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Cabbage Rolls, Walter Caesar Mix and Grandma Panties, Not Necessarily In That Order



ATTENTION PLEASE MY FRIENDS:
I don't know what is going on with blogger right now but it seems that my blog is possessed by demons that make my normal looking posts publish looking like they are all out of whack, the wrong colour font, the wrong size and, well the wrong font altogether. I am trying to figure out a way to work around this demonic possession but, for the moment, it is going to look like I have lost my mind and I ask for your forgiveness, your patience and a vial of holy water, a virgin goat and 
these guys. Oh, and ask them to bring Chip



All of my American friends are usually pretty disgusted when you describe the difference between a Bloody Mary and a Bloody Caesar to them. I didn't realize that Clamato juice was a Canadian thing at all until I was in my mid twenties and tried to order a caesar , probably in Miami, and nobody believed that we actually drank our vodka with tomato clam juice. Who can be happy with a vodka with plain old tomato juice after you have had it with Clamato? It's probably not something to brag about but I loved this drink so much that I used to travel with a jar of horseradish in my purse because I took them really spicy and you never know who is going to use horseradish. Some crazy people just used tobasco to fire it up and that is just wrong. 

As I got older, I started to pay more attention to what I was putting in my body and actually looked at the ingredient label on a bottle of Clamato juice and I wasn't very happy with what I saw. Glucose-fructose was the third ingredient on the list, followed by MSG with dried clam broth lingering all the way down at third from the bottom. The actual last thing on the list just said "colour". What the hell is "colour"?? The amount of vodka I was consuming did not seem to factor into things at the time, of course.

Now, that said, I didn't stop drinking caesars but I certainly didn't feel fabulous about it anymore. I mean, I still eat Nacho Cheese Doritos and movie popcorn so I am no nutritional saint.. but can you imagine how thrilled I was when I was asked if I wanted to try out a new brand of small batch tomato clam juice that is made right here in Toronto called Walter Caesar Mix? Pretty damned thrilled. I also told them that I would like to cook with it too so they sent me four bottles - two mild and two spicy. Okay, they also sent along a couple of cute, little bottles of Tito's vodka so I could enjoy a cocktail while I cooked which just made me love them more.

The good news is that it's all natural, there is no msg, no artificial flavours or colour, no high fructose corn syrup and it comes in glass bottles instead of plastic or cans, which is another thing that I am starting to become more aware of as of late.

The better news is that it is also delicious. It's not too salty, it's nicely spiced, it leaves no weird after taste and I actually prefer it. When I used their spicy version in a caesar, I didn't need to add anything to it. When I make a cocktail using Clamato, I always have to add more worcestershire, horseradish and sometimes a squeeze of lemon but this was actually spicy enough already, I could taste horseradish in the actual juice so I didn't feel the need to add any more. I didn't have anything on had to rim my glass so that was the only thing missing.

The first thing that came to mind, as far as cooking with it goes, was a ceviche like dish I used to eat in Puerto Escondido. It was called coctel de camarones and it was sort of like a ceviche but it was served in a tall sundae class, a long spoon and saltines. It's not my preference - I like my ceviche old school with lime juice, but I and going to try it anyway. For now,  I decided to make cabbage rolls with it. I have been promising Shack cabbage rolls since before Christmas and just haven't gotten around to it yet and this was a perfect excuse. My mom made really good cabbage rolls and the one thing she did that was kind of different was to make the sauce out of equal amounts of tomato juice and milk. How yummy would it be to use this caesar mix in place of tomato juice?


Pretty damned yummy , as it turns out. Because the flavour is more complex than plain tomato juice, the sauce had more oomph to it but it still had the same, creamy smoothness that my mom's sauce had. The milky tomato juice sauce mixes in with the fat from the meat in the cabbage rolls and the bacon to create a really delicious sauce. You know, even Shack, who gets very anal about anything that even smacks of his Ukrainian grandmother's cooking and doesn't like such things being messed with, loved them, said they are extremely good and almost went so far as to deem them as good as his Bubba's. 


A word about making things like cabbage rolls. I find that these kinds of homey dishes require a bit of grandma intuition on your part. Everything depends on some many elements. Is the pan too small and they are all crowded in there? Is the pan slightly bigger than it should be so that the liquid evaporates a bit too much and they aren't as moist as they should be? Do you open the door too often to check them and cause the temperature to drop, which means they will take a bit longer to cook? Is it the third Sunday after a full moon and a bird winked at you right after you burped?

Don't be intimidated by all of that, just don't be afraid to go with the flow and trust your judgement. I gave approximate weights for the meat because I used 670 g of beef and 300g of sausage because that's what I bought but you can use slightly less beef and more sausage or use even more beef and less sausage, it's all good. Just try to make it about 1kg (or 2 lbs) of meat. The bottom line is that if you follow the directions and cook them for a full five hours, it is impossible that they are going to suck so relax and put on your giant grandma panties and get in the kitchen.


Cabbage Rolls

makes approx 16 rolls



Ingredients

1 large cabbage or two smaller heads
approx 670 g (1.5 lbs) ground beef
approx 300 g (1/2 lb)  sweet italian sausage
1 leek, chopped
1 cup basmati rice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp kosher salt
20 grinds black pepper
1 1/2 tbs fresh thyme
1 tbls sweet paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
3 slices smoked bacon

3 cups evaporated milk
725ml bottle of Walter's Caesar Mix
approx 1 cup of cabbage water optional ( keep a couple of cups of this cooking water just in case you need it)

Directions

Bring a huge pot of water to a boil (make sure your whole head of cabbage is going to fit)
While the water comes to a boil, core your cabbage. It's not the easiest thing to do but I use a small, sharp knife and cut around the core and then I make two cuts, like a cross, through the center of the core and start prying chunks out. If you have a better way to do it, please enlighten me.

Put the whole head , cored side up, in the boiling water and boil for about 5 minutes, or until the outer leaves start to just come off easily in the water. Remove any loose leaves with tongs and set aside to cool. I use a giant slotted spoon and some tongs to remove the whole head to a strainer set in a big bowl and let it sit for a couple of minutes and start gently peeling more outer leaves off. Once they don't just come off anymore, return the whole head to the water for a couple more minutes and repeat until you have at least 16 or 17 leaves that are not ripped. If you get two medium to small sized cabbages instead of 1 big one, take half of the outer leaves from each of them. Set those leaves aside but keep the rest of the cabbage handy as you will need it to line the bottom of the pan and to cover the rolls before baking.

In another big bowl, mix together the ground beef, sausage that you remove from the casing, the leek, rice, egg, salt and pepper, thyme and both paprikas. Mix together like you would for meatloaf or meatballs, making sure you don't over mix. Just squish it all around until it seems mixed. You can also do that in your stand mixer with the flat beater but just be certain to not overbeat. If you like, this is a good time to cook a tiny bit of filling to make sure there is enough salt - i fry a tiny chunk, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 300F.

You now assemble. Take a cabbage leaf and using a sharp paring knife, trim the thick core down so it no longer sticks out and lay your leaf on a cutting a board. Using a half cup measure, scoop out about 1/2 cup filling and put it in in the centre of the leaf and roll up like a burrito, folding the sides in as you roll. Some people use toothpicks but I only use them on the ones that feel like they are going to fall apart because I have traumatic memories of biting into them every once in a while.

I put them on a baking sheet as they are assembled until I prep the baking dish.

Once they are all rolled, get a baking pan that is deep enough to come up higher than the cabbage rolls and big enough to accommodate them all with a bit of breathing space around them. They will expand a bit as the rice cooks. It is better to use two smaller vessels than one that is too big.

Lay a bed of cabbage leaves on the bottom of the pan and lay three pieces of smoked bacon across them.

Now, start adding the cabbage rolls to the pan being careful not to totally crowd them in but they should still be just touching each other without big gaps.

Mix the Walter's Caesar Mix with the milk and pour that over the cabbage rolls. If the liquid doesn't come up to the middle of the rolls, add a cup of the cabbage cooking water in there.

Using the leftover cabbage leaves, cover the rolls with those. It is nature's tinfoil and will keep some moisture in and prevent the cabbage rolls from burning.

Check them after 3 1/2  hours. At this point I covered the pan with foil because my pan was a little too big and the liquid was evaporating more than I liked. If you find that you are in that situation, add another cup of the Walters or more cabbage water at that point.  Check again at the four hour mark. The cabbage should be completely cooked and you should be able to see the filling through it a little bit and  be able to cut into it easily with a spoon. If they are not done, leave them in and keep checking every half an hour. They shouldn't take much more than 5 hours.

When they are done, remove them from the oven, remove the leaves that you used to cover them with and serve each one with a spoonful of the sauce.

They are actually better the next day and will keep for a few days in the fridge. I like to reheat them by steaming them for about 15 minutes so that they stay really moist and it also doesn't hurt to mix up a bit of evaporated milk/Walter mix to pour over the top when you reheat them (equal amounts of each). You can never have too much sauce.  They also freeze really well.


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