Stuffed Peppers

Having gall stones sucks major ass. It puts you on a virtually no fat diet, which is practically impossible. I track everything I put into my mouth. It sometimes makes comfort food completely out of reach.

I wouldn’t have thought of stuffed peppers as comfort food when I was a kid. Truthfully, when I was a kid, I ate the filling, not the peppers. I’ve come around on the peppers (although I will probably never come around on cabbage. You can use this filling for stuffed cabbage as well, but I never would. My sister would and has, but it’s a world of no for me). But Steve loves stuffed peppers. I make them much differently than the way he’s used to (he apparently ate them with cheese? Is that a real thing? Because, again, no.), but he’s kind enough to eat my version and not complain (he will also sprinkle cheese on his when I’m not looking).

My sister and I both agree that we remember the sauce as being much sweeter when we were kids, almost like a sweet and sour sauce, but my mother swears up and down that she never used anything but what’s listed below and doesn’t know why we remember it like that. Next time I see one of my uncles, I’ll ask them what they remember about their mother’s version. Because of course this is a Hungarian version. Comfort food doesn’t have to be deliciously fattening to be tasty; sometimes it can just be something you remember your mom making.

This is a lightened up version (I used ground turkey instead of ground sirloin, but you could absolutely use ground sirloin) of comfort food. Like I said, I live on a mostly low fat diet these days and will until I get the stupid gall bladder out.

This is a multi step recipe, so make sure you have plenty of room on your counter and stove to do this as in sync as possible. I made the rice while the peppers boiled, then did the onions and meat while the rice and peppers cooled. My kitchen’s a mess right now and my counters are crowded, so I ran out of room to do all this, but you’re probably better organized than I am.

I am including a picture of true sweet Hungarian paprika. Please, please do not use smoked paprika with this recipe. Smoked paprika will completely change the flavor. If you can get really good quality, sweet Hungarian paprika I recommend it. I will never forget the look of horror on my sister’s or mother’s faces when they realized I had bought generic paprika (it wasn’t even labeled sweet!) when I got my first apartment (of course the extent of my culinary skills back then was Kraft macaroni and cheese). I actually can’t find this paprika at my grocery store, so my mom buys it for me where she is when I run out. That’s comfort food, right there.

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Stuffed Peppers

  • 6 red and green bell peppers, tops removed, seeds and ribs scraped out (save the tops for snacking). They should be able to stand up in a casserole pan/dish
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice, cooked to package directions
  • 1 lb ground sirloin or turkey
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced small
  • 1 large (28 oz can) Hunt’s tomato sauce (do yourself a favor. Don’t skimp and get the generic. There really is a difference in the flavor. I’ve made it with both and I vastly prefer the Hunt’s version)
  • sweet Paprika
  • cider vinegar
  • Sour cream, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to boil, with a splash of cider vinegar. Once water is boiling, add peppers and cook for six minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Let sit until cool enough to handle.

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Saute the onions until soft and golden, but not browned. Remove from pan and saute meat until no longer pink. In a large mixing bowl, combine meat, onions, and rice. Add enough paprika until you get the color you want (mine’s pretty red as you can see).

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Spread some of the Hunt’s sauce on the bottom of a casserole dish. Stuff peppers with filling and stand up in the dish. Pour remaining sauce over the stuffed peppers. I had a lot of left over stuffing, but it’s great to eat with some sauce over it.

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Bake in a 350 oven for 45 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top (use full fat – the light doesn’t taste right with this).

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What’s your favorite version of comfort food?

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Antipasto Pizza

Christmas in my house usually means one thing: lots of Italian food on Christmas Eve. And not just any Italian food – my mom’s Italian food. This year, amongst my mother, sister and I, we made two trays of stuffed shells with meat sauce, risotto, marsala chicken, garlic bread and of course the best thing about Italian food, a huge antipasto.

For those who have never experienced antipasto, it’s the yummiest. Cured meats, cheese, lots of salty, briny olives, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and, for the weirdos, anchovies. My in-laws love my mom’s antipasto platter and it’s a great starter for everyone.

This year, I bought a ton of prosciutto, salami, and provolone at the store. There was also hot capicola and sopressata. That I didn’t have an excess of, but I do still have a lot of salami and prosciutto and provolone. I bought another jar of roasted red peppers and marinated artichoke hearts because I planned on making a second antipasto one night just for Steve and me. But as we were talking about what to make for dinner tonight, I thought of something better – take all of that salty, cured goodness and throw it on a pizza. How can you possible go wrong?

I used a premade pizza crust, but you can certainly make your own dough if you’ve got that much ambition. If you have different things you use for your antipasti, include them too.

Serve with a salad dressed with olive oil and vinegar and you’re done.

Antipasto Pizza

  • 1 pizza crust or dough
  • 1/2 cup or less (depends on how saucy you want your pizza) of your favorite tomato or pizza sauce (I like Trader Joe’s for premade sauce)
  • thinly sliced salami, cut into strips
  • thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips (although my prosciutto was paper thin so I just tore it apart)
  • thinly sliced provolone, cut into strips
  • 1-2 roasted red peppers, chopped
  • marinated artichoke hearts (4-5 or more depending on how much you love them)
  • anchovies (optional. And only included my sister loves anchovies and she would protest heartily at their exclusion, but no. Just no anchovies for me)
  • Sicilian olives or garlic stuffed olives or kalamata olives (pitted) (also optional. There’s already a lot of sodium on this pizza so if you want less salt, leave off the olives)
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, torn (optional)

Preheat your oven to whatever temperature your dough needs to cook at. You want your oven nice and warm. If you have a pizza stone, use that instead of a pan.

Spread a layer of sauce over the dough. Slice your cured meats and cheese into strips with kitchen shears. You want enough meat and cheese to cover your pizza, but not so much that it’s too salty. Layer on your meat, then add the roasted peppers and artichoke hearts, then cover with cheese. Sprinkle with basil if using.

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Bake until cheese is melted and slightly brown.

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Honey Soy Marinade

Normally, I like to add citrus to my soy marinades. I think it’s a nice balance between the tart and the salty. But Steve is on an anti acid reflux diet, which does not allow for citrus. Since I like him not to have crippling heartburn, I’ve been experimenting with other ways to flavor my foods that don’t include my lemons and limes.

This is a very simple recipe, not a lot of ingredients, but it tastes more complex because of the Chinese five spice powder. I was originally going to just use ginger in this – and I think that’s a great choice as well if you have fresh ginger, not powdered – but my bottle of Chinese five spice powder hasn’t gotten much of a workout lately, so I thought I would see how it came out.

Honey Soy Marinade

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 – 5 scallions, chopped (my scallions were huge, so I used 3)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
  • 1-2 teaspoons minced or crushed garlic

Whisk together all ingredients. Marinate meat (I used chicken the first time I made this)  for up to an hour.

I used a little bit of canola oil because I thought it needed something to help it emulsify, but I think you’ll be fine without.

I made a second batch of the marinade (same proportions), but whisked in a teaspoon or so of cornstarch and poured it over the veggies I’d stir fried before I added the chicken. It was really good – not too salty, not too sweet.

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Roast Chicken with Vegetables & Pan Sauce

I was browsing through Boston.com at work and saw this recipes as one of the most emailed articles on its page. How does one resist clicking that? And how does one resist making it once you see how easy it is?

You don’t.

The first time I made this, I did as the recipe stated and started to roast the veggies with the chicken, even knowing I was going to have a longer cooking time because I used a bigger chicken. And while it was still divine, some of the veggies were a little too caramelized. So this time around I added the veggies at the same time I added the garlic, about thirty minutes into the process. I also made gravy instead of pan sauce because I cannot resist gravy. With all the bits from the veggies, the gravy was tremendous. I also didn’t feel like I had used enough oil the first time around either (in the pan. I used the perfect amount on the chicken).

Clearly, even though it needed some tweaks, I loved it enough to make it again. More importantly, Steve loved it enough for me to make again.

If you want to follow the recipe exactly, here’s the link: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/articles/2011/07/13/roast_chicken_with_vegetables_and_pan_sauce/?s_campaign=8315

Roast Chicken with Vegetables & Pan Sauce (adapted from Boston.com)

  • 1 roasting chicken, patted dry (they say you shouldn’t rinse chicken any more since it spreads germs, so just pat it dry with a paper towel, the cavity too)
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 8 fingerling potatoes, halved. My grocery store’s fingerlings looked appalling so I used baby yukon golds and they were fine. You may need to quarter them instead of halving them, depending on how big the potatoes are
  • 2 sweet onions, cut into wedges (mine were about eight wedges each)
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, skin on
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (I used unsalted and/or low sodium)
  • 1/2 cup good quality white wine (wine you DRINK. Never use cooking wine. It’s gross. Also, you can’t drink cooking wine while you’re cooking because it’s not drinkable and why would you ever cook with wine when you can’t drink it?)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano (the first time I made this, I forgot what the second herb was and bought rosemary instead of oregano. Unless you’re passionate about following a recipe to the letter, use whatever herbs you want)
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

I used a 7lb Purdue Oven Stuffer Roaster, both times I made this – the recipe calls for a 3-4 lb chicken. If you use a smaller chicken than I did, adjust your cooking times. A 3-4 lb chicken at 425 in the oven should take about an hour or a little less. A 7-8 lb chicken at 425 in the oven will take about an hour and a half to two hours. Plan accordingly.

Preheat oven to 425. While preheating, chop your veggies and pat your chicken dry. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken and season liberally with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with the lemon (full disclosure: I used a whole lemon, not a half) and the fresh herbs (I also used more than 2 sprigs each. I could say it was because I had a bigger chicken than the recipe called for, but that’s a total lie. I just felt like it. So there, recipe).

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Once the oven is ready, put the roasting pan in the oven for three minutes with the remaining oil. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, but I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t feel like that was enough the first time I made this. So I used enough oil that when the pan was hot, the oil was able to swirl and coat the bottom of the pan in a very, very thin layer. You will need a roasting pan big enough for the chicken AND the vegetables, but also one that you can use on your stove top.

Add the chicken, breast up, to the pan and scatter your (seasoned with salt and pepper) veggies around it (if you’re using the smaller chicken). Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. If you’re roasting a larger chicken, after 25 minutes add the veggies to the pan (maybe with a smidge more oil, too) and the garlic, still in their skins. If you’re using a smaller chicken, just add the garlic. Or, toss the veggies with some oil and salt and pepper before you add to the pan. I also chopped some rosemary and thyme and sprinkled that over the veggies this time.

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Word of caution: When you pull that pan with the oil out of the oven to add the veggies for the larger chicken, it will freaking SMOKE like mad. Olive oil has a high smoke point so it being in the oven for half an hour with nothing in it cooking, it will smoke. Open a window unless you want the smoke alarm going off. Also, the oil could possible spatter as you add the veggies, so be extremely careful.

Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 165.

Transfer the veggies to a platter and the chicken to a cutting board. Cover the veggies with foil so they don’t get cold. Let the chicken rest for a couple minutes before you carve so the juices don’t get everywhere.

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To the roasting pan, add the chicken stock and wine. Squeeze the garlic out of their skins into the pan. Whisk over medium high heat to get the sauce going, being sure to scrape up any bits along with the bottom because that’s the good stuff. If you’re like me and want something thicker, add flour to the pan before the stock and the wine and the garlic to make a quick roulx. Then, add the liquids and whisk.

Serve sauce over veggies and chicken. Steve had red wine with his dinner, while I helped myself to another glass of white. DIVINE. I’m telling you, you will love this.

Clearly, this was seconds.

Clearly, this was seconds.

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Roasted Vegetables with Orzo and Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette

I’m trying to do meatless meals at least once a week. We don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I can only do ground turkey and chicken so many times a week before I’m totally sick of it. I wanted to try doing something vegetarian just for variety.

Last week, I roasted a chicken with carrots, potatoes, and onions (recipe to come when I make it again) and Steve really liked how the carrots came out. Based on that I decided to do roasted vegetables with carrots.

Roasted vegetables are really versatile as leftovers, too. They’re great in a frittata or omelet, if you like eggs. Chop them up fine and used them as a binder in meatloaf instead of an egg. Or, do as I did here, and serve over pasta. Except this wasn’t leftovers.

You can do this with any combination of veggies and herbs that you like. I used what I had on hand and the combination was more than satisfying.

Roasted Vegetables with Orzo and Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette

Veggies

  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1-2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 medium to large sweet onion, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 lb asparagus, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
  • 3 sprigs thyme, finely chopped

Vinaigrette

  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced (I had a very juicy lemon, so if you think you need more, use another)
  • 1-2 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 sprig thyme, leaves pulled off
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil (or to taste)

Orzo

  • 1 cup uncooked orzo
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Pre heat oven to 425. Coat a cookie sheet with olive oil and add chopped veggies in one layer. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and chopped herbs over. Cook in oven for an hour. I did not turn mine and they came out fine.

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Cook orzo according to package directions. Once drained, stir in butter and cheese (you could do this with feta cheese instead of parmesan if you prefer. Steve loves orzo with parm and butter, so that’s what we do. Thomas has now become a devotee of the same. Like father, like son, I suppose).

In a small bowl or cruet, zest and juice your lemon. Add mustard, salt and pepper and thyme. Whisk in olive oil (or add oil and shake if you’re using a cruet) until vinaigrette is smooth and emulsified and tastes the way you want it to (I ended up adding a smidge more mustard and oil because the lemon I used was very, very juicy).

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You can either serve the vegetables over the orzo or to the side. Dress the veggies with the vinaigrette. Voila! Meatless dinner.

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Zucchini, Red Pepper, and Chicken Frittata with Feta cheese

Friday nights at the Yellow House on the Corner in the summertime usually involve cereal or takeout. But as much as I love the pizza place we’ve been frequenting this summer, we weren’t in the mood for pizza or subs tonight. Our plan had been breakfast for dinner, but Thomas decided he wanted macaroni and cheese instead. We had vegetables, chicken and eggs so a frittata it was.

I wanted to use Parmesan cheese instead of feta, but I couldn’t find the container in the fridge. Feta seemed like a good alternative. We had left over grilled chicken that Steve had already diced up for salads, so the only chopping was for the veggies.

I used a zucchini, diced, a chopped red pepper, and scallions. But you could use summer squash and onions just as easily if that’s what you have on hand.

Zucchini, Red Pepper, and Chicken Frittata with Feta Cheese

1 medium zucchini, diced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 cup chicken, diced
8 eggs, beaten with a little milk
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt to taste
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

In a large oven proof skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add zucchini and peppers. Sauté until veggies are soft. Add scallions, chicken and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and keep on heat long enough for chicken to warm through.

Beat eggs with a little milk, then stir in feta cheese. Pour egg mixture over chicken and veggie mixture. Keep over heat until eggs begin to set, but are still runny.

Place skillet under broiler and leave in oven until eggs are set. Serve hot, room temperature or cold.

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Baked Pasta Florentine

It’s hard to change your eating habits.  But every now and then your health (or someone you love’s) reminds you that the foods you eat aren’t always the best for you.  Because of that, we’ve been particularly diligent in watching our starch, sugar, and processed food intake.  We’re trying to live a more healthy lifestyle and part of that was really examining what we eat.

On the whole, we actually don’t eat that badly.  I’ve lost some weight, Steve’s blood pressure and cholesterol is good.  And obviously you can’t be good all the time.  I think it’s Nigella Lawson who says everything in moderation, including moderation.  All that being said, there were some changes we needed to make.  We’ve started following the Mediterranean diet, which is big on fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes, olive oil, lean protein, red wine (!!!), yogurt, cheese, and whole grains and short on red meat, sugar, and processed food.  Combined with the low salt diet we’ve been working on, I can feel the effects.  I also gave up caffeine (and that was freaking painful, let me tell you), but knowing I could still have alcohol has been a comfort.  It’s been a good exercise for me – I read labels much more carefully, I plan my meals a lot more precisely, I snack much smarter.  I even started making my own salad dressing (which is easy, cheaper, and much healthier for you despite how delicious those creamy dressings can be).

But sometimes you need pasta.  Carbs aren’t evil.  The right carbs are actually quite healthy for you.  Unfortunately, pasta isn’t the best carb in the world.  But if you use it sparingly and bulk up your pasta with lots of fresh vegetables, you can still enjoy your pasta cravings with lots of joy.

You could make this dish with jarred sauce, but since I was going to add ground turkey to the dish I decided to make a quick meat sauce.  It wasn’t thick, but it didn’t need to be.  I’m using the leftover sauce this weekend for homemade pizzas.

Baked Pasta Florentine

Sauce:

  • 1 28 oz can ground, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 28 oz can tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil to taste
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 1/3 lbs ground turkey

Pasta dish:

  • 1 large red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 large green pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 bag baby spinach
  • 8 oz farfalle (bowtie) pasta, uncooked (or your favorite pasta)
  • 2-3 cups shredded mozzarella

Start with your sauce. In a large dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add ground turkey and saute until most of the pink is gone.  Add tomatoes, wine, and spices.  Let simmer over medium-low heat for about half an hour or more, stirring occasionally.

While sauce simmers, saute onions and peppers in a pan with olive oil until veggies are soft, but not browned or caramelized.  Remove onions and peppers from pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil back to pan, then add spinach.  Saute until spinach is completely wilted. If you deglaze the pan with a little white wine so the spinach doesn’t stick, I won’t tell anyone because I did the same thing.

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While you’re doing all of that, boil a pot of salted water and cook pasta until al dente.  Drain well.  Preheat your oven to 400.

In a baking dish, combine your peppers, onions, spinach & pasta.  Ladle sauce over the mixture, then cover with mozzarella cheese.  Bake until cheese is brown and bubbly.

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You may have a lot more extra sauce than I did – I made a smaller batch of this without the veggies for Thomas, which took a couple cups of sauce.  The sauce will freeze just fine if you’re not going to use it within a few days.

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