Monday: 110% Vindicated by Stuffed Bell Peppers Success (aka the “When a Market Offers You Three Types of Ground Meat in One Package — Buy It” Post)

Just ask anyone who’s been within 100 feet (okay, maybe 10 feet is more reasonable) of these stuffed peppers.

“Oh my god, it smells amazing,”

“I was going to ask you, where can I get some of that,”

“Something smells sooo good. Did you make that?!”

Why yes, yes I did.

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Started with an itch for chili rellenos (an entirely different beast) that I caught watching part of a dumb episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown show. I had peppers on my mind.

Then I found these really bulbous ones on sale for cheap at my local fruit-veggie stand on York Street in the Upper East Side. Inner monologue: “Really, two for $1? Shit that’s cheap.” “Alright, they may not be pobleno, but they’ve got potential.” (I bought four.)

I also had a box of Reese’s wild rice that I’ve been wanting to use. Call it the Minnesotan in me, but I adore wild rice —  it’s everything good about rice, only better: Granular, nutty, earthy, each grain fiercely independent and boasting actual nutritional value.

Bell peppers, rice, check, check. At this point I turned to the Internet. Hands down, the most influential recipe that I came across was this one, which opened my eyes to three great ideas:

No. 1: Slice the bell peppers in half. Who needs a whole stuffed thing, anyhow?

No. 2: Stuff the pepper halves with a ground meat-based mix (plus onion, egg, fresh herbs, etc.), not purely veggie-on-veggie, which can sometimes end up being watery, bland and … sad.

No. 3: Start off the peppers in a frying pan, a good few minutes on each side, before lining up on a baking tray in the oven. Dang, pan start and oven finish? You mean exactly the same method as so many other proteins? Must be on the right track.

photo-10I couldn’t find any single recipe to try, so this was me winging it. Truly, a BLD Project original recipe:

Banging Stuffed Bell Peppers

Serves 8

4 bulbous bell peppers, color of your choosing
2/3 of one small, white onion (to your liking)
2/3 of one stalk of celery, rinsed and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 crimini mushrooms, cleaned and diced
¼ c. fresh flat-leaf parsley, loosely chopped (to your liking)
1 lb. ground meat of your choice — get creative
1 egg
1 c. cooked wild rice

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1. Get the water for the rice boiling because it’s going to take nearly an hour to cook.

2. Wash and core the bell peppers, meaning, make the smallest hole possible on top so you can extract the seed chamber inside. Cut each bell pepper in half, vertically. Trim off any membrane inside that annoys you (although it really doesn’t matter). This is not unlike cleaning a pumpkin.

3. Prep onion, celery, garlic and mushrooms. In a saute pan, low heat, olive oil, saute onion and celery. Set aside. In the same pan, no rinse necessary, saute the garlic and the mushrooms. Set aside.

4. While the rice is still finishing, boil another pot of water and gently blanch each of the bell pepper halves. Two or three minutes mostly submerged in boiling water — softens them up. No need to run under cold water. Just throw them back into the strainer.

5. Once the rice is done, fold the egg, the onion/celery mix, the garlic/mushroom mix, 1 c. wild rice, the fresh parsley, salt and pepper into the ground meat (I stumbled upon a veal/beef/pork combo at my local Food Emporium that was selling for $3.99/lb — that ended up being amazing).

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6. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Put your back into it.

7. Stuff each of the pepper halves so that they are ever-so-slightly mounding with stuffing.

8. Pan fry on both sides until you start getting some serious browning, or about 5-7 minutes on each side. (Really, don’t be gentle, these things are hard to overcook in a frying pan.)

9. Finish off in the oven at 350 degrees, another 10-12 minutes, depending your preference of done-ness and the intensity of your oven … but, let the record note, in my opinion it’s always better to have underdone meat than overdone meat — a microwave can finish off underdone meat in 30 seconds, whereas there is no going back once it has gone too far.

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KP: So Yeah, I Know How To Make Really Good Quiche (Here’s How)

Quiche and I, we just get each other. It’s a natural evolution from one of my earliest cooking comfort zones, eggs, which are one of my Dad’s specialties — and so they’re one of mine, too.

But it goes deeper than that: Quiche is not just about eggs. This dish as I’ve interpreted it (and probably bastardized it) lies at the nexus of eggs, the utilitarian meal (could be breakfast/lunch/dinner or all of the above) (I have a tough time with the strictly breakfast-for-breakfast-only foods), and the kitchen sink dish — really, so long as your mix-ins are not rotten and play nicely together, and you chop them up small enough, you can probably stick them in a quiche and it’ll turn out just fine.

In this case, I had a ton of meat from a lovely rotisserie chicken that needed a home. I had plenty of orphaned eggs, left over from different six-count or 12-count packages. I had a fat zucchini that was asking to be utilized, and a pair of red bell peppers that were about to give their death gasp. (I ended up using about half of one. The remainder was too far gone.)

Quiche doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s why:

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Fail -Safe Kitchen Sink Quiche

4 eggs
1. c. milk (of your choice)
1c 1/2 meat of your choice, diced small (if you use something really salty, like bacon or smoked salmon, adjust significantly)
1c 1/2 shredded cheese (your choice)
1c minimum, preferably 1c 1/2 fresh vegetables, diced or thinly sliced. Can be anything: baby broccoli florets, zucchini, bell peppers, onion, … get creative, but keep it basic.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Key no. 1: Prep all vegetables and protein first. This is the longest bit. Mix eggs and milk in a bowl, set aside. Layer dry quiche ingredients into the frozen (slightly thawed is better) pie crust. Pour egg mixture evenly over ingredients.

Key no. 2: Gently, ever so gently, stir/mix ingredients and egg mixture within pie crust so you get a little bit of everything spread out — if you chose a good combination, it might start to look festive, little dots of color, like sprinkled confetti.

Manage to slide liquidy quiche into the oven — whew. You’re almost there. Now all it has to do is bake for 45-60 minutes.

Key no. 3: Do not, absolutely resist, taking the quiche out just because it’s puffed up in the center, it looks like it’s baked, it’s been in the oven for more than 45 minutes and it smells damn good. You’re so wrong.

Let it be … The quiche will continue to puff and continue to brown a deep, golden color around the edges and the whole apartment will continue to smell tantalizing — deal with it.

The point at which the quiche should be taken out and left to rest/cool for at least 10-15 minutes before cutting into it is when it starts to look so golden brown you’re on the verge of worrying it’s going to burn/be overdone. (And, the toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.)

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to your liking, and that’s Fail-Safe Kitchen Sink Quiche.

Wednesday: A Long-Delayed Emergency … Spaghetti. (aka the “Agata & Valentina Fresh Pasta Exploratory” Post)

So this was the night. After having clipped out the recipe for “Emergency Spaghetti” from some now-forgotten magazine years ago — the recipe itself an excerpt from a cookbook called The Seducer’s Cookbook published in 1963, according to the explanatory paragraph — after having taped it into a small, journal-type notebook that I had since moved cross country and all but forgotten about, and just rediscovered, I’m finally making Emergency Spaghetti.
photo-2…Only, with fettucine. Fresh, saffron pepper fettucine that sells for $3.99/lb at Agata & Valentina in the Upper East Side, also known as only $2.83 for more pasta than two people could possibly eat in one sitting, to be exact. (Who can say no to that?)
Paging through the notebook, I realized that I had every single ingredient — garlic, E.V.O.O., fresh parsley, white wine, salt/pepper, red pepper flakes — except for the base pasta, which was the perfect excuse to finally try one of the fresh made (and cheap!) pastas that I’ve been oggling at Agata & Valentina for months now.
Really high expectations never end well, and with the case of Emergency Spaghetti, which turned out okay. Scale of 1-10: 6. I realized that I have a lot to learn about cooking fresh pasta — the fettucine cooked faster, absorbed more water and was generally much more delicate than its boxed/dried cousins.

Still, a nice, if super simple, sautee of some of the other ingredients, all turned into the the pasta, with the addition of some fresh spinach, tomato and more olive oil — it’s worth a repeat. Really simple. Just so glad to check that one off the list.

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Tuesday: The Fried Lunchmeat Experiment (It’s Really Good!)

The description of the Swedish Ham ($8.99/lb) at Agata & Valentina reads as follows: “This ham has more sweet fat strips throughout making it very lush, moist and buttery with a light, delicate hint of smoke.”

Yes. I’ve been more than a little obsessed. I’ve made broiled ham-and-blue-cheese sandwiches, I’ve diced it to add to scrambled eggs. And now it’s going into the brussels sprouts — you could say this dish is a riff on that classic, brussels sprouts and pancetta, only, with a lot more ham (that’s not pancetta) and a few extra goodies. The results? Spectacular. I happily ate this for several meals.

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Brussels Sprouts and Fried Deli Ham

Ingredients:

1 lb. brussels sprouts, washed, bottoms trimmed and cut into halves
1/3 lb. ultra thin-sliced deli counter ham, preferably fatty, chopped into strips (more or less)
1 small red onion (1/4 cup? more?), roughly chopped
blue cheese crumbles to taste
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

You’ll need a deeper pan and a medium-sized frying pan.

1. Cook the brussels sprouts in the deeper pan over medium heat (generously add olive oil). Stir regularly; what you’re looking for is for the vegetables to begin to soften and brown up a bit, but it’s going to take some time to get them all evenly cooked. be patient. (Total: 7-10 minutes?)

2. In the frying pan, sautee the red onion over medium-to-low heat, until it browns and softens. Turn out onto a spare surface.

3. Next, in the frying pan (no need to clean), dump the ham in and turn the heat up to medium-high. At this point you should still be agitating the brussels sprouts so they all brown evenly. The ham is going to brown, then crackle, then even smoke a bit — it’s the result of cooking a fatty protein on a hot surface, but the meat will actually crisp nicely. Keep pushing it.

4. Once the brussels sprouts are done, mix in the red onions and the ham into the deeper pot; plate.

5. Garnish each serving with a little crumble of blue cheese (it will get a little melty). Scarf.

Servings: 4

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