|Cooks Corner Rachelle Johnston. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Rachelle Johnston says the joy of cooking seems to run in her family.
"My dad's mother worked as a cook for the Stranahans at the Manor House in Toledo, when it was a residence. And back in the 1950s, my grandfather owned a restaurant in the north end of Toledo called Chet's Hot Dog. It was a small restaurant in an area of the Polish neighborhood. My dad and his brother both worked there.
"That side of my family is Polish and all six of us kids like to cook and compare recipes."
To this day, Johnston, whose maiden name is Strawinski, "really enjoys recipes that have an ethnic flair or that have some history."
That's why her Cook's Corner contribution features stuffed cabbage roll, long a Polish family favorite.
"I had a hard time choosing my 'one' recipe," Johnston admitted, in light of the fact that "I've enjoyed cooking and baking since probably grade school!"
In the end, she couldn't resist offering readers a "bonus" recipe, as well, for her ingenious pierogi casserole.
"Pierogi is another great Polish dish, which is dough stuffed with potato, cheese and onion. It goes really well with stuffed cabbage, but can be time consuming.
"This recipe tastes great and is super easy! It's easy, 'cause it's a casserole. You know, the handmade ones (pierogis) are a lot of work."
How did Bowling Green's Johnston come up with two such wonderful recipes?
It's a combination of family influence and her penchant for collecting recipes.
"I have a huge amount filed to try eventually. Sometimes I combine ingredients from similar recipes - I find the older I get, that's what I do. Or I add or delete things based on reading over a recipe.
"I usually have made changes to most of my favorite recipes." The Stuffed Cabbage recipe is one of those.
"The ingredients are from an old Polish cookbook," published at least 30 or 40 years ago, "with changes that my family has made, and then of course I've changed a few things."
The old cookbook is precious because it contains hand-written notes Johnston's sister made in the margin next to the stuffed cabbage recipe which explained changes their grandmother had made.
Johnston's own further tweaking was fairly extensive.
"I put the bacon on top. I do the onions in it. The book calls for tomato paste; I don't use that. I'm sure they wouldn't have called for catsup, but I like the way it tastes."
The stuffed cabbage makes a good sized pan, offering at least 15-18 servings, "but you can divide into two and freeze one for later."
That's what Johnston often does herself, after serving it to husband Dave and sons Eric, 111â„2, a sixth grader at Conneaut Elementary, and John, 10, a fourth grader.
"My 10-year-old is picky, but Eric is like me; he loves ethnic" and usually opts to eat his birthday dinner at Tandoor, an Indian restaurant in Toledo.
"We've exposed the kids to all kinds of ethnic foods - Greek, Vietnamese, Thai, Bulgarian - we love Naslada Bistro" in Bowling Green.
And when they're in an all-American mood they can always turn to Johnston's dad's recipes for chili and hot dog sauce.
"When they sold the business in 1972," she said, referring to Chet's Hog Dog, "they didn't sell those recipes. They remain in the family."
As good a cook as Johnston is, it's her baking that has won official acclaim.
"Several summers ago I submitted my chocolate cheesecake at the Wood County Fair and won best of show. I was shocked! That's the first and only time I've entered something in the fair.
"When my boys were babies, I took cake decorating classes. I mainly wanted to be able to do birthday cakes for my sons, but I have been doing cakes for friends as well - birthdays, showers, anniversaries. But I don't dare do wedding cakes! I delivered a beautiful ivory tiered cake to my aunt and uncle for their 50th wedding anniversary, only to find it all over the trunk when I arrived at the reception hall."
So no more wedding cakes.
"I can't take the pressure!"
Currently a stay-at-home mom, besides the cake-baking she has her own business doing decorative furniture painting. "I'll find used pieces and bring them to new life."
Stuffed cabbage rolls (Golabki)
2 c. cooked long-grain rice, cooled
1 pound lean pork sausage
2 pounds ground chuck
1 small onion chopped
1 1/2 cup ketchup
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 (3 lb.) head green cabbage
1 16 oz. can sauerkraut, drained
3 cup tomato juice
6-8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
1. With a sharp knife, pierce around core of cabbage. Carefully remove wilted outer cabbage leaves; discard. In a large saucepan, boil enough salted water to cover cabbage. Immerse cabbage in boiling water. Cook over medium-high heat 5-7 minutes. Drain well; let cool.
2. Preheat oven to 325F.
3. In a large bowl, combine cooled rice, sausage, beef, onion, ketchup, eggs, salt and pepper.
4. Trim off tough leaf stems. Spread a cabbage leaf flat. Depending on leaf size, place 3-4 Tbs. filling on cabbage leaf near base. Fold bottom of leaf over filling, then fold sides toward center. Roll tightly. Repeat with remaining filling and cabbage leaves. (Two small leaves can be overlapped to make one larger leaf.) Arrange cabbage
leaves, seam side down, in a medium roasting pan.
5. Add 2 cups tomato juice to the cabbage rolls. Top with sauerkraut. Pour remaining 1 cup tomato juice over top. Cook covered for 1 hour or until fork tender. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon bits.
Baste with tomato juice and bake for 10 more minutes. Serves 15-18.
9 cooked lasagna noodles
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 med. onion, finely chopped
9 med. potatoes, peeled, cooked and drained
2 1/2 c cheddar cheese
1/2 c milk
1 c sour cream
Saute butter and onions in pan. Drain and mash potatoes with 1 1/2 c cheese, milk and sour cream. Layer 3 noodles lengthwise in buttered 9x13 pan, then spread 1/3 of potato mixture over the noodles. Add 1/3 of onion mixture over the potatoes. Repeat until you have 3 layers. Bake uncovered in 375F oven 25 minutes. Top with 1 c cheddar and bake 5 more minutes.
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