Receipt: Damn Good Stuffed Peppers

Sometimes, cooking dinner just needs to be down and dirty. Easy. No frills. Healthy. Easy. Tasty. Did I mention easy?

This is one of those dishes. Stuffed peppers featuring uber-good-for-you quinoa, ground turkey and spinach are the epitome of healthy food. This recipe makes one super fresh dish – especially when paired with a homemade quick-whipped-up tomato sauce. And best of all – the filling could also be used as a vehicle to sneak in other veggies like carrots or peas or mushrooms into the diet of unsuspecting picky- eating diners. What more could you ask for?

Good cooks aren’t just craftsman – we’re crafty too.


Damm Good Stuffed Peppers
6 bell peppers (I prefer red)
1 cup quinoa
1 pound ground turkey meat
½ large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce (recipe follows or use a good quality jarred brand)
2 teaspoons hot sauce (I used Garlic Goodness from the Intensity Academy – highly recommended!)
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons pepper
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 bag baby spinach, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Add quinoa to 2 cups water or organic chicken broth. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer until water is gone, about 10-15 minutes.

Brown turkey meat in large skillet, breaking up with spoon or potato masher (try this – it really works well!) When brown and cooked, remove from pan with slotted spoon and set aside. Don’t drain pan.

While turkey meat is cooking, cut tops and bottoms off peppers and dice. Combine with chopped onion and garlic. Add to turkey cooking skillet (may need to add a bit of olive oil for cooking) and sauté until onion is soft and slightly brown. Add tomato sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Mix in spinach and sauté until spinach cooks down. Combine the above with cooked turkey, quinoa, pine nuts and feta.

Remove the inside of the peppers, including seeds. Portion the mixture into each of the peppers and set in 9 X 12 baking dish. Top each with feta cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.

Quickie Marinara Sauce (totally worth the time to make this)
2 (14.5 oz) cans organic stewed tomatoes OR 3 cups, give or take, oven roasted tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can organic tomato paste
big handful fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, smashed
fresh oregano and/or basil
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup onion, finely diced
½ cup dry white wine

In food processor, add tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

In large saucepan over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add tomato mixture and wine. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Receipt: Chicken Florentine Lasagna

Most folks go on vacation to get away from cooking. Not me.

When we pack up the family roadster in the summertime and head out for our week at the beach, the car contains at least one of my preferred cooking vessels and my favorite knives. We vacation with folks I love whom I don’t get to see very often – cooking a couple of meals for the gang lets me take care of some of my favorite people. It’s taken me a couple of years to find the balance between preparing too much food, planning too many meals and spending too much time in the kitchen (even in my bathing suit with a wine cooler at my side, it does get a little old. And hot.)

This was the first year I didn’t make a couple of my beach “signature” dishes – pans of lasagna. That’s good crowd food – easy to prepare in advance, makes great leftovers and kid-friendly. I usually make it two ways – the traditional, with meat-laden tomato sauce, béchamel and ricotta; and a change up with chicken, white sauce, and spinach.

I was asked by every person that crossed the threshold of our house if we were going to have lasagna night – and to a person, each face took on a look of sadness when I said no. While the traditional lasagna is good, they were all hoping that the chicken version was hiding in the fridge, waiting for some oven time.

It’s not a complicated recipe. And it uses both my favorite time saving ingredient – the deli roasted chicken – and one of my least favorite – cream of anything soup. But it’s worth it. Try it. You’ll see.

FYI: The spinach can be left out if you’ve got picky eaters. Then it would be Chicken Alfredo Lasagna. But I digress…


Chicken Florentine Lasagna
8 ounce pkg lasagne noodles
3 cups half-and-half
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup butter
1 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion
4 cloves garlic
1 roasted chicken, skinned, deboned and shredded
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 package frozen spinach, thawed
3 cups italian blend cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook lasagne noodles for 8-10 minutes. Do not overcook. 

In saucepan over low heat, mix half & half, soup, Parmesan and butter. Simmer until well blended, stirring often.

 Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until tender; mix in chicken and cook until heated through.

 Lightly coat bottom of 9 x 13 baking dish with enough cream sauce to coat. Layer 1/3 lasagna noodles, 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/2 spinach, 1/2 chicken mixture and 1 cup mozzarella. Top with 1/2 cream sauce then repeat layers. Place remaining noodles on top. Spread with rest of sauce.

 Bake one hour until brown and bubbly. Top with rest of mozzarella and finish baking until cheese melted and lightly browned.


Want Don't Need: Le Creuset Cassoulet Set

We moved into a new house about six months ago. And while there are still myriad things to do to make this house look like our home -- putting pictures on the wall and getting my office/closet room organized tied for the top position on that list -- there is one room where I am still unpacking boxes of stuff.

The kitchen

Try to contain your surprise.

It's not just gadgets, either -- it's the accoutrements that go along with the gadgets. The serving pieces. Platters. Bowls. Divided servers. Fondue accessories. Marble cheese blocks. A coordinated set of a pitcher/three-bowl-salsa-server/margarita glass salter.

I never realized how many Southern Living at Home and Pampered Chef parties I attended until I started unpacking this crap. Damn.

So when I saw a New! featured item from Le Creuset pop up on my Facebook page this morning I had to check it out.

The Le Creuset Cassoulet Set. A cooking vessel with matching serving bowls.

Have I ever made cassoulet? Who cares! This set is so darm fabulous that I will learn! (By the way, I haven't. Yet.)

Does it matter that the color isn't/doesn't match my existing collection of kiwi Le Creuset? Not at all! Variety is good!

Just look at that blueberry cobbler, sitting there so tempting -- the cookware makes it look good. Heh.

I'm just going to add this to my rolling wish list for now -- it's definitely a Want Don't Need item. But my birthday is coming up soon, so who knows... there might be a cassoulet thank you for some lucky soul.

Just keep that in mind.


Inside the Collection: The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean

Growing up, my exposure to the Cuisines of the World was what you might you call limited. Sure, I knew about Spanish/Cuban food, as I took Spanish all through elementary/middle/high school from teachers who were native speakers. Arroz con pollo es muy delicioso! Mexican made its appearance on the table every once in a while when dinner a la Old El Paso was on the menu. And Chinese was mostly relegated to occasional trips to the very exotic buffet restaurant (which is still there) up the street.

When I started dating The Mister lo those man years later, one of our favorite places for a lunch date was downtown – and featured Mediterranean cuisine. Something new! Fresh! Exciting! A real Cuisine of the World! He was a devotee of a dish on the menu called the Mediterranean sampler – it featured baba ghanoush, taboulleh and hummus. Being the eager-to-please girlfriend and burgeoning cook, I decided to try and replicate this at home, along with my favorite dish -- sharwarma. Damn, was that good. Fifteen years later, I can still remember it.

I got as far with my big plans as purchasing this cookbook:

It sat on my bookshelves for years, spine cracked only for a cursory look inside.

Until now. Welcome to the first installment of Inside the Collection , where I take a cookbook from my ridiculously large cookbook collection (to be known going forward as The Collection) and test drive a recipe from it.

After flipping through Paula Wolfert’s extraordinarily detailed book and perusing things, I decided to get back to basics and try one of the first entries.

Hummus. Oft made. Not always successfully.

This recipe is not a difficult one. There aren’t a lot of ingredients. It just takes a little planning, a bit of time and a smidge of that cook’s sixth sense to achieve balance. I usually just use my eyes and my pinky finger as a taste tester for that one. Nothing to it.

I asked The Mister, as official sampler, to describe this after I thought I got it right. He just used one word: fresh. Can’t beat that.

After making it a couple of times (much to the delight of the Official Sampler) I tinkered with things only a very little bit, adding some garlic on the front end. But that’s about it. This recipe shines just as it’s written.

Hummus (very very slightly adapted from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert)

1 cup dried chickpeas
1 small onion, peeled
2 small cloves garlic, peeled

¼ cup tahini
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with ½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice or more to taste

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
ground cumin, paprika or pomegranate seeds for garnish

Soak the chickpeas overnight (or for 8 hours) in water to cover. Drain, rinse and cook with onion and garlic in water to cover until the chickpeas are very soft. For me, this took around two hours. Keep checking after the hour mark to test the peas. You may need to add more water during the cooking process. Reserve ½-3/4 cup cooking liquid, then drain. Set aside ¼ cup chickpeas for garnish. Discard the onion and garlic.
Stir up the tahini with the oil in its container until well blended. Put tahini in blender or food processor and add garlic/salt mash and lemon juice. Blend/mix until mixture whitens. With machine running, add ½ cup cooking liquid. Add 1-3/4 cups chickpeas and process until well blended. You may want to add more cooking liquid depending on the consistency of the mixture. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and lemon juice as needed. Allow dip to mellow at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
To serve, spread on shallow serving dish. Use the back of a spoon to make a well in the center; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin, paprika or pomegranate seeds. Serve with as good quality pita bread as you can find.
This isn't your pre-packaged supermarket grab and go nosh. This is a dip worth savoring, so simple that each flavor is allowed to shine. So easy to prepare. The most difficult thing about it is remembering to start it in advance. But that may be more me than you.

Try this the next time you want a lovely accompaniment for a nice chilled white wine on a warm summer's eve. Trust me.

(By the way, I did the homemade pita bread thing for this as well. But we’ll save that little lesson for another day. It’s too hot to heat up the kitchen at the moment...)


Receipt: French Onion Soup

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a “What the hell?” attitude.
~ Julia Child

It was my Saturday afternoon ritual. Make a sandwich. Grab a cold drink. Go to my room. Shut the door. Turn on the TV -- a little black and while model. Change the channel to our local PBS station. Settle back into my black bean bag chair. And wait for that jaunty theme music.

I was twelve years old.

And Julia Child was my idol.

It was French Chef time.

Life itself is the proper binge.
~ Julia Child

I don’t know where I got my intense, passionate, almost obsessive love of cooking. My paternal Grandma was a damn good cook; my maternal Nana wasn’t bad. My mom cooked, but it wasn't her passion.

But me -- I not only inherited the cooking gene from my ancestors, I got bit by the culinary bug as well. My earliest memory is of my four-year-old self being lifted up to take a look at the Thanksgiving turkey roasting in the oven.

And I did time with a couple of kids cookbooks -- pouring over the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls like it was the Magna Carta, devising menus and mentally tinkering with recipes.

For some reason, my mother had a subscription to Bon Appétit magazine. Every month when the latest issue arrived in the mailbox, it spent about two days on the family room coffee table, then disappeared into my room. I cut recipes out like a girl possessed, treating them as lovingly as I did my pin-up poster boys from Tiger Beat. I’m not sure what I was thinking, as at that point in my life (and my family’s taste buds), there was no way I would be making 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken, but I had the recipe. Just in case.

I don’t remember what brought me to my Saturday afternoons with Julia. Chances are I read about the programming lineup in TV Guide and just tuned in one day. Instantly hooked.

I watched Julia, with her non-intimidating style and deceptive skill, move ‘round her TV kitchen and create dishes the likes of which I’d never seen before in my home kitchen. Salade niçoise. Chocolate Mousse. Veal Prince Orloff. Which, of course, I knew about, thanks to a favorite episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Never use water unless you have to! I'm going to use vermouth!
~ Julia Child

So imagine my delight when under the Christmas tree in December ‘77, I found this.

Between that and the other fab book I received that year (Scarlett Fever - The Ultimate Pictorial Treasury of Gone With the Wind) I spent all of the 25th and most of the 26th reading until my eyes grew heavy with exhaustion.

As I read though my new treasure, my mind pondered all the possibilities. What would be the first thing I would make under Julia’s guidance and following her directions... which recipe would be the one that I would use as my jumping off point into the world of serious cooking.

The answer soon became apparent: French onion soup.

Onion soup sustains. The process of making it is somewhat like the process of learning to love. It requires commitment, extraordinary effort, time, and will make you cry.
~ Ronni Lundy

The recipe looked simple enough. Not many ingredients to bog down a new cook. Nothing too unusual to intimidate. And it was something that everyone in my immediate family might dig.

And so I began a ritual that I would continue to this day. I’ve been making Julia’s French onion soup for thirty years. Happily. When I was single and living on my own, it was my family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner -- everyone would come to whatever hovel I was living in at the time for soup, salad, wine and conversation after the Christmas Eve church service. These days, I make it when the air turns cool and the palette craves a bit of familiar sophistication.

My cooking technique has improved over the years, as have the tools of my trade. And I think the soup I make now reflects the maturity of its creator. But honestly, there was something so perfectly delicious about those first batches of soup my idealistic teenage hands made. I infused the hearty melange with my youthful enthusiasm and zest. It in turn gave me confidence and a sense of self not known before. I wooed men with my soup. I cared for ailing friends with my soup. I helped to ease the grieving process of loved ones with my soup.

I've done a bit of reading over the years about Julia and her life and accomplishments. The most interesting tidbit -- and the one I shall remember always -- was what she had for her last meal the night before she passed away.

French onion soup.

Bon Appétit!


Julia’s Soupe à l'oignon, pretty much as is, The French Chef Cookbook
3 Tb. butter
1 Tb. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. or about 6 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
1 t. salt
1/2 t. sugar
3 Tb. flour
6 cups organic beef broth
1 c. red wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. rubbed sage
salt & pepper

Melt the butter with the oil in a dutch oven and add the sliced onions and stir up to coat. Cover pan and cook over moderately low heat until translucent, about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover pan, turn up heat to medium-high and add salt and sugar. Sugar, by caramelizing, helps onions to brown. Stirring frequently, cook for another 20-30 minutes until the onions are deep brown and jam-like. Meanwhile, heat broth to a simmer in a separate pan.

Lower heat to moderate and add flour to onions. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously, to brown the flour. Remove from heat and whisk in one cup of the hot broth. Add the rest of the broth, wine, bay leaf and sage, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Soupe à l'oignon gratinée (which really is the only way to eat it)
The soup!
1 baguette
olive oil
1 1/2 c. grated Gruyère/Emmentaler/Baby Swiss and Parmesan cheese, mixed

Cut bread into slices about 1 inch thick, paint lightly with olive oil and arrange in one layer on baking sheet. Place in middle of preheated 325-degree oven for 15-20 minutes until beginning to brown lightly; turn and brown lightly on other side for 15-20 minutes. These are called croûtes.

Ladle soup into heat-proof bowls and top with a couple of the croûtes and grated cheese. Broil until bubbly on top. Serve.

Warning: hot melted cheese is akin to culinary napalm -- if not careful, you could burn the hell out of the inside of your mouth and render your taste buds helpless for a short period of time. Eat wisely. It’s worth it.

Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.
~ Julia Child


Pimp: Penzey’s Spices

I’m one of those folks who like sharing the joy when I know about a product or service or company or, well, anything that I like and respect. As such things come to mind or are discovered, I’ll take a moment or seven (these posts don’t witty-up and write themselves, you know…) to tell you about them. Just look for my blingy chalice for one of these Pimp-ed out posts.

In the pile of j-u-n-q-u-e the postie brought today was my quarterly catalog from Penzey’s Spices. I did a little happy dance in my front foyer. Penzey’s! Spice nirvana! Essences and enhancements as far as the eye can see.

It’s a bit of well-seasoned heaven for those of us who like to cook.

Do y'all know about Penzey's? Let me enlighten you...

Penzey’s Spices carries over 250 herbs, spices and seasoning blends from literally around the world. Eight different curry combinations. Chili peppers, with heat unit classifications to help you decide what level of thermonuclear kaboom you want in your dish. Salad dressing combos. Highest quality vanilla. Spices for baking. Barbequing. Extracts. Salts. Spices you’ve heard of – and spices you haven’t.

Yeah. I’m a fan.

I’ve given their cocoa mix as part of holiday gift baskets and sent guests home with salad dressing mix. My kitchen spice cabinet looks like a Penzey’s showcase.

The company is big-time, with an increasing number of retail outlets in addition to a booming mail order business, but still has a very customer-friendly feel. Each catalog is filled with recipes that showcase the spices. Each item has a very comprehensive description, which is very helpful for trying that new-to-you spice or seasoning.

Have I sold you yet?

You might think that being such a niche kind of business, Penzey’s might be uber-expensive. They’re not cheap –but they’re not over-priced either. For the quality and variety, it’s coin well spent. In that same vein, they offer spices in different amounts/sizes. I recommend ordering the smallest amount (usually ¼ cup) to see if you like it and to see how often/ how much you’ll be using. Once you figure that out, there are larger quantity options to meet whatever need you probably have.

My final suggestion: go visit the website (penzeys.com) and sign up to receive a hard copy catalog. You’ll not only get a welcome piece of mail from the postie, but this is one instance that the catalog is a better “sell” for the company than the no-frills but easy-to-access website.

And when you do place your order (how’s that for positive thinking!) drop me a line and let me know what you bought. We can compare notes. And you might give me an idea for something to add to my next order. Mwha ha ha.

FYI: I’m not a Penzey’s employee/compensated shill. I just really dig the company and wanted to share.


WFD: Chicken Tortellini Florentine Soup

As you might imagine, I'm an aficionado serio of any cooking programming on the telly. Bourdain (who I'm going to see and meet & greet in November. Yeah. I'm excited.) Any food thing on Bravo. The new and fab Cooking Channel. And of course, the granddaddy of them all -- Food Network.

True confession: I usually reserve my FN viewing for the true, pure cooking shows -- I'm not much for the specials and such, save for Chopped -- and that's mostly because i adore Ted Allen and Alex Guarnaschelli (with whom I sometimes chat on Twitter. But I digress. Again.) And The Collection is full of books from those who host shows on the network...

...Ina Garten. Alton Brown. Ina Garten. Mario Batali. Ina Garten. Emeril (does he even need a last name?). Did I mention Ina Garten?

However, there's one personality (note the word choice) I cannot stand, nay abide. That Sandra Lee. She bugs. And while I could rant on and on about her, I won't. I will say that I don't consider her a chef -- she's an assembler. She usually puts things together using a plethora of prepackaged stuff. Much of which isn't healthy or good-for-you. But...

OK. Stopping now.

That being said... every once in a while, on a busy night, I turn into an assembler, albeit one with a conscience. This soup is my favorite go-to when I need something for dinner and don't have a grocery list put together. I can remember all the elements on the fly. It goes together quickly and actually uses some fresh ingredients. I've adapted it a bit from the original recipe, which I found in a copy of Better Homes & Gardens on a trip to the in-laws. As with most chicken soups, it's always good for what ails you. Even if you're a temporary assembler.


Chicken Tortellini Florentine Soup
(adapted from a Better Homes & Gardens recipe)

1-20oz. pkg. refrigerated 3-cheese tortellini
1 qt + 1 cup organic chicken broth
2-10oz. containers refrigerated light alfredo pasta sauce
1 whole rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 jar oil-packed dried tomato strips,drained
1 pkg. lightly packed packaged fresh baby spinach
juice of one lemon
parmesan cheese, shaved or shredded

In a 4 qt. pot, cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain; set aside.

In a dutch oven, combine broth and alfredo sauce. Stir in chicken, spinach and tomato strips. Heat till just boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered about 5 minutes.

Add cooked tortellini to soup. Cook 1 to 2 mins. to heat through. Squeeze lemon juice into soup; stir.

To serve, sprinkle with parmesan cheese.