Monday, December 26, 2011

Stuffed Red Bell Peppers, Two Ways (Part I)

So the other day, The Cohort** and I were hanging out at my home-away-from-home, K&S International Market, when we found some sweet-looking red bell peppers. I needed to get a couple anyway since I was planning on making some rad Moroccan Sunset Salad, but then she casually mentioned how it'd be cool to make some stuffed peppers with them. Maybe have a 'Throwdown,' or something. Right then and there it's like something inside of me just snapped. I got this wild Charles Manson look in my eyes, stretched my arms out wide and said, 'Girl, you don't know who you be messin' with! Oh, I'll throw down with you, alright! I. WILL. DESTROY YOU!!' Then I heard somebody say something about 'Call 911,' so we quickly left and got our peppers elsewhere. Anyway, the important thing is that we did get them, because these two recipes are pretty damn good, even if I do say so myself. Not that I need to, since Amy will vouch for mine, and I'll vouch for hers. I think she knew I was impressed when, after a couple bites, I got out my camera and started taking pictures. Yeah, I was impressed. More than that, I was nervous. After only a couple bites, I was pretty sure I was going to lose this one. However, I managed to bring it to a draw. Yes, we were the only judges, but we're both pretty fair and honestly concluded that they were both equally good.

We started off on a pretty much level playing field, since neither one of us had ever made them before. (All I had was vague memories of only seeing them as a child- I never could bring myself to try one, even though I liked stuff cabbage. Something about that pale green, overcooked pepper...) We both agreed that we'd use ground sausage, instead of beef, as the base of the stuffing. She mentioned something about using rice as well. I went along with it, even though I had other plans...

So the way it worked is, because we have only one kitchen, and it's a small one, we had to go one at a time so we wouldn't copy or be influenced by each other's recipes, especially since we both had a secret ingredient or two in mind. She went first, but because she's out of town for Christmas, I'm posting mine here first. I kept track of everything I added and all that, just in case it turned out good enough for me to decide to post it here. And surprisingly, it did. (I say 'surprisingly,' not because I didn't think I could come up with something good in this area, but because whenever I try to come up with an actual recipe for something, it's never as good as when I just freestyle it.) So here's my concoction:

3 red bell peppers
1 lb ground sausage (Jimmy Dean, regular)
2 oz ea. minced garlic/shallots (At first, that much seemed like a lot- too much, even- but I ended up going with the whole thing.)

(All spices/herbs listed are dried)

1 can diced tomatoes (Hunts, no salt added)
1T Hungarian paprika
1 T Sriracha
1 3/4 t basil
1 1/2 t ground sage*
1 1/2 t ground rosemary*
1 1/2 t sumac
1 1/2 t onion powder
1 1/4 t oregano
1 t ground coriander
1/8 t nutmeg
1/8 t cayenne
Several grinds of black pepper (assumes you're using a grinder. If not, probably just a pinch or two.)
pinch of dill

*I originally used 1 T each of whole sage and rosemary, but ground them myself, resulting in approx. 1 1/2 t each.

Boursin Cheese

200 ml whole oat groats
375 ml water

Let's start with the oat groats. I discovered them about a year and a half ago or so. Long story short, I made some rice and beans with them, mistakenly thinking they were brown rice. Turned out to be the best rice and beans I'd ever had. Oat groats are like a combination of brown rice and pearl barley- nuttier and chewier than regular rice. They cook up the same, though, so whatever recipe you follow for regular white rice should work the same for the oat groats. I made mine in a rice cooker, and because I figured the groats would absorb some liquid from the tomatoes and whatnot, I cut back slightly on the water, using 375 ml instead of 400. I used Bob's Red Mill brand for this, which should be available pretty much anywhere, but any grocery store with a halfway decent bulk foods section should have some too. Otherwise, there's always Amazon.

While that's going, cook the sausage about halfway, add garlic and shallots and cook until browned. Deglaze with a splash of balsamic vinegar (you may need to drain the fat off first; I was planning on it, but found it unnecessary). Then add in the tomatoes and all the spices. Let simmer on low heat while you blanch the bell peppers.

As far as the blanching goes, I brought some water to a boil, turned it off, and then dropped in the peppers for one minute, after which I dropped them in some cold water. After they came out of the oven, they definitely still had some crunch to them. Not that I consider that underdone, but I guess underdone would be better than overdone. However, if that's not your thing, I'd probably go an extra 30 seconds to 1 minute on the blanching, or keep the water boiling instead of turning it off.

Now let's talk Boursin cheese.

It's a very soft, creamy, spreadable cheese. I'd actually never heard of it until a few months ago at work. (Walmart lists it on their website, so apparently it's available pretty much anywhere.) Fortunately for me, I had some on hand, leftover from a catering event at work. There's other flavors available, but this is the one I used. Not knowing how it would all play out, I decided to make three slightly different versions of my peppers- one with everything but the Boursin, one with the Boursin on top, and one with the Boursin mixed in. (The Boursin is the one thing I didn't really measure out, but it was approximately 2-3 teaspoons for the two that got it.)

From left to right- cheese on top, straight up, cheese mixed in.

For some reason, I mixed up the order for this photo- L-R - cheese mixed in, cheese on top, and straight up.

I also forgot to note how long I put them in the oven for, but it wasn't long- maybe 15 minutes at 350 F. All the filling is cooked already at this point so you're basically just bringing the whole thing up to a hot eating temp, as well as maybe finishing off the peppers.

I really liked all three, but my favorite was definitely with the cheese mixed in. The Cohort also liked all three, but said the one with the cheese mixed in tasted like it should be wrapped up in a tortilla and eaten like a burrito. I can see her point. Maybe I'll even do that sometime.

So this is my version. The Cohort's is up next. Ours are a bit similar (I find it interesting that we both, unbeknownst to the other, used sumac as a secret ingredient) but different enough that it's worth making both versions.

** The Cohort, aka Amy Housewine, aka Amy Crowe, is my friend and roommate. She'll be posting here occasionally, as well as helping me come up with new stuff to make. If you want to get a feel for her writing style, her page is here- The Unicorner of Vengeful Atrocities. (I know, right? She's weird. And she has a thing for unicorns. Plus she's just weird. But she's pretty cool too.) The writing over there is definitely R-rated. She likes to write, and speaks her mind when she does. But that's her blog, and this is mine. Obviously very different, not just in content and style, but in language- i.e. mine's more PG. Yes, it's going to stay that way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cranberry Awesome Sauce

Yeah, I know Thanksgiving is almost a month gone now and most people don't typically eat cranberry sauce except around then, but this ain't no regular cranberry sauce- it's a cranberry Awesome Sauce!

First off though, I have to mention that all recipe credit goes to my friend and cohort, Amy Housewine*. We went to a large Thanksgiving get-together last month and she wanted to bring a cranberry sauce to share, so she just whipped this one up, very spur-of-the-moment. First time she'd ever made it. And it turned out so good that she decided it was just too good to share, and she didn't bring it! And I agree, it is that good. I'll admit though, as a kid I used to love that gelatinous stuff from a can, and even until recently (like just before I tasted Amy's) I still used to kind of like it. But no more! Hers is just way too good to mess around with anything store-bought. And it's a cinch to make- just 5 ingredients!** As soon as I tasted it, I knew we had to post it here, so I asked her to email me the recipe. She did, and here it is in its entirety:

1 cup orange-pineapple juice
1 cup white sugar
12 oz cranberries
1/2 tsp (or to taste) Saigon cinnamon

Heat juice and sugar on med heat until sugar is dissolved. Add cranberries and cook until they start popping. Add cinnamon. Keep cooking till it's whatchoo want, yo. then put it in a bowl or something.


Dead simple. I love it.

**But she forgot to mention the candied pecans she added. It was something like half a cup or so. Just add them in towards the end of the cooking (or earlier if you want them less crunchy). The pecan flavor goes really, really well with the cranberries. The candied pecans Amy used that day were ones I'd gotten from work; I wrote the recipe down, but lost it (probably for the better, since they likely wouldn't want me putting it on the internet anyway) but as I recall, it's just heavy cream, brown sugar, and pecans; maybe some cayenne pepper. Then toasted in the oven, probably on 250 F or something. No egg whites, like most of the recipes I've seen on various recipe sites (Allrecipes, Simply Recipes, Epicurious, etc). If you don't have, or don't feel like making, candied pecans, regular toasted ones would probably still be just as good.

And of course, like I almost always do, I had to tweak it. Only a tiny bit, though. For starters, I pulsed mine a bit with the stick blender, whereas Amy left hers untouched. It's just a personal preference- I don't like mine too chunky or too smooth.

I figured since we were going to be using candied pecans, I'd cut back on the sugar by 1/4 cup. I've since made it again without the candied pecans (it's better with, in my opinion) and still cut back on the sugar by 1/4 cup. Her original recipe isn't too sweet, I just like sweet things that are a little less sweet than 'normal. I also add a pinch of kosher salt to mine. Pretty much any time I make anything that has a fair amount of either salt or sugar, I always add a pinch or two of the other, for 'balance.' Maybe it's all in my head, but it seems to taste better that way.
Then I made another batch with regular o.j. instead of the pineapple-o.j.- I think it's better with the pineapple-o.j. The difference is subtle, and may have been due more to the brands we used (the pineapple stuff was Dole, the regular o.j. was just a store brand), so more testing is in order, but for now I'm planning on sticking with the pineapple-o.j.

A couple other tweaks/additions to try:

Ground black pepper- a friend of mine adds it as a 'secret ingredient' and says it's wonderful. I tried it, but I think I went too light (2-3 turns of the grinder, set to fine) since I couldn't really taste any difference. I may also try ground pink peppercorns.

Cardamom- One of my favorite spices. Definitely goes well with cinnamon, so I'd imagine it'd fit well in this sauce.

Forget about that whole 'Cranberry sauce is for Thanksgiving' thing. And forget about that cranberry-flavored-crap-in-a-can... This simple, 5-ingredient recipe really is a cranberry Awesome Sauce. Depending on how thick you cook it, it could go great as a syrup over waffles, or spread on biscuits with butter. Just the other night I mixed some in with some Greek yogurt (The Greek Gods brand- it's as thick as cheesecake, and pretty damn awesome), and I have to say, if you want to get fat, that's probably a good way to go about it.

Thanks for an awesome recipe, Amy!

*probably not her real last name.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Update to the previous post

I forgot to mention a couple things in the last post about hummus. The main one being this stuff:

Sumak! Or more commonly spelled, Sumac. No matter how you spell it, it's great stuff. And it goes especially well with this sweet potato hummus. If you're not familiar with sumac, it's very tart (which is why it goes so well with this hummus- it adds a great balance to the sweetness) and has just the slightest hint of heat to it. And I do mean slightest; on a scale of 1-10 for your average non-chili-head person (1 being Bell Pepper, 10 being Call An Ambulance Before I Die) it's probably a 2. Maybe a 2 1/2. So don't worry if your taste buds can't handle anything much spicier than mashed potatoes- you'll be safe, I promise. Sumac has about the same look and color as your average chili powder, and is very common in Middle Eastern cooking. More info can be found here, and on Wikipedia. It's becoming more and more common here in the States, and if you live in a decent-sized city with a good Asian market (or better yet, Middle Eastern grocery stores) you're definitely in business as far as finding it. But even if you live out in the middle of nowhere, it can be easily found online, and for not a lot of $$. In general, it goes for around $13-20/lb. but can be had for much less. I think I paid around $4.50 for this 7 oz. jar at a local store, and even have a 12 oz. bag of a different brand that cost around the same. (I'm trying out various brands I find, just to compare. So far, this Indo-European brand, at about $10/lb. compares favorably to Penzey's, at around $22/lb. [+ shipping, if you don't have a local store.] But Penzey's is generally more expensive than other places anyway.) But even at $20+/lb. it's still worth it- a little goes a long way, so a pound is a whole lot.

Bottom line: it's freakin' delicious, and you should try it out.

The other thing I forgot to mention is this weird hybrid of sweet and white potato that I found. It looks like this:

That's the outside. The inside looks like this:

I saw them one day at my (old) local asian market and picked up a few, not really knowing anything about them. So I popped one in the oven and baked it. It tasted like a weird mix between sweet and white potatoes. The white part tastes like your average white potato, and the purple part is sweet. It's an oddly interesting mix when you eat one baked (the potato, I mean). But what I found out is that it makes a really, really good sweet potato hummus variation. You just use the same recipe, but use these instead. Honestly, it doesn't look all that appetizing once it's all blended up- it's actually almost gray-colored- but man does it taste fantastic. It's like regular sweet-potato hummus kicked up a couple notches. Definitely different, and definitely good. These pots are probably a bit hard to find, unless you live in a decent-sized city, though. (No, that wasn't a typo- working in a commercial kitchen for a living, I generally call potatoes 'pots,' at least when it comes to writing/typing the actual word.) I first found them in St. Paul, MN, a town of a few hundred thousand people or so, and I can still find them here in Nashville, but in both cases, generally only at Asian markets. Also, I can't seem to find a standardized name for them. Often in St. Paul, and even around here, they're unlabeled. But sometimes they're labeled as Purple Yams, so I don't actually know what sort of variety of potato they really are. But if you can find them (and they're generally kinda pricey- I think I pay twice what regular white or sweet pots go for) they're totally worth a go. I always use them to make hummus, but even baked (or for whatever) they're really different, and really good.

And one last thing I didn't actually forget to mention in the last post, but have since found out, is that instead of using fresh, minced garlic, try out roasted garlic in the hummus instead! It makes a subtle, but tasty, difference.

Ok, friends, over and out, but before I go- up next we have a really sweet (as in kickass, but also sweet flavor-wise) cranberry sauce, a really kickass new Banh Mi recipe, and a couple other tasty treats. Stay tuned!