Hearty, homey meals have appeal that transcends th seasons. Even when the coldest, bleakest days seem to have played out, the typical foods of winter still are welcome.
Stuffed cabbage is a mainstay of many winter tables, though some cooks shy away from it, blaming time as the culprit. Stuffing individual little bundles of cabbage can be tedious, but there are short-cuts that streamline the preparation. Here, in lieu of blanching, the cabbage leaves are placed briefly in the freezer so that once thawed, with almost no effort, they are pliable enough to stuff.
The filling is an intriguing blend of smoky ham balanced with a bit of sweetness from dried winter fruits. It is especially light and appealing baked in a slightly spiced tomato sauce.
A quick warm bread made with sauerkraut and beer is a fitting companion. Equally simple though full of homespun appeal, oatmeal bar cookies are enlivened with brown sugar and peanut butter for dessert.
Preparation time: 20 minutes plus freezing time
Cooking time: 45 minutes
1 large head green cabbage with outer leaves intact
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground pork
1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely chopped smoked ham
1 cup cooked white rice
1/3 cup finely chopped pitted prunes or dried currants
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon each: Hungarian paprika, dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon each: ground allspice, dried tarragon
Salt, pepper to taste
1 can (16 ounces) stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Remove eight to ten large outer leaves from the cabbage. Arrange on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Bring to room temperature before filling. This step softens the leaves for filling and eliminates blanching them.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Have a large, shallow baking dish ready.
Finely chop two cups of cabbage, using part of the remaining head. Place in a large mixing bowl.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook gently until they are soft, six to eight minutes. Add to bowl containing cabbage. Add pork, ham, rice, prunes, mustard, paprika, thyme, allspice, tarragon, salt and pepper; mix well.
Divide filling among eight cabbage leaves, placing it in a mound in the center. Roll up leaves to make neat packets. Arrange in baking dish, seam side down. Puree tomatoes with their liquid, ++ the sugar and pepper flakes in a food processor or blender. Pour over cabbage. Cover and bake until meat is cooked through, about 45 minutes.
Makes four to six servings.
Sauerkraut Beer Bread
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes
8 ounces sauerkraut, preferably cold pack
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon each: salt, caraway seeds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 can (12 ounces) beer
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Rinse the sauerkraut under cold water. Squeeze it with your hands to remove as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and caraway seeds in a large mixing bowl. Form a well in the center and add the butter and beer. Stir in with a wooden spoon until ingredients are combined. Add sauerkraut and mix well.
Transfer to prepared pan. Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack. Bread is best served warm. Makes one loaf.
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 22 minutes
These thin, crisp bar cookies are light, lacy and delicious. They're fragile, so don't plan to mail them anywhere. Be content to enjoy them at home.
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teapoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 2/3 cups rolled oats
L Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 13x9-inch baking pan.
Melt the butter. While it is still hot, mix with the brown sugar and peanut butter, stirring until smooth. Stir in the flour, vanilla and baking powder, then add the oats, mixing well. Transfer to the prepared pan. Press into a thin, even layer. The easiest way to do this is to put your hand in a small plastic bag, using it as a mitt.
Bake until cookies are lightly browned, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool ten minutes, then cut into squares. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan.