Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ham'N Cheese Rolls

Ham'N Cheese rolls are a favorite at our house. Friends ask me for this recipe often and I normally just give an oral version (because they really are so easy) without giving exact measurements. I have finally taken the time to measure the ingredients and even went as far as to make a video (the one I did for bacon was so much fun.) I thought it might further convince you to try them if you saw the process in action.  

These rolls make terrific breakfast or brunch rolls, but they are equally as tasty for snacking events like Superbowl parties, tailgating, or holiday gatherings. The only difference in preparation between events is to adjust their size. For breakfast I make them larger, which means instead of cutting each rolled log into 16 slices, I cut it into 12. The thinner slices are more appropriate for finger food events. Notice in the video when slicing, I start by dividing the log into 4 equal sections; slice the remaining sections either into 3 or 4 to get the number of rolls you are after.

Ham'N Cheese rolls have a terrific balance of honey sweetness with just a touch of tang from the mayo, cheese, and spicy mustard toppings. The mustard really sets these rolls apart, I don't recommend skipping it. These are an unexpected change from cinnamon rolls and rather addictive, I'd plan on at least two per person when serving, and have the recipe on hand; you'll be asked for it, I guarantee! 

Ham'N Cheese Rolls

1 recipe Bread Dough by Hand (feel free to substitute milk for the water, and butter for the oil)
   Friends tell me that frozen bread dough also works, two thawed loaves ought to do it. 

1/2 cup melted butter
2-3 tablespoons, plus 1/2 cup honey
3/4 pound ham, thin sliced
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (you can use Swiss, or any blend you like)
1 1/2 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard (I prefer Gulden's) 
Roll the dough after the initial rise into two 18" x 5" rectangles. Brush with melted butter. Apply approximately 1- 1 1/2 Tablespoons of honey to each, layer with ham, and roll up. Seal the seam by folding the dough on itself a second time to ensure they won't break apart while baking. Slice the logs into rolls and press flat on baking sheet. Brush with butter and cover to rise. 
TIP: I often make these the night ahead and put them into the refrigerator at this point. Then in the morning I let them come back to room temperature (about an hour) and then apply the filling. You can quicken this step further by turning the oven on and letting it heat up to about 200, then turning it off, place the pans in and about 20 minutes later the rolls will have proofed and be ready for filling and baking.
Add honey to the previously melted butter. When the rolls appear nearly doubled in size brush them again gently with the honey butter. Mix together the filling ingredients. Press a well into the middle of each roll and distribute the filling evenly amongst the rolls. Bake in a 400-degree oven for approximately 17-20 minutes or until golden brown. If baking two pans at the same time, rotate and switch them on the racks halfway through to encourage even browning. Remove to cooling rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Recipe makes 24-32 rolls.

Roll dough into two 18" x  5" rectangles.
Brush with butter.
Add honey.
Then apply ham. 
Roll it up.

Press flat and let rise.

Add filling and bake.
Bake until golden brown.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kohlrouladen - German Cabbage Rolls

There is a German restaurant in Chicago that makes fabulous cabbage rolls; perfectly seasoned meat, a hint of rice, tender chew, and an absolutely delicious white gravy over everything, including the ideally matched fried potatoes. At least that was my experience the first visit. Subsequent trips there did not end with the same delectable goodness; perhaps I got the end of the night's preparations, but the cabbage was slimy and the meat was overcooked and nearly burnt on the bottom; such a disappointment.

I was beginning to think that my delight in the German cabbage roll was more a side effect from the giant mug of beer and the oompah band accompaniment than a realistic culinary experience. It has taken a lot of experimentation to rework this simple peasant food into the dish I had locked in my memory.

I know I branch from tradition a bit, but I don't sacrifice overall 'German' flavor and the substitutions lighten the rolls a bit to mimic that 'all day simmer' that I suspect the restaurant is using to achieve the tender bite to their rolls. Almost all my attempts have resulted in a meat stuffing that baked into a solid mass, much like a sausage wrapped in cabbage leaves. Many of the pictures online accompanying recipes look to have the same problem. Not at all what I was after.

Then I had a breakthrough with mushrooms. I have been adding them to nearly everything lately; not because I particularly like mushrooms (honestly, I've never been much of a fan) but because they seem to enhance almost any dish. My most recent success was in adding them to the stuffing for my chicken ballotine to lighten the density of the meat; exactly what these cabbage rolls needed.

Note that in both recipes the mushrooms are pulsed fine in the food processor so that very little evidence remained (hide them from children detection) but even small they are sponges of flavor, absorbing all the simmering juices in the pan as they cook and in the end, little to no 'mushroom' comes through, just an additional depth of flavor. Cooking part of the meat with the mushrooms is no accident. This too lightens the stuffing but has the added benefit of providing a taste testing for seasoning before being wrapped in cabbage.

This recipe serves at least 9 with extra-large appetites, or as many as 15 'normal' hungry eaters when served with potatoes. I assemble the rolls the day ahead and bake them the next day, almost always for a group. Let cold rolls to come up to room temperature before cooking and/or allow for increased bake time.

Raw pulsed mushrooms, meat, onion, bacon grease./Cooked with parsley and bread crumbs
German Cabbage Rolls

1 Tablespoon bacon grease
8 oz white mushrooms, minced fine
1 medium onion, minced
1 lb ground pork
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

salt and black pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup rice (optional)
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped (approx. 1 cup)
2 lbs lean ground beef
2 eggs

2-3 cups chicken broth

In a large skillet, melt the bacon grease. Add mushrooms, onion, and ground pork. Cook, breaking pork into small bits and add tomato paste, paprika, marjoram, and the ground mustard. Cook until the pork has lost any hint of pink, stirring to infuse the spices and allowing any residual moisture from the mushrooms to cook off and the meat mixture to thicken. Taste to season the meat, remembering that another 2 pounds of raw hamburger are added to the stuffing, so the mixture should be salty to compensate. Allow the mixture to cool a bit and then add the vinegar, bread crumbs, rice, parsley, beef and two eggs. If preparing ahead without the intention of cooking immediately, allow the pork mixture to cool completely before adding the uncooked meat. 

To stuff/roll the cabbage leaves: 

1 head cabbage, tough outer leaves removed, thick stem removed

In a large pot of simmering salted water, submerge the cabbage completely. Allow the head to simmer a few minutes and when the outer leaves appear slightly translucent and wilted, remove with kitchen tongs. Continue to remove leaves until the leaves are too small to roll. Allow each layer to cook a few minutes if they do not easily come loose with the tongs. Let the leaves to drain of any water and come back to room temperature so they are easier to handle.

Large leaves can be cut in half and rolled with the thick middle spine either removed completely or cut thin. Smaller leaves should have the middle vein trimmed to match the thickness of the rest of the leaves so rolling is easier and they evenly cook.
Depending upon the size of the cabbage, there will be a varying number of leaves to stuff. The cabbage used in this recipe had approximately 40 leaves worthy of stuffing. Weighing the meat mixture revealed it to be 4 lbs. Dividing 4 lbs by 40 resulted in just under 2 ounces per roll, or about 1/4 cup. Based on these measurements, you should be able to make a reasonable estimate on how much each of your stuff-able leaves should have for filling.
Lay the meat mixture in the middle of the leaves. Fold the sides over the ends and roll to make a secure bundle. Lay the rolls seam side down in the pan. They can be stacked in two layers. Pour the chicken broth over the rolls and up to the edge of the pan. They can be refrigerated at this point or baked in a 350-degree oven (covered) for 1 1/2 hours or until they are bubbly and cooked through. They can also cook at 325-degrees for as long as 2 hours, depending upon the timing needed, cabbage rolls are forgiving.

I prefer to serve German cabbage rolls with fried potatoes, but they would be equally good with boiled or mashed. Fried potatoes are best made from baked russet potatoes. Allow them to cool and then slice. Fry in bacon grease. Salt and pepper to taste. I fry mine in batches and then move to the oven to keep warm (while the cabbage rolls are cooking.) The pan can then be used for making the gravy.

Fried potatoes can also be made the day ahead and reheated in the oven uncovered for approximately 30 minutes at the end of the cabbage roll baking time, stir as they reheat to encourage an even browning.
2 1/2 Tablespoons milk
2 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 Tablespoon cooking Sherry (or 1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the milk and cornstarch in a small bowl. Remove the cabbage rolls and place on a high-sided serving platter, covered with foil to keep warm. Strain the cabbage roll cooking juice into a large fry pan and bring up to a simmer. Add the milk and cornstarch mixture, stirring until the gravy has thickened. Remove from heat and add the sherry/vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. 

Pour over the cabbage rolls in the platter and serve immediately with potatoes and a nice German beer.

Recipe makes 12-15 servings. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

TIP: Freezing Hamburger

Work from home? Single? Married and work ridiculous hours? Huge family pulled in every direction; need meals ready in minutes? Frozen hamburger patties are great for nearly any meat-eating situation (vegetarians may not appreciate this tip as much.) 

This post is more about saving hamburger in a ready to use way than about serving it inside a bun. Building upon the tomato paste idea, I use the same trick with hamburger and it has proven to be a stroke of brilliance (if I do say so myself.)

  • A gallon-sized Ziplock bag will easily hold anywhere from 1 pound to 1 1/2 pounds of meat with this method, less meat may fit better in smaller bags. More may fit, but the burgers will be significantly thicker.
  • Roll the meat into an even flat layer within the bag. Leave the corner of the bag open to let the air escape and then seal it tight once the air is removed.
  • Use a chopstick or other straight edge tool to make an indent into the meat. Draw the end across the indent to make a deeper groove. Portion the meat into equal sized servings. Turn the bag over and draw the lines again to reinforce the divisions.
Lay the bag on a flat pan or cutting board and place it in the freezer until frozen solid. Then remove the pan and store in any position.

The benefit?  
  • Thin meat thaws at a fraction of the time the solid chunk does so it is ready for any use beyond burgers much quicker. 
  • Thin burgers are ready for lunch or a snack anytime the mood strikes. Toss them on to any hot pan and fry them straight from frozen. Salt, pepper, and a bun is all that is needed. Toast a frozen bun on the warming pan to thaw it. 
  • Frozen flat hamburger is easier to store in the fridge than an odd shaped lump.
  • Portion control.
  • Air (oxidation) causes freezer burn. Forcing the air out keeps the meat from taking on any unpleasant flavor (freezer burn is actually safe to eat, just tastes bad) but this makes the meat so accessible, that it probably won't last long enough for that to happen anyway. 
The meat will freeze into a somewhat solid chunk but a good whack on the counter will break it apart along the score lines. Remove the meat from the bag while still frozen, they practically pop out; much easier than if thawed.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Vegan Russian Potato Stew with Parsley Dumplings

This inviting (and inexpensive) bowl of hearty vegetable stew topped with a savory 'buttery' dumpling is one of the oldest recipes in my hand-written book. Friends of ours made this for us in college and I have never forgotten that lovely meal. I have made it several times a year ever since.

This is comfort food to be sure, but even without meat it is delicious enough to serve to guests with the guarantee that everyone will leave the table completely satisfied. The stew can be made the day ahead and then warmed up to a low simmer again on the stove just before adding the dumplings so it makes for an easy entertaining option when a vegetarian/vegan option is needed.

I added dumplings to the dish years ago and now I never make it without them. The soup is thickened into stew when one cup is pureed with a blender, giving the soup a hearty, creamier body. The flavors of the soup are delicious with or without the dumplings, or even without the pureeing, but I offer here the full version; pick and choose the parts you wish to complete. The soup is finished with a couple of different acids that add significant flavor, don't skip them. I offer variations, depending on your diet constraints. 

Russian Potato Stew

One recipe Vegetable Broth, use 6 cups water and add 1/2 bunch parsley to the pot for flavoring as it simmers.

3 Tablespoons margarine/butter
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 celery ribs, sliced
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and chopped 
1 bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon No Chicken Base (or salt)
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or Spanish if smoked is not available)
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional) 
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (or 2-3 teaspoons soy sauce for vegan diets) 
1 Tablespoon cooking sherry or dry vermouth 

  1. Prepare the vegetable broth according to the recipes directions. 
  2. In a dutch oven or large stock pot, saute the onion and garlic in the margarine just into transparent. Add the other vegetables, toss to coat with the hot oil, allow to cook a few minutes before adding the strained vegetable broth and the bay leaf. Cook on medium low heat until the vegetables are tender. 
  3. Adjust salt level with bouillon if available, alternatively add salt as needed. 
  4. Remove the bay leaf. Measure out 1 cup of vegetables and enough broth to allow them to blend easily; use a stick blender if available and blend until smooth. Add the mixture back to the pot with the remaining ingredients. 
  5. Return to low simmer and add dumplings.
Heat oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit.

Parsley Dumplings

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup parsley, minced fine
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup milk of choice (I prefer almond for a vegan option)

1/4 cup melted butter/margarine
1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  1. Combine all dry ingredients together including the parsley. Add the oil and milk, stir just until no big lumps remain and the mixture is uniformly wet. 
  2. Drop by large teaspoons full on to the top of the simmering liquid and place into hot oven. 
  3. Bake 15 minutes, remove from oven and brush with garlic butter. 
  4. Return to the oven for just a few minutes under the broiler if a golden hue is desired.