Spontaneous Stuffed Peppers

OK, this dish wasn’t that spontaneous as it was on this week’s menu – but it was spontaneous in the sense that I made it up as I went along. And oh my god, was it fantastic.  So fantastic, in fact, that I only have photos of the leftovers because the actual meal was devoured almost as quickly as it came out of the oven.

Spontaneous Stuffed Peppers

Yeah, yeah, stuffed peppers – total 50s housewife stuff, right? What elevates these to the sublime – or as sublime as stuffed peppers can be – is a tin of really good tuna, crumbled Pan Gallego, and a generous dollop of mascarpone left over from some pasta thing we made last week. The following recipe made enough for two good-sized dinner portions and two smaller lunch portions, but that was entirely dependent on the size of the pepper and your determination in stuffing. We’ll be making these again soon.

Stuffed Peppers E Style

4 medium-sized bell peppers
1 medium onion, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3.5 oz can good tuna in oil – do not drain
2 slices of hearty bread, shredded, or 1 cup bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 oz cheese of your choice

Preheat your oven to 450. Remove the tops and seeds of the peppers and place them open-side up in a pan that is big enough to hold them, but small enough to keep them tightly nestled together. Stick the pan in the oven while you prep the stuffing – so around 15 minutes.

In a medium skillet, saute the onions and garlic in a bit of butter until soft and golden. Add other finely chopped veggies if you’d like – we used half a green pepper and one large mushroom, as we had both to use up. In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, tuna and oil, and a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove the veggies from the heat, and toss with the bread and tuna mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the peppers, packing it in if necessary, and top each with a generous tablespoon of cheese – we used mascarpone, but cheddar, feta, chevre, or probably just about any kind of cheese would be delicious. Bake for 20 minutes, then serve with a salad and crusty bread.

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25 Recipes #3: Carnitas

Or, as I referred to it, Chipotle at Home. Because seriously, it smelled like Chipotle up in our house.

Before I get to the delicious parts of this meal,I want to start with a confession.  For the first time in a while, I had difficulty working with a piece of meat.  Not technical difficulty, though it wasn’t the easiest cut to butcher – an emotional/visceral response to what I was working with.  David Lebovitz’s recipe called for a 4-5 pound boneless shoulder cut, but I opted to use a picnic shoulder since, well, that’s what we had on hand.  The picnic shoulder is a fatty bone-in cut, so there was a considerable amount of cleaning necessary – and after all of that, a clearly articulated joint.  I had to put down my knife for a second.  Thank you again, Mr. Pig, for your happy brief life, and for the many delicious and nourishing meals you have provided for us.

After that, however, making the carnitas was easy as pie.  Our four pound picnic shoulder yielded about 2 1/2 pounds of usable meat – at least for this recipe – so I tweaked the recipe a bit, and probably would make further adjustments for future preparations.  First, the meat is browned in a bit of oil in a large heavy pot.

Resting

Remove the meat to a tray lined with paper towels to blot up the excess fat.  Pour about a cup of water into the pot and scrape up the crusty bits of goodness from the bottom.  Stir in the spices:  chili powder, ground cumin, bay leaves, a couple of thinly sliced cloves of garlic, a cinnamon stick, and a diced dried chili or two.  Add the pork back to the pot, and pour in enough water to cover the meat 2/3 of the way.

Chilies

Braise uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about two hours, checking halfway.  The original recipe called for 3 1/2 hours for 4-5 pounds of meat, so I roughly halved the time, and added more liquid after an hour as it was looking pretty dry.  After two hours, the meat was cooked through and verging on dry but it wasn’t yet dinnertime, so I added another 1/4 cup water, turned the oven down to warm, and put the lid on to trap the moisture and heat.

Since there was no way that the three of us were going to eat 2 1/2 pounds of meat, I prepared several other components to fill out the meal and provide the fixings for several lunches worth of homemade “burrito bowls”.  First, a couple of onions and a red pepper sweat slowly over low heat in a covered pan:

Slow-sauteed peppers and onions

Second, an attempt at Chipotle’s cilantro lime rice, except that I had neither cilantro nor lime.  Instead, we had white rice that was boiled, steamed, and tossed with minced green onion:

Green onion rice

And finally the pièce de résistance:

Et voila, carnitas!

Gloriously flavorful – if slightly dry – carnitas, which we devoured nestled in corn tortillas and topped with rice, veggies, salsa, and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  The 2 1/2 pounds of meat yielded enough for dinner for three plus four substantial lunch portions.  We – OK, I – devoured the veggies, so we substituted corn in our subsequent lunches, along with the rest of the rice, shredded cheese (or crumbled City Goat), and salsa.  This was the first of my 25 Recipes that really knocked it out of the park, and I can NOT wait to make this again.

Recipes:
Carnitas from David Lebovitz
Cilantro Lime Rice from Chipotle Fan

1031 Spicy Pepper Jelly

I’ve got to warn you on this one: this recipe will make your house smell weird.  And, if you have a small kitchen and it’s a cold day, it’ll continue to smell weird for the rest of the day.  It was all worth it for three reasons.

First, we got rid of some of our damned banana peppers.  I intended to grow a few hot peppers this summer, but in the hubbub at the farmers’ market, I think a few plants were mislabeled as I ended up with about six banana peppers, two bell peppers, and one other pepper plant of a hotter variety.  As is the way of these things, the banana peppers were the most prolific plants in the garden – second only to the tiny cherry tomatoes – maybe Sweet 100s – that showed up on their own.  No joke, we’ve picked at least 15 pounds of banana peppers this summer.

Second, few things warm up the house more efficiently than four pots of boiling water: one for processing the jars, one for heating up the lids, one for making the jelly, and one for the tomato sauce I made with a few pounds of green tomatoes that ripened when I wasn’t looking.  I’m pretty sure this is a more efficient way to heat the house than our actual heater, in fact.

Third, we now have six half-pints and one pint of spicy-sweet pepper jelly to spread on toast or to use as a marinade or – well, I’m not sure what else we’ll do with it. I just know it’s tasty.

Hot and Sweet Pepper Jelly
Photo by Campobello Island

Recipe:
Hot Pepper Jelly adapted from Simply Loving Home, part of October’s Can Jam.  My only real modification was using banana peppers instead of jalapeños.

1007 Stewed

It’s on, baby!

Dinner tonight was entirely made up, just me chopping things and sticking them in the enameled pot.  I knew we had a bunch of veg, and I knew I wanted to make something that would cook itself while I exercised, and this is what I came up with: a sweet and savory stew that we spooned over a loaf of bread warmed in the oven during the last 10 minutes of cook time.  The rough recipe follows below, but you could absolutely make this with whatever root veg you had on hand, or you could substitute fresh tomatoes for the tomato paste, or red wine for the white wine, or butter for the oil, or beans for the sausage.  You get the idea.

Stew-ish

Early Fall Stew

1 medium yellow onion
2 smallish bell peppers (from the garden!)
1/2 medium eggplant (just the neck part), peeled
2 cups mushrooms
3-4 stalks celery
3-4 medium-sized carrots
4 sausages (we used garlic chicken sausages from Trader Joe’s)
2-4 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
whatever herbs you have on hand
salt & freshly ground pepper
olive oil

Preheat your oven at 350F. Chop all of your veggies and slice the sausages into bite-sized pieces. In an oven-safe pot (with a lid, though you don’t need it right now) – I used our new enameled cast iron – heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion and let it sweat a bit. Add the rest of the veggies, a couple of tablespoons tomato paste, fresh herbs – I used oregano and rosemary because that’s what we have in our front garden, and a fair amount of salt and freshly ground pepper, tossing everything around so that the tomato paste coats a bit. Add the wine and simmer for a minute or so, then put the lid on and stick the pot in the oven for an hour or so.

Serve with crusty bread and a crisp beer or cider.

0913 Vegan Chili

I had a damned good cup of chili at Monk’s Kettle, and that, along with Tina’s enthusiasm for her new slow cooker, inspired me to make chili tonight. Well, last night and today, really, as I did all of the prepwork in advance and just dumped a bunch of stuff in the crockpot this morning, leaving a VERY BIG NOTE for Shane to please please pretty please turn the crockpot on when he left for work.

We came home to the hearty aromas of chili. You’ve gotta love walking in the door after a long day and having dinner already done, right? Much less a dinner that smelled and tasted as good as this one. I don’t have a precise recipe, but what I did went something like this:

1 cup dried kidney beans
2-3 medium carrots, sliced into coins
1 bell pepper, diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 cups crimini (or white button) mushrooms, washed and halved
2 cups diced tomato (1 14 oz can or 2 medium tomatoes)
A hearty spoonful each of: tomato paste, cumin, and coriander.
2 dried chilies, chopped, or 2 tsp red pepper flakes
A generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper
Water

Prep your vegetables the night before. Put your beans in the crockpot and cover them with water. Do NOT turn the crockpot on. Go to bed and get a decent night’s sleep. In the morning, drain and rinse your beans, then put them back in the crockpot and add the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to barely cover everything. Turn your crockpot on LOW and go to work or otherwise pass 7-8 hours.

We didn’t have any cheese or sour cream or yogurt on hand, but all of these things would be good over your chili. I would recommend cornbread or white rice under your chili, or spaghetti if you’re from Cincinnati. Again, none of these on hand, but we made it work.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
Photo by flyzipper, whose chili recipe looks damned good as well!

0823 Watery Pork Goulash

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I planned my entire day around this meal.  See, I’d planned on making this for dinner on Sunday night – a dish that requires 3 hours in the oven is just not feasible for the average worknight, but is totally doable on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  When Shane texted me mid-day, though, to tell me that he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner, I decided that I would just go into and then leave work a bit early, and we could have a late dinner.

Fast forward to 6:30 or so tonight.  I was using a considerably smaller bone-in pork shoulder, so I pulled it after 2 1/4 hours in the oven, only to discover that there was WAY too much cooking liquid.  WAY too much.  I removed the pork from the pot, cranked up the heat, and reduced the liquid for half an hour before serving.

A brief digression: I like to write in cookbooks.  I find it really helpful to note recipe hacks, total failures, or successful pairings for future cooking.  I also enjoy opening a cookbook and being reminded of that time in 2003 when Dan and Michele came over for dinner and trivia and we drank too much riesling while eating spaghetti with sweet cherry tomatoes.  Or the time in 2004 when I hosted Meat Night and made Lebanese Lemon Chicken and we ate around the low coffee table.  A correct interpretation of my notes could’ve saved a lot of disappointment tonight – however, I read “cover halfway” as referring to the lid and the cook time, not the amount of liquid.  *shakes fist at the sky*

Even with the half-hour of reducing, the broth was insipid, and the pork – lacking the flavor that should’ve been infused by the broth – had already attained that gamey flavor and consistency that I find so off-putting in leftovers.  While Shane adjusted the seasoning on his dish and happily finished it, I ate a few bites and then pushed my plate away.  We left the pot on the burner for another 2 1/2 hours, by which time it started to resemble the photo from the cookbook.  We’ll see if it’s any better in leftovers for dinner tomorrow.

Recipe:
Spicy pork and chilli-pepper goulash from Jamie at Home

  • The recipe specifies to “pour in enough water to just cover the meat”.  Instead, add enough water to cover the meat halfway.  You’re going to be covering the pot, so this will be an adequate amount of cooking liquid for a good, tender braise.
  • The recipe claims to make 4-6 portions, but we’ve halved it both times and easily still made 4-6 portions.
  • You could probably use double the amount of each of the spices, though I’d suggest going easy on doubling the paprika the first time you make this recipe.  And note that it calls for smoked paprika, though I might try a spicier paprika if you have it on hand.

0815 Pisto Manchego

pisto manchego.JPG
Photo by zordor

Without actually realizing it, I think I’ve been making pisto manchego all summer. A Spanish take on ratatouille, it is peasant food at its finest – putting together a bit of whatever’s available to make a filling and nutritious meal.  This recipe did an effective job of clearing out the crisper, using up the a handful of tomatoes, two peppers, and yellow summer squash all from our garden.

What the recipe lacks, however, is much spice.  As I was sauteing the vegetables, I was concerned that the dish was going to be boring, that I’d just wasted the last squash from our garden – curse you, cucumber beetles!  The recipe recommended serving the dish with tinned tuna or hard boiled eggs – we went with the former, and it made all the difference.  We were both quite pleasantly surprised by the complexity of flavors, especially the sweetness of the pepper in contrast with the savory fish.  I’d like to try this again with fried eggs – perhaps a Spanish improvement on the shakshuka from earlier in the year.

Pisto Manchego
Adapted from Spanish

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium green peppers, seeded and chopped
2 medium zucchinis, thinly sliced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
hard boiled eggs (optional)
tuna in olive oil (optional)

Heat the oil in a large heavy pan – larger than you think you’ll need, trust me – and cook the garlic and onion until soft.  Add the peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.  Season well and cook gently for about 20 minutes.  If you’ve used a pan that’s too small to allow everything to make contact with the cooking surface, it may help to cover your pan with a lid for part of the cooking time.  Stir in parsley just before serving.  Can be served hot, topped with chopped egg or tuna, or cold with a drizzle of olive oil.