Stuffed Vegetables

Armenian Stuffed Vegetables

Ingredients:

  • Any combination of vegetables that can be stuffed.  I use mammoth zucchini, standard eggplants, large Italian Sweet peppers if they can be had from a local garden and/or standard green bell peppers from the market.  
  • 1-2 pounds of LEAN ground round
  • uncooked white rice
  • dried minced onion or grated fresh yellow or red onion
  • dried basil
  • salt
  • one small zucchini (optional)
  • tomato sauce

So you may notice the list of ingredients is a bit vague as to quantities.  That is deliberate as I vary the amount of meat depending on the vegetables on hand and the crowd I mean to serve.  This is more a method than a recipe per se.  Here are the ratios I use when mixing the meat:  for each pound of ground beef use 1 teaspoon of salt, 1-2 tablespoons onion to taste, 1-2 tablespoons basil to taste and 1/3-1/2 cup rice also to taste and texture preference.  As with any recipe that adds filler (the rice) to ground meat, I believe the original intent was to stretch of a small amount expensive meat to feed a large and hungry family by adding much less expensive grain products to increase bulk.  That being said, I think there is a sweet spot for the amount of rice to meat that falls in the ratio I’ve given.   

Method:

Mix the filling ingredients together well: the meat, rice, onion, basil and salt and a little water.  2-3 tablespoons water should be about right.  The water helps everything to blend together well.  Knead this mixture with your hands in a large bowl as you would bread dough until everything is uniformly distributed and the meat and rice hang together well.  Set aside.

Now for the fun part: prepare the vegetables.  Get out a large stock pot roomy enough to accept the vegetables in a single layer if possible. Wash all the vegetables and begin with the peppers if you are using them.  Just cut off the tops of the peppers and remove and discard any membranes and seeds left inside.  Any good trimmings of flesh from the pepper top can be removed from the stem and tossed in the bottom of the pot.  This leaves you with a nice empty pepper cup to receive the meat.  Zucchini and eggplant next.  The pictures show eggplant because I made this batch in winter and eggplant is available all winter long in supermarkets but the method applies equally to the mammoth zukes:

First, trim the ends and slice the eggplant in to workable sections, about 4-5 inches long:

Next, use a coring tool to hollow out a cylindrical void in the center.  With zucchini, you can actually see a demarcation between the soft center where the seeds are forming and the more solid walls and that enables you to easily remove the core and leave about a 3/8 to 1/2″ wall of good solid flesh.  With eggplants, the flesh is uniform consistency all the way to the skin so you have to judge when to stop removing flesh.  Eggplants are a little softer so, you want to leave 1/2-3/4″ all around the edge as uniformly as you can:

  Any flesh removed gets tossed in to the bottom of the pot.  When you have prepped all the vegetables, begin stuffing the meat in to the cavities.  The rice will swell but the flesh will shrink as it loses water so everything evens out but you don’t want to over stuff the vegetables.  It’s best to turn the vegetables on their sides for cooking but if you don’t have room in your pot, arrange them any way you can make them fit.  Bell peppers should not be upside down or the meat will fall right out.  If you have too much meat for the vegetables, form large oval-shaped meatballs and drop them in on top of the vegetables.  Children will eat this dish if you tell them they can have all the meatballs and don’t need to eat the vegetables.  

Add tomato sauce.  For this batch, which is 4 bell peppers and 2 eggplants, I started with 1 1/2 pounds of ground round and used 2 small cans of tomato sauce.  Also, when I don’t have zucchini large enough to stuff and/or I’m using only peppers, I slice a small zucchini in to the pot as they are also available year ’round in supermarkets.  The zucchini and eggplant will release enough water from their flesh for the rice to absorb in cooking and then some.  Bell peppers will not release much water so if you are only using peppers and don’t have zucchini, you should add a little water with the tomato sauce.  You can see below that I’ve turned the peppers and 2 of the eggplants on their sides.  That is ideal, but the other 2 eggplants just wouldn’t fit so they are upright.

Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Cover and reduce heat to maintain a strong simmer.  Simmer for a minimum of 2 hours, maximum of 3 hours, reducing heat as needed to maintain the simmer but not burn the vegetables.  About half way through the cooking time, remove the lid and carefully shift and turn the vegetables with 2 large spoons so that they cook evenly.  You can do this a few times as needed, and it’s especially important if you’ve had to stack the vegetables in the pot but don’t do it too often as it slows the cooking. If you’ve been able to place everything on its side, you should only have to turn them once.

Serve with rice or bulgur pilaf, pida or other soft bread to soak up the sauce and if you want to be very traditional, a savory yogurt sauce with garlic and salt provides a nice complement.

Processing…

Tomato time has arrived and it’s time to process these beautiful tomatoes from Christine’s Garden and make some Pasta Sauce and some Salsa again this year.

The basic processing is the same whether the end game is Salsa or Pasta Sauce:

First, wash and cut off the stem end and any spots and place on a broiler pan.
Then toast them under the broiler until the skins blacken. Somehow, this deepens the flavor. I don’t remove the skins or seeds. That’s where the most
Lycopene is.
After making purée in the food processor and making either Salsa or Pasta Sauce, I freeze the result in these Souper Cubes, which really are super.
Here are some of the frozen cubes popped out of their Souper Cube cells, pooped in to a Food Saver bag, vacuum sealed and ready to stack in the freezer. It’s a lengthy process for sure, but come December, that Pasta Sauce and Salsa made from Christine’s lovely organic San Marzano Tomatoes comes in mighty handy and tastes summer-fresh.

Testing this and that…

Recently I bought one of these awesome Rinse Well thingies.  AKA, “The Watercolor Toilet.” Hah!  Because when the water in the well gets dirty, you push that little button and it disappears into the well and fresh water automatically refills the basin.  It’s a silly little tool for lazy artists who don’t like to get up and change their dirty rinse water.  It’s not perfect.  The well is a bit small if you’re doing a big splashy painting, but it’s perfect for dainty dry brush work that doesn’t require a huge pigment load.  Also all the dirty water doesn’t disappear so the fresh water in the well is slightly tinged with whatever color was there.  But it’s still a cool thing that will work for certain things I do in the studio.  I like it.  Because I like cool tools.

The other item I’m testing is the switch back to the creation of jpegs on my iPhone.  Apple sneakily changed the default file type from jpeg to a proprietary file type they claim is better called HEIC (pronounced “HEEK”) in their last major upgrade.  Well that’s a heiccup if you ask me because those HEIC files would upload anywhere and couldn’t be converted without paying for and downloading a conversion app.  Grrr.  What the HEEK Apple?  So it turns out it’s easy to make your phone switch back in your  settings under “camera” then “format” choose “Most compatible.”  That’s it.  And don’t we all want to win the award for Most Compatible?  All except Apple.

Smooth as Silk

DGS number 4 has some itchy skin/eczema and needs to have his hands covered while he’s sleeping to prevent him from scratching. So we have covered the ends of the sleeves of his onesies in silk backed with cotton. Sleep peacefully baby boy!

So Long Kitchenaid

Hello Ankarsrum! 

I still remember standing in line at Gemco when it was going out of business so that I could get my first Kitchenaid stand mixer at the best possible price over 30 years ago.  This was just after I’d sheared off the dough hooks on my Sunbeam Mixmaster that had been a wedding gift because I was trying to make 100% whole wheat bread.  Luckily, the glass bowl didn’t break and it didn’t destroy the mixer, but I knew if I was going to have a chance to make true whole wheat bread I’d need the Kitchenaid.  And back then, the Kitchenaid did not disappoint.   Early on I purchased the grain mill attachment and managed to seize up the motor when a rock slipped in with the grain and locked down the grinder.  Off it went to an appliance repair shop, where they actually fixed it (those were the days!) and that machine lasted over 20 years until it started really sounding tired.  So I bought another one.  What a sad difference.  The new one just couldn’t power through the bread dough.  Then I tried a Breville.  Same thing.  Then I tried a bigger, more expensive Kitchenaid with a “more powerful” motor.  Same thing.  A little online research turned up this new kid on the block, an Ankarsrum Assistant sold by Pleasant Hill Grains, and King Arthur Flour.  I bought mine from Pleasant Hill because at the time they were having a sale.  It seemed an extreme amount to spend on a mixer at the time, even on sale, and possibly a mistake because this mixer uses a completely foreign concept in mixing techniques.  But I was desperate to find a mixer that could power through the stiffest possible bread dough and bring it to supple perfection without grinding to a halt and/or smelling like smoking motor grease.  Done.  This beast laughs at 100% whole grain bread dough.  It also does a fine job with cookies and cakes and everything I do with a mixer.  Unfortunately, although it has lots of accessories it doesn’t have a spiralizer, so I had to keep my Kitchenaid just to make Zoodles with the Spiralizer Attachment and that’s okay because I was able to make space for it and so far it can manage to run that attachment without complaint.  But if you think you want to make 100% whole wheat bread, do not hesitate, the Ankarsrum can manage whatever dough you throw at it, our current favorite being Featherpuff Bread from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.

A word on whole wheat.  You really do want to grind it yourself unless you have a miller in town who grinds fresh flour daily.  Yeah, I thought not.  You will be amazed at the difference in your bread if you grind your own grain and bake it the same day.  The flavor is incomparable.

Bon appétit!

Origami Mask

In the diy Face Mask Category, the Àplat Origami Face Mask, is a clear winner. They are fast and easy to make, don’t require a nose wire to get a good fit, don’t shift around when you talk and, at least on me, have a little air gap in front that makes breathing easier while still fitting close to the face on the sides.

You do see a little gap back by the ear, but that is okay because over the cheekbone and down the side of the face the fabric is touching my face all the way. In the side view I’ve circled the area that sits close and touches my face:

You certainly could try to make a little dart there for a better fit, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

Here’s my nicely pressed collection:

So far. I intend to make a few more to coordinate with colors I wear frequently and just because these are fun and easy to make. Btw, the pressing helps the masks fit better and look nice and tidy stacked in a drawer, all pressed and ready to go. Pressing with a hot iron also further sanitizes the masks after washing and drying.

Crewel, sort of

But it’s finished after all these years! Probably 8 or 9 years ago I embarked on a crewel embroidery correspondence class through the EGA, or Embroiderers’ Guild of America.  As always, half the fun was collecting supplies and tools and notions specific to this type of embroidery, which is traditionally done with very fine wool on a linen twill weave fabric ground.

After a trip to Needle in a Haystack in Alameda, to collect the crewel-specific supplies, I was ready to start. And stop. And start. And stop. Again and again and again. I never got further than one short line of stem stitch because I simply couldn’t stand the tactile sensation and sound of the wool as it passed through the fabric. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard. So I’d put the project aside and then come across it again in a few years and wonder why it wasn’t further along. So I’d hoop it up, thread up a piece of wool, start stitching and remember. Eeew. Scritch, scratch and back in to the cupboard you go!

Finally this summer I decided I could embroider this design with cotton floss and even try out some DMC floche. Ahhh. So here it is:

There’s plenty to critique about this project even without mentioning that it’s not done with the traditional wool, but I’m so happy to have it finished I’ve decided to ignore its flaws, put it into a display hoop and hang it up in my sewing room.

Here is the original inked design after I made revisions to the original design given by Judy Jeroy. Her design is copyrighted so I cannot post it here, but I mostly changed the shape of the motif from an oval to a heart. And in the final stitching I removed a large tulip like flower and added a few tendrils here and there. Making changes to the original design was part of the assignment. As was changing colors and even stitch choices. The class was quite enjoyable, all up to the point of dragging that wool through the linen. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out what the problem was and then solve it.

Shut that box

Here’s a new dice game we’ve been enjoying over Google Meet or Zoom:

Shut the Box

Only instead of buying one of the admittedly lovely wooden versions of the game, I just created a pdf file to print out on standard paper in landscape format with large numbers from 1-12 across the top, printed it out and put it in a plastic page protector. As we use the numbers, we cross them off with a white board marker or children’s washable marker and erase after every round to reset for the next one. Between the actual play and toting up of the the scores after each round, the addition never stops in this game. It’s a sly way to get kids to practice their addition facts.

Have fun!

Inky Dinky Do

Sometimes when you drag out old art supplies you find you’ve moved on and nothing works, but once in a while you find a little magic happens, as it did recently when I pulled out some old Walnut Ink and some croquil nibs to draw this little Crassula ‘pagoda village’ plant purchased in Moss Landing. The paper is Stonehenge Fawn.

Here it is in progress
And all inked, signed and ready for a frame. There’s just something special about working with dip pens and ink.

Cabbage Dolma Redux

The how, the why and the joys of creating this most satisfying family soul food, updated with more photos and instructions on how to prepare the cabbage.

  • Ingredients:
  • 1-2 heads of green cabbage

    1-2 pounds of lean ground beef
    1/3-2/3 cup rice
    1-2 tablespoons dried basil
    1-2 teaspoons salt
    1-2 tablespoons dried minced onion, or grated fresh yelllow or red onion
    2-3 cans tomato sauce

  •  

The Method:

Begin by preparing the cabbage. Set out a colander on a large plate next to the stove. Fill a large stock pot half way with water and bring to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, cut out the core(s) of the cabbage(s) as shown above.

Drop the cabbage in o the boiling water. Adjust the heat to keep the water simmering.

The first outer leaves will fall away easily. Pluck ten out of the water with tongs and place them in the colander to drain.

As you remove leaves, some may begin to cling to the core. You can prevent some of this by enlarging the center of the core you have removed with the knife before boiling, but there will always be some hangers on. Use a carving fork to pry them away.

Like so. As you do this, use the tongs in your other hand to manage the bobbing cabbage head. You can see above that eventually the inner core of the cabbage gets too small to separate the leaves. At this point, let it stay in the water for another few minutes to soften all the leaves left inside. Then pull it out and place it in the colander with all the separated parboiled leaves and allow these to cool as you prepare the filling.

Prepare the filling:

Mix the meat, salt, onion, basil, rice and up a few tablespoons of water thoroughly until all is amalgamated and a smooth mixture is obtained. The basic ratio is 1 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup uncooked rice, one tablespoon onion and 1 tablespoon basil per one pound meat. Adjust to your taste. I probably use more basil than that. I just keep tossing it in until I like the distribution and scent. The basil is key.

Make the rolls:

Place about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture at the end of a cabbage leaf. See how nicely it fits in to the natural curve of the leaf.

Begin rolling the leaf, tucking the sides as you go and rolling tightly.

As you approach the end, trim off the thickest part of the rib:

Finish rolling and place in bottom of pot that you have lined with leaves that are either too small or holey or otherwise unsuitable for rolling.

Continue rolling and stack in layers until all the filling is consumed. You should have plenty of leaves left to cover the rolls with extra leaves.

Place an inverted plate atop all.

This prevents the rolls from floating around and unrolling themselves as they cook.

Add tomato sauce and water, one can sauce and 1/2 cup water per pound of meat. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 2 hours.

Serve with rice or bulgur pilaf and either pida or wet lavash. What? You’ve never had wet lavash? Huh, well break it in to serving size pieces, run each piece under warm water thoroughly wetting both sides, shake as much of the water off as you can, stack the pieces on a plate, cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to soften 20 minutes. Now it’s like a tortilla, only better, way better, especially if you roll it with a little butter inside. Take care when removing that plate with tongs before serving the dolmas. We serve it right from the pot so as not to disturb the rolls, but you can remove to a casserole if you’re so inclined.