This past week has been strange for me. This past Monday was my last day at Oklahoma State University. And, although I’ve only worked there eight years, I also attended grad school there for my master’s degree, and again for my doctoral degree. I’ve spent more time at OSU, therefore, than in any one of the homes Mick and I have owned. And so leaving there was a bittersweet event.
My garden, however, was a constant in my life and very therapeutic for me during this time. I returned to it every day and the growth of the plants, the production of new vegetables and the continued needs it required of me was familiar among the change…and that is a good, good thing.
I’m so grateful for the jumbled mass of English peas that are now providing sweet and tender early morsels for our salads. I pick them and then put them in my pockets to carry back to the kitchen, but sometimes they don’t make it to the house. Rather, they leap into my mouth, as if possessed by an uncanny lifeforce and are eaten raw, whole and rapidly.
This week has also been about “fails,” however. I made a little video of my garden to give you a tour, and now cannot figure out how to get the video file from my Android phone to my new Macbook Air. Fail score = +1. I purchased some beautiful Stilwell strawberries last week from the Urban Agrarian and made strawberry-balsamic-black pepper preserves. The taste is delightful, but the pectin level was too low, or I didn’t cook them down enough. Either way, I have a batch of delicious tasting, runny preserves on my hands. Fail score = +1/2.
And, I had to thin all my cabbage plants so I got this GREAT idea to make stuffed cabbage rolls with the big green leaves. What I didn’t realize is that cabbage outer leaves are much tougher than the main portions of cabbage heads, so although I cooked them for 45 minutes, they were still tough when I pulled them out of the oven. Fail score = +2 (for all the time and work I put into them). Total fails this week? At least +3.5 points worth. Where do I get the point values? From thin air, just like I get some of my great cooking ideas…and some of my really, really bad cooking ideas.
These brilliant ideas gone good OR bad usually start with these three questions:
1. What does my garden have to offer this week?
2. What do I have in my freezer that needs to be used?
3. What does the local farmer’s market have in season to help the situation?
The total sum of these answers always gets me my ideas for weekly food to feed my family. But not always are those ideas as brilliant as they seem in my head when they are born.
Therefore, this post is dedicated to all the garden fails of the world. I’m going to show you what I loved about my cabbage roll dish, and what I simply couldn’t endorse. Here we go:
First, the filling: THIS is the good part.
Cook 1 cup of John’s Farm wheatberries and 1 cup of long grain rice. You may prepare this ahead of time…even a day or two before you cook and stage them in your refrigerator. By the way, the “Third Annual John’s Farm Field Day” was this past May 5th, and John turned 65 – Happy Birthday, John!!
Add 2 tsp. curry and 1 tsp tumeric plus salt to taste. This is your “base” for your cabbage roll stuffing. Next saute two full pans of chard (I currently have two different strains in my garden) down to their reduced state. To do this, add about 2 T. oil to your pan, toss in this much chard (your flame should be med-high) stir and toss well while it reduces, and in about 2-4 minutes, the process is finished. See?
I used a large sized saute pan, and the total quantity of chard cooked between two pans full is a well packed plastic bag (you know, like the kind you see flying around in the air, lying on the ground or stuck in trees?). Dice up your cooked chard.
I then sauteed one medium diced onion and one cup of golden raisins together until the onions were clear. Toss them in with the rest of the ingredients and stir them well. Here’s what your wheatberry, rice, spiced, charded, onioned and raisined base should now resemble:
THIS? This is good. Really, good. You don’t need to go to an Indian restaurant to immediately be filled up with the delicious flavors of the East. You could serve this as a side dish in place of rice, serve it cold as a side salad with sandwiches, or eat it out of the big bowl like I did. Over and over.
It’s what I DID to this beautiful filling that was the fail. I flash boiled my lovely green cabbage leaves so they would be pliable, then placed about 2-3 T. of filling in the center of 2-3 leaves. I fold up the ends first (like you would fold a burrito), then rolled the body of the cabbage roll and tucked it nicely into a dish for baking.
This created two baking dishes of cabbage rolls with left over filling. I then brushed them with a mixture of 1/3 red wine vinegar and 2/3 olive oil and baked them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Then, I realized the leaves were tough so I baked them for a total of 45 minutes. And, the leaves were still tough. I would describe them as the consistency of a stuffed grape leaf. In other words, edible, but not tender. I had to cut them with a sharp knife, I couldn’t cut it with a fork.
After working about an hour on these cabbage rolls, I was a little bummed about my “fail.” It’s possible they’ll be better cold, and I’m going to try them this morning. And the filling was really, really good. But I just couldn’t give my experiment a “thumbs up” so I reverted back to my other fail and cleaned the dishes. You remember the preserves, right? I made a crostini, topped with feta cheese and strawberry, balsamic and black pepper preserves.
And, it was delicious.