Bison stuffed cabbage

Stuffed cabbage was not a part of my childhood growing up – it’s something I sometimes heard other people talk about or maybe even tried once or twice, but it wasn’t until I married my half-Polish husband and had “Galumpkis” at his family’s house in Ohio that I realized what I’d been missing out on. A few years ago I made the traditional Polish Galumpkis recipe and swore I’d never take it on again – it was a three page long recipe that downright exhausted me. But I found myself with an abundance of cabbage recently and decided to give it a go again in my own simplified version and with bison rather than ground beef or pork.

Pastured bison (which is really the only kind of bison you can buy) is leaner and healthier than beef or pork. Pastured animals are free-range, they eat grass and graze on open pasture, which means they move around, develop healthy muscles and fat and because they’re eating what nature intended for them to eat (instead of corn and antibiotics like mass produced beef), their meat is actually healthier and contains WAY more Omega-3’s and less bad (saturated) fats.

I also substituted quinoa for rice. We generally don’t eat rice – I don’t really like it unless there’s raw fish on top of it and there’s just not a lot of nutritional value. Quinoa is a whole grain with a higher fiber content and other nutritional benefits like a particularly high dose of antioxidant phytonutrients…..and other scientific sounding things that I will refrain from diving into.

And cabbage is good for you. Obviously. If it wasn’t, nobody would eat it.

Bison and Quinoa Stuffed Cabbage

rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground bison
  • 1/2 a medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes, roughly chopped with juice
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 8 medium to large cabbage leaves
  • 1 15oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • Parmesan, shredded Swiss or Jack cheese (optional)

Method:

  1. In a large skillet, brown the meat and cook the onions – drain off any fat (there won’t be a lot – remember, this is a very lean meat), then stir in the tomatoes with their juice, the water, quinoa, 1/2 tsp oregano, and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper. Bring this up to a boil, then reduce, cover and let simmer about 20 minutes, until the quinoa is cooked (when quinoa is done, the grain sort of “pops” open).
  2. Meanwhile, trim the large veins from the back of the cabbage leaves so they rib is flush with the leaf. Use a small paring knife to do this. Drop the leaves, three or four at a time into a bot of boiling water for just 2-3 minutes or until they are just limp – then quickly drop into a bowl of ice water as you continue with the others. This is “blanching” and it retains texture and color:

    blanched cabbage

    Blanched Cabbage

  3. After all the leaves have been blanched, pull them out of the water and dry them off with a towel. Scoop about 1/3 cup of the meat mixture into the center of the leaf, fold in the sides of the leaf, then start rolling at one of the unfolded ends until its all rolled up nice and neatly and no meat is exposed. Do this to all of the leaves and set to the side.
  4. To make the sauce, combine the tomato sauce, maple syrup*, oregano, cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste in a small mixing bowl. Pour half of the sauce into a 2-quart baking dish. Arrange stuffed leaves on top, then pour the remaining sauce over the rolls. Cover the baking dish and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. If you want cheese on top (I did a tiny bit of shredded Jack – it honestly made no difference), then top with cheese and bake for a few more minutes until melted, then remove from oven and serve!

rolls with fork

*I use a Virginia made maple syrup that is, without exaggeration, the best maple syrup in the world. It is made by two very special people, Pat and Valerie. If you can’t name the people making your syrup, then get on it (and Aunt Jemima doesn’t count). Now you can. You can purchase it through their Back Creek Farms website – they even did the work for me and tell you all about why maple syrup is actually good for you! While you’re there – check out their adorable cabin, which I have stayed in and can vouch for the fact that it’s one of the most adorable places on the planet.

maple syrup

 

 

 

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pizza party

I want you all to put your thinking caps on, use your inside voices, and think back to that blue-industrial carpeted, windowless, cement walled room covered in bulletin boards with cut outs that generically represented whatever season it happened to be. It smells like kids and chalk and old books. You’re in third grade, and sentence conjugation and algebra are a bummer. What was the number one most exciting thing that could ever happen on a school day such as today (besides the school day being cancelled for snow)? What’s the one thing that would awake you from your ‘is-it-recess-yet-slumber’? That’s right: PIZZA PARTY! Usually pizza party day coincided with ‘watch a movie’ day, so basically as soon as you saw this:

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

And this:

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

Your tiny 8 year old heart was about to explode with joy.

Well, maybe the rest of you have grown up a little more than me, but as far as I’m concerned, anytime I see pizza I still feel like eating it while laying on my stomach on the floor and watching a crummy edited VHS version of The Indian in the Cupboard. (true story). Nowadays, the pizza is the only thing that’s grown up. And the movies. Sometimes.

Making your own pizza at home is super easy, super cheap and super fast. You can seriously make a pizza at home, from scratch, in less time than it would take you to order a pizza and have it delivered by a high school kid who has hit every bump on the way to your house, causing the majority of your pizza toppings to remain firmly attached to the roof of the pizza box.

I started making this pizza crust years ago, and it’s so easy it’s absurd. Like, it’s actually insane to me that everyone doesn’t do this and that people still buy pre-made pizza crust. First, there are only FIVE ingredients (besides water), most of which you probably already have in your cabinets. Second, the crust is this delicious, chewy, wonderful thing when you’re done. Not too thick, not too thin. If you’re one of those people who likes pizza that is essentially a heavily topped cracker, this is not for you. And for those of you who like pizza that was baked in a cake pan and you have to eat with a fork, it’s so thick, this is not for you. But for everyone else – this is our pizza crust.

Homemade Pizza Crust

pizza party crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet of Fleischmann’s pizza crust active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
    (find it in the baking aisle of your grocery store)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour

Method:

  1. Add the sugar and yeast into the water, stirring until dissolved 
  2. Stir in the olive oil and salt, then the flour, stirring until well combined
  3. Knead the dough very lightly just until a ball of dough forms. Let dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
  4. Pat dough out onto pizza stone or pan into desired shape, 1/4” thick. Top with olive oil, garlic powder and herbs, if desired before topping with ingredients.
  5. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes or until done. Let rest five minutes before cutting and serving.
Top it up.

Top it up.

Your ingredients can be whatever you want, but I love a good Greek pizza, and usually just throw together whatever I have on hand at the house. In this case, I topped the dough with a little more olive oil, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, then I put down a sauce that I had frozen from some local tomatoes mixed with some tomato paste. You can just use store-bought pizza sauce – no big deal. Then I topped that with a thin layer of fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano, low-fat mozzarella, kalamata olives, diced sundried tomatoes, sliced pepperoncini peppers, half an onion, thinly sliced, and most importantly – browned, ground, local, Italian sausage from Windhaven Farms. I used about 1/3 of a pound. Since I’ve got a lot going on there, I bake my pizza for a good 20 minutes. I don’t want the dough to be underdone in the center. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes. This will be the hardest part, cause when it comes out it looks like this:

pizza party pizza

And your 8 year old self is going to just want to grab it and stuff it in your face before that greedy kid with the runny nose touches it.

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

Burger Fancy

I am one of those people who inevitably gets attached to a really smart, funny, indi-flavored show that the FOX executives are smart enough to give a first season, and dumb enough to cancel after two. (Think: early Family Guy, Arrested Development, Futurama, etc etc). I fear this is the fate of one of my new favorite shows, Bob’s Burgers. It constantly amazes me that these shows don’t get the viewership required to stay on the air. I guess everyone is too busy watching The Bachelor or something where people vote on who gets to push someone off a cliff or something. Anyways, this show is hilarious and comes on Sunday nights on Fox. It’s about a little burger restaurant and the family who owns and operates it. It’s great and has a bunch of great comedians doing the voices including Jon Benjamin, John Roberts, and Kristin Schaal. I love shows about food that don’t make food disgusting. This guy Bob, he really loves his burgers. He takes it seriously and he has a burger special everyday that always has a great, clever name:

If Looks Could Kale Burger. Brilliant.

If Looks Could Kale Burger. Brilliant.

So this weekend I got inspired to make my own fancy burger. For Christmas this year my in-laws got me a cast-iron stove top griddle. One of the ones that sits on top two of your stove burner at the same time – one side is a flat top and the other is a grill. It’s awesome. It also weighs about 30 lbs. Seriously. I LOVE cast-iron, as you may remember from my last blog and my Le Creuset spiel.  I love it because it lasts forever, is easy to take care of, you can take it camping and use it over an open fire, and did you know that cooking on cast iron is actually a good way to get trace iron minerals in your system? I used to be anemic, so I look for ways to make sure I’m getting enough iron on a daily basis, and this is a no brainer way to do it. Anyways, back to the burgers . . .

It’s like 20 degrees outside, so grilling on the outdoor grill is out of the question. (Hyperbole alert: this is southeastern Virginia. It is rarely ever 20. It’s more like 52, but that’s still too cold for me to spend significant amounts of time outside). So making burgers was a perfect opportunity to test out the stove top grill. I’m going to make a pretty significant confession now. Jeremy and I were craving a burger the other night, so we rolled through the Wendy’s drive thru hoping to get one of the mushroom Swiss burgers they had been advertising (hold your fire!), but apparently they had stopped selling them like the day before or something, so we never got our fix. Obviously, that was what I had to make.

A Shroom of One’s Own Burger

(a little joke for you literary fans out there)

A Shroom of Ones Own Burger

Ingredients:

Burger:
1 lb 80/20 ground beef (local and grass-fed when and if possible)
1 egg (again, local and pasture-raised when and if possible)
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. onion, minced
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

Accouterments:
1/4 cup of mayo
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Garlic Powder, Pepper and Salt to taste
4 Toasted Burger Buns
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
1/2 cup of mushrooms (fresh or jarred), sliced
4 slices of Swiss cheese

Method:

  1. Combine all of your burger ingredients in a medium bowl. I put on my surgeon gloves and combine it all with my hands.
  2. Divide the meat in half, then in half again so that you have four 1/4 lb pieces (you could also use a food scale). Shape each 1/4 lb into a large, flat patty. Set on a plate and refrigerate while you prep everything else.
  3. In a small bowl combine mayo, Worcestershire, garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Spread generously on both sides of toasted burger buns. Set aside.
  4. Heat up your grill to medium-high. Put your burger and onion slices on. Flip burgers after about 3 minutes, or longer depending on how well done you want them. We like ours about medium (140-150 degrees). Flip your onions every minute or so until they become tender and have visible grill marks. In the last minute or two, add your mushrooms to the griddle and move them constantly until cooked, but not burned.
  5. While the burger is still on the grill, and after it has been flipped and only needs a minute or so, add a slice of cheese to each patty and let the cheese melt onto the burger for 30 seconds – 1 minute.
  6. Add burger, onions and mushroom to your sauced and prepped buns. Enjoy.

This burger was awesome. Juicy, flavorful, generously topped but not impossible to eat. Burgers like this makes me want to open a burger joint. Seriously, they were real yummy. We had them with “fried” (really baked) pickles dipped in home made ranch. I’m not even getting in to all that here. It’s just too much for one blog. So do me a favor, watch Bob’s Burgers (especially if you are a Nielsen family), and make these burgers. Then read Virginia Woolf. I feel like that is not too much to ask of you, dear readers.

Local Beef Three Ways

I’m excited to share with you all three different ways to approach one ingredient: local, pasture-raised beef. This will be the first time I’ve featured beef on the blog, so hold on to your steak knives! Actually, don’t. I’m not going to be discussing steaks. Sorry, you’re on your own there. The beef used in all of these recipes came from Windhaven Farm in Windsor, VA. They raise “Natural, Angus Beef” and here is how they describe it (from their website):

“Natural beef is a healthy and safe choice of quality beef.  The cattle are birthed on our farm.  We do not receive feed stock from unknown sources.  Our farm does not mass produce cattle.  The cattle are antibiotic free and do not receive growth hormones. The cattle are fed 100% grass, hay, and grain.  Therefore the cattle are healthier and leaner resulting in lean, healthy beef. Natural means: No antibiotics, hormones, ionophores, or medicated feeds No feeding of animal by-products. Grass fed, grain finished – grain is used to help “finish” and marble the beef. All natural from birth. Parasiticides are not used within 30 days of slaughter date.”

You can also purchase completely grass-fed beef from them in 1/4, 1/2 or whole packages. Yes, that means 1/4, 1/2 or a WHOLE COW. I know lots of cross-fitters (paleo dieters) that go in on entire cows together, and it actually works out to be a great deal, if you have the room to store even a small portion of an entire cow. I do not. So I usually order their beef in completely reasonable increments, like you know, a pound of ground beef. Their beef is available for pick up at their farm, or through Coastal Farms Co-op and at a few retail stores in Hampton Roads like Heritage Natural Market.  They also do occasional deliveries around the area.

The weather is really cooling down around here and a lot of the farmers markets have stopped for the season and while there is still lots of produce to be found if you’re willing to look for it, it is definitely starting to feel like hearty-food weather. So here are three great options to satisfy your cool-weather cravings:

Beef and rice skillet with late-summer veggies

Meat Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, pureed in a blender

Directions:

  1. In a large heavy pot, heat oil over high. Add meat and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add onion, carrots, and garlic and cook until meat is browned and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add tomato puree, and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Casserole:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 oz)
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil, divided
  • meat sauce (recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 zucchini or yellow squash, very thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 475 (Fahrenheit). Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan and 1 tblsp olive oil.
  2. In a large cast-iron skillet, bring meat sauce to a rapid simmer over high. Stir in rice and remove from heat.
  3. Top with onion, then carefully arrange zucchini/squash in a single, slightly overlapping layer. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with remaining tbs. olive oil and top with breadcrumb mixture. Return to heat and bring to simmer.
  4. Cover with foil and bake 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake until rice is cooked through and breadcrumbs are golden, about 10 minutes more. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

*This recipe is adapted from Everyday Food

The meat sauce part of this recipe can be adapted and used for anything – on top of pasta, as sloppy-Joe filling, mixed with cheese and stuffed into pasta shells – whatever you want! This is a really perfect recipe for right now because squash and zucchini are still available locally, but it’s still hearty and warm and filling for fall.

Slow Cooker Beef Ragu

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3 tbs chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 beef chuck roast (2-4 lbs is fine)
  • coarse salt and pepper
  • 1 tbs red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, combine onion, garlic, tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Season roast with salt and pepper and place on top of onion mixture.
  2. Add 2 cups of water, cover and cook on high until meat is tender and can easily be pulled apart with a fork, 4 1/2 hours (or 9 hours on low).
  3. Let cool 10 minutes, then shred meat in slow cooker with 2 forks and stir in vinegar to taste.

This recipe was also adapted from Everyday Food

You could serve the ragu over whatever you liked – rice, pasta, polenta, mashed potatoes. I had originally planned on serving it over spiced and grilled polenta, but then the grocery store by our house decided stocking polenta (and anything else I’m ever specifically looking for) is stupid. So for whatever reason I opted for no-yolk egg noodles instead. Big mistake. I’ve never liked these things and I still don’t. There’s not enough salt in the Dead Sea to make them taste like anything at all, and the texture is slippery and slimy. The ragu was great, but my suggestion is to go to a better grocery store than mine and find some good polenta, or make your own, or make some stiff grits or something besides egg noodles. Seriously, maybe even some wood shavings from the pet store might work better. Just go with your gut.

Taco Bowls

Ingredients:

  • Burrito-sized soft tortillas
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • Taco seasoning
  • Refried Beans
  • Taco toppings of choice

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet and turn 4 ramekins upside down on the rack. Microwave your tortillas for 15 seconds to make them soft. spray each ramekin with olive oil. Mold tortillas over each ramekin, making them into the shape of a wide bowl. Spray outside of tortillas with additional olive oil.
  2. Place baking sheet with tortillas into the pre-heated oven very carefully (the ramekins will want to slide around on the rack). Bake for 10 minutes or until golden and crispy. Remove from oven and let cool on the ramekins. Wait until they have cooled to the touch to remove them from their molds. This will ensure they keep their shape.
  3. Meanwhile, brown your ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain off fat. Return meat to the burner and add 1/4 cup of water and taco seasoning to taste. Keep on low until tortillas are finished baking.
  4. In a small saucepan, warm your refried beans until smooth and heated through.
  5. Once the tortillas have cooled to touch, fill them with your taco accouterments: I like to make the base with refried beans, topped with the beef, then topped with shredded jack or cheddar cheese, taco sauce, diced tomatoes, lettuce, some mashed and seasoned avocado and a dollop of plain, nonfat Greek  yogurt (I use this in place of sour cream in everything. The taste is exactly the same, but without the fat and it’s easier on my stomach).

You can make more than 4 bowls at a time, if you need them. I just only needed four and conveniently I only have 4 ramekins. Jeremy and I each ate two bowls (they are smaller than the ones you get at Mexican restaurants, so put your judgey face away). And we had chips and salsa on the side. This is a fun update on taco night.

Taco salads are great until you decide to start eating the shell. The idea seems great and starts out totally civilized. Something like this:

Oh yes, I’ll just take this one little bite of the shell.

Then all of a sudden all hell breaks loose, a tornado sweeps through your taco salad and you’re left with this tragedy:

The horror! The horrooooorrr!

Which is fine, really – it all tastes the same anyways. But if aesthetics is your thing, then just eat the salad portion with tortilla chips or something and save your bowl for decoration or to hold your keys or a hat for a small child or large dog – your call.

So there you have it – local beef three ways. Certainly you could do all of these recipes with beef you buy at the grocery store, that came from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), where cows are fed nothing but grain, which makes them sick, which requires them to take antibiotics, which remains in the meat, which over-dosed the entire population with antibiotics so that we all have reduced good bacteria in our bodies so that we are all more prone to sickness so that we all end up having to take more antibiotics like the poor cows before us, which in the long run makes us even more sick, needing more medication and so on and so forth. Again – your call.
Besides that, grass-fed beef has higher omega-3’s, is leaner, often has more protein, and is generally ethically raised. There’s no doubt red meat is not the most healthy thing we can all eat, but if you’re going to eat it (and we all are – the average American eats 110 lbs of red meat every year), then make it the healthiest, most environmentally friendly, ethical meat that you can eat. Cost? Please. Let’s not get into that – just eat your taco bowl and enjoy the grass-fed goodness.

Sweet Meat

I promised I wasn’t a vegetarian and I’m here to deliver. Also, my friend Robyn threatened to stop reading the blog unless I posted a meat recipe she could make for her seriously carnivorous husband. Fine.

But before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit about meat, the consumption and environmental effects of it, and healthy options and portions. Wait….where are you going? No, really – it’s important! Fine, I won’t TALK about it, I’ll just show you this:

Get the point? Meat should be a SMALL percentage of your daily food intake. It should be used as a side dish, not a main course, and should be chosen wisely. I can’t say that this particular recipe was the “wisest” one, but it did serve up about 8 small servings over the course of three days, so it had that going for it.

This recipe was adapted from one I found via Pinterest, and was originally posted here. I changed it up a little, but all in all it’s pretty similar.

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin

Ingredients:
1 (2 pound) boneless pork tenderloin (or regular pork loin)
1 bunch of fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
3 clove garlic, crushed
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 cup water
Glaze
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Directions:
Rub roast with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Place in slow cooker with 1/2 cup water, sage, crushed garlic and onion slices. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About 1 hour before roast is done, combine ingredients for glaze in small sauce pan. Heat and stir until mixture thickens. Brush roast with glaze 2 or 3 times during the last hour of cooking. Serve with remaining glaze on the side.
I sort of sliced, sort of shredded the pork loin when it came out of the pot, removing the fat as I cut. I used a regular pork loin, not a tenderloin, so there’s some different meat textures going on in there. Once I had sliced/shredded it onto a platter, I drizzled the glaze over top of it.

I served it with a squash and corn casserole and a light tomato and cucumber salad. You’ll notice the portions here look similar to the diagram at the beginning of the post:

The meat only takes up 1/4 of the plate.

So, see – I DO eat meat. I just think we have to start thinking about it and preparing it and eating it a little different. Meat can be a great source of protein, but it can also be a great source of saturated fats, unnecessary hormones and antibiotics. Not to even mention or get into the kind of cruelty that goes in to most mass-bred cattle, pork and chicken. Under normal circumstances I purchase all of our meat through local farms who use ethical animal raising and slaughtering methods. This was a rare exception, although the meat is still technically local (Smithfield, VA).  Yes, locally raised meats are more expensive, but when you eat less of it, the cost works itself out. Not to mention the long-term health benefits of eating less meat and more sustainable meat are a huge cost savings (would you rather spend money on healthier food or on blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes medications and treatments?). Pasture raised meats have less saturated fats, are generally not fed antibiotics (because they are outside eating grass, not shoved in a cage with 1,000 heads, chowing on grain which inherently makes cows sick), and are leaner because of the natural exercise they get. The same is true of pigs and chickens. If you’d like to learn more about the environmental and health effects that meat has in America, I would encourage you to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This is the book that the documentary, Food Inc. was based on, but if you’re like me and can’t stomach movies like that, try the book instead. He traces the steps of three meals from beginning to end: a fast food meal, a “locally sourced” meal, and a meal that was 100% hunted and gathered by him. It’s fascinating and you will never look at the food the same way again, I promise.

Ok, so I ended up talking about it anyways. I’ll get off my meat soapbox now. Honestly, I do love it and I do eat it, and when the summer ends and we get into fall and winter, you will see me use it as an ingredient in a lot more dishes.

What is your favorite meat? Where do you get your meat from and what is important to you when purchasing it? What kind of questions do you ask your farmer, butcher or grocer when purchasing meat?