Stuffed Hatch Peppers: Delicious Side Dish

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A few months ago, a Columbian friend of mine made lunch for us one afternoon and served cheese-stuffed Anaheim peppers that were simply amazing.  The peppers were mild-tasting, but the cheese added a nice creamy texture to the dish.  I’ve made a similar dish off-and-on, each time experimenting with various long mild peppers.  This weekend, I gave Hatch peppers a try after I picked up a few on sale at our local Sprouts market.  I also experimented with my own cream cheese filling that incorporated a few leftover ingredients from the fridge.  I must say, the combination was to.die.for.  I baked the stuffed peppers in the oven for approximately 40 minutes in my trusted iron skillet and each pepper not only retained it’s shape, but also, the skillet allowed the peppers to be cooked evenly from the outside  while slowly cooking the filling inside.

I served this dish for brunch with some vegetarian sausage patties, but these can be served on the side with any meal.  (I just rolled a leftover one in a roti for a snack!)  A delicious way to get your daily vitamin C dosage!

Cream-cheese stuffed Hatch Peppers

*My version leaves the skin on, but if you prefer skinless, you can always bake the peppers first, let them cool inside a plastic bag, and then peel off the skin before stuffing and baking.  Using this method, reduce the cooking time with the stuffing to 10 minutes, as the peppers are already cooked through.

Ingredients (for 3, 5″ peppers)

  • 3 Hatch Peppers, washed and slit down the middle.  I leave in the seeds as it adds flavor and texture, but you can remove them if you wish
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened.  I left it on the counter for approximately 30 minutes to thaw and soften
  • 4 or 5 Crimini mushrooms, finely diced
  • 1 Serrano pepper, finely diced (adds heat to the dish, but completely optional)
  • 3 black olives, finely diced
  • One or two stalks of chives, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • One or two teaspoons of Italian seasoning (or to taste)
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  To make the the cream cheese stuffing easy to stuff into the pepper, use a pastry bag or a small plastic bag, with one corner snipped off:  mix all ingredients together and spoon into a pastry bag or a small plastic bag.  Push all the filling to the bottom and snip off one small corner.

3.  Start piping the ingredients into the each pepper.  I would recommend only filling the peppers 1/2 full, otherwise the filling starts to fall out when baking.

4.  Use a 10″ cast iron skillet and pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan.

5.  Place each pepper in the pan, with the stuffing side facing up.

6.  Carefully place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until peppers are soft to the touch and the stuffing appears to take on the color of the mushrooms (and the peppers turn a lighter shade of green.)

7.  Be very careful in removing the skillet from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes and gently remove from the pan using a spatula and serve.  Feel free to cut in half for smaller portions.

Hatch peppers stuffed and ready to go in the oven

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Baked peppers plated

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Great Side Dish: Spicy Potato Salad

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Recently, we had a simply delicious German potato salad at a friend’s, and I knew right then that this was something I wanted to replicate at home.  I found the following recipe on Pinterest, and adapted it slightly, to our taste.  I never realized that potato salad was so easy to make and homemade potato salad, hands down, tastes far superior to the store-bought variety.

To speed up the cooking of the potatoes, I cooked them in a pressure cooker for 5 minutes and then let the pressure cooker cool down (and subsequently let the potatoes cool as well, before incorporating them into the salad).  The ingredients are all to taste, so feel free to mix it up and taste and adjust as you go along.

German Potato Salad

http://www.fivehearthome.com/2014/05/19/german-potato-salad/

*I omitted the bacon, apple cider vinegar, and sugar.  Instead, I added diced red onions (1/4 onion), diced celery (2 stalks), diced carrot (1), chopped black olives (7-8 black olives, pitted), and capers (handful), and one small habanero pepper.  I also added 3 teaspoons of organic mayo.  If you would like to replicate my version, I would recommend adding salt after the olives and capers, as these are salty.  Finally, add a dash of fresh black pepper.

Ingredients for Potato Salad (all ingredients are really to taste, adjust as necessary):

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Diced Onions, Celery, Carrots, and Olives.  Capers at 2 o’clock:

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Chai Time!

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Tea time is a sacred hour between 4 and 7 PM in Indian households.  It is an opportunity for families and their guests to unwind, chat, and relax in an informal setting.  Dinner is usually later (8 PM onwards), so tea and fixings are designed to curb the appetite before a meal. Biscuits and samosas with chutney, are ideal snacks served during tea hour.

I am a huge fan of little bites and small plates, so I savor tea time.  Below are some tried and true recipes for snacks served during Indian chai time.  I am also a fan of English High Tea!  Tea, scones, and tea sandwiches, oh my!  English tea snack recipes to follow soon!

Baked Samosa Recipe:

http://www.cooklikepriya.com/2013/09/baked-samosa-oven-baked-samosa-step-by.html#more

* Feel free to mix up the filling.  I use a standard potato/pea filling instead of the one listed in the recipe.  Show Me The Curry has a nice potato filling recipe:  http://showmethecurry.com/appetizers/samosa-indian-appetizer.html

Crust:  I recommend reducing the ajwain (bishop’s weed) to 1 tsp, instead of 2 tsp per the recipe (2 tsp makes the dough a little bitter).  I substituted 3 tbsp of melted butter for the oil for a flakier and tender crust (you can also use ghee for a similar texture and richer flavor).  I also baked the samosas at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for a good hour on the bottom shelf of my oven, frequently turning the samosas as they browned.  Lower temperatures do not provide enough heat to brown the samosas.

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Nan Khatai recipe:

http://showmethecurry.com/desserts/nan-khatai-eggless-cookies.html

*Wonderful recipe!  I follow this recipe down to the last detail!  I have made these cookies numerous times,  for consumption and as gifts.  I always get compliments on these.  You can also mix up the topping with slivered almonds or a design.  A dozen of these make a wonderful Diwali gift for friends and family.

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Skillet Fever

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I purchased a cast iron skillet a little over a month ago, and it’s been one of the best kitchen investments I have made recently.  Little did I know when I purchased it, that I could cook and bake so many savory and sweets with it.  Originally, the idea for purchasing the skillet came to me when I was browsing through frittata recipes and several recipes mentioned utilizing a cast iron skillet to get the best results.  Not having a skillet on hand, I started looking online and found a pretty good deal on a Coleman 10-inch model on Amazon (less than $20).  The key to using a cast iron pan is to ensure it is well seasoned after each use.  There are many sites devoted to seasoning cast iron pans, but since I primarily cook vegetarian/eggetarian dishes at home, I prefer to season with a simple coating of olive oil after each use (after washing and drying the skillet).

I treaded into new territory last weekend, when I decided to make a sweet dish of apple crisp using the skillet.  I had loads of fresh home-grown apples at home, courtesy of a good friend who gifted me several pounds of sweet and tart ones from her very own tree.  I found the following recipe online and seriously, this was one of the easiest and most satisfying treats to make.  I followed this recipe from Food.com because it had received so many positive reviews.  It turned out so well, that I, too, followed up with a positive review!  The dish is best served warm with either a side of ice cream or creme fraiche.  Not only is it finger lickin’ good, there’s an added bonus that your house will smell like Thanksgiving dinner any time of the year!

http://www.food.com/recipe/apple-crisp-20591

Apple mixture with spices and sugar:

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Caramelizing the apples with butter and sugar in the skillet:

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After baking:

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Served warm with a dollop of creme fraiche!

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Easy Breezy Summer Picnics

Summer is a great time to catch up with friends over a glass of wine and a few nibbles.  The Bay Area has so many lovely parks and wineries, so there’s never a dearth of locations to enjoy a picnic.  Recently, I met up with a dear friend and we decided to bring a few things to share and enjoy.

Focaccia bread is fast becoming my new savory addiction.  With a little planning, it is easy to make, and the combination of toppings is endless.  I have been using my skillet every chance I get, and I recently came across this easy recipe for skillet focaccia on Pinterest:

http://www.crunchycreamysweet.com/2013/02/25/one-hour-skillet-focaccia/

*I did leave the dough to double in size for about an hour (instead of 20 minutes per the recipe.)  No need to be afraid of yeast (I was for years).  With an inexpensive little candy thermometer, proofing the yeast becomes a piece of cake.  The dough can also be refrigerated overnight, to bake later if you wish.

My version has caramelized onions, black olives, and sliced sport peppers (for a kick!).  I also sprinkled some sea salt at the end and topped it off with some shredded fresh parmesan cheese.  To caramelize the onions, I sliced one red onion thinly (you can use a knife or a mandolin slicer) and sautéed the slices in olive oil in a cast iron pan for about 10 minutes on a low to medium setting until the onions look “shriveled” (but not burnt).  Once the onions have caramelized, let the onions cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before incorporating them into the dough.I recommend pressing the onions in the dough first, followed by the olives and peppers, so the onions don’t come off when you cut the bread.

The focaccia is great with a little marinara sauce on the side or on it’s own!

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The tomato plants at home have been prolific this year, so I picked a couple and decided to fix a quick tomato and basil salad.  Just slice ripe tomatoes (thin skinned but not too mushy) into quarters, drizzle a little olive oil, sprinkle a little sea salt, and tear off some fresh basil to garnish over the tomatoes and there you have it!  A little bread, some tomatoes, grapes, cheese and a glass of Riesling or bubbly – a lovely and light summer picnic!

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Sewing & Salsa and Other Condiments

The skirt I’ve been working on in first series of sewing class is complete and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Sewing I’ve realized, is much like cooking – you may have all the ingredients but it’s how you put it all together that determines the final product.  When it comes to both crafts, attention to detail is everything.  I am lucky to have a fantastic teacher who initiated us on the finer technical details of garment creation – seam allowances, pressing open seams, darts, hems, etc.  These finer points really elevated our sewing project to a professional level.  I am tickled pink that I now have a set of skills (albeit still limited) to create more fun and funky garments.  I’m already looking forward to the “Copy a Garment” series at the end of April.

An added bonus to the class?  Meeting a fabulous and creative group of women who love DIY projects too!

With the warmer months coming up, I usually start pickling my own Indian pickles and start to get a craving for simple condiments like salsa and guacamole.  It sure beats the store bought stuff.   Below are recipes to my own roasted tomato and pepper salsa and fresh guacamole.  It’s best to make the guac when avocados are in season, otherwise you have to wait till then avocados ripen before using them.  I also make a mean serrano pepper pickle that’s just a joy to have with just about everything – eggs, on toast, in burritos – it’s the perfect accompaniment.

Roasted Tomato and Pepper Salsa

Ingredients:

3 Ripe roma tomatoes

2 Serrano peppers (or more if you like it spicier)

2 Garlic cloves

1/2 Red onion

A handful of cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons lime juice

Salt to taste

Olive oil to taste

Directions:

1.  Roast tomatoes, peppers, and garlic cloves (in shell) on low gas flame or BBQ.  Careful to turn it every few seconds until roasted.  The tomatoes and pepper will become a bit softer, which indicates they are done

2.  Let the veggies cool on the counter.  Once cool, peel the tomatoes and pepper but leave a few of the charred skin on.  Peel the garlic as well

3.  Place the roasted veggies in a food processor (I use a Ninja chopper myself) and pulse.  You don’t want to make it too fine.  A coarse grind is best

4.  Remove from food processor and add salt to taste, lime juice, and small amount of olive oil and mix

5.  Add the chopped red onions and chopped cilantro and voila!  Fresh salsa!

Easy Guacamole

Ingredients:

2 Ripe Haas avocados

1 Serrano pepper, finely chopped

1/4 Cup of chopped red onion

1 Garlic clove, finely minced

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup of chopped roma tomato

A few small cilantro leaves

Salt to taste

Olive oil to taste

Directions:

1.  Peel and coarsely mash the ripe avocados

2.  Mix all ingredients together and add a bit of salt and olive oil to taste.  Add more peppers if you want a hotter guac.  Enjoy!

Spicy Pickled Serrano Peppers (recipe credit goes to my Mother-in-Law)

Ingredients:

10 Serrano peppers

4 Tablespoons of “Amchur” powder (available at any Indian grocer)

4-5 Tablespoons of olive oil

Salt to taste

Directions:

1.  Note:  it is very important to wear gloves when handling hot peppers.

Slice the peppers lengthwise and gut the insides and discard the insides

2.  Add the amchur power, olive oil, and salt to the peppers and mix

3.  Saute in a non-stick or cast iron pan on low heat.  When the peppers start to crackle and singe, they are done.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Place in a jar and refrigerate.  The peppers are good for about a week (if they last that long!)

Inertia

Inertia.  Momentum.  The law that once the wheels start turning, they’ll continue to turn.  There’s something to it.  The hardest part is getting the gumption to get started.  Once that’s over and done with, the rest just seems to work itself out.  Even after my umpteenth workout, I still need this reminder.  But it can easily apply to anything in life.  I am pleased and grateful that my projects are in motion:  the blog has developed a following (165 hits to date!) and I just got my first weekly freelance writing gig.  Above all, I have never been as happy or as content..and counting my lucky stars.

The cooking is in full-swing.  Just completed another tasty and nutritious meal for Hubby Dear and myself:  potatoes with fenugreek leaves (aloo methi), lentils (toor dal with tadka), accompanied by fresh rotis/parathas.  Over the last several months I’ve been pretty diligent about  making fresh food at least once or twice a day.  I truly think it’s the secret to a long and healthy life.  Once I started to cook fresh and organic, I found myself satiated by a small amount of food with a limited need for second helpings.  The pounds just melted off once I gave up most processed foods and eating out in general.  I nor Hubby Dear have gotten a cold in the last year and have never received a flu shot.  Our food bill has gone down considerably even though we are shopping at Whole Foods and farmer’s markets.  Eating out was hurting us in more ways than one.  Quite honestly, the gigantic portions at restaurants are poor substitutes for flavor, I’m afraid.  The fresh ingredients in home-cooked foods allow you to taste the real flavor of the cuisine rather than the one or two dimensions of commercially prepared foods.

Most of us find ourselves limited by time to create a decadent seven course meal, but a home-cooked meal need not be seven courses, nor does it have to be the standard pasta fare.  Vegetables are available year-around and seasonal ones are best bets.  One just needs to saute, stir fry, bake, boil, broil, or simply eat them raw!  Because of their fiber and water content, they fill you up pretty quickly.  But what about the taste?  Well, experiment!  Brocoli need not be limited to steaming, but can be combined with a few dashes of sweet/sour sauces and a few cashews for a spin on an Asian cuisine.  Think of yourself as a contestant on Top Chef – quickly sprinting through the kitchen, creating master dishes from limited ingredients.  Beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa – can all be mixed and combined with vegetables, herbs, and masalas to create new and exotic dishes.  Make it a point to try one new recipe a week and before you know it, you’re cooking repertoire will expand exponentially.

A couple of months ago, Chef Jamie Oliver had a show on TV called “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” and it was spot on the money:  Americans have forgotten what real food tastes like which is a likely contributor to the growing obesity epidemic.  They have gotten used to trans-fatty, sweet, fried, and preservative laden foods.  It was disheartening to see young children pile on pizza, chips and soda without consideration for what they were actually putting in their mouths.  Junk food had become their staple diet.  Imagine for a minute if the parents and families of these children started to cook at home.  Inertia.  Momentum.

Playing Hookie

About ten minutes ago, I decided to play hookie from my routine of walking and yoga.  I can lie and say I don’t feel well, have some pressing obligation, et cetera.  The truth is, I’m having a grand ol’ time writing and editing this blog.  I know, I know, it’s like a shiny new toy that I want to play with 24/7.  What is it that the great teachers (and Yoda himself) preach?  Balance.  Yeah, yeah.  Tomorrow.  I am pleased and positively giddy about the response I’ve received.  Thank you.  It’s very gratifying to know that if you put your thoughts out there (“in the cloud” to use computer geek-speak), that people hear you, relate to you, and heck, even chuckle at something you may have written.

Anyhow, I spent a good chunk of time today doing some last-minute shopping for the impending tea party this weekend.  I was at the local Indian market when lo and behold what is it I see before me?  Fresh okra!  I made a beeline for the bin and promptly began to fill up my bag with this vegetable goodness.  Spring may have truly sprung if okra is available at the local market.  It was settled then – sautéed okra for dinner tonight.  Below is an adapted recipe from my Mother-in-Law.

Sautéed Okra (Bhindi)

– 1/2 pound of fresh okra

– 1 medium red onion (or equal parts sliced onion to okra)

– 1 tsp of turmeric powder

– 1 tsp of garam masala (I prefer MDH Garam Masala, available at any Indian grocer)

– 1 -2 tsp of hot chili powder (to taste)

– 4 tbsp of vegetable oil (I usually cook with virgin olive oil)

1)  Slice okra pods at an angle, and dispose of the heads

2)  Slice 1 medium red onion lengthwise

3)  Heat oil in a wok or a frying pan (keep burner on medium)

4)  Once oil is hot, add the okra and onions together

5)  Give it 1 or 2 stirs and add all of the spices

6)  Blend and stir

7)  Cover and reduce heat

8 )  Uncover and stir every few minutes until onions and okra are soft.  If the okra onion mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pan, drizzle a little more oil

9)  Remove from heat and enjoy with fresh rotis and a little Indian pickle (aanchar) on the side

We still had the leftover black dal (kali dal) from a few days ago, so I decided to make some healthy brown rice as an accompaniment.

Now the question was what do I have for lunch?  I try to not have the same thing for lunch and dinner.  For no other reason than taste bud burnout.  I had picked up a few goodies from Trader Joe’s and I was going to indulge in half of a small olive pizza but still needed a little something something to feel satiated.  I took a few romaine lettuce leaves, drizzled a little Trader Joe’s Asian vinaigrette dressing and topped it off with a few roasted cashews.  It was as good as it looks, and super easy to prepare.  Healthy and tasty salads need not be mutually exclusive with this variation.

One more plug – if you love hot sauce, this one is simply hands down, the bomb-diggidy.  I first sampled this bottle of wonder on a business trip to Austin, Texas.  Several case load shipments from the manufacturer later, I’m hooked.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  I have hot sauce delivered by the case-load to my house.)

After the shopping expedition this morning, I’m pretty much all set for the tea party.  I spent a couple of minutes this afternoon organizing the various teas I have at home.  I think I came up with a pretty good assortment.

This quickly has become a hodge podge of a post (blame it on the newbie enthusiasm).  I am slowly going to move away from the computer and indulge in a few episodes of Tony Bourdain, Barefoot Contessa, and True Blood Season 1, disc 5 (yes, I have eclectic taste).  Ciao!