My mother died on March 23, 2010. She was a remarkable women. Here are three “notes” from At Home that that illustrate ways my mother influenced my understanding of home entertaining plus her recipe for Stuffed Cabbage.
‘Tis not the Food; ‘Tis the Appetite
In 1954 in our new home in the Crestwood section of Yonkers, my mother commissioned murals painted on her kitchen and pantry walls based upon illustrations in James Beard’s Fireside Cookbook. One of those illustrations is included in this book’s dedication. Another mural’s caption would daily remind me that “’Tis not the food but ’tis the appetite that makes eating a delight.”
My Bar Mitzvah
My two primary memories of my bar mitzvah are that my knees literally shook as I recited my havtorah and that the party afterward in my parents’ home was for family and friends of my parents. Setting a nice table and cooking well were always important to my mother. It was at her table that I first understood the nature of hospitality. But it was on my first day of Jewish adulthood that I learned that parties—even your own—are for other people.
In 1979 my father died of a stroke on The Fountain’s golf course in Lake Worth, Florida; his ashes are scattered there. My mother, 10 years his junior, had years ahead of her and a new life to build. Her first summer as a widow, she journeyed to Williamstown, Massachusetts, with friends Nora and Beatie for a month in the Berkshires. Just before they left, my mother wondered if they were going to return next year to Williamstown, and if so, if she should buy a home rather than rent. By the next day, she owned a small Victorian fixer-upper next door to the Williams Inn. Every spring through fall for the next decade, she operated A House on Main Street, a small bed and breakfast. Later, tired of making bran muffins and ready for a change, she sold the inn. The following spring, she set up her warm-weather residence in Philadelphia, where other than me and my small family, she knew no one. Ever resourceful, my mother joined a group planning a Paris trip. (My mother is probably one of the few people who’s gone to Paris to meet Philadelphians.) It was at the trip’s reunion that she scanned the group, made up primarily of younger-than-her single women, and announced that every Sunday evening—a time she perceived as most lonely for singles—her table would be set for anyone who wanted to come. Thus was founded a group of wonderful women, self-named “Henny’s Girls,” whose common point of reference is my mother. My mother has enriched their lives with good food, like her stuffed cabbage and charred eggplant dip (see page 79) and lively conversation. They have, in turn, enriched her life with affection and devotion. Most recently, back in Lake Worth, she is working on establishing a chapter of Henny’s Girls South.
Henny’s Stuffed Cabbage
The night we opened Frog in 1973, my mother prepared her delicious sweet and sour stuffed cabbage rolls as Frog’s debut special. Over the years they have become a staple on our Rosh Hashanah menu, but there is no reason to restrict these wonderful morsels to that holiday. One roll makes for a nice first course; two or three for a filling entrée. Sometimes we make thumb-sized versions and serve them as hors d’oeuvres.
do ahead Stuffed cabbage is best when made at least one day ahead and reheated before serving. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to one month. Defrost and reheat in a 325º oven.
1⁄3 cup cooked white rice
1 large head green cabbage
1⁄2 cup water
1 pound ground beef
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup ketchup
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup sauerkraut
15-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup light brown sugar
6 gingersnaps, crumbled
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
1⁄2 cup ketchup
1 Cut out the core of the cabbage and place in a pot. Nearly cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until leaves can be parted easily, about 5 minutes. Remove cabbage, drain and peel off softer leaves. If inner leaves are still stiff, return to water and repeat. Pat leaves dry.
2 Make the filling: crumble gingersnaps in water to form a paste. In a bowl, combine paste, rice, beef, salt, brown sugar and ketchup.
3 To form the cabbage rolls, lay a leaf flat on a clean surface. Place about 3 tablespoons of mixture in the center of each leaf. Fold the two sides over the filling and then roll tightly and set aside, seam side down. Repeat with remaining ingredients, reserving the smaller leaves for the sauce.
4 Preheat oven to 350º. Chop reserved small cabbage leaves and set aside. Rinse sauerkraut well, squeeze out water and set aside. Gently squeeze tomatoes to remove some juice, then tear tomatoes apart.
5 To make the sauce, heat oil in a deep sauté pan and add onion. Cook until onion begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Chop reserved cabbage, add to pan and continue cooking until nicely browned, about 5-10 minutes more. Mix in sauerkraut, tomatoes, brown sugar, gingersnaps, salt and pepper. Continue cooking slowly for 15 minutes, adding water if it gets too thick.
6 To assemble, spoon half of the sauce into a baking dish. Place cabbage rolls in a single layer, seam side down. Cover with remaining sauce. Make a ribbon of ketchup across the top of the rolls. Cover with foil.
7 Bake for at least 2 hours. Remove foil after 1 hour and add as much as 1⁄2 cup water if cabbage appears too dry.
8 Serve hot or hold for one day and reheat in a 325º oven.
After the core is removed, the whole cabbage head is briefly cooked in boiling war to soften leaves so that you can separate them from the head and roll. If removing individual leaves becomes difficult, just return the head to boiling water again to further loosen leaves. Once removed from the head, if they are not soft enough to roll you can return them to the water to further soften.
It is important to pat dry the leaves. Dry leaves are easier to roll. Also, residue water could thin down the sauce.
Slowly saute onions until lightly browned and caramelized to bring out their maximum sweetness. Take care not to burn.
Continue cooking until cabbage lightly browns.
The cabbage leaves will run the gamut from large outer leaves to smaller inner leaves. To make more uniform rolls you can use two small leaves together to make a larger roll. Try to keep the stuffing together and don’t worry too much of you have formed a perfect roll. As my mother used to say, “It all gets mixed up in the stomach.” If you want to make all smaller rolls, cut large leaves in half.
Here’s a very helpful tip: The outer leaves are best for making large cabbage rolls, but outer leaves tend to have very sturdy ribs that are difficult to soften without overcooking the leaves. To solve this problem, turn the leaves so that the inner side is face down and the outer side — now face up — exposes the sturdy rib. With a sharp knife, make a series of slits in the rib without cutting all the way through. Turn the leaf over and toll. The slits now make that much easier
Place a generous amount of sauce in over-proof baking dish.
Place cabbage rolls over sauce, top with move sauce and a ribbon of ketchup.
Cover with foil and bake for the initial two hours. Then remove foil, add some water if sauce appears too thick and bake uncovered for an additional hour.
The finished product.
Next: Don’t Try This At Home: Behind the Scenes at the Dad Vail Regatta.
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Your Home Entertaining Coach