Cassie’s Stuffed Green Peppers

Baked Stuffed Peppers
Baked Stuffed Peppers

Cassie was gracious enough to pass along another family recipe for stuffed green peppers. This favorite recipe of hers that conjures up family memories was one she was eager to share to impart part of her upbringing with me. As I mentioned in my last post, recipes allow you with a degree of accuracy reproduce a dish over and over again and are a like passing along recorded history from one to another. Interestingly enough sometimes recipes aren’t repeatable due to unforeseen circumstances. In my case, finding good green peppers was just not possible right now. At best the grocery had beat up and bruised green peppers, some with black stems, others with noticable gashes or cracks from drying up. It was a sad state of affairs. Orange and Yellow peppers were in abundance and in great shape, so they dominated my pepper pickings. The recipe for stuff peppers takes some effort but is well worth the effort put into them.

Ingredients:
6 green peppers
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped celery
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 tsp ground black pepper, divided
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 1/2 cups cooked long grain rice
3/4 c shredded cheddar cheese

Hardware:
1 pot, big enough to fit the peppers
1 pot, big enough to cook the rice
1 12″ skillet or larger
1 baking dish, big enough to fit the peppers
1 mixing bowl

Directions:
Cut the tops off peppers; remove the seeds and membranes. Chop the edible part of tops and set aside. Rinse the peppers under cold water and then place them in large pot covered with salted water. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the peppers are tender. Drain the peppers and set aside.

Cook the rice in a separate pot until it is fully cooked through.

Heat the olive oil and butter in the skillet over medium heat until hot. Sauté the chopped green pepper (from tops), chopped onion, and chopped celery for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, crushed garlic, oregano, basil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the ground black pepper. Simmer the ingredients for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the egg with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Gently stir the mixture to blend; add the ground beef, cooked rice, and 1 cup of the tomato mixture. Mix everything well together.

Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture and place in the baking dish. Pour the remaining tomato mixture over the stuffed peppers.

Bake the peppers at 350° for 55 to 65 minutes. Top the stuffed peppers with cheddar cheese just before they are done and then bake until the cheese is melted.

Baked Stuffed Peppers
Baked Stuffed Peppers

Enjoy.

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Plating Practice With Pan Seared Steak Diablo

I didn’t have cooking class this week because of the holiday weekend and it’s funny because I actually miss it. We have our final class next week on Friday as usual and I’m looking forward to it. Without class, I still wanted to practice what I had learned so I decided to look through my cupboards and pantry to see what I had that I could make for dinner. Last night I placed some steak that I had bought in a marinade of medium salsa for a Steak Diablo. In the cupboards I found a can of refried beans that I decided to heat up to accompany the Steak.

I started by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees as well as two pans onthe stove. I placed some olive oil in one pan heated up the refried beans, adding cumin powder, black pepper, chili powder and kosher salt. Once warm, the heat was turned down to low to keep them warm.

Seasoned Refried Beans
Seasoned Refried Beans

The steak was next. On the hot pan I added a bit of olive oil for lubrication and then placed the strips down for five minutes on the presentation side to get a good sear.

Steak Diablo Searing
Steak Diablo Searing

I then turned the strips over with my tongs to sear for another five minutes. The steaks were then placed in the oven for five minutes and pulled out and checked. They weren’t done so I put them back in for another five minutes to finish off. When they were pulled out the second time they were perfect so I let them rest for a few minutes before cutting and plating.

Pan Seared Steak Diable
Pan Seared Steak Diable

During our last class we went over basic plating concepts which I wanted to bring into my dinner so I sliced the meat and placed it on my plate. I then added the refried beans to the plate with some tortilla chips for dipping. A rather odd combination I know, but it’s grocery shopping time and one must make due with what they have. I added some of the medium salsa to the beans and steak along with some sour cream for the beans as well. It wasn’t beautiful, but better than just throwing it down on the plate I suppose.

Plated Pan Seared Steak Diablo
Plated Pan Seared Steak Diablo

The end result was actually pretty decent. I much prefer my steak finished off in the oven. It cooks a bit faster, I’m sure due to both conduction and radiant heat. The marinating also produces more flavor and body making the dish a lot more appealing.

Pan Seared Steak Diablo with Side of Refried Beans
Pan Seared Steak Diablo with Side of Refried Beans
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A Buttermilk Pancake Morning

I’ve never made pancake batter before. Yes it’s true, I have never made my own batter. I’ve mixed together pre-made batter from Bisquick, but I’ve never actually made pancake batter myself which anyone who has knows makes wholly different pancakes.

I did some searching online and found a recipe for buttermilk pancakes . It seemed simple enough and included ingredients I had on hand. After reading it through I realized that it would make too many pancakes so I cut the recipe in half. I whisked my dry ingredients together first, and then whisked in the wet ingredients until well-combined. I also decided to use a teaspoon of vanilla extract for some extra flavor since I like it a lot and enjoy the subtle accent it provides.

Buttermilk Pancake Batter
Buttermilk Pancake Batter

I used my heavy iron pan for cooking which unfortunately only fits one pancake on it at a time.  After buttering the pan, I used a ladle to place a measured amount of batter on the pan each time.

Buttermilk Pankcake
Buttermilk Pancake

After the dough started to bubble and the sides became visibly solid, I flipped the pancakes over to finish cooking for about a minute.

Buttermilk Pankcake
Buttermilk Pancake

These pancakes were not as firm or sweet as the Bisquick ones that I am used to making. Also they take on a much darker color when cooked. I plated them in a stack and put some maple syup on top. The fluffiness was a different experience and they were very enjoyable. I’m really happy to have another simple recipe under my belt and will look forward to more mornings enjoying buttermilk pancakes at home.

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After School Practice with Quiche Lorraine

Skill and learning come from practice and diligent study. This week’s cooking class focused on eggs, so I’ve decided to continue that focus through the coming week with practice creating food that utilize eggs as a key ingredient. Tonight I decided to create a quiche based on the recipe from class with the addition of bacon for no other reason than the fact that I think Bacon is fantastic. Bacon is a key component to a Quiche Lorraine recipe which is pretty much what I decided to make. There are literally hundreds of variations available throughout the Internet to my surprise, but as I mentioned I chose my class recipe.

After a tough workout at the gym, I was quick to question my decision to make a quiche. The process of making pie dough became a task that I did not want to do but I pressed on and slowly worked the butter into the mixture of flour and salt. Next I worked the water in to complete the dough before putting it into the refridgerator for 30 minutes.

I cooked up the bacon and as its aroma filled my kitchen I continued my task with renewed enthusiasm. I whisked my egg batter together and pulled my pie crust out of the fridge. It was a bit firmer than before, but it was still a bit wetter than I imagined it should be even though I did not use all of the water I had measured out to make it. I added a bit more flour and rolled it out before placing it in a pie tin. I poured the egg batter in, mixed in the cooked bacon and added cheese on top before placing it into the oven.

First Quiche Lorraine Before the Oven
First Quiche Lorraine Before the Oven

When I pulled the quiche out of the oven 35 minutes later, I let it rest on my counter for 5 minutes before plating.

First Quiche Lorraine Out of the Oven
First Quiche Lorraine Out of the Oven

If I had been making this for my family or friends I would have spent more time making the outer edges of the crust a lot more even, thus making the finished product more visually appealing. I plated my quiche and set it on the table with some wine I had picked up from Trader Joe’s.

First Quiche Lorraine
First Quiche Lorraine

This recipe yields a fluffy custard. I much prefer a firmer quiche with more cheese. I noticed that the cheese and bacon sank to the bottom in stead of being evenly dispersed and hope that my next attempt is a little more consistent. I also think that the quiche could have benefited from more bacon for added flavor and texture.

All and all I was pretty happy to have made this dinner for myself. Each success adds to my confidence level and I feel like I am always learning. Another great thing about this dinner is that there is plenty left over for an easy lunch or dinner during the week, something I am not accustomed to since I usally make single serving meals.

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A Little Southern Comfort with Biscuits

Southern Biscuit Batch #1: Pre-Baked
Southern Biscuit Batch #1: Pre-Baked

If you listen to the news, talk to anyone on the street or walk the lonely halls of America’s shopping centers you’ll see and learn that times are tough. Everyone is looking to save money in these uncertain times and I am no different. The “timing” could not have been better as I make an effort to go out less, save money and focus my time and energy on my culinary learning.

One of the great things about food is its capacity to tell a story and transmit history. I’m not talking about fancy cuisine invented by chefs at exclusive restaurants, but the simple wonders that are passed down by generations of family whose sight and smells evoke memories of childhood and glimpses into another person’s life.

While trying to save money I’ve resolved to ditch the $1.50+ Starbucks muffin or scone or the $1.00 bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts. I have replaced them already with the muffins I have been diligently creating and have decided to add to my breakfast lineup with something simple and equally fulfilling. My southern muse Cassie suggested a recipe for southern-style biscuits that was reminiscent of the ones that her mother used to make her while growing up in rural West Virginia. I couldn’t think of a better way to connect with her past while also providing a tasty treat in the morning as I start my day at work.

I combined my dry ingredients in the food processor and then moved them to a large bowl. I worked in my shortening and frozen butter quickly, being careful not to melt the butter with my body heat. I added the buttermilk, gently working it into the doughy mixture and found myself the unfortunate

Southern Biscuit Batch #1: Baked
Southern Biscuit Batch #1: Baked

possessor of what Alton Brown calls “club hand”, a hand covered in sticky almost glue-like batter. Luckily I had a free hand and was able to wash my hands in the sink with a flick of the faucet handle. A spoon might be a better instrument for mixing, but this gave me valuable insight into what the dough should “feel” like. I moved it onto a floured surface and folded it over several times before flattening. Since I did not have 2″ cutters, I used a glass as my muse advised and cut out the biscuits. The left-over dough was re-combined and used to create the remaining biscuits. They were baked for 15 minutes and then cooled on racks for 5 minutes before eating.  One word: perfect.

Southern Biscuit Batch #1: Cooling
Southern Biscuit Batch #1: Cooling

With one bite I could imagine the subtle saltiness which would combine with cured breakfast meats and eggs in the morning. Eating these along with waffles and pancakes and sweet syrup also came to mind as a delicious combination. I wondered what other Southern treats Cassie could share with me and how I would have to bribe her for her knowledge. So far so good with my learning. I can’t wait to find my next challenge.

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Muffin Batch #3

Pre-Baked Batch from March 7, 2009
Pre-Baked Batch from March 7, 2009

My sister Ashley is over so I have a victim for my cooking attempts.  I’ve had some practice with making muffins which I think are pretty good so I decided to try something that I felt comfortable with while making minor changes to gain more understanding. I created chocolate chip and walnut muffins using Alton Brown’s Old School Muffins recipe (I’m Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking). I started by setting up my work area, pre-heating the oven, and getting out my ingredients when I realized I was almost out of yogurt. I contemplated going to the local store to get more, but decided that if I did not have enough I would substitute milk for the missing amount to see what happened. Luckily I had just enough for the recipe (after scraping the sides of the container for every last drop), so the substitution lesson will have to wait for another day.

I combined my wet ingredients first with my whisk and then immediately combined my dry ingredients in my food processor which is efficient and dramatically adds to the fluffiness of the batter and ultimately that of the end product. I then put the dry ingredients in a bowl and worked the wet ones in with a silicone spatula. This was much easier to do being more comfortable with the process and what the batter should look like. Before filling the muffin tin, I worked in mini-chocolate chips and whole walnuts into the batter. They were easier to work in than the blueberries and it was much easier to get an even mix. Uniformity was something I had a problem with with my previous batches. Once the extra bits were mixed into the batter I filled my tins and placed them into the oven as usual.

The cooking time was about the same for this batch but I noticed a distinct change in the end result. While on the surface all appeared to be the same as my previous batches the, they were not as fluffy and moist. This batch differed in two ways from previous batches. I used vegetable oil instead of corn oil. This is really what the recipe called for, so I wanted to see what effect that would have on taste and texture. Secondly, instead of blueberries

Baked Batch from March 7, 2009
Baked Batch from March 7, 2009

I used mini-chocolate chips as mentioned. Substituting the chocolate for blueberries undoubtedly had an effect on the water content. I can’t say how the difference in oil had an effect. I do feel that the chocolate is a nice compliment to the dough taste and mixed with walnuts is a good combination. I thought using the mini-chocolate chips would create a more uniform batter, and I was right on that, but I think using larger chips would allow more chocolate to come through. This was verified by Ashley and is a change that can be made based on taste.

Baked Batch from March 7, 2009
Baked Batch from March 7, 2009

For my next batch I will try the corn oil again to see if I can detect any difference in taste and texture. This will help me finalize my recipe preference for future batches for myself and others.

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An Inspired Sunday Morning: Part 2

As a follow-up to part one of my post, I also made a French-style omelette following the instruction of  the late and great master chef, Julia Child. While I was researching material to study at the beginning of my culinary odyssey, I came across a clip of Julia preparing a basic omelette on her classic show The French Chef.

Watching Julia Child cook brings back wonderful childhood memories stored in the deep recesses of my memory banks. Memories of baking cookies and cakes with my mother and maternal grandmother are the first to arrive, but quiet evenings parked in front of the tv watching in awe as she transformed simple ingredients into culinary masterpieces don’t take much longer to follow. That is the essence of French cooking as I have come to learn and is what she excelled and bringing to and teaching the American public about. I decide to use this clip as my inspiration for my breakfast.

I have what I would call an egg addiction. I love eating eggs, and if I had the time to cook them, read if only I got up early enough, I would eat them every morning.

Attempting to emulate Julia Child
Attempting to emulate Julia Child

I heated up my pan on high heat, tossed in some butter and as it began to bubble dropped in my whisked eggs. The eggs had been whisked in a bowl with a bit of salt and pepper. As the eggs began to cook and coagulate I shook the pan as depicted and within twenty seconds had my meal ready to serve and neatly folded onto a plate. I had never made an egg this way and it tasted great. I wish I had folded it a bit more and seasoned with some salt to bring out the flavor, but I guess this means I’ve left more room for improvement for next time.

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An Inspired Sunday Morning: Part 1

Pre-baked Batch from March 1, 2009
Pre-baked Batch from March 1, 2009

Well rested and hungry I awoke with a desire to experiment in the kitchen. I had previously created blueberry muffins using Alton Brown’s Old School Muffins recipe (I’m Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking) and decided to test my creative abilities. This time I resolved to make blueberry walnut muffins figuring that adding that extra crunch from the walnuts would enhance the overall texture while also allowing them to contribute to the subtle bun enjoyable flavor.

Having previous practice with this recipe I felt a lot more composed especially after learning from my experience with mise en place. I set out my bowls, utensils, ingredients and recipe for reference after preheating my oven and greasing the muffin tin.

This time I also added a bit of vanilla extract and used a spatula to mix the batter instead of my hands. I wanted to get a fluffier batter that would hopefully result ina fluffier texture after baking.

Baked Batch from March 1, 2009
Baked Batch from March 1, 2009
Baked Batch from March 1, 2009
Baked Batch from March 1, 2009

The muffins were placed into the oven for exactly 20 minutes. One thing I did notice was that the batter was not mixed as evenly as before but the result was a wonderful muffin equal to if not better than the previous batch with the walnuts as an added bonus.

I had a minor issue getting the muffins out of the tins and onto the cooling racks, when I bumped the racks an caused them to split apart, with one of the muffins falling through and cracking as can be seen in the picture. This was a minor disappointment in an otherwise perfect baking experience.

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Les steak frites, a humble attempt

I love steak. I would eat a steak for every meal if I could. To me it’s simply the best food on Earth. I especially enjoy a perfectly prepared steak frites, but alas I can’t run to a French restaurant every time I have a craving so I’ll just have to settle with my own attempts.

I’ve cooked steak in the past, but the frites, the complementary and equally important part of the equation were something that have eluded me. There’s no shame in trying so that’s why I set out to do tonight.

I referenced Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook to guide me on my path and followed the the outlined process. Who better to follow than a master French chef?

I started with my prep work of washing and peeling my potatoes. I then cut them into strips and heated up my oil.  The cut strips were placed into ice water to prevent oxidation. I then moved onto the next step of blanching them in batches and resting them on an empty plate. Once blanched, I heated up my oil and placed the strips back into the hotter oil to fry. Once they were nice and crispy, I placed them into a bowl with a towel to soak up the excess oil, removed the towel and coated them with Kosher salt and tossed them around in the bowl.

While preparing the frites, I prepared a rib eye steak, lightly seasoned with salt and coated with olive oil. While the frites were frying I prepared my steak until what I hoped would be medium and then plated it along with the frites.

I did rest my steak and frites on my plate for a few moments and then enjoyed a fairly decent meal. Table salt, which the recipe called for probably would have coated the frites better, but being the salt addict I am, I opted for the Kosher salt so I could have more salty crunch. This wasn’t a three star meal, but it certainly beat a frozen preservative laden meal lacking in flavor and substance.

The product of my labor
The product of my labor
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I am the muffin man

Having finished Alton Brown’s two books (I’m Just Here for the Food: Version 2.0 and I’m Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking) I decided to give a recipe a try. Choosing a first item from preparation wasn’t too hard. The decision in a way was made for me out of necessity for breakfast food for tomorrow morning. I’ve chose to make blueberry muffins and thus use the lessons out of his second book while using the “Muffin Method”. Alton breaks up his recipes by the method required to create them rather than grouping seemingly similar items like doughs and cakes. His groupings include: “the Muffin method, the Biscuit Method, the Pie Variation, the Creaming Method, the Straight Dough Method, the Egg Foam Method, and the Custards”.

Overall he takes a very scientific approach to cooking and introduces something that I was not aware of with baking recipes. Baking as I have learned is very precise given the exact ratios of ingredients necessary to produce the chemical reactions necessary to create your final product. While every recipe I have read in my life provided ingredient lists consisting of cups and teaspoons and pinches of this and that, baking recipes are actually given using precise weighted measurements just as they would be given commercially. The precise reason for this being that a cup of flour isn’t always a cup of flour due to the humidity, how tightly packed it is and other variables mentioned in his book. This makes replicating success and avoiding failure much easier…provided that you have a scale which I of course did not. I decided to continue forward and hope for the best. Bakers didn’t always have the luxury of being so precise so I hoped that I would be ok. This is where I encountered my first lesson common to amatuers, that of mise en place. It is a term well known by experienced cooks simply meaning everything should be in it’s place and ready to go before you begin your task.

I got out all of my necessary tools: my bowls, my measuring cups, baking tin, food processor and other utensils. Then I got out my ingredients and realized I didn’t have any baking soda at 10:45PM. The only thing open at this point was 7/11 and with luck they had some, saving me from despair. After much preparation and baking my muffins were done and I took them out of the oven  to set on my cooling racks. They cooled and I was rewarded with a perfect muffin, one unlike any other I had tasted before, and yet one like I always wanted.

The recipe named “Old School Muffins”, were moist, and sweat and yet not too sweet and perfect in size. Not only that, but they had a fluffy texture that made them that much better to eat. The turned out just as described. Interestingly enough as Alton explains, the muffins that I usually eat from big chain coffee shops and the like are actually more akin to cakes than muffins. They always are too sweet and have a texture that couldn’t be further from homemade.

I’m really happy with my result thanks to beginners luck. I can’t wait to make my next batch.

My First Batch Feb 21, 2009
My First Batch Feb 21, 2009
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