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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The resourceful cook

Jeremy once told me that I was the most resourceful cook he knows. This is because I never start a meal plan for the week by deciding what I want to make, then writing down ingredients. Instead, I go to the pantry, freezer or fridge, see what random left overs or items we have, then plan our meals around that. Because most of what I cook is done without recipes, this works for me. And that’s the beauty of learning techniques versus recipes. If you know how to make a basic cream sauce, or the components of a risotto or the technique of braising meats, then you don’t need recipes. What I find to be most important is the concept of ratio. So if you know that a basic risotto calls for 1 part rice to 4 parts liquid, then you’re fine, and you can experiment to your hearts’ content without worrying about if the rice is going to dry up or if it’s going to be too soupy.

So this past week we had some kind of random things sitting around. First off, my sage plant has exploded this fall, so I wanted to use some fresh sage. I also had a huge bag of pistachios left over from camping and a half of a container of Parmesan….some of you know where this is going already: pesto! Pistachio-Sage pesto. Because, once again, if you know the basic components of pesto (basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil) you can swap each of those ingredients out for something similar (sage, Parmesan, pistachios, olive oil). I also had a huge FIVE POUND bag of quinoa that I got at Costco the other day, as well as a side of salmon that I had cut down into fillets and frozen. Finally there was a random butternut squash that I had picked up at a farm and sort of neglected.

fall dinner

I wanted to experiment with the idea of quinoa risotto. Normally risotto is made with Arborio rice, a super short-grain rice that cooks almost like a pasta. It’s cooked slowly, adding small amounts of liquid, which are then absorbed before adding more, and of course – stirring the entire time. Quinoa is also a grain and is …. not “short” but small, let’s say. I wasn’t sure if it would cream up like Arborio, which slowly releases its starch as it cooks, creating its own creamy sauce when combined with water, broth, wine, etc. But I figured it was worth a try.

The whole meal came together like this:

Step 1: fall dinner squash
Pre-head the oven to 375 F. Peel and cut the butternut squash into 1/2″ thick slices, brush with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, then lay out on a baking sheet and roast while putting together the rest of the meal. I only used about 1/4 of the squash (I made the rest of it into soup – resourceful!)

Step 2: 
Make the pesto by combining 1/4 cup of pistachios (shelled) with a palm full of Parmesan, a hearty bunch of sage (chopped), the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse the ingredients while drizzing olive oil through the top until a nice thick paste forms.

Step 3:
Make the risotto. Start with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add a few cloves of minced garlic and half of an onion, diced small; cook until soft. Add one cup of diced mushrooms and a

fall dinner quinoalittle lemon zest and saute until soft. Add in one cup of quinoa (or Arborio rice) and toast the quinoa until it starts to brown. Pour in half a cup of chicken broth and use this to deglaze the pan, and stir until it is absorbed. Continue to add half a cup of broth at a time, stirring until absorbed until you’ve reached the consistency you want. You’ll likely use less liquid than you would with a true risotto. I used about two cups of broth to one cup of quinoa. It will take about 15-20 minutes to get the quinoa cooked through. You know when quinoa is cooked because the grain sort of pops open. It’s impossible to describe, but immediately obvious when it happens. When the risotto is close to being done, within the last few minutes, add the juice of half a lemon and a large spoonful of the pesto and stir in.

Step 4:
About 10 minutes before the risotto is done, coat some salmon fillets with your pesto and put on a baking sheet in the oven with your squash. Bake the salmon for 10 minutes of until it flakes easily with a fork.

Step 5:
Serve it up! Top the risotto with a little more Parmesan and top your salmon with a bit more pesto. Your squash should be a little crispy on the outside and cooked through on the inside from roasting. Serve with a lemon wedge to brighten up the salmon and risotto.
fall dinner plate

Step 6:
Enjoy. And use these steps to make something completely different – based on whatever you have on hand.

fall dinner fork

Foodie Friday Freestyle

We usually stay in on Friday nights. We are exciting like that. But one of my favorite things to do on Friday nights is “freestyle” a few small plates with things we have around the house. It’s like iron chef or chopped or something. You can only use things you have in your basket….three to five courses….except without someone berating the hell out of whatever you come up with. So, if it pleases the judge panel….

1. Smoked salmon with fresh dilled cream cheese on pita crackers.

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2. Baked turnip “chips”

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3. Balsamic glazed chicken thighs with quinoa and roasted Okinawa purple sweet potatoes.

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For the record, always cook with chicken thighs. Chicken breasts dry out more easily, are inconsistent in thickness (which makes them hard to cook) and don’t have as much flavor as dark meat. You know when you have delicious Mongolian BBQ and you think “I can never make chicken taste like this at home”? That’s because it’s chicken thighs. Oh, they are also usually cheaper.

Usually my Friday freestyle foods aren’t recipes. I just make it up as I go along. I likely won’t make another dish exactly like any of them again since they are usually about an unusual combination of things I have at that moment. But it’s exciting and different. Unlike our average Friday nights.