Saturday, 18 January 2014

Not Sushi, Spring Rolls!

Another recipe makeover, this time another jewel from Heidi Swanson.  I really love her stuff.  I just wish I always had her ingredients on hand!!  This time, I made over her Avocado Spring Rolls recipe.  I wish I could have just made hers, but I didn't have any tofu or fresh oregano, so I just ended up stuffing my wrappers with sushi filling.  They tasted just like sushi, but without the seafood flavor from the nori.  The rice papers are ridiculously chewy and sticky - which may be a plus or a minus, depending on your sensitivity to texture.  I liked them just fine, although they were more work than regular sushi, and I kind of missed the nori.  Oh well, we must have options!!

edit - I ate these last 3 after a few hours in the fridge, and the wrappers were quite firm and hardly sticky at all - a much better texture than they had fresh.  If you aren't a fan of sticky, just chill them and try again!

Serve these as a healthy alternative to deep fried appetizers at your next party, or pack 2 or 3 with your lunch along with a salad or miso soup!

Not Sushi, Spring Rolls!

28 Spring Roll Skins (Banh Trang) available at Asian grocers, and in well stocked Krogers (1 package is plenty)
7 Cabbage leaves (see instructions)
2 avocados
28 pickled ginger slices

1 C diced, cooked chicken thigh (about 2 medium, 130g, 4.5oz)
3 C cooked sticky/short grain rice
3 T seasoned rice vinegar


Peel the outer few leaves from the cabbage, then remove the core to loosen the next several leaves.  Try to peel 7 leaves off, leaving each intact as much as possible.  Rinse each in cool water - leaving them damp - then place in a large microwave-safe bowl - nesting them is fine.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and heat on high power for 5 minutes.  Remove from microwave, but leave covered to continue steaming while you prepare the other ingredients.

Slice both avocados in half, remove the seed by striking sharply with a large knife, then twisting, and scoop each half out of the skin with a large soup spoon.  Place all 4 halves cut-side down on a cutting board, and slice each half into 8 pieces (there will be a few extra slices, so don't use the smallest pieces!)

Place cooked rice, diced chicken and seasoned vinegar in a mixing bowl and mix well.

Quarter each cabbage leaf by slicing out the center stem, then cutting each leaf into about 4 equal pieces.  This won't be terribly precise, but it's fine.


Fill your cabbage  bowl with warm water, gather all your ingredients near by and place a large cutting board in front of you.  One at a time, take a spring roll skin and dip it into the water for about 3-5 seconds.  It should still feel stiff when you remove it.  Place it on your cutting board and layer a cabbage quarter, 2T of rice, a slice of avocado and a piece of ginger on the edge nearest to you.

Stretch and roll the wrapper around the filling once or twice, then fold over both ends and continue to stretch and roll - it should stretch a lot, like plastic wrap, and make a nice, tight cylinder.  The ends might look wonky - try to keep your end fold-overs nice and wide, not let them bunch up in the middle.  After you do one or 2, you'll get the hang of it.  The roll will continue to soften and stick to itself within a few minutes.

Put a piece of plastic wrap on a serving plate, and fit as many as you can in a single layer, then add another layer of plastic wrap before stacking more.  These may be prepared ahead and kept in the fridge for at least 24 hours.  Serve with soy sauce for dipping.


Nutritional Info - per each roll:

Calories - 95, Fat - 2.4g, Cholesterol - 3.9mg, Sodium - 44.2mg, Carbs - 8.6g, Protein - 3.2g

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Homemade Greek Honey-Vanilla Yogurt

I've been making homemade yogurt for a while, and even though there are loads of recipes/methods online already, I thought I'd add mine anyway.  This is for all my friends who have asked about my yogurt making!!

Non-fat Greek yogurt is a wonderful food to have while losing weight.  The 'Greek" part means that the extra whey has been strained off, resulting in a thicker and creamier yogurt.  Most of us have tasted regular non-fat yogurt at some point, and it is easy to recognize the non-fat taste.  Acidic and tart, and not at all yummy.  When the yogurt is strained, the acidic whey is removed and the milk solids are condensed, resulting in much better flavor!  Because it is condensed, Greek yogurt also has 2x more protein than regular, helping you to feel fuller for longer, so you can eat less food!  It's a win-win!  My other favorite power-food for dieting is 2% cottage cheese (which I can't make...yet...) 16g of protein in only 90 cals!!  I'll give the nutritional info for my Greek Yogurt at the bottom of the recipe.

Don't let all the steps scare you!  Yogurt is a lot of hurry up and wait.  20 minutes of work... wait an hour... 5 minutes of work... wait 12 hours...  A stay at home mom will have no trouble, and a working person can do it, you'll just have to fit the steps into your schedule.

 Also, here is the price breakdown
24oz tub of name-brand Greek yogurt ($3.50) / 6 servings = $0.59 per serving
1 gallon skim milk ($2.75) / 16 servings = $0.17 per serving
(the first batch requires a small tub of store bought yogurt, but after that you save your own!)

1/3 the cost!  I do add honey and vanilla, which makes the price go up a bit, but I think I have room to wiggle with that price!!

Homemade Strained Honey-Vanilla Yogurt

To Make Yogurt:

1 gallon skim/non-fat milk
1 container plain, non-fat Oikos yogurt (Brand makes a difference!  See notes in the recipe.)

To Stir In:

1/3 C honey (raw & local is best!)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Equipment needed:

6 Qt. pot
10 qt pot
Heat-proof rubber spatula
Cooking Thermometer (not candy making)
Large cooler (large enough to hold your pots, one at a time)
High-Quality Cheesecloth (or 4ish layers of store-bought cheesecloth OR very thin, large kitchen towel - not terry cloth)
2-3 XL rubber bands
8 C measuring mixing bowl (like the PC batter bowl)
2-3 empty 1qt. yogurt containers OR canning jars OR Tupperware, for storage

1. Pour the entire gallon of milk into the 6qt pot.  Heat over med-high heat, stirring every few minutes and scraping bottom with rubber spatula until temperature reaches 180 degrees F.  This will take appx. 20 minutes.  This sterilizes the milk, just in case there are hostile bacteria that missed the pasteurization process, or were introduced during bottling.  Stir to keep the bottom from scorching - heat may be lowered if you are likely to be distracted while heating ;-)

(note - if your milk does scorch, taste it.  As long as it tastes fine, your yogurt will be fine.  Just don't scrape up the scorched bits during the remaining steps.  If your milk tastes burnt, it's up to you whether you are OK with the flavor, or if you need to start over)

2. Cool the milk to 125 degrees F. This can be done quickly or slowly.  If you remove the pot from the heat, it could take an hour to cool, depending of the temperature of your house.  To cool quickly, fill a large bowl with ice water, place in the sink, and set the milk-pot inside.  Stir frequently and temp until you get 125.  This could be as short as 10-15 minutes, or less.

3. WHILE MILK IS COOLING Prepare your cooler.  It is convenient to place it near a door, or in a bathtub you won't need for about 12-24 hours.  Place about 2 gallons of hot water in the cooler.  Check the temp of your faucet - if it's close to 120, that will be fine.  If not, you may need to boil a small pot of water to add to make the cooler water reach 120ish.  You will only need to check this first time - next time you make yogurt you will know how hot your water is, and how much boiling water you needed to add.  My hot tap water is fine at 117.

4. When milk has reached 125, scrape your Oikos yogurt into a medium mixing bowl and add 2 cups of the warm milk.  Whisk well to remove lumps, then whisk all into the pot of warm milk.  I use Oikos because it has no additives - additives cause grainy batches of yogurt.  You can experiment with other brands, but Oikos is safe to make good yogurt.

5. Place the lid on your pot, and place it in your cooler of hot water.  The level of the water should be about the same level as the yogurt, if not top it up - and make a note of how much water you will need next time.

6. Leave the yogurt, undisturbed, for about 12 hours.  This time is relative, anything over 6 hours will be fine, but the longer it sits the more firm it will become, and the more yogurt you get for your trouble!  I find it perfect to make my yogurt after dinner and have it done when I wake up in the morning.

7. After 12ish hours, you will find an entire gallon of non-fat, plain yogurt!  If you like "regular" yogurt (not strained) then your work here is done!  The yogurt will look like a solid mass with some yellow-ish liquid floating on and around it.  This is the whey, and it is the water-part of the milk - the yogurt starter converts most of the milk solids into more yogurt, and this is what is left.  It is quite healthy and mild.  If you are going to eat your yogurt here, just whisk the whey into your yogurt.  You'll need to stir it when serving, as it will separate again.

8. If you want to make strained yogurt, you need to chill the yogurt first.  If you have room in the fridge, great!  If not, dump out the warm water from the cooler, add cold water and ice, and put the pot back in for 3-4 hours.

9. Now prepare your larger pot.  Place your cheesecloth over the pot and secure around with 2-3 large rubber bands.  Let the cloth dip down into the pot about 4", to hold the yogurt.  Use the spatula to scrape your cooled yogurt into the cloth, watching to make sure you don't overflow!  You may need to adjust your cloth up or down.  You want to yogurt to be all the way up to the rim, so there is lots of room for the extra whey to drip down without the yogurt sitting in it.  You'll get around 2" of whey at the end, so make sure there is room.

9. Refrigerate for 3 hours while draining - if there is not room in your fridge, put it back in your cold cooler with more ice water.

10. After 3ish hours (set a timer - I always forget to check it!) look at your yogurt.  The sides should have curled in, away from the cloth, and the middle should be sunken from draining.  Perfect!  Search google for ideas of what to do with your whey, but DO NOT pour it down the drain if you have SEPTIC!!  Very harmful to the tank and the bacteria doing their job.  I feed it to my chickens, or just pour it in the yard.

(note here:  if you continue to drain the yogurt, while refrigerated, for many more hours, you will get yogurt cheese!  It can be used like cream cheese in cooking and spreading.  Search google for recipes and uses.  It is much lower calorie than regular cream cheese because it was made from non-fat milk, not cream.  I have not done this myself, but I do know it works.  Not sure about flavor and melting ability, but I'm pretty sure if you made it flavored (garlic powder and chives?  Crushed pineapple or strawberries?) and added a bit of sweetener or salt, that it would be pretty amazing!)

11. Scoop the yogurt into an 8C measuring-mixing bowl.  If you don't have one, you'll need to measure the yogurt as you remove it from the cloth.  You want 8C total - if your yogurt has drained too much, just add the right amount of whey back into the yogurt and whisk, to get 8C. (this is not so important if you aren't worried about the calories per serving and getting exactly 8C of yogurt.  However, if you do drain it too much it will be quite thick and gloppy, and more like thin cream cheese.  Just add whey and whisk until you like the consistency)

12. Before adding your flavorings, remove 6-8 oz. of plain yogurt to a small container, cover and place in the fridge for your next yogurt starter!!  Label with masking tape, "Oikos Starter x1" meaning this was the first saved starter.  Use this to make your next batch.  Next time save and label, "Oikos Starter x2", etc.  After 5-6 batches, you may notice the quality going down - grainey, loose, etc. - the culture is just getting too old to properly convert the milk.  At that point, I go buy a new cup of starter.  If your quality is still good, keep saving!

13. Now whisk in 1/3C honey and 1 tablespoon vanilla.  You're done!  Place in storage containers and place in your fridge.

This recipe can be doubled (if you have big enough pots!) or cut in half (if you don't have many mouths to feed) but yogurt keeps for several weeks in the fridge, and I hate to do all this work for one measly half-batch of yogurt!

Once you've done this a few times, you'll find that it really fits nicely with other household tasks - most of the time is spent waiting, not doing active work on the yogurt, so even though it takes 2 days to complete it is not that much work.  And all the pots and bowls and large and very easy to clean, so no filling up the dishwasher, or spending hours cleaning the kitchen.

Happy Yogurt Making!!

Nutritional Info:

1/2 C greek yogurt (including the honey)

109 calories, 0.2g fat, 5mg cholesterol, 18g carbs, 9.3g protein

(if you eat the yogurt PRE-STRAINED you can eat 1C for the above totals)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Thanksgiving Turkey Smores' Pops

This one is just in time for the Holidays!  Yeah, I know it's been like a year since I last posted, but hey - take what you can get!  These little smores' pops will be perfect for pre or post Thanksgiving parties where there will be lots of kids.  I know tons of kids who don't like pumpkin or pecan pie, plus who wants to waste the good stuff on the kids anyway?

Thanksgiving Turkey Smores' Pops
Makes 20ish


  • 1 box honey Graham Crackers
  • 5 Extra-Jumbo-Huge Campfire Marshmallows
  • 5 regular/large marshmallows
  • 1 bag candy corn
  • 1 C real chocolate chips
  • 1 bag thin pretzel sticks
  • Bowl of powdered sugar

Other Supplies:

  • Set of 3 circle cutters - 2", 1", 1/2"(perfect size set available in the cake baking section of Michaels or Hobby Lobby for cutting fondant - they make great regular cookie/small biscuit cutters!)
  • Candy melting/icing bag OR quart ziplock
  • 20 4" cake pop sticks (optional)
  • Cake pop display (optional)

So, just to be clear - this is not a FAST craft/treat.  It is, however, an easy one, and you won't need any special skills or knowledge to put these cute little guys together.  They are fine at room temperature, and the only possible problem will be the crackers going stale.  Wrap the plate or pop stand lightly with several overlapping layers of plastic wrap to keep out the air and they should be fine for a day or 2.

Step One - Melt the Chocolate

This needs to happen first because the chocolate will actually be too warm and thin at first, and we want it to thicken up before we need it.  Pour about 1/2C of real semi-sweet chocolate chips into the corner of a quart baggie or candy/icing bag.  Fake chocolate-flavored chips won't melt or set up properly.  Even cheap real chocolate will work fine here.  Set it into a bowl or coffee cup so it won't start dripping out the top, and microwave for 30 seconds.  Remove and try to squish the chocolate.  It won't be ready yet, so nuke it again for just 15 seconds.  Squish and nuke again for only 10 seconds.  Do this a couple more times until about 2/3 of the chocolate is melted, and it is just barely warm.  DO NOT LET THE CHOCOLATE GET HOT!!  Once you feel a warm patch, hold the top closed and just knead and squish until the rest melts with it's own warmth.  Set this aside - it will be plenty soft for the next 20-30 minutes.  Melt more when needed.

Step 2 - Cut out the Graham Crackers

The first graham crackers we need are for the Turkey's Body Base.  Stack the crackers 2 high and cut right through them with the 2" cutter.  I was amazed that they didn't crack or crumble!  The edges aren't perfect, but that's ok.  For 20 pops, you'll need 40 2" circles total, so get cuttin'!  This cracker cutting process is extremely messy and wasteful.  Scoop all your edges and scraps into another baggie to save for a graham cracker pie crust for Thanksgiving!  While you're in cutting mode, you might as well cut the rest of your circles and be done with the mess.  Cut 20 1" circles and 20 1/2" circles as well.  You will probably have enough large edge pieces for all your smallest circles.  Use a pretzel stick to pop the smallest circles out of the cutter when they're stuck.  Maybe make a few extras for breakage.

Step 3 - Make The Turkey's Tail

I hadn't added the legs yet here

Lay out 20 of your 2" circles on a cookie sheet, large cutting board, cooling rack, or whatever else you want to leave them on to dry.  You'll want a couple of inches between them so they are easy to work with.  Snip a very tiny corner off your chocolate bag.  If you are using a baggie, you'll want to watch for tearing - the hole may stretch out and get to big, and you'll need to squirt it all into a fresh bag.  If you're using a candy/icing bag this won't happen.  Make a thick-ish half circle of chocolate across the top of your cracker, and an upside-down 'V' at the bottom.  Go ahead and do all of them now so the chocolate can continue to set up.  If your chocolate was already too cool, nuke it again but only for 5 seconds.  Once it's been melted it re-liquifies very quickly.  Just be sure to pinch the tip closed when you knead it ;-)

Press 5 candy corns into your semicircle, points down, for the tail.  Now, take one thin pretzel stick, break it in half, and make 2 legs sticking out at the bottom.  You can do one turkey at a time, or do all the tails then all the legs - it doesn't matter.  Chocolate cools slowly. (But only when you're waiting for it to cool.  If you need it to stay warm and and soft, it cools too fast... go figure.)

Step 4 - Cut the Marshmallows

Now comes the sticky part.  Wash a pair of scissors with dish soap, then use them to cut your jumbo and regular marshmallows into 4 slices each.  Cut each 'mallow in half, then each piece in half again - you want to end up with jumbo discs about 1/2" thick, and regular discs around 1/4" thick.  After each slice is completed, drop it into the powdered sugar.  When they are all done, flip and pat the pieces so the sticky sides get coated with sugar - now they won't stick to your hands!  Pat them well to remove excess then you can toss them all into a pile or onto a plate and put away the powdered sugar and clean up the large cloud of white powder you just created.  Your scissors will appreciate a trip through the dishwasher.

Now, go back to your tails.  Make another semicircle of chocolate on top of the tips of the candy corn, and another upside-down "V" over the legs.  Since these are the highest points, this is the only place the marshmallow will touch.  Now gently press a jumbo 'mallow disk onto each tail, roughly lining it up with the cracker.  Since it isn't sticky, you can re-round it a bit first from where the scissors flattened it.  Hopefully, your tail has cooled enough by now that the candy corn doesn't move out of place, but keep an eye on them anyway.

Step 5 - Add the Pop Stick and Front of Body

Originally, I tried to stick the legs into the sides of the mallow.  No Fun.  Gluing them into chocolate worked much better.

This next part is quick and easy, but do just one turkey at a time for this round.  Make a thick-ish line of chocolate, about 1" long, right between the legs.  Press a cake pop stick onto the chocolate, make another thick line of chocolate on top of the stick and a swirl on the 'mallow, then press the other 2" graham cracker on top.  The weight of the cracker will hold the stick down in the chocolate. (at some point during all of this you'll need to melt more chocolate.  You can use the same bag, just pinch the hole closed while kneading) Repeat for all Turkeys.  Of course, you can skip the stick altogether and just serve these on a plate.

Step 6 - The Rest of the Turkey

My first 4 Turkeys didn't get sticks.  I forgot.

Whew!  You're over halfway done!  Now the rest is just squirt and stack!  Make a blob of chocolate near the bottom and place a regular 'mallow disc, then more chocolate and the 1" cracker.  Make a thin line of chocolate from the bottom of the cracker to the middle, then press on a single candy corn, with the point up.  You may want to do them all up to this point to let the chocolate set up holding the candy corn.  The last step is to make a small blob of chocolate at the top of the candy corn to stick on the 1/2" cracker.  Now add eyes and a beak and you are done!!

You'll want to give these guys at least 2 hours to dry.  You can check them by picking one up and flexing it gently around the stick - to see if the stick tries to peel out of the chocolate or not.  If the chocolate is solid and only the 'mallow stretches, then they are cool enough to place in your pop stand!  You'll need to space them out, since they are so much bigger than regular cake pops.  Tail-to-tail works well.

These are a lot of work, but not hard.  They are pretty crummy to eat, but no more than regular smores - and at least the chocolate and marshmallows aren't squishy! Impress all your friends this Thanksgiving Day with these cute Thankgiving Turkey Smores' Pops!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Chocolate Mousse a la Julia Child

The other day I was planning a dinner party, and I made a wonderful Braised Eye Of Round Roast from The Art of French Cooking.  It marinaded in a whole liter of Chianti, with Brandy and aromatic vegetables.  Then I braised it in the marinade and thickened it for the gravy.  It was amazing.  Long about 3ish that day, everything was cooking along and I realized that not only had I not planned a dessert, but everything else was done and I had time to make one!

I flipped through the desserts section, and kept seeing recipes that I did not have ingredients for... until I spotted Mousseline Au Chocolat.  I make it a habit to keep chocolate in my cupboard for impromptu cookies, real hot chocolate, etc.  This recipe also didn't call for any heavy whipping cream (which I never have!)  I had leftover coffee in the pot from breakfast, and orange liqueur from another recipe.  I think the orange liqueur would be the only thing that a normally well-stocked baking cupboard might not have.  I think any liqueur would work well - creme de menthe, Kahlua, even just straight vodka with a 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla or almond extract added.  I think it needs to be alcohol to make the eggs work properly but I haven't tried, so not sure - if you try it with regular coffee or something, let me know how it goes!

The recipe is made in 3 parts, but each one can sit and wait once it is complete, so if you need to make this while also doing other things it will work fine.  The yolk mixture takes the most time, so I made it first.  Then it sat there while I melted chocolate, basted my roast, got Anya up from her nap, etc, until I got around to finishing the other parts.  Worked out great.

The finished product was full of airy bubbles that made a nice popping sound when spooned into, but it melted into the smoothest cream in the mouth.  It really did not taste like orange or coffee - my guess is that no one would have thought those ingredients were in there - It just tasted like rich, creamy chocolate.  I will be making this one again, and often!!

Chocolate Mouse - from The Art of French Cooking 

by Julia Child, pg 604

The Yolks Mixture
3qt glass or stainless mixing bowl
Electric mixers or a whisk (I used a whisk - it takes a while, but you don't need to whisk fast)
4 egg yolks (save the whites for later)
3/4C powdered sugar
1/4C orange liqueur (or other liqueur)
small saucepan of barely simmering water (for double boiler - make the level of water low enough that it won't touch your mixing bowl)
a bow of cold water (I added  ice cubes) that WILL touch your bowl

The Chocolate
Small mixing bowl
same saucepan of simmering water

6 oz semi sweet chocolate (I had 4 squares of Bakers Chocolate, and I added 1/4C semisweet chocolate chips)
1/4C strong coffee (I used leftover from breakfast, espresso might have given more flavor)
1 1/2 sticks of butter, room temp (12T - yeah, its alot!)

The Whites
medium mixing bowl
electric hand mixers (unless you are super hard core... I'm not)
4 saved egg whites
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon regular sugar

  1. Beat the egg yolks and powdered sugar with a whisk until the mixture is pale yellow, thick and the mixture falls in a ribbon when drizzled into the bowl.  Beat in the liqueur and place bowl over the small saucepan of hot water.  Whisk continuously (doesn't need to be super fast, just don't let it sit and cook!) until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger.  Then move your mixing bowl over to the cold water and mix until the yolks have cooled to room temp. and will drizzle in a ribbon again.  Set aside - it can hold for a while.
  2. Place your chocolate (chop it roughly if you have baker's squares) in a small mixing bowl along with the coffee - YES you can mix chocolate and water!!  It has to do with the temperature you begin with when the water is added.  It mill melt together if you start everything at room temp, while the chocolate is still solid.  Place over your simmering water and melt - I used a rubber spatula to mix and mash as it melted - you need to keep the chocolate moving while it melts into the coffee.  
  3. When it is finished melting, remove from heat and beat in the softened butter with a whisk - about 1T at a time.  When it is smooth and creamy, whisk the chocolate into the yolks - it should be room temp by now, and won't cook the eggs.
  4. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form.  Sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff.  WHISK in 1/4 of the mixture - this lightened the heavy chocolate to make it easier to fold.  Then, gently fold in the rest, incorporating as much of the white as you can - a few streaks or lumps may remain.  
  5. Pour into a large serving dish, or into individual serving dishes.  Serve with whipped cream if you have it, but I didn't have any and it was so rich that it didn't need any!
  6. Refrigerate 2+ hours, covered.  Makes about 5C of mousse - 10 1/2C servings!

Alterations -
  1. You may stir in extras as you add the chocolate to the yolks - the original recipe called for candied orange peel.  Other ideas might be mini chocolate chips, nuts, crushed peppermints, espresso powder, etc.
  2. Lightly oil a 6C ring mold, pour in, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 4 hours until quite firm.  Dip mold into hot water for 1 second and unmold onto chilled serving dish.  Fill center with fruit or whipped cream (or both!)
  3. Line a serving dish with sliced ladyfingers, pound cake, etc.  Fill with mousse and refrigerate, then unmold onto chilled serving dish. Decorate with whipped cream and fruit.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Mini/Maxi Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers

These are wonderfully flavorful, and the whole thing can be made ahead - for the refrigerator or freezer!!  It's very healthy, with brown rice, turkey sausage, and the only other fat coming from the cheese on top (which you could leave off, I suppose) I had most of a bag of those cute mini sweet bell peppers leftover from another dish, and this was the perfect way to use them up.  But you could also just use regular large bell peppers and cut them in half (for the maxi).  I've made lots of extra stuffing in the pan for kids, or others who aren't fans of bell peppers.  These could even be healthy appetizers at a buffet - enjoy!

Mini/Maxi Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers

2C dry brown rice + 4C water (or 6C cooked leftover rice)

about 12 mini sweet bell peppers, or 6 large ones, cut in half
    note - you could probably use 3-4 doz mini peppers or more, but i wanted lots of 
    extra filling for the kiddos ;-)

1 20oz package turkey italian sausage (sweet or hot)
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjorum
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt

28 oz diced or crushed tomatoes
8ox tomato sauce

2C shredded provolone or mozzarella cheese (or about 12 slices) (or sub cheddar, but it will be less italian ;-)

  1. Heat the oven to 350.
  2. Start your rice - place 2C dry long grain brown rice and 4C water in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook slowly for about 45-60 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is gone.  You can turn off the heat when there is just a small amount of liquid left, but leave the lid on to steam for about 15 more minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, begin to brown the Italian turkey sausage.  If you have links, slice the skin open and remove it - cook the ground meat until it begins to brown.  Add the onions and all the spices and cook until the meat is cooked through. note - this seems like a lot of seasonings, but remember we are mixing it with all that plain rice and plain tomatoes.
  4. Also meanwhile, make a long slit into the side of each mini pepper (or cut whole peppers in half, and clean out the veins).  Place the slit side down on a dinner plate, add a couple tablespoons of water, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 5 minutes.  Remove from the microwave to cool, but leave them covered with the wrap to continue steaming.
  5. Put it all together - in a large mixing bowl, place the hot cooked rice, seasoned meat and diced tomatoes.  Toss well until combined.  Stuff each pepper with filling - it's fine to have the seam a bit open. (I tried using a small spoon, but honestly, my fingers worked better)
  6. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with oil.  Pour the rest of the meat/rice filling into the dish.  Arrange the peppers on top, seam side down, squishing them down into the rice a bit.  Make them in rows, or a fun pattern!  Spoon the tomato sauce over the peppers - this keeps the skins from burning, and makes a kind of caramelized sticky crust.
  7. Spray a sheet of foil with oil, then cover the dish (oil side down, of course)  Bake for 45 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, uncover, and sprinkle the whole dish with cheese (or lay slices over all).  Return to the oven (do not cover) increase temp to 400, and bake about 15 more minutes, or until cheese is bubble and browned.
For buffet appetizers, use enough mini peppers to use all the stuffing, and place them slit side up with just a drizzle of tomato sauce, and uncovered on a baking sheet.  Roast at 400 for about 20-25 minutes When they are tender and beginning to blacken, sprinkle with cheese and broil.  
The whole dish can be made ahead and kept in the fridge.  Bake for 1 hour the first time, then 15 minutes with the cheese.

To freeze, instead of spraying a casserole in step 6, line it with heavy foil.  Assemble the whole dish (without cheese) and place in the freezer until hard.  Pop the foil out of the pan, then wrap well with more foil, then plastic wrap, label and place back in the freezer.  When you are ready to cook, remove the outer layers of plastic and foil, and plop the original foiled casserole into the original pan. Bake, covered at 350 for 2 hours, then 15 minutes with the cheese.