Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stuffed Peppers

I was at the grocery store, stylishly dressed in my yoga pants, husband’s sweatshirt, and dirty sneakers, picking out fresh produce. A woman had her cart blocking the entire bell pepper display, but she moved it aside when she saw me coming. She gestured to the prepackaged sets of bell peppers and asked me why the sets only included yellow, orange, and red peppers, not green peppers. I didn’t have an answer, but asked my own: Why were all the red bells so monstrously HUGE? The woman waved her hands matter-of-factly, informing me that they were good for making stuffed peppers.


I was quiet for a moment, then picked out seven. Because of course I needed seven bell peppers. And it makes total sense to pick an odd number like that.

The recipe that I selected when I got home called for four peppers. I thought about cutting it down, since it was just hubby and I, but then I figured I’d leave it as-is and have plenty for lunch the next day. I selected two greens and two reds.


I cut off the tops and then hollowed them out, scraping out the seeds and membranes.


Plop them in some boiling water for a few minutes.


And then rinse in cold water to stop the from cooking. It actually smelled pretty good at this point.


I set them up on paper towels to drain. And started wondering if they were cooked a tad too long, since they were soft and kind of droopy.


Here’s a little tip that I learned on another site – cut off the bottoms of the peppers so that they’ll stand up all right in the pan.


Now for the stuffing.

Take a pound and a half of beef.


And a cup of cold rice. I had made gumbo the day before and had plenty of rice to spare.


Dump it in with the beef.


Add an egg.


Some chopped onions (also conveniently leftover from making gumbo).


And some Italian-style bread crumbs.


Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder.


And some Parmesan cheese.


I stood there looking at it for a few minutes, not wanting to just dig in with my hands and wondering if I could mix it evenly and well with just a wooden spoon. I tried, and this is as far as I got.


I finally gave in and got my hands dirty.


I divided the mixture into four balls so that each pepper could have an equal amount.


Stuffing them wasn’t hard at all, even though the peppers were delicate after having been boiled for a few minutes.


I mixed a can of tomato sauce with a quarter cup of white wine vinegar. I don’t know why the recipe wanted that, except to make it more acidic and cause worse heartburn than it would otherwise. But I went ahead and did it because the recipe said to. I’m young and I can get away with these things. Pour it over top of the peppers.


And top with some more Parmesan cheese.


This is one of those dishes that you can put in the oven and then clean the entire kitchen before it’s even ready. It needs 80 minutes, so you have plenty of time. I poured some wine for hubby and I.


I used some of the leftover wine charms that I made for our wedding. I found myself wishing I could “pin” them on Pinterest. Oh goodness.


Anyway, the peppers weren’t the prettiest things ever. The tall, skinny red bells plopped over, and the tomato sauce just wasn’t all that visually appealing to me.


It didn’t look all that recognizable on my plate, either.


But damn was it delicious! Hubby declared that it was like meatballs inside of peppers, and he added, “That’s what I’m talking about.” Man food.


This was such a delicious meal. Hearty, warm, and filling. I forgot until there were only about 10 minutes left on the timer that I had wanted to make roasted potatoes and also a broccoli side dish, but I took a gulp of my wine and thought, “Screw it.” Turns out, one pepper with all that stuffing was plenty of food. I wouldn’t have been able to eat that and potatoes, and I would have just eaten far too much. If you’re trying to go for a more balanced dish, I’d suggest slicing your peppers in half instead of keeping them whole.

Otherwise, not much I’d change. Yum!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Spinach and Chicken Bake

A few weeks ago, I told hubby, “I wish there was a way to save all these recipes and blog posts I see all over the Internet, other than just bookmarking every damn thing.” Then along came Pinterest. I gave in quicker than I would have expected. I resisted briefly because it seemed so gimmicky, but it didn’t take long. And now I am more willing to use recipes from anywhere since I can save them all in a central place. Unless they don’t a picture, like the ranch baked chicken recipe. Dumb.


So, unlike about 99% of the posts I’ve made so far, this one is not based on an allrecipes.com recipe. It’s from about.com, which seems pretty weird to me, but it’s the recipe that popped up when I did a google search for chicken and spinach (the two things I had plenty of in my kitchen). So here we are.

Start with lots of fresh baby spinach in a big ol’ casserole dish.


Salt and pepper it.


And add chicken broth. I used low sodium.


It called for either Creole or Cajun seasoning. I had a huge container of Tony’s creole seasoning, or this, Penzey’s Spices Cajun blend, which was a Christmas gift. I went with the Penzey’s blend.


Sprinkle it liberally all over your chicken breasts and put them on the bed of spinach. I was using thin-sliced cutlets (which I’d nuked to defrost – ignore the white pieces on the edges where they got cooked!).


Sprinkle on some chopped green onion.


The recipe said to top with chopped tomato. I didn’t have fresh, so I opened up a can of Italian-seasoned diced tomato. They were in large chunks, which worked well, I think. I just spooned out a bunch.


Cover and bake for a while.


Then make some boxed potatoes au gratin. Love them. Sue me.

Maybe I’ll make these from scratch someday.



After a while, I pulled the chicken out of the oven and removed the foil.


Sprinkled on some Parmesan cheese and put it back in the oven.





Yep, pretty good. I think if I make it again, I might add more spinach, as it cooked down so much that I regretted not having made a vegetable side dish. There just wasn’t much spinach for each piece of chicken, and I love spinach so I missed it. I think I might also add a bit of lemon juice to the spinach to give it a little tang, as the chicken broth was good but missing something.

The spice mixture on the chicken was a little bit odd, slightly out of place, but yummy all the same. I do like the idea of topping with tomatoes, as it gave it flavor and moisture.

Yeah, I think I’ll make it again. It was certainly easy enough. Here’s the recipe, if you’d like it. I didn’t really change much, except that I used canned tomatoes and thinly sliced chicken (reducing the cooking time), plus the addition of the cheese.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fettuccini Alfredo

A little over a year ago, I was struggling with trying to manage working full-time, trudging through a full course load at school, and keeping tabs on a puppy who seemed unable to figure out that she was supposed to pee outside in the grass, not in the kitchen, and who was absolutely terrified of being left alone.


This kind of cuteness helped me keep my sanity.

One morning, I was trying to get ready for work. It was 6am and 25 degrees out and I was outside with the puppy for a good 30-40 minutes, trying to convince her to go to the bathroom. Finally, I gave up and brought her back into the house. She immediately ran over to her big brother’s crate and took a giant dump in it.

Funny in retrospect, but I burst into tears.

Later on in the day, I told hubby about how overwhelmed I was, and he felt really bad. Bad enough that he decided to make me dinner. He asked me what I’d like, and I think I said something like “Something warm and gooey with a lot of carbs.”

So he made ooey gooey chicken bacon fettucini alfredo. It was amazing.

That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about my lazy, weeknight, not-enough-ingredients version of the meal. I left out the bacon, the chicken, the mushrooms, all that, and just focused on the alfredo sauce itself since I had a ton of cheese to work with.

See, here’s my Monterey Jack cheese.


And my parmesan cheese.


Anyway, cook up some pasta in salted water. You know how it works.


For the sauce, melt some butter. I really love butter.


Add a lot of garlic. I also really love garlic.


Add flour, stir it up and cook until creamy, then start adding milk.


Add it gradually and let it cook and simmer before adding too much so that it can incorporate the milk little by little. Also add half and half.


And at some point, add cheese. But don’t take pictures of it because you’re trying to talk and cook at the same time, and that is hard enough without remembering to take pictures.


I topped it with some leftover shrimp from a baked scampi dish the night before, and that was that!

Delicious, but there are definitely some changes I wish I could go back in time and make:

(1) I used minced garlic and it created chunks in a creamy sauce. Wish I’d used garlic powder for the sake of a better consistency.

(2) I wish I’d made the sauce in a crappy pan so that I would have felt free to use a wire whisk, as I just couldn’t get it as smooth as I wanted it to be with a wooden spoon.

(3) Pay more attention. Hubby and I were talking, and with my attention divided, I think something suffered. I’m not sure what, because it did taste pretty good, but it just didn’t have that wow factor.

(4) Leave it to hubby to sneak in the whole cream so that the sauce achieves that oh-so-amazing creaminess that I can’t hope to capture with skim milk. Hey, bad days entitle you to a little sin.

Still, all in all, it was a decent meal.