November 12, 2017:

Hola!

It's hard to believe, but winter has arrived early in my hometown. One week it was in the 70s and gorgeous outside, the next week it dropped down into the 40s and then boom, less than a week later, into the 30s. We've already had several hard freezes, the earliest that's happened since I moved here in 2014. Anyway, the trees had not even begun to turn color yet in the neighborhood - and now most of them are bare due to the many hard freezes and strong winds that blew most of the days last week. Wowsers! Today, however, the sun stayed out all day, there was no wind to speak of, and the temperatures felt positively balmy outside. I was very glad because I had to be out and about today.

So, the poor trees did not have a "fall" this year but we did get enough rain to ease my mind that my pines and shrubs will have enough moisture in the ground to survive the winter. The squirrels are SO fat and SO furry, I can't help but think they know we're in for a bad winter. Sigh. I'm way behind in everything including lots of garden clean-up that now I won't get to unless we get a few days of "Indian Summer," which doesn't seem likely this year. I did, however, get everything outdoors pretty much put away, except for the area rug (it needs to be "washed" with some soap and rinsed off) and the mosquito net curtains on my Shezebo. Now I'm already thinking about Christmas, and soon it will be here, before we know it! So, I figured it's about time I put up my "autumn" photographs from prior years as the seasonal header here at Maison Newton. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, that will be here soon and then it's into full-tilt Christmas decorating. Take care, everyone!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stuffed Green Peppers - Success!

Lately, the weather has affected me. It's made me want to COOK!  This year, I seem to have caught some kind of cooking virus. In a short period of time I've turned out my apple crumb top pie, a Shepherd's pie and, on the night of November 2, I tried my hand at stuffed green peppers!

This is a LONG-WINDED (typical) Jan post, so if you want to cut to the hunt, scroll down to where I start the recipe.

I only ever attempted stuffed green peppers one time a few years ago, and they turned out yechy! I don't know what on earth I did to them, but they were NOT GOOD. I put them out in the back yard for the raccoons and event they didn't want them, that's how yechy they turned out.

So I do not know what possessed me last Thursday night that put the thought of stuffed green peppers into my head. But I just had to try it.  I looked around online for a new recipe (since the old one was a disaster).  Every single one seemed to be for SIX stuffed green peppers. Geez!

The next night, I got off the bus after a long, hard day at the office,  and hit that Pick 'n Save like a tornado. Green peppers were on sale for $1.25 a pound (outrageously high price, I know but better than the $1.99 a pound a few weeks ago) and I picked out two nice ones - not the largest but even green and firm, no soft spots.  I wanted to make two peppers. I had Basmati rice at home. I picked up a pound of ground beef, a small can of tomato paste and a small can of tomato sauce, and one smallish size sweet onion. My intention was to make two stuffed green peppers using 1/2 the ground beef and save the rest for burgers.

Well things didn't turn out exactly the way I planned. I had a recipe picked out to try but it was for SIX peppers. I did my best to cut the recipe down two-thirds (to two peppers) coming home on the bus that night, with buddy Thelma beside me to help with the "math."

Well, silly moi. As I read through the recipe, I realized that it called for cutting the peppers in half and using both the tops and the bottoms. That didn't seem right to me, but I was game. I cut one pepper in half and cleaned it up with little problem; the second pepper, though, I slashed through the top and gouged out a part of it, too large to try and "patch" by attempting to plug it up with the chunk of flesh that I'd accidentally cut out (sharp knives do have drawbacks sometimes). So, I ended up with three half-peppers. LOL!

Not to worry. The recipe that I was using called for finely diced green or red peppers to go into the beef and rice mixture used to stuff the peppers, so that's what I did with part of the ruined "half," and what I did not finely chop up for the meat/rice mixture I cut into chunks and tossed into the baking dish before putting it into the oven. Waste not, want not.

Here is the recipe for TWO stuffed green peppers (or four peppers cut into halves) (the original was for SIX, or three peppers cut into halves):

Prepping the Green Peppers

2 green bell peppers. 
Remove stem, cut each pepper in half across widest part, clean out seeds and base of stem (it was hard to clean out the stem base on the inside of the pepper with a knife.  I resorted to a spoon and scraped, but there was still some "hard stuff" left behind where the stem attached to the inner skin of the plant.  I just left it and after baking the peppers, made sure to remove that portion of the cooked "tops" when I ate them!)

Set a pot of water to boiling large enough to hold all 4 pepper halves.  When water is boiling, put in the cleaned green pepper halves and blanch for 2 to 3 minutes.  Watch for the peppers to turn a "bright" green and scoop them out with a slotted spoon or tongs, rest on a towel or paper towels "bottoms" up to drain excess water and set aside.  Peppers will be "al dente," not cooked all the way through.

Rice

I used my favorite rice, that I learned about from a blog!  Basmati rice.  I found a brand at the Pick 'n Save, Lundberg (California White), that I fell in love with the very first time I tried it, and now it's the only rice I use.  Before Lundberg's Basmati, I was a cheapo instant rice kind of gal.  Oh I know, the horror, the horror...

I made the "two servings" recipe (1/2 cup rice, 3/4 cup of water, dash salt, a bit of butter), bring water to a boil, add rice, salt and butter, stir to bring back to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, firmly cover, and leave it alone for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, still covered.  After 10 minutes, remove cover and "fluff" rice with a fork.  It has worked every time for me, and I used to regularly ruin rice I tried to cook from scratch.  But this rice, it's like a miracle!  And it's delicious, too.  I haven't measured it out but I believe this makes about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups cooked rice.

Set rice aside.

Ground Beef Mixture

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil to add some richness of flavor) to brown everything in
1/2 pound ground beef
1/3rd cup finely chopped onion (sweet or yellow; I used more onion, about 2/3rds cup)
1/3rd cup finely chopped green pepper (for a sweeter mix, use red bell peppers)
1/3rd tablespoon minced garlic (I'm lazy, I used about 1/3 tablespoon of garlic powder)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.  I cheated.  I used dried parsley. 
1/4 teaspoon salt (I thought this was too little salt, and the mixture did not taste right when I tried it after the meat/onions/green peppers mixture was cooked, so I added about two or three teaspoons of Worchestershire sauce [did not measure exactly, I would put a dash in, stir, taste, add more, stir, taste, until I thought it tasted right].  You can add more salt, or use Worchestershire sauce, which gives a more complex flavor while adding salt.)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (less if you don't like black pepper)
1 small can tomato paste
1 small can tomato sauce (when I make it again, I will use a regular size of tomato sauce, will explain why below)

 In skillet, heat oil, add chopped onions, chopped peppers and garlic (or garlic seasoning). Cook over medium high to medium heat until softened.  Reduce heat and add ground beef. Cook over medium heat until ground beef is browned, breaking up ground beef with wooden spoon (or your favorite utensil). 

DO NOT DRAIN cooked ground beef.

When ground beef is browned, add the cooked rice, salt, pepper, can of tomato paste and optional Worchester sauce and cook over low heat until well blended.  Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.  This mixture turns out thick, and you may want to add some of the tomato sauce to it to "juice" it up a little as well as add an extra dimension of tomato flavor.  Just add a little, if you do add extra.  The rest of the tomato sauce will be used - see below. I will add some extra tomato sauce to the beef/rice mixture the next time I make this recipe. I also rinsed out the tomato paste can with an ounce or two of water mixed with a spoon to get every last bit of goodness out of that can that I could.  Oh I know, frugal to the extreme!  But I learned this from my Grandma Newton.  She fed her family of six children and Grandpa Newton during the Great Depression.  Those lessons of how to make a little into more "stuck." 

Set meat/rice mixture aside.

Putting It All Together and Baking

Pour some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the peppers so they stand more or less upright.  If you want more "gravy" after the peppers are cooked, add more tomato sauce
Place cut pepper "halves" into a baking dish (I used a round casserole dish) and tomato sauce
Stuff each pepper "half" with the ground beef/rice mixture.  Since I only had three "half" peppers, mine had extra piled-up stuffing (and I had to adjust my baking time accordingly).  If you have four "half" peppers, you should have enough filling to fill them generously unless you used smallish green peppers, in which case you will need to adjust your baking time
After stuffing peppers, pour remainder of tomato sauce over tops of stuffed peppers

This is what my peppers looked like before I put them in the oven:




Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Bake peppers uncovered 25 to 30 minutes
Check to see if tomato sauce is bubbling on the sides.  If it is, turn oven off, remove baking dish and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve peppers hot and scoop "sauce" over tops if desired.

If there is no bubbling in the baking dish when you check after 25/30 minutes, increase heat to 400 degrees F and bake additionally in 10 minute increments until bubbling occurs, then turn heat off and remove baking dish from oven. Rest for 10 minutes.  Serve. 

This is what my peppers looked like after baking, just before I dug in (with a little bit of Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the tops):




YUM!  I was absolutely delighted with how this recipe turned out.  When I make it again, I will add a little more Worchester sauce to the beef/rice mixture and more tomato sauce to the baking dish and over the tops of the stuffed peppers.  Otherwise, it was utterly delicious!  I scarfed these peppers down over 4 days (supper, lunch, supper) and each pepper "half" was so filled, it was a meal in and of itself.  I'm not Master Chef material, but I would serve these stuffed green peppers to anyone not a vegetarian!

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