Stuffed Peppers & a Winter Salad

Remembering the opposite of California winters...Montana Decembers.
How's winter weather for you? E. Coast, hope you can find a place to put all that snow. On this coast, N. California's been unseasonably warm, then BAM filling up the driveway potholes wet this last weekend. Time for the kind of food that involves roasting tasty things in your oven and lots of citrus to combat the damp/snow/whatever-cold-you're facing.

So, a simple stuffed pepper recipe that'll please a crowd or make your lunch routine easy-peasy. And now that it's February we're remembering those eat-more-salad resolutions from last month...am I right? No gagging on kale and a bunch of raw veggies, this one's delicious I promise!

Stuffed Peppers

6 red peppers (try for ones that have fairly flat bottoms)
1 box of 5-minute cook couscous (I bought Near East's Mediterranean curry, Parmesan & mushroom are both good too)
2 Aidell's Chicken & Apple sausages, sliced in small pieces
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
Small bunch of cilantro

Preheat oven to 350. Slice very top off of peppers, right below where the stem joins the pepper set aside, then hollow out the seeds. Place the peppers, open side up on a baking sheet.

Add a little olive oil to a frying pan and once hot, add the diced onion and saute for 5 or so minutes on medium heat. Add in the diced garlic and sausage. Start couscous below. After sausage is starting to brown, remove the pan from the heat.

Follow the directions on the back of the couscous box, subbing in veggie/chicken stock if you want a bit more flavor. If you're not using boxed couscous, you typically just need to bring the pan's water/stock to a boil, add salt/spices, then pour in the couscous and remove from the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes or so until all the liquid's been absorbed, then fluff with a fork.

Add your frying pan ingredients to the couscous and stir all together. Fill the peppers with the mixture, packed in a bit, up to the top. Stick your pepper lids on and cook in the oven for about an hour. They're done when the pepper skin is starting to wrinkle and you can pierce it with a knife.

Winter Salad (for 2)

2 generous platefuls of mixed greens
2 mandarin oranges
Handful of toasted pecans
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
4-6 cubes crystallized ginger (like from a bulk bin), finely diced
Herbed croutons (if you're lucky enough to have a day-old baguette lying around, toast the bread with a bit of olive oil and make your own)
Either champagne vinaigrette or a citrus-based dressing

Assemble, toss, dress, serve with peppers. Stay warm!


This Would be Garfield’s Second Favorite Dish

Tell me friends, is there anything better than melted cheese? You know, the kind that stretches off whatever food it’s lovingly attached to and sticks to your fork, face and plate? That cheese for me is mozzarella, the glory of Italian cheese. Add a little marinara and then you’ve struck gold.

Okay, big build up I realize. The thing I love about this one is it's a recipe for a fairly simple meal that transports just as well for lunch the follow day (or 2). There are a couple of labor intensive pieces but honestly, you’ll be happy with the effort as soon as it’s out of the oven and on your plate. Promise.

I mean hey, I didn't start this until 10pm so you’re bound to be a smarter person, start earlier and maybe have even better results! (Yep, I'm that person yawning over the oven at midnight because she HAD to have fresh cookies). I'd love to hear how it turns out for you, or your customizations.

Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from Alexandra Stafford’s recipe on Food52

2 globe eggplants, sliced fairly uniformly into ½ inch thick rounds
Salt & Pepper
1.5 cups flour (purists would probably say white, but ww worked fine for me)
4 large eggs
3.5 – 4 cups Panko breadcrumbs
2 cups Parmesan cheese (fresh grated is best)
4 Tbs olive oil
1 large jar of your favorite (or homemade) tomato sauce
8 oz mozzarella (comes in a log with sliced rounds, grated is fine too)
Fresh basil (a must!)

Your zucchini breading station
Grab a bowl and toss the eggplants around with a pinch of salt. Place a colander in the sink and let them sit there and drain for a while, around 30 minutes. (I was tempted in my hunger to skip this step. Don’t. It’s completely worth having crispy eggplant and less extra liquid as you dish it up later).

Heat oven to 425 and stick 2 baking sheets in to preheat. Lay out your station for eggplant breading, beginning with a bowl for the flour and a shake of pepper, a second, smaller bowl for the beaten eggs and a third with the combined breadcrumbs, 1.5 cups of the cheese and a shake of S&P.

Lay out a few metal cooling racks. Spread the eggplant out on dishcloths and pat your first round to prep them for their 3 part dressing before the oven. Tap them around in the flour, dip in the eggs then roll in the cheese/Panko mixture, press it over the whole surface to make sure everything sticks. Place your eggplant rounds on the cooling racks for temporary storage. Your fingers will get completely cheesed and sticky after a while, and your kitchen counter will look like the Pillsbury dough boy tried his hand at baking.

Once all the eggplant’s ready, remove your pans from the oven and pour 2 Tbs of oil over each to coat. Arrange the eggplant over the pans in a single layer. Stick in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked to your liking, then flip and cook for another 5-10 until you can see the cheese turning a little golden but without anything browning too much.

Leave your oven on. Grab a 9x13 baking dish and pour a generous coating of tomato sauce over the bottom, about 1/3 of the jar. Spread half of the eggplant over the bottom, with however an artsy formation you’re feeling. I liked the “shingling” suggested for this recipe even though that required far more eggplant than I ended up with. Pour over another third of the sauce, then sprinkle/place half of your mozzarella on top. Continue with the rest of your eggplant and sauce. Then add the rest of the cheese.

Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling and the sauce looks pretty thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle basil and extra Parmesan over the top and serve with some toasted French bread and a big glass of Merlot!  

- Herby: dried or fresh – a few shakes would shine well, either in the sauce or sprinkled in top. Say oregano, thyme or Herbs de Provence
- Spicy: You could add a shake of cayenne or some roasted red peppers into the sauce
- Meaty: If you prefer protein in your main course, ground turkey could be browned off and added to the layering process or flaked rotisserie chicken could give it a Chicken Cacciatore feel
Cheers to Monday from Miss Julia

How fitting that Food and Wine featured their "old school eggplant parm" for #meatlessmonday last week. Honored to be on the same wavelength...as I drool over their Instagram lately.

Hope it's a good week for everyone!