Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stuffed Peppers

I’ve always thought of stuffed peppers as a heavy, multi-step dish, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make lighter, brighter stuffed peppers in less than an hour. These peppers are a good meal to make when you need something reasonably light and healthy in preparation for, say, Thanksgiving feasting.


Prepare a cup of rice according to your favorite method.

While the rice is cooking, take 6 small bell peppers—I used green, yellow and red—and remove the tops (reserve them), seeds and ribs. Bring a big pot of water to a boil, and blanch the cleaned peppers and tops for six minutes. Remove; dip in a bowl of chilled water (or hold them under cold running water for 5 minutes). Place in a colander; let drain.

In the meantime, sauté a large, chopped onion in some olive oil. When the onion is turning golden and translucent (about 8 minutes), add a pound of ground meat—beef, pork, chicken or turkey (my preference). Sauté until just done; salt and pepper generously. Add 1 tsp. paprika and cayenne to taste. Take the mixture off the heat, and add ½ cup cooked rice, ½ cup good canned tomatoes, chopped, and 4 oz. cheese—I like feta for this. Mix.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Spread 1 cup chopped tomatoes on the bottom of a Dutch oven or a baking pan. Place peppers in the pan and fill with the meat and rice mixture; top with extra cheese and pepper tops. Pour 1 cup chopped tomatoes over the top. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the peppers are thoroughly hot and the cheese is melted.

Let cool a little before eating. Top with sour cream. Serve with the extra rice.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Butternut Squash, Potato & Mushroom Gratin

I finished off my last box of farmer’s market tomatoes last week. It’s finally time to move on to root vegetables. I’ve been avoiding this moment, you see. Potatoes and butternut squash are available year-round in Wisconsin, while tomatoes are a seasonal, summery delicacy. Still, the times are a-changin'. This week it snowed and the temperatures dropped into the low 30s. The thermostat in my condo is stuck on 63. Winter’s here.

Slow-roasting is a great way to warm up the house (watch the thermostat jump past 68), and this recipe is a great way to cook potatoes and hard squash. This is based on Paula Wolfert’s potato and butternut squash pie, as featured and duly praised by the Wednesday Chef. Naturally, I tweaked the recipe.


Peel a medium butternut squash and 2 large potatoes. Slice into thin rounds (about 1/8 inch), and place in a large bowl. Preheat the oven to 350. Finely mince a couple of garlic cloves and a handful of parsley leaves. Add to bowl.

Mix in 4 oz. of some kind of cheese, shredded or diced. Wolfert’s recipe calls for an intricate mix of ricotta and hard sheep milk’s cheese, but, come on, nearly any kind of cheese will taste good with roasted butternut squash and potatoes. I’ve made this with ricotta and provolone, but I’ve also used havarti and blue cheese—trust me, it’s all good.

Mix the potatoes, squash and cheese mixture; season generously with kosher salt and black ground pepper.

In a skillet, sauté 8 oz. sliced mushrooms, preferably portabella, in olive oil. Season with salt; add a minced garlic clove during the last 30 seconds of cooking.

Spread out the squash/potato mixture in a foil-lined pan and top with mushrooms.

Pour a cup of milk over the vegetables. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes; then raise the temperature to 425 and bake 30 minutes. Broil for 5 minutes. Let cool a little before eating. This goes great with a pumpkin beer.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chicken Kotleti ( Russian Burgers)

Have you seen recipes for chipotle-and-sun-dried-tomato meatloaf? How about Gruyère- and-truffle-oil macaroni and cheese? This is one of those recipes--an old-school, plain Jane dish made sexier with unusual ingredients.

Kotleti are Russian pan-fried hamburgers, usually served with sides like rice or potatoes (never on a bun). They’re no-frills, everyday food that I’ve never much liked. However, I did like this recipe on the new (to me) blog Mango and Tomato. The Russian-born writer made Asian-inspired chicken kotleti with water chestnuts, ginger, soy sauce and cilantro. I followed her example and made chicken kotleti with feta cheese, parsley and scallions, and served them with sautéed spinach instead of starchy sides.


Mix 1 pound ground chicken (or turkey, beef or lamb) with: 2 eggs, a small handful finely-chopped parsley, 3 tbs. chopped scallions, a large, finely chopped garlic clove, ¼ cup breadcrumbs and 3 tbs. feta. Season well with salt and pepper.

Divide the mixture into 6-8 patties, and sprinkle lightly with flour. Heat up some oil (I used sunflower) in a non-stick pan, then fry the burgers until done, flipping them several times. If using chicken or turkey, be careful not to overcook. My chicken burgers took less than five minutes to cook.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cheese-Making Disaster

I've been successfully making farmer's cheese for more than three years. The recipe blogged here is tried and true, and, until this weekend, I had only one cheese-making disaster.*

Then I tried a recipe for farmer's cheese from Anya von Bremzen's Russian cookbook Please to the Table. It's good to try something new and different, right? Plus, I love this cookbook and often use it for inspiration (if not for the recipes).

So I followed Anya's instructions, mixing milk with sour cream (my recipe uses milk and buttermilk). I waited 48 hours until this mixture formed curds and whey (my recipe takes 24 hours). I did the required straining and draining. I dumped the cheese, which looked pretty good, into a bowl. Then I tried it...and spit it out.

I can't remember a time when I made something so awful that I couldn't even taste it. I'm a competent-enough cook that this doesn't happen. Until now. Why was Anya's farmer's cheese so bitter? What went wrong here? Food chemists, help me out.

*I once used buttermilk containing sodium citrate to make farmer's cheese, and ended up with a bitter, milky pancake instead of mild, fluffy cheese curds.

Eggplant and Veggie Ragout

One of my favorite ways to cook eggplant is to use it in some sort of stew with plenty of tomatoes, and maybe other vegetables as well. You could call it ratatouille; in my family, we just called it “ovotsch,” Russian for vegetable. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything close to an exact recipe—it all depends on what’s in the fridge. Sometimes I sauté the vegetables and then simmer them on the stove; sometimes I just cut everything up and roast it in the oven.

This time, I had some grilled eggplant slices left over from one of the season’s last cookouts. I layered the eggplant in a Dutch oven, and topped it with onion and carrot rounds sautéed in olive oil for 10 minutes (I used 1 large onion and 2 big carrots). The third layer was sliced tomatoes, lightly sautéed and well salted, plus a couple of bay leaves, a teaspoon of sugar, a splash or red wine vinegar and a few garlic cloves.

I splashed some white wine and a little water over the top (about a cup of liquid altogether), and baked the whole thing in the oven at 325 for about an hour.

Later, when the vegetables had cooled, I add a splash of red wine vinegar, some salt and ground black pepper to round out the flavor. This should be eaten cold or at room temperature, preferably the day after cooking. Great with potatoes or grilled meat.
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