Of Cabbage Rolls and Inspiration

Culinary touchstones inspire new creations. Savoy cabbage in the crisper drawer. Excess stuffing from a stuffed mushroom cap appetizer. A pork tenderloin. The memory of stuffed cabbage rolls.

Cabbage leafs boiled and then filled with a small serving of minced meats and seasonings exist in countless cultures across the globe. The Polish immigrants to Chicago called these Golabki, “little pigeons” or “little doves”. We could have simply placed a tablespoon or two of our mushroom stuffing and rice in the par-boiled cabbage, rolled up the cute little packages and baked them into delicious morsels. But Great Lakes Cuisine is not just tradition. It’s also about asking – Where else can we take this?

Here is where we took this. Instead of stuffing the cabbage leafs, we stuffed pork tenderloin with the mushroom mixture. Served the roasted pork pinwheels on a bed of red rice with chèvre and dried mushrooms. We oven roasted the cabbage into flaky, nutty chips with flavors slightly reminiscent of rye bread and concentrated cabbage.

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The oven dried greens we have done before with kale and chard. Taking advantage of an oven set to 250°, this time we also dried radicchio, endive, and even red cabbage sauerkraut. The radicchio was uninspiring, largely flavorless and the red color faded to brown. The endive was bitter. The red cabbage sauerkraut had caramelized, but still retained a lovely sour tang.

The dish is earthy and nutty, but misses a bit of the “green” look and flavor of stewed cabbage, so we brought a dash of green to the plate with pureed pea shoots.

Golabki-inspired Stuffed Pork

1 pork tenderloin (apprx. 12 oz.)
2 Tbs. butter

¼ lb. bulk pork sausage
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
3 oz. pancetta, diced small
1 piece of crustless bread
½ cup milk or cream
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
1 medium egg, whisked

2 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups red rice
3 cups beef broth
1 oz dried cremini mushroom
3 Tbs. butter
5 oz chèvre

1 head savoy cabbage
1 cup pea shoots, plus ½ cup addl. for garnish
1 shallot, diced
½ cup sweet white wine
1 cup water
1 Tbs. olive oil
Salt

In advance: Heat oven to 250°. Separate the cabbage into individual leafs, remove the thick stem of the leaf, lay in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast for 2 to 3 hours or until just shattering crisp. Set aside. They’ll look something like the plate pictured above.

 

Place the bread in a small bowl and top with milk or cream, allow it to absorb completely, approximately 30 minutes. Place the sausage, copped mushrooms, pancetta, soaked bread, oregano, basil, salt and whisked egg in mixing bowl and combine well.
Butterfly the pork tenderloin (slice along the length, but not entirely through) and lay it open on the cutting board. Cover with a gallon plastic bag (works better than plastic wrap) and pound out until pork loin is approximately ½ inch think. Layer the stuffing own the middle of the pork, roll, and tie with butcher thread. Chill stuffed tenderloin until 1 hour before cooking. The result should be something like this:

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Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of hot beef broth, let rest for 30 minutes, then drain and reserve liquid. Chop mushroom and onion. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large stock pot, add mushrooms and onion, and cook until onions are translucent. Add rice to pan and toss to coat. Add remaining beef broth and strained reserved liquid. Cook for 40 minutes or until tender. Stir in butter and chèvre.

While rice cooks, heat water and wine in a small saucepan until boiling. Add diced shallot and simmer for 30 minutes. Return to a boil and add pea shoots, cook for 2 minutes pressing pea shoots down into boiling water. Remove and immediately add enough ice to chill the mixture quickly, about 3 cups. Strain and remove ice. Puree the shallots and pea shoots in a food processor with olive oil until smooth. Set aside.

While rice cooks, heat oven to 450° and heat butter in large-oven proof skillet over high heat. Sear stuffed pork on all sides and place in oven. Roast for 20 minutes or until center reaches 160°, cover and let rest 5 minutes.

To plate: scoop of mushroom red rice, topped with slice of stuffed pork tenderloin. Dot the edges with pea shoot puree and scatter cabbage leaves. In the picture below we also added dots of the red cabbage sauerkraut, which we pulverized and then incorporated into beef gravy.

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An alternative plating: the next day we rolled the cold slices of pork in a thin coating of the red cabbage sauerkraut purée, then rolled them in crushed cabbage leaves. Yes, this a lot of steps, but in the end it was more about process than a recipe. It was more about ideas, approaches, experiments. This was all about tradition as inspiration.

Summertime Musings

Saturday morning: Farmers market. Sunny, light breeze. My wife insists on beets. My children get churros from a Mexican bakery stand. Cucumbers, squash, greens, mixed sprouts, red onions, baby potatoes, the early harvest of summer. Oh, and sauerkraut. Jeff Ziebelman called me over and suggested I try a bit of their “Zauerkraut”, delicious. Red cabbage with the green cabbage, bit of carrots, fennel seed, let it ferment. You get this.

Zauerkraut

 

The cabbage retains a nice crunch and has developed a pleasant tang. Not over-salted, not over processed. So naturally the next thought – pairing. Roasted pork, with garlic and oregano, on the grill with apple wood chips. Low and slow, 3 hours. You get this.

Pork roast

Rich, sweet smoke flavors. Need a few sides. Throw beets on the grill, wrapped in foil. Slice the beet greens in half inch strips, toss with mixed sprouts. After the beets have cooled, cut to bite-sized pieces, toss them on the greens and top with blue cheese. You get this.

Beet salad

The baby potatoes. Let’s boil them until just tender, not mushy. Dress them with white wine, honey mustard, mayo, apple cider vinegar. My sister gave me some green onions from her garden. Perfect. Dice and toss it all together. You get this.

Potato Salad

Ooh, the cucumbers.

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Two cups vinegar, one cup sugar, 2 tablespoons pickling spices from Penzey’s. Boil, then chill. Slice the cukes thin, toss into the brine, wait a few hours. You get this.

pickles

Put it all together. Summer bliss.

Summer dinner Great Lakes Cuisine plays with seasonality in many ways. Feature the fruits of the season. Preserve the bounty for out-of-season, fermentation, salting, vinegar, canning. But try take a moment to enjoy the perfect evenings, the flavors, the conversations shared with family and friends. The experience, over time, becomes culture. Enjoy.

 

New Restaurants Added – Grand Rapids, MI

IMG_0143Let me tell you this – the Backwoods Bastard is definitely one of the finest brews I have ever had. Complex, lingering, hauntingly good.

It just may be the best brew in Grand Rapids, MI, and given that Grand Rapids has been named Beer City USA in a poll run by the guru of home brew Charlie Papazian, that is saying something.

As I’m sitting in Founder’s Brewing Company Taproom, enjoying this masterpiece of brewing craft, I’m thinking this Curmudgeon sandwich might have been the best sandwich in Grand Rapids, but I’d already had the best sandwich in Grand Rapids the night before at Brewery Vivant and it came with what might have been the best French fries in Grand Rapids, but I’d already had the best fries at Hop Cat earlier in the day. It was a flurry of really good food and really great beer.

None of this should be surprising considering Grand Rapids is home to one of the world’s best breweries according to Ratebeer.com and one of the best beer bars in the world according to Beer Advocate. Allow me to walk you through my amazing two days, a true Great Lakes Cuisine experience.

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Upon checking into a downtown hotel, the front desk recommended Hop Cat for a quick lunch.  Beer Advocate and Ratebeer.com both recognize Hop Cat as one of the best brew pubs in the nation.  The menu is two pages with a dizzying array of local craft beers, national micro-brews, and international specialties. They also brew a number of house specialties and are affiliated with the Grand Rapids Brewing Company just down the block (home of the Beer and Sausage Fest each weekday from 4-6 PM) .

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The Oaked-aged Hatter from New Holland Brewing was an excellent IPA mellowed out in bourbon barrels. My preference was Hop Cat’s own Bourbon Barrel Fornicator.

IMG_0122The name alone makes it one of my all time favorites, and the flavors of a maple dopple-bock style beer were heightened by the beautiful oaky/alcohol notes of bourbon. Sweet, deep, and full. And all this beer wonder was complimented beautifully by the Crack Fries with Hot Cheese Sauce. Yes, Crack Fries…perfectly crispy, thin cut fries with a healthy seasoning of herbs and cracked black pepper.

IMG_0123Dynamite.

That evening, a friend and I journeyed out to Brewery Vivant, a micro-brew operation in a converted funeral home – not nearly as creepy as it sounds. In fact, the location feels like a chapel dedicated to the craft of brewing in the Trappist tradition.  Packed wall to wall with dedicated patrons, we eased up to the bar on the far side of the hall, in the glow of the stain-glassed window, and ordered a sampler of the four darkest beers.

Here is the brewery’s description of each:

Solitude – Abbey Style Ale – 6.5% ABV

“A deep mahogany colored beer that is made in the tradition of the famous brewing monks of the Abbeys of Belgium. It is malt forward with hints of caramel, pear & raisin.”

Over The Line – Smokey Ale – 7.15% ABV

“This dark ale is brewed with Heidelberg smoked malt, South American chocolate, and a kiss of ancho chiles.”

Plowhorse – Imperial Stout – 9.5% ABV

“The famous Belgian heavy plow horse descends from the medieval war horses that carried armored nights into battle. This seems like a fitting name for one of the biggest beers we make, as the recipe pushes the limits of our mash tun. Each batch is so packed with dark roasted grains that they literally spill out of the top of the tank on brew day.”

Love Shadow – Imperial Stout – 10% ABV  (as described by Mitten Brew)

“Vivant’s delicious version of an Imperial Stout aged in charred oak bourbon barrels. This brew’s aroma is dense with coffee and chocolate. The sip starts tart for a stout and moves into bitter coffee, then a third sweeter phase similar to chocolate and ginger.”

The wood-aged Love Shadow was delicious, complex, and mysterious. And a perfect accompaniment to the finest sandwich I have enjoyed in sometime – a house smoked pastrami sliced thin and topped with bacon kraut, Love Shadow mustard, on a dark rye bread. Absolute smokey, beefy heaven. The side of fries was drizzled with truffle oil and would have been the best I had, but for the Crack Fries I’d had earlier.

Executive Chef Christopher Weimer is creating some of the best dishes in the Midwest to compliment their wonderful assortment of brews. The cheese selection often features area cheeses like Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Blue Paradise from WI or offerings from EverGreen Lane in MI. Maybe you just want a bar snack, try the Crock O’ Pickles, an assortment of house pickled vegetables. The seasonal appetizers have included house prepared charcuterie, smoked whitefish cakes, and Solitude cheddar sauerkraut. Past specialties have included Duroc pork with spaetzel gruyere gratin, beer braised kale, with a maple rhubarb reduction; a Knackwurst platter with white bean and bacon hash, with beer braised red cabbage; and a duck confit with roasted barley cakes, a drizzle of Michigan cherry gastrique, topped with a duck skin cracklin’. This is creative, well-prepared food dovetailing beautifully with the house brews.

The next day I walked from the hotel over to Founder’s Brewery Taproom, which was also filled wall to window with patrons, overflowing outside onto a chilly, snow-laden patio with heaters blazing. It also featured their own stained glass homage to brewing.

IMG_0140 I squeezed into the sole unoccupied chair on the far end of the bar next to a gentleman who is clearly a regular.  I ask what he would suggest and without hesitation he offered the Dirty Bastard as his favorite.  Bar keep – one Dirty Bastard, please!

Here is the brewery’s description:

Dirty Bastard – Scotch Style Ale – 8.5% ABV

“So good it’s almost wrong. Dark ruby in color and brewed with seven varieties of imported malts. Complex in finish, with hints of smoke and peat, paired with a malty richness and a right hook of hop power to give it the bad attitude that a beer named Dirty Bastard has to live up to. Ain’t for the wee lads.”

IMG_0139It is a lovely version of a scotch ale, incredibly drinkable with a fairly high alcohol content. As I sipped this beautiful brew, I enjoyed a Curmudgeon sandwich. Roasted turkey, red onion, Colby Jack cheese, baby spinach, Dirty Bastard sauerkraut, house-made horseradish sauce, all served on grilled Polish rye bread. And that is just one of 26 different sandwiches they offer. This one was exceptional, but the house-smoked pastrami from the night before retained the sandwich crown.

As I enjoyed my sandwich, I asked about the limited release – Backwoods Bastard.  The regular next to me slipped into almost reverential tones as he explained the limited availability and the dangerously drinkable 10.2% alcohol content.  I had by this time tried three different brews wood-aged to enhance the flavor. In the Hatter it subdued the IPA bitterness, the Fornicator fronted with bourbon brashness on the nose and in the first sip.  Love Shadow was lovely and the wood-aging more integral to the brew.  But here, now in this brew, oh my…

Here is the brewery description:

Backwoods Bastard – Scotch Style Ale – 10.2%

“Expect lovely, warm smells of single malt scotch, oaky bourbon barrels, smoke, sweet caramel and roasted malts, a bit of earthy spice, and a scintilla of dark fruit. It’s a kick-back sipper made to excite the palate.”

Ah, yes.  That is it – a scintilla of dark fruit. Like Michigan cherries macerated in a vanilla-bourbon syrup. So good, so smooth. Enticing you to have another, to explore further into this wonderful bounty of flavors and aromas. This, my friends, is good beer.

And this, my friends, is Great Lakes Cuisine. Grand Rapids has taken the tradition of beer and a sandwich and elevated it to another level of creativity and delicious exploration. We are adding each of these locations to our list of Restaurants and highly recommend each of them. I left Grand Rapids impressed, inspired, and already planning a return trip.

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In Praise of Sauerkraut

If your only exposure to the traditionally German, fermented cabbage known as sauerkraut is an addition to your brat at the ballpark, the full sauerkraut culinary experience is yet to be opened for you.  Slow cooking kraut with a meaty cut or well-made fresh sausage mellows the tang and brings out a fullness of flavors.  The transformation is as dramatic as raw onions slowly caramelized to bring out layers of flavor and sweetness.

The kraut of choice for a recent preparation of this dish was an artisan offering from The Brinery – Jupiter’s Orbit. I have also prepared this dish with a store bought, Krispy Kraut brand from GLK Foods in Appleton, WI, which is the largest producer of sauerkraut in the world under a great variety of names. With store bought kraut, I recommend a quick rinse in cold water, but The Brinery product required no rinse in advance.

Smoked Porkchops

For a recent dish, we brined and slow-smoked thick cut pork chops. We have also purchased thick-cut smoked chops from our favorite butcher shop.  Smoked ham would work along with grilled seared pork chops.  The addition of a couple venison sausages were excellent. If you have access to high-quality kielbasa, that is also an excellent option here.

While the meat is being prepared, add one medium onion, sliced thin and saute with a 1/2 tablespoon of dried thyme in a tablespoon of salted butter over medium heat until soft, then core and slice three Gingersnap apples (or similar golden apple).  After the apples have softened, about 4 minutes, add the sauerkraut to the skillet and saute for another few minutes. At this point, pile the sauerkraut over your meat of choice in a 13 x 9 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

The result will be moist chops and a complexity to the sauerkraut that is not experienced in the raw state.  This is simple and traditional.  It suggests more interesting options for sauerkraut.  A good friend has a family tradition of adding it to home-made pizza, which may not be Great Lakes Cuisine, but it sure is an intriguing use of an under-appreciated ingredient.