Liz Della Croce
East Grand Rapids, Michigan
Sales Manager for Meetings Michigan
I pointed the flip camera at Liz and watched in amazement at how she walked us through the family tradition of hand tossing Syrian salad with one take.
"Nothing can replace fresh garlic and that's why everybody loves my food. I use a lot of fresh garlic," Liz nonchalantly explains into the camera. "The good news is, two garlic cancels each other out. As long as everyone in the room iseating garlic, no one is going to get offended."
With her poise, magnetic smile and conversational finesse in front of the camera, Liz was a natural. A Food Network star in hiding in East Grand Rapids. I glanced at her proud husband, Rich, and cousin, Tanya after the take, as the three of us marveled at how Liz simply owned the moment. In two minutes and thirty seconds, she educated us on the benefits of garlic and lemon (she never gets sick), the magic of a micro plane, her secrets to seasoning and the best "tools" for mixing salads. No sweat.
Liz comes from a family of avid cooks. She talks endlessly about cooking sessions with her family - her mom, her aunts and great aunts. You can tell that the kitchen was the center of her family's gatherings. Where recipes were passed down from one generation to another. Their family kitchen was nirvana with the scent of fresh herbs and orange blossom water. She is as comfortable in the kitchen as Tom Brady is in Gillette stadium. No sweat.
I just sat in the kitchen and observed how the master worked her passion. She poured me a glass of orange blossom lemonade with fresh mint and lemon, while Tanya, without missing a beat, topped my glass with a generous pour of Absolut Vanilla. We discussed the best way to make hummus, savored the labna (yogurt with za'atar) with flat Syrian bread, and indulged in the meat stuffed grape leaves. I admired the puffy pink peonies on the table and how the afternoon light romanticized the simple table setting on this picture perfect day. Cooking is as much the use of the best available ingredients, and literally, the hand that made the meal. It was mesmerizing to see how Liz's bare hands dug softly into the bowl of salad through my camera viewfinder as if everything inside the bowl were destined as one. And just like that, the bowl was transformed into a beautiful mediterranean salad. No sweat. No sweat, at all.
Liz's Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves
1 2 lb. Jar Grape Leaves
1 lb Ground Sirloin
1 c. Long Grain White Rice - Rinsed
1 Tbs. Crushed Garlic
1 Tsp. Salt
¼ Tsp. Pepper
Juice of 2 Lemons
2 Celery Stalks – cut into 3 (optional)
5 Cabbage Leaves (optional)
1 Tbs. Dried Mint
Line a large pot with celery ribs and loose cabbage leaves. Rinse off grape leaves and place on a plate. In a large bowl, combine ground meat, rice, the juice of 1 lemon, garlic, salt and pepper. One grape leave at a time, place the leaf flat on a plate and add 1 tbs. of meat mixture near stem. Form meat into long cigar shape then roll the grape leave starting at the stem all the way to the top. No need to fold in sides. Line rolls in pot, alternating direction with each layer, until the pot is filled ¾ of the way or you’ve used all your leaves. Cover grapes leaves with a small plate turned upside down to keep them from moving and to weigh it down. Add chicken broth to the edge of where the leaves end and add juice of second lemon and dried mint. Cover pot with lid and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer an additional 20-30 minutes or until rice is fully cooked. Serve with pita bread and plain yogurt.