Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers for 18 people!

Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers to serve 18

So after a bit of a posting hiatus, I’m back… life got busy, mostly with fun stuff, so I haven’t been cooking a lot of new things, but I did find some interesting cooking situations, so here goes.

My girlfriend recently moved into a co-op house with 14 residents in total.  While the house doesn’t share all their food, as some co-ops do, huge dinners are prepared to eat communally; every resident signs-up for nights to make dinner for everyone, and this happens nearly every single day!

Whomever is making a dinner also typically invites other guests of their own. So, for this first dinner, we were preparing for 18 people!  That’s definitely the biggest sit-down home meal I’ve ever participated in preparing.

At the co-op house, appropriately, a lot of the cooking vessels are king-sized.

A giant colander.

And, an advantage is one gets to cook on this huge Viking gas range!

The co-op’s huge Viking gas range.

For the stuffed peppers and tomatoes, we prepared a stuffing of the following:

  • brown rice (cooked)
  • fresh tomato (cores, chopped)
  • fresh mushroom (finely chopped)
  • fresh garlic (minced)
  • fresh italian sausages (removed from casing and browned)
  • both fresh and dried oregano
  • fennel seed
  • cayenne pepper (powder)
  • fresh parsley (finely chopped)
  • salt and pepper
  • parmesan cheese (grated)

This was the first meal we prepared for the co-op; having no idea how long it would take to prepare, we started at about 2pm for a 7pm dinnertime.  (As it turns out, that was none too soon for this first effort.)

Hours of prep, prep, and more prep!

The peppers (selected for large size, and so they could stand upright) and tomatoes were cored and packed in baking pans (lightly greased with olive oil).

Hollowed-out peppers and tomoatoes; italian sausage for stuffing.

The stuffing ingredients were mixed and lightly cooked with the sausage after browning.

Chopped mushroom for the filling; also, tomatoes and minced garlic.

A relatively small amount of sausage was used (5 sausages for 18 total servings), and browned in a large pan.

Browning italian sausage.

Once the filling was mixed together with the cooked brown rice and seasoned to taste, the peppers and tomatoes were filled.  We also made some vegetarian only filling, substituting some more cheese instead of the sausage, and we were careful to keep track of which were the vegetarian ones.

Stuffed and ready for the oven.

For a side, we washed and trimmed 3-4 pounds of fresh green beans.

Prepped green beans.

The green beans were steamed while sliced almonds and garlic were sauteed in oil.

Toasting/browning sliced almonds in olive oil with garlic.

Humongous steamers are great for preparing the vegetables, and the range top with so many gas burners allows many things to be going at once.

To finish the beans, they were tossed with the almonds and some tamari (a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce.)

Green beans with garlic, almond, and soy sauce.

The co-op has a large dining room with a great table, here set for 17 residents and guests!  Two kinds of sliced melon were also served with the dinner.

The co-op’s dining room table, awaiting the dinner bell.

For those residents don’t make it for dinner, the leftovers are packed individually for each of them and left in their respective refrigerators.

So, from this monumental task, here’s what I learned:

  • Food prep takes a long time; in total we took over 4 hours to prepare this meal.  We’ll get better at using the food processor for chopping.
  • Adding spices for very large dishes takes practice… I kept having to add, taste, add, taste, add, add, add!
  • Easy summer foods like sweet corn on the cob and watermelons are great side dishes.
  • The hollowed-out bell peppers can be blanched and partially cooked in boiling water before stuffing them, so that they cook in much less time, similarly to the time for the tomatoes.
  • Some wine before dinner, near the end of the cooking, definitely helps relieve stress. :)
  • A large group makes for quite the convivial kitchen and dinnertime.

Alas, this post isn’t a recipe, per se… I’ve lost track of many quantities and there were a lot of adjustments to taste.  I trust most of you don’t need measurements to prepare such a meal for 18 people, though. :)

If you’d like a stuffed pepper recipe, here are some places to start:

Chicken Tinga

Chicken Tinga Tostada topped with ripe avocado, scotch bonnet queso fresco, and cilantro leaf.

I’m a huge fan of Mexican and Tex-Mex food; if pressed, I usually say it’s my favorite. As such, I was surprised that, to the best of my recollection, I’d not heard of this fantastic dish.

In preface, I can say that after making this in my kitchen, I’m pretty sure my house has never smelled so good. Perhaps it did on Thanksgiving Day. :-)

My inspiration was: (a) to make something Mexican in honor of Cinco de Mayo – despite the idiocy that sometimes surrounds its “observance” in the U.S., and (b) to use up my chorizo.

Chicken Tinga ingredients.

I started with this impressive recipe: chicken tinga, apparently by a Kiwi chef now living in the Yucatan. One thing that struck me about this recipe is that many ingredients are used twice: to poach the chicken and also to make the sauce.

Here’s are my modifications:

  • I used well over 2 pounds of chicken breasts; perhaps 5, so approximately doubled the onion and spices to poach the chicken.
  • I used dried thyme and oregano rather than fresh.
  • I used one medium to large red onion (rather than white) in the sauce.
  • I used reconstituted dried ancho chilies (~7 small-medium), rather than using chipotle chilies in adobo sauce.
  • I used the water from the rehydrated chilies both to boil the chicken, and as part of the blended portion of the sauce.
  • I used 1 14.5 ounce can of fire roasted diced tomatoes, instead of fresh tomatoes.
  • I used 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 apple cider vinegar.
  • I used an additional 1 T. brown sugar, to taste, to balance the vinegar.

First, when rehydrating ancho chilies, I do as Rick Bayless suggested, and cover them with a small plate to keep them submerged, for 30-45 minutes.  Remove the stems and the seeds and rinse them before blending them into the sauce.

Rehydrating ancho chiles

I tasted the chicken before combining it with the sauce, and it was quite flavorful on its own.  (I’ve often prepared chicken breasts for pulled or shredded chicken by boiling it in V8 juice; that’s a nice short-cut, but not nearly as good as with these spices.)

Poaching/boiling chicken breasts

Sautéing red onion strips and browning chorizo.

Preparing the sauce: onions, chorizo, and garlic

Sauce with blended tomatoes, ancho chiles, vinegar, sugar, and spice added

My total prep time was about 1 1/4 hours, including a wait for the chicken to cool so that I could pull or shred it rather finely, finishing by stirring it into the sauce to simmer for 5 minutes.

I took the Chicken Tinga to a friend’s house where we served atop both crisp tostadas and warmed corn tortillas along with shredded iceberg lettuce, ripe avocado, cilanto leaves, and crumbled Scotch Bonnet Queso Fresco.

Chicken Tinga tostada

I’m really happy with how this Chicken Tinga turned out, and, if I’m to believe them, so were the 3 friends, including one child, that have tasted it so far!  I can also suggest the substitution of ancho chilies (that are just a bit spicy); their flavor worked really well in the sauce.

Here’s the recipe that I adapted:

On a subsequent morning, I placed a poached egg atop Chicken Tinga for a nice breakfast from the leftovers… a serving suggestion from the video linked above.

Chicken Tinga with poached egg and queso fresco on spiced bread.

There are some complementary mexican recipes and interesting videos here:

Chorizo Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

Chorizo Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

If ever you find yourself having to choose a last meal, and it must be a sandwich, you’d be doing yourself a final favor to request this Chorizo Buffalo Chicken Sandwich.

This is a sort of tribute to Katja’s Kitchen, as it is a variation of Katja’s Oven-Baked Buffalo Chicken Sandwich.

I used her recipe pretty much as-is.  However, I started by browning about 2.5 ounces of mexican chorizo in a pan.  I cooked the chorizo slightly less than I would if eating it immediately; after all, it’s going to bake in the oven with the chicken.

Sliced chicken breast and pan-frying chorizo

I sliced a relatively small chicken breast lengthwise, but not all the way through, so I could fold it open to a nice thickness for a sandwich.  (Hmmm, this may be twice as much chicken per sandwich as Katja’s recipe.)

Next, I pressed most of the fat from the chorizo and mixed it with .5 ounces of lightly crushed Special-K breakfast cereal, then coated the chicken breast as she described in her recipe. Be sure to press the coating to the chicken so that it is still adhered when it finally makes its way to your sandwich.

Dredge the chicken breast in flour, coat with egg, and chorizo/cereal mixture.

I similarly baked it in a 350° F oven for 30 minutes.

I served the chicken on lightly toasted sliced cheese bread, from our Farmer’s Market, topped it with hot sauce (Valentina brand Salsa Picante, which is much hotter than Frank’s Red Hot, thus I used it sparingly), ranch dressing, thinly-sliced celery, and a bit of crumbled queso fresco – not that the sandwich needed it, it’s just that I made the fresh cheese yesterday, so “Why not?” It’s my last meal of the, umm, afternoon. :-)

Chorizo Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

Here are the recipes that inspired this sandwich:

Thanks for this and the other recipes, Katja!

St. Paul Sandwich

Image

St. Paul Sandwich

Here’s a great sandwich that I had this morning instead of a typical breakfast sandwich: the St. Paul Sandwich; it’s essentially a hamburger made with an Egg Foo Young patty instead of a beef patty.  I was introduced to this sandwich on the public television program, “Sandwiches That You Will Like” some years ago.
Despite its name, the sandwich originated in St. Louis.

To prepare, first make the egg foo young like in my earlier recipe; this time I used leftover chopped Easter ham, thinly sliced napa cabage, and chopped baby bella mushroom.  (I used 4 “large” eggs for 3 patties.)

I served the patty with sauce on a small bun (another Easter leftover), topped with some julienned carrot and a bit of onion, a leaf of napa cabbage, a couple slices of roma tomato, and mayonnaise.

This is a tasty and unique sandwich for any time of the day, but it’s quick to prepare for breakfast or lunch from leftover egg foo young; the patties with sauce will keep for a day or two in the fridge and reheat well in a microwave.

Peruvian Baked Chicken

Peruvian Baked Chicken

More properly, this could be called Peruvian-inspired Baked Chicken; not being a Peruvian and without access to native ingredients, this is a rough approximation that I prepared for myself and friends (4-5 servings).  My closest Peruvian friend was out of town, so the authenticity remains untested. :)

A second inspiration for this dish is my love the taste of habanero pepper, in spite of its sometimes overwhelming heat.

This recipe uses two very hot peppers; in fact, these two are the hottest peppers that I know to be used regularly in cooking recipes (100,000-350,000 scoville units). I chose one habanero and one scotch bonnet, a related and similarly hot pepper.

Habanero and Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Be extremely careful when handling these peppers, once cut; if mishandled, you may find yourself in pain for hours. If you start to feel the tingling heat in your fingers from touching the pepper, you can dip your fingers in milk to sooth them, and/or use a toothbrush to clean them if you get the oils under your fingernails. Some people like to wear latex (or similar) gloves, however, I manage to handle these by just being careful to only touch the waxy outside of the pepper, and use only utensils to touch the insides when cutting, seeding, removing the veins and, mincing.

For this dish you could either use one whole chicken, cut up, or 4 leg quarters, as shown here.
The first step (a day or two in advance) is to prepare a marinade and to marinate the chicken (e.g., in a large, strong Zip Loc bag) for 8 to 40 hours.

Marinade ingredients:

  • olive oil (3 T.)
  • mint leaves (1/3 cup)
  • smoked paprika (2 t.)
  • cumin powder (1 T.)
  • garlic (6 large cloves, minced)
  • scotch bonnet pepper (1, seeded and veins removed, minced)
  • habanero pepper (1, seeded and veins removed, minced)
  • salt (1 T.)
  • ground pepper (1 T.)
  • brown sugar (1 T.)
  • crushed dried oregano with buds (2 t.)
  • fresh lime juice (1/4 cup)
  • lime zest ( 2 t.)

Combine marinade ingredients and thoroughly blend in blender or food processor.

Use a spoon or bowl scraper to apply the marinade to the chicken.  Loosen, but do not remove, the skin, and be sure to put the marinade both between the chicken meat and the skin in addition to on the outside of the skin and pieces.  (If you use less hot pepper, you could certainly apply the marinade by hand.)

To bake the chicken, place it on a broiler pan, with water in the bottom (to keep rendered fat from burning and smoking), and bake for approximately 1 hour at 375°F.  If necessary to crisp the skin, rub or spray chicken with oil and finish under the broiler.

Given that I meant the chicken to be somewhat spicy, while it was baking, I prepared a soothing cream sauce with cilantro, lime and ripe avocado.

Sauce ingredients:

  • sour cream (1/2 cup)
  • mayonnaise (3 T.)
  • milk (~1/3 cup, to desired consistency)
  • cilantro leaves (1/2 cup)
  • balsamic vinegar (1 t.)
  • avocado (1, ripe)
  • juice of fresh limes (~3, to taste)
  • salt (to taste)

Cilantro Lime Avocado Sauce Ingredients

Combine sauce ingredients in a blender and puree.  (Adjust amount of milk to achieve desired consistency.)

Abstract #1: Sauce Ingredients in Blender

Once baked, I cut each leg quarter into 3 pieces: a leg, and two thigh pieces.  Use a chef’s knife or cleaver so that you can cut through the bone.

Peruvian Baked Chicken Leg Quarters

I served the chicken pieces, two per guest, topped with the sauce and accompanied by a Twice Baked Sweet Potato.

Overall, this dish was pretty good and fairly mild or just approaching what many Americans might call “medium” in heat.  Next time I’ll vary the pepper (perhaps adding a bit more) and limit the amount of mint so that it doesn’t dominate the flavor.  I used 1/2 cup of mint leaves (before chopping); the amount (1/3 cup) in the marinade ingredients above is my revised suggestion.

Here are the recipes that I used as bases for this dish:

UPDATE (June, 2015):

I wanted to spice it up even more so this time also added the following to the marinade:

  • An additional habanero pepper (2 total, seeded and finely minced)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • apple cider vinegar and water until desired consistency

This worked well, and still wasn’t too much spice for 8 chicken thighs.

Chipotle Steak Tacos

Chipotle Steak Tacos

Tonight’s late-night dinner was these awesome tacos!

I started with choice Black Angus stew meat (1.25 pounds for $5), sliced against the grain and trimmed of fat and sinew.  I marinated the slices for 8 hours in a mix of olive oil, cumin powder, garlic powder, crushed mexican oregano (with buds), thyme, coarse black pepper, salt, and Worcestershire sauce.

Blackened Jalapenos

Next, I blackened/smoked some fresh jalapeno peppers (that were a little past their prime, but I didn’t want to discard) over the burner on a gas stove.

While sautéing the marinated beef slices (in the marinade) with a mexican hot sauce (Valentina brand Salsa Picante) added, I warmed some corn tortillas in a pan.

The tacos were assembled on the tortillas and topped with fire-roasted tomato (Hunt’s, canned), sour cream, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, black beans, and slices of the jalapeno peppers.

Delicious!

Chicken Fajita Salad

Chicken Fajita Salad

Marinate chicken breasts (one per serving) in lime juice, minced garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, ground cumin, and crushed whole dry mexican oregano (i.e., oregano with buds).
I suggest marinating them for 8-48 hours.

Prepare pico de gallo: diced tomato (cored), finely diced jalapeno, minced garlic, minced onion (white), chopped cilantro, lime juice, salt.
Optionally add diced ripe (but not too ripe) avocado.

Prepare a creamy cilantro-lime sauce of: sour cream, heavy cream and/or milk, fresh cilantro leaves, fresh lime juice, minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, cumin powder, fresh ground pepper, and salt.
Purée this in a food processor or blender.

Pan fry strips of corn tortillas in olive oil until crisp.

Grill or pan fry the whole marinated chicken breasts in oil and marinade; blacken and sauté red pepper strips. Slice the chicken breasts (across the grain) and serve with the sautéd red pepper strips atop chopped Romaine lettuce. Top with cilantro-lime sauce, pico de gallo, crisp tortilla strips, and garnish with slices of lime, ripe avocado, and cilantro leaves.

I consulted these recipes for ingredient ideas:

“Creamy Cilantro-Lime Sauce”
http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/creamy-cilantro-lime-sauce-10000000221985/

“Chicken Fajita Salad”
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-fajita-salad/

Braised Chicken a la King

Braised Chicken a la King

This dish is a modification of Chef Ming Tsai’s “Braised Sake Chicken a la Ming” recipe:
http://ming.com/foodandwine/recipes/simply-ming-season-8/braised-sake-chicken-a-la-ming.htm

I added red pepper and garlic to the mirepoix, added a couple bay leaves with the stock, and substituted 1 1/2 cups of Sauvignon Blanc for the sake and substituted sour cream, thinned slightly with milk, for the creme fraiche.

Overall, I rate it 3 out of 5 starts, i.e., I wouldn’t make it again as-is. The chinese mustard and wine are a nice improvement from your (my) mom’s Chicken a la King, but it is still reminiscent of that fairly mundane comfort food. The chicken is super tender when cooked this way though… the knife turned out to be just a photo prop. :-)

Pepper Steak and Tofu

Pepper Steak and Tofu

I made up this dish based on leftover ingredients from other recent meals; it is essentially a tasty combination of asian pepper steak and fried rice.

I used Angus Beef stew meat, thinly sliced. I also used tofu, cut into 1/4″ thick triangle-shaped pieces and fried in shallow peanut oil, so that just one side was browned. I like this restaurant-inspired way to prepare the tofu for its visual appeal.

The beef is sautéed in peanut oil with minced fresh garlic and ginger, then with coarsely diced green bell pepper and white onion. I also added some rice (prepared earlier), fresh whole basil leaves, and stir fried it, and mixed with a brown sauce of water, white wine, rice vinegar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, black bean paste, chili garlic sauce, and honey then reduced to desired consistency.

Rice Stick Noodle and Beef Sauté

Rice Stick Noodle and Beef Sauté

This dish is my approximation of a favorite a local noodle restaurant where it goes simply by the name “D8.” :-)

Stir fried in canola oil, ingredients are: sliced beef (I used relatively inexpensive Angus Beef stew meat), jalapeno slices, minced garlic, minced ginger, bean sprouts, scallion, egg scrambled in a bit of sesame oil, and combined with sauce consisting of fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, and honey, cooked until sauce reduced to desired consistency.

The noodles were extras, left over from my recent Pad Thai, and had been sitting in water in the refrigerator for a few days. (This seemed to neither hurt nor help; the noodles were just as they were after soaking only a half hour or so.)

This dish is a variation of fried flat noodles known as “Char Kueh Teow” as in the following recipes, popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It’s probably no surprise, then also, that it is somewhat similar to Pad Thai from adjacent Thailand, that is partially located on the Malay Peninsula.

“Fried Flat Noodles/Char Kueh Teow”
http://www.mykitchensnippets.com/2008/11/fried-flat-noodleschar-kueh-teow.html

“Char Kuey Teow (炒粿條/Penang Fried Flat Noodles)”
http://rasamalaysia.com/char-kuey-teow/2/

“Fried Flat noodle (Char Kueh Tiaw)”
http://www.chopstickdiner.com/index.php?m=recipe&c=show_recipe&recipe_id=96