Monday, April 28, 2008

"The Swiss Cookbook" - Veal Cutlets from Ouchy

Date I made this recipe: April 27, 2008

The Swiss Cookbook by Nika Standen Hazelton
Published by: Atheneum
© 1967

Recipe: Veal Cutlets from Ouchy – p. 236

If you’re like me, spring doesn’t exactly equate with the heartier foods I tend to associate with Switzerland such as fondue or Rosti potatoes but people, when it’s the end of April and it is STILL snowing outside, then making a Swiss dish doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

Despite the weather, I still don’t know if I would have gone through with making a dish from this cookbook (it’s on a shelf on the way upstairs and happened to catch my eye) if I hadn’t opened another cookbook in my collection, Life is Meals. (Life is Meals – A Food Lover’s Book of Days by James and Kay Salter)

Now, I plan to actually make a recipe from Life is Meals at some other point in time, but Life is Meals is a chronicle of 365 food facts, food stories and/or recipes, one for each day of the month and each month of the year. And it was the entry in this book for April 24 that made me make the recipe I did from a Swiss cookbook in the middle of spring (a term we use loosely in this state).

You see, on April 24, one of my best friends, Carol, celebrated her 50th birthday. Carol has cancer. Actually Carol has ovarian cancer but it manifested self, in of all places, in the duodenum, a small sack that is part of the stomach and intestinal system. Carol has been unable to eat real food for over two months now and is frighteningly thin. And yet even in the hospital, she talked of food. In fact, she was oddly comforted by, of all things, programs on The Food Network. And even between rounds of chemotherapy, she still expresses in interest in the one activity she loves – eating. (In fact, she “approved” this recipe!)

Carol and I may share a long-term friendship but our view of food is vastly different. Whereas I am all about the process and following directions (especially for purposes of this blog), she is all about eating and experimenting. I can’t think of one recipe that she hasn’t tweaked since I’ve known her and she frequently substitutes things that I would never dream of adding. To her, the finished product is everything. To me, the finished product is just the result of the process and if the end result is good, it’s good and if it’s not, well then it’s not. Oftentimes, I lose interest in the entire dish once it is done (and leftovers really tend to bore me) but not her. She relishes every bite and loves having leftovers to freeze. My leftovers, if I keep them at all, reside in my refrigerator lest they fall victim to the dreaded freezer burn!

And so to her, Life is [indeed] Meals and there is nothing sadder than the fact that she cannot eat or even prepare any food at this point in time. Ensure, that hideous but necessary liquid vitamin drink is what is driving the bus and keeping her going and the route it takes is via feeding tube to the stomach. In this instance, life is no longer about meals, it is all about nutrients and there’s nothing fun, exciting or even remotely interesting in that. Nothing is savored at the end of the meal and there's most certainly nothing to freeze for a rainy day...or even a spring day that isn't!

So—how does this all relate back to a Swiss meal? Well, the entry for April 24th in Life Is Meals is a little story about Fritz Karl Vatel, a Swiss (key word here!) immigrant who worked as a steward for Louis XIV’s finance minister and who one day, ran short of food during a party honoring the king due to an unavoidable rush of last-minute guests (nothing seems to have changed much over the centuries—people, always remember to RSVP!), Feeling that his reputation was ruined, he fell on his sword while awaiting a late shipment of food and that was the end of that.

Now I must admit that it didn’t occur to me until just now that this suicide story might not go over well with a friend who is so ill but then again, Carol “gets it.” She understands in ways I do not that life really is about meals…and meals really are about life. And Vatel failed to appreciate that. Here is what one critic wrote of Vatel and the unfortunate incident: “An authoritative appeal to the goodwill of his team temporarily at a loss, some brief and clear orders called out over the tumult of the upset pots and pans, and the problem is resolved. The service continues.”

My friend, Carol, is nothing if not a problem-solver. If at all possible, she will solve this problem, get off the food rollercoaster she’s been on and once again savor a good steak with a dry martini or an excellent Veal Cutlet from Ouchy and life will go back to being all about meals. And that is how it should be.

Veal Cutlets from Ouchy (this made 3 servings using slightly under a pound of veal)

Note: I doubt very much if Ouchy is pronounced like we think it is—as in “I have a boo-boo.” But it reminds me of how many words I mispronounced as a kid, particularly chocolate mousse. It was always “mousey” to me!

4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 ½ pounds veal scaloppini
Thin slices of boiled ham
Thin slices of Gruyere cheese
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Butter for sautéing

NOTE: Let me just say that it’s clear I don’t reside in a state populated by Italian-Americans because finding veal cutlets took some doing. I found veal shanks and veal roasts and in one place, veal chops but it wasn’t looking too good for the scaloppini home team until I visited a couple of Italian delis. Even then, the cutlets were frozen rather than fresh. I have to admit it was a headscratcher. One of the butchers at one of the regular grocery stores I visit said that they don’t stock them because there’s not much demand for them. Well, I demanded them—so there!

To make the recipe, mix the butter with the anchovy paste. Trim the meat so that the slices are all of the same size. The meat for this dish must be very thin so pound the cutlets down if you have to. Spread the anchovy butter on half of the meat slices. Top each with a slice of boiled ham and cheese. Cover with the remaining veal as if making sandwiches. Secure each meat sandwich with a toothpick or tie with a string. Take care that the cheese is well covered by the meat, or it will ooze out during the cooking. Dip the meat sandwiches in the beaten egg and then in the flour. Saute in hot butter for about 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve very hot with any green vegetable.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

'Jewish Cooking in America" (Nathan) & "The 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook" & "The Book of Jewish Food" (Roden)

Date I made these recipes: April 20, 2008 (Passover)

Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-394-58405-8 © 1994
Recipe: My Favorite Brisket – p. 175

The 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook – Recipes and Memories from Abe Lebewohl’s Legendary Kitchen by Sharon Lebewohl and Rena Bulkin
Published by: Villard
ISBN: 0-375-50267-X © 1999
Recipe: Potato Kugel – p. 150-151

The Book of Jewish Food – An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-394-53258-9 © 1996
Recipe – Carrot Tzimmes (Honeyed Carrots) – p. 164

Being a gentile and all, I don’t know if one wishes the Jewish community a happy Passover or not, but I will pass on a hearty “thank you” to today’s cookbook authors. Every dish was a winner.

Let’s start with the brisket. I’ve never met cookbook author, Joan Nathan, but I want to. I’ve heard her several times on Public Radio’s The Splendid Table and she always has great stories to tell. Her book is the same—a story for every recipe and when I got to “My Favorite Brisket,” I knew that’s what I had to make. And so off I went to find one!

Knowing that one of the Byerly’s stores in St. Louis Park, Minnesota caters to a large Jewish population, I drove over to that store and found plenty of kosher brisket. But at a price of $28.00 on up, I decided that I didn’t need kosher and that chuck roast, as noted in the recipe, would make a fine substitute. And it was indeed delicious. There’s nothing like a piece of meat that is slow-cooked.

And then to accompany my brisket, I pulled another cookbook off the shelf, this time The 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook. (I have several Jewish cookbooks but since I wasn’t feeding an army of people or catering at a Passover party, they’ll have to wait until another time.). But before we get to the recipe discussion, you need a brief history of this deli.

Once upon a time, a man named Abe Lebewohl opened up a deli on 2nd Ave and 10th Street (hence the name) in New York City’s East Village. And they did booming business. And then somebody murdered Abe (to this day, the killer has not been found) and all of New York was in shock. The 2nd Ave Deli didn’t just serve food it served FOOD, lots and lots of good food and with a lot of heart thrown in for good measure.

Despite everything, Abe’s family carried on and last year, Abe’s nephew moved the restaurant to Murray Hill. Frankly, I don’t care where it is, I’d walk across Manhattan to get there. Its’ just that tasty.

Several years ago, a friend and I ate at the deli and I’m not kidding when I tell you everything was piled a mile high. I had a pastrami sandwich (a mile high) and a bowl of potato salad (a mile high) and whatever Susan had was a mile high as well. And I was quickly stuffed to the gills and was planning to abandon ship when our server came by and suggested a doggie bag.

Now, silly me, I said I didn’t think that was best because I was soon heading for the airport to come home to Minneapolis. The look she gave me was one of horror but she recovered and said “Honey. Take it with you. You can eat it on the plane.”

And so I took it with me and I ate it on the plane (back in the day before most of us are forced to feed ourselves in the air or die trying) and it was just as tasty on bite number 22 (or so) as it was on bite number one. I have to admit I was rather surprised that nobody attacked me to wrestle the food out of my hands but maybe by then the smell had diminished such that nobody knew the treasure I had in my lap!

The same could not be said for a flight out of New York a couple of years ago when I brought back two pounds of Zabars coffee, one pound of Italian cookies (always the ribbon cookies, always) and a dozen H&H bagels. (My girlfriend is kind enough to live in the Upper West Side where all these shops exist). When I got up to the airline counter, the agent, who had been reading something on the screen, suddenly snapped his head up, sniffed the air and said “I smell bagels!”

People, I am not ashamed to say that I tried my best to bribe my way into first class with my bagels, alas to no avail. Well, he has only himself to blame for the near-revolt that happened when I got on the plane with my culinary delights. I was suddenly everyone’s best friend. (Next time around I’ll way my leftover sandwich and see what that does – can’t hurt!)

This potato kugel recipe will be your new best friend as well. It does not disappoint and although I had my misgivings about it at first (it sounded rather bland), it was a perfect accompaniment to the brisket a/k/a chuck roast. In fact, I’m thinking it will be a perfect accompaniment to eggs in the morning. And don’t even get me started on the shredder disk for my Cuisinart. I love that thing and could have sat there all day shredding everything I could get my hands on. It’s the littlest things that mean so much.

As to the vegetable portion of our program, the carrot tzimmes I made to balance out the heaviness of the meat and potatoes was just the thing. The cookbook says that they are typically eaten at Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. I guess I missed that holiday by just a few months but hey, life is too short to stress about when to serve carrots. I’m in need of some prosperity now and so hope I’m forgiven for either being late to the party or getting a jump on next year!

Finally, let me leave you with a cute little anecdote from The Book of Jewish Food:
Mrs. Cohen, who is having lunch with Mrs. Marks, says, “Do you know Debra Joseph is having an affair?” Mrs. Marks asks, “Who’s doing the catering?”

My Favorite Brisket – Serves 8 to 10
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 5-pound brisket of beef, shoulder roast of beef, chuck roast, or end of steak
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, peeled and diced
1 10-ounce can tomatoes
2 cups red wine
2 stalks celery with the leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
¼ cup chopped parsley
6 to 8 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
Optional: jar of sun-dried tomatoes

Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the brisket and rub with the garlic. Sear the brisket in the oil and then place, fat side up, on top of the onions in a large casserole. Cover with the tomatoes, red wine, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 3 hours, basting often with pan juices.

Add the parsley and carrots and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more or until the carrots are cooked. To test for doneness, stick a fork in the flat (thinner or leaner end of the brisket). When there is a light pull on the fork as it is removed from the meat, it is “fork tender.”

This dish is best prepared in advance and refrigerated so that the fat can be easily skimmed from the surface of the gravy. Trim off all the visible fat from the cold brisket. Then place the brisket, on what was the fat side down, on a cutting board. Look for the grain – that is, the muscle lines of the brisket-and with a sharp knife, cut across the grain.

When ready to serve, reheat the gravy.

Put the sliced brisket in a roasting pan. Pour the hot gravy on the meat, cover, and reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Some people like to strain the gravy, but I prefer to keep the onions because they are so delicious.

Joan’s final note on this recipe was to add a jar of sun-dried tomatoes to the canned tomatoes as they add a more intense flavor to the brisket.

Potato Kugel – Serves 8

Check out this hilarious introduction to the recipe: “Like all Jewish kugels, this makes for heavy eating (starches like mashed potatoes or rice go down like celery sticks by comparison). So what’s the problem? You were planning to go dancing after the Seder, maybe?”

2 ½ pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 large onions (use 1 ½ cups grated; don’t tamp down)
3 eggs beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ corn oil
1 cup flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup matzo meal
Corn oil for drizzling and greasing pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, fine-grate potatoes (don’t liquefy, leave some texture), and strain to eliminate excess liquid. Don’t overdo it; just let the water drain out. Fine-grate onions, and mix in a large bowl with potatoes. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can grind the potatoes and onions in a meat grinder.)

Add eggs, baking powder, ¾ cup corn oil (most of it cooks out), flour, salt and pepper; mix well. Fold in matzo meal, making sure that everything is very well blended.

Pour batter into a greased baking pan (your kugel should be about 2 inches high) and drizzle top with corn oil from a flatware tablespoon. Bake for 55 minutes, or until top is golden brown (check occasionally to see). Serve hot.

Carrot Tzimmes (Honeyed Carrots ) – Serves 6
1 ½ pounds carrots, sliced
3 tablespoons goose fat, butter, or light vegetable oil
Juice of 1 orange
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
2 tablespoons honey

In a large wide pan, saute the carrots in the fat, stirring and turning them over. Add the rest of the ingredients and water to cover. Simmer gently, covered, for ½ hour, or until the carrots are tender. Remove the lid towards the end to reduce the liquid to a shiny glaze.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Favorite Torte and Cake Recipes" - Chocolate Malt Cake with Fluffy Marshmallow Frosting

Date I made this recipe: April 15, 2008

Favorite Torte and Cake Recipes by Rose Oller Harbaugh and Mary Adams
Published by: Simon and Schuster
© 1951
Recipe: Chocolate Malt Cake – p. 73 and Fluffy Marshmallow Frosting – p. 141

Well folks, it has been a while since I made a recipe that I thought was somewhat of a clunker but I guess I was overdue.

Today’s recipe was disappointing on many levels. Let’s start with the cake.

Now, it could be me, but I thought a chocolate malt cake would be moist and flavorful but instead it was rather dry. The ingredients all seemed spot on—butter, melted chocolate, sugar, eggs, milk and chocolate malt but the end result didn’t reflect the richness of these items.

Then there was the Great Frosting Debacle of 2008. Perhaps if I had used the suggested frosting (Creole Frosting, comprised of brown sugar, eggs whites and cream of tartar), the results might have been better but no. I just had to go and try the Fluffy Marshmallow Frosting because honestly, doesn’t it sound like it should automatically go with Chocolate Malt Cake? Is there anything better than marshmallows and chocolate (other than Smores?!)

So I made the fluffy frosting and it was fluffy all right but it, too, lacked a certain je ne c’est quoi. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is “flavor?”

The other problem with the fluffy marshmallow frosting was, quite frankly, the marshmallows. The recipe said to chop marshmallows into small pieces. Hellooo? Ever tried doing that? It’s like herding cats. Marshmallows don’t chop well as they stick to the knife and so the whole exercise became one, big train wreck. As I was trying to chop said marshmallows, I kept thinking this would be so much easier with miniature marshmallows but then again, this cookbook was published in 1951 and marshmallows, according to Wikipedia, were not developed until the 60’s. So there it is.

Any who…after much ado about chopping, I got this recipe off the ground but the end result still wasn’t very pretty and let me just say that it did not do wonders when put on the cake, either. It was pretty gloppy, almost rude-looking and there was no way I could (or dared) spread it on the side of the cake because it was too heavy to be anywhere except on top and in the middle. The other thing you need to know is that this frosting is fluffy in exactly the same way that meringue is fluffy and that was most disappointing to me as I was expecting fluffy as in Marshmallow Cream fluffy! Although I didn’t fall into a deep depression over this, neither was I a happy camper after all was said and done.

So it’s a good thing that my husband, for whom I made this cake, doesn’t have the same high expectations that I do. Although he too, thinks that the cake is on the dry side, he has chowed down at least half of the cake so far whereas I can hardly look at the poor, pathetic thing. It sits on the counter just mocking me and so I hope he polishes off the other half soon so that I can select my next recipe and prepare to recover from the Great Frosting Debacle of 2008!

Chocolate Malt Cake
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 square unsweetened chocolate
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
¼ cup chocolate malt

Sift dry ingredients 3 times. Melt chocolate over hot water. Cream butter, sugar, and eggs thoroughly until light and fluffy; add melted chocolate.

Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk and malt; blend well.

Bake in 2 9-inch well-buttered layer-cake pans, 20 to 25 minutes in a 350 oven.

Fluffy Marshmallow Frosting
½ pounds fresh marshmallows (use Miniature Marshmallows—you will thank me later)
1 square unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
¼ cup hot water
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla

Chop marshmallows in small pieces. Melt chocolate with a few drops of water. (I’m not sure if this was a misprint or not. I melted the chocolate over a double boiler and I don’t think it made much of a difference but then again, I could be wrong!)

Boil sugar and hot water until it spins a thread, about 238 on the sugar thermometer. Then pour slowly in a thin stream on stiffly beaten egg whites, beating constantly. Add melted chocolate and continue beating.

When almost cool, add chopped marshmallows and vanilla. Beat well. (Note: I am no home economist or even a baker of any sort, but what I wanted was for the marshmallows to melt and get all gooey and obviously, adding the marshmallows to the mixture when it was almost cool did not allow for that to happen. Please let me know if any of you try adding them while the mixture is still somewhat hot. I’m hoping for the next best thing to Marshmallow Whip!)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"The African Cook Book - Menus from the Tree Houses Restaurant of the Pavilion of Africa, New York World's Fair 1964-65" - Chicken Moamba

Date I made this recipe: April 13, 2008

The African Cook Book – Menus from the Tree Houses Restaurant of the Pavilion of Africa, New York World’s Fair 1964-1965
Published by: Harvest House
© 1964
Recipe: Chicken Moamba – p. 28

What are the odds that at various points in time in the years 1964 and 1965, both my husband and I, as well as my friend, Susan, who introduced us and her husband, Bob, all attended the New York World’s Fair? It’s one of the things we still chuckle about and took it as a sign that we were all meant to be together both in marriage and in friendship.

My parents and I, as well as my parents and my aunt and uncle went to the fair, no doubt timed with a visit to see my grandmother who lived in New Jersey. My husband’s mom is from Queens and so he, too, went to visit the grandparents and the fair, and Susan and Bob grew up in New Jersey, practically on the doorstep of the event. Although the fair didn’t fare well in terms of finances (pardon the pun), all of us cherish the family photos we have in front of the Unisphere, the giant globe marking the spot where the fair took place. It still “resides” in Queens and is always my beacon signaling an imminent arrival at La Guardia.

I don’t remember much about the World’s Fair since I was only 6 at the time, maybe 7 depending on what the year, but a few memories remain: It’s A Small World – the exhibit that ultimately became a feature attraction at Disney Land and later Disney World (for years, relatives sent me the dolls from various countries featured in the exhibit), the Carousel of Progress and Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, The Pieta…and one more important thing: The Rule of Rose Marie.

The Rule of Rose Marie was developed by my mom who was scared to death to bring her young daughter through the subway system, not because of bad people lurking nearby ready to snatch me away, but because it was so crowded and she was afraid we’d get separated. If that happened, her instructions were to go to the next stop, get off and wait. Lucky for us, I didn’t have to do that but each time I rode the subway after that, be it with my parents or with friends, the rule applied.

Later on the rule was expanded to airports, back in the day when the whole damned family could go down to meet a person at the gate. (I miss those days) The rule was the same with a slight variation: if you are being met and picked up by someone, wait at the gate for that person to come and get you. Unfortunately, my Uncle Jack didn’t know the Rule of Rose Marie and so many years ago after I flew into Dulles in D.C., he was waiting for me up by baggage while I was foot-tapping down at the gate. We eventually hooked up by my mother was surprised that he didn’t think to go down to the gate to look for me. But hey, it isn’t his fault he was absent the day my mom went over The Rule!

When it comes to cooking and this blog, I follow the rules of the recipe, tempted as I may be to change a few things here and there. This recipe was pretty easy and the only thing I changed was the quantity since half the recipe still yielded a lot of food. This recipe comes from the country of Gabon, in west Africa, most noted for being the home of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Dr. Schweitzer won The Noble Peace Prize in 1952. (I didn’t know this until I read it in the cook book and this is why I collect them--you get to learn about food and history all at the same time whilst enjoying the fruits of your labor!).

Chicen Moamba – serves 8
½ cup yellow onions
2 Tbs. peanut oil
2-2 ½ pound chickens (fryers) (I used boneless chicken breasts)
12 oz. peanut butter
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 Tbs. salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 pounds raw spinach
1 pound white rice
8 hard-cooked eggs

Coarsely chop the onions and saute in the peanut oil until soft but not brown. Add the chicken (the recipe says to cut in half and in half again—I cut the chicken breasts into cubes), cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes. Blend the peanut butter with one quart of water, pour over the chicken when smooth and cook for 10 minutes.

Season the medium sweet potatoes that you have peeled and cut in half (I cut mine in cubes) with the salt and pepper and add to the chicken. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until both are done.

Meanwhile, cook the spinach separately only until the spinach breaks down and is still very green. Also cook the rice separately using package directions. Finally, simmer the eggs gently until hard cooked and then peel.

When ready to serve, pour the chicken mixture over the rice then place one peeled egg and a serving of spinach on the side. If desired, you can also sprinkle chopped peanuts over the chicken mixture and serve with side dishes of chopped avocado, pilli-pilli sauce (an African hot sauce made with tomato sauce, garlic powder and crushed red pepper) and shredded coconut.

Monday, April 7, 2008

"The Yul Brynner Cookbook" - Stuffed Cabbage

Date I made this recipe: April 6, 2008

The Yul Brynner Cookbook – Food Fit for the King and You by Yul Brynner with Susan Reed
Published by: Stein and Day
© 1983
Recipe: Stuffed Cabbage – p. 14-15

My girlfriend, Mary, when describing my blog says “It’s totally Verme. It’s not just a recipe review it’s a recipe review…and a little bit more.” (Sometimes it’s a lot more—like today’s posting-- but why quibble?!)

And so, dear reader, today’s blog posting is going to be a primer on the selected works of composers Rodgers and Hammerstein…and then a little story about Yul Brynner and the recipe I selected from his book, The Yul Brynner Cookbook – Food Fit for the King and You.

My walk down Rodgers and Hammerstein lane began a few weeks ago when my community band started rehearsing music from their musical, State Fair. Now, I’ve never seen the movie State Fair (starring Pat Boone and Ann-Margaret—if that isn’t an interesting pairing, I don’t know what is) but I know the music well having played a lot of it on the piano when I was younger from my Rodgers and Hammerstein music book. And don’t you know, the week before we started rehearsing this music, I bought a used copy of The King and I from a local bookstore. Sometimes it’s just cosmic how one thing leads to another.

The King and I really had me waxing nostalgic because it was one of the few albums my parents purchased back in the day when albums cost a pretty penny. That particular release of the album was from the 1956 film version starring Yul Brynner (now is the time to have that “ah ha!” moment) and Deborah Kerr. It should be noted that as with other musicals, Marni Nixon was the actual singing voice on the album (and dubbed into the movie), not Deborah Kerr. (You get extra credit if you know that Mari also was the voice of Maria in West Side Story instead of Natalie Wood, as well as the voice of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady instead of Audrey Hepburn. You get super dooper extra credit if you know that Richard Rodgers, prior to teaming up with Oscar Hammerstein, was a partner of the famous songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart. No points will be deducted, however, if you are too young to know any of this…and that’s why I’m going to lay it all out for you!)

So anyway, in addition to being a cherished album in my parent’s collection, I also had the opportunity to sing along to a couple of the tunes from the album while in Sacred Heart Catholic School back in the 60’s. We did a lot of performing while I was in school as there was always a feast day to celebrate (for a particular saint) or the priest’s birthday or a new pope…or something that caused the instructors to corral all the kids in my class (and sometimes, the entire school) to put on a show. The two pieces that we did were “I Whistle A Happy Tune” and “Getting to Know You.” To this day, I recall having to enunciate the phrase “My.cup.of.tea” with just the right articulation and spacing. The nuns were nothing if not exacting.

And so I fell in love with the music and when the musical finally made it to TV, I watched it over and over again through the years until I had half of it memorized. It was just that good.

Now I wish I could tell you that the nuns also instilled a love of the most popular Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals ever – The Sound of Music – but such was not the case. You see, when the movie came out in 1965, my parents brought us to see the movie and I can’t tell you how excited I was…until three of the nuns from our school came and sat directly behind us. Directly behind us! An entire theater of empty seats and they had to sit within breathing room of my neck. Those nuns had a lot of nerve! (And rosary beads that were so heavy and long that they could take you down for the count with one lasso in 30 seconds!)

Now for those of you who experienced Catholic Schools and the nuns in the 60’s, you’ll understand the complete terror I experienced with those nuns behind me. I was so fearful that any turn of the head, any sneeze, any laugh would be reported as a serious infraction (actually, back then, everything was a serious infraction) that I dared not breathe. I didn’t move a muscle. And so yes, Sister Rita, and Sister Charlotte and Sister James Charles, you are totally and completely responsible for the fact that I am about the only person on the planet to hate—and I mean hate -- that movie! I don’t own the CD, I don’t own the DVD and although my husband and I saw the home used in the movie shoot while in Austria on vacation, we did not contemplate for even one minute going on The Sound of Music Tour. That being said, of course the nuns ran us through several of the songs for various and sundry performance purposes and so the words are now stuck in my brain. They’re not bad tunes, but you won’t find me humming them around the house. So there it is.

Other musicals from R&H fare a little bit better: I love Oklahoma ("O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A…Oklahommmmmm-a! Yeah!”), particularly “I Cain’t Say No” sung by the character Ado Annie and “Pore Jud Is Daid” sung by actor Gordon MacRae who played Curly, with Rod Steiger who played Jud Fry, chiming in on “and see-rene.” It makes me laugh just thinking about it.

A little less palatable but still kind of fun is South Pacific. My parents loved that movie and when I dared suggest that it was kind of silly, they turned on me and gave me a look that said “You are not our child.” I assured them I was. (But for the record, "Happy Talk" is a stupid song).

Next in the lineup of musicals by R&H that I like is The Flower Drum Song. One of my favorite songs out of all of the ones they wrote for their musicals is “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” Who doesn’t like the way she sings “When I have a brand new hair-do, and my eyelashes all in curl, I float as the clouds on air do, I enjoy being a girl?”

One woman who didn’t exactly enjoy being a girl but loved being a princess is Cinderella. Although Julie Andrews played the lead role on Broadway, Lesley Ann Warren was the Cinderella du jour in the 1965 version of Rodger and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella. That movie also starred Celeste Holm and Ginger Rogers and Stuart Damon as the prince (I didn’t know who on earth he was, but he was definitely handsome, I loved him, was going to marry him and that was all that mattered. By the way, I was all of seven at the time).

I’ll always remember Cinderella not for its musical numbers (although I still know the first verse of “In My Own Little Corner”), but because the day I was going to watch it, my mother made lamb stew. I took one whiff and decided I couldn’t eat it and wouldn’t eat it and that was that.

The next thing you know (“old Jed’s a millionaire”—sorry—couldn’t help but throw in a sound bite from The Beverly Hillbillies), I’m in my room, banished like Cinderella was banished to her corner, crying for hours and hours and, of course, starving. I eventually got to see it on reruns the following year but it was never the same. To this day, I am not a fan of lamb but I am somewhat a fan of this musical even though it’s been years and years since I’ve seen it. I eventually married my own prince but that’s another story.

But alas, one of the musicals that goes toe-to-toe with The Sound of Music in the “turn that thing off” department is Carousel. There’s not much to like about a musical that features a wife-beater in the form of character Billy Bigelow. Not only is he mean to her but he gets himself killed when she’s pregnant with their daughter and the whole thing just goes downhill from there. And then Jerry Lewis had to go ruin (in my humble opinion) a perfectly decent song, "You’ll Never Walk Alone," by blubbering through that song each and every year during his Muscular Dystrophy Telethons. Just like The Sound of Music, I can’t stomach that musical or that song another minute.

But speaking of stomachs (yes, we’ve arrived at the actual recipe review), once I got on this jag of thinking about The King and I, I knew I had to pull out my Yul Brynner cookbook. Yul, for those of you who don’t know, played the King of Siam in the movie version of the musical and was pretty much remembered only for that role until the day he died even though he was in other great films, including The Magnificent Seven.

Yul had an interesting background that is reflected in his cookbook—there are Russian recipes, Japanese recipes, Swiss recipes, French recipes and Gypsy recipes—and depending on what biography you read, he has bloodlines relating to all those ethnic groups and/or lived in those countries…or he didn’t. I played it safe by sticking to a Russian recipe since everything I’ve read indicates that he was definitely Russian even if all other details are sketchy.

Now, I don’t know why but I had a picture in my head of large bundles of cabbage doused with tomato sauce but that is not what this recipe calls for. The sauce is more along the lines of a sweet and sour mixture and is most definitely not red. I liked the sauce and liked the raisins; I used golden raisins even though the recipe didn’t specify.

One thing I didn’t like was trying to pull apart a cabbage that was sitting in boiling water. The recipe says if the leaves don’t separate easily, put the entire head of cabbage in boiling water and peel as you go. Yeah, right. One set of tongs and a fork later, and I pulled the whole thing out of the water and did the deed on my counter. You’ll thank me for that instruction because otherwise you are bobbing for apples (and giving yourself a facial--but basically bobbing for apples).

I also don’t know if I would use as much butter as called for but that’s your call, not mine. It didn't add to the flavor in any way and just made the whole dish rather greasy.

Otherwise, whistle a happy tune as you tuck in this delicious dinner fit for a king.

Stuffed cabbage – Serves 4
1 medium white cabbage (Note: I only found green or red but not white so I used green. If you ask me, white and green are the same thing)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon dill
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup cooked white rice
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup sour cream (optional)

Fill a large soup pot with water, and place over high heat until water boils. While water is heating, remove outer leaves from cabbage, and cut out the cabbage core. Discard outer leaves and core. Separate the remaining cabbage leaves, taking care not to tear them (riiiight), and cook them for about ten minutes in the boiling water. If the leaves do not separate easily, put the entire head of cabbage into the boiling water. Peel the leaves away carefully as the cabbage cooks. (Please see my note above on how tricky this is). The leaves should be medium-soft and translucent in appearance when you take them out of the water. Set the leaves aside to cool.

In a large skillet, melt two tablespoons butter and sauté the chopped onion and garlic clove in the melted butter. Remove the garlic clove and add 1 pound ground beef, dill, salt and pepper. Brown the meat thoroughly and when it’s cooked, drain off excess fat and remove cooked beef from the heat. Combine stock, tomato puree, raisins, vinegar or lemon juice, and sugar in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat so that sauce simmers. Mix the cooked rice with the cooked beef. Preheat oven to 350.

Stuff individual cabbage leaves with 2-3 tablespoons of rice and meat filling to form cabbage rolls. When stuffing the cabbage leaves, being by placing the filling about two fingers’ width from the thinnest edge of the leaf (top edge). Then cover the filling with that exposed top edge of the leaf, and fold in the sides of the leaf to prevent the filling from escaping. Continue rolling until the leaf from the top edge to the bottom edge. Trim off any excess part of the thick end of the cabbage leaf, once the roll is completed. Rolls should look like oblong cylinders. NOTE: When all else fails, read the instructions. This recipe started out with how to roll the leaves, followed by the ingredients list, followed by the instructions for how to put the dish together. I didn’t realize until I started to write this blog posting, that I should have rolled them differently and thus ended up with quite the mess on my hands when it came time to turn the cabbage rolls (below).

When done rolling the cabbage leaves, place the rolls in a single layer in a large, shallow baking dish. Pour the hot sauce over the cabbage, and bake covered for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, turn cabbage rolls, re-cover dish, and bake another 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn rolls once more, dot with 3 tablespoons butter, and bake uncovered for the last 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream to garnish, if desired.