Saturday, January 28, 2012

When meat loaf is stuffed in a pepper or a squash rather than a pan

Stuffed red and green peppers
and zucchini and yellow squash
To quote a movie I have watched entirely too many times, "I read somewhere that it's bad form to say yum while you are eating, but yum!"

When you can easily (okay, so my definition of easy cooking might be different than a lot of other people's, but bear with me just for fun) make food this good on your own, why on Earth would you eat processed crap?

I made the stuffed peppers and squash pictured to the left, and wow are they tasty.  Depending on your preferences, they could have possibly done with a bit more seasoning, but I am going to stick with wow and yum.

One large egg, one small onion (finely chopped), one shallot (finely chopped), one rib of celery (finely chopped), three to four cloves of garlic (minced), three tablespoons of ketchup, and about one quarter cup fresh parsley (chopped) were all whisked together in a large bowl.  (As a side note, I purchased a set of Duralex bowls not too long ago, and I love them.  They are lighter than my trusty Pyrex, but I think just as sturdy, and come in many more sizes.)  Salt and pepper were added to season.  (I didn't use much of either.)  Next a generous handful each of Panko bread crumbs and magic cheese (blend of Romano, Asiago and Parmesan) were mixed in.  (If you want to measure, go with 1/4 cup.)  Into the mixture was folded a pound of ground turkey.  Oh, and the innards scraped out of the squash.  (Another side note: a butter knife is excellent for scraping out said squash.)

Peppers (cut in half cross ways with seeds and ribs removed) and squash (sliced lengthwise and hollowed out) were stuffed with turkey mixture, placed in oiled baking dish.  Marinara was spooned over the top, about a tablespoon per pepper or squash half.  The lot was baked for 45 minutes at 400 degrees and then removed from oven and baking pan onto platter where they were sprinkled with a bit more cheese.  More marinara sauce could be added to taste, but these were plenty moist as is.

For me, they make a fine meal on their own, but some rice or cous cous or pilaf on the side might not be a bad idea.  Or maybe a salad and some garlic bread.

Overall, pretty low fat and low sodium -- certainly lower fat than regular meat loaf, which the stuffing ends up resembling once cooked -- except for the cheese, but you could reduce or omit that.  Oats could be substituted for bread crumbs.  I use oats most of the time when I make meat loaf.  The ketchup might be evil (despite Reagan's classification of it as a vegetable ... although aren't tomatoes fruit?) in terms of sodium, but with only three tablespoons in the whole recipe, it works out to something like a teaspoon or teaspoon and a half per serving.  Nevertheless a bit of Worcestershire sauce (which is probably equally evil, if not more so) or balsamic vinegar could be a decent replacement, as could a bit of homemade marinara sauce -- just something to give it a little more flavor and something else besides the egg to bind it all together.  Oh yes, the egg.  Well, again, one egg in the entire recipe, but the corresponding dose of egg substitute ought to work as well.  Otherwise it has no business being called egg substitute.  It should be more like egg approximation.

All in all, an excellent, lower fat meat loaf alternative.  (Once more, I say yum!)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rainy day cooking

Today was one of those perfect, cold, gray, rainy days just made for cooking, so after I spent a surprisingly short amount of time at the DMV renewing my driver's license, I picked up a loaf of sourdough bread and some sour cream and went home to make soup, which is not only an excellent activity for a rainy wintry afternoon, but also a great way to clean out the refrigerator (provided that anything fuzzy or out of date does not actually make it into the pot).

I chopped up a large red onion, a shallot, three stalks of celery, a small bunch of slightly wilted carrots, at least half a dozen cloves of garlic, half a small head of cabbage, two small zucchini, one small yellow squash, one broccoli crown, and about eight medium-sized white mushrooms.

The onion, shallot, garlic, celery, and carrots went into my larger enameled cast iron pot (like Le Creuset but not) with enough oil to coat and seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  (I have a nice blend of peppercorns.)  They were cooked, covered, over medium low heat for about fifteen minutes, stirred frequently to keep them from sticking and burning.

Seasonings went in next -- dried basil and paprika (two teaspoons each) and tomato paste (two heaping tablespoons -- and the lot was stirred together and cooked at a higher temperature for a couple of minutes.  I always find that the vegetables get a bit dry at this point, in danger of burning, so I add half a cup of wine to keep everything moist and yet still hot.  This time it was Grappa La Court red wine.

Then the rest of the chopped vegetables were added, along with a couple of handfuls of spinach, which I did not chop, another one and a half cups of wine and six cups of vegetable broth.  I think I chopped up a bit more cabbage and threw that in as well.

I simmered the lot for about twenty minutes and then started tasting.  Yum!  The wine is rather strong, and fairly tannic, so the broth was a shade bitter.  I ground in a little more sea salt and some herbs (a blend which came packaged in their own little grinder), and simmered a bit longer.  Even more yum!

A hefty slice of sourdough bread, and lunch was served.

One of the main reasons I make a version of this soup fairly often is that it freezes really well and is therefore great to take to work for lunch, so I am set for lunches next week.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mushroom and Pappardelle Soup with Gremolata

Vegetarian Times January/February 2012, page 30

I still don't know what pappardelle noodles are, although I am sure that a small amount of research would remedy the situation, and they could perhaps be a project for my fancy new pasta maker.  Given that there are no instructions for cooking the noodles ahead of time, I am guessing that they must be pretty close to fresh in order to be cooked after simmering in soup broth for about 6 minutes.  I used medium shells instead and boiled them while preparing the rest of the soup.

I did not cover the pot while bringing the soup to a boil and can't help wondering if that omission on my part accounts for the relative thinness of the broth.

I used white mushroom rather than cremini and threw in a few baby bellas for good measure because I do so love the portabellas, and rather than one large onion, I diced a large shallot, a small yellow onion, and a small red onion.

Produced by Vina La Fortuna
S.A. Sagrada Familia, Chile
As usual, I substituted part of the broth for wine.  In this case, 7 cups of broth became 5 cups of broth and 2 cups of my favorite sauvignon blanc.  Culpeo sauvignon blanc from the Curico Valley in Chile is wonderful for both drinking and cooking -- lighter and a bit more accessible or friendly than what I generally think of when I think of sauvignon blanc.

I did not drag out the food processor for 1/3 cup of parsley, 1 clove of garlic and 2 teaspoons of grated lemon zest.  I chopped up the lot and used the mortar and pestle instead, which worked just fine as far as I can tell.

Is it just me, or is grating zest a pain?  Relatively speaking, a lot of effort for not a lot of return.  It also seems a bit wasteful to buy an entire fruit and only use a very thin outer layer of the peel, but then it is not exactly difficult to find a use for the rest of the lemon.  I'll have to investigate the possibility of acquiring packaged zest since the lack of same will often deter me from trying a recipe.

I added more noodles to the leftovers.  If the recipe were made as a thicker, alfredo sort of sauce, it would go nicely over fettuccine or baked chicken -- anything that likes cream sauce really. Peas would be a nice complement to the beans and mushrooms as well.