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Why was I always so afraid of cabbage rolls? Specifically, of cabbage-rolling. They always seemed fussy and complicated and too totally un-Italian for me to master. It turns out all I needed was one partner (my mother-in-law, Gene), three glasses of wine apiece, and her zingy recipe, brought to us by way of South Branch, Newfoundland.

Here’s what you need:

1 large cabbage [we used Savoy]

For the sauce:

28-oz. can of tomatoes
10-oz. can of tomato soup
1/2 cup of ketchup [deal with it!]
1/4 cup of vinegar
1 chopped onion
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar [we skipped it, on account of the ketchup]
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
a few drops of Tabasco [or more, depending on your taste]
1 tbsp sweet relish

For the filling:

1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1 cup minute rice [we used 1 cup of raw brown basmati and cooked it first. The cooked yield was about 2 cups]

Here’s what you do:

1. Put your rice on (unless you’re a crazy maniac with minute rice in your cupboard).

2. Simmer all of the sauce ingredients for 20 minutes.

3. Core your cabbage, separate the leaves, then steam them till they’re soft and pliable, about 10 minutes.

(If you find the individual leaves too hot for your delicate paws, run them under cool water. We didn’t bother – hands of steel.)

4. When the rice is done, mix it, the egg and some salt and pepper with the ground beef.

5. Let the rolling begin! On a clean work surface (we used a broad wooden chopping board), take a cabbage leaf and lay it down. If the vein is thick, whittle it down with a sharp knife.

Roll a bit of the meat mixture in your palm into a little log shape (we used about two heaping tablespoons per roll, but you can make them bigger or smaller, depending on the size of your cabbage leaves and your own personal sense of drama).

Fold it like a burrito. The bottom covers the log, then fold the sides in, then roll the whole thing up.

Secure it with a toothpick and tuck it into whatever giant vessel you are going to cook them in. (We used a big black Darth Vader-esque roaster, but you could also use a Pyrex with a lid, or one topped with foil.)

Continue until every darling little roll is tucked into your cooking vessel.

6. Pour the sauce on the rolls

and pop them in the oven, covered, for about an hour and a half, depending on how big you made your rolls. You want your meat cooked through and your cabbage leaves soft enough to be appealing.

And now, the tips that made this cabbage-roll extravaganza infinitely more manageable:

1. We doubled our recipe. Next time, we’d even triple it. One you’re rolling, it’s easy as anything, so you might as well get a fabulously large yield out of it and freeze quite a few.

2. Make your sauce ahead. Boil your rice ahead. You can even steam your cabbage ahead. All this makes the assembly quick and painless.

3. Keep the vegetarian in your life happy: We substituted half the beef for veggie ground round, though you could just as easily use rice and lentils. (All of our rolls went into the same roaster; we placed double toothpicks in the non-meat ones, so as not to defile our resident vegetarian. You’re welcome, Wayne.)

4. Did we mention the wine? For optimal results, drink at least two glasses per cook, and “make sure the glasses are spaced evenly throughout the cooking session,” says Gene. “Bottle may be finished once rolls are placed in oven.”

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Words of Wayne

Look at what Wayne discovered on his breakfast plate (medium: banana string). It's the Playboy Banana. I ask you, Dr. Freud: How does he find this stuff? If he could have, he would have put it in his cherished Food Oddities mug, along with the treble-clef pretzel and the Bill Clinton potato chip.

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