Sunday, February 1, 2015

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up - Picadillo Stuffed Red Peppers

1/27 - Nowhere as dramatic as falling down a flight of stairs, nonetheless my mobility has been compromised by whatever this thing is.  Syndrome, disorder, disease, condition, whatever - I have no will nor energy to move from where I sit, cross-legged, praying for relief.  I type a few words, I stop, my head droops.  Rinse, repeat.  I have to get to the office.  I have obligations to fulfill, deadlines to meet.  What kind of terrible joke is this?

My doctor says I am depressed.  He must have meant I am more depressed than usual, because I've been chronically depressed since I was fourteen years old.  It's been a very long time,  however, since the depression has interfered with my daily functioning.  Better living through chemistry, my friends.

When I cook, when I knit, I can push some of this away.  Great ideas, but I cannot cook and draft a petition at the same time.

Somehow I made it into the office.  There were times I felt panic rising.  I was overwhelmed.  I was underwhelmed.  I was determined.  I was relieved.  I made it through the day.  I finished a non shelter petition.  I made good progress on a TPR petition.  I set up two witness lists for trial subpoenas.  I checked my email.  I survived.

Best of all, I got to visit with Terry, who is recovering from surgery.  Thank you, Brenda.  You helped to make my day.  I stepped outside my own self involvement and thought about somebody else's welfare for a while.  It felt good.  It felt normal.

When I got home, I felt well enough to move along in my cooking.  Last night the pork loin, remaining after the pork chili verde, was divided into three substantial roasts, about 3 pounds of each.  Two of these were dry rubbed and wrapped tight for the freezer.  The last pork loin roast was also seasoned, then refrigerated overnight.  Tonight, I sauced that baby with the good stuff from Jimmy Bear's and put it into the oven.  I also prepared the stuffed red peppers, at least up to a point.  That's the recipe I'd like to share now.

I've been making stuffed green peppers since my friend Vicki shared her recipe when we were suite mates in college.  Never you mind how long ago.  Anyway, the way I make them now makes me think of them as "Jewish" peppers, because I cooked them in a sweet and sour tomato sauce, similar to what I would use for stuffed cabbage.

This recipe is totally inspired by Paula Deen, and to my mind that makes them - or at least her original recipe - "Southern" stuffed peppers.  I threw in a few Spanish elements, turning it into something resembling picadillo, with sweet, dark raisins, and briny green olives.  I don't know if that qualifies my version as Latino or Cubano, but the best thing about making stuffed peppers is that the filling can be just about anything, a direct reflection of your cooking creativity and the contents of your home food stores.

4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds and excess white membrane removed
1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 packets Goya Sazon con Culantro y Achiote
1 - 8.8 oz. package Uncle Ben's Ready Rice, Spanish Style
salt, black pepper, granulated garlic
1 - 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup (generous) dark raisins
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, cut in half crosswise
1/2 cup jarred salsa con queso dip
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 - 8 oz. package sliced Monterey pepper jack cheese (8-10 slices)

In a large skillet over medium heat, begin browning the beef, breaking it up as it cooks.  Add the onion, garlic, and Sazon, and cook until the onions become transparent.  Add the rice (without heating up), and cook for a few minutes to let the rice soak up some of the pan juices.  Add the salt, pepper, granulated garlic, undrained tomatoes, and raisins, and cook a few more minutes so that the raisins begin to soften.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.  Let the mixture cool to room temperature before using it to stuff the peppers.

Or, you can do what I did and remove the filling to a covered bowl and refrigerate overnight.  It will be easier to scoop out the filling and place it into the peppers, and I also wanted to give all those flavors a chance to come together and sing Kumbaya before the final re-seasoning.

The next day, I adjusted the refrigerated filling to taste, which meant more sour cream, another packet of Sazon, salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and cilantro.  You may find it fine the way it was.  Taste and judge for yourself. I then filled the pepper halves with the mixture, piling them nice and high without packing the peppers too tightly.  I placed the stuffed peppers into two aluminum baking pans, and carefully poured in about 1/4 inch of water on the bottom of each pan.

Place the pans into a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove the pans from the oven, and carefully place one slice of the pepper jack cheese on top of each stuffed pepper.  Return to the oven for another 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown, and the peppers are tender.  If you like to check the temperature as I do, the interior should read about 140 degrees.  With a slotted spoon, remove from the baking dish onto a dinner plate.  Garnish with some more chopped cilantro.

You will never consider stuffed peppers to be boring again.

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