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Quinoa-Stuffed Bell Peppers

2 Feb

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet Van Horne

Recipe source: Good Cheap Eats

stuffed red bell pepper

When cooking for guests, it’s always nice to have a “stunner” recipe in your repertoire – something that is beautiful to the eye, complex to the palate, enticing to the nose, and kind to the stomach. This is just such a recipe. It can be made as a main course or side dish, and is friendly to vegetarians and Celiacs alike.

The first step of this recipe is to prepare the filling. And the filling is so good, you might just want to stop there! (No, seriously… it’s great even by itself as a one-dish meal. Don’t fret if you have extra!)

Begin by cooking quinoa, carrots, and water in a covered saucepan for about 20 minutes.

carrots & quinoa

At the same time, saute onion, celery, and poblano pepper, season with cumin and garlic, and then add in sliced mushrooms and drained canned tomatoes.

onions & peppers

When the quinoa is tender, stir in black beans, shredded pepperjack cheese*, and the onion mixture. Your filling is now ready.

*Taste tip: You can make these vegan by omitting the cheese. Entertaining bonus! Everyone is welcome. 🙂

yummy quinoa mixture

Next, pour liquid from tomatoes into the bottom of a baking dish (a 9×13 glass dish worked well for me) and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If you’re making this recipe as a side, slice the bell peppers in half vertically and scoop out the seeds and as much membrane as possible.

*Shopping tip: For this serving especially, try to find peppers with the shallowest bottom possible. The curvier your peppers are, the less room you will have to fill them inside. After cutting one open, you’ll see what I mean.

stuffed green bell peppers

If these are going to be a main dish, cut only the tops off the peppers. If you reserve them, they make cute little hats at the dinner table! You can get creative with the colors of peppers you serve as well – I stuffed red and green peppers for a Christmas dinner last year.

stuffed red & yellow bell peppers

Fill each bell pepper with a heaping serving of filling, and place in the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, then uncover and sprinkle each pepper with a bit more cheese. Bake for another 15 minutes and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

RECIPE – Quinoa-Stuffed Bell Peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1/2 of a poblano pepper, diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8 oz.) pkg. mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
1 3/4 cups water
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups grated reduced-fat pepper Jack cheese, divided
4 large bell peppers, halved lengthwise to serve 8 or tops removed to serve 4

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and poblano pepper and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Add cumin and garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in mushrooms and drained tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

In a separate saucepan with a lid, stir in quinoa, carrots, and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender. Combine quinoa and carrots with black beans, 1 cup of cheese, and the onion mixture from the first step. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour reserved liquid from tomatoes into the bottom of a baking dish.

Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup of quinoa mixture, and place in baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle each pepper with 1 tablespoon of remaining cheese. Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates and drizzle with pan juices before serving.

Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side.


Tequila Lime Chicken & String Beans with Shallots

9 Dec

Recipe source: Barefoot Contessa Family Style

“The idea of family is behind much of what defines my cooking style. I want everyone who comes to my house to feel like family.” – Ina Garten


Today’s a twofer! And one I’m excited to post, because both of these recipes are the bomb. I was a little frazzled on the night of my cooking, so this is not a photo-heavy post, but I will update the next time I make it.

tequila - lime - chicken

First off, the marinade for this tequila lime chicken is fantastic, just the right amount of tart, and it makes the chicken very moist, especially since you leave the skin on the breast. When I was titling the above photo, I realized the acronym for this recipe is TLC – exactly what you will feel when you make it for yourself.

To make the marinade, you’ll combine tequila, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large Tupperware container, add skin-on chicken breasts, and refrigerate overnight. Grill to blacken just slightly.

green beans w. shallots

String beans are one of many vegetables to recently become at home in my palate. I grew up positively hating them, which I now think was partly because I hated all vegetables, and partly because the ones I ate were canned. I’ll never go back to the can, but fresh string beans are a treat, especially these thin French variety, aka haricorts verts.

This is an extremely simple side dish, and blanching the string beans in advance gives them a beautiful, bright green color and loud, satisfying crunch. You can use regular string beans for this recipe as well, but I like the French variety.

After blanching the string beans, set them aside and melt butter and olive oil in a skillet. Saute shallots until they are lightly browned. I like a coarse chop on my shallots, since they’re not as intense as red or white onions. In the same pan, add the string beans and heat until they are just warm, tossing with kosher or sea salt just before serving. Note: The first time I made these, my package of string beans was half the size Ina calls for, yet I used her full portion of olive oil and butter for sauteeing. The taste was uh-maz-ing, if not the healthiest. But it might just be the trick to this dish, as I haven’t been able to bear cutting my portions down. Good thing I recently took up running.

tequila lime chicken & green beans w. shallots

RECIPE – Tequila Lime Chicken

In warm weather, this chicken flies out of Barefoot Contessa. We can buy boneless chicken breasts with the skin on, but if you can’t get them that way, just buy chicken breasts on the bone and run a sharp knife between the meat and the bone to separate them. It takes a bit of skill but the technique is easy to learn.

1/2 cup gold tequila
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5 to 6 limes)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno pepper (1 pepper seeded)
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (3 cloves)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 whole (6 split) boneless chicken breasts, skin on

Combine the tequila, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts. Refrigerate overnight.

Heat a grill with coals and brush the rack with oil to prevent the chicken from sticking. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade, sprinkle well with salt and pepper, and grill them skin-side down for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes, until just cooked through. Remove from the grill to a plate. Cover tightly and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6

RECIPE – String Beans with Shallots

French string beans are the slender ones you are most likely to find in specialty markets, but you can also make this with regular string beans. This recipe can be prepared almost entirely in advance. After the string beans are blanched, all you have to do is sauté the shallots in butter and toss the beans in the pan until they’re warm.

1 pound French string beans (haricots verts), ends removed
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
3 large shallots, large-diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the string beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 1/2 minutes only. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water.

Heat the butter and oil in a very large sauté pan (12-inch diameter) or large pot and sauté the shallots on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Drain the string beans and add to the shallots with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper, tossing well. Heat only until the beans are hot.

If you’re using regular string beans, blanch them for about 3 minutes, until they’re crisp-tender.

Serves 6

Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash

6 Dec

Recipe source: Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Part of the beauty of this cookbook, for me, is Ina’s advice and small observations on entertaining. The idea of “family style” permeates through the book, with comforting recipes like the chicken noodle soup I posted yesterday, fun snacks for kids, and then, especially – quotes like this, which expand the definition of family to one that resonates with me:

“Most people wouldn’t bat an eye about asking their sister to help with dinner, so why are we so reluctant to ask the friends we invite to our house? Wouldn’t you be flattered if a friend said ‘I’d love it!’ when you offered to help? I’d feel valued and part of the A team. When my friends come for dinner, often I serve the main course, but I’ll ask someone else to pour the wine, and a third person to help me with dessert, so we’re all in it together. It’s a community, it’s collaborative, and it’s so much more fun (not to mention easier!).”
I chose to share this quote with you now because risotto requires A LOT of stirring. A lot, a lot, a lot. And Ina brilliantly suggests enlisting your friends to take turns stirring the risotto, preferably with a drink sloshing in the other hand (oh wait, that was my addition), which I think I will do if I ever make this dish again.

Like yesterday’s post, risotto is yet another classic dish I’ve never made. I’ve never been a fan of risotto because of its mushy texture, but the other ingredients in this dish sounded so delicious that I decided to re-open my mind.

The most important lesson I took from making it is that it takes patience. It takes a lot of time. And did I mention – a lot of stirring?

To begin, you will cube and roast a whole 2-lb butternut squash. This is the first recipe I made with butternut, and I discovered that it’s not fun to peel. Not nearly as fun as just throwing the whole thing in the oven until it gets soft, like in this soup.

butternut squash

But there are advantages to this method, specifically, a less mushy, mashed texture. It might be possible to get away with a mash in this recipe… but this time I followed Ina’s instructions. Through trial and error, I found the easiest way to peel this was to cut a flat end and wiggle the vegetable peeler from the top-down. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t break my peeler the second time I did this… so use a very sharp peeler, and go slowly.

peeling butternut squash

While the squash is in the oven, you’ll saute pancetta and shallots in a Dutch oven or the heaviest-bottomed pan you have. Normally when I read this kind of instruction, I am blasé… but with risotto, I wouldn’t mess around. The heat has to be *just right* for this to work, and the cast iron in Dutch ovens will hold the heat more evenly than the type of no-account flimsy Teflon nonsense I own. I borrowed this Dutch oven, which I think would make Ina proud!

Next you’ll add arborio rice and wine, then saffron, salt and pepper, then ladle by ladle, chicken stock. Ina gives very specific instructions on this so I won’t elaborate, except to show you this picture, which I took to be “a little dry” like she describes.


My final product was also like the “gluey mess” she describes… but tasty. In hindsight, I think medium heat was too low, and medium-high would have been fine. She says you need to make this twice to get it right, and I’m convinced!

I love pears, and I try to eat as many as humanly possible while they are beautiful and yellow in the Fall. So to complete our meal, I served the risotto with Ina Garten’s Endive, Pear, and Roquefort Salad. Since I don’t have a house in the Hamptons, I substituted a common man’s blue cheese for the roquefort. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly. This is definitely a favorite… also nice over romaine.

pear salad

And for dessert, I made spiced roasted plums with vanilla bean ice cream.

spiced plums

This was about as autumnal a meal as I could dream up!

RECIPE – Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash

I used to avoid risotto because I thought you had to stand by the stove for hours, stirring – not exactly my style! But, I decided to give it a try and, instead, found a dish that’s so delicious and cooks in 30 minutes. Test this first on your family and then when you have a party, you can invite your guests into the kitchen for drinks while everyone takes turns stirring the risotto.

1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.

*Marcella Hazan advises that correct heat is important in making risotto. It should be “lively”; too high heat and the grains don’t cook evenly, and too low heat will result in a gluey mess. It should cook in 30 minutes. After the first try, you’ll get the idea.

*Saffron is collected from the stamens of crocuses, which is why it’s so expensive. Use the strands, not the powder.

*Pancetta is Italian bacon. If you can’t find it, use any good-quality bacon.

Serves 4 to 6

Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes

21 Jul

Recipe source: The Gilded Fork

I have universal, type O+ blood. I have never had malaria, never traveled Africa, never engaged in prostitution or shared needles. All this and more makes me a good candidate for donating blood, and I believe passionately in donating as long as I can. The downside is, like a lot of women, I have a tendency to be anemic. So rather than getting a painful finger prick for nothing, I always make a point to eat red meat a few days before donating.

This last time, I decided to go all out and make a steak, mashed potatoes and garlic-sauteed mushrooms. Because I am from frou-frou Southern California, I could not be satisfied with just ANY mashed potatoes – no, I went with chipotle mashed sweet potatoes. This blog is about the potatoes.

mashed potato texture

For the record, I originally found this recipe while looking up options for Thanksgiving last year. I fully expect you to keep this blog in mind for the next four months!

What gives these potatoes their chipotle kick is a can of chiptole chiles in adobo sauce. I used Embasa brand, which is easy to find in any grocery store (Hispanic foods aisle). A word of caution, it is kick-your-ass hot. I made the not so bright move of sticking my tongue onto the can lid to taste it and subsequently coughing and hacking and reaching for water and crackers. So don’t do that.

chipotle sauce

To make the sauce, all you do is finely chop the chiles and mix them with their sauce.

To begin the potatoes, peel and coarsely chop them, then cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until tender when pricked with a fork.

boiling potatoes

Drain the potatoes and return to heat briefly, to evaporate any remaining water. Then remove from heat, add half-and-half, butter, and lime juice, and mash with a potato masher (or if you’re me, a dough cutter). Return to low heat and add brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Lastly, add chipotle sauce to taste. I used around 2 or 3 tablespoons – enough to counteract the sweetness of the brown sugar while still being palatable. I’d recommend adding and tasting gradually, so as not to overpower the dish or overwhelm your tastebuds.

mashed potatoes

And in case you’re curious, the steak I had with this was a New York Strip simply marinaded in olive oil, fresh-ground black pepper and fresh rosemary. To prepare, I seared it in a smoking-hot cast iron pan, then finished in a 400-degree oven. The sliced crimini mushrooms were sauteed with butter, minced garlic, salt and pepper. That’s a HUNGRY MAN meal!


RECIPE – Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes

A Southwestern twist on a holiday classic, we think our sweet potato dish beats the heck out of any version topped with mini-marshmallows! The chipotle paste is a great accompaniment that will kick up any side dish (Our kitchen elves like to put them on scrambled eggs and chilaquiles). Just be careful to add the paste in small increments, as it can be very hot. Any extra will keep well in the refrigerator for a few weeks. The slight hint of lime here brightens the dish to keep it from being heavy.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ cup half and half
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
Juice of 1 lime
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick

For the chipotle paste:
1 small can chipotle chiles en adobo

Prepare the chipotle paste:
Remove the whole chiles from the can and chop them finely. Mix them with the remaining adobo sauce and mix well. Set aside. [Chef’s Note: This will keep for a few weeks if you keep it tightly covered in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. The vinegar in the adobo sauce acts as a natural preservative.]

Prepare the sweet potatoes:
Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into evenly-sized cubes. Put the sweet potatoes in a pot and cover completely with cold water. Bring to a boil. [Chef’s Note: When boiling root vegetables or tubers, it is essential to start them in cold water, so that they cook through without the outside cooking too quickly and getting mushy. A good rule of thumb is that any vegetables grown below the ground should be started in cold water, and any that grow above the ground should be started in hot water.]

Reduce the heat and simmer the sweet potatoes for about 15 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the water and return the potatoes to pan. Set the pot back on medium-low heat for a minute or two, stirring constantly, to evaporate any remaining water, then remove from the heat. Add some of the half-and-half, the butter, and lime juice, and mash to the desired consistency. Cook over medium heat for another 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly. Stir in the brown sugar, salt to taste, and ½ tsp. of freshly grated cinnamon into the mashed potato mixture. Add some chipotle paste to the mixture, to taste, and stir thoroughly to blend. Reserve the remaining chipotle paste for another use. Sprinkle the top with another ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon just before service.

Serves 6.

Saffron, Zucchini and Herb Couscous

4 May

Recipe source: Ina Garten of Food Network

The second dish I made for the aforementioned winery picnic was Ina Garten’s couscous. It’s pretty simple to make and a nice side dish with subtle flavors. I think it would be best paired with fish or a mild grilled chicken. I halved the amount of herbs based on complaints from reviewers on, but otherwise followed the recipe to a tee.

Here’s a pic!

RECIPE – Saffron, Zucchini and Herb Couscous

1 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 zucchini, large dice
1 1/2 cups couscous (10 ounces)
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves

Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a small saucepan, and turn off the heat. Add the salt, pepper, cumin, and saffron threads and allow to steep for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Bring the chicken stock just back to a boil. Place the couscous in a large bowl and add the cooked zucchini. Pour the hot chicken stock over them. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Add the basil and parsley. Toss the couscous and herbs with a fork, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Cucumber & Black-Eyed Pea Salad

21 Apr

Food is an important part of a balanced diet.
-Fran Lebowitz

Original recipe source: /

Around this time last year, I developed a sudden, severe contempt for lettuce. I couldn’t stand the thought of any salad containing it. Dramatic? Yes. But anyway, I went in search of non-lettuce-containing salads, and found this recipe. It’s now a favorite, and I don’t even know how many times I’ve made it. I’ve taken it to several get-togethers and it’s always a hit, I think because it has so many flavors going on. If you were to use tricolor peppers, it would even be a good chakra salad! A dead horse you say? Okay okay, moving on…

First, make a dressing by whisking together olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and fresh ground black pepper.

Next, dice cucumbers, red onion and red bell pepper. To minimize water, I scrape the seeds out of my cucumbers. If you don’t plan to eat all the salad at once (i.e. serve it to a lot of people), it helps to salt the cucumbers for several hours or overnight to draw out the water, you can then rinse and pat them dry. The original recipe called for peeling the cucumber, but I like the skin, and I’m convinced there are probably some nutritional benefits in there. But you can peel it, or use my mom’s happy medium and peel the skin in stripes.

Add to the veggies rinsed and drained black-eyed peas, feta cheese and chopped black olives. For some reason, black-eyed peas can be extremely difficult to find, even in a basic supermarket. If you can’t find them, you can substitute white or pinto beans, no problem. Toss all ingredients to combine, and serve.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano OR 1 teaspoon dried
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cucumbers, diced
1 (14 oz) can black-eyed peas, rinsed
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped black olives

Whisk oil, lemon juice, oregano and pepper in a large bowl until combined. Add cucumber, black-eyed peas, bell pepper, feta, onion and olives; toss to coat. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

[violet] German Red Cabbage

17 Apr

It’s the last day of ROYGBIV Week! Violet. Which, contrary to my long-held belief, is not purple but more a range between purple and red. Fuschia-ish, if you will. And the Germans have this color down with their red cabbage, so that’s what I’m giving you today.

Today’s chakra: Sahasrara – Thousand (Crown)
Color: Violet: universal love, selflessness & understanding
Location: Crown of head
Associated body organs: Cerebellum, spinal cord, brain stem, pineal gland
Controlled emotions: Personality, thought and self-understanding

[For an explanation of the chakras, see Sunday’s post.]


This recipe is a great side dish, healthy and very easy to make. It’s tart and refreshing – possibly appetite suppressing? Might be a good diet food? I don’t know, ask a German.

Anyway, to start, you will combine red cabbage, apples and onion. A Dutch oven is best for this, but you can use a large pot if you don’t have one. Add water, vinegar, cider vinegar, sugar, butter and salt. Then make a small spice bag with cheesecloth containing peppercorns, allspice, cloves and a bay leaf.

Add to the Dutch oven and simmer for about an hour.

If there is still liquid left in the pot after simmering, make a thickening paste with cornstarch and cold water, add to cabbage and stir for 1-2 minutes. If the liquid has evaporated, I’d say this step is optional.

Note: this recipe makes quite a bit of cabbage, so you might want to half it unless serving to a large crowd. Ain’t that color gorgeous? Happy eating!

1 medium head red cabbage, cored and sliced
3 large tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 medium sweet onion, sliced and separated into rings
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
6 whole peppercorns
2 whole allspice
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water

In a Dutch oven, toss cabbage, apples and onion. Add water, vinegar, sugar, butter and salt. Place the peppercorns, allspice, cloves and bay leaf on a double thickness of cheesecloth, bring up corners and stir with string to form a bag. Add to Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Discard spice bag. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water, whisking until smooth. Stir in cabbage mixture. Bring to a boil, cook and stir for 1-2 minutes until thickened.