Stuffed Peppers

I'm sorry.  I apologize for this super-long hiatus in posting.  Life has been, shall we say, really effing crazy lately.  I've barely had time to piss, let alone cook, photograph, and blog about some amazing foods.  I feel bad about the time that has passed since our last encounter.  It's way too long in my book, really.  Oh, FKS blog, how I've missed you.

As some of you know, I've started working again.  This was totally unplanned and quite the surprise.  I really love my job but working coupled with three kids, soccer practice and games, homecoming dances, band rehearsal and gigs, HOA duties, and just basically having a life is a difficult balance for me.  I don't know how you people do it.  I know there are bloggers out there who work full time, have 7 kids, a spouse, and a house full of animals and still manage to post 5 days a week.  Good luck to them and their blood pressure.

So here we are with a fantastic recipe for stuffed peppers.  I actually had never eaten them until I made this recipe.  Therefore, I don't have a great control for what they're supposed to taste like.  All I know is that these are damn good.

The peppers are creamy and silky.  The stuffing is hearty and flavorful.  The sauce tastes like it's been simmering on Grandma's stove for 15 hours.  The best part is they cook in the slow-cooker for hours until perfection.  Really delicious on a chilly autumn evening.  It appears I've really been missing out all these years.

Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4

4 bell peppers - red, orange, and/or yellow
1-1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 c. arborio rice
8 oz. hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 onions, chopped fine
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/8 t. crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2-1/2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (1-1/4 c.)
2 T. chopped fresh basil

Slice off the top half-inch of the peppers.  Seed the inside of the pepper cups.  Chop the pepper tops, excluding the stem.  In a large microwavable bowl, microwave the broth and rice for 13-15 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a large non-stick skillet until browned.  Drain, reserving fat in skillet.  Put sausage in the large bowl with the cooked rice.

Add onion and chopped pepper to skillet and cook until browned, 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes, bring to a boil, and remove from heat.

Mix 1 cup of sauce and 1 cup cheese with the rice and sausage.  Pour the rest of the sauce into the slow-cooker.  Using a skewer, poke 4 holes in the bottom of each pepper cup.  Fill each one with the sausage mixture.  Place in slow-cooker.  Top each pepper with the remaining cheese.  Cover and cook on low for  4 to 4-1/2 hours until peppers are tender.

Once done, remove peppers to a plate.  Stir in the fresh basil to the sauce in the slow-cooker and serve with peppers.

Recipe from Cook's Country August/September '11


Hard Candy

I fondly remember my mom making lollipops in various flavors for us as kids. My favorite flavors were the cinnamon ones but I also loved the root beer flavor. I recently got into making hard candy, and the candies I made here are lemon flavor.  I haven't made a career out of making hard candy, and honestly never could, but it's an easy and fun way to make some yummy candies at home.

I learned the hard way how bloody hot the syrup is.  Molten sugar on your skin basically feels like you've just poured lava on yourself.  It's not such a good feeling so please be super careful.

There are so many flavor options as well.  I get my flavoring, which come in drams (single recipe servings), and candy molds from LorAnn.  I get my lollipop sticks from a craft store.

They have a million different flavors such as blueberry, caramel, cinnamon, cherry, root beer, strawberry, peppermint, and blackberry.  The coloring is just basic food coloring available at the supermarket.

The molds I use are for both lollipops and jewels.  Lollipops are fun to make for the kiddos.  You can also package them in a cellophane bag and tie with a pretty ribbon for a cute gift or party favor.

Hard Candy

2 c. sugar
2/3 c. light corn syrup
3/4 c. water
1 dram (1 t.) flavoring
couple drops food coloring
candy thermometer (if you have one)
powdered sugar (optional)

Lightly oil molds or a baking sheet (for randomly shaped pieces).

In a large saucepan, mix sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Over medium heat, stir until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil without stirring.

When syrup reaches 260*, add a few drops of food coloring.

Don't stir the mixture.  The boiling will distribute the coloring.

It really won't take long for the color to work it's way through.

If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can test the doneness of the syrup by dropping a few drops of syrup into cold water.

If it forms hard, brittle threads in the cold water, it's ready.

If you have a candy thermometer, you're looking for 300*.  When you reach this stage, remove pan from heat.  When the boiling stops, add the flavoring and stir. Be careful because sometimes it will bubble up and the steam can be pretty potent, especially if you're using a strong flavor like cinnamon.

Pour syrup into molds or baking sheet.  If you use a baking sheet, you can score shapes with a knife after it sets up a bit.

When cool, break apart pieces of candy.  You can dust the pieces lightly with powdered sugar to prevent them sticking together as you store them.  Keep in airtight container.

Enjoy your old fashioned hard candy!


Strawberry Shortcake with Buttery Pound Cake

You know how every once in a while you have those amazing moments with your children that make all the bullshit worthwhile?  I had one of those a few weeks ago with my 8-year old daughter.  It's probably not what you think.  She did not form a charity for autism.  Nor did she save a baby from a burning building. However, what she did was remarkable all the same.

My daughter asked to make Strawberry Shortcake together - from scratch!!  Yes, she specifically said, "Can we make strawberry shortcake but make it all from scratch?  Like the cake and the whipped cream and macerate (although she pronounced it mask-er-ite) the strawberries?"  This will go down in the history of our family as one of my proudest moments as a mom.  I've officially succeeded in making my kids food snobs.  Mama couldn't be prouder.

My other daughter, who is almost 7, loves to cook too so we three piled into my sexy mini-van and headed to the store.  The girls sliced the strawberries, measured the ingredients, and added sugar to the cream as it whipped.  It took for-bloody-ever, and as always it's a lesson in patience to cook with kids.  But it was one of those shining times I'll always treasure.

Strawberry Shortcake with Buttery Pound Cake
Serves 6 (healthy sized portions)

2 lbs. strawberries, hulled, cored, sliced
2 T. sugar

2 sticks butter
6 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1-3/4 c. cake flour
1/2 t. table salt
1-1/4 c. sugar

1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla

Mix sliced strawberries and sugar in a bowl.  Set aside, covered.

Cut butter into chunks and place in bowl of electric mixer.  You want to bring this to just below room temp.  Beat lightly 3 whole eggs, 3 egg yolks, and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup.  Set aside to come to room temp with the butter.

Heat oven to 325*.  Butter and flour a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Using the paddle attachment, beat butter and salt for 2-3 minutes, until shiny and smooth, scraping down sides.  Very slowly pour 1-1/4 c. sugar into bowl while running on medium high speed.  Let it run for 5-8 minutes, scraping down sides as necessary.  You're looking for a very pale, fluffy butter mixture.  Turn machine to medium and very slowly pour egg mixture into bowl, scraping down sides.  Turn to med-high and let run for 3-4 minutes.  It's ok if it looks slightly curdled.

In three additions, sift the cake flour over the bowl and fold into the butter mixture with a spatula.  Don't over-mix or the cake will end up tough.

Pour into loaf pan and smooth top.  Bake 70-80 minutes until golden brown and passes the toothpick test.  Let cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes.  Turn out and flip so it's right side up on wire rack and let cool 2 hours before slicing.

To assemble Strawberry Shortcakes:

Place cream in clean bowl of mixer.  With whisk attachment, beat until it starts to increase in volume.   Add the vanilla and slowly add the sugar until stiff peaks form.

Place one or two slices of pound cake on plate.  Top with macerated strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream.

Recipe for pound cake adapted from Cook's Illustrated


Corn Chowder

This summer my addiction to corn has reached new heights.  I've eaten so much corn this season I'm pretty sure I'm single-handedly supporting the local farmers.  I've had friends from the past and co-workers emailing me corn recipes (all of which look delicious).  The old lady who sells corn at the end of her farm's driveway has become my new best friend.

When I lived in France, I craved corn something fierce.  Maybe it was my Indiana roots calling me.  Or perhaps it's because so many French people see corn as only a salad topping or feed for the pigs.  I've since made up for losing those 3 years of daily corn.

Summer and hot soup don't really seem to go together.  However, there is nothing better than farm-fresh sweet corn in a steaming bowl of Corn Chowder on a stormy night.  We pair it with a crusty baguette (but then again we pair almost everything with bread).  This chowder is thick and rich and very corny.  So many chowders are overwhelmed by potato flavor, but not this one.  The trick is (gasp!) pureeing canned corn and adding in fresh from-the-cob corn for the, well, fresh corn flavor.  You'll also use the naked cobs to thicken the chowder.

Corn Chowder
Serves 6-8

6 ears corn
2 (15 oz.) cans whole kernel corn, drained (I like Libby's Organic)
5 c. low-sodium chicken broth
5 slices center-cut bacon (or 3 regular)
1 onion, chopped
1 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed and diced 1/2-inch
1 c. heavy cream
4 scallions, sliced thin

Cut kernels from cobs.  An easy way to do this is to cut off one end, set the cob upright, and carefully slice kernels off.  Keep both the kernels and cobs.

Puree the cans of corn in a blender with 2 cups of chicken broth until smooth.

Cook bacon in Dutch oven until crisp.  Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Cook onion, corn kernels, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the bacon grease until softened and golden.

Add potatoes, corn puree, remaining 3 cups broth, and cobs to Dutch oven and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove and throw away cobs.  Stir in cream, scallions, and bacon.  Season to taste.

Recipe adapted from Cook's Country June/July 09


Cherry Tomato Salads ~ Caprese and Tuscan

I'm going to apologize now for yet another tomato recipe.  I have so many from the garden it seems it's all we eat anymore and I'm always looking for new ways to prepare and showcase them.  For some damn reason, I decided to plant 32 tomato plants, 16 of which are cherry tomato varieties.  I mean, really.  Who can eat that many cherry tomatoes?  It seems we can.  You know how babies who eat too much squash get orange skin?  I'm pretty sure we five will turn red any day now.

I sent my almost-7 year old daughter out to pick some "little tomatoes" for me and she came back with a shitload.  There went the old salad topping idea. Instead I was forced to make the tomatoes the base for the salad.  And I'm so glad I did.

I made two different kinds on two different nights.  That's why some of the photos look bad ~ the fact that we were eating it at 9:30 pm really blew for lighting.  I've done my amateur best to make them look presentable but they still look terrible.  Sorry.

I used what my daughter picked, which was a combination of Sungold (the orange ones), Sweet Million, and Sugary.

The two tomato salads I made were a Caprese and a Tuscan salad.  Both delicious but the Tuscan one was particularly yummy with the addition of creamy cannellini beans.  Once you get the basic idea, it's a breeze to come up with new flavors.

Caprese Cherry Tomato Salad
Serves 4 for side ~or~ 2 for a meal
40 minutes

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 t. sugar
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. olive oil
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 c. torn fresh basil

Toss tomatoes, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl.  Let macerate for 30 minutes.  Dump the tomatoes and any juice into a salad spinner and spin to dry tomatoes.  Save that precious liquid though!  Return tomatoes to bowl.  Strain tomato liquid over a small saucepan to remove seeds.

Add vinegar and garlic to tomato liquid and simmer until reduced to 3 or 4 tablespoons.  Cool to room temp.  Whisk in oil.

Add cheese, basil, and vinegar/juice mixture to tomatoes in bowl.  Toss and season.

Tuscan Cherry Tomato Salad
Serves 4 for side ~or~ 2 for a meal
40 minutes

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 t. sugar
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. shaved Parmesan 
1 T. minced fresh rosemary
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Toss tomatoes, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl.  Let macerate for 30 minutes.  Dump the tomatoes and any juice into a salad spinner and spin to dry tomatoes.  Save that precious liquid!  Return tomatoes to bowl.  Strain tomato liquid over a small saucepan to remove seeds.  

Add vinegar and garlic to tomato liquid and simmer until reduced to 3 or 4 tablespoons.  Cool to room temp.  Whisk in oil.

Add cheese, rosemary, beans, and vinegar/juice mixture to tomatoes in bowl.  Toss and season.

**Update: Not wanting to wait to macerate the tomatoes, I shortened the prep time and it turned out even better!  New recipe below...

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. sugar
3 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. minced fresh rosemary
1 c. cubes of Parmesan (I use small chunks about the size of a nickel)
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Toss tomatoes, rosemary, Parm, and beans in a bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil over med-high heat.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.  Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and whisk to dissolve.  Allow to cool.  Add vinegar and whisk to combine.

Pour dressing over tomato mixture and toss to combine.

Adapted from Cook's Country 2009


Cheese Crostini with Anchovy Herb Butter

Let it be known that I hate fish.  I despise the taste of fish, the look of fish with their beady eyes and hard mouths and scales and fins, the smell of fish which makes me gag, the fact that they swim and don't have arms and legs, the nasty water they live in, the tiny bones, and the open gaping mouths.  Don't get me wrong - I think some of them are beautiful and I always feel sorry for them when they have a big hook crammed in their bleeding mouths.

So why the hell am I writing about a fish recipe?  Because I'm an outside-the-box kinda gal.  Oh, and I have been craving anchovies for years now but never had the balls to actually do anything about it.

I've been told that someone who hates anchovies has only had the slimy pizza topping ones.  I was willing to try a new way of eating them as long as I could do it myself.  I couldn't trust my first (as an adult) anchovy experience to be handled by anyone else.  I had to make sure I knew each and every component that went into this food.

Can I say that I was blown away by this appetizer?  I had my doubts but damn, it is good!  The herbs impart a freshness and the cheese is bland enough not to overpower the strong herb and anchovy taste.  Please try this dish, even if you hate fish with a passion like I do.  You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Cheese Crostini with Anchovy Herb Butter
Serves 4 for an appetizer

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
4 T. Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 t. chopped fresh thyme
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. grated lemon zest
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 baguette, sliced
1 c. grated Provolone

Pre-heat oven to 425*.

Melt the butter in small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the anchovies and stir until they dissolve.  That will take about 3 minutes.  Add the herbs, garlic, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes.

Place baguette slices on a baking sheet.  Spread/brush herb butter over each piece.  Sprinkle with the cheese.  Bake until the cheese is melted and bread edges are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis's recipe


Tomato Pie

Last night, I met a fantastic group of women.  My friend A hosted a slumber party for 6 of her friends.  There were no kids and no men.  And lots of booze.  There was a massage therapist there to work out the kinks and a pool to laze by.  And piña coladas and martinis and margaritas.  Each of us contributed to the meal - a baked potato bar with homemade garden salsa and other fixin's, fresh salad with home-grown tomatoes and hot peppers, luscious desserts, and plenty of alcohol. Have I mentioned that already??

I opted to bring a tomato pie as I have an abundance of the fruit staring me in the face.  It was a hit. In fact, the slice in the photos was the last man standing.  We women - all mothers, all wives, and all who have seen their fair share of tragedy, ate until we could burst.  And then we drank some more.

A big-ass storm came through and interrupted our poolside chatting, but after it left the area, we were given a little gift in the form of a double rainbow.  The lower rainbow got super bright so I had to photograph it.

Tomato Pie is a great way to use up extra tomatoes from the garden or the ones you buy from the old lady at the end of her driveway selling them for $1 a pound. Either way, because tomato is the star ingredient here, don't buy some shitty supermarket tomatoes that are spotty pink on the outside and mealy and flavorless on the inside.  Heirlooms are the best, however I realize they are hard to find.

You could take a spin on the recipe below and change it up a bit to suit your tastes. Instead of cheddar, use Monterey Jack and add some minced jalapeños for a southwestern kick.  Or use shredded mozzarella and fresh basil for an Italian style pie.

The women I laughed and cried with last night (J, A, K, L, T, and of course A) are truly remarkable ladies and I'm happy to have shared time with them.

Tomato Pie
Serves 8
1 hr plus cooling time

2 pie dough rounds (I used 1 package Pillsbury)
2 lbs. tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/4" thick
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. mayonnaise
4 t. cornstarch
1-1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar
4 scallions, sliced thin

Roll dough into 12-inch circles.  I rolled the Pillsbury ones out slightly as well.  Place one in a 9-inch pie dish and cover with plastic wrap.  Place the second dough round on plastic wrap and cover with plastic on top.  Refrigerate both for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place sliced tomatoes on a paper towel lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 minutes.  Blot with paper towels until they look pretty dry.

With oven rack on lowest position, place a baking sheet in the oven and heat to 450*.  The hot baking sheet will help seal and brown the bottom crust.

Mix mayo, cornstarch, and 1 cup of cheese.  Sprinkle remaining 1/2-cup cheese on bottom of dough in the pie plate.  Layer 1/3 of the tomatoes on top of the cheese.  Spread half the mayo cheese mixture on top of the tomatoes and top with half the scallions.  Add another 1/3 of tomatoes and top with the mayo cheese mixture, then the rest of the scallions.  Place the remaining tomatoes on top.

Place the other dough round on top of the pie, trim edges, fold, and crimp.  Cut 4 ovals in the top of the pie to allow the steam to vent.  Place pie on hot baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes.  Lower oven temperature to 325* and bake until crust is golden brown, 30 minutes for store-bought dough and 40 minutes for homemade.  Cool for 3 hours on wire rack.  Serve at room temp.

Recipe adapted from Cooks' Country 2009


Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip

As many of you know, I have a garden full of damn tomatoes.  Like totally full.  I planted 32 tomato plants and found many rogue ones sprouting up as well.  It's a jungle in there.  Since I got a late start planting, as many of us did due to heavy rains and cool weather, I didn't have any freshly ripened red tomatoes by mid-July as I normally do.  Seeing these huge tomato tentacles with a million unripe tomatoes on them, screaming na-na-na-na-boo-boo, pissed me off.  What did I do?  I fought back.

I marched my ass out into their territory and, with fists on hips, (silently) said a little, "Screw you.  I'm going to eat you now.  Even though you're not ready, I am."  I plucked a few of those big, hard, green orbs in a huff and turned on my heel and stormed back inside.  And with the acquired enemy material, I set off to make some Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip.

My husband had never eaten fried green tomatoes until that night.  The poor soul grew up in California so had never experienced this southern delight.  Truth be told, we northerners didn't partake either, but I had at least eaten them before.  Each time I had consumed these gems, I liked them but knew they could be better.

The tartness of the unripe tomato comes out warm and silky after frying.  The contrast in textures is unreal - the creamy tomatoes paired with the crunch of the coating is to die for.  Add a spicy chipotle buttermilk dip and you're set for an evening of pure southern deliciousness.

So for those of you who still have green tomatoes mocking you from your garden, or are salivating so greatly at the thought that you're planning on donning a ghillie suit and raiding your neighbor's garden, try this out.  You won't be disappointed.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip
Serves 2 for a meal ~or~ 4 for a side

1-1/2 lbs. green tomatoes (4-5 large)
2/3 c. cornmeal
1/3 c. flour
1-1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
2/3 c. buttermilk
1 egg
2 c. vegetable or peanut oil
3 large chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
1 t. buttermilk
1/2 c. sour cream
pinch Kosher salt

Slice tomatoes 1/4" thick.  Place flat on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.  Cover with another layer of paper towels and let sit 20 minutes.  Pat dry.

Meanwhile, zip 1/3 cup cornmeal in a food processor until ground finely.  Mix ground cornmeal, cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a shallow dish.  In another shallow dish, whisk 2/3 cup buttermilk and egg.

One at a time, dip a tomato slice in the buttermilk mixture, then in the cornmeal mixture, pressing to adhere.  Place on clean baking sheet as you continue with the rest.

Heat oil in large skillet to 350*.  Fry the tomato slices in the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan.  They will fry about 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown.  Place on a rack set inside baking sheet.  Feel free to place in a warm 200* oven while you fry the rest.

Mix the chipotles, buttermilk, sour cream, and pinch of salt in a small bowl.  Thin with additional buttermilk if you'd like.

FGT Recipe adapted from Cook's Country 


Tropical Oatmeal Brulee with Ginger-Orange Cream

I have been craving oatmeal lately and wanted a "summery" way to eat it.  I usually gorge on the good stuff during fall and winter so I thought making a tropical fruit oatmeal would make it seem more appropriate for the season.  Well, it is delicious but it's also heavy and rich. 

As my friend and taste-tester H.G. pointed out, this would also be fabulous as a dessert topped with vanilla bean ice cream or whipped cream. 

In my version, I use dried mango, papaya, raisins, pineapple, and coconut.  And I use fresh mango for the surprise bottom layer.  However, you can sub in whatever fruits you'd like to.  Any sort of fresh berries would be great with dried apricots, cherries, or cranberries.  Go crazy, friends!

Tropical Oatmeal Brulee with Ginger-Orange Cream
Makes 4 servings
Time: 30-40 min.

Ginger-Orange Cream:
1/2 c. heavy cream
1" knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 4 pieces
1 cinnamon stick
1 T. orange zest
3 T. pure maple syrup
1/4 t. ground nutmeg

4 c. water
2 c. old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1/2 c. dried fruit, chopped (I use pineapple, mango, papaya, raisins, and coconut)
1/2 t. salt
3 T. brown sugar, packed
1 c. fresh or frozen fruit, thawed (I use mango)
1/4 c. sugar
butter for ramekins

Bring the cream, ginger, cinnamon, and zest to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 10 minutes.  Strain infused cream and discard solids.  Stir in the maple syrup and nutmeg.

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Turn heat to medium, and add the oats, dried fruit, and salt, stirring for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar and 1/4 c. of the ginger-orange cream.  Cover and let stand 5 minutes. 

Grease four 10-oz. ramekins with butter and add the fresh mango to the bottom.

Pre-heat broiler and place ramekins on baking sheet lined with foil for easy clean up.  Fill ramekins with oatmeal.  Sprinkle tops with sugar.  Broil until sugar is caramelized.  Serve with ginger-orange cream (or ice cream or whipped cream).

If you have any fresh ginger left over, go ahead and make a simple syrup infused with ginger for a delicious Ginger Vodka Tonic.