Tag Archives: Pepper

Stuffed bell peppers with smoked mozzarella

Real talk: I live in food-delivery central. Thanks to all the tech folks around here, we’ve got a thriving on-demand economy, including multiple services that will bring a restaurant order straight to your door. I don’t even have to step outside my apartment to get my favorite Thai fried rice, delivered warm and spicy and exactly how I like it. And unfortunately, that makes it really easy to fall off the cooking wagon.

Lately, with work ramping up its stress levels and the summer drought-heat sapping my energy, I’ve been spending way too much money on greasy takeout. It’s not like there’s no food in the house; the freezer is stocked with my favorite meal building-blocks, like sweet potato filling and tomato sauce and egg rolls. But it’s the instant gratification that gets me, the siren song of something filling and unhealthy that requires no effort on my part. No chopping, no stirring, no dishes–just a delivery fee and some wasted plastic containers. It’s a terrible habit to fall into, and a terribly easy one too.

This week, I’ve committed to breaking the habit. I’ve been allowing myself to cook stuff on a whim, to run to the grocery store every day if I want to. I’ve also been leaving myself with leftover ingredients, so that I’m forced to find ways to put them to use.

This is my latest leftover use-up, and a really delicious one. It started with some smoked mozzarella, which I bought because it was the cheapest mozzarella option at Trader Joe’s. I snacked on some of it, crumbled some of it onto pizza, and then was left with a nubbin of cheese and no plan for it. I had an unused bell pepper, along with some leftover steamed rice (from, uh, Thai takeout). Mixed up with a few pantry staples and some scallions, the rice and cheese became a rich, smoky, slightly spicy stuffing for the bell peppers. It was indulgent without being greasy, which was exactly what I was craving. Suddenly I had a Sunday night dinner that was fresh, nourishing, and totally impossible to call up through an app.

stuffed pepper smoked mozzarella

Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Potato, chorizo, and pepper frittata

I’ve been making a version of this frittata for years. And thanks to my friend Elly, I think I’ve finally hacked the technique.

It’s not a secret, certainly, that eggs + potatoes + peppers + sausage = phenomenal breakfast. Combine them in a frittata–a sort of chubby omelet or crustless quiche–and you get something deeply comforting and filling for fairly little effort. A frittata can be eaten warm or at room temperature, on a plate or on the go, for any meal of the day. I’ve done the potato-pepper-sausage thing more times than I can count, and it’s still my favorite frittata filling.

That said, I’ve had a dicey relationship with frittata for a while. The usual method I used is to cook the filling on the stove, then mix in the eggs and scramble them until they just start to set, then finish the whole thing under the broiler. It makes for a very pretty final product–golden brown on top, solidly firm all the way through–but I just didn’t like the texture. My frittatas always ended up grainy and tough, and the browned top tasted more bitter than delicious. For a long while I stopped making frittatas, because I was tired of laboring over delicious fillings only to wind up choking down a mass of crumbly egg.

Enter Elly and her genius technique. Instead of starting the eggs in a hot pan and finishing them under the broiler, she suggested cooking them all the way through in a moderate-hot oven. We went to the farmer’s market for ingredients: firm Spanish chorizo, golden potatoes, curly frying peppers, scallions. I started out the usual way, sauteing everything in an oven-safe skillet on the stove. Then, after sliding the pan off the heat and letting the filling cool for a second, Elly added the eggs and we slid the whole assembly into a 400-degree oven to bake. 15 minutes later, I pulled out a gorgeous golden egg-cake, puffed and set but not at all browned. It was tender and smooth all the way through, and the eggs had gently absorbed the flavors of pepper and potato and onion. That frittata got eaten so fast, I didn’t even have time to photograph the wedges on a plate. With a tangy spinach salad, it made for a glorious Sunday lunch.

One note: in order to really pull this off well, your skillet must be both oven-safe and nonstick. I used a stainless steel skillet, and while the frittata did come out with some effort, it left behind a heckuva mess. If you don’t have an appropriate skillet, I’d suggest sauteing the filling first, then finishing the frittata in a generously greased or parchment-lined 9×13 baking dish. The cooking time may be slightly different this way, so keep an eye on it.

potato chorizo pepper frittata

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Golden gazpacho

So, remember how I said I didn’t really like gazpacho? I may have spoken too soon.

There’s a Spanish-ish restaurant near my boyfriend’s apartment that does a very good gazpacho–very light, very soft, and a beautiful marigold color. I’ve eaten there several times, and ordered the gazpacho, and…well…liked it. But it wasn’t until recently that it really registered why. I just chalked it up to restaurant-magic and continued on my merry way.

But last week, Sam wanted gazpacho. He made puppy eyes at me. I caved. And it turns out there are a few things that will make me almost-kinda-sorta love gazpacho:

  1. It must be blended completely smooth.
  2. It must be relatively light on tomato, and heavy on other flavors.
  3. It must be served very, very, very cold.

This restaurant makes a gazpacho that nails all three. It’s ultra-smooth, soft and not the least bit fibrous. The dominant flavor is bell pepper, not tomato. And it’s served in chilled bowls, in small portions, perfect for slurping down before it loses its frigid edge.

I set about my task, and ended up with something not totally unlike the restaurant version. To keep the gorgeous golden hue, I stuck with yellow cherry tomatoes, sweet as candy, and a big yellow bell pepper. I tossed in a few chives and some tarragon, left over from making dip, and a jalapeno pepper for a slow bloom of mild heat. I refrigerated the thing in the blender carafe for a while, then strained it into bowls.

It was good. I ate all of it. (Well, most of it.)

I still don’t think tomato gazpacho will ever be my favorite soup, but at least now I know how to make a version that I will willingly eat. So, just as I started the summer with a gazpacho disappointment, let’s kick off Labor Day weekend with a gazpacho success. It’s cold, it’s refreshing, it’s the color of sunny summer things, and it’s a nice reminder that I can sometimes be wrong about food.

golden gazpacho

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Chicken and plum stir-fry

The day I raided the plum tree, I asked a few kitchen-inclined friends for suggestions on what to do with them. There were the usual recommendations–freeze them, jam them, bake them in pie–but then my friend Sandy threw me a curveball. “Stir-fry,” he said.

So I stir-fried. And I’m very glad I did.

It might sound odd to put stone fruit in a stir-fry. But it really works. Think of it as a fresh summer spin on the sweet-and-sour thing. Toss a few wedges of plum into a hot pan at the last minute, and they slump and half-melt into the sauce, adding pockets of jammy sweetness to an otherwise savory jumble. Some of the skins come loose, draping chicken and vegetables with a thin tart bite. The juices filter into every crevice, coating the vegetables and pooling thickly in the bottom of the pan. (More on that later.) It’s not quite like any other stir-fry I’ve ever made, and not coincidentally, I think it’s the best one I’ve ever made.

Part of the reason this stir-fry is so good is the plums; part of it is the chicken. There’s a trick to this, which Chinese restaurants use to keep meat–especially lean, easily-overcooked meat like chicken breast–juicy and tender. It’s called velveting, and it’s the only way I’ll stir-fry meat from now on. First, the sliced meat is marinated in a foamy slurry of egg white, cornstarch, and rice wine. Then it’s par-cooked in boiling water, drained, and finished off in the stir-fry pan. I don’t know what kind of sorcery takes place between the marinating bowl and the water pot; all I know is that it produced the plumpest, softest, most luxurious chicken breast meat that’s ever come out of my kitchen. The meat fairly glistened in the pan–you can see it in the photo below. This is one of those instances where taking the extra step is extraordinarily worth it, even if it means dirtying an extra bowl and pot.

I’m normally too lazy to cook rice for stir-fries, but I’ll make an exception here: you must serve this with rice. The reason for this is the plum juices, which filter to the bottom of the pan and thicken over the heat. Then there’s a simple hoisin sauce mixture, which mingles with the plum juices to form a soft purple sauce, rich and oozing, but without the gumminess of starch. The flavor is deeply plummy, a little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy. You’ll want to mop up every last purple streak of it. Trust me.

chicken plum stir-fry

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hot roasted pepper salsa

We’re officially into summer party season, with the sunshine and heat to prove it. And that means salsa season. I don’t care where you are and who you’re with, good salsa and tortilla chips are never out of place. Especially if the salsa’s freshly made.

Usually, homemade chips-and-dip salsa means pico de gallo–tomatoes, onions, limes, a chile or two, maybe a little cilantro, salt, chunked and mixed. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my favorite. I tend to go for gutsier salsas, with a little more spice and smoke to them. And nothing punches up an ordinary tomato salsa like a roasted pepper or two. Or, in this case, three.

The basic outline of this salsa is similar to the ubiquitous pico de gallo, but with a trio of peppery additions: green bell pepper for grassiness, poblano pepper for sharpness, and jalapeno pepper for fruity heat. I roasted my peppers under the broiler, which turned out okay-not-great; my favorite method is still straight-up roasting over a gas burner. (An outdoor grill would work too, if you’ve got.) As usual, the peppers are stripped of their seeds before going into the salsa, but in this case the blackened skin can stay–it’s where all the dark smokiness is. After that, it’s smooth sailing: a quick pulse in the food processor with some tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, and salt, and hey presto–a loose, liquid salsa that clings appealingly to chips.

As far as heat goes, this is not a beginner-level salsa. Straight out of the processor, it had a pretty solid kick. I liked the spice level, but several of my friends said it was just barely edible for them. As the salsa sat and mellowed in the bowl, the heat seemed to dissipate a bit, to the point that even my more spice-averse friends were able to dip a chip every now and then. But this is still not mild-and-friendly fare, so be prepared for a bit of a bite.

The one downside of this salsa is that it doesn’t keep well. After about a day in the fridge, it loses its appealing freshness. But given how liquid it is, I’d imagine the leftovers would make a darned good marinade for chicken or pork. If anyone tries this, please report back.

roasted pepper salsa

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Harissa

My apartment has a gas stove. It’s an elderly beast, with a rust-pocked metal surface and dials straight out of the 1980’s. The burner covers aren’t anchored to the surface at all, so they slide around, propping pots at rakish angles and sometimes slipping completely off a lit burner. The cooktop doesn’t light reliably, and sometimes it doesn’t even try to; once or twice, in the middle of a cooking project, it’s decided that it’s had enough, and tucked away the little blue flames so quietly that I didn’t notice. But still, I forgive it, because when it’s in the mood to cooperate, that stove can roast a mean red pepper.

Nevermind that my apartment smells like burning for two days afterward. Roasting peppers is just too much fun when you have a gas stove. I love setting the pepper at an angle over the ring of flame, watching the skin slowly blacken and flake up into ember-edged bits. I love the little jolt I get whenever an ember shakes loose from the skin and skates across the stovetop. And I love the ending ritual, once all the sides have been seared: steaming the pepper, then crumbling the blackened bits off to reveal supple red flesh underneath. Broiling and grilling will get the job done on a pepper, but for sheer primal MAN MAKE FIRE satisfaction, there’s nothing like an open flame.

The last time I roasted a red pepper, I had to borrow a match and a candle from another tenant just to light the stove. But it was worth it, because at the end of it all, I had a batch of homemade harissa. I first discovered this stuff in Israel, drizzled into a falafel sandwich: a thick orange-red hot sauce, bulked out with roasted pepper and fragrant with garlic and spices. You can buy it in jars, fiery and pungent, but I was surprised by how different my homemade version tasted: less aggressive, sweeter and lighter, unmistakably roasted, with spices lingering in the background rather than charging the stage. In the week since I’ve made it, I’ve already used it in place of salsa on huevos rancheros, and stirred it into a batch of minty tomato sauce for poaching eggs. At this rate, I’ll be lucky if it lasts another week.

One thing to note: harissa recipes vary, but most agree that it should be aggressively spicy. Perhaps it’s just my pepper-blitzed taste buds, but the recipe I adapted was not nearly spicy enough for my tastes. This version is a sweet-smoky red pepper paste, almost like a salsa–but a hot sauce, it ain’t. Next time I think I’ll swap a habanero for the Fresno chiles–but me, I like a fair amount of heat. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Cacio e pepe

Whenever I read another food blogger’s take on cacio e pepe–that is, spaghetti with cheese and black pepper–the rhythm is always the same.  It’s always about how sometimes the simplest dish is the best measure of a cook’s ability.  It’s about how the simplicity of the sauce lets you taste the pasta more fully.  It’s about how the simple ingredients and simple preparation combine to make a lovely, thoroughly Italian plate of pasta.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a simple dish.

It’s also, at least in my world, the classic example of a sometimes food: a little guilt-inducing, best taken in small doses.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized