Friday, December 10, 2010

Date night! Tuna stuffed peppadew peppers.


Last Saturday I made rice pilaf, and tuna-stuffed cherry peppers. The pilaf was ok, but the flavor was so much mellower than the Big Wow Mouthful that came from the cherry peppers that I wouldn't pair them up again. The pilaf was very soothing, but it just couldn't keep up with the peppers. Something more acidic, like a salad with a vinaigrette, is called for here.

On Wednesday, I brought some of the leftover cherry peppers to work for lunch. And half-way through lunch, I noticed something interesting. During most lunch hours, I just shovel away until I feel full, have another bite or two, and go back to whatever I was doing. This is why I used to be convinced that there's no way that Mediterranean diets would work for most Americans: we're just used to high volume, and almost-good-enough quality. So, we shovel away, while we go on with our lives. No wonder we all talk with our mouths full.

But I wasn't doing that with the stuffed peppers. Individiually, each stuffed pepper isn't a mouth-filler in terms of volume. But between the sweet and spicy peppers, the tuna, the turmeric, and the balsamic, there's a lot of flavor going on, so it's actually more enjoyable to eat only one at a time, at a more relaxed pace. As a result I found myself enjoying my lunchtime more slowly, and in a more contemplative mood. This was a much different kind of experience for me, and it's setting the bar, I think, for what to look for in a meal, and in a recipe.

I'll be making these again, but this time I'll be making them to bring in for lunch... for a week.

This recipe was adapted from the version published by Eating Well, which called for capers instead of turmeric.

Ingredients for stuffed cherry peppers:

-2, 16 oz jars of peppadew peppers.
-3 cans of white albacore tuna in water
-Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-Fresh lemon juice.
-Fresh lime juice. (optional)
-Balsamic vinegar.

Peppadew peppers: Trader Joe's has them, Whole Foods has them. I'm sure other stores have them, too... typically near the olives. I got some from Whole foods that morning, and went back to TJs to get more later on. Whole Foods cost twice as much, but the peppers were a lot less squishy, and easier to stuff, so it's a draw, really.

To prepare the tuna for stuffing into the peppers, you mix it with the olive oil, lemon juice, and turmeric. I'd never really worked with turmeric before. I know that it's one of the spices that make up curry as we know it, but it was still new to me. The first thing worth mentioning is that it will stain anything yellow. So don't make more of a mess than you have to. It has its own flavor, and there's definitely a threshold where it's just overpowering. So, I spent some of Saturday afternoon experimenting with proportions.

I think it's worth doing the experimenting to see just what your own taste buds are ok with. Even more turmeric started to make the tuna taste less fishy, which I liked, but the flavor from the spice was simply overpowering. It's also worth doing the experiments with the peppadew peppers on hand: the combined flavors can be interesting. I kept half of a lime on-hand that I would lick in between tastings to clear my palate, so that I could taste the differences. I had to... after a while, everything just tasted like EVOO and turmeric, and it was hard to tell the differences between the different mixes.

What I came up with, I think, was something close to 3 tbsp of EVOO, 2 tbsp of lemon juice, 1 tbsp of lime juice, and 1.5 tbsp of turmeric. Combine this mixture in a bowl with the tuna, and mix it up with a fork.

There's not much preparation that needs to be done to the peppers, just strain them. I set the steamer into one of my sauce pans to catch all of the brine from the jar. Not every pepper is going to be physically intact enough to be stuffed, and this way I was able to put the brine back in the jar with the leftover peppers, to be used in something else. And the steamer worked well enough as a work bowl, so I could sort through what was there, instead of fishing them out of the jar.

While I know it should go unsaid that you should wash your hands before cooking just about anything, this is one of those times when you're really going to be touching pretty much everything... you'll be holding a pepper in one hand, and using a combination of fork and finger to push the tuna into the peppers. Clean fingers are critical.

I used a casserole dish to hold the peppers after they'd been stuffed.

The last step was to pour about 1/4 cup of balsamic into a pan of some kind, and simmer it down for a while, until there's about 2 tbsp worth of balsamic glaze. I used more, and reduced it further. What I ended up with was basically caramel in consistency. I did the reducing in the afternoon, put the result in a small glass bottle, and put it into the fridge. I had to microwave the bottle to get the glaze to pour out.

Pour the glaze over the prepared peppers. And enjoy... slowly.

German apple pancake

This is a great recipe that I found a month or so ago. I've made it a few times, and served it up to a bunch of folks at a brunch that we had at our house a few weeks ago. Among other things, we also served up some thinly sliced kielbasa that we'd fried up in a pan on the stove. Somehow, someone discovered that the two things pair up very well... a great combination of sweet and savory.

The version you see in the photos is a scaled down version for one person, made in a 6" skillet. But the recipe itself, and the portions I'm going to list, are for a 12" skillet.

Ingredient list:
-1/4 stick of butter for the frying pan
-1/4 stick of butter, chopped up, to go into the food processor.
-2-3 apples, cored and cut into small pieces. Use granny smith, or something else that's nice and tart.
-1/2 cup milk
-1/2 cup flour
-4 eggs
-3 tbsp brown sugar to go into the food processor
-1 tsp vanilla
-1/4 tsp salt
-3 tbsp brown sugar to be sprinkled on the apples
-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon to be sprinkled on the apples

Step one: Pre-heat the oven and the skillet. Turn the oven up to 450, and get hte skillet warmed up to medium-low.

Step two: Saute the apples in butter. This is pretty simple, really. Butter in pan, apples in butter.

Step three: While the apples are frying up, put the butter, eggs, milk, flour, salt, and vanilla into the food processor to make the batter. (Or mix by hand, your option, but the food processor means I don't have to soften or melt the butter.)

Step four: Once the apples are starting to brown, sprinkle them with brown sugar and cinnamon. Then pour the batter over the apples and move the whole pan into the oven.

Bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes. Serve with powdered sugar, or maple syrup.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Simple pasta and steamed veggies

It's pretty impressive that this dish hasn't made it on here already. I chalk it up to the effect that this blog has had on our kitchen. I'm trying a lot of new things and cooking a lot of new recipes. And writing about it, of course.

This is a quick and simple dinner that we've been enjoying for years. It was something I threw together one night out of sheer hungriness and a need for FOOD. While it's very simple, it does require a steamer basket that nests into the top of your regular saucepan, and use the same lid. It's not hard to find a setup like this when you're shopping for pots and pans. And I recommend the combination to people precisely because of this recipe. It's a serious production time saver.

Step 1: Chop up some vegetables into bite-sized hunks and throw them in the steamer basket. For this recipe, I used 2 heads of broccoli, a bundle of asparagus, and an onion.

Step 2: Fill the pot 2/3 with water. Don't overfill, as the steamer does take up some space in the saucepan, and it will displace the water onto your stove. (Note paper towel on the stove)

Step 3: Put the steamer on top of the pot, and the lid on the steamer.

Step 4: Turn on the stove and heat up the water for pasta.

Step 5: Throw in the pasta, and cook.

Step 6: Take the stack to the sink, and dump the pasta on top of the veggies in the steamer to strain.

Step 7: Dump the steamer into the serving bowl.

Step 8: Drizzle olive oil over everything, and move the pasta around enough to let the oil keep it all from sticking together. Serve with Salt, Pepper, and maybe some Romano or Parmesan.

As the water heats up to boiling, it warms up the veggies, and they steam while the pasta's boiling. When the pasta's done, the veggies are done. No muss, no fuss.

It's really amazing what the simple combination of oil, salt, and pepper can do for steamed veggies. And the cheese is salty enough to chime in pleasantly. Years ago I used to mix in goat cheese and cream and other stuff. But I've been trying to eat better lately, and I have to say, in this case, simpler is really better.

There are other veggie combinations thatare worth trying, like:
-zucchini, chick peas, and shallots
-Broccoli, Cauliflower, and summer squash
-Red peppers, spinach, black beans, and apples
-Use your imagination. Vegetables are vegetables, and some mix better than others, but almost all are good.