Homestyle Stuffed Peppers

I have two different ways that I prepare Stuffed Peppers;  one kind is made using Cubanelle or frying peppers, and this way using the more familiar Bell peppers.  This is the classic recipe my mother always made which I grew up on.  At another time I will share with you my recipe for the stuffed frying peppers.

Peppers in  any color combination–green, red, yellow, orange–are stuffed with a mixture of seasoned ground beef and rice then covered in a tomato sauce and baked until tender.  Sometimes I serve them with pasta such as rotini to soak up the sauce, or I might serve them with mashed potatoes and another vegetable like carrots.  It makes a very colorful plate.  The peppers may be oven baked or cooked in a slow cooker.

 INGREDIENTS

Servings:   4 

  • 4 nicely shaped bell peppers, tops, seeds and membranes removed.
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 (14.5 0z. can tomato sauce) or jarred spaghetti sauce

DIRECTIONS

  1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook the peppers in boiling water for 4-5 minutes.  Remove the peppers, rinse with cold water, and set aside to drain.
  2. Mix together ground beef, cooked rice, egg, chopped onion, bread crumbs, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese in a large bowl.  Combine well.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Divide beef and rice mixture evenly among the peppers, taking care not to pack too tightly.
  5. Place peppers standing up in a baking dish or shallow roasting pan.  It’s best if they fit rather snugly so they can support each other.
  6. Pour the tomato sauce over all.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven until tender, basting with the tomato sauce several times while baking,  about 1 hour and  20 minutes.
  8. Alternately, place peppers standing up in a slow cooker, pour sauce over all, and cook on LOW 6-8 hours.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Do you like Banana Bread?   I do.  I think most people do.  How about Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips in it?   Yes?  Me, too.  How about Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips in it and  –wait for it—- Peanut Butter?   WOW!   Do I have your attention now?   Well, this recipe certainly grabbed my attention,  and I only found it because I cleaned my bookcase.  There fallen down behind several bigger books was an old issue of Taste of Home magazine, March, 2009.

I knew when I found it that I must have kept it because of some recipe that appealed to me.  Sure enough, the turned down page indicated bread recipes that had won a contest. ( 12 of them!)  They all looked so good, it would have been a hard decision which to make first except that I had two ripe bananas, and all the other ingredients on hand,  so that was the decision maker.

The  smell of this bread baking is heavenly and anyone at home when you make it will come running to find out what smells so good and when they can have some.  It has a layer of crumb topping and melted chocolate chips in the middle, and more crumbs on top.  Every bite is scrumptious!  The recipe makes 2 loaves;  8 inch x 4 inch pans.

TOPPING

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

BATTER

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 pkg. ( 8 0z. ) cream cheese softened.  1/3 less fat is OK
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Add the peanut butter, and using a fork, mix in to form a crumbly mixture.  Set aside.

  1. In a large bowl cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in bananas and vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon;  Stir into creamed mixture just till moistened.
  2. Divide half the batter between two greased 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pans; sprinkle with half of the topping.  Top with the chocolate chips.  Repeat layers of batter and topping.

   

  1. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to finish cooling.

    

From My Experience:  If you do not have the exact pan size,  go a little bigger rather than smaller  because this is a fairly large recipe and pans will be full.  Also use more than half the crumb topping in the center of the breads, and less for the crumb topping.  I split mine in half as directed and as the bread rose in the oven the crumbs fell off and burned on the oven floor.  More crumbs fell off as I tried to get the breads out of the pans.  Finally, I would suggest using mini chocolate chips so they melt during baking.  My chips were the large size and they remained whole instead of melting .  Everything tasted wonderful, but these were the problems I encountered.

SOURCE:   Taste of Home magazine,   March, 2009

Dressed to Impress

During this most recent bout of super-warm weather I’ve been trying to come up with meals that are cool and refreshing to eat, and don’t require the generation of more heat in my kitchen. The end result has been a variety of salad plates that incorporate greens, raw or cooked vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, bits of cooked meats like ham, chicken, or steak and cheeses. More and more often I’m including fruit in my salad plates, and also in my side salads.

The dressing you use on a salad should compliment each of the ingredients, and turn the various parts into a cohesive whole. When fruit is part of the mix, I think the dressing should be a little on the sweet side. I’m not quoting any rules here, that’s just my opinion! So I came up with a salad dressing that I feel is complimentary to any salad that has fruit in it. What started out as a regular oil and vinegar salad dressing, became one that contains a little sugar and a tiny amount of Almond extract. That subtle flavor of almond makes all the difference. Here’s how to make it:

ALMOND VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

  • 1/4 cup salad oil
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons MALT vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

In a screw-top jar combine oil, sugar, vinegar, salt, and almond extract. Cover and shake well to dissolve the sugar and salt. Chill.

Some of the salad combinations I have used it on include:

1. Mixed greens with red grapes, sliced pears, celery, crumbled feta cheese and walnuts

2. Mixed greens with roasted golden beets, mango, and green onions.

3. Mixed greens with thinly sliced fennel, orange sections and pistachios.

4. Romaine lettuce, roast red beets, orange sections and walnuts.

Down on the Bayou

New Orleans, Cajun Cooking, Emeril Lagasse.  This part of the country, and this type of cuisine have held my interest for a long time.  Someday I hope to go there and experience it first hand, but for the present I must enjoy it vicariously, through the foods I prepare.  Unfortunately I cannot eat overly spicy foods, but my husband  loves them so I try to incorporate a little “heat” whenever I can.  This rub mixture came about as a result of my attempts to achieve that.  It is somewhat spicy but not overly so.  You can certainly “kick it up a notch”, by increasing the amount of cayenne pepper to suit your taste level.

Pork tenderloin cooks very quickly, so in preparing the potatoes be sure to cut them into pieces that will cook quickly as well.  This is a very easy and fairly quick meal to put together.  Once your meat and potatoes are seasoned and ready for the oven, you can spend the time while they cook making a salad or coleslaw.  In less than an hour your meal is ready.  Leftover pork thinly sliced with a little coleslaw on top makes a great sandwich.

CAJUN SEASONED ROAST PORK AND POTATOES

Serves  4

  • 1 Tablespoon Bayou Blast Rub Mix  (see recipe below)
  • 1 large pork tenderloin–about 1 1/2 pounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 3-4 baking potatoes cut into wedges
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.    Sprinkle pork with 1/2 teaspoon salt and rub with about  2  teaspoons  rub mixture.  Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat.  Add the pork and sear until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.  
  2. Sprinkle the potato wedges with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and about 1  teaspoons rub mix.  Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil, and toss to coat well.  Add to skillet with the pork if there is room, or bake in another baking dish alongside the pork.
  3. Transfer to the oven and roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 145 degrees, about 18 minutes.  Transfer the pork to a cutting board, tent with foil, and allow to rest a few minutes before slicing.
  4. Meanwhile allow the potatoes to continue cooking in the oven until they test done.  Probably only a few minutes longer.  You want them tender on the inside, but crusty and brown on the outside.
  5. Slice the pork,  surround it with the roast potatoes, and serve with a cool crisp coleslaw.

BAYOU BLAST RUB MIX

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Combine the above ingredients and stir until will blended.  Store in a container with tight fitting lid, or zip-lock bag.

This mixture may be used  to enhance pork, chicken or fish as a rub;  apply just before grilling or cooking.

SOURCE:   A Carolyn Original

Meat Marinades and Rubs

If you really want to spice up your barbecue  you could put on a limbo competition or dance the salsa, but a more conventional way is to use a meat marinade or spice rub.  Many backyard chefs are relying on these mixtures to tenderize and give an infusion of flavor to meats.

There are a multitude of premade marinades and rubs on the market from the classic to the exotic; each one promising to add an  explosion of flavor to an otherwise ho-hum piece of meat.  In my exploration of these products I have found that many of them contain a variety of additives that I’m not keen about eating such as high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, xanthan gum (whatever that is) and potassium sorbate as a preservative. No thanks, I’ll make my own.

Marinades consist of acids, oils, and aromatics or flavorings.  It’s that simple. But when you have  the wrong proportion of acid to oil you can turn a beautiful steak into a gray, tough, flavorless, expensive embarrassment.  Acids such as vinegars, wines, fruit juices, yogurt, buttermilk, and even fresh ginger break down the collagen on the surface of meats and can denature the proteins, thus damaging the protein’s structure.  Meats,  i.e. proteins,  especially delicate ones like fish and chicken, left in a marinade too long can be totally ruined.  The proteins break down to the point where they lose moisture and structure and become dry and mushy.

So what does it take to make a good marinade?    The general rule is to use a light touch with strong acids such as vinegar or lemon juice, using no more than one part acid to four parts oil.  It’s the oil that carries the flavor anyway.

A tougher cut of meat can tolerate a longer marinating time using this proportion of acid to oil.  A tender cut of meat may not need any acid at all; just a little oil and some aromatics for flavoring.  In fact recent studies concluded that marinades do not tenderize meat as once thought.

So even though marinades aren’t used for tenderizing, they do help to add flavor and moisture.  However for most meats the marinade will generally only soak in about 1/8″ to 1/4″ deep.  The acids soften the exterior of the meat, allowing the oil to penetrate.  The denser the meat, with more connective tissue, the less the marinade will penetrate, so these meats can take a longer marinating time.  Meats in a marinade with oil and very little acid can remain overnight in the refrigerator.  A sure sign that red meat has marinated too long in a too-acidic marinade is a gray exterior.  For chicken or pork the exterior will turn white.

Another way to infuse BBQ with flavor is with dry rubs, a combination of spices, herbs, salt and sugar that creates a flavorful crust, something marinades do not.  A rub is not really rubbed into the meat but rather patted on rather heavily.  When a rub is applied, the browning of the proteins and sugars in the meat create a toasted, roasted, grilled flavor.  The sugar in the rub also creates caramelization.  Larger cuts of meat and especially slow-roasted meats can tolerate being left marinating with a dry rub over night in the refrigerator.  Tender cuts such as steaks, kabobs, and chicken breasts will like a light sprinkling of dry rub before grilling to provide a quick flavor boost.

The combinations of seasonings in a rub can be  tailored to your own particular taste preferences, or to a specific ethnic cuisine.  Mix up the herbs and spices representative of Cajun, Indian, Greek, Italian or Mexican cuisine, and add some brown sugar and salt to the mix.  Start with a few proven rub recipes, then add or subtract ingredients until you get the mix you like.  Now you’ve created your own….    In tomorrow’s post I will be presenting a pork recipe that features a rub that I put together.  Stay tuned!

Hopefully  this post has not been too technical,  but has perhaps answered some questions for you or cleared up some misunderstandings.  Periodically I would like to include posts such as this one seeking to take an in depth look at specific products or methods of food preparation.  Having spent quite a few years of my professional life as a teacher, I frequently say, “once a teacher, always a teacher”, but I do not want to come across too strongly in that regard.   From time to time, I would like to present a post like this as I continue to seek the niche that will satisfy more readers.  However, If this is not the type of post you would like to read, please let me know.  Thanks so much for your comments and input.

Happy Grilling and Barbecuing , and Happy rest of summer!

Bacon and Pierogi Bake

I sometimes rely  on convenience  foods from the freezer section of the supermarket when I am short on time.  They give a “jump-start” to dinner preparations, and often are more economical than what I can make at home.  Pierogis are one of those food items.  Pierogies are filled dumplings; the fillings varying from potatoes, to cheeses, to spinach, or any combinations of these.   The most common way I fix them is to boil them as directed on the package, and serve with melted butter and sautéed onions.  Teamed up with a protein item and a salad, they round out the meal by providing carbohydrates and, depending on their filling, a small additional amount of protein as well.

In this baked dish, however,  I pair pierogies with bacon and a very simple cheese sauce. Top with more cheese, bake for a short time and top with chopped tomatoes and green onions.  Serve with a green salad.  I think this dish is colorful and looks nice baked in gratin dishes for individual casseroles.

INGREDIENTS

Servings:  about 4

  • 1  package ( 16 oz.) frozen pierogies, filling of your choice
  • Cooking spray
  • 2-3 slices bacon, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup (3 oz.) 1/3-less fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup fat-free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped

DIRECTIONS

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2.  Arrange pierogies in an 11″ x 7″ baking dish, or individual casseroles, coated with cooking spray.

3.  Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove and drain on paper towel.  Set aside.

4.  Add garlic to drippings in pan, and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Add 1/3 cup cream cheese to pan, cook for 1 minute or until cream cheese begins to melt, stirring frequently.  Gradually add  chicken broth, stirring with a whisk till smooth.   Pour this mixture evenly over the pierogies.

5.  Top with 1/2 cup cheddar cheese.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly and thoroughly heated.  Remove from oven, and sprinkle with bacon, green onions, and tomatoes.

       SOURCE:  adapted from  Cooking Light Magazine

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies

This recipe was developed out of boredom with plain ole brownies.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a good brownie!  I’ll never turn away from one especially if served with a dab of ice cream.  But on this particular day I needed to bake something to bring to a pot-luck get-together, and since brownies are always a popular choice, I decided to dress these up  with the addition of a cheesecake swirl using cream cheese and some raspberry jam.  They turned out to be very moist and chewy, and somewhat decadent .

RASPBERRY CREAM-CHEESE BROWNIES

Servings;   16 brownie squares

FILLING INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 0z. 1/3 -less- fat cream cheese, softened
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg

BROWNIE INGREDIENTS

  • cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons raspberry preserves
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray bottom only of an 8 inch square baking pan.
  2. To prepare filling, place filling ingredients in a medium mixer bowl; beat at medium speed until well blended.  Set aside.
  3. To prepare brownies,  combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk together lightly.  Combine sugar, cocoa, melted butter, water, vanilla, and eggs, and stir well with a whisk.  Add the flour mixture, stirring just until moist.
  4. Pour/spread two-thirds of batter into prepared pan.  Pour filling over batter, spreading evenly.  Carefully drop the remaining batter and preserves by spoonfuls over filling;  swirl together using the tip of a knife to marble.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean.  Cool on a wire rack.
 SOURCE:    This is the fusion of two recipes from Better Homes and Gardens The Complete Book of Baking

Pina-Mango Coladas

Just in time for what is promising to be a very warm weekend, I have just the cool, refreshing drink you may be looking for.  Lately I have been experimenting with putting together various combinations of fruits plus an alcoholic ingredient of some sort to make a cocktail that we can enjoy in the late afternoon out on our deck. Some have been very Yummy, others only Eeh……  This one, I think, is one of the successful ones.  Try it, and see if you agree.

It contains pineapple, mango, and orange juice, plus dark rum.  I freeze the pineapple in chunks, also the mango, and make orange juice ice cubes.  When it is all blended together you get a thick, cold, frosty beverage that pretty much stays that way all the way to the bottom of the glass.  Then you will want to pour yourself another one!  🙂     The riper the pineapple is, the more pronounced it’s flavor will be.

My advice:  If you do not have the ingredients on hand there is still time to go to the market and get them.  Cut up and freeze the fruits, so when a hot day arrives in your neck of the woods, you will be able to zip up this drink in a jiffy.

INGREDIENTS

Servings:  about 8 @ 2/3 cups each

  • 1 (13.5 0z.) can Lite Coconut Milk
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into small chunks
  • 1 fresh mango, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup orange juice, frozen into cubes
  • 1/4 cup orange juice-not frozen
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons light agave nectar
  • 3/4 cup gold rum ( such as Bacardi Gold)
  • 8 fresh pineapple slices

1.  Arrange pineapple and mango pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet;  freeze at least an hour or overnight.  Freeze the orange juice in an ice cube tray.

2.  Combine pineapple, mango, orange juice cubes,  ice cubes, agave nectar and rum in a blender;  Process mixture until smooth.  Add coconut milk slowly thru top “feed opening” while blending.  Process just to incorporate.

3.  Serve with a pineapple slice to garnish.

Some further thoughts:  You may choose to omit the rum, and this would still be a cool, delicious drink.  I chose to use “lite” coconut milk to avoid the saturated fat in the heavy, sugary cream of coconut.  This also cuts the calories way down.  I used a darker variety of rum because it’s what I had on hand.   With its underlying hints of molasses and caramel it  compliments the coconut and pineapple but you could use any kind of rum.

Sweet Sliced Pickled Cucumbers

When your garden is producing cucumbers faster than you can eat them,  this recipe is just the ticket!  It was given to me several years ago by a very good friend who is lovely about sharing her recipes.  It is a particular favorite at our church suppers and everyone  seems to want to know how to make them.   This is the kind of recipe where it’s hard to stop eating them after one serving.  You will want to have a 2nd or even 3rd helping—-they’re that good!

Don’t shy away because of the word pickle in the title.  There’s no cooking,  well, just a tiny bit,  and no processing jars or any of that stuff.  It’s another of my recipes that I can truly  say is quick and easy.  Here’s all you need:

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 3-4  large cucumbers, sliced.  Peel or don’t peel as desired.  (If they are waxed from the grocery store, then I peel them, but if they’re tender fresh cukes, I don’t.)
  • 1 large sweet onion, or 2 medium, thinly sliced
  • 3 Tablespoons minced fresh dill, or  1 Tablespoon dill weed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. To slice the cucumbers and onion, use a mandolin slicer or the slicing blade on a food processor.  You want nice thin uniformly sliced vegetables.

Combine the cucumbers, onions, and dill in a large bowl.

2.   In a saucepan, combine sugar, vinegar, water, and salt;  bring to a boil.   Pour the hot liquid over the cucumber mixture.  Stir to expose all the cucumbers and onions to the hot liquid.    Cover and chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

3.   Store in covered containers or jars with tightly closed lids.

It is amazing to me how crisp these cucumbers become as they cool.  They are great used as a condiment, a cold salad, or layered in a sandwich.  (My husband likes them on a grilled hot dog.)   They will keep for a week or two in the refrigerator.  Please note that in the accompanying photos I am making half a recipe with 2 large cucumbers.

Grilled Cheddar and Bacon Waffle Sandwich

It seems that when ever I make waffles there are always some left over.  Does this happen to you, too?  What I usually do is toast the pieces in the toaster and have them for breakfast or a snack, spread with jam or peanut butter.  Well as luck would have it on the day I made the Summertime Vegetable Soup, (see July 16 post)  I had a few pieces of left-over waffle in the refrigerator.  I was planning on making grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup, when inspiration struck:  how about using the waffles instead of bread for the sandwiches.  Bingo!  I was all over that in a second!

Out came the waffles, some sliced cheddar cheese, and some precooked bacon.  On a hot grill pan I placed the bacon just to crisp it up, and it was nice enough to leave behind a tiny bit of fat to grease the pan.  Next I lay the bottom waffle piece on the pan, covered it with slices of the cheddar cheese, lay on the bacon, more cheese to cover, then the top layer of waffle.   Couldn’t be more simple.   Keep the heat on low to let the sandwich toast slowly, so the cheese will melt, but not burn the waffle, since it’s already cooked.   WOW!  These were delicious, and a perfect accompaniment to the soup.