Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cabbage rolls from an "Old German Recipe"

After several delays in recent weeks, Suzanne and I completed our second installment to our weekend culinary forays this Saturday evening with a German dish from Folk Foods of Fitchburg, a 1964 collection of international recipes from the chefs of that Massachusetts town. Since Suzanne paid homage to her Italian roots in our first dinner, it was my turn to step up to the plate with something from my German motherland. My 90-year-old mother is an Augsburg native who grew up in Munich.

My initial plans were to prepare sauerbraten, a staple in the Münchner restaurants I frequented when I studied and worked there in the mid-1970s. I went to the grocery store and bought all the menu items, returned to the kitchen and began my preparation. I was putting the 3 ½-pound round roast into its vinegar-based sauce when Suzanne noticed this little item on the recipe: “Let soak at least overnight.” Oops, didn’t see that!

So we put the roast in the fridge and turned the page to another, less-complicated “Old German Recipe” simply called “meat and cabbage”. In other words: Cabbage rolls. We had all the necessary ingredients, so I popped a CD of decades-old Heinz Rühmann and Hans Albers tunes on the CD player, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work.

Mrs. Marguerite Koski’s recipe involves a pound of hamburger along with rice, tomato soup, cabbage leaves, butter, sugar, lemon, parsley, celery, salt and pepper.

We called my German-born sister Evi Womble in Pensacola, Fla., during the preparation to get her input, and she suggested some good side dishes. Knödel (dumplings) would have been great, she said. However, that was a bit more involved that we wanted at that point so we settled on rice and green beans.

Of course, we had our usual cocktails to inspire us during the cooking—and to be honest, I was more sous-chef than head-chef, leaning heavily as I did on Suzanne’s guidance. Our choice of wine was Rodney Strong Chardonney, 2010, and it went nicely with the meal. A Riesling might have been even better, but, alas, there wasn’t one in our wine cabinet.

Heinz and Hans gave way to Zarah Leander and Marlene Dietrich as we sat and toasted another “mission accomplished”. Germans call the clinking of wine glasses at the beginning of a meal “die schönste Musik”, and indeed it was a very pleasant way to mark the completion of a couple hours of work in the kitchen. Work we enjoyed, of course!

The cabbage rolls were quite good. Hats off to Mrs. Koski. In retrospect, the addition of caraway seed to the meat mixture might have enhanced the taste even more, but at the end I rubbed my belly with satisfaction, looked across the table at my lovely wife, and said with a contented smile, “Your turn next!”

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Home cooking, International style!

So now that you've had the first taste of our adventures in cooking, maybe we should pause and tell you a little bit about us and this blog.

We met at a Christmas party at St. John’s Catholic Church in Oxford, Mississippi on December 8, 2000, surrounded by delicious food, wonderful wine, good cheer, and the great friends who had introduced us. That first meeting set the stage for a wonderful journey together beginning on our honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta and later traveling across the U.S. and as far away as Singapore and Taipei. We travel constantly back and forth from Oxford, where Joe teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee, where Suzanne works as an international internal auditor for FedEx.

Home cooking is where Suzanne shines, but Joe claims mastery over a few dishes of his own. Music is usually in the background, whether it's jazz, blues, classical or international.

Suzanne's full-blooded Sicilian father and Southern-bred mother ran a small grocery store in Helena, Arkansas, that featured a wide range of Dad’s fresh-cut meats, including Southern exotica like raccoon, chitterlings, pig ears and oxtails! Italian dishes were a staple at the Centenio home. While Suzanne's family in Helena ate homemade spaghetti and meatballs on Sundays, Joe's family in North Carolina ate fried chicken. Joe’s soldier father ran a hospital kitchen in Munich during World War II, managed restaurants after the war, and reigned supreme in all things barbecue. Joe's German-born mother often made mornings special with her “German” pancakes.

We look forward to mixing it up in our kitchens in Oxford and Memphis, home cooking international style! Sounds like fun, huh? Stay tuned!

First dish up? Suzanne's Beef Braciole!

Welcome to our first adventure with Cooking International With Love!, our new blog featuring meals and recipes and tales of food, drink, and travel from Suzanne Centenio Atkins and Joe Atkins, happily married going on 10 years now and enjoying a New Year’s commitment to devote most Saturday nights to the cuisine of a foreign country in our own kitchen–either at our home in Oxford or in our apartment in Memphis.

There’ll be a bit of trial and error involved here, particularly when it comes to Joe’s cooking (his experience includes cooking for two young children as a single parent for eight years, and years of watching his great chef of a father in Sanford, N.C.), less so with Suzanne (a lifetime cook who learned at her mother’s apron in Helena, that great blues town on the Mississippi River in the Arkansas Delta).

Our first meal for this blog was prepared Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, in Oxford, and it was Sicilian, of course: Suzanne’s Beef Braciole, or what she grew up calling “bruzhalini” (spelling? anyone’s guess), a delicious Italian stuffed rolled steak. To which she added pasta and fresh asparagus, garlic bread, plus a bottle of 2010 Alamos Malbec in honor of our late friend and Malbec lover Jane Orlovich in Chicago.

For the salad, Suzanne borrowed a recipe--"Insalata di Cetrioli e Capperi" (cucumber and caper salad)--from Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene and Michelle Evans' book Sicilian Home Cooking. The highlight of this salad are the finely shredded romaine lettuce, the capers, and, above all, the cucumbers, peeled and sliced thinly and whisked into a mayonnaise, oil and white wine vinegar sauce.

Suzanne also offered a fine dessert of ice cream topped with Godiva chocolate liqueur.

Our musical accompaniment ranged from Verdi to Frank Sinatra to the collection of Italian folks songs in the CD "Incantando" by Cantica Popularia, a group Joe heard on the streets of Munich, Germany, in the late 1990s. Mixed with the music, of course, were plenty of tales and food memories.

So let's get to the main dish, the braciole, a wonderful top round steak stuffed with a buttered, peppered, salted mix of chopped garlic, sauteed onions, bell peppers, celery, and boiled eggs, heavily sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. The recipe came from Suzanne's mother, Vivian Centenio.

"As a child I remember my mother making this on special occasions, on Sundays," Suzanne recalled. "It was a lot of work. As a child, I didn't like it because it had eggs in the center of it. My dad loved it!"

The preparation did have to come in several stages as the meat was stuffed with layers of onions, celery, boiled eggs, bell peppers, and lots of chopped garlic. It's an Italian meal, after all, so preparing the sauce properly was crucial.

Suzanne asked her mother about the origins of the recipe. "She said she got it from my Uncle Joe (Centenio). She never saw him make it, only describe it. He used his hands to describe it. Uncle Joe was definitely the cook."

Our next adventure will take us to Germany and its hearty, delicious cuisine. Auf Wiedersehen!