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.

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