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Betty M.'s Pigs in Blankets

To say you loved your Mother-in-Law is a strange admission to some. Not for me. I really loved, admired and respected the woman who gave birth to Dear Husband, and not just for that! An incredibly strong person who raised six children, lost her husband way too early, and accomplished a career as well! You'd be hard-pressed to find her kind of tenacity, even in this day and age, when womens' options are almost limitless.

In addition to being tough, and the kind of person who would "tell it like it is", Betty was also kind and had a ready smile. She was a great storyteller as well...sometimes holding you spellbound until you were on the edge of your seat, waiting to hear the very end of the tale.

As a thrifty Mother of six, Betty was also well-versed in how to feed a large family on a budget, and her stuffed cabbages (known as "pigs in blankets" in the family) are legendary. All of her children, to include my own Dear Husband, will reminisce about this wonderful, tasty, and filling meal. I knew if I could reasonably duplicate it, the whole clan would enjoy it. (disclaimer to my extended family - this is my recreation of Betty's famous dish to the best of my recollection ~ I'm sure Mom's was always best :-) ) I was privileged enough to watch her make these, and thought I would show you. As with most families, their personal "soul food" was a dish rooted in peasant times, meant to be hearty, filling, thrifty, and tasty. This is all four of those things.

First, steam one cup rice in two cups water, and let cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients..

Then, core a nice large cabbage, and cook for eight to ten minutes until tender, and let cool.

Now, get these ingredients together...

From left to right; green bell pepper, onion, can of crushed tomatoes, one pound of ground beef, apple cider vinegar, the cabbage, salt, pepper, garlic powder, the cooked rice. Not shown, two Tablespoons unsalted butter.

Chop one half of the bell pepper, and the whole onion, into a pretty small dice, as you want them to melt into the filling, rather than stay large this,

Sautee' these in your skillet (with 2 Tablespoons butter), on low to medium low heat - until soft and don't want these to brown up on you, keep it low, and slow your roll! Hahahah - I'm a poet and did not even know it! Ummm., ok, on to the saute'....

Now place your cooked rice, the ground beef, salt, pepper and garlic powder in a mixing bowl. It looks like a lot of seasoning, but remember, this is going to be a large dish that includes sauce, and you are seasoning all of that!

When the pepper and onion are soft and tender, put them into the bowl with the rice and beef, and mix very well.....

Did I mention that this is one of those meals that takes a while to make? Well, ah, yes....BUT, the payoff is, that once you are done, you pop it into a low oven, and you have your day to do manicures and shopping  whatever pressing items are at hand! :-) Now, prepare your cabbage leaves by gently peeling them from the head of cabbage, trying not to damage the leaves. Lie them on your work surface or cutting board thusly;

Cut off the very top portion, then cut out the tough center rib of the cabbage leaf, pictured below. Each side then becomes a wrapper, and save those middle'll see why in a bit.

Now take a small handfull of the meat and rice mixture, and press it into a small bullet-shaped ball o' meat. MEAT BULLETS, yay! What a way to go! Place into the cabbage leaf with the end of the meat lined up with the straighter edge of the leaf, like this...

Now, gently roll the filling into the leaf, tucking in the frilly, outer leaves...on the upper right in this photo...

You should have a nice, neat little cabbage roll, with one end closed and the other open. Like this little one...

Place in your casserole, all the little soldiers lined up and ready for duty! This post shows one of two trays of piggies - this makes a lot! Perfect for a large family, and it freezes quite well.

Now, chop the remaining half of your bell pepper, and some of those tough, inner ribs of the cabbage, sprinkle on top, season again with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and two Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.

Pour over the can of crushed tomatoes...

Then, add enough water to almost come to the top of your pan.

Cover tightly with foil, place on a cookie sheet (because pixie ovens need to STAY clean - I detest cleaning the oven!), and bake at 325 for four to six hours. Go fishing, shop, get a manicure - wooooo-hoooo! Do check every two hours or so, and add water if needed - for two reasons: One, the rice will continue to absorb liquid, and Two, you want the final product to have sauce to ladle over the little bundles...and mashed potatoes, of course!

The result?  Let me put it this way, if one were to look up "comfort food" in the dictionary, one may very well see this dish!

Of course, one ends up eating so many of these deceptively tiny rolls, that one begins to resemble a "piggie in a blanket" as well ~ ahem. Well, at least we know how they got their name...hardy har.

Thank you Betty M, for never judging me, for being so accepting, for having strength, spunk and wisdom. And for allowing me to be a part of your life for a time, and giving me the love of a lifetime.