A young newlywed couple from Russia came to Bethany for an extended stay. Alexi, the groom, was delighted to discover that an old friend and former mentor from Russia was unexpectedly going to be near enough to spend some time with him while he was in the States. He immediately extended an invitation to him and his friends for dinner – a real, Russian meal that he himself would prepare for them.
The day of the planned dinner Alexi felt ill and was unable to do any cooking. With his permission I prepared a meal that I thought would be close to what he would have made, and I felt one of the dishes should be stuffed cabbage. I prepared them as I remembered my Ukrainian mother always preparing them.
By dinnertime Alexi was well enough to join his guests and no mention was made of his not feeling well earlier. Everyone enjoyed dinner and Maestro Serge was particularly taken with the stuffed cabbage. “This,” he said to me, “is authentic.” Then he added, “A real Russian can always discern whether or not the Russian food he has been served was prepared by a real Russian.”
- Cut up tomatoes and simmer with olive oil, onion salt, oregano and sugar until reduced to 1 cup or 8 ounces of sauce. Can be done while preparing cabbage.
- Leave cabbage whole, but cut around the stem, and parboil for 5 minutes; let steep for another 5 minutes.
- Remove cabbage from water and drain; separate cabbage leaves. Chop the small inside leaves and the core and use to line a Dutch oven.
- Combine all the stuffing ingredients and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place 1 tablespoon stuffing on each of the larger cabbage leaves, fold ends of leaves over the stuffing, and roll leaves.
- Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves in rows in Dutch oven; sprinkle each layer with olive oil, tomato sauce, and crushed bay leaf.
- Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper; add remaining tomato sauce, beef broth and enough water to cover.
- Place a plate on top of cabbage rolls, and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. If using cooked rice cut final cooking time in half.
- Serve the cabbage rolls with the pot sauce poured over them.
The other day someone asked me about our Convent meals. “Who decides what you eat?” was one of the questions. It just so happens that at this particular time we are doing something a little different than usual about our menus.
Each week a different sister is asked to submit a suggested menu for approval. This has been quite successful. It is a help to the chef and an almost sure guarantee that there will be variety in our meals. For instance yesterday we were totally surprised to be served potato latkes for lunch, something we have not had in a long time and never for our noon meal. The genuine cheers of delight and energy in the food line were a joy to all. We are not sure how long this method of meal planning will last but for the time being everyone is enjoying it.
- Finely grate potatoes with onion into a large bowl. Drain off any excess liquid.
- Mix in egg, salt, black pepper and bacon bits. Add enough flour to make mixture thick, about 2 to 4 tablespoons all together.
- Turn oven to low, about 200 degrees F (95 degrees C).
- Heat 1/4 inch oil in the bottom of a heavy skillet over medium high heat.
- Drop two or three 1/4 cup mounds into hot oil, and flatten to make 1/2 inch thick pancakes.
- Fry, turning once, until golden brown.
- Transfer to paper towel lined plates to drain, and keep warm in low oven until serving time.
- Repeat until all potato mixture is used.
Thirty some years ago, before today’s current interest in food and cooking, a group of young men attending a culinary institute in Connecticut asked to schedule a retreat at Bethany. None of them were known to us except for one, but it took no time for all of us to feel at home with each other. I have fond memories of that experience.
I was of course pleased that they appreciated the food prepared for them, in particular a chicken dish which we served for many retreats back then and which they unanimously praised. It was my version of a recipe adapted from an old homemaker’s paperback of prizewinners. It still amuses me to remember these “professional chefs in the making” as they left, each of them clutching a copy of this recipe from a housewife’s collection of favorites, and featuring a bottle of store bought salad dressing.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place chicken, skin side up, in baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with margarine; broil until brown.
- Combine salad dressing, peaches, cherries, onion and chili sauce; spoon over chicken.
- Bake for 1 hour or until chicken is tender. Serve over hot cooked rice or noodles.
Last week one of our convent dinners included a whole head of cauliflower covered with a flavorful cheesy topping that was most enjoyable. Eating this prompted me to begin speculating about a possible Christmas cauliflower creation that might enhance a holiday dinner table. I envisioned something a little more dressed up with a stylish bit of sparkle and festive flare.
Here is what resulted from my culinary day dreaming: One saucy Head of cauliflower steamed whole, then covered with a combination of mayonnaise, etc., adorned with a skirt of rich dark green kale that has been slightly braised in oil and stylishly fluffed out around it. This basic beginning would then be tastefully embellished with bright red jewel like roasted cherry tomatoes. Thus attired my plain head of cauliflower would be stylishly prepared to make her special appearance at a very special meal.
Festive Christmas Cauliflower
- Steam or boil cauliflower until soft but still firm about 20-25 minutes.
- Combine cheese, onion, pimento, and mayonnaise. Spread over cauliflower completely and place in a baking dish or pan.
- Put in a high oven (400 degrees) for a long as it takes to gain a nice golden glaze.
- Let rest a while.
- Toss the tomatoes with a little olive oil and lay out in a single layer on a sheet pan.
- Season with kosher salt and pepper.
- Roast for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees, until tomatoes are soft.
- Chop kale and sauté in oil and garlic.
- Place cauliflower on a bed of kale. Scatter or place tomatoes around it as desired.