Thursday, December 12, 2013

The good, the bad and...vegetable bacon

I blame Elizabeth Minchilli, I do. Now, some of you might know who she is - yee of good taste! - a woman who wears many hats well but is principally a truly fine author and blogger. While she has written six design-oriented books (including two with her husband, the Italian architect Domenico Minchilli, for those hoping to restore their own little bijou under the Tuscan sun), her blog focuses largely on the food and drinks that occupy her daily life in Rome and Umbria. And can I get a little "Hallelujah" about that? For, along with Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen, she gives me ideas that I actually use and not just dream about wistfully.

But back to the blaming. Now, Elizabeth is a fellow redhead so technically finger-pointing of any kind is breaking some sort of cardinal Sisterhood of the Redheadedness rule but I can't help it. You see, a while ago she mentioned the wacky idea of roasting cabbage. Now, it's true, I have been on a severe roasting binge as of late after much smacking the forehead of the "Really? It is that easy?" variety. But come on, cabbage? Eww. Who likes cabbage? It's stinky. But as my favorite veggie guys were selling ones bigger than my head for only one Euro, I thought, "Why not?"

Oh my goodness, it is maddeningly delicious. Truly. So much so that I made up a small test batch, ate it while it was still warm, made another that I threw into vegetable bouillon for one of the richest without being rich soups that I have had in many a moon and yet still had to have it for lunch again today. You see, something that appears to be as innocent and vitamin packed as what you see in the first photo transforms in about fifteen minutes into buttery smoke on a plate...also known as...vegetable bacon. It's official, I am obsessed.

I imagine some of you might be thinking, either politely or grudgingly, "Heather, you just wrote a food post. Can you get back to Provencey please? Don't you understand that Christmas is only two weeks away and that every second is precious?" And I will and I do but I would have felt terrible if I had let another day pass without sharing this discovery. So feel free to use at will, cabbage is flexible and it will also be happy if you do a fusiony thing with soba noodles, a little celery, sprinkled cayenne, soy sauce and sushi vinegar. Or whatever. Just trust me, give the roasting a go, get creative and let me know what you think.

So that was two-thirds of the title which leads me to...the middle part. Uh oh. "The bad." You see that photo of cheese. Guilty as charged. Just as the immortal Becky Sharp proclaims in Vanity Fair, "I'm no angel." 

But Elizabeth has also led me to reconsider my expat whining that comes forth on many an occasion: "I miss waaaffles...I miss stuuffing...I miss..." You get my drift. Somehow it truly never occurs to me to just try and make an approximation. I know that it won't really be the same, just as my hilarious friend NK admits at Bread is Pain, so I hesitate. While I won't even try my dearly loved Grits & Bits waffles...stuffing seemed like a doer and when my Sister sent me a photo of a family classic, "Grandma Roxie's casserole" I knew that action needed to be taken. Of course, it turns out that I could easily buy everything needed to make one very fine batch of classic herb stuffing.

I was going to share this recipe with you to be used for Thanksgiving leftovers but wisely assumed it was not needed. However, you might be looking for something of the "just put it all together and get it done" factor right about now, one that has been slightly transformed from its 70s origins:

Make your  homemade version of Stove Top, butter a casserole, line it with the stuffing.
Cover the stuffing with shredded chicken or turkey breast.
Sauté coarsely chopped mushrooms in onion or shallots, when done stir in cream with s&p to taste.
Drizzle additional cream or crème fraiche.
Cover with a mountain of shredded emmenthal cheese.
Bake until the cheese browns.
Drool while it cools then serve.

Although she was related, I can't say that Grandma Roxie was my Grandma but I thank her for this casserole...and for not putting crushed potato chips on top of it. 

Speaking of food appreciation, I have one more idea to share with you that I loved, this time from Stéphane at My French Heaven. It is, as he claims, "A challenge for the real foodies out there" and involves a taste test of a single food item to awaken the senses and to return to really appreciating its essence. 

From his blog...

"The rules:
  • You may only use one produce + salt + butter or olive oil or lemon
  • If not scolding hot, you will eat with your fingers! We want the most symbiotic, raw experience possible!
  • The main ingredient has to be in season or available year round (like eggs)
  • No garlic, vinegar or ginger or anything that could overpower the taste of the main ingredient
  • You’ll have to eat this alone or with other foodies. No kids allowed! When I say kids, I mean anyone who could distract you from the experience. Husband, best friends or wives can be considered kids in this scenario :0)
  • Eat with your eyes closed if possible!!! This will really help you be more aware of all your senses
  • If at all possible, eat something you fished yourself, grew in your garden or picked in the woods (be careful with berries and mushrooms!). This will bring this experience to a whole other level…"
But there really is more to it than that so please take a look (not to mention discover his lovely photography):  I tried it with a piece of unadorned ripe avocado and the results were surprising. Plus, technically, since the cabbage was only roasted with olive oil and coarse salt, that counts and we all know how I feel about the cabbage. 

Admittedly, I have had a case of the Mean Reds - as Holly Golightly would say - as of late, in my case, one of the Holiday Blues! So this post is my equivalent of comfort food. I am doing my best to shake myself out of it, including listening to happy music (alas, "I'll be home for Christmas" only induces prolonged sniffling). This is what I had on repeat while writing this post:

With my Best from Arles,
Keep Calm and Carry On,


Loree said...

Cabbage that tastes like bacon? Maybe I will be brave enough to try it. I cannot abide boiled cabbage. it just stinks. But if roasting it makes it taste like bacon, well, that's something else.

robin said...

First things first: Grandma Roxie was indeed your grandma - your great grandma!! Ohhh...unless - are you thinking that she was Grandpa Kenny's 2nd wife? Ah, fiddlesticks - she made some great casserole, that you recreated beautifully, so let's just be grateful! And the "single food" experience totally sounds like a taste meditation - I think I did one of those in my advanced meditation class - soooooo awesome! An avocado sounds like the perfect choice for this exercise! Please try not to have the doldrums; know we are missing you and that a little package is making its way to you as we "speak"! I'll send extra love, though, if it helps! Thank you for yet another mouthwatering post!

I Dream Of said...

You had me at vegetable bacon! You know that with a vegetarian to feed, I'm always looking for a little kitchen magic (AKA things that taste like meat but aren't). I wonder what it would taste like with a little bacon salt sprinkled on prior to roasting? Do you have bacon salt in Provence, I wonder? XOXO

puppyfur said...

Okay, I did this exact cabbage tonight, in a wok, with olive oil, salt and pepper. And then I saw your post! Wowee. Don't worry, you are not alone in your sadness at this time of year. We are here without any of the children or other family at Christmas...but we make the best of our day by starting with Champagne! I highly recommend it. And Skyoe, or Facetime. Saves my life. <3

Judith Ross said...

I'm so sorry to hear that you have the holiday blues, Heather, though I know that feeling well. You will, however, have made my husband very happy with this post. He loves smelly cabbage and will be thrilled to know that there's a way of cooking it that won't turn off his red-haired wife (moi of course!) I will report in once we've tried this.

On another note, we just got a big box of pomegranates from Costco, which I mentioned to Karsten in Morocco. He said he was sad because pomegranate season is just about over in Morocco. While they were in season, he said he was eating about one a day. Imagine living with pomegranate trees in your back yard! One of his friends had a pomegranate tree in his walled in garden. When I was there last spring those lovelies were just red blossoms.

Anyway, I am sure that cabbages will be easy to find around here any time of year.

david terry said...

Oh, should come to visit us here; we happily have cabbage (in various forms....sauteed, as part of a garbure, and/or my favorite Provencal recipe for stuffed cabbage) at least three our four times per week.

Your instincts (and nose) are right, of course; practically no one (except, perhaps, for folks who are sentimental about the smell of their immigrant grandparents' urban-tenement apartment?) can abide the smell of over-boiled cabbage.

Facts to know:
1. cabbages, like everything else in this world, get older, and, contrary to what the grocery stores might tell you, they do NOT have an infinite shelf-life. Julia Child (and many others) would tell you that a good cabbage is "squeaky". Don't bother buying and cooking the thing if it's not.

2. Boiled cabbage is, indeed, awful. Sautee it, steam it, roast it, pretend it's a bean bag and just sit on it....but never boil it. As with all members of the Brassica genus (cauliflower, brocolli, brussel sprouts, Kale, mustard, rutabagas, collards, turnips, etcetera), Cabbage doesn't fare well with extended cooking. The longer you cook brassicas, the stronger and more unpleasant they and everything else becomes. Even 2 minutes matters; Increasing the cooking time of cabbage from 5 to 7 minutes DOUBLES the amount of Hydrogen Sulfide gas (the rotten egg smell everyone objects to) produced by the cabbage. As with any chemical reaction, there is, indeed & inevitably, a tipping point at which the bomb, rather than you, becomes the one in charge. A shorter cooking doesn't allow for the production of the Sulfur compounds (they result from extended heating).

I know...not exactly the sort of response you might expect from a man who paints for a living and took four graduate degrees in literature. Still, recall that Marcella Hazan's actual education comprised a Ph.D. in Biology......and Shirley Corriher (she's quite well-known for her cookbooks) has a doctorate in, I believe, BioChemistry. Cooking seems to bring worlds together, after all.

In any case, try Heather's recipe. It sounds good.

Best Wishes for a Happy, cabbage-filled future,

David Terry

david terry said...

P.S. Blanching is just fine, of course.....even if it involves boiling water. Boiling the f***k out of a poor, little cabbage is not. This is one way, at least (and presumably you'll recall the movie which I'm referencing), in which cabbages and bunny-rabbits are quite similar.

Advisedly yours as ever,
Uncle David

david terry said...

P.S. (2) I know this is getting l-o-n-g, but? comments were a bit misleading. I should emphasize that you can "slow cook" brassicas (which is exactly what's done to long-simmered collard greens or a garbure, which is basically a cabbage&bean soup). You just don't (unless my mother taught you how to cook) turn the stuff on high and go watch a movie while it boils and roils away for two hours.

-----david terry

La Contessa said...

I get ELIZABETH's posts somehow I missed that………….THANK YOU!

Laoch of Chicago said...

I am still reeling from the idea of vegetable bacon!

Glamour Drops said...

for starters….I adore cabbage, yum, yum, yum….so feel i must come to its defence….so am pleased to find you now love it too…

for mains…have you tried roasting other leafy things too? Like, dare I suggest it…Brussels sprouts??? They are ridiculously delicious when roasted with a splash of balsamic, a sploosh of good virgin olive oil, freshly smashed garlic and a sprinkle of fresh chili. Nobody will believe they started life as brussels sprouts.

for desserts….i truly believe there is nothing in the vegetable plant list that doesn't taste amazing when roasted…same even goes for roasted lemon wedges…truly….

Mumbai said...

100 g only 25 kcal, lots of Vita C and much more . Roasted as shown in the 2nd photo on toasted black bread...sooo yummy. In earlier times it was discredit as a food for poor people..wrongly to my opinion ... As we became so fastidious about food more people discovered the simple food from grandma's kitchen.

silkannthreades said...

I adore cabbage when it is cooked to perfection. My sister prepares it beautifully but arrgh we have not had a meal together since 2010. Going to play your music over and over; it's chipper.

simpleimages2 said...

Hi Heather,
I’m so tempted to put fried eggs on top of your Grandma Roxie’s casserole.

Can I add vegetable bouillon to your “roasted cabbage and soba noodles, a little celery, sprinkled cayenne, soy sauce and sushi vinegar” and make the concoction a vegetable soup? Will lemon grass or ginger clash with cabbage if it’s in a soup? Thus this breaks the “rules”?

I’m enjoying the dish just thinking about it.

A corollary to Stéphane’s is M.F.K. Fisher’s advice: to eat slowly and try to identify the herbs and other condiments in a dish and compliment the chef if the food is excellent.

Thank you for the song.

Best regards,

mademoisella coquine. said...

I can never get enough posts on what to do with cabbage. So thank you. In my kitchen as I type, torn cabbage pieces rest in a bowl of olive oil, salt and pepper, and lemon juice to be baked for chips later. I guess we're both in a cabbage state of mind! And you can't beat the attractive price. 1 euro gets you several meals!

Have you ever heard of something called "liquid smoke"? A dear friend of mine runs the blog Lorimer Street Kitchen and uses it in all of her fakon bacon recipes. She says it pretty much does the trick.

And while we're on the topic of food, in my oven I'm slow-baking almond "cheese" (another Lorimer Street recipe.) I'm really proud of my effort and just wanted to share.

Mumbai said...

Just discovered this advertisement in a German newspaper.
Should be a new restaurant near Avignon.

Heather Robinson said...

Yay! Thank you Uncle David! This actually was really, really helpful for me and I am sure I am not the only one. Must look up "garbure" too.

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you Sister. *sniff sniff* And I don't know why I can't get it in my head that Grandma Roxie was my Great-Grandma! Didn't we call her Aunt Roxie? Me so confused. I do remember that she was a nice lady. :)

Heather Robinson said...

Oh that made me laugh,noooo we don't have bacon salt in Provence! hehehe That would NOT be a good item for me to have. Nope. Jeanne, try this for your honey--it really is good.

Heather Robinson said...

Whoa! Great minds think a like! Will try in a wok too. And yes, champagne is in order methinks. Thanks for the suggestion!

Heather Robinson said...

I love the image of the pomegranate tree! We actually can get them from Morocco at the markets here when they are in season. When I lived in Santa Cruz, my friend Nate had an avocado tree in his backyard and would sneak into our house in the morning to make guacamole burritos for us all for a surprise for breakfast. :)

Heather Robinson said...

So good and usable for Giampi's Italian specialties as well!

Heather Robinson said...

Why does that not surprise me, Mr. Laoch?

Heather Robinson said...

Lemon wedges?! I love that idea. And you know what? I was exactly thinking of trying the brussel sprouts. Remi HATES them but maybe if they are roasted...

Heather Robinson said...

How right you are, Mumbai. There are so many BASIC ingredients that have been forgotten--but I also think that is because there is so much tasteless, corporate veggies and fruits out there. I certainly wouldn't have tried the cabbage except that they were so fresh and tempting!

Heather Robinson said...

Isn't it just? It helps on the bad days.

Heather Robinson said...

Ah, by all means do put fried eggs on the casserole it will be excellent. I am of a mind that you can put fried eggs on just about anything and it will be good--actually, I also think that would be tasty on a pile of the roasted cabbage--eggs and "bacon"! And yes to the ginger although the lemon grass might be too strong for the soup--let me know how it turns out if you try it...
Glad you liked the song!

Heather Robinson said...

Cabbage chips and almond cheese? You are a mighty impressive cook, miss! I will take a look at the Lorimer Street kitchen blog--thank you. I am sloooowly trying to cook more vegetarian (without making too big a deal out of it so as to not freak out the French honey). And can you get liquid smoke here in France? I am all over that!

Heather Robinson said...

Oh, interesting! It is actually a website for a village or small town near Avignon. It looks lovely. Perhaps the universe is saying through you that I need to go and visit it?

david terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mumbai said...

That's what I would suggest, Heather. Would rather be in your position and visit this place.

Maywyn Studio said...

Thank you for the post. I love cabbage and will give roasting a try.
Recently I discovered warm hard boiled egg with feta cheese. I suppose if hands are to be used, one for feta and the other for the egg. said...

I don't even know where to begin. Vegetable Bacon, a Vanity Fair Reference, AND a shout out to Holly Golightly? Loved this post. Also - what do you mean you have never liked cabbage? I am shocked and chagrined - cabbage is the - choucroute anyone?? :) Now on the Vanity Fair...a subject close to my heart. I just want to know your thoughts on Amelia vs. Becky? I find Amelia irritating as heck and don't feel sorry for her at all. haha!
Well...I am clearly rambling here but loved this post and many thanks for the mention. :) Cheers!

p.s. "I'll be Home for Christmas" can make me sob too, as can "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Judy Garland version...of course) so turn those off and pop on "Santa Baby" instead! :) said...

p.s. Waffle Grits?????? I'm fascinated - as a life-long Southern gal I have never heard of these in my life. I will choose, however, to trust the source since both Anson Mills and Benton Bacon is referenced (though I don't know what I think about syrup with my grits). Incidentally, if you get desperate my house is NEVER without grits - country irrelevant. (What kind of Southerner would I be if it were?)