Monday, November 4, 2013

Porcupine Meatballs with "Un-stuffed" Cabbage

Comfort Food at its Best!

Ah, porcupine meatballs;  Now, if that doesn't bring back the days of bell bottom pants (the first time) - and fond memories of "Scooby-Doo" and "The Brady Bunch," then I don't know what does! 

Porcupine meatballs were a staple in many 1970's moms' kitchens; they were in the regular rotation with the Shake 'N Bake chicken and the tuna casserole that nobody wanted to eat. 

I come from a Slovak/Rusian (yes, I spelled that correctly - Google it)/Polish, with a little Hungarian thrown in for good measure background.  My paternal grandmother was Slovak.  She would make these fabulous ethnic Sunday dinners.  One of her specialties was, of coarse, stuffed cabbage.  And she made the best ever; slow cooked on the stove (not baked) all day long; just sitting in the tomato juice with the perfectly cooked cabbage, tender meat and rice stuffing, and the kraut (can't for get that).  It's the type of dish that true memories are made of. 

If I were judging a stuffed cabbage competition, my mom's would come in a close second.  Mom wasn't a great cook, but she did make a few things really well.  I am sure she is smiling down from heaven on me now.

I have attempted stuffed cabbage over the years.  But while I get the flavors close to Mom's, I never can get the rolling just right.  Maybe I don't have enough patience?  Maybe I don't buy the perfect head of cabbage?  You can decide as  you look at an old "Just for Cooking" recipe which I created several years ago - link at the end.

A few years back, my friend and work colleague, Gosia, was visiting from Poland along with her mother.  I stopped by her brother's house for dinner.  Gosia's mom made "un-stuffed cabbage."  Through Gosia interpreting, Mom proceeded to tell me this was what she called "Lazy Day Stuffed Cabbage."  I thought "what a good idea."  And it was delicious.

A few weeks ago, another friend and work college, Jim, posted a recipe he found online for a similar dish.  That gave me an idea to "Kick it up a notch" and add in the porcupine meatballs as I created my own version.

My meatballs are baked, not fried in oil.  So even though I am using beef and pork, they will be a little lighter.  Instead of taking all day to make and bake, this recipe will only take you about an hour and 15 minutes.  It's perfect for today's Sunday dinner.

Oh, and my meatballs contain NO EGG.  The splash of beer tomato paste and mustard create enough moisture to keep them moist they do hold together.

Here we go and enjoy by "blast to the - cultural - past;" 

Makes 12 dinner-sized meatballs


For the porcupine meatballs:
1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice
2/3 cup chopped sweet onion
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. celery salt
20 grinds fresh cracked pepper
1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck and ground pork mixture  (suggest 50/50 mix)
1/8 cup light beer, non-alcoholic beer or diet ginger ale (reserve rest of 12 ounce can/bottle)
1 tbs. tomato paste
1 tbs. harvest ground or grainy mustard
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided (reserve half)

For the cabbage:
1 small head cabbage, cut into strips
1 tbs. butter
15 ounce can no salt diced tomatoes, with juice
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tbs. (about one packet) concentrated beef broth*
1 can sauerkraut (about 15 ounces), drained and rinsed
Pinch of coarse sea salt (optional and to taste)
Dried thyme (hold for garnishing - optional)

Note:  Roasted red potatoes are optional.  These can be pre-baked and then added into the dish at the end.

*Concentrated broth or stock is an old chef's trick (I found this out from a friend who used to be in product development for a restaurant chain).  It is now available on your soup aisle.  If you cannot find this product, you may substitute two tbs. beef consommé. 


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, onion, garlic and celery powder, pepper, and the meat.  Add in the 1/8 cup of beer or ginger ale, tomato paste, mustard and oregano.  Work mixture until well combined but do not over-work.  Suggest starting with slightly room temperature meat.

Form into 12 even-sized meatballs.  Place meatballs on a tin foil lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with half of the vegetable oil (reserve the rest), and bake for about 25 minutes.  No need to turn.

While the meatballs are baking, drop the cabbage into hot boiling water.  Cook for about ten minutes.  Carefully remove to a large skillet coated with remaining vegetable oil.  Add the butter and sauté for about 10 minutes until the cabbage beings to crisp up to your liking. 

Stir in the diced tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce,  and the concentrated beef broth and the rest of the beer.  Add the baked meatballs.  Top with the kraut.  Bring to boil and reduce to simmer.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes (longer if you like). 


If using roasted potatoes, stir in right before serving.  Add the dried thyme (just a little) over each plate just before serving, if using.

Here is the link to my previous recipe:  Chicken and Brown Rice Stuffed Cabbage

Enjoy, and as always, I'll see you soon!

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