September 28, 2014

Stuffed Peppers

As evidenced by last week's post on breakfast cups, I love the convenience of all-in-one meals. It reduces cooking and cleaning time since you only have to make one dish, and eating is faster, too, since you can eat everything at the same time. This recipe is great because you get your protein, your vegetables, your starch, and even some dairy all in one relatively healthy bite. These stuffed peppers have a bit of Mexican flair with chorizo, a good amount of heat, black beans, and pepper jack cheese. However, you could experiment with other cuisines as well. An Italian-style stuffed pepper would be delicious if you used spicy Italian sausage, cannellini beans, orzo, and mozzarella. You can also mix and match your favorite ground meats, beans, cheeses, and any other ingredient you can think of an alternative for.

If there is one ingredient you should keep the same, it's the bell peppers. This is a recipe for stuffed peppers, after all. You can use whichever color you like (or whatever is on sale), but try to get ones that are about the same size so that you end up with relatively equal portions that cook for the same length of time. To prep them, cut the tops off, remove the core and seeds, and blanch and shock the peppers (boil them for a few minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath). I had to blanch mine in batches, but it's definitely worth the extra step because it preserves the color and makes the peppers more crisp, which is important if you are going to bake them for a while.

It's also important to precook the filling. I'm not worried about raw beef or sausage, but I do want all of the flavors to fully combine. I start by cooking the meats together. I recommend a mixture of chorizo and beef--chorizo for the fat and flavor and beef for the heartiness. You can substitute any other ground meat or sausage if you prefer. Once they release some fat, I add the onions, peppers, and garlic; they soak up that fat (and therefore the flavor). I'm not looking to brown the vegetables, but I do want them translucent and fragrant. After that, I add in the diced fresh tomatoes, black beans (drained from a can), and precooked rice. I like to cook my rice in a mixture of chicken broth and water for more flavor, but there will be enough flavor from the rest of the dish that using just water is fine, too. Whatever I end up using, I use a little less than I'm supposed to so that the rice can still soak up the liquid from the filling without becoming too saturated.

The filling is all cooked together in one big skillet, which makes assembly even easier. I transfer the cooled peppers to a baking sheet, add in a big scoop of the filling (it should come up to the edge of the pepper), and bake for 20 minutes or so. Once they are done cooking, I top each pepper with a slice or two of pepper jack cheese (or whatever cheese I happen to have--either shredded or sliced), and broil them until the cheese is golden and bubbly. One pepper is definitely big enough for a meal, and it's full of hearty, meaty, cheesy, starchy, vegetable-y goodness.

6 Bell Peppers
¾ lb Ground Beef
⅓ lb Chorizo
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Habanero, Minced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
½ tsp Cayenne
2 tsp Chili Powder
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
3 T Tomato Paste
3 Plum Tomatoes, Diced
1 Cup Black Beans
1 ½ Cups Cooked Rice
6 Slices Pepper Jack Cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Cut the tops off of the bell peppers and remove the seeds. Place in the boiling water, working in batches if necessary, and cook for two minutes. Immediately drain and transfer to the ice water bath and let sit until cool.

Heat oven to 350ºF. Line a glass baking dish with foil.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the ground beef and chorizo and cook for 4 minutes or until beginning to brown. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the habanero and garlic. Cook for 1 minute, then stir in the cayenne, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and tomato paste. Stir in the tomatoes, black beans, and rice.

Scoop the filling into the peppers. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake for 20 minutes. Top each pepper with a slice of cheese and broil until golden and bubbly.

Makes 6

September 16, 2014

Breakfast Cups

Even though I've only been in college for a few weeks, I can already appreciate the convenience of these breakfast muffin cup thingies. They pack all of your tasty morning cravings into one convenient bite, and you could probably take them on the go with you if you don't mind dribbling some oozy egg yolk all over yourself. So maybe you can't take them everywhere, but you can at least eat them quickly since all your breakfast foods are combined into one. And at 7am when I'm rushing to catch a bus to my three hour chemistry lab, that's all I could ever ask for.

Although I'm pretty sure everyone has their own version of the perfect breakfast, these breakfast bites have just about anything you could possibly want. If you don't see what you like, you can always add it, too. The first step to making these "muffins" is setting up the bacon. You can use regular bacon, turkey bacon, thick bacon, center-cut bacon, flavored bacon, or whatever bacon your heart desires. If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or anyone else who somehow has the self-restraint to not eat bacon, try to find some similar alternative because the bacon really is important for structure. It holds everything in and prevents the eggs from sticking, and it just tastes so good.

The first real layer is a base of shredded potatoes, which bake up all crispy and salty since they are supposed to mimic hash browns (spoiler alert: I think they come out pretty similar). Before I press them into the muffin tins (you really do have to pack them in hard), however, I mix them with some sauteed diced onions. Those are optional, but they add some extra flavor to the potatoes so it's not just salt.

Now you can really get creative. On top of the potatoes, you can sprinkle cheese, vegetables, diced cooked meats (think little nuggets of ham), or whatever else your heart desires. I think any good, mild melting cheese would be fantastic, and sauteed mushrooms and/or bell peppers would be a great addition as well. If you like spicy food, you can also throw in some minced hot peppers like jalapenos, habaneros, or whichever pepper matches your heat tolerance. Whatever you choose, just stick it on top of your potatoes, but make sure you save enough room for the egg.

One of the most overrated culinary trends right now (at least in my opinion) is sticking fried eggs on top of everything. Yes, the runny yolk makes a great sauce, but there are so many other amazing flavors you could have used. Nevertheless, eggs are a breakfast staple, and the runny yolks really are good in this dish. I'm not going to fry up eggs and plop them on top of the muffins, though, because I've found that baking them on top of the muffin gets almost the same texture, and it saves so much time since you don't have to sit there frying up a dozen perfectly cooked, non-broken eggs.

The trick to getting perfect eggs for each of your muffins is individually cracking each egg into a dish and gently transferring it into the bacon-wrapped cup. The bacon should hold it all in so it doesn't touch the sides of the muffin tin (because it will most definitely stick); if you find that your toppings take up too much room, either pack them down or take some out so the entire egg fits. Once they are cooked, use an offset spatula or butter knife to gently wiggle the muffins out. The goal is to avoid breaking the yolk so you end up with gorgeous cups and controlled runniness (meaning all the egg yolk ends up in your mouth and not your stove). However, even if your muffins don't come out perfect (let's be honest; a few of mine didn't), they will all taste amazing, and you get all of the wonderful flavors of breakfast in one bit.

12 Eggs
12 Strips Bacon
2 Idaho/Russet Potatoes
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Cup Shredded Cheese, Optional
Sauteed Vegetables, Optional

Heat oven to 350ºF and grease a muffin tin.

Heat some oil in a skillet and add the onions. Cook until translucent and tender, 3-4 minutes.

Peel and shred/grate the potatoes. Season liberally with salt, wrap in a towel, and squeeze the excess moisture out (use cheesecloth or an old towel since it will probably stain). Combine the cooked onions and shredded potatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Press the bacon around the sides of the cups of the muffin tins. Press a spoonful of the potato mixture into the bottom. Sprinkle on the cheese and/or vegetables, if using. Gently pour one egg into each cup and bake for 10 minutes or until the whites of the eggs are just set.

Makes 12

September 2, 2014


As you may have noticed, I haven't been able to post as much. That's because I'm kinda busy with this thing called college. It's definitely busy here and, although my dorm kitchen is decent, I'm not sure how much cooking I'll be able to do in the near future. But there is some good news. I spent allllllll summer cooking, so I now have a bunch of recipes I can publish throughout the year, though unfortunately not quite as frequently.

Anyway, I'm definitely missing Southern food (almost as much as I miss baking). I've done summer programs on college campuses before, and I really enjoyed getting biscuits for breakfast before class. It just hit me that biscuits are pretty much exclusively Southern because I have yet to find any up here in the tundra (a.k.a. Wisconsin). Fortunately, biscuits are pretty easy to make as long as you have the staples, namely butter and buttermilk.

With all the century-old not-your-grandma's-recipe-but-someone's-grandma's-recipe for biscuits, it's a little daunting to find the perfect biscuit recipe. I got mine from one of the restaurants I used to work at, The Horseradish Grill. It's an Atlanta legend that specializes in gourmet Southern food, and I do love their fried chicken. Also their chocolate cake. Oh, and the biscuits, of course. I've had to make countless batches of these biscuits, each using a whole five-pound sack of flour. Don't worry; you don't have to make that many (at least until you fall in love with them and decide you want to). I have found that this scale makes about a dozen, which is just enough to eat with butter, jam, gravy, or as a sandwich, fried chicken, egg and cheese, or otherwise.

Despite the long history of the biscuit, I think people have yet to agree on whether you should use butter and/or lard and/or shortening, so I'll be Switzerland and say pick butter plus either lard or shortening. Biscuits have to have that buttery flavor, so, in my opinion, butter is non-negotiable. Although this is probably sacrilegious to say, in this recipe lard and shortening are interchangeable. The Horseradish Grill uses lard if that impacts your decision, but I find that shortening is cheaper and easier to buy. You probably won't taste too much of a difference, though the lard biscuits might be a little richer.

Whatever fat you decide to use, you have to keep it cold. That's probably my biggest piece of advice for making biscuits, scones, and anything similar. The cold fat (and also the cold buttermilk and anything else you can chill, even flour) will release steam when the dough hits the hot oven, making the biscuits fluffy and tall. Another technique that helps with the fluffiness is working the dough as little as possible. I literally pat the dough into a slab instead of rolling it to minimize handling.

One of the reasons I prefer using a food processor to make my biscuits is because it mixes everything quickly with minimal body heat to warm the dough (generally no kneading or stirring necessary). All you have to do is pulse the dry ingredients together, add your cold fat and pulse until they become tiny little lumps (but not fully blended in), then add the buttermilk, and pulse everything until it's just combined, which should only take a few seconds. After that, just pat the dough out to about a 1.5" thick slab on a floured surface, cut into rounds, and bake until golden and fluffy and delicious.

I'm really hoping biscuits catch on up here. They can be served so many ways and taste equally perfect however you want to eat them. My personal favorites are just plain with butter for breakfast or snacking or stuffed with fried chicken for a classic Southern chicken biscuit, which are as good as Chik fil A but without the politics. There's also the delicious and convenient breakfast sandwich with eggs, cheese, and sausage or whatever else you want to put in it. You could also try a Southern eggs Benedict with a biscuit instead of an English muffin. There are so many opportunities for creativity, or you can keep it simple and enjoy homemade Southern goodness.

3 ¼ Cups Flour
1 T + 1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
4 T Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1 T Butter, Melted
¼ Cup Shortening, Chilled & Cubed
1 ½ Cups Buttermilk

Heat oven to 425°F. Line a cookie tray with parchment.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter and shortening; stir in the buttermilk.

Roll the dough out to a 1” thick slab. Cut into circles and place on the prepared tray. Bake for 10-14 minutes or until golden. Brush with melted butter.

Makes 12
Recipe Adapted from The Horseradish Grill