Stuffed Grape Leaves with Merguez Sausage (Page 58)

T The Gourmet Project
RECIPE #1218
Date: Friday, September 10, 2010 -- 6pmLocation: East Lansing, MIKitchen: Our HouseDining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Ron, Esther, Ben S, Corbett, Mary, Allison, and Bob.
Recipe Rating: B-

I wanted to make some non-seafood hors d'oeuvres to serve at our crawfish boil. The fish-free choices in the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section in The Book have become quite limited -- this is one of the few recipes I had left. This recipe was extremely labor-intensive. I started by blanching stacks of grape leaves in boiling water, in several batches. Then I prepared the filling. I cooked some rice, then added lemon zest, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, dill, parsley, currants, cooked crumbled sausage, red onions cooked in oil, salt, and pepper. I then filled and rolled the grape leaves. It sounded harmless enough, but it took forever. Grape leaves tear easily, and vary tremendously in size. Plus, I had 75 of them to fill. Eventually I finished filling them. Then I layered them with salt and oil in a pot, weighted them down, and filled the pot with chicken stock. I simmered the rolls until the leaves were soft. I brushed them with oil, chilled them until they were cold, and served them. These stuffed grape leaves were fine, but they weren't nearly worth the effort. The filling was flavorful and the wide variety of ingredients went well together. They certainly weren't bad. I just didn't find them to be exceptionally delicious, which is what it would have taken to make all the work worth it. I wasn't the only one who was indifferent about these -- they were the only item at the crawfish boil that didn't get finished. At the end of the party there wasn't even a crumb left from the other hors d'oeuvre I made, but there were dozens of these still on the plate. They just weren't inspiring.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one.

Only 75 recipes left to go!

Last weekend on Friday after work I drove to Ann Arbor to get some seafood at Whole Foods. The traffic was bad and there was a terrible accident on the highway. The whole ordeal ended up taking more than four hours. I returned home late, exhausted and hungry, and way too tired to cook any of the seafood I had purchased. As seafood doesn't keep for long, on Saturday I had a lot of cooking to do. I made clam soup, fried oyster sandwiches, a clam pot pie, and deep-fried shrimp balls. At the end of the day I crawled into bed, exhausted and overwhelmed by the feeling that I had gotten nothing done since I left work on Friday except work on my project. The laundry was still in the shoot, the bills were still in a stack in my office. My grading wasn't done. My calculus exam wasn't written. The research to-do pile on my desk was growing rather than shrinking. In short: I felt overwhelmed. I turned to my special gentleman and asked, "Remind me why I am trying so hard to finish this project in 2010." His response: "I have no idea."

As I move towards the end of this project, it is more like having 75 projects left than 75 recipes. The dishes that are left are left for a reason. Many of them involve ordering ingredients, or trekking to Ann Arbor to buy things I can't find in East Lansing. Some of them are extremely labor-intensive. There is nothing left that is quick and easy. The payoff is that we are eating lots of interesting things (crawfish, octopus, goose, buffalo...) and I am making lots of dishes I have never made before. It's fun. But time-consuming. Last weekend, in my overwhelmed state, I had a revelation: there is no reason to rush. So I am pushing back my finish date. Instead of trying to finish this year, I am going to take an additional few months and aim for a finish date in March. As soon as I made the decision a huge wave of relief rushed through me. And this weekend I got much more done. I did a lot of cooking, some from The Book and some not from The Book. I paid the bills. I worked. I graded. I spent time with my special gentleman and our friend Grant who stayed with us Friday night. I went to church. I ran. I went on a home tour with Mary. I took a bath. It was awesome.

So it will take me a little longer to finish than I had planned. But I will finish. And I will cherish these last few months of the project!

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