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Jill Santopietro's Braised Fennel with Meyer Lemon and Parmesan

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I was smitten by the close relationship that I witnessed between farmers and chefs in Los Angeles last week, and I wonder if that feeling wasn't underlined by an article I'd read a month earlier in the New York Times Magazine. The Lee Bros wrote a profile of Ben Friedman, one of the men who supplies New York City's top restaurants with the same produce that the L.A. restaurants have right in their own backyard (figuratively speaking).

I wonder, was I the only one who felt a little bad for Mr. Friedman? He seemed so harried, so nervous that the chefs he supplied would turn on him in an instant. The constant rush to be number one, the constant fear that his baby radishes or white potatoes would be rejected in favor of someone else's, the nerve-wracking judgment calls about what chefs will want before they even know themselves - that is a level of stress I can't really imagine. And it stood in such stark contrast to the relaxed nature of the transactions I saw last week.

Oh sure, I know that a lot goes on behind the scenes that I don't know about, that farmers' lives are more difficult - in entirely different ways - than Friedman's, and that it's silly to make sweeping generalizations about a world that I know little about, even if it does interest me more and more each day. But still, taken superficially, I think I'd rather be a Southern Californian farmer than a Manhattan produce supplier any day.

The article was capped by a simple recipe for braised fennel that barely caught my eye. It seemed too simple for a recipe, more like something that you might have learned from your grandmother, perhaps, and committed to memory from the many times you watched her make it. I put the recipe aside and promptly forgot about it. But after my 10-day food marathon in Los Angeles, in which precious few meals were cooked at home, I realized that that simple recipe might be just the thing to ease my way back into the kitchen again.

And it almost feels a little silly to write about here, because there's barely anything to it. But I have to tell you about it because, after all, though the recipe says that it serves four people, I ate the entire dish myself last night. And don't you agree that something like that warrants mentioning? Even if it does come at my own expense. (That I, ostensibly, ate four portions of vegetables perhaps mitigates my gluttony somewhat, but only barely.)

The recipes proceeds much like a beloved braised endive recipe that my father taught me years ago and that, almost quite literally, kept me alive when I lived in Paris. You brown some sliced fennel in a pan (though don't heed the recipe - use a cast-iron pot instead of a fry pan, unless you're lucky enough to own something like this, with sides and a top, you lucky dog), then deglaze the pan with chicken broth, Meyer lemon juice, and Meyer lemon zest. The heat goes down, the top goes on, and half an hour later you've got yourself a silky pile of tender fennel, transformed into creamy, luscious spears of vegetal goodness and spiked with the sweet-sour flavor of Meyer lemons (they are not crucial, I have to say - regular lemons would work just fine, too, though then you'd have to add a sprinkle of sugar to balance the acidity a bit. Just a sprinkle.).

The final touch, which really fine-tunes this dish, is a scattering of Parmigiano shavings (though gratings would be fine, too) on top. There's something about the rich, salty cheese bound into the slightly acidic sauce and mellowed fennel that elevates this into something special. It's simple and quick, but I wouldn't shy away from serving this at a dinner for friends, even. As it was, I topped a plain filet of tilapia (bread-crumbed and pan-fried) with the braised fennel, and though it seemed (before I took a bite) that this meal would end up one of those weird Monday night experiments that never end very well and where health and protein requirements win out over inspired flavor combinations, this actually was quite a delicious pairing. The fish, so mild and delicate, needed a lemony kick and some body to round out the meal, and the vegetables did the trick.

I was quite impressed with myself, and so, so happy to be cooking again. Tonight, unfortunately, while there's leftover tilapia for dinner, it sits naked and fennel-less on my plate. Sadly, I have no one to blame but myself.

Braised Fennel With Meyer Lemon and Parmesan
Serves 4

2 fennel bulbs, fronds attached
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chicken broth
Grated peel and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
Parmesan to taste

1. Trim the fennel and roughly chop 1 tablespoon of the fronds. Halve each bulb through the core, then cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

2. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add just enough oil to coat the pan. When hot, cook half the fennel, without moving, until browned, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining fennel, adding more oil to the pan if needed.

3. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the fennel, broth, lemon rind and juice and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl. Raise the heat to high and reduce the sauce until syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Fold the sauce and reserved fronds into the fennel and top with Parmesan. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Sweet Reverie

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Last Wednesday might have been the highlight of my year thus far, but that doesn't mean that the rest of my week in Los Angeles was a faded blur. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the rest of the week was pretty fine, indeed. So fine that when the time came for me to leave yesterday, I felt a funny little twinge around my heart. I haven't felt that in a long time.

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Maybe it was because I had to say goodbye to my mother, which is never easy. But I also think it was because being in LA just makes me feel so good. Who would want to say goodbye to a feeling like that? And while we're on the path of rhetorical questions, would you want to leave a city where the warm, almost entirely empty beach is a mere drive away from wherever you happen to be? But before I get too melancholy on you, let me tell you about all the delicious stuff I encountered in LA. Thanks to my helpful readers, and a diligent bit of list-keeping on my part, my food forays took me all over the city.

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After a scenic, but long-ish drive from Santa Monica to La Brea, I had to fortify myself with a David Lebovitz-recommended bran muffin at La Brea Bakery. Well, to be totally honest, I meant to eat the muffin right then and there, but one store requiring ogling led to the next and before I knew it, I was in Pasadena, sharing my muffin with my family. Which I didn't mind, really. Because while the muffin was good, I'm not entirely sure I am the ideal target audience for the bran muffin. I am, however, always up for a bit of Oprah-recommended granola, so I brought a bag of that back with me. Now I can look forward to afternoon snacks at the office again (don't you think a handful of this stuff in some Liberte would be a nice pick-me-up?).

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Speaking of pick-me-ups, another city drive a day later brought me to the odd enclave that is Century City, where I parked my car overlooking Santa Monica Boulevard and sat outside the adorable Clementine, where I finally tried Annie Miler's famous banana cream pie. Which felt like the grand culmination of a long history with that pie, starting when I first read about it in the LA Times Culinary SOS column several years ago. And what a pie it is. Each forkful is a nicely balanced, mercifully not-too-sweet bite of bananas, silky custard, floppy cream and agreeably crumbly crust. It was worth the drive. My co-eaters agreed.

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Amy Scattergood and Design Sponge's Los Angeles guide both recommended a visit to Cube, which is a lovely little place. It smelled like the kitchens in Italy that I know, which can only mean good things indeed. And though I didn't have time to sit down and eat there, I bought a quarter-pound of Armandino Batali's superb culatello, which garnered high praise from my disbelieving mother ("this is made in America?") and was expertly sliced by the counter-girl, not always an easy feat.

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I couldn't have gone to Los Angeles and not eaten at Lucques, especially not after all the good food I'd created with the help of Suzanne Goin's recipes. So we had a Sunday Supper there and it was fantastic. A little salad of tender watercress, Pink Lady apples, and Marcona almonds preceded the main dish of four seared scallops that had been nestled on top of a ragout of bacon, English peas, wilted mint and fava beans. A red pool of smoky piquillo pepper puree rounded out the dish. It was light and lusty at the same time, a lovely American riff on a Spanish classic. Orange-flavored bread pudding with crema catalana served with a little beaker of caramel sauce was the smart finish to the meal. A group of giggly chefs on their night out, clamoring over the food in the bathroom line, and the clean, precise flavor of the lucques olives that were set out with our menus added to the atmosphere.

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But then a visit to Lucques wouldn't have been complete (it's a slippery slope) without a trip to The Hungry Cat, Goin's husband's restaurant. The night I was there, seafood reigned supreme over the menu. While our main courses of stuffed squid and braised clams (both heartily fortified with fresh chorizo) were certainly very tasty (and nicely priced), I still can't stop thinking about our pink and green salad starter. Lightly dressed frisee and radicchio were tossed with fresh tarragon leaves, slivered blood oranges, and snowy-white shreds of sweet, fresh crab. Simple, bright, and explosively flavorful - that was a salad for the ages. No photo would have done it justice either, but if you've got access to good crab, for God's sake, go and put this together. No recipe required.

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Finally, the day before I left for California, I buckled under the pressure of hype and made a hurried lunch reservation at Mozza. While Otto never really impressed me, the combination of Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali had me totally intrigued. Besides, the mention of butterscotch budino in this article was reason enough to go, I figured. And oh oh oh oh, I am so glad we did. Because - and now get ready for some superlatives, because I simply can't help myself - I really think the pizza we had there (margherita, in case you're wondering) was the best I've ever had in this country. Hot, crusty, yielding, yeasty - it was pizza perfection. The tomatoes were sweet and savory, the melting mozzarella had that inimitable milky, barely sour flavor and the crust - the crust! - was a total joy to eat. Before the pizza arrived, we shared that little dish of rapini you see up there. Stewed into tasty oblivion, then punched up with a pungent spoonful of salsa verde and topped with a wobbly cooked egg, it was the kind of dish a home cook lusts after - the kind of thing you want to eat over and over and over again, preferably with some crusty bread and your mother nearby to marvel at your cooking skills.

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And then, because we were already there and the food was already so good and because that darn article had lodged itself in my mind and wouldn't let go, we ordered the butterscotch budino. Praise be to the Los Angeles Times for printing the recipe, because this might possibly be one of the most delicious desserts I've ever eaten and I cannot wait to try this out in my own home so that I can tell you all that this is indeed a recipe to be photocopied, laminated and passed out to every single person you hold dear, because unless you have plans to visit Los Angeles any time soon, you are not going to want to let this thing pass you by. This silky, soft pudding that is sweet and yet barely so, at the same time. It is topped with a caramel sauce that you will want to bottle and spoon-feed yourself with, and ingeniously, between the pudding and the sauce is a layer of salt crystals, so that with each spoon you take, the salt jumps up to coax out the miraculously complex flavors that burnt sugar is so famous for. The whipped cream is secondary, the cookie a mere distraction. That budino, that sauce, that flaky salt - words cannot express how amazing it all was.

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And just like that, the week was over. On Sunday, I had to say goodbye to the perfumed air, the quiet nights, and the improbably beautiful sight of palm trees framing a gleaming city and the blue sky. I took my leave from the freeways (which I actually like driving around on), the city's coolly retro signs, and this strange sense of lightness and calm I have when I'm there. I don't know what it is or where it comes from, but I can't wait for my next trip, so I can feel it for a little while again.

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In the meantime, I've got a paper sack of kumquats to comfort me back home in this gray city of mine. They'll have to do for now.


The Best Kind of Wednesday

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I have decided that I'd like to start every Wednesday with a stroll around the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. This is an entirely better way to start the day than sitting hunched in front of my computer.

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Furthermore, I would like to note that kumquats have now entirely supplanted honey dates as the foodstuff I would like to live for. I know some of you will be gobsmacked by the fact that I had never actually eaten a kumquat until today, but it is the truth. What a sad, sad life I have led. Thanks to the wonderfully generous Pete Schaner, I have fallen head over heels in love with kumquats. I cannot seem to stop eating them. They are addictive little citrus bombs and I adore them.

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But lest you think I have become an entirely one-fruit girl, let me tell you that Ojai Pixie tangerines are giving kumquats a run for the money. Gaviota strawberries aren't far behind. Does it sound like I'm starting to talk in code? Come down to Santa Monica and see taste for yourself.

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Who knows, while you're down here, you might hear Mark Peel discuss how he grills whole fish (on a bed of soaked thyme) or see Ron Rifkin buying flowers (purple anemones and a sheaf of lilies, if you're wondering). You'll see fresh chanterelles with stems as thick as saplings, bundles of wild fennel (which I'd never seen outside of Italy) and more types of avocados than you had ever dreamed possible. Local walnut farmers will be selling their own roasted walnut oil and you will marvel at the flavor. There will be spoon-ready Hachiya persimmons and perfectly aged goat cheeses and enough blood oranges to put Sicily out of business. Best of all, you'll see chefs and farmers interacting on a level I've never witnessed in New York.

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For this New Yorker, it was an amazing morning. From the bottom of my heart, I have to thank Russ Parsons and Amy Scattergood who accompanied me and made the entire experience unforgettable. Especially Russ, who should win Farmer's Market Guide of the Year, though I suspect there's really no competition. So, can we do this again next Wednesday? And the one after that? And the one after that?


Things I Am Learning

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If I could visit Loteria Grill and eat this pepper (people, what kind of pepper is it?) stuffed with beans every day for lunch, life could never be blue. The little hash of almonds, raisins, beef, and cubed vegetables served alongside it would help, too.

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Southern Californian drivers are kind, kind people. They make the drivers I learned from in Boston seem like downright barbarians. And don't even get me started on New Yorker cabbies. Wouldn't it be lovely to send all those jerks packing to LA where no one honks, people are patient, and there is nary a middle finger in sight?

The reason I have never liked dates is clearly because I was never offered the gloriously soft and sticky specimen that is the honey date, and since discovering honey dates two days ago, I have decided life is simply not worth living without them.

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If you come to Los Angeles and leave without a meal at Triumphal Palace in Alhambra, or specifically, without ordering the Steamed Baby Bok Choy in Fish Broth or the Mustard Greens in Supreme Soup at Triumphal Palace in Alhambra, I'm not sure you can be helped.

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There is a lemon tree in the backyard and there are lemons picked from this tree in our kitchen and somehow this little fact has kept me tickled pink for at least 12 hours. I think if we end up actually using the lemons, I will be entirely overwhelmed.


Craig Strong's Raisin-Filled Sugar and Spice Cookies

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It's a good thing I'll be in Pasadena next week - I have half a mind to track down Craig Strong of the Ritz-Carlton, toting my little Ziploc bag filled with a few buttery crumbs and the lingering scent of ginger and lemons, to tell him that despite the utter unwillingness of that wondrous cookie dough to allow itself to be rolled and the fact that the recipe produced far more cookies than he said it would, that I was having a Very Hard Time Indeed (or Nigh Impossible, I suppose) not to eat all of the delicious crescents of tender cookie and spicy-sweet citrus jam (the empty Ziploc bag would then be presented as proof) and that even my personal cookie expert proclaimed them to be very good and, furthermore, she asked for the recipe, which is a sign, if any, of the true deliciousness of said cookies.

And then I'd thank him, of course. I am nothing if not polite.

First published in the Los Angeles Times in December, along with nine other cookies proclaimed to be the best in the land, or at least the county, Craig's cookie recipe consists of a soft, buttery dough, speckled with vanilla bean seeds, rolled out and filled with an aromatic golden raisin jam (again with the golden raisins, I know, but once again I'm going to tell all you raisin-haters that in this incarnation, the little golden nuggets are completely transformed into something else entirely - the lemon peel and grated ginger and gentle stewing all help a bit - and I guarantee you will not regret making these, I really do). Brushed with a cream glaze and sparkling with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar crystals, the cookies may not look like the recipe says they will, but that doesn't matter in the slightest. These are fantastic cookies that pack a textural punch and hugely delicious flavor.

And? Drumroll... They're going into my permanent repertoire, for sure.

Let me just quickly tell you how I ended up improvising. First of all, I substituted vanilla extract for the seeds - and yes, I felt very badly about it. But I had everything else in the house, and I was on a cookie-making roll and at the time, subbing with the extract didn't seem so bad. And it wasn't! Like I said, these are fantastic little confections. Made with vanilla beans, they will most definitely pass even the most rigorous Christmas gift test with flying colors. I figured, in plain old March, it'd be okay if I didn't go all out.

Then, the dough. I found it too sticky to roll out, even after an overnight stay in the fridge. So, employing my Silpat, the palm of my hand, and very quick work, I decided to make crescent-shaped cookies instead of the fluted-edge, stamped cookies. I plucked off a walnut-sized piece of dough, flattened it on the Silpat with one swift movement, dolloped a teaspoon of the raisin jam on top, folded the cookie over (this required a spatula, usually), then brushed it with the cream glaze and rolled it in the coarse sugar.

You might need a few tries to get a cookie that isn't ripped open here and there. But you'll get the hang of it. Maybe have a friend help you. Or spread the work out over two days (I did - baking some Saturday night, and the rest Sunday morning so that we'd have enough for dessert on Sunday afternoon, after a most successful lunch of Russ-and-Molly inspired kale-and-goat-cheese frittata - but with a boiled Carola potato or two for good measure - and salad) - that way you don't get too irritated at the dough and the fussiness of the whole project.

Besides, I'm here to tell you that I, self-appointed queen of non-fussy cooking, think these things are worth the trouble. They really are.

After all that work, the payoff comes so quickly. A mere 10 to 12 minutes in the oven and your house will fill with this amazing scent - browning butter, caramelizing sugar, a spicy melange of grated ginger and lemon peel. You'll pull out the trays of browned cookies, let them cool as long as you're able and then bite into one. Your teeth will hit the alluring crunch of the turbinado sugar, then sink gently into the soft cookie and the gooey fruit filling that is just the right balance of sweet and spicy and bold against the creamy backdrop of the casing. You'll eat one, and another, then congratulate yourself that you had the foresight to make these in March, when the holidays are far away, and there's absolutely no reason why you should pack any of the cookies up and ship them away.

Holiday spirit, bah humbug. It's spring, and these are all for you.

Raisin-Filled Sugar and Spice Cookies
Makes 30 cookies


1/2 cup butter
1 vanilla bean, scraped of seeds
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon milk
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup golden raisins
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Coarse sugar, such as sanding sugar

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter, vanilla bean seeds and 1 cup sugar, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Beat in the milk and eggs one at a time; mix well.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom into a large bowl. Add to the butter mixture, beating until just incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic film and chill 2 to 3 hours, until dough is firm.

3. For the filling, mix the raisins, one-third cup sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and ginger in a small saucepan. Stir together the cornstarch and one-half cup water until smooth and add this to the raisin mixture. Heat, stirring occasionally, to boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the dough in half and roll out two rectangles one-eighth-inch thick. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolks and cream with a fork. Lightly brush one rectangle of dough with the egg yolk mixture.

5. Spoon 12 mounds, about a tablespoon each, of the raisin mixture spread 3 1/2 inches apart on the sheet of dough. Cover with the other sheet of dough and cut around the mound of filling with a fluted round 3-inch cookie cutter. Rework the excess dough, re-roll, fill and cut for the remainder of the cookies. Lift filled cookies onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.


Coming Into Los Angeles

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The last time I went to LA, I didn't mention the trip until it was over, missing out on all of your suggestions and tips on where to go and, more importantly, what to eat.

This time it's going to be different. I'm flying back to Los Angeles in a week. Where should I go? What should I eat? Who should I see? Where should I shop? I'll be staying in Pasadena, equipped with a rental car and several parents.

Leave me a comment, or send me an email. Thank you, dear readers. I can't wait!


Russ Parsons' Lamb-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

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When I get to thinking about the state of school lunches in this country, it makes me despair, just a bit. I know it's a well-worn subject, but lately I've been thinking that it all boils down to one simple question. Why do we serve our children the kind of food that none of us would willingly eat ourselves? I'm sure there's more to the situation that meets the eye, that simple economics play a huge role, and that there are millions of people in this country with differing opinions on why America's children are fed slop. (And there is no other word for it - well, no other polite one at least. That's something we can probably all agree on.) I also know this discussion is considered a luxury by many, many people who populate this earth, but that doesn't mean it isn't a problem we need to solve.

Goodness, I'm starting off seriously, aren't I? It's just that as I stood over the stove last night, boiling cabbage leaves and stewing tomatoes, the familiar rolls of meat-stuffed cabbage reminded me of the wholesome lunches I was fed at my school in Berlin (a public school, I'd like to point out). From stuffed cabbage to Sauerbraten to chicken fricassee, school lunch was a meal we ate with gusto. Freshly prepared by grumpy ladies in white hats, dolloped out onto trays with bread and fruit, and costing a little less than five Deutschmark per lunch (which, if my memory and mathematics are correct, would be around $2.00 in today's dollars, though I'm sure my father will correct me if I'm wrong), this was good, honest food. Sure, the older we got, the more we thought the doner kebaps down the street were a way better use of our lunch money and besides, eating in the lunchroom with seventh graders seemed, like, totally out of the question by the time the twelfth grade rolled around, but still, that lunchroom nourished thousands of kids, from kindergarten all the way to the end of the line, and with very little protest.

(The French school in Berlin, by the way, had the most hideous lunches. Isn't that funny? Glutinous stews, unrecognizable vegetables and a dirty lunchroom. Those kids all ate candy bars from the kiosk across the street for lunch instead. The poor dears.)

As a result of all those years standing in line with my classmates, fiddling with the blue plastic lunch chips that countless others before us had used (our parents paid the lunch fees in advance, on a sliding scale according to income, and we were given a sack of chips doled out at the beginning of each month. The chips were taken at each meal by the lunch ladies, then counted, and recycled back to us.), stuffed cabbage reminds me of my happy days in Berlin. This week, the Los Angeles Times reprinted a recipe from 2001 for a lamb-filled version, and since my recipe-clipping only goes back to 2002, I jumped at the chance to try this.

It seemed simple enough - a ground lamb stuffing with toasted pine nuts, chopped cilanparsley, cumin, rice and an egg, wrapped in blanched cabbage leaves and oven-braised in a tomato-cabbage sauce. My first problem was not blanching the cabbage properly, so that my rolls were difficult and unwieldy to wrap. My second problem was to disregard the instruction to use a skillet (I don't have a top for mine) and using a Dutch oven instead. My third problem was that I apparently have no idea what cooked ground lamb looks like, because after the stated hour and half in the oven, and then an additional hour later, I still had no idea if those rolls were properly cooked or not. No clue. None! For all I know, I had lamb tartare for dinner last night.

(I'm still alive, though, and in good spirits.)

But! Despite all of these problems, that was one good dinner. The cabbage was sweet and juicy (even if I got fed up with the stiff, not-properly-blanched cabbage leaves, and ended up rolling up only a few rolls), the spiced meat filling was hearty and delicious (even though, because of the aforementioned cabbage stiffness, it meant that I formed largish meatballs with the remaining filling and sort of squashed them down amidst the rolls), and the stewy tomato sauce was the perfect foil for the whole dish (all of which might explain why the accompanying photo to this post doesn't really look like stuffed cabbage at all - it's more like meat and cabbage, stuffed into a pot).

I have leftovers and I'm thrilled about it (I've gotten a new job, dear readers, and though I've moved only one block away from my old office, I can't seem to get a grip on my new lunch choices, which I know sounds ridiculous, seeing as I'm just around the corner, but for some reason everything's so much more expensive over here and I don't really know where to go and I'm getting sick of wandering aimlessly only to end up with a spongy baked potato filled with some questionable chili stew that still winds up costing me uncomfortably close to ten dollars, and so! home-cooked it'll have to be, at least for the foreseeable future).

Now, should you want to make this and, like me, don't have a oven-safe skillet with a top, or are impatient and don't feel like stuffing cabbage and don't have white-clad German lunch ladies doing so for you, I think you should deconstruct the recipe as follows:  cook together the tomato sauce as directed, but add more shredded cabbage and then form the lamb stuffing into marble-sized meatballs which you simmer, covered, directly in that sauce. (in the oven, of course). You'll get the same warm flavors and rib-sticking goodness without the irritation (entirely self-made, I admit) that I experienced last night.

And who knows, if enough people eat this for dinner and are inspired to think about school lunch reform, maybe we can actually achieve some progress. If not, at least we'll have had a good meal.

Lamb-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Serves 6

1/3 cup pine nuts
1 pound ground lamb
3/4 cup rice
2/3 cup chopped cilantro (or parsley)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 1/2 cups white wine, divided
Freshly ground pepper
1 (3-pound) cabbage
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1. Toast the pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant, about 5 minutes.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pine nuts, lamb, rice, cilantro, cumin, salt, egg, 1/2 cup of wine and pepper to taste. Stir to mix thoroughly, but don't overmix or the rolls will be heavy.

3. Leaving the cabbage head whole, cut out as much of the core as you can. Dip the whole cabbage head in a large pan of boiling water until the outer leaves soften, about 30 seconds. Remove the cabbage from the water, carefully remove those outer leaves and set them aside on a towel to drain. Repeat this process until you come to the inner leaves that are very convoluted and thick. Shred those and set them aside.

4. Meanwhile, in a large skillet with a heat-proof handle, cook the shallots in the olive oil over medium heat until they soften, about 3 minutes. Add the shredded cabbage and cook until the cabbage is wilted and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup of wine and cook until it loses its raw smell, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and heat through. The sauce should be slightly soupy.

5. Set 1 medium-sized cabbage leaf flat on a work surface with the core end facing away from you. Cut a "V" in the base, removing the tough part of the core. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the meat mixture in the "cup" of the leaf at its tip. Roll once, then fold in the sides and continue rolling. Set aside seam-side down. Repeat using all of the medium-sized leaves, then using the larger leaves, cutting them in half if necessary to make consistent-sized rolls. You will probably have some cabbage leaves left over.

6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

7. When the tomato sauce is ready, place the prepared cabbage rolls seam-side down in the pan. Go ahead and pack them tightly, and, if necessary, you can even stack one or two on top. Arrange any unused cabbage leaves in a single layer on top of the rolls. Cover the pan with a lid and place it in the oven. Bake until the rolls are thoroughly cooked and fragrant, about 1 and 1/2 hours.

8. Remove the rolls from the oven and let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the loose leaves from the top and then carefully spoon the hot cabbage rolls onto a serving platter. Pour the sauce over the top and serve right away.