Steve’s Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls entered my life one beautiful Sunday afternoon at the Holy Trinity Church Harvest Festival near Clayton, Wisconsin.  Holy Trinity is a member of the Orthodox Church in America.  Founded by Carpatho-Russian immigrants who came to northwest Wisconsin at the end of the 19th century, Holy Trinity Church now has about 130 members.   Virtually all who are able join together to make thousands of cabbage rolls and dozens of pies which for me are the two top items on the menu of the Harvest Festival dinner.

On that first occasion we were guests of Steve, publisher of the RiverTown Newspaper group for whom I worked at the time.  His grandparents were among the founders of Holy Trinity, and he and his family are all active members.  After the festival I asked Steve for the recipe.   He shared several variations on the cabbage rolls made by members of Holy Trinity.  One calls for 90 pounds of ground beef and yields 720 servings, but Steve’s (or his mother’s?) recipe is one designed for a family gathering.

Like all good cooks, Steve explained that one can vary ingredients slightly to suit individual preferences.  For instance, Steve likes to use extra garlic and sometimes uses venison instead of ground beef.  This recipe is a little unusual because it uses dried dill weed as one of the spices in the meat filling.  The cooks at Holy Trinity also put two or three fresh stems of dill in the roaster to flavor the sauce.  Wonderful.

Following my hard-learned rule to stick to the recipe the first time, I ended up with cabbage rolls that my wife and I felt were equal to or even better than those from the church.  The second time I made them I increased the amount of the filling and adjusted the seasoning slightly, since once you are steaming cabbage leaves it is just as easy to steam a dozen extra, there is plenty of room for more rolls in the roaster, and the rolls and sauce freeze well.  Then it is easy to treat your family to cabbage rolls by heating them in the microwave.

INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs. lean ground beef (or venison)
12 oz. pork sausage
2 eggs
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 T minced garlic
1 cup white rice
1 1/4 tsp. salt plus extra for sauce
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed (divided)
3/4 tsp. basil
3/4 tsp oregano
1 head green cabbage (10” diameter works well)
2 or 3 medium tomatoes
2 or 3 medium green bell peppers
1 can tomato soup
2 cups tomato juice
2 cups water.

PROCEDURE:

First make the filling.  Put the rice in a small saucepan.  Add 1 1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the water is absorbed, usually about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Chop the onion rather finely (no larger than 1/4 inch dice) and mince the garlic.  In a large bowl mix the ground beef and sausage with the eggs, rice, onion, garlic and spices, using only 1 tsp. of the dill weed.  Set aside in a cool place or refrigerator until the cabbage leaf wrappers are prepared.

Wash the head of cabbage thoroughly and remove any damaged outer leaves.  Remove the core with a narrow-bladed knife.  Place a rack or metal pie plate in the bottom of a canner or dutch oven.  Add about a half inch of water and bring the water to a boil.  Set the cabbage with the core side down in the canner and cover.  Steam until the outer leaves become limp.  Remove the head from the canner and peel off the outer leaves.  Return the head to the canner and repeat until you have about 30 leaves.

With a sharp knife, shave the raised rib off each cabbage leaf and put the ribs in the bottom of the roaster.  Before you start assembling the rolls, remove the seeds from a green pepper and chop it into 1/2” pieces.  Remove the stem scar and chop a tomato also into 1/2” pieces.  Mix the pepper and tomato with the cabbage ribs on the bottom of the roaster.

Now preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the rolls, put about 2 rounded tablespoons of the meat mixture on a leaf, fold the sides inward, then roll the leaf tightly and place it on the vegetable layer in the roaster.  Once the first layer is finished, continue layering rolls until you have used all the filling.  Depending on how well you estimate the amount of filling, you may need to prepare a few extra leaves.

When all the rolls are in the roaster, chop one or two tomatoes and peppers as you did for the base and spread them over the rolls.  Mix the can of soup with the water and tomato juice, generous dashes of salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon dill weed.  Pour the sauce over the rolls, cover and roast at 350 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  Check occasionally to baste the rolls and make sure that there is enough liquid.  Add water or juice if necessary.

NOTES:  When I can find it, I like to use fresh dill in the meat and sauce.  Use about two teaspoons of finely chopped fresh dill in the meat and a teaspoonful in the sauce.  After pouring the sauce over the rolls, garnish them with a few sprigs of dill weed.  Jerri freezes cabbage rolls in packages of four; she freezes the sauce separately in small freezer containers holding about a half cup each.  With a green salad, some good bread and a glass of beer, you can have a gourmet dinner in 15 minutes.

Easy Beef Pot Roast

When we were growing up, we had a beef pot roast at least once a week.  Mom’s beef pot roasts were simple affairs made with chuck roast, water, vegetables, a bay leaf and salt and pepper.  Simple though they were, they tasted wonderful, especially with fresh rolls and plenty of butter.

Later, when Bob and I shared an apartment at Madison, we experimented with different spices and cooking liquids.  I blush to admit it, but we liked pretty much every variation we tried.  Perhaps we were better cooks than we thought, though it might be more accurate to say that we were better eaters.  The recipe below is one that Jerri and I have used for many years, and it still tastes good to us and our guests.

If you have to do the dishes, you will appreciate a pot roast made on top of the stove.  The meat, potatoes and vegetables cook in one pan.  By varying your cooking liquid you can achieve the flavor you like best.

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 to 3 lb. beef chuck roast
1/2 cup dry red wine such as a cabernet sauvignon or merlot
1/2 cup water
1 beef bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 medium onion
4 to 5 carrots
3 to 4 potatoes
1 1/2 T cornstarch

PROCEDURE:

Trim excess fat from the meat.  Put the trimmings in a skillet with a tight-fitting lid and render the fat scraps until you have coated the bottom and sides of skillet with the rendered fat.  Discard the trimmings.  Turn the heat up and brown the roast in the hot pan on all sides.  Drain any excess fat after the meat is browned.

Turn down the heat, sprinkle the salt and grind the pepper over the meat.  Add 1/2 cup wine and 1/2 cup water along with the bay leaf, cloves and bouillon cube.  Cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  Check once or twice to make certain that the liquid does not boil away.  Add a small amount of wine or water if necessary.

Peel and cut the onion into thick slices and place them on top of the meat.  Peel and quarter the potatoes and clean and cut the carrots into 2 inch pieces.  Place them around the meat in the skillet.  Shake a little salt on the vegetables.  Cook until the vegetables are done, about half an hour.  Remove the meat and vegetables and keep them warm.  To make the gravy add water or a combination of water and wine to make about 1 1/2 cups of liquid.  Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water, stir into the pan and cook until clear.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Slice the meat and pass it with the vegetables and gravy.  Serve with more of the wine used to cook the roast accompanied by a green salad and fresh bread.

VARIATIONS:  Use red port wine and about 1/4 tsp. basil instead of the burgundy and bay leaf.  Or substitute beer for the burgundy.  If you want a little more zip, add a couple of dashes of cayenne or hot sauce.