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Archive for September, 2010

stuffed banana peppers

On a recent trip to the farmers market, I found a basket full of banana peppers priced at 6 for $1.00.  I didn’t believe the sign and asked the elderly male farmer how much they actually were. He looked to his wife, who said, “Six for $1.00.” He rolled his eyes and looked sort of defeated.

“Really? I’ll take six please…” I found myself saying, having no idea what I would do with them and feeling a little guilty about only paying $1.00 for two handfuls of peppers.

After a bit of googling, I stumbled upone this recipe for stuffed banana peppers that sounded utterly delicious, if a bit heavy.

Because two entire pounds of sausage sounded a bit egregious for filling just six, super skinny banana peppers, I did change the recipe somewhat. I scaled the recipe back by about half – using 1 pound of Des Moines’s own Graziano’s Italian sausage. While I do realize that I am officially a Louisvillian – complete with a drivers license and Kentucky plates – and that I should work to find locally-made Italian sausage here, Graziano’s is the best. Whenever I return to Iowa, I try to bring back several pounds for freezing. Peppers in hand, I was eager to make this dish using a frozen pound of my Iowa sausage.

I really wasn’t sure how this dish would turn out – but it was delicious. The perfectly pre-seasoned sausage was complimented well by with the bread crumb and sauce mixture. The tomato sauce was easy and worthy of topping pasta. And the fresh peppers? Well, you really couldn’t taste them over the strong flavors of the sauce and sausage, but they provided a nice vessel for it all. I would definitely make this again.

For my vegetarian friends, you could probably use soy sausage for a vegetarian dish -but who would want to do that?

Here is what I did, adapted from Bob’s Stuffed Banana Peppers

6 long, thin banana peppers – or any size really.

Here are mine:

2 T. butter

1/2 c. chopped onion

1/2 c. chopped celery

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 t. dried basil

1 t. dried oregano

2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided

1 egg white

1/2  t. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the top of the casserole

1 lb. hot Italian sausage – or mild if you prefer, or a mix

3/4  c. bread crumbs

Cut off tops of peppers, and remove ribs and seeds. Chop edible portions of tops; set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add peppers, reduce heat, and simmer until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes.

Drain and set aside.

Heat butter in a medium skillet. Saute reserved chopped pepper, onion and celery until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and garlic. Season with basil, oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine egg, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan. Mix in  sausage  bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce mixture.

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise on one side – open them so they lay flat.

Fill each pepper with an equal amount of the sausage mixture.

Place in a large casserole dish, and pour remaining tomato sauce mixture over peppers. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Note: I used the entire original recipe for the tomato sauce, but halved the filling. It all worked out well using the amounts I list above.

Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 1 hour.

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roasted chickpeas

One Sunday afternoon, I wanted a healthy and filling snack that did not require a trip to the grocery store or too much work. This recipe came to mind.

Roasting canned chickpeas turns them into a crispy, savory, and satisfying snack, particularly when adding salt and spices. It comes together quickly and then just bakes in the oven. An interesting and easy dish.

Spicy Oven Roasted Chickpeas

Makes 1.5 cups

1 15 oz. can chickpeas

1 T. of olive oil

1 T. kosher salt

2 t. spice, garam masal was suggested

Heat the oven 400°F. Pour the chickpeas into a colander and drain and rinse very well under running water. Pat dry.

On a large baking pan, toss together the chickpeas and olive oil.

Roast for 30-40 minutes or until brown and crispy. Turn and stir every ten minutes so they don’t burn.

Take out and toss to taste with salt and spices.

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a duo of bruschetta

This recipe is easier than it sounds, and not as fancy. It is amazing how you can up the “fancy” quotient of a dish just by naming it something impressive. My good friend and cook-extraordinaire, Andrew, had a knack for naming dishes to make them sound really impressive. They almost always were truly impressive, name aside. But the difference between eating “resurrection mac and cheese” and plain ol’ “mac and cheese” could sometimes make a dish just that much more special.

Not that “duo of bruschetta” sounds that great anyway… This recipe is special for another recipe.

In my eternal quest to love eggplant (see previous posts: stir-fried eggplant, gratin, and salad), I stumbled upon this recipe for “eggplant salad toasts” from the always lovely, perpetually tasty, Smitten Kitchen. I tell you dear readers, this marks the first time I LOVED an eggplant dish. That’s right, LOVED it. It probably has something to do with choosing the right eggplants in the first place.

They were on the smallish size which reduces the bitter quality of some eggplant. It could also have something to with roasting the eggplant until it caramelizes:

Or mixing it with a zippy vinegar and rich, salty cheese.

Whatever it was – this is a winning eggplant dish. Feeling pretty confident that it would turn out well, I made this and a tomato bruschetta for my boyfriend and his brother, whom I was meeting for the first time (the brother, not the boyfriend). Unfortunately, they had both consumed large smoothies before coming over for pre-theater snacks. Neither ate much. Instead of being too offended and annoyed, I rejoiced in the fact that they left me with more eggplant salad.

Here is the recipe for the eggplant bruschetta, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

Eggplant Salad Toasts

(I doubled what is shown below and it probably made about 4 c. of salad, good for 10 small toasts and 2 servings of leftover salad for lunch. So the amounts below will make half that much.)

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 T. olive oil plus additional for oiling baking sheet

1/4 t. salt

Black pepper

1 t. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. crumbled crumbled feta

1 green onion, thinly sliced (green and white parts)

8 1/2-in. slices of baguette, brushed with olive oil  + more slices if you are serving both bruschettas

1 small clove garlic, peeled and halved

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet or roasting pan. Toss eggplant, 2 T. olive oil, salt and a generous amount of black pepper together in the pan. Roast  about 25 minutes, moving pieces around occasional so they evenly brown. Let the eggplant cool a bit before mixing it with red wine vinegar, feta and scallion.

Broil or toast baguette slices then rub them with a garlic clove before topping with eggplant salad.

This keeps well too. I mixed leftover eggplant salad with cooked bulgar for a satisfying lunch.

While the eggplant is broiling, you can mix up the tomato topping. This is best made when tomatoes are delicious and in season. The flavor of the topping really depends on the tomatoes.

This is really simple and can be changed to suit your taste. Here is what I did:

1 super ripe, super fresh, super delicious-looking tomato, chopped

5 or so basil leaves, chopped

1 T. olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

a splash of balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, taste and adjust seasonings if needed. You may want to add more vinegar, salt, and/ or pepper at this point.

Top the bread and enjoy!

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Blue cheese used to make my short list of food-I-refuse-to-eat. I really cannot pinpoint when I started eating it, or what prompted my change in taste, but now I love it. Keeping with the eating-pasta-theme, I was craving this pasta dish recently which happens to incorporate blue cheese. I first made it a few years ago when I saw the recipe in the New York Times. It requires few ingredients to make the rich-tasting sauce: milk and blue cheese. Just cook some pasta, add arugula and tomatoes, and dinner is ready. Well, there are a few other steps in there, but really, it is almost that simple.

Pasta with blue cheese, tomatoes, and arugula, from Mark Bittman and the New York Times

2/3 c. whole milk

2/3 c. Gorgonzola, crumbled

1 c. packed arugula

2 c. grape tomatoes

8 oz. whole wheat pasta, any kinda

lots of black pepper

Parmesan cheese, if you like

Cut the tomatoes in half.

Chop the arugula.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a small saucepan gently warm the milk and Gorgonzola just until cheese melts a bit and mixture is thick.

When water boils, cook pasta until it is just tender but not mushy.

Drain and return to pot over low heat.

Stir in milk and Gorgonzola sauce along with arugula, tomatoes and lots of black pepper. Stir to combine, taste and add salt, if needed. Serve immediately, with grated Parmesan if you like.

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I love noodles cooked in rich-tasting sauces. Whether it is alfredo pastas, flavorful marinaras, pad thai… even macaroni and cheese. There is something quintessentially comforting about pasta in a rich sauce. It is ridiculously versatile too. Noodles-in-sauce-recipes are also dishes I just don’t tackle that often. I think I’m a little afraid of the fat and calories housed within a plate of pasta. Recently, I’ve been moving toward a more, “eat what I want in moderation,” diet. I tend to gravitate toward vegetable-heavy dishes anyway, so I think I eat well (= healthful) in general.

That little bit about my diet is probably more than you wanted to know… and doesn’t even have a whole lot to do with this recipe for rice noodles, except for the fact that this marks the first time cooking Asian-style noodles. This is the first time I’ve cooked with noodles found outside the pasta aisle (I found rice noodles in the international aisle.) I did manage to find brown rice noodles, upping the fiber quotient a bit. This dish was lovely though. Fragrant and flavorful, and not too difficult, as Ms. Katzen promises. You just throw a lot of ingredients in a pot and let it simmer away for a bit, or “steep.” I was happy with the results and it reheated well, making for tasty leftovers. Ms. Katzen did recommend several garnishes for the final dish, including chopped cilantro, chopped roasted cashews, and/or red pepper flakes. I’m usually too lazy for garnishes – I did add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes to this dish. I think additional roasted nuts would have made an exceptionally addition though.

Enjoy! And don’t be afraid of cooking rice noodles – though bits did end up all over my kitchen. I think I still have some stray dry noodles trapped on my stove. Small price to pay for a new culinary experience and a tasty dish.

Rice Noodles with Cashew Coconut Sauce from Molly Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

Serves 4 to 6 (depending on what else you are having)

1 14-oz. can light coconut milk

1/2 c. water

6 slices fresh ginger (1/4-in. thick)

2 T. fresh lime juice

2 serrano chilies, cut in half

6 large cloves garlic, peeled

1 t. ground coriander seeds

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

2 T. fresh mint leaves

1 t. salt

1 T. sugar or honey

1 c. toasted cashews

12 oz. uncooked rice noodles

3 green onions, finely minced

Combine the coconut milk and water in a medium saucepan. Add ginger, garlic, lime juice, chilies, coriander, cilantro, mint, and salt. Bring mixture to a boil.

Lower heat to low and simmer for ten minutes. Take off the heat and add sugar or honey. At this point, you can let the sauce steep for a few hours or overnight, or you can proceed with the recipe right away.

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a measuring cup with spout. Press all of the liquid out of the solid ingredients. Discard solids and remove sieve.

Place the sauce with cashews in a blender and puree until smooth.

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain the noodles. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with green onions and all of the sauce. Mix well with 2 forks or chopsticks.

Serve hot or warm.

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late summer plum cake

A strong memory I have of visiting my grandparents in Indiana includes eating lots of fruit. My grandmother always kept a full fruit bowl around, full of plums in the summertime. I am sure there was lots of other fruit too, but I  remember the plums. Of course, fruit that my mom would buy and encourage us to eat never tasted as good as eating the fruit while visiting my grandmother’s farm.

When buying  plums now, I usually do not cook with them. I eat them on their own. I then saw this recipe for a plum cake and bookmarked it for the next office birthday. Eying the list of ingredients, which includes sour cream, sugar, and lemon zest, I was confident it would be at least pretty good. While it baked, the warm scent of plain, vanilla cake and a bit of lemon filled my kitchen. The cake tastes as good as it smells too. It is pretty easy to put together and so worth the results.

The not-too sweet cake base is laced with slight vanilla and lemon flavors and tart plums that cook in the batter compliment the mild cake nicely. My coworkers enjoyed it and I later brought it to a dinner with friends… and it was met with reviews there too.

This is a great way to use up plums, or provides a good excuse to buy some.

Late Summer Plum Cake, from Food52

Serves 8

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. kosher salt

1/4 t. baking soda

1/2 t. grated lemon zest

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 c. sour cream or Greek yogurt, at room temperature

1/2 t. vanilla extract

2 T. firmly packed dark brown sugar, divided

12 small, firm-ripe prune plums, or 5 to 6 medium regular plums, halved lengthwise and pitted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the lower third. Butter a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan or spray with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter or spray the parchment.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Set aside while you mix the wet ingredients. I use a whisk to mix the dry ingredients, helping to aerate and lighten everything. I’ve heard this can be used as an alternative to sifting, if you are a rather lazy baker like me.

In a large bowl with a hand-held mixer (or in a standing mixer), beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 5 minutes. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest until well combined. Add the flour mixture on low speed just until combined. (The batter will be thick.)

Spread half of the batter evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and top with half of the plum halves, cut side down.

Spread the remaining batter over the plums. Arrange the remaining plum halves, cut side up, over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar over the plums.

Bake until the cake is golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted near the center tests clean, trying not to hit a plum, 50 to 55 minutes.  Half-way through cooking, rotate the pan front to back. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert a flat plate over the pan. Using oven mitts if needed, grasp the plate and pan tightly together on both sides and invert the plate and pan to release the cake onto the plate. Lift off the pan and peel off the parchment. Invert the cake again onto a serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers.

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red lentil soup

I tend to move quickly through life. I walk too fast, sometimes drive too fast, and often cook too fast, causing some mishaps in the kitchen. Cooking this meal was no exception. I don’t usually make soups in the summer time, but this red lentil soup sounded too good and too quick to wait until significantly cooler weather.

Despite a couple of unfortunate occurrences in the kitchen, this soup was tasty and filling. The red lentils cook up quickly, and there was not a lot of chopping required – just jalapenos, garlic, ginger, and a bit of cilantro. I anticipate making this frequently when cooler water comes to Louisville to stay, for a few months at least.

Mishap #1: I decided to make flatbread to go with the soup, something I have made many times before. I was trying to do too many things at once and I overcooked it. It was possible to eat around the overly brown, crispy parts. (Keep reading for mishap #2.)

Spicy Lentil Soup, Food Network Magazine, September 2010

makes 4 generous servings

2 c. red lentils, picked over and rinsed (courtesy of Nuts N Stuff)

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped

1 large tomato, roughly chopped

1 1/2-in. piece ginger, peeled and grated

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 t. ground turmeric

kosher salt

1/4 c. rough chopped cilantro

Greek yogurt

flatbread, for serving

If you haven’t yet chopped/ minced your vegetables, do so.

Combine the lentils and 7 cups warm water in a pot, cover, and bring to a boil. At this point, I added 1 T. Better than Bullion vegetable base. I would not do this again – the soup ended up saltier than I intended. Maybe even too salty, still edible though.

Add the chile pepper, tomato, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and 2 t. salt (which I did, on top of the vegetable base – should have decreased). Partially cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, 18 to 20 minutes.

Watch the soup – my lentils bubbled over easily, creating mishap #2.

Stir in the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasons. You may want to add more salt at this point – if you used only water for the liquid.

Top with Greek yogurt and serve, preferably with perfectly cooked flatbread.


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