Get stuffed

Neither of us had ever been much for sweet peppers (or capsicums, depending where you’re from), as our experience with them had been limited to green peppers, which we find to be aggressively, unpleasantly bitter. But the colored ones were so pretty, and smelled so damn good every time we walked past them at the store, that we finally caved and got one to try. And lo and behold they didn’t all taste like the green ones; in general, the lighter the pepper, the sweeter the taste, ranging from purple (as bitter as green) up through white (which go soft so fast we don’t even bother buying them).

Unbaked stuffed peppers

Ready to go into the oven.

Once we’d made this discovery we started experimenting, and tried a variation of the stuffed peppers that he’d had as a kid. I stumbled across a Romanian variation on ehow.com (sadly, the recipe is no longer there; shout out to Audrey Brown for posting it), and we’ve gradually modified it to our tastes.

Like any ground-meat dish, this one is infinitely variable, limited only by your creativity and whatever you have on hand. Our most recent batch had a quarter cup of lime juice and a quarter cup of chopped fresh cilantro, and was fabulous.

Stuffed pepper filling

All cooked and mixed, ready to fill the peppers.

Like a lot of stuffed pepper recipes, the original called for blanching your peppers once you’d removed the tops and cored. Though it’s not necessary to remove bitterness when using the lighter-colored peppers, it does make the pepper softer, which can make it easier to cut up once it’s done. If you use them raw, though, they’re a little sturdier for the stuffing process. We tend to buy our peppers ten or eleven at a time on sale, remove the tops and cores, and them freeze them; once thawed, they’re soft as if they’d been blanched. (It does use a lot of freezer space, though.)

Stuffed Peppers

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 5 to 6

Serving Size: 1 pepper

Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 5 or 6 sweet peppers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 pound ground meat
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 14.5-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups white rice, cooked
  • Shredded cheese to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Remove the tops and cores from your peppers; blanch them if you want them softer. Fit them in a greased casserole dish, trimming the bottoms if necessary to make them stand more or less upright.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onions until they start to soften; add the garlic and saute just until it starts to turn golden and release its aroma. Add the ground meat and the herbs and spices of your choice; cook until the meat is no longer pink.
  4. Pour in the tomato sauce; mix well. Add the cooked rice and stir to combine thoroughly, heating it if necessary.
  5. Stuff the peppers firmly with the meat mixture; if you have more meat than peppers, pack it around the peppers. Tent with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil, top with cheese, and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.
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“All chili powder’s pretty much the same, right?”

or, Robert Beltran is Trying to Kill Me

A while ago I was Googling God only knows what and stumbled on the fact that there exists , written by Ethan Phillips, who plays Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager. We’re in the middle of the show (it’s the last Star Trek series we have left), and I’m really starting to get into it, so this was a nerdilicious combination of two of my favourite things.

After e-mailing home all excited (“OMG LOOK”) I found the library’s copy waiting for me when I got off work. Despite some of the hilariously negative reviews on Amazon I skimmed through the whole thing and found a number of recipes that seemed worth trying. Among them was a chicken mole recipe attributed to Robert Beltran (Chakotay) that was not only very very simple, and required no chocolate (despite liking hot-chili chocolate candy just fine I’m dubious about chocolate in a savory sauce), but involved a 1:3 ratio of chili powder and chicken. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

The brand recommended in the recipe isn’t found here in the Midwest so when I was in an Indian grocery store for other reasons, I found a nice big bag of chili powder to substitute. Even if I were making half of the recipe, it’d still call for 8 ounces of powder, which is a lot larger than you find in the average grocery store.

So while home alone one weekend (I’m the only one in the household who likes spicy foods, though there was that one incident with the cat rolling in cayenne pepper as if it were catnip) I roasted a chicken breast, stripped the meat, did the math, and got to work.

First of all, even three ounces of chili powder is a lot.

a large pile of chili powder in a bowl

3 ounces of chili powder

It’s so much that I had to use a cereal bowl to contain it all. I got a little concerned.

When I got to the point of actually having a sauce, it was the same colour as paprika, a bright and Southwestish brick red. It looked dangerously hot. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I soldiered on. I made a pan of sourdough cornbread that refused to rise. I added the chicken, let it simmer, then tasted the sauce that was stuck to the fork.

Dear god.

A pan of bright-red mole sauce.

There’s a reason we use red to mean “danger.”

I made some rice to eat it with, and tried my best.

To that point the spiciest food I’d ever had was a Thai green mango salad that I thought was going to make me throw up in front of a room full of people I don’t really know. This was similar to that; unlike a lot of the hot Asian foods I’ve had, which have amazing flavours as a reward for surviving the pain, this just tasted like straight chili powder. I’ve never actually been a big fan of plain chili powder.

Mixing sour cream into the sauce didn’t help either. After giving it a few days in the fridge to mellow, a 50/50 blend of plain Greek yogurt and the chicken mole wasn’t palatable either, so I gave up. In the interim, a friend who lives in Texas says that she finds Indian chili powder to be hotter than the Mexican/Texan kind, so maybe my substitution was the killer. I may try it again someday just to see, or I may not.

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Rising with the Sun(flower)…

…or not.

Flush with my success with sourdough waffles, I started a batch of machine-mixed sunflower bread from Classic Sourdoughs.

Flour, sourdough culture, and other ingredients in a bread machine pan

Just waiting to be kneaded.

Everything went swimmingly until the overnight rise. We live in an old, only partially-insulated house, and until the temperature rose suddenly to 70 F and then 80 in the space of a couple days, the weather has been chilly and windy and not all that nice; the kitchen being one of the uninsulated rooms, warm places for dough to rise are hard to find.

But I soldiered on anyway, putting the dough ball in its pan aside to do its thing.

A ball of bread dough, full of sunflower seeds.

It looked like this fresh from kneading and then again after its overnight rise.

When the time came I baked it as directed; when I took it out of the oven it didn’t look a whole lot different from when I put it in, just darker.

A baked loaf of bread with a big crack down the side.

The loaf seems to have exploded in the oven.

King Arthur Flour’s bread troubleshooting page has the same answer for all this bread’s issues; thick crust? big crack in the side? dense as starship fuel? Insufficient rise time. I guess the chill temperature made my somewhat half-hearted sourdough culture just not up to the job. It was fine for the waffles, which don’t need the rise, but couldn’t leaven a loaf of bread alone. I tried a slice and it was interesting, but just couldn’t be saved.

Next time I’ll try one of King Arthur Flour’s recipes with the additional help of commercial yeast; maybe once the weather warms up I’ll have better luck.

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And in the morning, I’m making waffles!

After three days the sourdough starter was definitely active, though not to the “vigorously active” stage.

Sourdough starter before feeding

At that point I fed it and put it in the fridge to hibernate while we were away for the weekend.

Sourdough starter after feeding

It seemed reasonably happy when I took it out a few days later, fed it, and let it warm up again in preparation for starting a bowl of waffle batter.

A bowl of sourdough waffle batter

Now it's waffle batter.

My recipe of choice was King Arthur Flour’s classic sourdough waffles (or pancakes). Luckily waffles get more flavour than leavening from their sourdough content; this meant if my starter really is kind of lackluster it wouldn’t be a big issue. Three minutes turned out to be the perfect cooking time in the flipping waffle iron, and they came out light and crispy, with a bit of sourdough tang.

A sourdough waffle on a 40-year-old plate

Check out the classic Corelle plate!

Half of a recipe made 4 waffles. The leftovers went in the fridge overnight, and crisp up very nicely when reheated in the toaster oven. I’ll definitely make these again and try the pancake version as well.

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Just call me Yukon Cornelius

…or else Victor Fronkensteen. IT’S ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!

This past Saturday I threw together some whole-wheat flour and some water as per the instructions at King Arthur Flour’s blog, set it on top of the fridge (the traditional place for things that need to be kept slightly warmer than ambient room temperature), and went on my merry way.

On Sunday I fed it (using whole wheat flour again rather than white, oops), feeling hopeful that it maybe had a bubble or two visible.

Tonight I got home to find it puffed up like a sponge, nearly to the top of the container. So exciting! I stirred it up and fed it, and now I’m checking it compulsively to see what it’s doing. Tomorrow I’ll start twice-daily feedings; sadly, I won’t be around on the weekend to try baking with it, but I’m really intrigued by Ed & Jean Wood’s sunflower bread recipe and want to try it soon.

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Keep it Simple, Soup

I’ve had the recipe for O’Charley’s chicken harvest soup in my files for years; due to the salt content I don’t think we’ve been to O’Charley’s five times in the last five years. (Their entrées run up to 6680 milligrams of sodium per serving.)

So at some point in the distant past we had this soup and decided we could make a better (and less salty) version ourselves. I never tried it, though, because I was fairly new to cooking and the directions intimidated me.

In a large pot, melt butter. Add flour and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly add the 2 1/2 to 3 quarts of water, stirring constantly. (The amount of water used depends on how thick you want the soup.) Simmer 20 minutes. Add chicken base and chicken stock.

While chicken stock mixture is cooking, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a separate pot. Add carrots, celery and onion. Cook 6 minutes. Drain. Add to chicken stock mixture along with white pepper and garlic powder. Simmer 10 minutes. Add diced cooked chicken tenders.

Cook noodles in a separate pan of boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Add to soup. (Noodles will continue cooking in the soup.) Simmer soup 2 or 3 minutes more and serve.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

I dragged the recipe out to have a look at it last week, and realized that not counting the part about making the tenders, this recipe calls for using three separate pots for making soup. Seriously? Several more years of cooking experience mean that I knew that I could make it with only one pot and a much more logical (to me, anyway) process. Gravy-making with the roux method (I’ve never had good luck with the slurry method, and don’t even ask about cornstarch) was also useful information to have.

I cut the recipe in half; there’s only two of us to feed, and it still filled up my big pasta pot and lasted us a week.

Chicken first:
1 quart water
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
1/2 small onion, cut into chunks
1/2 rib celery, cut into 2-inch segments
1 1/4 pounds chicken

In your intended soup pot, bring water, bouillon, onion, and celery to a boil. Lower the heat, add the chicken, and simmer until cooked through. (Don’t overcook.) Take the chicken out to cool, strain the broth, and discard the solids. Dice the chicken into bite-size pieces.

1/2 stick butter
8 ounces fresh carrots, diced
3 or 4 ribs celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
3/8 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 quart chicken stock from earlier
5 cups water
1 tablespoon chicken bouillion
Cooked chicken from before
5 ounces egg noodles

Melt the butter in the soup pot. Add carrots, celery, and onion and sauté until slightly softened. Add flour, pepper, and garlic powder; stir until flour is thoroughly mixed in. Add chicken stock a cup at a time, stirring well after each addition to make sure the mixture stays smooth. Once the stock is in, add water and bouillon. Bring to a simmer and add noodles; simmer until noodles are almost tender, then add chicken and cook until heated through.

Next time we’re going to try adding some herbs, like rosemary or oregano. I don’t know how similar this is anymore to the original, but it’s good on its own. It pairs well with both saltine crackers and homemade bread.

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