Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Nobody really needs an excuse to drink margaritas and eat enchiladas.  But if you did, Cinco de Mayo would be it.    The fifth of May is a holiday that celebrates Mexico’s defeat of French colonists who were trying to expand into Mexico.  It has its importance in Mexico, yes, but is widely celebrated here in the U.S. where drinking margaritas and eating Tex-Mex foods is the center of most activities.

Other popular Mexican foods include guacamole, tacos, tortillas,  burittos, and churros.  I enjoy eating any or all of them, but recipes for those can be found in abundance at many food-related sites, and often include (non)healthy doses of fat and calories.   I wanted to prepare an entree that would be healthy, colorful and speak Mexican, while keeping the fat in check.   So stuffed peppers it is, with a nod to Cinco de Mayo.   They are  muy Mexican and delicioso!!

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MEXICAN STUFFED PEPPERS

Yield:   Makes 4 servings:

Ingredients:IMG_7136

  • 4  (medium sized) bell peppers in assorted colors
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 package Spanish Rice mix, such as Rice-a-Roni
  • 2 cups Colby-Jack cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 cup salsa, choose your level of “heat”
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  •  2 tablespoon minced cilantro, or parsley

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Lightly spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Clean and prepare the peppers.  Slice in half vertically, removing all ribs and seeds.  Set aside.  Note:  You may wish to leave the peppers whole for stuffing.  I like to cut mine in half so I get more stuffing–for me, it’s all about the stuffing and not so much the pepper.

Peppers halved and prepared for  stuffing.

Peppers halved and prepared for stuffing.

2.  Cook the beef:  In a large skillet heated to medium-high, crumble the beef and cook until no longer pink.  Near the end of its cooking time add the onions and sauté a bit longer till they soften.  Drain any drippings.

Browning the beef and onions.

Browning the beef and onions.

3.  Stir in the package of rice mix and its seasonings, 1  1/2 cup cheese, salsa and hot sauce.  (I added about 1/2 cup water, to be sure there was enough liquid to cook the rice.)

4.  Fill the pepper halves so the filling is slightly mounded at the top.  Place in a baking dish close together so they support each other.  Pour the 1/2 cup water around them.

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Cover with foil and bake until they are tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  If you like to use cooking bags, place the peppers in a bag and bake for about the same length of time.

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5.  When the peppers are tender, remove any covering, sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, and return to oven to melt cheese. Sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

 

SOURCE:  majorly adapted from a recipe from Taste of Home

 

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Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff

Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff in its rich gravy over wide egg noodles.

Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff in its rich gravy over wide egg noodles.

If I were to ask my husband what he would to like to have for dinner he will say “Beef Stroganoff”,  guaranteed.  He has had a strange fascination for this dish for as long as I have known him.  I know it stems from his boyhood when his Mom made Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff and that is his idea of what it should be and what he wants me to make.  But I don’t, because for the most part I don’t use packaged mixes, and I know that is not what Beef Stroganoff really is.

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I have wanted to learn to make the real thing since soon after we were married when we spent a weekend in Boston and had dinner at a well-known Hungarian restaurant.  On the menu was Beef Stroganoff, and of course my husband ordered it.  It was served as slices of tender beef in a sour cream gravy over egg noodles.  He loved it.  Ever since, I have felt intimidated and afraid that what I might make would never live up to that perfection so I have never made it.  The biggest question for me has been what cut of beef to use to get that wonderful tenderness.

A recent issue of Cooking Light gave me some  answers to  that question and also this recipe for Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff.    The recipe seemed pretty simple to make with readily available ingredients.  The beef suggested in the recipe was for beef tenderloin, cut into small pieces, but another suggestion was to use skirt or “apron” steak, which is another very tender cut of beef that does not require long cooking.  It was available at the market, so that is what I used for this recipe.

This is skirt ( or apron) steak.

This is skirt ( or apron) steak.

I was  pleased beyond my expectations at the way this meal turned out.  The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the sauce nicely seasoned and balanced. One of the keys to achieving depth of flavor is to have a really hot skillet to brown the meat on all sides, and the other is the addition of mushrooms that contribute to the umami flavor of this dish.   My husband thought it was wonderful.  So the next time he says “make Beef Stroganoff”, I know that I can and this is what I will make.

BEEF AND MUSHROOM STROGANOFF

Yield:    4 servings

Ingredients:

Not too many ingredients.

Not too many ingredients.

  • 5 ounces uncooked wide egg noodles
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces. ( you may substitute any other suitably tender cut of beef )
  • 3/4 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leek  ( I used onion)

    Fresh thyme really adds a depth of flavor here.

    Fresh thyme really adds a depth of flavor here.

  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 (6-oz) pkg. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. hot paprika
  • 1 cup unsalted beef stock
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1.  Cook noodles according to package directions; drain.

2.  Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat; swirl to coat.  Add beef; sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Cook 4 minutes or until browned, turning to brown on all sides.  Remove beef from pan.

Cut steak into small pieces and brown well in a hot skillet.

Cut steak into small pieces and brown well in a hot skillet.

3.  Reduce heat to medium-high.  Add leek, thyme, garlic, and mushrooms;  sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Brown up mushrooms and onions. (or leeks)

Brown up mushrooms and onions. (or leeks)

Sprinkle mushroom mixture with flour and paprika; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Add stock, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until sauce is thickened, stirring frequently.

Traditionally paprika is used and flour to thicken the sauce.

Paprika is used to achieve the traditional flavor and flour to thicken the sauce.

Add paprika and flour to mushrooms and onions.

Add paprika and flour to mushrooms and onions.

Add beef broth and then sour cream to create the sauce.

Add beef broth and then sour cream to create the sauce.

4.  Stir in beef, remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, and sour cream.  Serve over noodles; sprinkle with parsley.

Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff in its rich gravy over wide egg noodles.

Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff in its rich gravy over wide egg noodles.

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SOURCE:  Cooking Light

A Blizzard and a Bowl of Soup

Charlotte, not-so-sweet Charlotte!  She’s been here and gone, but not without leaving her mark. I saw a cartoon that was a map of the state of Ct. with these words written across it:  “CLOSED,  come back later.”  Many roads are still not plowed, businesses that are open have only a few people who can get in, the rest are still snowbound.  Thousands of people have no power.  Thankfully we are not one of them.

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We are homebound, snowbound, and almost but not quite bored.  There are tons of things I could do, but somehow nothing I can think of appeals to me. Mr. D. is home because his office is closed, and of course we need to eat.  So in spite of having a “bucket of books” to read and many issues of magazines to catch up on, knitting and other projects to work on, the one thing I can really get in to is to cook something.

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This is a picture of our deck.  The snow is at least 3 feet deep.  We cannot open the back door out onto the deck.

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This is our lower patio.  What looks like a giant marshmallow is a table with that much snow on it.

Storms days usually make me think of soup and today is no exception.  Today’s soup is a beef and barley combination.

Hearty Beef Barley Soup

Hearty Beef Barley Soup

It is only in recent years that I have begun to use barley.  I don’t recall ever having it in my growing up years, and so when I began to cook for my family it is not one of the ingredients I used.  Then one day a soup recipe caught my eye but it contained barley.  I purchased some knowing it is a good source of fiber and low on the glycemic scale, so I gave it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised by its nutty flavor and how much it thickened the soup.  Now I would not make a beef soup without it, and sometimes I include mushrooms with it.  Not today, though, since I didn’t have any on hand, and I couldn’t go out to get some  if I wanted to.

As I assembled all the ingredients and began to prep the vegetables, and brown the meat, it occurred to me that I was following the very same steps you take when you make a braise.  Braising is a technique that is used on tougher cuts of meat to produce great flavor and tenderness.  Its a cook’s secret weapon and one that I use frequently to prepare the basic ingredients for soup, or to slow cook a piece of meat that will become fork tender and falling off the bone.  It is very easy to do if you remember four simple steps that I describe in the recipe below.

If you’re looking for a way to dial up your cooking skills, braising is a secret you need to be in on.  In my opinion there is no other technique that requires so little of you and yet gives so much back.  Just don’t tell everyone, OK?

BEEF and BARLEY SOUP

SERVINGS:    About 8

Assemble and prep the meat and vegetables in advance.

Assemble and prep the meat and vegetables in advance.

  • 1 pound beef stew meat
  • 2 Tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cans beef broth
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 – 3 carrots
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms, optional

1. Sear the meat: In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Season the meat  with salt and pepper and brown the beef, in batches if necessary. Don’t crowd the pan, take the time to get good browning all over. Transfer to a large soup kettle.

Sear the meat in small batches.  That's where the good flavor comes from.


Sear the meat in small batches. That’s where the good flavor comes from.

2. Saute the mirepoix.  This is a French term meaning the classic onion, carrots, and celery combo.   Add chopped onions and celery to drippings left in the skillet, and brown them, aiming for a caramel-y brown color.

Add onion and celery and get everything browned.

Add onion and celery and get everything browned.

Add in the minced garlic, and the flour.  Cook for 1 minute, then transfer to the soup kettle. In this recipe the carrots are added later as they are part of the main ingredients of the soup.

3. Deglaze the pan. Pour a small amount of the beef broth into the skillet to deglaze the pan and scrape up all the browned bits. These bits are flavor bombs. When they dissolve in the cooking liquid, they enrich the whole dish.

Deglaze the pan with some of the beef broth.

Deglaze the pan with some of the beef broth.

Add this to the soup kettle with the remaining beef broth, the 5 cups of water, salt, thyme and pepper.

4. Braise it. Bring to a boil.  Meanwhile peel and slice the carrots.  Add them to the soup kettle with the barley.

Add carrots and barley.

Add carrots and barley.

When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover with tipped cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

5.  In the last half hour of cooking, I like to add some fresh mushrooms.  They seem to add to the deep beefy flavor of this hearty soup.

A warming bowl of soup.  So Good!

A warming bowl of soup. So Good!

SOURCE:  Cook’s Illustrated

Southwestern Lentil Soup

Southwestern Lentil Soup

I love soups.  I love to make them and eat them.  In fact I have gained quite a reputation for the variety of soups I make; hot or cold you can always eat soup.  No matter what time of year it is there’s always a great soup to make.  Starting in the Fall I think of hearty soups that include meat and lots of vegetables.  Of course some soups are purely vegetable based, made smooth and creamy by pureeing.

The soup I made a few days ago  is one I’ve made several times before and both Mr. D. and I like it very much. It’s sort of a cross between a soup and chili. A beef and vegetable soup made doubly nutritious by the addition of lentils, and Southwestern seasonings to give it some zip.  You might want to try this instead of chili for your next football party.  Add a pan of spicy corn bread to go with it and you’ve got a terrific meal.  (My recipe for corn bread will be featured in tomorrow’s post).  This could easily be a vegetarian or vegan soup by omitting the beef, and perhaps adding some mushrooms for that meaty umami flavor.

SOUTHWESTERN LENTIL SOUP

YIELD:  6 – 8 servings

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into coins
  • 1 ( 14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
  •  1 ( 4 ounce ) can diced greens chiles
  • 1  8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 6  1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon southwestern seasoning ( This can be a combination of chili, cumin, coriander, garlic, etc.)  I use Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming.

1.  Rinse lentils, drain and set aside.

2.  Brown the ground beef in a hot skillet or soup pot.  Drain away the fat and set the meat aside.

Brown the ground beef well.

3.  Heat the oil in the same pan.  Add the onion and carrots, sauté until slightly softened. (My method of choice is to first brown the meat and then saute the vegetables in a skillet, and when each is done I add it to a large soup kettle.  Then I proceed to step  #4.)

Lightly saute onions and carrots.

4.  Add the lentils, beef, tomatoes, green chiles, tomato sauce, water, salt, pepper, and other seasonings to the soup kettle.

Add in all the other ingredients.

5.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover.  Simmer for about an hour until lentils are tender.  Stir occasionally to prevent lentils from sticking.

Is it soup yet?

You can really amp up the spiciness factor to whatever level you like by adding some cayenne pepper or chipotle pepper to the soup, or serve with some hot sauce on the table for those who like it a little hotter.

Soup served with Pumpkin Spice Corn Bread.

SOURCE:   Penzey’s Spices

Slow Cooked Braised Beef Short Ribs

It doesn’t matter what season it is, I make frequent use of my crockpot, especially if I will be away most of the day.  I love to come home to the smell of something wonderful cooking.  Today I cooked beef  short ribs.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

Short-ribs are usually quite pricy at the market so we don’t have them very often, but this past week there was a special “truckload of beef” sale going on so I purchased some.  I have in my files several recipes for braised beef short-ribs, but for every one I was missing some key ingredient.  So I fused together two different recipes and come up with this one.  They came out very well;  finger-lickin good and falling off the bone, with a nice gravy that I thickened with some of the seasoned flour I used to brown the ribs initially.  I served this together with a mushroom risotto, and a medley of fresh garden vegetables.    This is how I made the ribs.

BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIBS IN THE CROCK POT

SERVES:    4

INGREDIENTS

  • about 4 pounds beef short ribs,  4-6 pieces
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 jar prepared Beef Gravy with Mushrooms (such as Heinz)
  • 1 package dry onion soup mix (such as Lipton)

PREPARATION

1.  Spray crock pot liner with non-stick cooking spray

2.  In a shallow bowl, mix together the flour, smoked paprika, and allspice.  Dredge the ribs in the flour mixture to coat.  Shake off excess flour.

3.  In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil to hot, brown the ribs on all sides, in batches if needed.

4.  Place a few ribs in the bottom of the crock pot .  Pour some of the gravy over them and sprinkle with some of the soup mix.  Repeat with the remaining ribs, gravy, and soup mix.

5.  Cook on LOW for 6-7 hours, or on HIGH for 3 1/2 – 4 hours.

6.  To serve:  Remove the ribs to a serving dish and keep warm.  Make a roux out of 2 Tablespoons butter and 2 Tablespoon flour (use any seasoned flour left from dredging the ribs).   Turn the crock pot up to HIGH so that the gravy simmers,  add the roux and stir to combine so the gravy thickens slightly.  Pour over the ribs and serve with noodles, mashed potatoes, or rice.

SOURCE:   A CAROLYN ORIGINAL