls. Pinch off a batch of lamb mixture and roll between your palms. It helps to wet your hands from time to time between balls. Continue reading

Noodle Beef


“Thorne has an accompanying recipe for Noodle Beef. The beef takes eight hours to poach, but based on the results with the chicken, I’m ready to embark on a beef adventure.”

So I said at the end of my Noodle Chicken story. Well, I have now cooked the beef. As a bonus, I cooked another batch of chicken during the first three hours of beef cooking. Both went in the fridge.

I used boneless beef short ribs from Golden Gate Meats. The meat poaches for eight hours at 170°F. I learned to control the water temperature by cracking the lid on the pot to a greater or lesser degree to keep the temperature in the acceptable range of 165 to 175. Although 8 hours is a long time, the cooking doesn’t require much attention. I checked every 30 to 45 minutes.


The poached beef was almost as tender and velvety as the chicken, but there was no mistaking the rich beef taste. Once cooled and shredded, the beef and its broth can be kept in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for a week or so.

The next day I made the Noodle Beef. The method is the same, but the ingredients vary to go with the meat — red bell pepper and Napa Cabbage to complement the chicken, carrots and bok choy for the beef — along with the common ingredients; scallions, garlic, ginger, chile paste and noodles.

When cooking the chicken version I found the recipe hard to follow. It’s written as though John Thorne made it up as he went along and prepped his vegetables while he was cooking. Maybe he did make it that way, but I’m not seasoned enough to cook like that. I have learned that if I get my mise en place together before starting to cook I don’t forget stuff. What one does with the carrot, for example, (2 medium to large carrots, peeled, cut into thirds and sliced vertically into wide thin strips.) I would note in the ingredients, rather than in the instructions. So I altered the recipe for the way I work. Continue reading

La Fornaretta Fresh Clams over Linguine

My wife and I have been traveling the San Francisco – Reno route the past few months to help son Brian find and move into a new house. We were tired of “the usual” stop at Ikeda in Auburn, not to mention their long lines and limited menu (cheeboigie or cheeboigie?). A friend suggested stopping in Newcastle for Newcastle Produce and La Fornaretta, an Italian place (“the best pizza,” she said).

Our first Newcastle stop was in the late afternoon and La Fornaretta was closed, so we had a sandwich and salads at Newcastle Produce. Excellent, and what an interesting shop with lots of good and local products.

Last week we arrived in Newcastle on the stroke of noon and were the first seated at La Fornaretta. As he took us to our table, the ebullient Italian owner raved about his fresh seafood and especially the fresh clams over linguine. How could I resist?

September 09

The dish was magnificent and so simple I figured I could recreate it at home. Continue reading

Madhur Jaffrey's Noodles with…

Leftover Grilled Flank Steak
Chicken and Prawns

One of my favorite Asian cookbooks is A Taste of the Far East by Madhur Jaffrey, the celebrated Indian actress and cookbook author, published in 1993.

The book is one of those big, heavily — and beautifully — illustrated cookbooks and by now is stained and marked from frequent use.

the book

Today, I was faced with the situation of leftover grilled flank steak — not a bad situation to be sure — one I’ve faced many times. A flank steak runs about two pounds or more. Two people — at least these two people — can eat less than half of that for a substantial dinner. The options — steak salad, steak hash, throw it into some kind of soup — are good, but get tiresome after a while.

I remembered the wonderful Madhur Jaffrey dish, Noodles with Chicken and Prawns. It’s comfort food on the spicy side… something I’ve cooked for guests to hearty acclaim. Why not pinch-hit the steak for the chicken and prawns? Continue reading

Tomato Sausage Bake

Last August, I wrote a piece called Cooking from the TV which compared the TV version of a recipe to the book version – and the perils thereof. The subject was Tomato and Sausage Bake from the Food Network show, JAMIE AT HOME by Jamie Oliver.

This week I had some heirloom tomatoes from Bruins Farms market stand (greenhouse tomatoes to be sure), some thick bacon, and a fine coil of sausage from The Fatted Calf. What a perfect circumstance to revisit that recipe.

Starting ingredients


Clockwise from the tomatoes:
Tomatoes – three kinds of heirlooms… you can see some rosemary in the pan already.
Focaccia — goes onto the serving plate to capture the juices
New potatoes – not part of the original recipe, but what the hell, they can roast right along with the rest.
Unpeeled cloves of garlic just below the potatoes.
Bacon – this has already been rendered in the roasting pan for about five minutes.
Basque sausage from The Fatted Calf

Assembled in the roasting pan


First, I put the roasting pan in a 375 oven for five minutes or so to render the bacon. Drain the bacon on paper towels. Put the tomatoes in until the skins blistered and I could pull off most of the skins with tongs.
Out of the oven, I slid the bacon under the tomatoes and added the potatoes and sausages. Back in the Countertop Convection Oven on fan bake for 30 minutes.


Out of the oven and ready to serve over the focaccia. Drizzle with your good olive oil and you are set for a flavorful and comfortable dinner. Yum.