Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Little Old Ladies" and Pigs-in-a-Blanket

You can learn a lot from little old ladies; not so much from pigs in blankets. But they have a lot in common. They’re both comfortable and comforting. They’re old school with lots of staying power.  No-frills but classic. And they’re retro fashionable.

"Pigs-in-a-blanket" is the name we always gave stuffed cabbage, or cabbage rolls, while I was growing up. We never had these at home, mind you. It was only at the homes of more ethnic-inspired cooks that I had what I now know are properly called halupki, if you’re Slovakian, or golubki, if you’re Polish. All I remember is the wonderfully homey aroma they dispersed and my mental picture of the mama at one end of the table, papa at the other. And us polite kids, hands washed, grace offered, who said, “Yes, please,” as the mashed potatoes were passed. And “May I please be excused?” before running off to play again, but not before taking our plates to the kitchen. (I sound like I grew up in a “Father Knows Best” TV show or a Norman Rockwell painting!)

Dishes like this -- meatloaf, lasagna, pot roast – have hundreds of variations, don’t they? But, I have to admit, while I’ve made many of my own various versions of those classics, I never made stuffed cabbage. And it’s a western Pennsylvania tradition! I was inspired to make this thanks to a review copy of Little Old Lady Recipes I received courtesy of Quirk Books. The book’s subtitle is: “Comfort Food and Kitchen Wisdom.” And it delivers on that promise.

 Every single recipe is something familiar and comforting. Some are hardly recipes at all, like, “Oatmeal.” Or “Cinnamon Toast.” And then there are slightly more complex things like pierogies, goulash, chicken and dumplings, oatmeal raisin dropper, pound cake and gingerbread.

But nothing is fancy. And that’s what author and comedian Meg Favreau wants to share: “What the heck happened to food?” she queries at the start. The book is a tribute to all the simple, good and sassy women who have influenced our cooking over the years. Ms. Favreau says: “It’s time to get back to the comforting foods that made family dinners good. We should be following the advice of women who made those meals and alternated between doting mothers, and tough-as-nails disciplinarians, ladies who worked, raised families, hosted great parties and made the best out of the worst.”

It’s simply a delightful little book. Small in scale but big on kitchen wisdom. There are very few photographs of food in the book. The focus is on “the little old ladies” that Ms. Favreau found and photographer Michael Reali framed. These are real women, with real pearls to share. Take a listen:

Never taste from the mixing bowl. Or at least, don’t let anybody catch you.” 
Amelia, horse trainer, 88 

“Everyone’s afraid of lard now. 
 But it’s not what you eat; it’s how you work after you eat it.” 
Eleanor, farmer, 92 

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Thelma, homemaker, 88 

“Condiments are used to hide bad food.” Loretta, nurse, 89 

There are lots more like that. And lots of good food and common sense, simple cooking. Although I didn’t follow the recipe in the book, I’m sure it would be “little old lady” approved. The recipe actually comes from Rachel Rapport’s first cookbook, Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook. You may recognize Rachel as author of the blog Coconut and Lime

Stuffed Cabbage 
from Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook
by Rachel Rappaport 

Water, as needed
1 large head cabbage
1 teaspoon butter
½ cup sliced onions
28 ounce canned whole tomatoes in puree
½ cup minced onions
1 egg
1 ½ cups cooked long grain rice
½ tablespoon garlic powder
½ tablespoon paprika 
1  pound 94% lean ground beef 

Bring a large pot of water to boil, enough water to sit below a steamer basket. Prepare the cabbage: Using a long knife, make 4 or 5 cuts around the core of the cabbage and remove the core. Discard the core and 2 layers of the outer leaves.

Peel off 6-8 large whole leaves. Place the leaves in the steamer basket and allow to steam over the boiling water for about 7 minutes. Remove the leaves with tongs and allow them to cool long enough to handle. Dice the remaining cabbage.
In a non-stick skillet, melt the butter. Add sliced onions and diced cabbage and sauté until the onions are soft. Add tomatoes and break them up with the back of a spoon, Simmer about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Ladle one-third of the sauce over the bottom of a 4-quart oval slow cooker. Mix the minced onions, egg, rice, spices and beef in a medium sized bowl. Stir to distribute the ingredients evenly. On a clean work area, place a cabbage leaf with the open-side up and the stem facing you. Place about ¼ cup filling on the leaf toward the stem. Fold the side together and then pull the top down to form a packet. It should look like a burrito. Do the same with the rest of the leaves. 

Arrange the cabbage rolls, seam side down in a single layer in the slow cooker. Ladle about half the remaining sauce over the rolls, lay another layer and cover with the remainder of the sauce. Cover and cook on low for up to 10 hours.


  1. Yummy! Love its cute nickname...pigs in blanket.

  2. Never hear that name for cabbage rolls; cute. We called pigs in a blanket; dough around a sausage. Gotta find this book.

  3. What a precious little book. And this recipe? Too good. Thank you for sharing another delightfully delicious post. I hope you are having a blessed week. Love from Austin.

  4. oh this looks great and what a fun little book so agree we need to get back to cooking basics

  5. This is something my husband has been bugging me to make. He loves cabbage rolls. I will have to indulge him, this does look like a better recipe than the last I saw.
    The book sounds like it has some treasured recipes with old lady character. Fun and tasty read. Sometimes old lady recipes are the best around. Enjoy the rest of the week.

  6. I love the premise of this book. And while these are not the recipe I grew up with - I have learned to appreciate old Americana cooking and their virtues. This does indeed take the chill out of the November air.

  7. Oh, my husband was SO excited to see this post - he loves halupkis and is from Western Pennsylvania. He's been begging me to make some for him...

  8. I've never made stuffed cabbage, either, but I love this dish growing up. My dad will be here for Thanksgiving, and it would be fun to make your delicious version for him :)

  9. Sounds like a great book - this recipe is certainly lovely - delicious
    Mary x

  10. Heh, this book sounds badass :) Little old ladies can also say and do WHATEVER they want. I'd love to have that kind of freedom. Thanks for sharing this super yummy recipe!

  11. This book sounds like it will provide a large helping of laughter as well as some gorgeous dishes, Rosemary. This dish reminds me of one my mother used to make. Definitely making this one.

  12. I've never stuffed cabbage before. My aunt used to make this type of dish all the time. I have to give this a try!

  13. Such a cute cookbook! I just love it. And this stuffed cabbage looks delicious. It's something that has been on my list to make for some time. We always call mini hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry pigs in a blanket!

  14. What a lovely site, heart warming and full of passion. Am now a happy follower.

  15. I grow up eating stuffed /picked cabbage rolls, and one of my favorites! This one sound interesting, much different than mine, but I can just imagine the aroma from all the ingred. mixed together! Nicely done!
    Have a awesome week ahead, and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!!!

  16. wow someday you try cook filipino food


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