Mix-and-match stuffed veggies

July 5, 2012

Somewhere along the way, stuffed bell peppers and zucchini became more like bad eggplant parmesan and less like roasted veggies. Let’s correct that, shall we?

The best part about stuffed vegetables is that they’re perfect for improvisation (even for a recipe-follower like me). Don’t have any tomatoes? Toss in some corn instead. Have some leftover rotisserie chicken in the fridge? Toss that in there too. And if you don’t have any vegetables for stuffing, you can just throw everything into a Pyrex dish and bake until bubbly.

Step 1: Choose a container

  • Bell peppers. I usually serve this as a main course, so I do one pepper per person. Yellow, orange and red peppers are all great. Green ones are fine in a pinch.
  • Zucchini. Ever wondered what to do with those gigantic summer zucchini? Now you know.
  • An 8×8 casserole dish

For bell peppers, slice them in half lengthwise (through the stem) and remove veins and seeds.

For zucchini, leave the peels on and slice them in half lengthwise. Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out the centers, leaving about 1/4″ on the edges and bottom. (For a great visual tutorial, see this post.) Set the centers aside; you’ll need them later.

For both bell peppers and zucchini, preheat an outdoor grill or preheat your oven to 375°. Brush veggies lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (or herbed salt, which is what I started using recently and LOVE). Bake (cut side up) or grill (cut side down) for 5 minutes or so, until they start to look tender inside.

For the casserole dish, preheat your oven to 375° and spray your dish with a little nonstick spray.

Step 2: Choose your fillings

First of all, you’re going to need cheese. I usually use the Tillamook Italian cheese blend, but just about anything works. Use what you have on hand, and plan on around 1/4 cup per zucchini or pepper.

Now, pick a few vegetables, and dice them all the same size:

  • Grape tomatoes (or any other kind of tomato, but if you use big ones, you’ll want to seed them first)
  • Zucchini. If you’re stuffing zucchini, dice up the centers that you scooped out. If you’re stuffing something else, peel and dice a medium-size zucchini.
  • Onion. Red is my favorite, but use what you like.
  • Corn (frozen or canned, or fresh if you have it)
  • Diced green chilis
  • Bell pepper. If you’re stuffing bell peppers, I wouldn’t put extra peppers inside, but if you’re stuffing something else, it’s tasty.

Optionally, include a starch or two. I only include these if I’m doing a casserole, but more traditional stuffed peppers always have rice in ‘em:

  • Brown rice (Trader Joe’s frozen rice is perfect for this), cooked
  • Black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Breadcrumbs (I find these unnecessary, but they can help hold things together; plan on 1 tsp. per zucchini or pepper)

Next, choose a meat — or don’t, if you’re going meatless:

  • Turkey sausage, browned
  • Lean ground beef, browned
  • Shredded chicken

And last, choose your seasonings and sauces:

  • Pesto
  • Fresh basil or other herbs
  • Garlic
  • Seasoned salt
  • Sour cream or plain greek yogurt (not recommended for zucchini)
  • Salsa (not recommended for zucchini)

Step 3: Assembly

Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. It’s time to cook your veggies! You want them to be just tender, since they’re still going into the oven to hang out for awhile. I start with the onion, letting it cook for 3-4 minutes, and then I add the garlic, cooking for no more than a minute. Then comes the zucchini, green chilis and/or bell pepper; cook for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in tomatoes, corn, pesto and/or fresh herbs. Also sprinkle in some seasoned salt and pepper. Add breadcrumbs and/or sauces, if using.

Add your cooked meat and/or starch(es) to the pan; stir to combine. Stir in cheese. Divide filling evenly between vegetable halves, or transfer to baking dish.

For the zucchini, place on the grill, close the lid, and cook for around 6 minutes or until tender. If you’re baking them in the oven, they’ll likely take a couple extra minutes.

For bell peppers, place on the grill, close the lid, and cook for 12-15 minutes or until tender. If you’re baking them in the oven, they’ll take closer to 20 minutes — or longer, if you prefer softer peppers.

For the casserole, bake for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly.

Favorite flavors

To get your brainstorming started, some of my best-loved combinations — a fresh and summery combo, for zucchini or bell peppers:

  • Red onion
  • Zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Turkey sausage
  • Fresh basil
  • Garlic
  • Herbed salt
  • Italian cheese blend

For a Tex/Mex inspired bell pepper:

  • Brown rice
  • Red onion
  • Corn
  • Green chilies
  • Ground beef
  • Monterey jack or pepper jack
  • Optional: combine one part salsa with two parts sour cream or greek yogurt and spoon/pour over peppers before popping them in the oven

For a quick casserole (that happens to use up leftover odds and ends from other meals):

  • Brown rice
  • Onion (whatever you have leftover from last night’s dinner; scallions are great)
  • Bell pepper
  • Fresh herbs
  • Leftover shredded chicken
  • Italian or Mexican cheese blend

For a casserole that tastes like a baked Chipotle burrito bowl:

  • Brown rice
  • Black beans
  • Corn
  • Green chilies
  • Shredded chicken
  • Cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend
  • Sour cream (or greek yogurt) and salsa
  • Fresh cilantro, avocado, and tortilla chips, for garnish

Butternut squash, two ways

June 18, 2012

As I’ve mentioned before, when I buy a butternut squash, it almost always ends up in this casserole (modifications: more squash, add spinach, and add the hot Italian sausage). Sometimes, it gets roasted and folded into a good risotto, and once in awhile, it becomes a bowl for chili. But it’s usually for the casserole. To me, that casserole speaks specifically of fall — and as much fall-like weather as we’ve been having around here (which is why I bought the squash in the first place), I wanted to try something lighter, more spring-inspired.

One large-ish butternut squash became the centerpiece for two meals:

The first night, I made Lauren’s stovetop butternut squash mac and cheese — fantastic alongside a big green salad. (One note, though: I don’t know if it was because I substituted a gluten-free pasta, but I ended up with way too much cheese and didn’t come close to adding all of it. I know. I didn’t think that was possible either. Next time, I’ll cut both the cheese and milk by half, but keep all other amounts the same. In fact, I might even add more squash.)

The second night, I made these tacos, with my purist guacamole (avocado + lots of lime juice + garlic salt), homemade salsa, and my favorite black beans. (The first time I made these beans, I only bought one can of beans and didn’t realize I was short until I had already measured in all of the spices. But it turns out that it was a happy accident, and now I always double the seasonings when making a full batch.)

The third night, the leftover cabbage went into Deb’s cabbage salad with buttermilk dressing (which I can only presume is better with Napa cabbage, as written, but which was quite tasty with the regular stuff). And then the leftover cilantro went into a southwestern-style salad, which might mark the first time I have ever managed to use an entire bunch of cilantro before it turned wilty and useless.

Butternut squash other ways?

What are some of your favorite ways to eat butternut squash? My to-try list is now devoid of butternut squash recipes, and I need to replenish.

Recent eats: a recap

April 2, 2012

For the last three weeks, I’ve prayed the same prayer every morning: that God would multiply the hours of my day. This certainly isn’t one of those super spiritual prayers (you know the prayers I’m talking about — those altruistic prayers that we all tell ourselves we ought to be praying). It’s just an honest one. And one I know God can, and does, answer.

Sometimes he answers this prayer by telling me, no, you don’t need to vacuum today and yes, you can pull two bowls out of the cupboard, fill them with microwaved frozen Trader Joe’s brown rice, Costco chicken meatballs and roasted broccoli, and call it dinner.

We did crowd 11 people around an 8-person dining table for a St. Paddy’s feast — an annual tradition that always, always culminates in these cupcakes. And between then and now, a few notable recipes have passed through my kitchen:

  • If you have a leftover sheet of puff pastry in your freezer and some beautiful spring asparagus in your fridge, make this asparagus tart. She recommends gruyere, but I used what I had on hand — bits of leftover mozzarella, asiago and parmesan — and it was delicious.
  • If you have some more asparagus (because you got excited about the first good asparagus of the season and bought three bunches at the store), make risotto. This one is a favorite.
  • If you want to bake once for two weekends of guests, make these apple and cheddar scones. Bake half of them now and pop the others in the freezer to feed your next visitors. (They’ll be so impressed that you got up extra early just to bake for them.)
  • If you want to have a great dinner waiting for you when you get home, make crockpot honey bourbon chicken. (Serve it over another packet of microwavable rice. I won’t tell anyone that you used a whole box this week.)

Looking for something to drink with your meal?

  • If it’s a day like today and suddenly, blessedly sunny and 65 degrees outside, open a bottle of Valentin Bianchi New Age White, pour it over ice, and serve with a squeeze of lime juice. It’s like sangria (and summer) in a bottle.
  • If it’s back to rainy, early spring weather, pick up a bottle of Nerelo Del Bastardo ($7 at Trader Joe’s) on your way home from work. Serve with chocolate and a good book.