Operation Bierock


So, apparently in Nebraska there’s a local chain of restaurants that specialize in their namesake sandwich: the Runza–a mixture of ground beef and cabbage inside of a yeast bread package. Born and raised in Nebraska, Todd really missed them and the recipe he’d tried in the past just didn’t make the grade. While that’s enough, on it’s own, to make me want to give it a whirl, the cabbage-factor made it a perfect meal for New Year’s Day. Add some black-eyed peas on the side and our traditional food requirements are taken care of!

Looking at the recipe he’d used in the past, I noticed that the filling was fairly simple: ground beef, onions, cooked cabbage, salt and white pepper. While I’m all for the purity of ingredients standing out, the missing ingredient was obviously flavor! Because bierocks come from a German background, I flipped through some of my books from International Cuisine class to see what herbs and spices came up the most so we’d have a jumping-off point for experimentation. I automatically suggested paprika (for a warm, homey feeling), then we picked out nutmeg, ginger and caraway seed to round out the seasonings. One other addition: garlic. Whether it’s appropriate for the recipe or not, garlic is a staple in our home so I had to add some.

Digging around the Internet some more, I found several recipes for beirocks that all seemed pretty much the same. One interesting tidbit I picked up in the comments of one was to cook the shredded cabbage in beer rather than just water. Awesome idea and we had a bottle of Pumpkin Ale in the fridge that would be perfect (though any spiced ale would work–not a lot transfers to the cabbage, just enough to add another layer of flavor overall). Todd also said that the source recipe was a bit heavy on the cabbage, so we cut that down a bit.

The results were amazing! Never having been to the Midwest or tasted a Runza, according to my audience I not only replicated what he’d been missing but improved it, as well. Go me! Here’s the recipe we ended up with (aka our new New Year’s tradition):

makes 24

11 c All-Purpose Flour
1 pkg (.25 oz) Active Dry Yeast
.5 c Sugar
2 tsp Salt
2.5 c Water
1 c Milk
.5 c Butter
2 Eggs

Combine 4 cups of the flour with the rest of the dry ingredients (yeast, sugar and salt) in a large bowl (preferably one that fits on a stand mixer) and mix well.

In a sauce pan, combine the water, milk and butter and heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and let cool to between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit (too cold and the yeast won’t grow, too hot and you’ll kill it).

With the mixer on low, add in liquids until just moistened, followed by eggs. Crank up the mixer to medium and beat for 3-5 minutes. Returning the mixer to low, gradually add in the rest of the flour until all is incorporated. Transfer to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.

If you have a super-sized mixer you may be able to do this in the bowl but my 4-quart Kitchen Aid didn’t have the space to let this huge mound of dough move around and do it’s thing enough without some additional kneading by hand. Besides, it’s a good arm work-out!

Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, turn to coat evenly, then cover with a towel and let rest until doubled (1 hour for regular yeast, only about 10 minutes for rapid-rise), punch the dough down and let it rise again for another hour.

20 oz Cabbage, shredded, the finer the better
1 bottle Ale
1 c Water
2 T Olive Oil
2 lb Ground Beef
1 lg Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 T Salt
1 tsp ground White Pepper
1 T ground Ginger
1 T Paprika
1/2 t Caraway Seeds, bashed in a mortar and pestle for a bit
1 T ground Nutmeg

Cook the cabbage with the ale and water in a covered saucepan until tender, stirring occasionally. Drain off the remaining liquid.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the ground beef and brown, adding the seasonings towards the end of the process. Drain off any liquid (if you used lean ground beef there shouldn’t be much) and add the cabbage to the ground beef.

Divide the dough into 24 even pieces. Stretch, roll and pull a piece into a 5-inch square (or as close as you can get–dough doesn’t like making corners on it’s own). Moisten the edges of the dough with a little bit of water and add 1/3 cup of filling to the center of the dough. Pull up the four “corners” of dough to meet in the center, pinch together and then pinch the x-like seams that form. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. Place, seam down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

I had to ask Todd how we were supposed to eat them (with knife and fork or just in hand) and the verdict was definitely hands-on. Since this makes a LOT of bierocks, wrap each leftover one individually in foil and then place them in a large freezer bag and store in the freezer until you a craving hits. Place a frozen bierock, still in it’s foil packet, into a 375-degree oven and bake 20 minutes or until completely heated through (165 degrees in the center).

Random Appetites: New Year’s Food Traditions


Along with watching the Rose Parade (and, I suppose, the football game afterwards), I grew up knowing that New Year’s Day meant 2 things: cabbage and black-eyed peas.

Supposedly, the cabbage (or any greens for that matter) symbolizes wealth (get it: green–>money) and the peas were for health (some say luck, I prefer to go with health). As a child I recall not liking either of these foods all that much but Mom insisted we eat at least one bite of each! Things change over the years, however, and I enjoy both immensely these days.

Now, the cabbage/greens are pretty obvious, but what is up with the peas (actually beans, but common terminology calls them peas) and luck/health? The prevailing theory seems to date back to the Civil War when the crop was the only one available (since it was usually grown for animal feed) after the North marauded through the South. Hence, black-eyed peas were an important form of sustenance for those who survived the War. The irony, of course, is their name: a black eye would be considered neither lucky or healthy to have, so maybe the above is all some apocryphal nonsense trumped up by the Black-Eye-Pea Farmers of the world. Either way, done right, they can be very tasty.

Cabbage is easy to cook: Remove the outer leaves and thick stem from the head of cabbage. Cut in quarters or so and then separate the leaves in chunks, putting as much will fit into a large pot along with a ham hock, hambone, or some rendered bacon and a little bit of water. Not too much since cabbage has a high water content and will cook down to a fraction of its former self rather quickly. If you have more cabbage than will fit in the pot to begin with, put the lid on and wait a bit and then add the rest once it’s cooked down a bit. Cook until tender, add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy.

If you just can’t stand cooked cabbage, greens or green salads I see no reason why, say, coleslaw couldn’t be substituted for the same benefit.

Black-eyed peas can be a little tougher, only because it takes a while to bring out the best of their flavor. You can start from dry and soak over night, drain and then cook until tender or you can do what I do: buy good quality canned, drain and rinse thoroughly, then cook with the de rigueur ham hock, salt pork or bacon, salt (watch it if you’ve used salt pork that you don’t overdo) and pepper. The peas should be cooked until tender but not mush and, if done right, have a slightly buttery flavor even without additional seasoning. If you’re really pressed for time or haven’t had much luck getting your peas to turn out right, the Glory brand of canned black-eyed peas is a decent substitute for home-seasoned.

In some parts of the South, Hopping John–a “salad” of black-eyed peas and rice–is the customary way of getting your peas for the year. I’ve never had a batch that wasn’t really dry and mealy and don’t much care for it, myself. I’ve also heard that you should eat 365 black-eyed peas for luck/health every day of the year but, as much as I’ve come to love them, that’s a few too many peas for one day!

No matter how you prepare them, the only other thing you need to add for your traditional (if a bit superstitious) New Year’s Meal is plenty of corn bread–not only is it tasty on it’s own (try adding whole kernel corn, ham chunks and some chopped jalepenos if you don’t like the plain sort), it’s great for soaking up that pot liquor from the cabbage and peas.

Want something sweet to round out the meal? I’ve heard that the Italians (and other wine-folk) make a habit of eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Day. Some even go so far as to use it as a bit of a divination tool: if, for instance, the fifth grape is sour you can expect May to be a sour month and so forth.