Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Comfort Foods

So most of the country is experiencing some really really cold weather right now. Up until today, I’ve been wearing short sleeves and flip flops for the past two weeks, and although I enjoy the California Sunshine, I’m realistic and know that it’s ultimately not good for our growing season and that we will (hopefully) see some rain in the upcoming weeks, and colder temps.

In preparing myself for this inevitable chilly fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about delicious - warm you up from the inside out - comfort foods. You know the ones I’m talking about, Mac & Cheese, Sheppard’s Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, Stuffed Bell Peppers and all the goulashes and hot dishes that are hallmark dishes of my Minnesota Heritage.

Now, before you all groan a collective sigh at the thought that I’m talking about hamburger hot dish, hear me out. There ARE a lot of wonderful one dish, warm and toasty meals you can pull out of your oven, and there are many that taste incredible paired with a ‘winter weather’ wine. You can health them up too, if it makes you feel better about eating them.

One of my favorites is Stuffed Bell Peppers. I make these all the time, and they are so easy and delicious, and shhh, healthy! They can become a staple in your menu without becoming a tire around your waistline.

Ingredients -
4 large red peppers. (yes, really red)
1/8 lb pork sausage
¼ lb ground turkey
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 green bell pepper diced
1 shallot diced
1 clove garlic diced
teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
½ cup couscous (dry, unprepared)
½ cup wheat germ
(for wheat free or a nice change - sub 1 cup quinoa (unprepared) for the above two ingredients)
1 small can of tomato sauce
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (+ a little to top finished peppers with)

Cut tops off Red Bell peppers, deseed, and set aside whole peppers. Take tops, dice and set aside with green diced pepper.

large pan, over med heat sauté garlic and onions in the olive oil until clear. Add pork sausage, and ground turkey, add spices to meat and continue stirring until almost cooked through. Add bell pepper and sauté until meat is finished cooking. Turn heat to low, and mix in can of tomato sauce and couscous and wheat germ (or quinoa) continue to stir over low heat until well mixed. Remove from heat and mix in parmesan cheese.

Stuff each of the peppers with the mix, and place upright into a Pyrex dish.

This is the beauty of this recipe, at this point you can stash them in the fridge and pull them out and cook them later for a party - or you can pop them into an over and continue making your dinner.

When ready to finish cooking them, pop into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes (if stuffing is still warm from stove) or 40 minutes (if from fridge) just until the peppers start to get a little soft. You still want them to hold the stuffing, and have crunch in them!

When they are ready to serve, slice each one through the center - and sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese.

Because these peppers are such a meal in themselves, I don’t serve them with a lot of other stuff, usually a wonderful side of sautéed Swiss-chard with a hint of lemon and olive oil, or I some grilled asparagus tips with some olive oil and fresh shaved parmesan. I’ve even just opted for a beautiful green salad on the side. Bread is also optional, although a wonderful crusty wheat with some real sweet cream butter is certainly a favorite of mine.

Some of my favorite wines to serve with the stuffed peppers: A berry forward syrah, spicy zinfandel, merlot goes beautifully, if you are more of a white wine drinker, a nice well oaked fume blanc will even do the trick!

Here are some past “tried and true” wines that have made a huge hit with guests dining on my peppers. I try to find wines that have a lot of yummy berry richness and notions of herbs to round out the hearth and home feel of the meal:

Robert Keenan, Napa Valley Merlot; Indian Springs, Syrah; Toulocay Wines, Zinfandel; Robert Mondavi, To Kalon Reserve Fume Blanc, but, I encourage you to find wines that really speak to you, and your palate.

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