Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cabbage rolls

Happy New Year! I'm not big on considering New Years a holiday, but I'll go with it. I like the symbolism of a fresh start, but I truly loathe new year's resolutions. Personally, I don't feel that I need a new year for a new goal. If I want to set a new goal, I just do it, no matter what time of year! I like it better that way for multiple reasons, but especially so I don't fall into the pool of people who crumble under the pressure and fail miserably at their resolutions a month or two in.

Regardless, we had a wonderful first day of January! Jarrell had work, but I had the day off. Kimmy and I woke up a little before 8:00am, ate breakfast, and watched some cartoons in bed. We were both so sleepy and on the verge of dozing off, so I put her back in her bed and got back in mine. We ended up going back to sleep until almost noon! It was wonderfully refreshing. After that, I fed her her lunch and got to work on my cabbage rolls. We played all afternoon until she took nap #2. That evening when Jarrell got home from work, our friends Josh and Laura had just arrived, and dinner was almost ready. We enjoyed a lovely evening of good food and good conversation...and a little of the Rose Bowl game. I love having friends who live close by and don't mind our cluttered, toddlery home!

So, let's talk cabbage rolls. In my hometown (and I suppose southern WV in general), everyone makes cabbage rolls on New Years Day. Everyone. It's actually almost impossible to find cabbage or sauerkraut in the grocery store if you wait until New Years Eve/Day to shop. My childhood is full of memories of Gugs's NYD cabbage rolls with half-dollars or quarters inside a select few. If you found one with a coin, you were supposed to have good luck the whole year through. It's just an old superstition and purely for fun, but we always looked forward to it.

My Gugs is one amazing cook, and I'm so glad I've grown up cooking this recipe with her. It's one that I'm proudly sharing because it's just so delicious and fulfilling. However, I did tweak it ever so slightly this time around. I added a few things, and I altered it to make fewer rolls, since it's basically just Jarrell and I having a go at this year. Anyway, here goes:

Cabbage Rolls (to feed 2 - 4 people with, about 20 rolls)
1 large head green cabbage
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef, raw
1 medium onion, diced
3 c. white rice, cooked
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
1 large jar/package/can sauerkraut (do not drain)
1 large can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 regular-sized can tomato sauce
1 package kielbasa or smoked sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 4"-ish pieces

Boil a large pot of water and cook cabbage with lid on about 20 minutes or until softened and brightly colored. Cook rice and set aside to cool. (Minute rice is fine, but it tends to lose its texture through the 2nd cooking process. If you have the patience for regular medium/long-grain white rice, use that.) Submerge cabbage in a large bowl of ice water to cool. In a separate large bowl, combine ground beef, onion, rice, parsley, salt, and pepper--doesn't have to be homogenous, but you don't want massive chunks of meat that won't cook evenly. Flip your head of cabbage to the core side and slice through leaves individually with a sharp knife, removing leaves to a colander to drain. If some leaves are smaller, that's okay; hang on to them, in case you need a patch for a torn leaf. In a large stock pot or crock pot, add a thin layer of kraut, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. On a large cutting board or clean counter, assemble your rolls. Put about 1/2 c. of filling in each cabbage leaf, and roll it up like a burrito. Add them to your pot seam side down. If you have a torn leaf or one that's too small to hold the filling, double wrap it. Add the remaining kraut, tomatoes, and tomato sauce on top of the assembled rolls in the pot--the weight will help hold the rolls down and stay sealed. If there isn't enough liquid to cover, add more. These take 4 hours on high in a crock pot or 1 hour boil-to-strong-simmer on a stovetop. Serve with mashed potatoes and fried kielbasa/sausage

Now, my family quarters and dices the sausage and puts it right in the stock pot. It adds a great flavor, but I've found that the soft texture really bothers me. You don't get that nice, tense crunch through the sausage casing like you do when you sear it in a pan. We served the sausage on the side for the first time last night, and it was so delicious! Get a nice forkful of cabbage/filing, mashed potatoes, and sausage, and, in the words of my brother, "your tastebuds will haaaaave a party!"

To all my readers, I wish you a 2014 full of Christ, family, success, love, wealth, smiles, laughter, and all the things that make you happy!