Saturday, July 18, 2020

Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

I love cabbage rolls. I especially like those from Lebanese steakhouses here in Northeastern Oklahoma. (Shout out to my friend Greg Gawey).

I can and have made them myself. Frankly, they are tedious and you need to make large batches to justify the work.

Stuffed peppers are not the same thing, but the flavors are very similar and just as comforting. I do not pretend to offer an authentic spice blend in this recipe. Very few Lebanese cooks, home or commercial, will tell all. The internet has cabbage rolls, of course. Even Martha Stewart has posted one.

When you read those recipes, you find there are as many different ones as there are regions. Some that look tasty call for things like 7 spice. When I looked that up, I found a startling diverse set of recipes for the spice. I gave up. Instead I have reverse engineered a spice blend. The proportion on the spices can and should be adjusted by you to suit your own taste, as should the amount you use in the meat.

This recipe is based on 4 to 6 large bell peppers. Figure 1 or 2 halves per person depending on the size of the peppers.

Ingredients for Stuffing

one pound ground beef or lamb
1 cup chilled cooked rice
one medium yellow onion, diced small
1or 2 cloves of garlic, minced 
2 teaspoons of spice blend
salt and pepper to taste.

Ingredients for Spice Blend

1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, cumin, kosher salt, and Ras el Hanout
1/4 teaspoon each all spice, ground cloves, ground cardamon, black pepper
large pinch of ground nutmeg

Vessel

4 - 6 large bell peppers, seeds and pith removed

Ingredients for Sauce

2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
3 Tablespoons high quality tomato paste
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 large cloves garlic, smashed and minced
drizzle of EVOO
salt and pepper to taste
aprox. 1/2 cup water
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Method


For the spice blend: Mix all the spices in a small single bowl and set aside.

For the peppers: If using long peppers find two spots opposite each other where the peppers can sit without rolling. Slice horizontally in half. Remove the seed and pith. Using the point of a small knife make two small holes in the bottom of each pepper for drainage later. 


If using the round and blocky type of peppers, slice the stem end of the pepper off just as the sides start to go down.

Seed the peppers and remove the pith. If necessary, take a thin slice off the bottom lobes to allow the pepper to sit squarely. Again, make two small slits in the bottom of each pepper.

For the stuffing: In a bowl, add the meat, the rice, the minced garlic, the minced onion, and two teaspoons of the spice blend. Reserve any excess spice. Mix the ingredients well with one hand and set aside.

For the sauce: Halve the cherry tomatoes and add to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Alternatively, if you have a stick blender, put the tomatoes in a regular tall side bowl. Add the tomato paste.


The cherry tomatoes add a freshness. The tomato paste adds intense flavor and body. Add the garlic, as much of the remaining spice as you desire, and the water. Blend or process until the mixture is smooth and no chunks of tomato remain.


Assembly and Baking

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Be sure the rack is in the middle.

Stuff the peppers loosely with  the stuffing mixture.


Use the smallest baking dish in which the peppers fit comfortably. Pour your sauce into the dish and place your peppers in the dish. Put one spoonful of the sauce on the top of each pepper.


Bake until the filling reaches 145 degrees and the peppers have softened. Usually 25 minutes to 35 minutes. (Note: The long flat peppers cook more quickly.)

Use a slotted spoon and remove the peppers one by one. Hover each pepper over the baking dish to allow juices to drain. Place the peppers on your serving dish. Stir the remaining sauce well to remove any bits stuck to the bottom of the dish. If necessary add a bit of water to he sauce if too dried. Spoon sauce over the peppers for service. Side dishes can include tabouli, green beans stewed in tomatoes, and or a cucumber and tomato salad.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Pork Tenderloin Roulade with Dates and Feta



Roulades (AKA roll ups or "stuffed" meats) allow the cook to create unlimited flavors. They also help you to present beautiful plates.

Sadly, most home cooks are intimidated by them. The idea of cutting a large chunk of meat into a flatish piece seems too difficult. The work involved appears too much.

But, hey! You're stuck at home under a shelter in place order. What else do you have to do?

Ingredients


1 large pork tenderloin
3/4 cup of any 2 or three stuffing combination that may appeal to you. For example:
  • mushrooms and bacon bits
  • curried raisons and apricot
  • spinach, parmesan, and pinenuts
  • stewed apples and onions
  • softened and diced dates and feta

Method


Unpack the tenderloin and dry it. 


Using a sharp knife remove the silver skin, membrane, excess fat, and any stray bits.


With that same sharp knife, using the point and first inch of the blade, on one side or another, cut straight down about 1/2 inch deep. Slightly rotate the tenderloin and repeat. Continue the same step, slowly unrolling the tenderloin.



Once that step is finished, place the meat on top of moistened cling film and cover with another moistened sheet. use a meat mallet or the bottom of a small but heavy sauce pan to pound the meat flat.




For this roulade, I chose dates and feta. I crumbled the cheese finely and soaked the date pieces in hot water for 15 minutes.



Salt and pepper the inside of the roll generously. Spread your stuffing on the side near you, starting about an inch from the edge. 


Roll the tenderloin edge over the stuffing and continue to roll to make a tube with the seam side down. Using kitchen twine, tie your roll every 2 or three inches. Do not draw the string tight enough to cut into the meat. You merely want to keep the roll closed.


Now you are ready to cook.

Traditional Roasting


Set the oven to 300 degrees with the rack in the middle.

Season the exterior with salt and pepper.

In a skillet with 2 Tbs. neutral oil over medium high heat, sear all sides of the tenderloin.

Place the seared tenderloin in the oven and roast. Check the temperature every five minutes after 20 minutes and continue until the interior meat reaches 135 degrees for medium or 145 degrees for medium well. 

Remove from the oven, tent with foil and let the meat rest for ten minutes to allow the tenderloin to collect itself as the meat rises another 5 degrees.

Slice, removing the twine as you go.

Sous Vide Method


Vacuum seal the tenderloin and submerge in a hot water bath set for your choice of 140 to 150 degrees. Cook time should be between 1 and 4 hours.








Remove the tenderloin from the bag. Dry the tenderloin, season with salt and pepper, and sear the exterior to brown it, slice an serve immediately. Sous Vide meat does not need to rest.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sunday Red Sauce



Ingredients

One 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes in their juice or puree
One small or 1/2 large onion diced small
6 to 8 cloves minced gar4lic
1 Tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 four inch line anchovy paste
1/2 stick butter
1 pound sweet Italian sausage 
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 two inch piece of Parmesan rind (optional)
1 cup water or broth

Method

Fry the sweet sausage, breaking it up into small pieces. Continue to cook until the sausage renders and begins to caramelize. Remove the meat to a slow cooker.

Saute' the onions in the fat from the sausage until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to cook until the garlic turns fragrant. Transfer the onions and garlic to the slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and stir well.

Set the cooker to low and simmer 4 or more hours.

Taste and adjust with salt and pepper.

Cooking and Serving Notes

The anchovy paste and the cheese rind will add a depth of flavor without being able to taste them individually. 

Do note the lack of salt in the recipe. The anchovy paste and cheese rind will add salt to the sauce so wait until the end to adjust.

Serve with bucatini, fusilli, penne or other pasta with size or ridges. Spaghetti does not have enough surface area.

When ready to serve, make sure the cooked pasta and sauce are mixed together well  before serving. Ladling sauce on top of the pasta may look good in television commercials, but for eating you will want every bit of the pasta coated.