Monday, June 26, 2006

Franks and Beans, Somewhat Updated

Yes, friends, this is what it has come to. While other food bloggers were unveiling the secrets of the pastry recipes of the Knights Templar (yes, A. did drag me to see The DaVinci Code this weekend: the horror) or reading ancient treatises on the proper roasting of game in the original Aramaic, I was stuck in the hinterlands of rural Pennsylvania, the filling in a generational sandwich of a vacation that included my parents and my daughters, trying to cook something that would meet both A.'s current dietary restrictions and everyone else's gustatory requirements.

I should say that the hinterlands of rural Pennsylvania are especially beautiful and that we had a great time there, and I would even now be posting pictures of the breathtaking landscape except that the digital camera is still in the glove compartment of my car, and I'm afraid to go outside these days because there is about a 75% chance of getting caught in a torrential downpour and being dragged out to sea. The weather in PA was mostly pretty nice, though.

I am not a big fan of traditional franks and beans, but it's entirely the fault of the beans because I love the hot dog. Mostly I love the hot dog in a bun with copious amounts of mustard, but there is no reason at all to look down one's nose at a decent frankfurter, though there is no disputing the fact that most of the franks that appear at the market are decidedly indecent.

Back to the beans, though. I have never liked baked beans very much. I have developed the ability to tolerate them when someone makes them right, but no one makes them right. People open a can and think that by the judicious application of extra ingredients, they can make a silk purse of a sow's ear. (One presumes that I am speaking figuratively when I mention a sow's ear, but with canned baked beans, one never knows, do one?) By soaking your own dried beans and by adding significant amounts of sausage and keeping the tomato products to a minimum, you can make something very good indeed, but no one would call it baked beans.

Canned (or, more accurately, tinned) baked beans are a big deal in England, and I have to say that I really don't get it. If you order a full English breakfast (don't), you will get a lot of good food accompanied by a pile of tinned baked beans. It's as if the plate was about to go out to the table, and someone slapped the cook and said, "Hey, we're British; our food sucks, remember!" and she dumped some beans on the plate to compensate.

I think I have that out of my system now, but of course this site is never a rant-free zone, so just keep your fingers crossed.

Black beans have long been my bean of choice, and even when you're stuck in the hinterlands of rural PA, provided you have a decent selection of spices, you can make good black beans. I can't make good black beans without a decent smoked meat product, and while a hamhock is usually the addition of choice, frankfurters turn out to work pretty well.

This is a very simple recipe, but when you're in a rural area and (just maybe) trying to avoid spending yet more time listening to one of your parents talk about ancient grievances involving members of his or her family whom you don't know very well, you have a lot of time to contemplate a recipe. Relatively simple changes in almost any ingredient will make a significant difference in how this recipe turns out. The kind of onion you use matters. Whether you puree or mince your garlic matters. How much water you use matters a great deal. At the same time (because nothing is ever simple), it's pretty good no matter which choice you make with any ingredient: it's just good in a significantly different way.

Franks and Beans

One pound dried black beans
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. celery seed
Ground pepper
4 c. water
1 envelope chicken bouillon

The night before you plan to serve the dish, put the black beans in a large bowl or other vessel, and cover them with several inches of water. Let soak overnight.

The next day, rinse and drain the beans thoroughly.

In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook covered, about five minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the cumin, celery seed, and black pepper to taste. Add the drained beans and stir. Add the water and the bouillon and stir again. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and simmer for about an hour or an hour and a half, until the beans are almost tender.

Add the frankfurters, return to the simmer, and cook about another half hour, or until the beans are tender and the mixture is thick. Add salt if necessary.

You can use a bouillon cube if that's what you have, but the envelopes of bouillon that come in the ethnic section of the supermarket are much better. I have no idea how my parents came to have this in their pantry, but I'm glad they did.

I much prefer all-beef frankfurters in this recipe. Hebrew National franks are very good, but large, all-beef Oscar Mayer franks are also very good. The amount of hot dogs you use is up to you, but one one-pound package or two twelve-ounce packages work very well. If you're serving this to a ten-year-old child, it is a good idea to have hot dog buns on hand and to not be too upset if she refuses to so much as try your black beans. She'll learn when she's older.

There is considerable debate among cooks as to the best way to cook beans. Many people will tell you that salt in the cooking water keeps the beans from ever becoming tender, so you should add salt after the cooking is done. My experience indicates that the significant amount of salt in the bouillon does not keep the beans from becoming tender, but I don't want to argue with serious bean chefs, so I'm just leaving that up to you. If you think salt is a problem, don't add either the bouillon or the franks until the beans are tender. In any case, taste carefully, because if you used the bouillon packets and the larger quantity of franks, you are unlikely to need additional salt.

I am similarly unwilling to wade into the to-soak-or-not-to-soak debate. I like soaking my beans overnight (partially because the soaked beans are visually appealing and fun to cook with), but if you want to just cook them directly from their dried state, simply simmer them for a longer period of time. You may have some opinions about the gastrointestinal consequences of soaking or not soaking, but we are not going there.

You can turn this into a soup and sandwich deal by adding an extra two cups of water and fishing out the franks at the end to serve in buns. I prefer my black beans on the thicker side, and one of my favorite things about cooking them is waiting for the time when they still have much of their shape but have started to release some of their starch so that the pot liquor gets nice and thick.

If you have the supplies and the interest, you can add other stuff to this recipe. You could omit some or all of the celery seed and replace the onion with a mirepoix, or you could keep the celery seed and just add some carrots during the cooking period. If I had been cooking this only for myself, I would have added a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes.

I'm sure the English would not approve, but A. enjoyed some of the leftover black beans for breakfast one morning.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I May Have Neglected To Mention

I've noticed that responsible bloggers (i.e., not I) mention when they're going to be away for a bit. So along those lines, I'm writing from the land of dial-up to say that I'm on vacation this week in the wilds of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where the beauty of the scenery is surpassed only by the inadequacy of the supermarkets. The stories I could tell you. But it would not, one supposes, be kind to inflict nightmares upon you while I'm enjoying a week away from both excessive heat and the office.

I likely will be cooking a reasonable amount this week, but it's less likely that I'll make anything I'd want to report back about. I will, however, pass on a bit of hard-earned (albeit completely obvious) knowledge that I acquired earlier this evening. If your daughter wants the two of you to make gnocchi on the same night that steaks are being grilled, first inquire whether in addition to bringing the steaks with you, you are expected to grill them. Alternatively, if you discover, halfway through making the gnocchi dough, that someone is expecting you to grill steaks, panic. If your grill is out on the driveway, and the water you're boiling the gnocchi in is inside the kitchen, thirty feet away, you're going to need an awful lot of adrenaline to run out and check your steaks and make it back to the kitchen between the time you put the gnocchi in the water and the time they float to the top. Without the panic, you're liable to get absorbed in the gnocchi making, and even the yummiest of gnocchi are unlikely to divert the other diners' attentions from a steak that is black on the outside and nearly raw on the inside.

Not that such a thing has ever happened to me, you understand.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Zieht Uns Hinan

I bring you, readers, yet another tale of mild culinary woe.

First of all, you must understand that I am, apparently, completely uneducated. Yesterday evening, when all good and diligent DC-area gays were watching the Pride parade, I was, mostly, on my way to the Kennedy Center to see the National Symphony Orchestra and four or five large choruses performing Mahler's Eighth. I say mostly because I did get a look at most of the parade floats while they were still in the staging area. During the afternoon, I got a call from A., whose mother had asked her to call me to tell me that she and her friends from the Rainbow Youth Alliance were going down to watch the parade. Her mother had hoped that I'd be there so that I could keep an eye on A. My ex, who may not be entirely rational about such matters, worries that my daughter, who is straight, spends so much of her time hanging out with gay teenaged boys because (I am not making this up) my ex is convinced that each and every one of these (gay) boys is trying to work his way into my daughter's pants.

A. is an uncommonly mature and wise seventeen-year-old, and I do not spend an undue amount of time worrying about her inadvertently losing her virtue, least of all to a group of boys who is spending all of its collective time ogling the Saloon Cowboys (who, it must be said, are worthy of ogling), so I had no particular reason to want to chaperone her, but since we had to be a few blocks away at 7:45, there seemed to be no reason not to forgo driving all the way down to the Kennedy Center in favor of taking the Metro down to Dupont Circle and walking to the Kennedy Center shuttle by way of the parade staging grounds, where A. and her gay boys (and the mother of one of them) were stationed. (This plan also allowed V. and I to walk by and see any number of attractive men, each of whom was putting his best foot forward, but of course that never occurred to me.)

I mention this because while we were between flatbed trucks loaded with scantily clad young men, V. started to talk about Mahler's Eighth to me. He informed me that the second part of it was a setting of the ending of Goethe's Faust, to which I quipped, "Oh, so we know how it ends," and when he looked puzzled, I said, "Well, some version or minion or other of Satan comes from him, and he gets dragged down to eternal damnation, yadda, yadda, yadda, right?"

But no. Because I am completely without education, I had no idea that dear Mr. Goethe had entirely rearranged his Faust so that the protagonist is saved from damnation because he never ceases striving. OK, I'm paraphrasing. V. explained it all to me in some detail (he has a Ph.D. in German literature, and he's not afraid to use it), but I was so put out by the temerity of this Goethe person to not have Faust be damned that I had some trouble focusing. Granted, I have never read more than bits and pieces of the Marlowe version, and granted I've never even picked up Goethe's version, but I did study literature for a long time, and I have read some Goethe (ok, ok, only Young Werther; the Germans largely bore me, and while I have read The Tin Drum twice, that was clearly anomalous), and during all that time no one even bothered to mention to me that Faust cheated damnation.

Well, you can imagine how different Mahler's Eighth has to be if it's the setting of someone ascending to paradise rather than descending to hell. First off, you know that the basses are getting the short end of the stick. You do hell, you need bass. You do paradise, and chances are you're looking at a lot of soprano and tenor, though the very idea that any tenor could ever make it to paradise is so ridiculous as to be unworthy of discussion.

But let's give the NSO and the five choruses some credit: they did a magnificent job with Mahler's Eighth, and it can't be an easy thing to pull off. It's normally called the "Symphony of a Thousand," and while I'm thinking there were probably no more than 750 musicians involved in this particular production, that is still no small accomplishment. First off, you have to find places for all of them, which is why we had orchestra tickets last night: the entire second balcony was given over to two of the choruses, plus the trumpet section, and the soloist singing the Mater Gloriosa part. (In order to take her bow with the rest of the vocal soloists, she really had to move to get from there to where they were sitting; she looked a little flushed.) While the performance was tremendous, I am not entirely thrilled with the piece itself. I suppose that when you have that many musicians, you have to go big, but the first part of the symphony (a setting of a Latin hymn) was so loud that I hoped the musicians had hearing protection. The setting of the end of Faust was mostly gorgeous, especially the beginning of the second part, when two choruses are echoing each other from either side of the second balcony, and the singing was wonderful throughout, but rather than end the piece with the vocalists, they all sit down and the orchestra PLAYS REAL LOUD for a while, and the conductor jumps all over the place. The orchestra did play very well, and it was certainly an experience that I won't ever forget, but you can't help wondering whether Mahler was at the manic end of his cycle when he wrote that.

When you have experienced something that is sublime in its audacity, you naturally want to fall back onto something that is sublime in its humility, and no food anywhere meets that description more exactly than gnocchi. There may be other foods as good as perfectly executed gnocchi, but there are none better.

I mean, of course, potato gnocchi. There are other sorts, and I'm sure that each is fine in its way, but a gnocchi made from flour is basically another sort of egg noodle, and while there is nothing whatever wrong with an egg noodle, the sort of gnocchi that makes you, when you have eaten more than you ever thought you could, put your fork down and say, "I never want to eat anything else ever again!" is the sort that comes from the spud.

But the earth apple is a cruel mistress, and she does not surrender her favors easily.1 It is not hard to turn out serviceable gnocchi. And serviceable gnocchi can be served with significant amounts of butter, salt, and grated cheese, and, well, then you're back to egg noodles, which, you may have noticed, are pretty good with significant amounts of butter, salt, and grated cheese. Divine gnocchi, the kind you cannot get without striving but which striving alone will not guarantee you (Goethe be damned), are elusive. So many things can go wrong. You can be working with the wrong sort of potato. You can add insufficient amounts of egg and/or flour, and your gnocchi will disintegrate when they hit the water. You can add too much egg, and your gnocchi are too wet to work with. You can add more flour to compensate, and then your gnocchi will be heavy (but serviceable).

The problem most people have, I reckon, is starting out with potatoes that are too wet. If you boil your potatoes, you will then have to find some way to dry them out before you mash them and mix them with your egg and flour, or you will end up with disintegration or gumminess, depending on how you proceed. When I went to make gnocchi this weekend, I tried cooking the potatoes two different ways. I steamed one pound of potatoes using a pasta insert over an inch of water with a large sprig of rosemary. That took about half an hour. I wrapped the other pound of potatoes, along with two small sprigs of rosemary, in heavy duty foil and baked them for half an hour at 350, then I opened up the foil and baked them for another twenty minutes. When I went to use them the next day, they weren't tender enough, so I put them in the microwave on high for six minutes, and they were just right. In fact, I believe that the best way to cook potatoes for gnocchi is probably to nuke them right from the start. (You would, then, have to find another way to infuse your potatoes with a subtle rosemary flavor, but you can always heat a sprig of rosemary with the butter that you're going to use to sauce your gnocchi. Rosemary is not the first herb you probably think of when you think of potatoes, but it should be. Trust me on this one.)

Alas, by the time I got around to microwaving my second pound of potatoes, my gnocchi had already given up on reaching paradise (i.e., they were serviceable; they were eaten at dinner with a not inappropriate amount of enjoyment and a somewhat inappropriate amount of butter, cheese, and salt). I suspect that I started with the wrong potatoes. I had a bag of red potatoes sitting around the house. They are good roasted, and they make terrific potato salad, but they seem not ideal for gnocchi. I had steamed them, and they were not overly damp, but then I got cocky and added a second egg.

In my defense, it was not entirely my fault. L. was over, and she wanted to cook with me, and I told her that we'd make the gnocchi together, and after I let her mash the potatoes part way, I told her that she could break the eggs into the potatoes. I should have stopped after the first egg, but she really wanted to break the second one, and I let her do it. By the time I got the bright idea of adding the second pound of potatoes, I'd already added a lot of flour. Sic transit gloria. But L. loved helping with the gnocchi. Her favorite part was rolling the dough out into cylinders and then cutting off pieces for me to form. When all is said and done, having fun cooking with your daughter is even more important than getting divine gnocchi. I can't believe I just wrote that.

Anyway, if you decide to learn from my mistakes and make your own gnocchi, you'll probably want to start with some Idaho potatoes of moderate size. Take a pound and a half of them, microwave them until they're cooked, let them cool, remove the peels, and mash them with a potato masher. You do not want to use any sort of mixer here. Add about half a teaspoon of kosher salt and one large egg, and mix all of it together with a fork. Measure out two ounces of flour, and pray that you don't need any more than that. Turn the potato mixture out onto your marble or countertop, and with a pastry scraper, start to knead the flour into it. You want to end up with a dough that is relatively easy to work with, but it can still be a tiny bit sticky. It should take you a couple of minutes to knead the dough to that point, adding flour from your two ounces as necessary.

Let the dough rest while you get a pot of water going on the stove. Add some salt to it and set it to boiling.

Pinch off a small piece of dough and form a test gnocchi by rolling the piece of dough along the tines of the fork. The preferred shape for a gnocchi is roughly cylindrical with a small thumb-shaped indentation on one side and fork ridges on the other. Drop the test gnocchi into boiling water. It should sink like a lead balloon. When it rises, it should be done. Remove it from the water with a slotted spoon, wait a moment so you don't get burned, and then taste it. If it needs more salt, knead some more salt into the dough. If your test gnocchi disintegrated (and pray that this doesn't happen to you), then you will have to work in a bit more egg and flour. Crack an egg into a cup, mix it up with a fork, and add about a half-tablespoon of it to the dough. Add enough more flour to bring the dough back to workability, then test again.

When your dough is working properly, cut off a larger piece, and roll it into a snake about three-quarters of an inch wide. Lightly flour a plate. Cut off the dough in about half-inch pieces until your plate has about as many gnocchi as will fit comfortably in your pot.

Because you'll be cooking the gnocchi in batches, you'll need a way to keep them near their peak while you finish up the cooking. I do this by putting a few tablespoons of butter and some fresh rosemary in a glass baking dish and putting the dish in a 325 degree oven. Then when the first batch of gnocchi is ready to come out of the water, I drain them briefly and slide them into the baking pan, shaking it to coat the gnocchi with butter.

When you have done this with all the gnocchi, grate some hard cheese over the top of the gnocchi, and serve them as soon as is possible. If they are serviceable, people will compliment you on them. If they are divine, then you'll be stuck with a tableful of people who will never want to eat anything else ever again and will be expecting you to provide it. Congratulations: you have just acquired your own group of lotus eaters. I never said there wasn't a down side. I'm not Goethe, after all.

1I love that sentence more than life itself; clearly, there is no hope for me.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


I've spoken before about my love of foraging. It mostly manifests itself in summertime tromps through thorny thickets in the pursuit of brambles and pulling the car onto the shoulder to pick some black walnuts, but lately it's been all about grape leaves. You can, of course, buy bottled grape leaves, and I'm sure they're fine, but fresh grape leaves would appear not to exist, at least not anywhere that I shop. So I'd been keeping an eye out for wild grape leaves, and it turns out that, at the right time of year, they are anything but hard to find. At least around here. In fact, to take the picture above, I just had to walk down to the end of my street, then across the street it runs into, point, and shoot. Grape leaves everywhere, and I picked a bunch of them.

You should understand this already, but gathering wild foods can be an iffy prospect for a number of reasons, ranging from angry landowners to mushrooms that look just like the ones you had in the old country but are really the other ones that will kill you. So after I'd picked about three dozen of the largest grape leaves I could find, I came back home and did a little research on ye olde Internet. What I learned is that grape leaves are really not toxic and are not very hard to recognize (though they vary quite a bit in appearance, even if they're on the very same vine), so I felt fairly confident using the ones that I'd gathered. People who gather wild foods generally will tell you to gather them at a decent distance from the highway to avoid things like pesticides and exhaust residue. I'm reasonably sure that the county isn't spraying pesticides where I was gathering my grape leaves, and exhaust residue is something that I'm willing to pretend that I don't know about. In any case, I washed the leaves well and blanched them before I used them, but I am in no way telling you to go to the end of the street and eat whatever you find there. In fact, when I blanched my grape leaves all but one of them turned a sort of olive green, so I assumed that the one that retained its bright green color was another sort of leaf that I'd picked by mistake, and I threw it away.

Wild grape leaves, at least right now and right here, are not quite as big as I would have liked. Some recipes recommend using leaves that are at least six inches in diameter, and I doubt that more than a couple of the ones I picked were that big. Most of them were more in the five-inch range, so I ended up using less filling. In fact, I still have about half of my filling left over.

And, to be honest, this probably isn't the greatest dolmade filling ever. You might be better off with something made with white rice and ground lamb. I probably would have used ground lamb if I could have found it in a two-ounce package at the supermarket. I eat lots of meat already, and I think that a dolmade should have a primarily grain- or grass-based filling, but a small amount of lamb would add some good flavor. Alternatively, I probably should have just added significantly more olive oil to the filling. The filling does a good flavor, and what's left over will be good as a sort of tabouleh, once I add more olive oil. As a dolmade filling, it is a little bit gummy. But I am, of course, holding it to a very high standard. Covering the still-hot dolmades with lemon juice and olive oil and letting them soak a while helps a lot.

You can, of course, stuff grape leaves with anything you like. You could probably make meatballs and wrap the grape leaves around the meatballs and then steam them. Or you could make ravioli filling and wrap that up in grape leaves. Neither of those ideas strikes me as ideal, but I'm sure that some experimentation in the dolmade universe is long overdue. Perhaps you could grind up some toasted walnuts (or pine nuts) with some feta, stir in an egg, and wrap tablespoons of that up in grape leaves. I think that sounds yummy. Perhaps I'll try it, now that I have an apparently unlimited supply. I have not yet tried freezing the (unstuffed) grape leaves, but I will soon, and then it's dolmades all year long!

Most recipes tell you to roll your dolmades with the shiny side down. The problem is that not all grape leaves have a shiny side. Some of the leaves might be shiny, then farther down the same vine, they might not be, and the shiny leaves might be too small. In any case, the shiny side is the side that's usually facing up when you gather the leaves. The non-shiny side is the veinier ("veinier" = "more veiny") side, aka the underside, aka the side that faces the same way that the stem goes. In other words, if you put the grape leaf on a counter so that the stem is facing up, the veiny/veinier side will also be facing up, and that's the way you want the leaf oriented when you're going to fill and roll it. The leaves naturally curl that way, so rolling them the other way would probably be difficult.


Fresh grape leaves

1 cup brown rice
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1/4 c. mint, chopped fine
1/3 c. currants1
1/3 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. fine bulgar2
1/2 medium small onion, diced fine
1 T. olive oil3
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 c. olive oil
1 t. dijon mustard

In a four-quart or larger saucepan, bring two to three quarts of water to a boil. Add half a cup of kosher salt. Wash the grape leaves well and cut off any stems with kitchen shears. With the water at a full boil, add the grape leaves and blanch for sixty seconds. Remove from the water, rinse with cold water, and drain.

In another saucepan, combine the brown rice, two cups of water, a good pinch of salt, the cumin, and the smoked paprika. Cover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for twenty-five minutes. Add the currants, stir, recover, and cook for about another fifteen minutes, or until the rice is done. Stir in the mint and sunflower seeds.

Meanwhile, put the bulgar in a heatproof bowl, bring another cup of water to a boil, pour it over the bulgar and let it sit.

At about the same time, put a skillet over low heat, add the tablespoon of olive oil, and add the onion. Stir occasionally until soft and translucent. Turn off the heat.

Add the bulgar and the onion to the rice mixture. Stir well.

Separate a grape leaf from the pack. Put it on the counter so that the veiny side is up and the pointy end is facing away from you. Take a dollop of the filling that looks like it is just the right size to be contained by the grape leaf, and put it in the center of the leaf, right near where the stem used to be attached. Fold the sides of the leaf over onto the filling and then roll it up, away from you and toward the pointy end. Place the filled, rolled leaf in the basket of your steamer, so that the seam is down. Repeat the same process with as many leaves as you're using. Pack them into the steamer basket fairly tightly. Put some water in the bottom of the steamer and place it over a high flame until the water boils. Reduce the heat to the lowest level that will keep it boiling and put the steamer basket over the boiling water. Put the lid on. Steam for about forty-five minutes, adding additional water if it starts to run out, until the grape leaves are tender.

Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper to make a vinaigrette. When the dolmades are still hot or warm, pack them into a bowl, pouring some vinaigrette over each layer. Cover them and refrigerate them until cold. Serve cold or at room temperature.

1For reasons that cannot begin to be fathomed, I could not find any currants in the kitchen, so I substituted finely chopped raisins. Use the currants.
2What I use is something that is labeled as "cracked wheat" and "fine." It appears to be the same thing as bulgar. Coarse bulgar is probably just as good, maybe better, but I didn't have any.
3I was also out of the good olive oil. I used the cheap olive oil (that my partner, both of whose parents immigrated here from Italy, claims is just as good as any extra virgin olive oil; he is wrong about that, of course) for the vinaigrette, and I used butter to cook the onion. What you really want, though, is a good olive oil for both.

You will notice that making the dolmades is quite a pan-intensive process. Alas. Most of the pans will be easy to clean, and you can easily make a one-pan filling, with some very minor modifications.

For me, the most challenging part of this preparation was figuring out how long to steam the grape leaves. The filling is entirely cooked by the time it gets into the grape leaves, but they take a good while to become tender. It's possible that a longer blanching would enable a shorter steaming. Something else to experiment with. The grape leaves seem a bit impervious, so it's not clear how much moisture gets through the leaves and into the filling, but I suspect that it's not much. That's why the grains need to be cooked before they go into the leaves. Besides, if the grains were uncooked, they'd swell, and you might have bursting dolmades, which is a much better name for a band than for an appetizer. If you have a filling that needs to be cooked but doesn't need to absorb water, though, you could wrap it up while it's still raw.