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Archive for March, 2010

The Name Game

Sometimes, words can elude me.  I can stammer, totally lose the next word in the middle of a sentence, and stumble along while hunting for the right words. A title for this post completely stumped me.  This is a recipe for Peppers stuffed with Chicken and Quinoa with a Creole Sauce.  Lengthy, and frankly, boring. Various arrangements of those words didn’t work, and finally editing it down to just Stuffed Peppers was equally apathetic.  I was trying different combos, assorted word substitutions, when I found myself singing “pepper pepper bo bepper, banana fana fo fepper……”.  Yikes.   Anyhow..

For some unknown reason stuffed peppers have been on my mind.  My mom used to make them when we were growing up, and I hated them.  We were a clean plate family.  No leaving the table until you cleaned your plate.  My father would tell us how good they were, my Mom would be all “Well, that’s what we’re having”, and I devised ways to either eat it as fast as possible or hide it and dispose of it.  She stuffed green peppers with ground beef and white rice, then baked them with canned creole style sauce called Sauce Auturo.  Somewhere in my teen years the Sauce Auturo became tasty and the filling was acceptable.  I never found a way to like the green peppers.  While I’m a fan of red and yellow peppers, especially roasted ones, green bell peppers are still not a favorite. When I was learning to cook, I would make the dishes that my Mom made, knowing that I could call her and get directions.  Occasionally I made stuffed peppers, and found that if I made them with red peppers it was more than bearable.  It’s been years, many years since I’ve made stuffed peppers so I can’t tell you why they’ve been in the back of my mind for months now.  So here it is.  Re-done, updated, and pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.  If you come up with a better name for them, I’d be interested in hearing that!

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Blood Oranges.  You love ’em or you hate ’em.  Most of the haters I know seem to base their dislike purely on the name and appearance.  Use the term “blood” in the title of anything food related and you’ll get an automatic ‘squick’ from almost all Americans.  It’s how we were raised.  It’s okay.  There are an awful lot of us, hopefully more, that are taking an interest in where our food comes from, and in the case of animals, where and how they lived, and how they died.  We’re trying make sure that what we put into our bodies is as good as possible and honor the animals by using as much as possible from each one.  We’re facing the fact that there is blood involved. But I digress, this is about lovely, deep and vibrantly hued oranges.  These that you see here are tiny little oranges, about the size of those baby clementines and not as deep red as I would have liked.  Still, they were beautiful.   The flavor, oh the flavor! Blood oranges have that traditional orange flavor but with a tart, raspberry-ish infusion.  It’s a deeper and softer taste, one that makes you want to sit back and savor it.  It’s slower than the usual bright, acidic, okay, time to go juice that we chug in the morning.  While they’re here, try them in cocktails, cook with them, make sorbet.  I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with their lovely red-orange color and their captivating taste.

This picture is just for fun.  I think it looks cool even if it didn’t work the way I wanted it too.  Happy accidents!

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I’ve got a serious jones for spring.  I’d do almost anything for it to be here, drive down a dark alley, pawn my jewelry, lie to my mama.  But it’s not even the middle of March yet.  And in Colorado, our snowiest month usually, a blizzard is a lot closer than spring.  We’ve had quite a few lovely days, but in March it’s a wary sort of enjoyment.  We smile and say “Isn’t it great, so warm!” while our eyes are searching the sky for the slightest hint of a snow cloud.  You have to be ready for anything in March here, but the only thing I’m ready for is spring.  So much so that I even bought a bunch of winter asparagus all the while pretending that it was the sweet, tender green of the first shoots of the season.  I brought them home, stuck them in water, and let them hang out on the counter while I pondered the best way to fool myself, I mean enjoy them.  I finally decided on a quickly blanched, smothered in Sauce Gribiche presentation. Now for those of you that don’t know what Sauce Gribiche is, it’s basically a sauce made out of hard-cooked eggs, capers, cornichons, shallots, some sort of acid, herbs and oil.  There are those in the more mayonnaise camp, emulsifying the yolk, oil, and adding a bit of mustard, then adding the rest.  And there are those in the more vinaigrette camp.  Both ways are wonderful, but today I’m on the vinaigrette side.  I wanted a tart, acidic partner to the asparagus.  So I went with a riff on the Chez Panisse recipe.  I mean seriously, guys, you just can’t go wrong with anything from Chez Panisse!  I still have the menu from the first dinner I had there, and I remember that I tried so hard to be calm but I strongly had to resist the urge to jump up and shout “Holy Mother of Elvis Aaron Presley people, this is Chez Panisse”!  But I didn’t, and I haven’t yet, and I promise I won’t.  But every time we go, I’m immediately in the happy place.

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This is where it all starts.  One freshly washed, less than perfect, organic apple.  A Braeburn, I believe.  The humble catalyst that ends with one of the most soul satisfying desserts I know.  Bread pudding.  Guys, I can’t tell you how much I love bread pudding.  It gets made more than several times a year in my house, and if I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, I’d make it every week.  The variations and combinations are endless.  I’ve made bread pudding with cake layers, with pieces of brownies thrown in, out of stale bakery goods of almost any kind (donuts, croissants, danish, and once with kinda stale turnovers that turned out so surprisingly delectable), out of almost any kind of bread, and various combinations of all of the above.  And recently, I’ve been a bit fixated on savory bread puddings, but more on that later.   So this is how it began.  Standing in the kitchen, a bit antsy.  I want to make something, but don’t have a plan in mind.  Quite a few of the things that I’ve been planning for you would require a trip to the store for ingredients I don’t have.  But I’m in my comfortable clothes, it’s really grey and cold out there, and it’s going to snow any second.  Gah, I don’t want to go to the store!  So, I stand in front of the open refrigerator, I stand in front of the open cabinets, I pull out the freezer drawer and peer into its depth for a couple of minutes.  I contemplate the bowls of fruits and veggies on the counter, I pull out the drawers with all the baking pans and doo dads, I stare out at the park and watch the people running who are so bundled up against the cold they look like multi-colored Michelin Men.   As all of what I’ve stared at for the last few minutes swirls around and starts to settle, the mental checklist comes up.  Eggs? Check.  Milk or cream?  Check.  Butter, sugar, vanilla? Check, check, check.  Bread?  Frozen brioche will do nicely, check.  Then my gaze falls on the apples.   And a vision of Tarte Tatin jumps to mind, nah….but, the caramelized apple part sounds good.  So, apples? Check.  That’s how this recipe came together.  Not exactly rocket science, but it all worked out very nicely.

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Pomodoro al Forno.  Roasted tomatoes.  Unbelievably simple.  Unbelievably good.  I don’t know about where you are, but here in Colorado we don’t have much in the way of locally grown anything right now.  In fact, the term locally grown won’t be applicable for several months.  Sigh.  My available options are the supermarket or small specialty grocery stores, and it’s a toss-up which is better.  Small store has prettier displays and produce that’s shined and placed just so, but is it better than what you get in the supermarket?  Maybe marginally.  It’s this time of year that I start to miss the Farmer’s Market, and with each passing week my longing will grown until I’m counting the weekends until it will open.  Even tho’ I know they won’t have much produce out, and it’s too early for the local signs to come up, the sight of the booths and tents will calm me.  Until then, I use an organic fruit and produce vendor that delivers each week right to your door.  It’s a pretty cool concept, and it keeps you cooking and eating your fruits and veggies ’cause they’re right there in front of you.   Imported from all over, my veggies certainly weren’t picked 20 miles away, but it’s easy and priced reasonably.    Each week you have a selection of what they have available, and it can be fun.  Kind of like the mystery box.  This is what you get, now, what are you going to make.  Which brings me back to tomatoes.  You thought I’d never get there, didn’t you?

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