Sarma/Gołąbki - exploring family heritage

Today is one of those melancholy days, the clouds shrouding the city in a blanket of grey and the only sound the pattering of rain upon the roof. My husband is away at a wedding in Austin while I am left here alone with my pager . . .so far a quiet partner.
Days like this tend to bring out my introspective side, and as I was strolling the aisles of the grocery store my thoughts turned to my grandma. She passed away many years ago when I was just a child, but her Lithuanian heritage has always intrigued me. Little did I know that I would end up marrying a half Lithuanian, half Slovenian man! I like to think that maybe she had something to do with bringing us together, and taking part is his family has somehow made me feel closer to her.

I am blessed with women all around me who are amazing cooks. My own mother has always been a source of inspiration for me. She is not only a wonderful cook but a stellar entertainer, always hosting our big family holidays with such grace. Her example is one I hope to live up to someday. And now I also have a lovely mother-in-law (and I don't call her lovely just because she reads my blog) who is also very gifted in the kitchen and tends to show her love for others by making delicious food for them. Both of my grandmothers are (and were) amazing cooks as well. My dad's parents still live in Kansas, and while my grandmother may have slowed down on the amount of cooking she does, her recipes are still going strong throughout our family. Stay tuned for her famous Lebkuchen christmas cookies later this year.
But while my mom's mother certainly had a reputation for being an amazing cook and entertainer, I have very few memories of ever eating her food. My mom always talks about having sarma around the holidays, and it has always intrigued me. My mother doesn't make it because my dad never did take a liking to it, so I figured I should give it a try myself.  In my husband's family they call them Golabki, a Polish word for pigeon, but don't worry, there's no pigeon meat here! There are as many variations are there are homes in eastern europe, but after much internet research and quizzing of my relatives, here is a recipe I thought I'd start with.
There are some helpful photos and videos on the internet that demonstrate the rolling technique, I highly recommend checking them out if you've never done this before (like me).

The filling can be made from a variety of ground meats and may or may not include rice. Most recipes call for cooking them in a type of tomato sauce, but some use beef broth. I chose to use ground pork and veal (humanely raised) combined with cooked brown rice, sauteed onion, garlic and a couple of eggs. Some recipes call for laying the cabbage rolls over a bed of sauerkraut, but I didn't have any so I just laid down some of the outer cabbage leaves on the bottom of my Dutch oven.

Rolling these was actually pretty easy, they are just like mini cabbage burritos. The most important thing to get a good roll is to shave down the base of the stem of the leaf so that it bends easily. This can be easily done with a paring knife. Rolling them was kind of therapeutic, and gave me a chance to just enjoy the preparation and think about my grandma. If she were still here I think she'd like these . . .

Makes about 24 rolls depending on size of cabbage leaves

2 heads cabbage
white wine vinegar
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground turkey
2 cups cooked brown rice (1 cup uncooked)
1 onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced or crushed
Olive oil

1. Cut the core out of the bottom of both cabbages. Remove a couple of outer leaves and set aside. 
2. Boil a pot full of water and add a couple Tbsp. of vinegar. Place one head of cabbage in at a time and remove cabbage leaves as the start to separate from the cabbage, place in colander. Continue until you get to inner part of cabbage and leaves are too small.
3. Saute onions and garlic in pan until translucent and soft. 
4. Combine meat, onions, garlic and rice in bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Start with a large cabbage leaf, slice stem down so leaf lies flat. Place about 1/2 cup of meat toward bottom of leaf and roll like a burrito.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line Dutch oven with outer cabbage leaves.
7. Place cabbage rolls in pyramid like fashion in dutch oven. Cover with crushed tomatoes and additional water from boiling pot until just covered.
8. Cook in oven 60-90 minutes.


Three Twins Ice Cream

Ok, not my usual type of post but had to share. Just bought the most incredible ice cream at Whole Foods today: Three Twins Mint Confetti. Ok, so despite advances in science and technology we have still yet to discover a way to transform ice cream into health food, but despite all that, I still think you should eat this.


Started out as a Bay Area ice cream company in 2005, and this is the first time I've seen it here in LA (although I don't usually scan the ice cream case, I did today cuz I was sad from being left at home on call while my husband got to go to an awesome wedding in Austin. Woe is me.)

Anyway, I digress. The ice cream is all natural and organic and the company is very eco-conscious. That is all great, but really, you should just eat it cuz it's incredibly tasty.



American Wine and Food Festival 2010

Last night Matt and I were honored to attend the American Wine and Food Festival as correspondents for It has suddenly become crazy hot and muggy in Los Angeles, and last night was no exception. As we rode the tram through the Universal Studios backlot the air was heavy and I was already sweating. But did I care? No! I was about to embark upon a foodie wonderland, filled with over 50 chefs and dozens of wineries offering up delicious food and drink all night long. If anything, I was mostly nervous that my stomach wouldn't be able to handle it all!

grilled lobsters, barbeque
Fresh grilled lobsters greeted us as we entered the festival

I wish I could say that I've been to many of these restaurants, but since the creme of the California (and Las Vegas) crop was there, I'd be lying if I said I could afford to eat at most of these places. Amazing chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu, Mark Peel of Campanile, Wolfgang Puck of the Spago empire were out in full force. The setting in the "little Europe" portion of the studio backlot was perfect, especially because I felt like I was transported to a surreal place where everything was delicious and wine flowed like water (which is definitely how it is in France and Italy). Matt was my assistant extraordinaire, and helped me solve crucial quandaries like "wine or cocktails?", "meat or fish?" and of course "chocolate or more chocolate?"Seriously, it was pretty astounding the amount and quality of the food available.

Audi sports car, white car
Audi was the presenting sponsor . . . hot cars everywhere!

However, despite the sheer vastness of the event, there were some experiences that truly stood out. I could not get over the deliciousness of the masala spiced lamb chops at the Akasha table. Flame grilled for all to drool over, they were spicy, juicy and oh some meaty. Yum! I especially appreciate that chef Akasha Richmond focuses on local, sustainable ingredients in her hugely successful restaurant, making her food not only healthy for its patrons but for the environment as well.

Akasha grilled lamp chops, barbeque, flames
Lamb chops getting grilled at Akasha

A yellowtail carpaccio at Scott Conant's Scarpetta was light and refreshing with a nice hit of acidity, making it a perfect plate for the hot and humid night.

Thomas Keller's Bouchon had an amazing raw bar set up, with multiple chefs serving up the freshest shellfish all night long. There was a great lively atmosphere around their table as the allure of fresh oysters pulled you in.

raw bar at Bouchon, oysters
No one can get enough raw ice bar action at Bouchon
The braised pork belly bao mai "tacos" at Charles Phan's Slanted Door were fun, savory bites. I've always tried to make a trip there when I'm in San Francisco and it was great to see them down in Los Angeles.

Matt's favorite was the dry miso sea bass at the Nobu table. But really, how could you ever go wrong with Nobu Matsuhisa's food?

Nobu table at food and wine festival
Strip steak lettuce cups and dry miso sea bass at the Nobu table

The Puck-Lazaroff Foundation has been organizing this event since its inception in 1982 and it has grown in its success ever since. Not surprisingly, there were Wolfgang Puck products everywhere, but I have to say that their new organic iced coffee drinks were pretty delicious and I hope they take a nice fat market share bite out of the sugary Starbucks coffee drinks sold at stores nationwide.

artful food
Soft boiled egg with uni and langostino - artful and flavorful

We had many tastes of some really great wine as well. Standouts included the Flowers Pinot Noir, Justin Vineyards' Justification red blend, and Grgich Hills Chardonnay. Both Justin Vineyards and Grgich Hills practice organic and biodynamic farming techniques in addition to being a pleasure to drink.

chocolate truffles
Truffles galore!
I was so full from all the great food that I didn't get a chance to sample too much dessert, but I did have some amazing chocolate truffles. I am also a sucker for cheeses and enjoyed an Irish Stout cheese at the Kerrygold cheese table.

Kerrygold Irish cheese . . .mmm, cheese + beer/whiskey
And of course a night at Universal Studios would not have been complete without some celebrity sightings. Matt and I are huge Top Chef fans, and we got to meet Alex Reznik from the most recent season 7. He mentioned that he has an event coming up at the Test Kitchen, check out their website for upcoming details!

Alex Reznik from Top Chef Season 7, Matt Balaker
Matt meets Alex Reznik from Top Chef Season 7

Mark Peel of Top Chef Masters fame was also in attendance. He served me a peach sherry cobbler cocktail at the table for his bar the Tar Pit - it was strong and delicious. Now, I am familiar with the cobbler as a dessert offering (hot fruit topped with a pie crust of sorts) but Mark educated me on the cocktail version. He explained that in the late 19th century this type of cocktail, which usually incorporated sherry, fruit, sugar, ice and a straw was all the rage. Well, for me it made a perfect end to an amazing night of wining and dining, and the best part is that plenty of money was raised for the event's charitable cause, Meals and Wheels. I look forward to attending next year and urge all of you to as well!

Mark Peel, Top Chef Masters, Campanile, Tar Pit
Mark Peel - master chef!


Chicken with Chanterelles and White Wine Sauce

This recipe sprang forth from a desire for some French inspired comfort food coupled with a fresh free range chicken sitting in my fridge begging to be eaten. You could easily make this with all chicken thighs or breasts, however I kind of enjoyed breaking down the chicken . . .it felt more homemade or something. Anyway, buying a whole chicken also gives you the added benefit of making homemade chicken stock with the carcass, which is far and away tastier than the store bought stuff.

I happened upon these Chanterelles at the Santa Monica farmer's market, and luckily they didn't weigh much because they were kind of pricey per pound. However, they had a gorgeous bright golden hue and a woodsy aroma that could almost convince you that you had foraged for them yourself. The chicken also came from the Farmer's market at the Healthy Family Farms stand. Their chicken is all pasture raised and they harvest their animals humanely by hand just prior to bringing them to market, so they are never frozen. Just really fresh delicious chicken without all the mystery chemicals, plus it actually got to live a normal happy chicken life (before I ate it, of course).

For the recipe I modified a technique for making Coq au Vin, making this simpler and using a white wine. Whenever making a sauce, a lot of the flavor comes from the browned bits of meat and fat on the pan, so it is imperative that you brown the chicken pieces first. If you want extra flavor, chop up a couple pieces of bacon and cook those down and brown the chicken in the bacon fat. Yes, I just recommended browning some chicken (with the skin on, gasp!) in bacon fat. It won't kill you, unless of course you eat it for every meal, but for those of you who are freaking out just use some olive oil to brown the chicken. But at least keep the chicken skin on, it really tastes better and pasture raised animals have a much better fat profile (lower saturated fat, higher omega-3 content) so if you take the time to buy a healthy bird to eat, you will actually be healthier too.

Ok, enough soap box, back to the fun part, cooking! (or maybe eating, both are great). I initially served this over some brown rice with a side salad, which was delicious because the rice soaked up the wine sauce. In the picture you can see that I have reheated the leftover and added in some baby carrots and sugar snap peas for a side veggie. I wish I had a picture from the first serving, but we were hungry and it smelled too good to wait for pictures! Like most stews/braised dishes, this reheats really well and the one chicken was enough to feed 3 people dinner and then 2 lunches for me. Nice.

Serves 4-6 (depending on size of chicken and hunger of people)

1 3-4 lb free range chicken, broken down in to pieces (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 bottle dry white wine
2 cups dried chanterelles (any wild mushrooms will do, or use some creminis)
2 strips bacon, chopped
2 Tbsp butter

1. Break down chicken into pieces, reserve carcass and wing tips for stock. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat large deep skillet (don't use nonstick) over medium heat and add bacon pieces, cook down until crisp bits are left and fat is rendered.
3. Scoop out bits and pour out all but about 2 Tbsp bacon fat (reserve excess in fridge, delicious for roasted potatoes).
4. Increase heat to medium high, then brown chicken pieces until golden. Set chicken aside on plate.
5. Lower heat to medium and add onion and 1 Tbsp butter, sautee until translucent.
6. Add chanterelles and brown with onions.
7. Add about 1/2 bottle of white wine, simmer to reduce for about 5 minutes, scraping bottom of pan to release browned bits of yummy goodness.
8. Add chicken pieces back in and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through.
9. Finish off sauce with remaining Tbsp of butter, season with salt and pepper to taste. Fresh thyme is especially nice on this.

Printable Recipe

HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK (pressure cooker method)
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

Chicken carcass, wing tips
3 carrots, in pieces
3 celery stalks, in pieces
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Herbs of choice (I used thyme and bay leaf)
2 quarts water

1. Place all ingredients in pressure cooker and cook for about 2 hours.
2. Strain stock and season to taste with salt.
3. Keeps for several days in fridge or months in freezer.

Printable Recipe


My New Obsession: Oregon Wine Country

So, some people have casually noted that my poor blog has been neglected lately, and while I am sorry if I hurt its feelings, I was frankly too busy enjoying the summer! August was a whirlwind month, which started off with a wonderful and relaxing trip to the Willamette Valley in Oregon with my hubby Matt. We were both in need of a break from all things Los Angeles, and this trip basically left me desperately pining for a more permanent getaway in Oregon. Nothing fancy, you know, just a modest home with a nice big deck overlooking a small pinot vineyard - with room for a cow and some horses, of course. Oh, and maybe a couple chickens. Matt probably thinks I've gone off the deep end, but for someone stuck in the city all the time the idea of fresh milk and eggs has a strange allure (although I have no doubt it would soon lose its luster if I had to milk a cow daily, or twice daily for that matter). Anyway, it is truly beautiful up there, and at the risk of too many of you storming up there and ruining the somewhat undiscovered gem that is Oregon wine country I will give you a quick run down of some of the highlights.

First off, we stayed at this cute vacation rental called Fox Farm Cottage. I highly recommend it, and the owners Jack and Heidi and very sweet while still giving you plenty of privacy. It was more room than we needed, being a 2 bed/2 bath house, but the outdoor hot tub and prime location in Dundee sealed the deal. I have a feeling that they have no problem renting this place out since I had to book it back in March to get the week I wanted. The garden outside was amazing and filled with fruit trees, some of which were ripe with plums and apples - not to mention the gargantuan sunflowers! Our favorite part though was just sitting outside at dusk with some Pinot and nothing else to do but talk and watch the sunset.

We got up at the crack of dawn (much to Matt's chagrin) our first morning there to make it out for a hot air balloon ride with Vista Balloons. Now, Matt is a little afraid of heights, but he actually had no problem and enjoyed the scenic ride. You also take part in setting up and taking down the balloons, which is actually quite a sight. I took way too many photos, but really, how often do you see other hot air balloons from your very own balloon in the sky? The amazing hot breakfast afterwards was a great finish, with all the crew and pilots bringing different potluck style dishes. Our pilot John had brought this amazing french toast casserole thing that was gone in about 2 seconds. Yum.

We also went on a horseback riding wine tour which included stops at 3 different tasting rooms, operated by Jack Price Stables. Now, I know what you're thinking: horseback riding + wine = a bruised butt (or worse, head). But really, it was fine and with only 3 stops you don't get tipsy. The horses were beautiful former Tennessee walking show horses that were very well trained and a pleasure to ride. As this was Matt's second trail ride he is now a "horse master" and he so humbly put it. But actually, he seemed quite at ease and we both enjoyed the ride and the amazing scenery and we rode through different vineyards.

The remainder of our trip was mostly spent drinking and eating, as any good vacation should go. We tried to make it out to several different tasting rooms, but I'll just give you a list of some of our favorites (most of from which we brought bottles back with us):

Dundee Hills AVA
Four Graces - lovely staff at this tasting room, especially loved their whites (Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris), plus we could walk there from our place!
Vista Hills Vineyard - favorite stop on the horseback riding wine tour. Amazing "Treehouse" tasting room. Loved the Saga Hills Reserve Pinot Noir and the Piedmont Pinot Noir.

Eola-Amity AVA
Cristom Vineyards - excellent pinot noir with a focus on single vineyard wines. Brought home the 2007 Eileen Pinot Noir and the 2008 Germaine Chardonnay.
Bethel Heights Vineyard - absolutely stunning tasting room, my personal favorite wines of the trip. The 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was delicious and a bargain. Bought 2 more bottles here in LA, which are already gone!
Whistling Dog Cellars - had this 2007 Pinot Noir in a restaurant and was blown away. Unfortunately the tasting room was sold out! May have to order this one online . . .

For dinner we made it out to the Joel Palmer House, which focuses on cuisine inspired by the local wild mushrooms (delicious, and sustainable!) as well as Red Hills Provincial Dining which was an intimate dining room with delicious seasonal food.

While the restaurants were top notch, our favorite meals were the simple ones we made at our cottage: grilled flank steak with roasted bell peppers and mushrooms, marinated portabello sandwiches with local peaches, and of course some tasty omelettes!

We spent our last day in Portland, enjoying the energy of the city and eating at an incredible Thai place - Pok Pok - but I'd have to say that the wine country stole my heart. Hopefully we will be making it up there soon again, even if it does make me want to buy a cow!


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