Stuffed Bell Peppers With Quinoa

I was looking for inspiration for tonight’s dinner so I turned to one of my new favorite sites, Foodgawker, to see what my fellow food bloggers were cooking up. When I came upon a picture of stuffed bell peppers, my interest was piqued. Johnny loves stuffed peppers but I’ve never made them before and I was up for the challenge. The aforementioned photo was taken by The Cilantropist, who had helpfully posted a recipe for classic stuffed peppers on her blog. I had made sauce over the weekend, so that part was taken care of, and I had some ground turkey meat on hand. I only wanted to make two peppers so I adjusted the recipe accordingly, substituting quinoa for the brown rice.

Don’t those look pretty? Before they went into the oven, I spooned marinara sauce over the top. I’m normally not a huge fan of peppers, but these were pretty tasty. The turkey meat was slightly dry, so next time I would either just use a lean ground beef (I bought Simply Grazin’ organic grass fed beef last week at Whole Foods and it was fantastic!) or I would saute the turkey for less time and let it cook through once it was in the pepper. All in all it was a delightful, healthy, and colorful meal.

Here is my adaption of her recipe:

2 large bell peppers

1/4 cup quinoa (I used a half and it was a little too much.)

1/2 pound ground beef or turkey

3/4 cup diced onions (add this to the diced pepper tops)

1 tablespoon parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

1 garlic clove

Marinara sauce, either homemade or store bought

Romano or Parmigiano cheese

Place peppers in a pot of boiling salted water and let cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove from water and let the peppers dry and cool to room temperature. Cook quinoa according to package instructions. At the same time, add olive and a minced garlic clove to a saute pan. Add meat and cook until just browned. Add the meat to the quinoa and mix well. In the saute pan, add the onion and peppers, sauteing until the onion is translucent. Add parsley and salt and cook for one more minute. Add the vegetables to the quinoa and meat. Place the cooled peppers in a square baking dish. Spoon the stuffing into each pepper. Top with marinara sauce. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Sprinkle romano cheese to tops of pepper if desired and cook for five more minutes.

A Fourth of July Feast

I’ve always loved the 4th of July. When I was younger, we used to have huge family picnics at our house. My aunts, uncles and cousins would come over for a day of swimming, games and lots of eating. Once it got dark, we’d all gather on the front steps of my house and watch the fireworks that my neighbors and cousins were letting off in our cul de sac. (Probably not the safest thing to do, but it was definitely fun to watch.) My husband knows how many happy memories I have of the 4th, and two years ago, he added to them by proposing to me over the holiday weekend in the backyard of the house I grew up in. And over the last several years, I’ve started having my own 4th of July parties in Connecticut with friends and family. This year, Johnny and I hosted his brother, Justin, and his wife, Lauren, as well as his cousin, Jenny, and her husband, Bob. Armed with Elizabeth Karmel’s grilling tomes—which she was kind enough to send me after I interviewed her recently—Johnny and I decided we would grill as much as possible. (Since we don’t have a grill in the city, we take full advantage of the one at my father’s house whenever possible.) This year, in addition to chicken, burgers, clams and corn, we also made several pizzas. I started grilling pizzas a few years ago and I can’t believe I didn’t do so sooner. They’re so easy to make—especially if you buy the dough—and cook up really quickly. Let the dough sit out for an hour or so before rolling it out into a pizza shape. (Mine are always a bit oblong, and never symmetrical, but this doesn’t seem to affect their taste.) Brush both sides with olive oil and then place on the grill over direct heat and close the grill. Let it cook for about 3-4 minutes and then check it. (They burn super easily, so as soon as it’s lightly browned, flip it.) Add whatever toppings you want, turn the center burner off (for indirect heat)  and then close the grill and let the pizza cook until the bottom is browned and the cheese is melted. I did a version of our pesto, roasted peppers, chicken pizza and I also debuted a new pizza:

This one had an olive tapenade that I made using Elizabeth Karmel’s recipe (it’s at the end of this post), cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, grated fontina, pecorino romano and basil. I also found a recipe in her book, Pizza On the Grill, for a berry pizza, which I served as dessert on the 4th:

I didn’t have all of the ingredients for this one, so I just added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the dough while I was kneading it, then brushed it with canola oil. Once both sides were grilled, I removed it from the heat and spread it with one cup of ricotta cheese that I had added 2 tbsp of sugar and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla to. I then topped it with strawberries and blueberries and drizzled it with honey. It was a huge hit!

Though we did make pizzas all three nights we were in Connecticut, there was plenty of other food as well. I made the barley salad again, as well as a rotini pasta salad with spinach, ricotta, and golden raisins that I found in Real Simple several years ago.

I was tired of turkey burgers, and when a recipe for beef and bulgur burgers landed in my inbox last week as part of Whole Foods Market’s newsletter, I decided I’d make those too. They have cinnamon and allspice in them which gives them a delightful aroma and taste. Next time I may use less bulgur as they were a bit crumbly once they were on the grill, which made them harder to flip:

And finally, since my brother-in-law is a big fan of mixed berry desserts, I found a recipe for mixed berry spoon cake in my Food & Wine cookbook, so I prepared that as well. Justin gave it his seal of approval. It’s especially good warm, though eating it cold for breakfast this morning was tasty too:

It was a fantastic weekend full of good weather, good company and good food. What more can you ask for? Below, I’ve listed all of the recipes I used. Email me with your favorite 4th of July dishes!

Black Olive Tapenade

2 cups kalamata olives, drained and pitted

Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup lightly packed Italian parsley leaves

2 tablespoon olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Rotini with Spinach, Ricotta, and Golden Raisins

1/2 pound rotini (or fusilli or bow-tie pasta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach—thawed, drained and squeezed of excess moisture

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup whole or part-skim ricotta

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Cook the pasta to the label directions. Drain and return to pot. Add the olive oil, spinach, scallions, raisins and basil and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta and balsamic vinegar; stir. Add to the pasta mixture and toss lightly. Top with the Parmesan and pine nuts if desired.

Note: I usually make this dish with a full pound of pasta, but I don’t increase all of the ingredients. I usually add a little more olive oil (especially if I’m serving it the next day) and sometimes I add more ricotta if it looks a bit dry. I’ve made it with and without the pine nuts. The pine nuts are a nice touch, but not necessary if you don’t have them. But don’t skip the raisins. They add a hint of sweetness that really makes the dish.

Beef and Bulgur Burgers

2 cups water
1 cup bulgur wheat
Canola oil
1 1/4 pounds (95-percent) lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion, plus sliced onion for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
6 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted
Green or red leaf lettuce
2 tomatoes, sliced

Bring water to a boil in a small pot over medium high heat. Add bulgur, cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until water is almost absorbed and bulgur is just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover pot, fluff bulgur with a fork and set aside until cooled. In a large bowl, mix together beef, bulgur, parsley, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and chopped onion. Form mixture into 6 patties and season all over with salt and pepper. Grill patties, flipping once, until deep golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Filling

4 pints strawberries (2 pounds), hulled and quartered

2 pints blackberries (12 ounces)

2 pints raspberries (12 ounces)

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

In a bowl, toss the berries with the sugar and cornstarch and let stand for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar, lemon zest, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and vanilla. Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients until evenly moistened, then whisk in the melted butter until smooth. Spread the filling in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon the batter on top, leaving small gaps. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and a toothpick inserted into the topping comes out clean. Let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Easy Chicken Quesadillas

I made these quesadillas for lunch last weekend and they may be making an appearance for dinner this week as well. They’re so easy to make, and much healthier than the typical quesadilla you’d get at a restaurant.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Half of a rotisserie chicken, shredded. I bought mine already cooked, but if you’re feeling adventurous, roast your own. A half was enough for two quesadillas with some leftover leg meat, so if you’re making more than that, you’ll probably need the full chicken.

Whole wheat tortillas

Shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

Scallions

Sour cream for garnish

Place cheese, chicken and scallions on top of one tortilla. Top with more cheese, then cover with a second tortilla. I cooked mine in my cast iron skillet, flipping once, which made the tortillas delightfully crisp. The key is to let the skillet get smoking hot before putting the quesadilla into it:

Read the rest of this entry »

A Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

I look forward to Cinco de Mayo every year. I love Mexican food (and margaritas) and if the weather is warm, as it is today in New York, Cinco de Mayo symbolizes the start of summer for me. In the city, every restaurant that has even a hint of Mexican cuisine on the menu is packed with revelers spilling onto the sidewalk (or as is most often the case, waiting in line on said sidewalk to get in) and the mood is festive and fun. But also really, really crowded. So after navigating SRO bars for years for what usually amounted to a sickly sweet, half melted marg, I decided to start hosting my own Cinco de Mayo fiestas. Last year our friends Emily and Andy came over for turkey tacos and this year, we’re having them over again. Only I’ve decided to kick up the menu a notch. Tonight we’ll be starting with corn fritters, a recipe I found in the book Fabulous Parties by Mark Held, Richard David and Peggy Dark. I recently interviewed Mark for a story and he was fabulous. I’ve never made fritters before but they look relatively simple and I already had the ingredients, so I’m going to give it a go. I wanted an easy aioli of sorts to dip them in and I found a recipe for cilantro dip on Epicurious which I’m also going to make. We’ll have chips with fresh guacamole and salsa and then for the main course, skirt steak and grilled-chicken tacos, both recipes adapted from Food & Wine’s May issue. The chicken has been marinating overnight in a mixture of lime juice, tomatoes, water and salt.

As for drinks, I’m always on the hunt for a margarita that isn’t too sweet so I consulted my mixologist friend, Matthew Biancaniello, who I also recently interviewed, for an easy, tasty margarita recipe. He suggested a ratio of 2 oz of tequila, 3/4 oz of agave nectar, and 3/4 oz of fresh lime juice. I’m going to make a pitcher, so I’ll adjust the quantities accordingly.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Weekly Blogs.

Pictures of our meal to come later, but for now here are recipes for the corn fritters and cilantro dip. And on a completely unrelated note, today is also the ninth annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a cause I have worked on extensively over the years. Check out an article I wrote on the topic on Tonic.com.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Corn Fritters
Makes 20-30 appetizers
2 cups whole corn kernels (either fresh cut from the cob or frozen, do not use canned)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions, white part only
1/4 teaspoon finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
corn oil, for frying

Heat the oil in a large frying pan until very hot. Mix all of the ingredients together. Using two spoons or your fingers, drop small dollops into the oil and fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve warm.

Cilantro Dip
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Mix all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until flavors blend, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Almond Parsley “Fried” Chicken

I have a love/hate relationship with chicken. I like to eat it because it’s healthy and tastes good, but I really hate touching it, pounding it, or anything else that’s required to prepare it. But there’s only so many meats out there that I’ll eat, so more often then not, chicken is on the menu. Tonight I’m making an adaptation of a “fried” chicken recipe I found in The South Beach Diet Cookbook several years ago. The breading is actually composed of chopped almonds and a little bit of bread crumb, and when baked at 400 degrees, it develops a nice crunchy consistency that mimics a piece of fried poultry. For my breading, I finely chop  fresh parsley and almonds, (about a 1/4 cup of each, but eyeball it so that you have enough for the amount of chicken you’re making) and then add whole wheat panko breadcrumb (about 1/4 cup) a clove of garlic, and salt and pepper. I coat the chicken in olive oil, roll it in the mixture, and then bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Tonight I also topped the chicken with grated romano cheese.

 

Whole Foods has had an incredible selection of artichokes lately, as they’re currently in season, so along with the chicken we had steamed artichokes, a beet and feta salad, and some leftover quinoa with feta, walnuts, and golden raisins.

On another note, I made a second batch of the chocolate chip cookies I baked last weekend and let me point out that it is never a good idea to bake while talking on the phone. I accidentally threw the eggs in with sugar before I had beat in the melted butter and it totally changed the texture of the dough. I could barely get the cookies to hold together and the chips all sunk to the bottom of the bowl. They taste OK (they’re comprised of chocolate chips, butter and sugar after all) but aren’t nearly as good as my first batch. Lesson learned!

Skirt Steak Tacos

I had a couple of nicely ripened avocados (they’re on sale for $1 each at Whole Foods right now) so I decided I’d make tacos tonight. We love them with ground turkey, but I wanted to spice things up a bit, especially since the new issue of Food & Wine is filled with delightful taco recipes, including one for chile-spiced skirt steak. I’d never made steak tacos before and decided I’d give it a try. I’m so glad I did because they were delicious! I marinated the meat for two hours and it was tender and flavorful.  This recipe calls for sweet paprika, but I couldn’t find such a thing, so I used regular paprika. It also called for two different kinds of chili powder: ancho and chipotle. Whole Foods didn’t have either, and I have no idea where else I’d find them, so I just used plain old chile powder (actually I believe it was valle de sol), which seemed to work just fine.

Johnny grilled the steak in our cast iron skillet (now soaking in very hot water to remove the caked on marinade residue) which gave the steak a nice charred exterior, while the inside remained juicy:

Once we removed it from the heat, we let the steak sit for 10 minutes. I then sliced it on an angle into thin strips:

We  ate the tacos topped with fresh salsa and guacamole I made, corn and cheese. A Romaine salad and Garden of Eatin’s Red Hot Blues chips rounded out the meal:

I will definitely be adding these to my Cinco de Mayo menu! Here is the recipe:

Chile-Spiced Skirt Steak Tacos

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ancho chile powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak, cut into 5-inch strips

12 corn tortillas, warmed

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the spices. Add the lime juice and oil and shake the bag to blend. Add the steak and seal the bag. Let the steak stand at room temperature for 2 hours. Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Grill the steak over moderately high heat, turning twice, until lightly charred on the outside, and medium-rare within, about 10 minutes. Transfer the steak to a work surface and let rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice the steak and serve with tortillas.

Nothing Says “Bon Voyage” Like Chicken Parmigiana

Our friend Sebastian is leaving for Malawi tomorrow as part of the work he does setting up sustainable health care in Africa, and I wanted to send him off with a hearty home cooked meal. On the menu tonight was chicken parmigiana, an Italian staple, although I do manage to “healthify” it by baking the chicken cutlets rather than frying them. While you may think baking chicken dries it out, this method actually preserves the juiciness, so it’s nearly impossible to tell that I didn’t fry it in a skillet full of oil. I gave the chicken an egg wash, then dipped it in bread crumb and baked it in a glass casserole dish at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. I took it out of the oven, flipped the pieces, topped them with sauce and fresh mozzarella and baked the chicken for 10 more minutes covered, followed by 5 minutes uncovered. (I also make plain chicken cutlets using the same method, only instead of sauce and cheese, I brush a mixture of Good Seasons dressing or, if I don’t have that on hand, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, on the chicken five minutes before it comes out of the oven.) The key to delectable chicken parm is to use fresh mozzarella. It’s more expensive then pre-packaged cheese, but so worth splurging on. It gives the dish an amazing flavor, and clings to the chicken really well.

 

Along with the chicken, I made a beet salad and steamed artichokes. (Below, Sebastian takes a closer look at the arties before devouring one of them. I happily ate the other.) We also had some of the pesto pasta salad I made on Friday, along with a bottle of Ubaldo 2007 Syrah. As a Christmas gift, my cousins gave us a 3-month membership to the California Wine Club and we liked their wines so much we ordered a case! Now I’m settling in for a little knitting, reading, and Desperate Housewives. Safe travels Seb. We’ll see you in a few weeks!

Tasty Turkey Burgers

OK, so I’ve decided to postpone the turkey burgers until tomorrow night. The warm weather and still sunny skies (thank you Daylight Savings!) has us longing for open air dining, so Johnny and I are headed over to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Yuca Bar, for Loco Tuesdays. Half priced drinks and tapas! But just in case any of you are having a turkey craving, the best recipe I’ve ever come across for these better for you burgers comes from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-lago resort. No, I’ve never been to Mar-a-lago, but Oprah has, and she featured these burgers on her show because she also loves them.  They are fantastic. Seriously. I debuted them two years ago at a 4th of July party I had (coincidentally, the same weekend I got engaged, but I digress) to my guests’ delight, and I made them for Christie and her husband when I went to Rochester to visit after Carlie was born. The only drawback is that they’re a bit labor intensive (and if anyone finds a store that carries chipotle tabasco please write me and let me know. Or better yet, pick me up a bottle.) so I usually only make them for parties. For weekly turkey burger dinners, I stick with a basic recipe of ground turkey, salt, pepper, chopped fresh parsley and diced onions. I mix it all together, form the meat into patties and grill. I top the burgers with a little white cheddar and serve on a sesame wheat bun.

Oh and Whole Foods had artichokes! We’ll be having those tomorrow night too. A green vegetable in honor of St. Patty’s Day!

Potpie Perfection

A picture of the chicken potpie. The recipe can be found in the March issue of Country Living, but I’m also including it here. The article it’s a part of, Simple Skillet Recipes, was written by my good friend—and fellow food lover—Monica Michael Willis. I omitted the celery, because Johnny isn’t a huge fan and I didn’t want to buy a whole bunch, and I also forgot to brush the top of the crust with egg, but it seemed to be ok without it.

Chicken Potpie

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, chopped

4 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4 -inch-thick coins

2 ribs celery, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 cups chicken broth

4 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 cup frozen peas

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 (9-inch) store-bought pie crust, such as Pillsbury

1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Heat butter in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic
and cook until carrots begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in flour. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in heavy cream and broth, using a whisk, until smooth. Stir in chicken, peas, and dill and bring to a boil.

3. Remove from heat, place dough, rolled to 1/8-inch thickness, over chicken mixture and brush with egg. Cut vents in dough and transfer skillet to oven; bake until crust is browned and flaky, about 35 minutes.

Turkey Meatballs

As promised, here is my recipe for turkey meatballs:

1 lb. ground turkey (You can use less. Tonight I used about half that amount and was able to make five decent size meatballs).

1 egg

Italian style bread crumbs

Salt

Fresh parsley, chopped

Mix all ingredients together. Add enough bread crumbs so that the meat is moist but not soupy. Form into balls and place in a glass baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.