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...)