In this issue of Party Yak:
A budget dinner party menu and recipes featuring my family's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe, creamy white Mashed Potatoes, Allspice Gravy, Broiled Red Peppers, Fruit Kabobs, and Carrot Cake. It won't cost a lot or cheat your guests one bit. Appetizers to dessert, feed 6 for under $35.
(The Saga of the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe)
As a young newlywed, my grandmother treated me to her famously good and heretofore secret Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe when I was in need of a dinner party menu that would not break the bank.
I came away with the recipe, the secret to her incredibly white and creamy mashed potatoes, and a realization:
Great food does not have to be elaborate or expensive.
In fact, I think that was my grandmother's actual secret all along. Years later, I spent two days preparing Peking Duck, with all the fixings, for another dinner party. Surprise! No one liked or appreciated it any more than Grandma's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. Nor did it take any longer to eat than any other meal, which is just not fair. So the light bulb over my head came on again:
Hey! Great food doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive.
So here's a budget dinner party menu and recipes that will feed 6 for about $35, leaving plenty of wiggle room in the budget for wine and/or other beverages. (Of course, I'm assuming you have the little odds and ends like spices, flour, and olive oil.)
Even better, everything but the Fruit Kabobs can be prepared well in advance; just reheat the hot foods.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Allspice Gravy
Broiled Red Peppers
Fruit makes easy and delicious appetizers; it needs nothing but to be cut up, in some cases, and skewered.
Thread strawberries, grapes, peach wedges, pineapple chunks,
and/or other fruits of your choice onto skewers. Serve as the first
course or, if you like, before the meal using oranges or grapefruits as
"pincushions" for the skewers.
Grandma's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe
2 heads green cabbage*
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons ground allspice
Remove the core from the cabbages. In a large pot of low-boiling water, parboil the whole cabbages one at a time, removing the outer leaves as they become pliable. Reserve the liquid.
Combine the ground beef, eggs and spices in a mixing bowl. Spoon about 2 ounces of the beef mixture into the center of each cabbage leaf. Overlap the leaf edges over the beef, ending with the thickest edge and forming a squarish packet. Secure with one toothpick through the top of each roll.
Place the cabbage rolls into baking dishes in a single layer; you'll need 2 large dishes, preferably glass or ceramic. Pour enough of the parboiling liquid over the cabbage rolls to almost reach the top of the rolls. Bake at 350° for 1 hour, basting occasionally.
Remove the picks and transfer the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls onto a
platter, reserving their liquid for the gravy. Makes 20-22 cabbage
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups broth (from the cabbage rolls)
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter. Add the flour a tablespoon at a time and stir it in thoroughly. Gradually add the broth, stirring constantly, until it is hot and thickened. (Use some of the parboiling liquid, or chicken, beef or veggie broth if you don't have enough.) Salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle some of the gravy over the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and
reserve the rest for serving with the mashed potatoes. Offer your guests
the traditional butter and sour cream as well.
3 pounds potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Scrub and cut up the potatoes, skins on. Simmer in a large pot of
boiling, salted water until very soft, but not mushy. Drain them
thoroughly and mash. Stir in the butter. Gradually add sour cream until
it reaches the desired consistency (certainly not gloppy). Salt and
pepper to taste.
Broiled Red Peppers
Although not really, really cheap, I've included red peppers in the menu for the wonderful color contrast to the pale cabbage and mashed potatoes, as well as their extraordinary taste. You can always substitute thick slices of tomato, below.
6 red peppers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
Pinch of salt and pepper
Remove the core and stem from the peppers. Cut each pepper into
six strips, removing any seeds and white pulp as you go. Combine the
olive oil, garlic, basil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the red
pepper strips to the bowl and coat well with the olive oil mixture.
Spread the red pepper strips on a broiler pan, leaving any excess oil
behind. Broil them about 6 inches from the broiler until tender, about
4-5 minutes each side.
Option: Broiled Tomatoes
Substitute thick slices of tomato for the red peppers, at least 2
per guest. Baste the tomato slices with the olive oil mixture and place
them on the broiler pan. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and broil on one
side only until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, about 4 minutes.
My Carrot Cake Recipe is already on site.
I think the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe is about as budget-minded as a dinner party menu can be without serving pasta, but, alas, an Italian Dinner Menu will have to wait for another issue. Meantime, try not to think of this menu as "cheap dinner recipes" but as "secret recipes" to pass on to your grandchildren.
And don't forget to chuckle knowingly once in a while, just to keep the mystery alive. Grandma always did.