Roasted Onions

February 22, 2019 – This one is so simple I’m almost embarrassed to write it up. Almost.

I planned on roasting a chicken and was thinking of an accompaniment that wouldn’t require too much effort. Somewhere I read about roasting whole onions in their skin. Sounded like it was worth a try.

I chose fairly large, red onions. Using a fork, I poked holes around each onion so it wouldn’t explode.

I put the onions around the chicken and slid bird and vegetables together into a pre-heated 425 oven. For the size of the chicken, one hour at that temperature was perfect.

When the onions are done, cut them in half. Add a little butter with salt and pepper to taste. I also added a little file’ just because. It added a subtle, exotic flavor. That’s completely optional unless, of course, you’re from Louisiana and believe that file’ can go with anything.

Roasted onions accompanying a roast chicken.

So here’s the recipe, if it can really be called a recipe.

Roasted Onions

1 large onion per person, unpeeled

2 tablespoons butter per onion

salt & pepper to taste

File’ (optional)

Using a fork, poke holes all around the onions so they don’t explode.

Place them around the chicken or whatever meat you’re preparing. Let them roast alongside the meat.

When done, slice the onions in half. Let a tablespoon of butter melt on each half. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

A dusting of file’ is optional.

Bon temps!


Folsom Palace Asian Bistro

February 6, 2019 – I have always thought serendipity provides spice to life. In that vein, sometimes you stumble into a small restaurant that turns out to be a jewel. Such is the case with Folsom Palace Asian Bistro in El Dorado Hills, the second in a small, locally owned chain.

Chef Bill Zheng opened the first Folsom Palace in, of all places, Folsom several years ago. In August of last year, he added a second location in El Dorado Hills.

Bright and colorful paper lanterns add an Asian-inspired feel.

My assistant and I had several errands to tend. I normally take a short break from work and don’t go out for lunch. But it had been raining for several days. It was still cold but that doesn’t mean much to an Alaska-raised guy. The sun was bright. It was the first nice day in a week. We were already out so I suggested that we have lunch.

I didn’t have any place particular in mind. We went about our business and, in the course of doing so, saw this small restaurant, with the now several months old Grand Opening sign still hanging from the awning over the sidewalk. It looked like a friendly enough place. We decided to give it a try.

Smart move.

We found room happily buzzing with several diners and an open kitchen in the background. The multi-colored paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling provided a bright, Asian-inspired atmosphere. Both the hostess who tended us and the manager who stopped by our table were friendly, efficient, and welcoming.

And then there was the food!

My assistant has a fondness for pork-stuffed steamed buns. She had mentioned them many times. And there they were on the menu! She couldn’t resist.

Pork-stuffed steamed buns.

I opted for a lunch special, which began with a passable hot and sour soup. For the main course, I chose Sichuan Prawns. The large shrimp came cooked in a slightly spicy sauce with mild red peppers, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and ginger. In a nod toward fusion, slices of chayote were included in the mix. A generous helping of fried rice accompanied the entrée and was made even better by mixing it with some of the sauce.

Sichuan prawns.

Brightly colored decorations, a friendly staff, and food that was not only delicious but fit the bright mood of the day. Folsom Palace Asian Bistro deserves a return visit!

Cinnamon Seafood Pasta Sauce a la Nancy Patrick

 

Cinnamon Seafood Pasta Sauce

October 31, 2018 – In the soon to be released Neighbors and Other Strangers, Trent Marshall travels to San Francisco to visit Darcey Anderson.  Our adventurous twosome  become friends with Christopher Booth and Nancy Patrick, another couple who happen to both be Bay area homicide detectives.  Before long all four are caught up in another adventure with a potential deadly outcome.

Nancy isn’t much of a cook when the couples meet but she’s anxious to learn.  She  begins an apprenticeship under Darcey’s tutelage.  Nancy is a quick study and is soon experimenting on her own with various spices and ingredients.

One evening, with assistance from Darcey, she presented her first creation, which she called Cinnamon Seafood Pasta.  Though the diners were at first leery at what sounded like incompatible ingredients, they politely tasted the dish.   Politeness was swept aside after a few bites.  Plates were quickly clean and the diners were asking for seconds.

Shrimp, of course, are remarkably versatile.  They mate well with most ingredients.  Smoked salmon and cinnamon, though wonderful in themselves, don’t necessarily seem to be as versatile.  Think again!  The pieces of smoked salmon seasoned with cinnamon, add a bijou treat.  Small and elegant.

Another deliciously real recipe from a fictional character.

Nancy Patrick’s Cinnamon Seafood Pasta Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 pound shrimp, shelled & deveined

6 ounces smoked wild caught salmon, torn into small pieces

juice of one lemon

1 14 1/2 can diced tomatoes

1 shallot, minced

1 tablespoon cinnamon

salt & pepper to taste

spaghetti or linguine

Warm two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet.  When hot but not smoking, saute’ shrimp until it is pink, about three to five minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Combine remaining olive, lemon juice, tomatoes, smoked salmon, and shallots in a bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Turn the tomato mixture into the skillet in which the shrimp were cooked.  Add the cinnamon.  Cook over medium heat until the sauce is hot, five to ten minutes.

Return the shrimp to the skillet.  Stir to mix the shrimp into the sauce.  Heat briefly, no more than two or three minutes.

Serve over your choice of pasta, preferably spaghetti or linquine.

 

Darcey Anderson’s Sausage Ragout

Darcey Anderson’s Sausage Ragout

October 22, 2018 – Like me, Darcey Anderson, my fictional character in The Empty Mint Mystery and the soon to be released Neighbors and Other Strangers, was born in northwest Louisiana.  As a child, she ate the food prevalent in that part of the world.  Fried chicken.  Pork chops.  Fried catfish.  Black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn bread.

The dishes of south Louisiana also found their way to the Anderson table.  Gumbo.  Red beans and rice.  Jambalaya.  Crawfish etouffee. Oyster and shrimp po’ boys.

When I was still a boy, my parents moved us to Alaska.  There we remained faithful to the southern food we loved but we also quickly began to enjoy the bountiful seafood of the Northland.  Salmon.  Halibut.  King crab.

Darcey was introduced to new foods when she attended the Interior Design School in London and, after graduation, moved to San Francisco.  Like me, she never lost her love of southern food but enthusiastically embraced the dishes of the other cultures with which she came in contact.

San Francisco’s most iconic dish, of course, is cioppino, that delightful seafood stew created by Italian fishermen many decades ago.  You can find Darcey’s cioppino recipe posted on my author’s blog, gordonparkerbooks.com/blog/.

On this evening, Darcey was also thinking Italian.  But pork, not seafood.  More specifically, a sausage ragout.  A spicy stew with hot and sweet sausages, hot and sweet peppers.  And to bind it all together with a touch of silkiness, a little cream cheese swirled into the finished product.

This is excellent served with the pasta of your choice.  Darcey prefers rotini.

Note:  Darcey Anderson might be a fictional character but her sausage ragout is for real!

Darcey Anderson’s Sausage Ragout

3 links sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1 inch slices

3 links hot Italian sausage, cut into 1 inch slices

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, minced (or any hot pepper)

2 roasted red peppers

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 14-1/2 oz can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup parsley, minced

Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup cream cheese

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet or braising pan.  When the oil is hot but not smoking, put in  the sausages.  Stirring occasionally, let the sausage cook until all the pieces are nicely browned.

Add the onion and jalapeno.  Cook until the vegetables have softened and are beginning to take on color, about five minutes.

Toss in the roasted red peppers and garlic.  Stir to combine all the ingredients.  Continue cooking for another three or four minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes and red wine along with the parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Let the ragout simmer on moderately low heat for about half an hour.

Sausage Ragout

Taking the pan off the heat, swirl in the cream cheese, continuing to stir until it has melted and is combined with the finished ragout.

Chunky Chicken Curry Soup

October 10, 2018 – Yeah, I know. I’ve written about chicken curry already.  This recipe is not the same.

And yeah, I know the title is a corny alliteration.  Something to be avoided in writing whenever possible.  Considered flashy and too clever by far.

But it was my mother’s birthday.  Though she’s been gone for two years, I felt like celebrating.  And she was flashy.  She was clever.  She was colorful.  She squeezed every bit of life from each minute she was given here with us.

Mother loved being the center of attention.  I often teased her, telling her she would join any club that let her be president.  She laughed at that and admitted it was true.  Mother liked to be in charge.  So do I.

Mother loved to entertain.  She gave great parties.  So do I.  For many years, I hosted the only Mardi Gras party in Anchorage, shipping live crawfish up from New Orleans and eventually finding the only Dixieland jazz band in Alaska.

Every year I named someone king or queen of Mardi Gras.  I never saw Mother more proud than the year she was queen.  And never was a reign more elegant.

Queen of the Anchorage Mardi Gras

In Baton Rouge, I hosted a cochon de lait, a pig roast, each fall.  Given that both of us wanted to be in charge, I had to find something for her to do.  Potato salad, I thought.  Mother made the world’s best potato salad.  That became her responsibility.  Potato salad for fifty guests.

God help you if you didn’t eat her potato salad!  She kept a close eye on how much the guests put on their plates as they passed through the line.  She was even known to wander through the tables to check plates.  If she noticed a plate with what appeared to be too much of her potato salad left on it, the diner could expect to hear, “What’s the matter?  You don’t like my potato salad?”

And I know she was proud of me.  I never saw her more so than when I sent her the manuscript of my first novel.  She was already gone when The Empty Mint Mystery was published but I can feel her delight.  And now, with Neighbors and Other Strangers due to be released within the next few weeks, I can see her face beaming with that irresistible smile.

My mother was colorful and fun.  I miss her.  And it was her birthday.  I wanted to celebrate.

She always supported my heuristic nature, especially when it comes to food.  I want to experiment, to prepare new dishes myself.  When I was in the kitchen she was happy to play a supporting role as I tried new things.

This year I decided to make a chicken curry soup.  Curry isn’t a spice with which I’ve had a lot of experience but I had some on hand.  I had the breasts from a roast chicken.  Why not?

So I celebrated my mother’s birthday with a French 75 and a pot of exotic soup.  She would have enjoyed the evening.

A French 75 and chicken curry soup

Chicken Curry Soup

6 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

3 small Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons curry powder

2 tablespoons brown sugar

5 cups stock

6 sprigs parsley

2 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup uncooked rice

1 cup half & half or heavy cream

12 ounces frozen green peas

Salt & pepper to taste

In a stock pot with a heavy bottom, melt the butter.  Saute’ the onion and potatoes seasoned with the curry powder and brown sugar.  Add a little salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook over low heat for about fifteen minutes.  Give the vegetables a stir  around the halfway mark.

Add the chicken, parsley, rice, and stock.  Bring the liquid to a boil.  Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for about half an hour.

Stir in the half and half, or cream, with the peas.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Simmer for another fifteen minutes.

Bon temps!

And happy birthday, Mother!

And yet another casserole…all vegetables

October 2, 2018 – It should be clear by now that I am a child of the ’50s.  I’ve certainly written enough about casseroles to make the point.

I am a fan of casseroles for the same reason that motivated the dominant generation of the last century.  It was a time when our lifestyle was undergoing significant change.  The old days of one person in the family working outside the home and the second tending the house and children were rapidly disappearing.  More and more it was becoming necessary for both husband and wife to take paying jobs.  And still the family must be fed.

Casseroles were, and are, an easy answer.  They’re easy to throw together, most anything in the pantry or refrigerator can go into them, they can be prepared relatively quickly in advance, and, when working parents get home, an hour or so in the oven produces dinner.  They also have the added benefit of using up any leftover bits of food that might otherwise be wasted.

Vegetable Casserole

I had a beautiful ribeye calling to me and wanted an accompaniment.  But I had a busy day ahead.  When the sun was over the yardarm late in the afternoon, I wanted to enjoy a flute of Prosecco.  I didn’t want to be standing in front of the stove.

What did I have that could be prepared earlier in the day?  All kinds of vegetables, both fresh and frozen.  Oh yeah, either works well.  I had a head of broccoli, a handful of Brussels sprouts, and a potato.  There were also half bags of green beans and pearl onions in the freezer.  And cheese.  Always some form of cheese.  To add a little depth of flavor, a poblano pepper.

I cut the broccoli flowerets away from the stalk.  The Brussels sprouts were trimmed and cut into halves.  The potato I cut into bite size pieces, leaving the skin on.  I chopped the poblano also into bite size pieces.

If you’re using fresh vegetables, brown them a bit in olive oil.  Frozen vegetables can be tossed in as is.

To bind it all together, I made a Béchamel sauce seasoned with the poblano pepper.  A nice touch.

I used Mozzarella cheese because it’s what I had and I like it.  Any grated cheese will be fine.

There is nothing sacred about the ingredients I used.  They were just some of my favorites, some things I had on hand.  They worked for me.

The final result was a cheesy, gooey bit of deliciousness, a perfect side to a rare ribeye.

Vegetable Casserole

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided (more if needed)

1/4 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

Flowerets from one head of broccoli

1 poblano pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 cups milk

1 russet potato with skin on, cut into bite size pieces

6 ounces frozen green beans

6 ounces frozen pearl onions

2 – 3 cups grated cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

In a skillet with a heavy bottom,  warm two tablespoons of olive oil over moderate heat.  Saute’ the Brussels sprouts and broccoli flowerets until they begin to brown.  It’ll probably take about four minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside.

Add two more tablespoons of olive oil to the pan.  When it is heated, saute’ the poblano pieces until they begin to soften, about three or four minutes.

Add two tablespoons of flour and stir to make a roux.  Don’t let it darken.  When the flour and oil are incorporated, add the milk, increasing the heat to high.  Stir continuously as the Béchamel begins to thicken.  When the sauce has reached the desired thickness, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove from the heat.

Place the Brussels sprouts, broccoli, potato, green beans, and pearl onions in an oven proof dish with a tight cover.  Add grated cheese to taste and the Béchamel sauce.  Mix well.

Molly is ever hopeful for a bite of steak but will settle for one of her treats if she must!

Cover with a generous amount of additional grated cheese.

Bake, covered, at 350 for an hour.

Bon temps!

 

 

Char Siu: Roast Pork in the Style of Canton

September 8, 2018 – Writing this blog for the past few years has been an education for me.  I have repeatedly noted here that I’m not a chef, nor am I an expert on the foods of the diverse countries and cultures about which I write.  Well, I do know a little about Louisiana cooking and am a fair hand at preparing Alaska salmon and king crab.  But other than the foods of my two home states, it’s strictly a never-ending learning process.

What I do is research and experiment.  I have always been fascinated about how the dishes we know and love were developed.  I have learned that most of the comfort foods we enjoy in our various home countries also appear among the dishes favored in most other parts of the world.  Certainly there are differences, but I can’t think of a culture that doesn’t have mom’s chicken soup or meat wrapped in some form of bread to create a fast food sandwich.

And that preamble brings us to Char Siu, roast pork in the style of Canton.

Canton, or more properly Guangzhou, is in southern China about 70 miles northwest of Hong Kong.  The roast pork to which Canton has given its name is known for its red color and deep penetration of flavor as a result of marinating the meat.

Char Siu, I learned, means fork roasted, the original method of preparing the pork over an open fire.  These days it’s more often simply oven roasted, though sometimes it is finished on a grill to give it a little bit of char.

It’s no surprise that I found several variations on the marinade ingredients.  All, however, included hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and five spice powder.  The traditional red color is usually achieved with either food coloring or red bean paste.

I don’t like to use food coloring and didn’t have red bean paste in the pantry.  Fortunately, I found more than one recipe that achieved the same result with ketchup.  That’s not heresy when we consider that ketchup originated in China.  It reached North America by way of Malaysia.  It was in that southeast Asian nation that ketchup was refined to something closely resembling the tomato based sauce with which we in America are prone to slather our French fries.  And by the way, ketchup is the word closest to the original Chinese name for the sauce.

This is the kind of dish Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson would love.  Stop by gordonparkerbooks.com to see what they’re up to.  Their next adventure will be out soon!

Here’s my version of char siu, which I served over rice.

Char Siu

Char Siu, Cantonese Style Barbequed Pork Served Over Rice

1 pork shoulder (about 2 pounds)

1 roasted red pepper, chopped

4 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon five spice powder

Slice the pork into thin, bite size pieces.

Make the marinade by combining all the other ingredients.  Pour the mixture over the pork strips and marinate for at least three hours.  The longer the meat marinates, the better the char siu.  Overnight in the refrigerator makes it truly great.

Spread the pork with the marinade in a roasting pan.  Cook in an oven pre-heated to 350 for about 35 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Excellent served over rice.

Bon temps!

 

Spicy Sausage-Rice Casserole

August 19, 2018 – I’m as busy working now as I’ve been in a long time.  And it feels great!

Dividing the hours of my days among continuing to push for legislation in Washington, D.C., that is good for rural and Bush Alaska (good for all of rural America, for that matter), promoting my first novel, The Empty Mint Mystery (gordonparkerbooks.com), and going through the second book to get it ready for the publisher (watch for Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson’s next adventure coming soon!), there isn’t a lot of time left to create great meals.

But next to say, oh, a French 75 or some other equally delicious cocktail when the sun, as my Navy Seabee uncle always proclaimed, has gone over the yardarm, there’s nothing I like better than a good dinner.  No, make that a great dinner.

So when time is short, I revert to the ’50s, that golden era of the casserole.  They can be put together quickly using whatever is in the refrigerator or the pantry and they cook themselves relatively unsupervised.  Perfect meals ready at the end of a busy day.

Spicy Sausage-Rice Casserole

This dish starts, as do so many of my culinary experiments, with what in Louisiana we call the Trinity:  onion, sweet peppers, celery.  It’s our version of the classic mirepoix.

I like to season in layers, so the first seasoning occurs after the Trinity has had a chance to cook down a bit and the vegetables are beginning to soften.  Use salt cautiously in this dish, however, as the sausages will provide a good bit of their own and the stock I used for the rice was also seasoned.  Except for a light dusting over the Trinity, I didn’t add any salt at all.

I used a combination of uncooked sausage links, including plain pork as well as both hot and sweet Italian.  Ground bulk sausage would have been easier but I seldom have that on hand.  I wouldn’t deign to advise you on which to use.  But I will say the effort to cut through the casings and turn the uncooked links into ground sausage is measured in seconds.  It’s not that big a chore.

The hot Italian sausage added heat to the dish.  But I wanted more.  Real heat!  And I thought a touch of acid would bring out even more of the flavors.  So I added a handful of pickled jalapenos.  Oh yeah!  Now we’re talking!

I like to cook rice in a stock, or at least well-seasoned water.  I used chicken stock for this dish because, of course, it’s what I had.  Pork stock would be even better.

While we’re talking about stock, I never throw bones away.  Chicken, pork, beef.  Any bones go into the stock pot with some onion, celery, maybe lemon, whatever seasonings that sound good on stock-making day.  There’s always a bowl of stock in my refrigerator.  If you make it yourself, it’ll be better than you can buy at a store, not to mention cheaper.

And here’s a bonus she suggested with this casserole:  If there are leftovers, make

Patties from left over spicy sausage-rice casserole. Great with a fried egg on top!

sausage-rice patties and fry them up.  Great with a fried egg on top!

So here’s my Spicy Sausage-Rice Casserole for the end of a busy work day.

Spicy Sausage-Rice Casserole

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 roasted red pepper, chopped

1 rib celery, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 tablespoon garlic powder

Salt & pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds ground sausage (mixed plain pork, hot Italian, sweet Italian)

2 tablespoons pickled jalapeno, minced

1 cup uncooked rice

5 cups stock, boiling

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a heavy oven-friendly skillet or braising pan, heat the  olive oil over moderate heat.

Saute’ the onion, roasted red pepper, and celery in the olive oil until the vegetables begin to soften.  Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Add the sausage and pickled jalapeno.  Stir to combine.  Break up any clumps of sausage as the meat browns.

Add the raw rice and mix well with the browned sausage and vegetables.

Pour in the boiling stock and stir to combine.

Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes.

Bon temps!

 

 

 

Shrimp, Mushrooms, Pasta, & a Good Book

July 23, 2018 – A good book makes an evening alone pleasant.  Add shrimp, mushrooms, and pasta with, oh, a few other things, and it becomes memorable.

I cook quite often with shrimp and mushrooms.  They’re two of my favorite ingredients.  Very often they’re bathed, together or separately, in a cream sauce.  I had something similar in mind on this night but wanted to take it in a slightly different direction.  A cream sauce but no cream.  And perhaps an often overlooked addition that would add a little pep.

I used moderately large shrimp.  Fifteen to twenty to a pound.  But either larger or smaller would work as well.

The different direction called for substituting sour cream for the usual heavy cream.  Thicker.  A slightly different taste.  Not a radical departure from the usual.  Just a variation on the norm.

And the “often overlooked addition?”  Horseradish.  I thought about horseradish when talking recently to my friend, Rich Listowski.  Rich, in years past, was famous for the Polish Easter dinners he hosted.  Rich lives in Juneau, Alaska’s beautiful, small town capital with a small town’s paucity of grocers.  To collect the supplies needed for his Easter gathering, Rich would fly to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest community with its greater variety of grocery vendors.  He came in search of horseradish.

I would drive him around to one grocery after another as he bought up all the horseradish root he could find.  When he had enough to resemble a fair sized bundle of firewood, he would fly back to Juneau to begin the peeling and grating.  Not work for those of languid character.

This is another easily assembled, quickly prepared recipe.  It has a flavor I found to be very good.  The horseradish gave it that esoteric touch that I like.  It’s that thing that makes the diner think, “That’s really good but I just can’t quite place what it is.”  Yeah.  I like to hear that.

One other thing.  For another of those hard to place tastes, I added two tablespoons of a good quality vanilla to the pasta water.  The result was a barely discernible sweet nicely offsetting the slight bitter of the horseradish.

Here’s the result of me tinkering around in the kitchen, preparing something quick and easy to enjoy with a good book.  And the book, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a really good one!

Shrimp &  Mushrooms in a Sour Cream Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 pound shrimp, shelled

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon horseradish

Salt & pepper to taste

Melt the butter and warm the olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat.

Saute’ the mushrooms, cooking them down until they begin to brown.

Add the shrimp and continue to cook until the shrimp turns pink.  It shouldn’t take more than three to five minutes.  Don’t overcook the shrimp.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up all the bits from the mushrooms and shrimp that have stuck to the skillet.

Stir in the sour cream and horseradish.  Mix well.  Continue to stir as the sour cream liquifies.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Shrimp, mushrooms, pasta, treats for Molly, and a really good book!

Serve over your choice of pasta.

Bon temps!

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Cabbage

July 13, 2018 – “Ah, kapucha,” my friend Rich Listowski exclaimed enthusiastically when I told him I was making stuffed cabbage for dinner.  Cabbage.  A vegetable dear to generations of his Polish ancestors.

As our conversation continued, I learned that stuffed cabbage is gotabki, pronounced “gaw-WOHMP-kee.”  Translated literally, it means “little pigeons.”  Looking at the small bundles of deliciousness awaiting their baptismal dunking, it’s easy to see how they came to be so named.  It was as pretty a sight as I’ve ever seen on a stove.

The food of Poland is as fascinating as is the nation itself.  In centuries past, Poland was a major power, with several cultures falling under its dominance.  Its food from those years developed with Latvian, Turkish, and Hungarian influences among others.

Later centuries brought invasion from other powerful nations.  The Poles were no pushovers.  Their cavalry was the finest in the world, respected and feared by their enemies.  The elite were the Winged Hussars, who rode into battle with a pair of wings on their backs.  There is debate as to the purpose of the wings.  I’ve always liked the version that the wings made a weird, supernatural noise that could be heard before the cavalry came into sight, striking panic in many of the opposing forces.

Military history aside, the point is that Polish food developed from a variety of cultures.  The Poles, however, made each new element their own, preparing and presenting it in their uniquely wonderful fashion.

After emerging into the light of freedom after decades of dark domination, first by Nazis and then communists, Poland has earned the world’s respect and again become prominent in the community of nations. I decided it was time to try my hand at Polish food.  Summoning my culinary courage, I launched into the delicate construction of gotabki.

I used only ten leaves from a head of cabbage because that’s what I needed for the amount of ground meat I had.  The leaves should be large and handled gently so as not to tear.

I also added a couple of spices that probably wouldn’t be included in a true Polish version.  Sometimes I just can’t help myself.

With apologies to my pal, Rich Listowski, and his Polish ancestors, here’s my take on gotabki.

Gotabki

“Little Pigeons”

1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg

10 large cabbage leaves

1 pound ground beef

1 cup cooked rice

Little Pigeons

1 onion, minced

2 eggs

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon allspice

salt & pepper to taste

olive oil

1 onion, quartered

1 rib celery, sliced into medium chunks

1 1/2 cup stock

6 ounces tomato paste

Bring a pot of water, seasoned with nutmeg and salt to taste, to a boil.

Place the cabbage leaves in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over them.  Let them soak for about 15 minutes.

While the cabbage leaves are soaking, combine the ground beef, rice, minced onion, eggs, garlic, and allspice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Mix well.

Remove the cabbage leaves from the water, handling very carefully so as not to tear them.

Lightly oil a heavy pan with a tightly fitting lid.

Layer the quartered onion and celery chunks in the pan to create a bed for the cabbage rolls.

Place a portion of the meat mixture into each leaf.  Carefully roll the leaf and tuck the ends under.  Lay the cabbage rolls on the vegetable bed.

Swirl the tomato paste into the stock and pour the liquid over the cabbage rolls.

Cover and simmer over low heat for one hour.

Bon temps!

Or more properly in this case, dobre czasy!