Monday, March 19, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cabbage

So last night was the first night of my spring break cooking extravaganza at the Harter's House. It felt nice to cook for the one you love, I have to admit, especially when he says "Honey I'm home!" while sniffing toward the aromatic kitchen. And just to be safe, I began the week with a dish I had made before: cabbage rolls from Julia Child's cookbook, The Way to Cook. Last time I made it for a dinner party and I followed everything from the recipe, but this time I was more comfortable and splurged a little myself. 
I actually never really liked cabbage, because my mom used to make it all the time at home, and she didn't really flavor it much because she liked its natural taste and she said it's good for you that way. I love her dearly, but let's face it, she's not the best cook in the family. My family prides on our male cooks: a situation that I'm attempting to change right now!
However, I do have to point out that Chinese cabbages are not the same as American cabbages. Chinese cabbage is usually much tenderer, with a consistency in between the American cabbage and iceberg lettuce. That's why when making these cabbage rolls, I had to boil the leaves first to soften them. If I were using Chinese cabbages, I wouldn't have needed to do that. 
For the record, I did eat one leaf out of the boiling water, plain, with no seasoning whatsoever; it tasted fresh like nature; I loved it!

Aren't they beautiful? This is one of the reasons I love the cabbage rolls so much: they are so pretty, and they just scream out spring!

Braised Cabbage rolls with Ham and Bread Crumb stuffing (adapted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child)
The blanched leaves from an 8-inch head of cabbage
About 3 sups of stuffing
Canola oil
One medium onion, sliced
Two cans of diced tomatoes
Italian seasoning

Boil the cabbage leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes till the leaves are softer but can still hold their shapes. Spread 1 leaf cupped side up on you work surface. Spread a cylinder of filling onto each leaf and roll up into a sausage shape, enclosing the filling completely.

Set the iron skillet over moderate hear, with the canola oil, add the onions, and sauté for 5 minutes until limp and translucent. Arrange the cabbage rolls best side up in a single layer over the onions. Season lightly with salt and pepper and Italian seasoning, pour the tomatoes over them. Bring to a simmer for about 30 minutes.

Ham and Bread Crumb Stuffing
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
A 1 1/2-inch cube of Swiss or Cheddar cheese, roughly diced (I used cheddar)
2 cups or so scraps or pieces of ham, trimmed of fat
2 eggs
1 large clove of garlic, puréed
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
Seasoning: salt, freshly ground pepper, and thyme or sage

Cook the onion in canola oil till limp and translucent. Add the cheese and ham to the onion. Add the eggs and garlic, then the crmbs. Season nicely to taste.

Still considering cabbage slightly a Chinese vegetable, I completed the meal with a plate full of rice muffins, a recipe I found in a cookbook I just received not long ago from my American Dad. The book belonged to his mother, who passed away several years ago at the age of 104. The books is 70 years old; my hands tremble when I flip through the yellowed pages.

Rice Muffins (adapted from The Household Searchlight Recipe Book)
1 cup cold cooked rice
1 cup milk
2 eggs, well beaten
4 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsps baking-powder
2 tbsps sugar
1 1/2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 430. Sift flour, measure, and sift with baking-powder and salt. Combine rice, milk, eggs, butter, and sugar. Add dry ingredients. Beat only until smooth. Fill well-oiled muffin tins 2/3 full (I used a 12-cupcake pan.) Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

So this is what we talk about when we talk about cabbage. Even if you use cabbage and rice, this whole meal is still entirely western, but I'd like to consider it having a slight touch of Asia. It doesn't always make sense, but I'm the cook! :-)
One of the things that doesn't always make sense is Raymond Carver's stories. They don't always follow the rules we've been learning in the short fiction writing class. But then again, creative writing should not be constrained to any rules; just like recipes don't always have to follow the exact measurements.
Carver's stories are full of pain and loss. Almost all the characters seem to be lost at some moment in their lives. These stories are the best examples for creating conflicts in short stories. 

Now that I think of it, although these stories are not very conventional, they still follow some basic rules in ficiton writing. The dialogues are dynamic and lively, revealing the characters more than plain physical descriptions. Something I'll have to learn.

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