Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stuffed Cabbage stewed in Port and Charred Strawberries

Strawberries are so cheap these days that you can buy for cheap enough to fill a tub and bathe in them, yikes, LOL! Why would anyone do that? I really don't know, but I know it will be a sight to behold.

Anyway.. I decided to quit my job of 5 years, without adhering to the saying "Best to find a job when you have one." It was a last minute decision, at 3PM on a Friday afternoon; something happened that made me say "That's it, I can't do this anymore". So, I told my boss I am quitting, and of course, he didn't take me seriously. He told me to go home and I'll be okay come Monday. I finished everything I have to at work that night, left my keys and passwords in my boss's office, and I didn't show up to work on Monday. And yes, my boss was right, I was okay come Monday, I knew then that I made the right decision. Just like that, I became a statistic, I joined the 10.4% unemployed workforce of America. moolah. It's a win-win sitch! (gosh I hate corporate jargon!) since I get to challenge my creativity, get to cook which relaxes me and I might just get the moolah I need for the time being, granting I win.
Five days after, I realized I have to find a quick way to make me some green bucks. The mortgage payment doesn't grow on trees and the bills don't go away when you ignore then, they are very persistent! So, I decided that while I wait for my perfect career opportunity, I will be developing recipes that I can submit for the

So, back to strawberries. There are a couple of contest for Strawberries that I plan to join--grand prizes for these contest are (52) $100 Supermarket gift cards (a year's worth of groceries.. not bad eh?) and a KitchenAid Professional 610 Stand Mixer (who doesn't need a backup mixer anyway, but then, I will need more kitchen counter space, LOL!). So, here goes, this is my supposed winning recipe and how it came about.

I woke up one Sunday morning and I remembered that I have a 10 day old open bottle of port in my refrigerator. And if you know me and my love affair with port, then you know that I will not allow it to go to waste. It's Sunday, and as much as I hate to admit, I don't go to church; but that doesn't mean I can just start drinking at 9AM.. so what to do? Reduce the port.. I can always use it in a sauce, a glaze or in a vinaigrette, yeah? So I did. Then I went about my day.. run errands, go to the store.. bought 3 pints of Strawberries, rationalizing that it's cheap, might as well load up while it's in season. Three days later, I still have 3 pints of almost too ripe strawberries. Panic starts to seep in, I have to use up those Strawberries!! So, I opened the refrigerator door, put my thinking cap on, and stared inside for inspiration. It's then that I saw the port reduction, and the cabbage. So, it came to me --Stuffed Cabbage stewed in port reduction and strawberries, a humble dish made with a twist!

I of course want to make it a bit more complicated, more challenging and original. I decided I will char the strawberries first, since I took into charring fruits and vegetables these days. I like the fact that they caramelize when they get charred. For the stuffing, I will use pork cooked in herb de provence and lemon confit instead of plain ground meat and Arborio rice cooked in saffron instead of plain uncooked rice. I think that's complicated enough...

Who among my frosting bitches will I have to contact for this dish? Bill is one, of course, since he is my worst critic. That man does not pull his punches when criticizing my food, and to think he cannot even boil an egg! LOL! Then there's my friend Biljana; she is Macedonian, thus this woman knows her stuffed cabbage. She has been eating stuffed cabbage at least once a week since she started eating solid food. She has a special terra cotta pan she got from home just to cook this dish. Plus, like Bill, she has no filter when she does her "frosting bitch" duties. And lastly, my friend JJ, he is part Lebanese, so he knows his stuffed cabbage, too. JJ is also the Pork expert, he actually judges Pork BBQ competitions.. he is my only guy friend who can cook by the way. So that's my panel of FB for this recipe.

Off to roll cabbages!

Stuffed Cabbage stewed in Port and Charred Strawberries

Pork with Herb de Provence & Lemon Confit
2 bay leaves
1 T herb de provence
1 lb boneless pork boston butt, cut in 2-in cubes
4 segments lemon confit
1 onion, peeled & quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rice with Saffron
1 T olive oil
12 oz Arborio Rice
a pinch of Saffron steep in 2 T hot water
sea salt
2 cups water

Port and Strawberries Stewing Liquid
16 oz Strawberries, hulled, washed, cut in half
1/2 cup port reduction
1 T tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
2 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 t red chile pepper flakes
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large head of Cabbage
salted boiling water

Grind the bay leaves and herb de provence into a mortar and pestle to a fine powder. Place the pork in a nonmettalic bowl. Using your fingers, rub the herb mixture into the meat. Season with sea salt. Cover and marinate overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer the marinated pork in a baking dish, preferably one with cover. Add the lemon confit, onion, garlic and freshly ground pepper. Cover and bake for an hour.

Meanwhile, heat an 8 inch skillet. When hot, put the strawberries and let char on places. Pick up the pan every now and then and shake it so as not to burn. Add the port reduction, give it a stir and remove from heat. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process with the tomato paste and chicken stock. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium-size heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the rice and stir until well coated and translucent. Add the saffron and season with salt. Stir in 2 cups of water, let it boil, then simmer and cook only until the all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. Fluff with fork and transfer to a nonmetallic mixing bowl.

Prepare the cabbage. Boil water in a medium saucepan, add salt. Core the cabbage, then carefully remove the leaves one at time, mindful not to tear them. Save about 12 of the outer ones, set aside. The smaller ones you will use to layer the bottom of the pan so that when you cook the rolls, it won't stick or burn. One by one, lower the cabbage leaf in the boiling water and cook just until pliable, then move it to a colander to drain. Do this to all the leaves, including the inner ones. When done, drain the leave in a colander

Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Transfer pork pieces in a plate and shred using 2 forks. Add the shredded pork with the rice and mix well. Divide the mixture into 12. You are now ready to stuff those cabbage leaves. In the video above, you will see how I stuffed and rolled my leaves. I start by trimming the rib of the cabbage. I then lay the leaf flat in a chopping mat, the rib part farthest from me. I then add the meat & rice mixture on the end nearest me, then I roll away from me, then pull the sides of the leaf towards the center, then roll again. Tuck the end under. You can roll tight since the mixture will not expand as much since the rice have no much room to expand since it's precooked.

Line an enameled cast iron casserole with the reserved leaves. Add a layer of about a quarter of the strawberry/port mixture, then arrange the stuffed cabbage on top of it. Pour the rest of the mixture on top of the cabbage, then sprinkle the the red chile flakes, fried onion, fried garlic, salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and simmer in the stove top for 30 minutes.

Verdict -- They all loved it! They were all surprised that I used strawberries and lavender (from the herb de provence), they said they would never guess. The pork was very tender, the fat pieces melts in your mouth, the rice was cooked just right, the cabbage was not mushy and the sauce, it's sweet and savory and have just the right heat to give it a punch. The combination and marriage of all the components was really good. Only complain was that there was not enough sauce. Now, we'll have to wait and see if the judges for the contests feels the same.

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