Stuffed Peppers Mexican Style

Last year, I introduced you to the giant poblano pepper plants that thrive in my garden. With a Scoville Scale rating that falls between a bell pepper and a mild jalapeno, poblanos provide the perfect “warmth” to Mexican dishes without threatening your taste buds.

Well … I guess that depends on the heat tolerance of your tongue.

And the inherent personality of the pepper itself, apparently.

I was struggling with what I could share with you in this post so I took a break … and looked for inspiration from one of my favorite sources: Chopped on Food Network. It came in the form of a basket ingredient. Not a poblano, but close. Hatch Chile Peppers. (Note: these peppers are from the same family but grown in different locations, they develop unique characteristics.)

As the judges were talking about the peppers, they mentioned the uncertainty of the heat levels from the pepper. This reminded me of a morning when my son’s girlfriend was visiting us and invited one of her friends over for brunch. We stuffed poblanos with an egg, cheese, and sausage mixture and I assured them the peppers would not be too spicy.

I heard a “cough” and I knew I was wrong.

Now before you picture two 20-something gals with tears running down their cheeks, gasping for air, it wasn’t that bad. I had, however unintentionally, served them something spicier than intended. The problem was quickly solved with two options:

  1. Ratio
  2. Selection

The first thing we did was to add more of the mild, egg filling to their plate. They were enjoying the overall flavor but needed to balance the ratio of the filling to the pepper. The second thing we discovered was that some of the peppers were much more spicy than others.

Taste.

This was what the judges on Chopped were discussing as they watched the contestants preparing their dish. When you look up a pepper on the Scoville Scale, you will find not one number for the heat units of the pepper, but a range. Some poblano peppers are hotter than others, even if they are grown in the same garden.

You must taste the peppers before you use them … certainly before you serve them to others.

Noted.

Do not let this uncertainty deter you from making this (or other) recipes with peppers. Just remember:

  1. Removing seeds and membranes from peppers reduces the severity of the heat.
  2. Taste food as you prepare it so you can make adjustments.
  3. If a dish turns out too hot/spicy, temper it with more filling or cooling condiments like sour cream or avocado.
  4. Should you encounter a pepper that is just too spicy for you, remember the filling is still good. You don’t have to eat the pepper to enjoy the meal.

Print Recipe
Stuffed Poblano Peppers
These stuffed poblano peppers add a little heat and a little spice to the traditional stuffed pepper recipe. Garnish with sour cream, avocado, cilantro, and lime for the perfect balance of flavors.
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Instructions
Preparing Peppers
  1. Wash and dry peppers. Cut in half, lengthwise, and remove seeds and membranes. Place on cookie sheet, cut side down.
  2. Drizzle peppers with olive/avocado oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Broiler Method: Place peppers about 6" below oven broiler until the outside of peppers blister and char. Remove from oven.
  4. Grill Method: Place peppers cut side up on preheated (400 degree) grill. Remove from grill when peppers blister and char.
  5. Peppers should look like this ...
Preparing Filling
  1. Cook rice in chicken broth as per package instructions. A small amount of diced, fresh cilantro and lime juice can be added to the rice after cooking for a little extra flavor. Set aside.
  2. Brown ground pork with a little salt & pepper (1/2 teaspoon of each) until fully cooked; drain. Return pan to burner and add chili powder (and other herbs spices if desired); stir to distribute. Remove from heat when thoroughly heated.
  3. In a large bowl, combine rice, ground pork mixture, beans, corn, and tomatoes. Stir in shredded cheese.
Assembly & Cooking
  1. Spoon filling mixture into each pepper half.
  2. Oven Method: Place peppers on cookie sheet and bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Grill Method: Place peppers on hot grill (350 degrees) for 8-10 minutes (indirect heat is best to avoid over cooking the peppers) or until filling mixture is hot.
  4. Remove from heat to serving tray.
  5. Serve with fresh cilantro, sour cream, salsa, avocado, and lime wedges.
Recipe Notes
  1. Bell peppers can also be used if poblano peppers are not available or in season.
  2. I like to add 1/2-1 teaspoon of some/all of the following to the chili powder: granulated garlic, dried herbs (cilantro, Mexican oregano, epazote), cumin, coriander, and chipotle powder.
  3. Leftover stuffed peppers freeze very well. Wrap individually (or in pairs) in plastic wrap and place in a large resealable plastic bag. When ready to use, remove from freezer and allow to defrost completely. Place peppers on a cookie sheet under the broiler (low setting) and watch carefully. Remove from broiler when filing is bubbly and heated through.
  4. Leftover peppers, topped with scrambled eggs, make a wonderful breakfast.
  5. Leftover filling can be used in tacos or soups.
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Special thanks to the Creator of this amazing pepper for working through Ted Allen and the Chopped judges to get me over writer’s block!



Kicking Up Pulled Pork

I love pulled pork as much as anyone. I don’t care if we’re talking Kansas City, Texas, Carolina … I love ’em all. But then I stumbled upon a Louisiana version and I found a whole new happy place!

Okay, so technically, I don’t know if this is authentic Louisiana cuisine but the recipe had the word “Cajun” in it and that was enough to get the attention of this Iowa girl.

Print Recipe
Cajun Pork Sandwiches
Prep Time 10-15 minutes
Cook Time 2-3 hours
Servings
servings
Prep Time 10-15 minutes
Cook Time 2-3 hours
Servings
servings
Instructions
  1. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper (this can be done several hours before cooking for better flavor).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Place meat in a large dutch oven and add onions; cover and place in oven for 30 minutes.
  4. Add jalapenos. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30 minutes.
  5. Add tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, and Tabasco sauce; turn pork over and move around to combine all the ingredients. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for 60 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven. Using two forks, try to pull the pork apart. If the pork shreds easily, it is ready. If it resists pulling, return to the oven for another 30 minutes. Repeat as necessary.
  7. Shred the pork and combine with remaining "sauce".
  8. Serve with pepper-jack cheese and/or pickles on buns or bread of your choice. Coleslaw is one of our favorite toppings/sides for these sandwiches. Find my recipe here.
Recipe Notes

1. Cooking times will vary based on the size of the roast or number of ribs used. If using a whole roast, cutting it into four equally sized pieces will reduce overall cooking time.

2. Boneless turkey breast fillets can also be used. Again, cooking times will vary.

3. You can simplify this recipe by using a crock pot or slow cooker. Simply combine all the ingredients (except cheese, pickles and buns, of course) in the crock pot and set it on low for 6-8 hours or warm for 8-10 hours. There will be a lot more broth produced this way. Remove about half of the broth before shredding and set it aside. If after shredding, the meat needs more moisture, add broth back in a quarter of a cup at a time. The remaining broth is perfect for reheating the meat another day or to add to soups.

4. Coleslaw is one of our favorite toppings/sides for these sandwiches ... find the recipe HERE.

5. Cornbread is an excellent accompaniment for this dish. For this post, I spread the cornbread batter (with diced jalapenos added) in a thin layer (3/4-1" deep) in a rectangular glass baking dish, coated with cooking spray, and baked it according to the recipe but for a shorter amount of time since it is thin. After it cooled, I cut it into large squares to act as the top and bottom "bun" for the sandwich.

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I have made this recipe several ways over the years: slow cooker/oven; pork/turkey; adding/omitting vegetables. One thing is certain … it always turns out delicious. The texture is different if it’s made in the slow cooker instead of the oven but it tastes great. The flavor changes with the choice of meat or vegetables but it tastes great. Whether I make a single or double (or triple) recipe, it tastes great! The only disappointment is when I don’t have leftovers to use in soups or salads.

This is the salad I made with the leftover pork. One of my favorite shortcuts is the Dole Chopped Salad Kits: a crunchy combination of cabbage, romaine, kale, carrots, and green onions. The Chipotle and Cheddar version also includes some tortilla strips, shredded cheddar cheese and a chipotle-ranch dressing. I add a few kernels of corn, some red onion, and fresh cilantro along with the leftover pork and … voilà!

I mean … BAM!

Couldn’t post a Cajun recipe without a tribute to Emeril, now could I?

 


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Pickled Carrots?

Oh how I love to find new foods!

By that, of course, I’m not claiming to discover new foods for the culinary industry or the world. I’m just happy when I try something for the first time and realize that my world has just expanded.

Growing up, if someone said “pass the pickles”, they were referring to pickled cucumbers. The response would likely be, “Dill? Sweet? Bread-and-Butter?” The only other vegetable we pickled was beets. And, really, if you are lucky enough to have a steady supply of all of these home-grown and canned pickles, what else would you need?

About 10 years ago, my farming family discovered pickled asparagus and green beans (mostly because we are also a family who occasionally indulges in a few Bloody Marys). With the usual gusto of those who have big gardens, asparagus and green beans ended up in jars in the cold room too.

A year or two ago, I started hearing my nephews and nieces talk … well, rave is probably a better word … about a small Mexican restaurant in the neighboring town called “La Juanitas”. I was hearing about the carne asada tacos, the sandwiches (torte), the burritos, the line out the front door … and I had to get there. And I did … a few times.

That’s not just the margaritas talking either, because they “don’t have time for margaritas!”

What they do have time for? Pickled carrots on the side.

These are so popular that the first side is complimentary but if you want more, there is a charge. Worth it!

I loved these pickles so much I had to figure out how to make them. Starting with a post on Pinterest, I made a few modifications for personal preferences like heat and texture and, after a few test runs, am thrilled with this recipe. Consider my world expanded … again.

 

Print Recipe
Pickled Mexican Vegetables
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
half-pint jars
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
half-pint jars
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combine vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaves, pepper, salts, mustard seed, Mexican oregano, and epazote and bring to boil.
  2. Add carrots and simmer until tender.
  3. Add onion and jalapenos; return to boil.
  4. Remove from heat, add chopped fresh cilantro and/or carrot greens. Allow to cool.
  5. Ladle into sterilized jars.
  6. Store in refrigerator.
Recipe Notes
  1. The spiciness of these pickles depends greatly on the jalapenos. If you do not want these to be spicy, remove the seeds and membranes from the inside of the jalapenos before adding to the recipe. This will greatly reduce the heat but still give the flavor and color of the jalapeno.
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Now that I think of it … these would make an excellent addition to my next Bloody Mary! 😉

ENJOY!

 


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A Pet Name, Vacation Destination, and Grandma’s Fancy Side Dish

You’re a peach!

I’m not sure if this is a common phrase outside the United States, or even outside the Midwest. If it isn’t, it should be. The phrase simply means that someone is sweet or thoughtful and often is in response to a meaningful gesture of kindness.

“You brought me coffee? Awww … you’re such a peach!”

“You did the dishes? Awww … you’re such a peach!”

“You’ll take my empty cart all the way back into Costco for me? Awww … you’re such a peach!”

Why a peach? Because it’s sweet? Because it’s cheerful? I don’t know.

Maybe because in the midwest (sans Missouri), peaches are rare? There just aren’t many peach trees around and the ones that do survive, seem to be very susceptible to the uncertain conditions. I never really understood why my mom, with so much canning to do from her own garden, would wait until the end of summer to BUY a box … or two … of peaches at the grocery store so we could can them in jars for the winter. Didn’t we have enough work to do with the produce we had?!?

And then I went to SW Colorado. At the end of August. To a fly fishing resort and organic peach orchard.

Of course they are better right off the tree but now when I see those boxes of peaches from the Palisade, Colorado region, I understand. And I buy them. I don’t can them in jars … only because I don’t have the storage capabilities my mom had. I do freeze them though.

But not before I enjoy one of my grandmother’s specialties. I call it a specialty because I never had it anywhere but at her house (and later at our house in her memory). It was a twist on peaches and cream but I liked it for three reasons:

  1. She always served it as halves of peaches, not slices (which seemed fancy to me).
  2. The idea that one would put mayonnaise on fruit seemed ridiculous.
  3. She had THE COOLEST peanut chopper for someone who was not into gadgets!

Grandma would cut the peaches in half, remove the pit, and peel them. Then she would mix up mayonnaise, orange juice and maybe a pinch of sugar to fill the gap where the pit was. She would then let me use this outrageous chopper to finely dice the peanuts she would sprinkle on top. That’s it. She would sometimes serve it as a side dish with our meal and sometimes it would be dessert. So simple but so elegant to me.

A few years ago, I discovered Greek yogurt. High protein, good source of probiotics, low-fat … and a great substitute for mayonnaise. So I’ve updated Grandma’s “recipe”. I also use honey instead of sugar and I add a touch of grated nutmeg. If I have orange juice or zest, I will add that too (but only a little or the yogurt will become too thin). And, ever since I received the recipe for Lori’s Sugar & Spice Pecans, I use them instead of peanuts.

Mostly because I don’t have Grandma’s cool gadget!

And because I like pecans better.

Print Recipe
Peaches and Cream Cups
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
peach halves
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
peach halves
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, honey, and nutmeg.
  2. Place peach halves on platter or serving dishes and sprinkle the top of each with a little salt.
  3. Fill the center of each peach half with the yogurt mixture.
  4. Top with a pecan half or sprinkle with chopped pecans.
  5. Serve with a light drizzle of peach balsamic vinegar. Pear balsamic or white balsamic vinegar can also be used.
Recipe Notes

Peeling Peaches: After cutting around the perimeter, "Free-Stone" peaches, when ripe, will release themselves from the pit with only a gentle twist. They also peel very easily with a small knife. Alternatively, less ripe peaches can be submerged whole in boiling water for 1 minute, removed from the water, cooled slightly, and peeled.

Candied Pecans: For a sweet/spicy touch, make Candied Pecans in advance to top the peach cups.

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Another modification I made to Grandma’s recipe (that sounds like sacrilege, doesn’t it?), was the addition of a drizzle of a light balsamic vinegar over the top. I fell in love with a peach white balsamic vinegar I bought while on our trip to Colorado so that is what I use. A white balsamic works really well too and if you are fortunate enough to find a pear or a fig balsamic vinegar, they are wonderful as well.

It makes me smile to share the recipes and stories of my grandmothers. They taught me so much. But I think the biggest reason I smile when I have peaches around is because it reminds me that “Peaches” was my dad’s pet name for my mom.

“Hey Peaches! What’s for dinner?”

And he always knew it would be delicious.


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Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

StuffedTomatoes3

Would you just look at these pretty little flavor cups?

Tomato, avocado, spinach, and basil combine to create a nutrient-rich, finger food perfect for brunch, picnics, potlucks, or that space on your plate designated for vegetables. Add in a little dairy in the form of goat cheese and check off the health benefits:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Antioxidants
  • Iron
  • Lycopene
  • Potassium

We’ve covered appealing and healthy … let’s go for the trifecta with simple.

No oven. No mixer. No bowl.

Seriously, you won’t need to wash a single bowl. A cutting board? Yes. The primary accessory in this recipe is a resealable plastic baggie. If you want to get the kids involved in the kitchen, this is a great place to start!

Print Recipe
Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes
These pretty litle vitamin-packed tomato cups are filled with a mixture of avocado, goat cheese, spinach-basil pesto and lemon juice. Easy to make and hard to resist!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cut each cherry tomato in half. Scoop the pulp out of each half using a spoon or a strawberry huller (the one pictured is from Pampered Chef - see notes below). A serrated grapefruit spoon works well too. Turn halves cut side down on a paper towel to drain.
  2. Put remaining ingredients (excluding fresh basil and jalapeno) into the quart-sized resealable baggie and close tightly. Smoosh (technical term) the ingredients gently with your hands until smooth and well combined.
  3. Make a piping bag out of the baggie by cutting off a small piece of one of the bottom corners with a scissors. Carefully guide the mixture toward the cut corner, twisting the top half of the bag as pictured.
  4. Fill each tomato half with filling by gently squeezing the bag from the top.
  5. Garnish with minced basil and/or jalapeno slices.
  6. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Best to serve the same day they were made to retain bright colors.
Recipe Notes
  1. Pesto: Making your own pesto is very easy and it freezes really well. Here is the recipe for my Spinach-Basil Pesto.
  2. The number of tomatoes that the avocado mixture will fill depends, of course, on the size of the tomatoes you have. See blog post for serving suggestions for any leftover mixture.
  3. If you are not a fan of the piping bag, press and mix the ingredients with a fork until smooth and then simply use a small spoon to fill the tomato halves.
  4. The little silver tool for scooping out the tomato halves came from Pampered Chef. They no longer have this particular tool but they do have an updated version that is also a mellon-baller. It is called the "Core and More".
  5. Be creative! You can add diced jalapeno to the mixture, use lime juice instead of lemon, cilantro instead of basil, or throw in some crumbled bacon.
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Since cherry tomatoes vary in size, the number of cups that can be filled with this mixture is only an estimate. If, after the tomatoes are filled, there is leftover avocado mixture, do not throw it away. This makes an excellent spread for grilled cheese or fried egg sandwiches, a turkey or chicken wrap, or Mediterranean-style panini. Thin it out with a little milk and use it as a salad dressing. Or just spread it on crackers for an afternoon snack.

You’ll have time for that snack because you don’t have a pile of dishes to wash!

 

Simple Arugula Salad

Arugula7

Meet the new kid in my neighborhood (a.k.a. my garden) … arugula. As you can see, the cool, wet spring we have had here in Iowa has made this newcomer feel very welcome. It won’t be long and we will hit the heat and humidity and arugula will have to leave so the tomatoes can take over.

Arugula is often described as “peppery” and “bitter”. The first is an accurate adjective. When I pinch the stems to harvest, the aroma of pepper reaches my nose quickly, a lot like cutting chives and the resulting sweet onion fragrance. When you think of the smell of pepper, think not only of fresh ground black pepper, but also a hint of fresh-cut green pepper. I think “bitter” is a harsh adjective. “Pungent” is a little better. “Piquant” seems to be the best but nobody uses it! “Piquant” (pronounced pee-kahnt) means “agreeably sharp in taste or flavor, pleasantly biting”. Anyway … when you bite it, it bites back … but just a little.

Before this year, my husband and I had only limited exposure to this leafy green … mixed in a few salads or on top of an occasional pizza (and I do mean occasional because greens on pizza is not in my husband’s comfort zone). We were visiting some friends who had just built the most beautiful raised-bed garden and they sent us home with some fresh picked arugula insisting that we hadn’t really given arugula a fair judgement unless we had tried it fresh from the garden and picked young. They were right. As with most foods, the fresher the better and picking before it gets big and tough means delicious.

I’m sure there are ways to cook the bigger, tougher leaves into wonderful dishes … I’ll experiment with that another day … but for now, we have what we need for fresh salads. I wasn’t sure how much my husband would like it so I introduced it with something I knew he’d love: pasta. I had heard that a piquant green like arugula was best with a simple dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and a nice amount of shredded parmesan cheese.

So that’s it.

That’s your recipe.

Seriously, that’s it.

Get the freshest arugula you can. Farmer’s markets are bursting with fresh greens. Look for smaller, tender leaves and ask if you can try some. A vendor worth buying from will be excited for you to try his/her produce. If you buy it at the store, again look for smaller leaves. It is sometimes called “Rocket” or “Baby Arugula”.

Arugula2

Crisp and wash it. Fill your sink with cold water and throw in a handful of ice cubes.

Lay it out on paper towels or use a salad-spinner to dry the leaves. If the leaves are wet when you dress them, the oil and juice will not adhere to them.

 

Drizzle the greens with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper (use Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper if at all possible) and toss to evenly coat greens. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese and croutons (optional).

If you are like my husband, you are wondering “Why there are flowers on this salad?” The answer is “It’s pretty, it adds flavor, and it makes people ask questions.” The flowers are chive blossoms and yes, they do have a very mild flavor.

If you really want measurements, I will do my best …


Arugula5

Simple Arugula Salad

4-6 cups arugula, loosely packed
1-2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
2-3 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (more or less)
croutons (optional)
fresh chive blossoms (optional)

Wash and dry (on paper towels or in salad spinner) arugula and place in serving bowl. When ready to serve, drizzle one tablespoon of the olive oil and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice over the arugula and sprinkle with half of the salt and pepper. Toss to coat. The leaves should be coated but not drenched.

Taste.

Add more olive oil, lemon, and/or pepper as needed. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and taste again. Add more salt if needed. Serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings.


As I mentioned earlier, we had this salad with a pasta dish. In keeping with the lemon flavor, I made a ravioli with Italian sausage and a butter-garlic-lemon sauce. I think it was the first time I ever heard my husband ask if I wanted any more of the salad.

He finished the bowl and said I should write about it.

And to think, he was worried I was taking garden space away from the tomatoes to plant “that green stuff”.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!