CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole

Cabbage is a pretty popular vegetable among gardeners. It’s also one that knows no ethnic boundaries.

For example, Germans and Koreans love fermented cabbage. In Germany, it’s called sauerkraut. In Korea, it’s kimchi. The Irish have a favorite dish, colcannon, which traditional dish of mashed potatoes mixed with boiled cabbage or kale and either bacon or ham. And Cabbage rolls are common to the cuisines In the Middle East and Mediterranean areas, northern and central Europe as well as Iran, West Asia and northern China.

If you love cabbage like me, you’ve probably sampled some or all of the above and probably have your own favorite. I have a sweet spot for sauerkraut, and cabbage rolls also appeal to me.

But this week, I’ve discovered a tomato-based cabbage casserole that will give those two favorites a run for their money. It’s a nutritious and economical meal that will easily feed five or six.

And being a gardener whose cabbage crop was above average, you can be sure I’ll  that the multilayered vegetable packed with nutrients including manganese, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, folate, vitamins A and B6 will make many more appearances at our dinner table.

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole
1 pound lean ground beef
½pound ground pork
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup tomato sauce
1 can tomato soup
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 teaspoon dried dill
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2½ cups cooked rice (brown or white)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head of cabbage chopped (approx. 8 cups)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan.
Brown ground beef, ground pork, onion and garlic until no pink remains. Drain any fat.
Add tomato sauce, tomato soup, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, dill, parsley and bay leaf. Simmer covered 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and stir in rice.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add cabbage and cook until tender crisp.
Place half of the cabbage in the pan. Top with half of the beef/rice mixture. Repeat layers ending with beef/rice.
Bake uncovered 25 to 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Not Your Mom’s Ratatouille

If you’re a gardener who grows a variety of vegetables, the classic Nicoise dish, ratatouille, should be right up your alley.

The stewed vegetable entree consisting of eggplant, tomato, pepper, zucchini, onion and herbs has been has been a favorite in France for many, many years, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that ratatouille rose to the prominence it enjoys today.

That’s when the animated movie by that name from Disney/Pixar came out and a rat with a keen sense of smell named Remy became a great Parisian chef after a soujourn into French countryside.

I had been familiar with the dish since the 1970s, when co-workers Tim Fought and Marcia Harris, both prolific gardeners, introduced me to the tasty entree. Since then, I usually make a pot or two of it every summer — it’s very easy to prepare — with fresh produce from my own garden.

My recipe, which follows, contains all the vegetables listed above plus a few more, thus the name “Not Your Mother’s Ratatouille.”

It’s not the classical dish that you would find in an upscale restaurant in Nice, France, but I’m sure that my French-Canadians ancestors who came to North America as peasants in the 17th and 18th centuries would say “Oui.”

Not Your Mom’s Ratatouille
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato bruschetta
6 Roma tomatoes, skins removed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
½ green pepper, chopped
1 small or ½ large eggplant, cubed
1 medium summer squash, seeds removed and cut into small chunks
3 small okra pods, sliced
1 cup cooked corn kernels
½ cup kale, chopped
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
¼ cup red wine
Place olive oil and add the onion, garlic and celery. Saute for a few minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients except the kale and basil. Cook for about 15 minutes and then add kale and basil. Cook another 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Broccoli Pasta Salad

Salads are for summertime — especially if you have a garden. There’s nothing like a bunch of fresh veggies from the garden — all tossed together in a bowl and seasoned with a homemade vinaigrette — to start off a meal.

With a nice crop of lettuce and kale in our garden, we’ve been enjoying fresh salads for going on three months now. And with the tomatoes just starting to ripen, the salads are only going to get better.

But there is more to salads than the greens. Take, for example, the following broccoli salad recipe, which has many variations, and is a favorite of ours in the summer.

We usually have three or four broccoli plants in the garden, which keep on producing right up until freeze-up. This summer, however, baby bunnies raised havoc with the plants, and we have only two out of four remaining, and they have been stunted by the “Wascally Wabbits,” as cartoon character Elmer Fudd used to call Bugs Bunny and his ilk.

The hasn’t stopped Therese from making the broccoli salad, though. I just finished the last of her most recent batch, all the while wishing there was more.

I guess I’ll have to settle for more garden green salads instead.

Broccoli Pasta Salad
2 cups broccoli, broken into bite-size pieces
4 ounces feta cheese
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta
½ cup black olives, chopped
1 7½-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 16-ounce bottle Italian dressing (can use fat-free)
Cook pasta according to package directions. Cool. Mix in large bowl with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Meatball, Bean And Kale Soup

How often have you heard someone say about a particular food, “It’s an acquired taste”?

If you cook with nutrition in mind or raise a diverse garden like me, I would bet it’s more often than not.

That’s not an indictment of mine or your tastes, but if it is, I plead guilty. It’s more of an acknowledgment that we are on the right track when it comes to eating the healthiest things.

Probably one of the most mentioned foods associated with “acquired taste” is kale. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, but kale is packed with vitamins and nutrients.

Consider this: Kale has more iron than beef, more calcium than milk, 10 times more vitamin C than spinach. It also is good for your eyes, skin and bones, reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer and lowers cholesterol.

We’ve become big fans of kale at our house. Therese and I have been raising kale in our garden for three or four years now. Each ensuing summer, we seem to be eating more and more, especially in our almost-daily dinner salad, in which kale is combined with leaf and iceberg lettuce as well as any number of vegetables including zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, onion and carrots.

My favorite use of kale, however, is in soup. The following recipe, one that I created this past week, not only contains 4 cups of kale, it also is loaded with beans and carrots, two other highly nutritious foods.

That’s the kind of recipe worth acquiring.

Meatball, Bean And Kale Soup
For meatballs:
1½ pounds ground beef or bison
1 pound of ground pork
2 cups Italian-flavored bread crumbs
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup grated cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped very fine
1 onion, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
½ cup pignoli (pine nuts) (optional)
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Let stand ½ hour. Shape into medium-size meatballs. Fry gently in olive oil until lightly browned, or place on foil on a cookie sheet and bake for ½ hour at 350 degrees.
FOR SOUP:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots peeled and large chop
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery diced
2 cloves garlic minced
8 cups chicken broth or stock
2 bay leaves
1 15-ounce can small white beans or navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups fresh kale tough stems removed, chopped
½ cup orzo pasta
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
FOR GARNISH:
Parmesan cheese grated (optional)
Fresh basil (optional)
Croutons (optional)
Breadsticks (optional)
Preheat over to 350 degrees.
In a large Dutch oven, add olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the diced onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Saute until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add chicken stock and bay leaves and heat the broth to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add beans, tomatoes, kale, orzo, 10 to 12 meatballs and red pepper flakes (if using). Simmer for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and fresh basil, if desired. Serve with croutons to sprinkle on soup or crispy breadsticks on the side.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Smoked Salmon Spread

Smoked foods such as fish and meat make great appetizers. And when you do the smoking yourself, they seem even better.

Recently, I smoked some salmon that was given to me by my brother-in-law, Dean Lutz, in my Masterbuilt electric smoker, which I purchased at Cabela’s about eight years ago.

Over the years, I’ve smoked venison, pheasant, grouse and ducks as well as salmon, and the results have never been disappointing. But it’s been awhile since the last batch hit the smoker, and I was eager to get back to business.

After loading up the hopper with a mixture of apple, mesquite and hickory wood chips that I had soaked in water for a couple of hours, the salmon was ready for the smoker.

After two hours smoking, I removed the salmon and let it cool overnight in the refrigerator before putting together a spread.

The recipe I used came from Jerry Dufault, who is my second cousin. (Jerry’s grandmother, Valerie Regeimbal, and my grandfather, Albert Menard, were siblings.) It is fantastic, a combination of salmon, fat-free creamed cheese, onion and a little garlic powder, dried basil and fresh ground pepper.

Jerry told me he liked the spread on crackers and that it keeps very well in the refrigerator (which also enhances the taste). He also brought me a sample of his, and after trying it, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the recipe to give it a try.

Both Therese and I have been devouring the spread — she likes it on toast, me on Wasa crackers — the past few days.

So much for flavor-enhancing time in the refrigerator.

Smoked Salmon Spread
Approximately 8 ounces smoked salmon
8 ounces fat-free cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 level teaspoon dried basil leaves (crushed)
1teaspoon garlic powder
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Parsley (optional)
Process the salmon and onion in a food processor. Mix salmon, onion and spices with cream cheese by using a metal spatula until cheese is thoroughly mixed with ingredients. (To make a smoother spread, mix all in food processor.)
Tip: Refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Most cooks have a handful of go-to recipes — the ones that you know will be a hit with whomever you are serving.

I don’t have to think too hard to come up with mine, which include a couple of main courses, a sandwich, an appetizer and a dessert.

My baked pheasant with wild rice dressing probably tops the list, followed closely by my spaghetti sauce — with ground bison and Italian sausage. Fresh tomato salsa, apple crisp and Auntie Helen’s barbecues round out my top five.

Now I have another to add to the list — strawberry rhubarb crisp.

An abundance of home-grown strawberries and rhubarb this year had me searching for a recipes that contained both, and after looking at several pie recipes, I came across the following.

The recipe fulfills three requirements that make it most appealing: It is quick, easy and tastes great.

And one knows you can never have too many go-to dessert recipes!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
FRUIT FILLING INGREDIENTS:
2 cups chopped strawberries
2 cups thinly sliced and chopped fresh rhubarb (frozen can be substituted if fresh is not available)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup orange juice
CRUST INGREDIENTS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the fruit in a mixing bowl. Add the white sugar, cinnamon, salt and cornstarch. Stir to coat and add the orange juice. Stir again and set aside.
In a separate mixing bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and then add the melted butter. Stir to combine. Press half of this mixture into a buttered 9-by-13-inch pan. Pour the fruit over the bottom crust and then sprinkle the rest of the dry mixture on top.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust turns golden brown. Serve warm from the oven or let cool completely and slice into servings.
Note: To make this recipe gluten-free: Substitute 1 1/3 cups brown rice flour and 2/3 cup tapioca starch for the all-purpose flour in this recipe.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Strawberry Pie

What’s the most popular pie in America? It just depends on whose survey you’re viewing and where it’s being conducted.

But in the majority of surveys, apple pie rules. The folks at NPR in 2012 named apple pie as the favorite of those they surveyed. And in a 2008 survey by Crisco and the American Pie Council, nearly one out of five (19 percent) of Americans preferred apple pie.

I’m a huge fan of apple pie. Therese makes about the best apple pie I’ve ever eaten. It probably is better than the one my mom used to make, and that’s saying a lot. (Her crust is a big part of the reason it tastes so good.)

However, Therese’s apple pie now has some competition. Her fresh strawberry pie is slowly becoming my favorite. Made with fresh fruit from our garden, the strawberry pie also features her homemade crust (recipe follows). Therese already has made one strawberry pie with this season’s bounty, and another is on the way.

If survey respondents whose preference is apple pie would sample this scrumptious dessert, I’d bet more than a few minds would be changed.

Strawberry Pie
CRUST:
1½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
4 to 5 tablespoon cold water
Sift flour and salt together; cut in shortening with pasty blender until pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over part of mixture. Gently toss with fork; push to side of bowl. Repeat until all is moistened. From into ball. Flatten on lightly floured surface by pressing with edge of band three times across in both direction. Roll from center to edge until 1/8-inch thick.
FILLING:
4 cups fresh strawberries
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup water
4 to 5 drops red food color, if desired
TOPPING:
Whipped cream
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place dough in pie pan. Bake pie crust, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, crush enough strawberries to make 1 cup. In 2-quart saucepan, mix sugar and cornstarch; stir in crush strawberries and water. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. If desired, stir in food color. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.
Place remaining strawberries, whole or sliced, in cooled baked shell. Pour cooked strawberry mixture evenly over berries. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours, before serving with dollop of whipped cream.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Cilantro Lime Shrimp

Cilantro is one of those herbs that doesn’t enjoy the popularity of others such as basil and dill, but for those who like Mexican and Asian cuisine, it ranks right up there on the likability scale.

I’ve been hooked on cilantro ever since sampling some salsa several years ago that was made with the lacy green-leaves from the pungently flavored plant in an “authentic” Mexican restaurant. It wasn’t too long after that cilantro became a mainstay in my summer garden.

Cilantro, an annual herb, sometimes is known as coriander. The difference is simple. If the leaves are harvested, it is called cilantro. If the seeds are harvested, it is called coriander. Two products, one plant.

Healthwise, cilantro is very low in calories, contains no cholesterol and possesses good amounts of antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins and dietary fiber, which may help reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol” levels in the blood.

In my garden, I always let some of my cilantro plants go to seed and save some of them for recipes that call for coriander. Because of this, several seeds fall into my garden plot, so each summer, I have an abundance of volunteer plants, and they usually are among the first things harvested.

This year is no different. I’ve already used some leaves in a couple of batches of fresh salsa and just last night, we had a recipe that I discovered on Twitter, courtesy of “Coach Mindy.”

Therese and I enjoyed the Cilantro Lime Shrimp immensely, along with the steamed brussels sprouts and quinoa that accompanied the entree.

Regardless of where the recipe originated — the Caribbean, Latin America or the Far East — cilantro lovers will savor this recipe.

Cilantro Lime Shrimp
1½ pounds peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 medium lime)
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Season the shrimp with cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the oil to the pan, then add half of the shrimp. Cook them undisturbed for about 2 minutes. Turn the shrimp over and cook until opaque throughout, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate.
Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and the remaining shrimp to the pan and cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. Turn the shrimp over, add the garlic, and cook until the shrimp is opaque throughout, about 1 minute.
Return the first batch of shrimp to the skillet, mix well so that the garlic is evenly incorporated and remove the pan from the heat.
Squeeze the lime juice over all the shrimp. Add the cilantro, toss well, and serve.

Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 119 calories, 3 grams fat, 144 milligrams cholesterol, 140 milligrams sodium, 2 grams carbohydrates, no fiber, 19 grams protein.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Auntie Helen’s Barbecues

It’s high school graduation season, and a lot of families are scrambling to prepare for parties for their soon-to-be graduates.

Food is always at the center of these celebrations, and there are two routes that you can take: catered from a restaurant, supermarket or culinary service or do-it-yourself.

We recently hosted our grandson Rakeem’s party, which was held early because of weekend conflicts with his baseball schedule. The food we served was all homemade, with the exception of the candy bar that was set up for the kids.

Our main food was homemade barbecues or Sloppy Joes. The recipe I used was given to me by my late Auntie Helen Tiedeman, who was the head cook for the students at the old Cathedral High School and Grade School back in the 1950s into the 1970s in my hometown of Crookston, Minn.

We used to have barbecues — some would call them Sloppy Joes — and oven-roasted potatoes that were seasoned with parsley at least once every week or two for hot lunch. The barbecues were one of the favorites of most kids. Some of my friends still talk about the barbecues because they were that good!

We’ve had the barbecues many times over the past 15 to 20 years, but I’ve never used the original recipe she gave me, which was for serving 100. I’d always cut it down — until last week.

As usual, the barbecues were a hit at the party, especially with the kids, many of whom had sampled them when I treated Rakeem’s baseball teammates over the years.

If you’re looking for a tasty and easy recipe for your graduation party, you will hit a home run with this one!

Auntie Helen’s Barbecues
6 pounds of ground beef
1 package flaked onions
25 ounce-can cream of mushroom soup
½ gallon of ketchup
1 stalk of celery, diced, precooked
2 tablespoons mustard
¼ cup of vinegar
Barbecue spice, to taste
½ cup of brown sugar
Brown ground beef and drain fat. Mix all of ingredients in large pot and cook for about 2 hours.
Yield: Serves 50.
Note: Recipe easily can be doubled, or cut in half, like I did for the doll club meeting.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Shrimp And Broccoli Pasta Medley Makes A Great Red Meat Substitute

There’s no doubt that Americans are in love with red meat. Ever since the early times of the United States, red meat has been one of the top five foods consumed by Americans.

But the love affair between Americans and red meat has hit a roadblock in recent years. Several studies have pointed out that a diet high in red meat may shorten your lifespan. Research has tied consumption of red meat to increased risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

It’s hard to change old eating habits, but heck, isn’t living to a ripe old age the goal of most Americans?

Well, that’s how I feel about it. And it is one of the reasons why Therese and I try to keep our number of meals that contain red meat to one a week.

One way we do this is by eating poultry. Free-range chickens and wild pheasant usually find their way to our dining room table at least once a week, and there are days when we go totally meatless.

Another way we’re cutting back on red meat is to try having seafood, shellfish or fresh fish at least once a week. A recent study published in the journal of the American Medical Association found that eating one serving per week of fish —which is rich in omega-3 and DHA fatty acids — can lower the risk of cognitive decline and prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, eating about 8 ounces per week (less for young children) of a variety of seafood can help prevent heart disease.

Here are 10 tips from the USDA on how to make seafood the main protein on your plate twice a week:

  1. Eat a variety of seafood: Include some that are higher in omega-3s and lower in mercury, such as salmon, trout, oysters, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, herring, and sardines.
  2. Keep it lean and flavorful: Try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking — they don’t add extra fat. Avoid breading or frying seafood and creamy sauces, which add calories and fat. Using spices or herbs, such as dill, chili powder, paprika, or cumin, and lemon or lime juice, can add flavor without adding salt.
  3. Shellfish counts too: Oysters, mussels, clams, and calamari (squid) all supply healthy omega-3s. Try mussels marinara, oyster stew, steamed clams, or pasta with calamari.
  4. Keep seafood on hand: Canned seafood, such as canned salmon, tuna or sardines, is quick and easy to use. Canned white tuna is higher in omega-3s, but canned “light” tuna is lower in mercury.
  5. Cook it safely: Check oysters, mussels, and clams before cooking. If shells don’t clamp shut when you tap them, throw them away. After cooking, also toss any that didn’t open. This means that they may not be safe to eat. Cook shrimp, lobster and scallops until they are opaque (milky white). Cook fish to 145 degrees, until it flakes with a fork.
  6. Get creative with seafood: Think beyond the fish fillet. Try salmon patties, a shrimp stir-fry, grilled fish tacos, or clams with whole-wheat pasta. Add variety by trying a new fish such as grilled Atlantic or Pacific mackerel, herring on a salad, or oven-baked pollock.
  7. Put it on a salad or in a sandwich: Top a salad with grilled scallops, shrimp or crab in place of steak or chicken. Use canned tuna or salmon for sandwiches in place of deli meats, which are often higher in sodium.
  8. Shop smart: Eating more seafood does not have to be expensive. Whiting, tilapia, sardines, canned tuna and some frozen seafood are usually lower cost options. Check the local newspaper, online, and at the store for sales, coupons, and specials to help save money on seafood.
  9. Grow up healthy with seafood: Omega-3 fats from seafood can help improve nervous system development in infants and children. Serve seafood to children twice a week in portions appropriate for their age and appetite. A variety of seafood lower in mercury should also be part of a healthy diet for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  10. Know your seafood portions: To get 8 ounces of seafood a week, use these as guides: A drained can of tuna is about 3 to 4 ounces, a salmon steak ranges from 4 to 6 ounces and 1 small trout is about 3 ounces.

*  * * * * *

The following recipe, from “Seafood Lover’s Bible,” a cookbook by Michael Bavota, is one of our favorite ways to incorporate seafood or shellfish into our diet.

With recipes like this one, it’s easy to kick the red meat habit.

Shrimp and Broccoli Pasta Medley
1 pound shrimp, 26 to 30 count
½ pound angel hair or spaghetti pasta
2 stalks broccoli
1 small onion, diced
1 10½-ounce can white clam sauce
Peel, devein and rinse shrimp. Cook pasta in boiling water, following directions on the box. Rinse pasta with cold water and set aside. In a medium saucepan, boil shrimp for only 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Cut broccoli and scallions into small bite-size pieces and boil until colors turn vivid green. Remove from heat and drain. In a large skillet, heat clam sauce and vegetables for 4 minutes at medium heat. Place pasta in shallow bowls, spoon clam and vegetable mixture over pasta, and garnish with cooked shrimp.
Yield: Serves 2 to 4.