"I hate people who are not serious about their meals."

Oscar Wilde,
The Importance of Being Earnest

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My New Favourite Pepper: The Cubanelle

This was my first foray into the world of stuffed peppers (or any stuffed vegetable, for that matter). I have eaten and enjoyed them in the past, at restaurants and other people's houses, but I just never quite found the occasion to make them myself. However, after coming across this recipe during a recent Saturday morning channel-surfing session I decided I didn't need any kind of special occasion.  I'd never even heard of Cubanelle peppers in Australia, so naturally, I was curious to find out what they were all about.  Let me tell you, I am certainly glad I did!  The cubanelles have a great flavour - slightly sweeter than a bell pepper but with a slight spicy kick, they cooked up perfectly in the oven. And the colour! That fabulous fresh green of grass shoots and new leaves - very summery. These were really easy to make, and the Mexican inspired flavours in the stuffing mixture ensured that the kitchen smelled amazing while we were cooking. So if, like me, you were looking for an excuse to make stuffed peppers, you just found it!

Stuffed Cubanelles
barely adapted from Sunny Anderson
makes 6 peppers
(The original recipe is for 8 peppers, but unless yours are very small I don't think you'd get more than 6)

1 packet sazon seasoning
1/2 cup warm water

olive oil

1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper (capsicum), finely diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup long-grain rice
(I used basmati)
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, divided

1 pound/450g ground beef, (80/20 fat content)

6 cubanelle peppers, stalk and seeds removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F /175 degrees celsius.
Dissolve the sazon in warm water in a small bowl and set aside.  Rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan or frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add in the rice and garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the garlic begins to brown.  Stir in the sazon water, cumin, and season with salt and pepper. Saute for a further 3 minutes, then remove from the heat, add 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce and set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add the ground beef. Mix with a wooden spoon (or your hands) until completely incorporated.
Stuff the cubanelle peppers with the beef mixture, using a teaspoon or the end of a wooden spoon to ensure the the mixture is pushed right to the ends.
Pour the remaining tomato sauce into a baking dish and arrange the stuffed peppers on top. Brush the outside of the peppers with 1 tablepsoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the peppers are golden and a little browned on top. To serve, pour a little of the tomato sauce from the pan over the peppers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Hero By Any Other Name

Until I came to the United States, I never imagined that a simple sandwich could have so many different names.  What I would have previously referred to as a 'sub' was now a hoagie, a grinder, a po-boy or a hero, depending on where it was coming from.  A little internet research tells me there are still more names for this creation that I've yet to discover in person.  While the etymology of all these different names is kind of interesting, I'm not going to go through all of them here. I understand that the term 'hero' derived from the large size of the sandwiches, a food writer remarking that "one must be a hero to eat such a sandwich".  However, me being a passionate sandwich maker and eater, (and a bit of a cornball) I prefer to think of the term in reference to the fact that a great sandwich can really save the day.  These meatball heros are no exception.  Filled with probably the best meatballs I've ever made, topped with marinara sauce and yummy melted mozzarella, they are truly heroic sandwiches indeed.

Meatball Heros
barely adapted from Guy Fieri

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced red onion
1 small red bell pepper (capsicum), minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (you can use any kind of milk you like, I used rice milk and it worked fine)
2 slices sourdough bread, crust removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces to equal 1 cup
1 pound/450g ground beef (80/20 fat content)
1 pound/450g ground pork
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 egg, beaten

4 submarine rolls
1 cup marinara sauce (I used some of my mother-in-law's awesome sauce, you could use store bought or make your own. The original recipe linked above has a sauce recipe included.)
Mozzarella, sliced

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir through salt and cook until tender. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

Put the bread pieces into a bowl, pour milk over and let soak for 5 minutes. Remove the bread from the milk and squeeze out the excess liquid so the bread is moist but not soggy. Ok - time to get your hands dirty! In a large bowl, mix together beef, pork, soaked bread, cooled vegetable mixture, basil, oregano, parsley, pepper, chili flakes, grated Parmesan and egg. Roll into 2-inch balls.  I got 18 balls from my mixture. Add a tablespoon of oil to the same saute pan you used for the vegetables and heat over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs (I did them in 2 batches), until firm, brown and cooked through.

To assemble the sandwiches, split the rolls lengthways down the centre, but not all the way through. Scoop out some of the bread on the insides so the meatballs can fit in nice and snugly.  Place 3 or 4 meatballs into each, top with approximately 1/4 cup of marinara sauce per roll, and finish off with a few slices of mozzarella cheese. Place under broiler (that's under the grill for any Aussies reading!) until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Asparagus for Non-Asparagus Eaters

Love it, or hate it?  Asparagus seems to be one of those things that drives people to extremes of opinion. Many will scrunch up their noses at the mere mention of it, possibly recalling a past experience with canned asparagus, or some other form of the vegetable cooked beyond recognition.  Personally, I love the stuff. (Admittedly, I have been known to enjoy a canned asparagus and grilled cheese sandwich from time to time, but let's pretend I didn't tell you that.) Here's a way of serving asparagus that involves absolutely no risk of ending up with a squishy dull green mess.  It's raw asparagus!  Shaved into lovely curly slivers with a surprisingly subtle, fresh green flavour and just the right amount of crunch. Tossed with a simple dressing and some sharp pecorino cheese, it's refreshing and more-ish - sure to be a standout with any main meal.  Try it, you might just like it.

Shaved Asparagus Salad
1 bunch asparagus
3 tablespoons grated pecorino
1/2 a lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Wash the asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Shave into fine slices using a vegetable peeler, starting at the stem end and moving toward the tip. Alternatively you could use a mandolin to do this, but I wasn't confident in there only being a thin layer of asparagus between my fingers and the cutting blade, so I opted to use the peeler.  Combine the cheese, lemon juice and water.  Whisk in the oil to emulsify.  Toss through the asparagus and season with salt and pepper.  Feel free to play around with the proportions of ingredients in the dressing, according to your own taste - admittedly I added a little extra cheese to my serving... I can't resist pecorino!

Marshmallows and Tablespoons

Here's something I didn't know - a tablespoon is not always a tablespoon.  Or at least, not if you're using an Australian recipe in the US, or vice versa.  You see, Australia apparently decided to be different to the rest of the world, and make their tablespoons slightly larger.  According to Wikipedia, an Australian tablespoon is equal to 4 teaspoons, but for most of the rest of the world, it's only 3.  It seems like a small difference, but over 2 or 3 tablespoons this can add up quite quickly.  I had originally suspected something like this must be the case when experimenting with ANZAC biscuit recipes - which I have yet to master in my new country of residence - they always turned out a little too soft for my liking, and I suspect that the discrepancy in the tablespoon measure may have something to do with it. (At least, that's my excuse for now.) So, just thought I would give you all a heads up - in this age where a lot of people are just as likely to get their recipes online as from a cookbook, just keep an eye on where your recipe is coming from!

Alright, that's business aside. Let's get down to pleasure.  Down to marshmallows. Those balls of springy, fluffy, melt in your mouth sweetness.  They were always a favourite for me growing up; my mother and I would inevitably fight over who would get the last pink marshmallow in the bag. (The white/vanilla ones were always inferior to the raspberry as far as we were concerned).  Yet until today I had never attempted to make them.  I was inspired along the way by one of my favourite food blogs, Technicolor Kitchen, who has posted a flurry of different marshmallow recipes over the past year or so.  The recipe I used originally called for raspberries, but I had a punnet of blackberries so I decided to use those instead.  They turned out brilliantly. (Needless to say, better than any store-bought kind.. sorry Pascall's!). I was expecting all kinds of sticky mess, but really these really were a cinch to make.  I'm already imagining how tasty they'd be in Rocky Road, and if it weren't so hot here, I'd be dropping a couple into a hot chocolate right this minute.

Blackberry Marshmallows
adapted from Masterchef

440g/15.5 oz caster (superfine) sugar
1 tablespoon (+ 1 teaspoon if you're using US tablespoons!) lemon juice
125g/4.4oz blackberries
5 teaspoons powdered gelatine
3 egg whites
1 tablespoon (+ 1 teaspoon, as above) cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tablespoon (+ 1 teaspoon, as above) icing (confectioner's) sugar
Oil, for greasing

Stir 400g/14oz of the sugar, lemon juice and 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil rapidly for 10 minutes or until at the 'hard ball' stage.  This should take around 10 minutes. Now, if you don't have a candy thermometer, don't panic!  You can check by dropping a spoonful of syrup into a glass of iced water. If it forms a hard ball, you're good to go.

Meanwhile, place the blackberries and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat for 5 minutes, crushing blackberries with the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and press the blackberries through a fine sieve to get rid of the seeds. I just did this back into the same saucepan they were cooked in.  Sprinkle gelatine over the blackberry mixture and stir until dissolved.

Using an electric hand or stand mixer, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Now gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk until smooth and glossy stiff peaks form. With the beaters running, pour the hot syrup in a thin, steady stream into the bowl, then add the blackberry mixture. Whisk for a further 5-7 minutes, or until mixture thickens enough to hold its shape.
Combine cornflour and icing sugar and use to dust a greased 20cm x 30cm slice pan (I actually used a 9-inch square pan). Spoon the marshmallow mixture into pan, smooth to level using a metal spatula, and refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.  Dust a little icing sugar over the top before removing from the pan.  To turn your marshmallows out of the pan, run a butter knife around the edges, and use it or the round tip of a metal spatula to gently lift one corner.  Turn upside down and peel the marshmallow away from the pan - it will be more solid and pliable than you think,  just be firm, but gentle, and it will come out quite easily.  Turn on to a cutting board dusted with icing sugar and cut into squares.  Roll the finished marshmallows in a little extra icing sugar so all the edges are covered.  These can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week. (If they last that long!)