Monday, April 23, 2012

Stuffed Bell Peppers w/ Hot Turkey Sausage (If You Want)

(I cut the pepper in half so you can see the yummy goodness inside)

Lately on Twitter my favorite foodies have been tweeting great vegetarian recipes for “Meatless Mondays.”  I am far from a Vegetarian these days but I used to be one, and I am always preaching about healthy eating in general.  So I decided to participate in “Meatless Mondays” and try to cook a vegetarian entrée at least once a week.

These peppers are my latest vegetarian experiment, and they are easy, tasty, and pretty. However, after posting the pictures of this dish online, I got a lot of people asking me what they should make to go with it. Basically they were implying that 1 or 2 peppers does not make a complete meal. So to address this concern, I suggest making these without meat and serving them as a side dish for chicken, steak or fish OR adding meat into the filling. When I made this a second time, I sautéed the meat of 3 Hot Italian Turkey Sausages and added it to the filling.  I found that the meat gave the peppers even more kick, flavor, and heartiness.

But whether you make this with meat or meatless, know that you are getting lots of great vitamins and minerals from the veggies!  Also, this dish is GREAT for entertaining! They’re vibrant and colorful and everyone gets their own pepper filled with everything they need.  And if you have just 1 or 2 vegetarian friends, you can leave meat out of some.
As you can see, this dish is VERY versatile, I hope you give it a try and make it your own!

4 Bell Peppers
3-4 Hot Turkey Sausages (If you want...)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Small Onion (or 1 large shallot)
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Bag of Fresh Baby Spinach
2 Plum Tomatoes (seeds removed)
4 tablespoons Parsley (divided)
3 cups Cooked White Rice (basmati or jasmine work best)
Cayenne Pepper (to taste)
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
3/4 cup Breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons Butter
3-4 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile you can cut the tops off of your bell peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. (see pic) You may have to cut the bottoms off a bit for them to stand.  Then chop your onion, garlic, tomatoes and parsley, and reserve them separately on your cutting board.
By this time your water should be rapidly boiling.  Add a couple tablespoons of salt, then add the bell peppers and boil for 3 minutes.  Using tongs remove the bell peppers from the water and place them top down into your casserole dish to drain and cool.  Next you can cook your rice following the directions on the package.  I suggest using the success rice packets because you can throw them into the same water you boiled your peppers in or use precooked microwavable packets of rice (I used Trader Joe’s microwaveable Organic Jasmine Rice).

While the rice is cooking, heat olive oil over medium high heat, add the onion and sauté, for about 5 minutes, until softened.  Then add the garlic and spinach and stir to combine.  Once the spinach has begun to wilt, sprinkle with salt and a bit of cayenne pepper and continue to stir.  Once the spinach is cooked, add the tomatoes and cook until they are heated through (about 2-3 mins).  Pour the veggies into a medium sized bowl.  Once rice is cooked, add the rice to the veggies and add a bit more salt and pepper, 3/4 of the parsley (reserving about a tablespoon), and stir to combine.  If you are choosing to add meat, you can sauté the turkey sausage until browned and using a slotted spoon, add the meat to the rice and veggie mixture as well. 

Next, turn the peppers over in the casserole dish and sprinkle the inside of each with salt and pepper.  Fill each pepper to the brim with the filling.  Then, in a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter, final tablespoon of parsley, and parmesan cheese and top each pepper with a generous amount.

Cover the peppers and bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Then, remove the cover and switch the oven to broil.  Broil them for 3-4 minutes or until the breadcrumb topping has a nice golden color.  Remove peppers from the oven and serve immediately.

Note: When I made this, I saved and baked the tops of the peppers for decoration (see pic above). Feel free to do the same or simply discard them when prepping the peppers.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lemon Pasta with Grilled Chicken and Asparagus

Regardless of what your thermometer may say, spring has officially sprung! If you’re interested in enjoying springtime on a plate, you should give this pasta dish a try!  It’s filled with the best of the season starting with asparagus; a spring vegetable you can currently get fresh and cheap.  Pair that with chicken, lemon, parsley, and whole-wheat pasta and you have a bright and flavorful meal.  If that didn’t sell you, this meal is also healthful. The chicken tenders are 99% fat free and the whole-wheat pasta provides additional protein and fiber, so you have everything your body needs in one dish. Enjoy!

Ingredients (makes 4-5 servings):
½ Lb. Whole Wheat Penne Pasta (half a box)
1 lb. Chicken Tenders
1 Bunch Fresh Asparagus (ends trimmed)
4 tablespoons Vegetable Oil (divided)
2 Lemons (juice and zest)
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4-5 Garlic Cloves (minced)
½ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
¼ cup Chopped Parsley (a generous handful)
Salt & Pepper
Grated Parmesan Cheese (for garnish)

First place a large pot of water over high heat to bring to a boil. Then preheat grill pan or outdoor grill to high. While the grill is heating, season both sides of chicken tenders with salt and pepper. Then, using a microplane, grate the zest of 1 lemon onto the chicken. Next, on a separate plate, toss the asparagus in 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and season with salt, pepper, and lemon zest as well.  Now the grill should be hot, so pour the other 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil on a paper towel and rub on the grill to prevent sticking and burning. Grill the chicken tenders for about 3 minutes on the first side, flip and grill for another 3 minutes. You will know the tenders are ready to be turned when they come right off; if they are sticking, they need another minute.


After the tenders are cooked, put them on a plate and set aside, and then place the asparagus on the grill at an angle. Grill for about 4-5 minutes, until they are slightly softened and have visible grill marks. Put the asparagus on a plate and set aside to cool as well.

Now your pasta water should be boiling.  Add salt to the water and cook pasta until al dente (following the directions on the package). Meanwhile chop the chicken and asparagus it into pieces about the same size as the penne. Once pasta is cooked, drain and leave the noodles in the colander. In the same pot that you cooked your pasta in, heat ¼ cup olive oil, add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 30 seconds. Then add the parsley and the juice of 2 lemons and stir to combine. Add pasta, chicken, and asparagus to the pot, stir and season everything with a bit more salt and pepper.  Serve immediately with a generous helping of parmesan cheese on top.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Leigh's Shrimp & Grits

Last weekend I hosted Easter brunch and in addition to lamb, which is a traditional entrée at Easter, I wanted to serve a seafood dish as well. In my family, we always have to have some “surf with our turf.” Anyway, my mom suggested I make shrimp and grits and I immediately remembered that my friend Leigh makes a great version.

I called her up and she talked me through how she makes shrimp and grits. Like me, Leigh is a great cook but she also keeps her health in mind so as she was sharing the instructions, she was already suggesting ways to cut the calories. However, since this was a holiday meal I was preparing, I decided to forget about counting calories and splurge a bit. So the recipe below is how I made it for Easter but if you want to shave off some calories, here were Leigh’s suggestions: use skim or low-fat milk instead of cream and eliminate the cheese from the grits.

But whether you indulge with cheese and cream or keep it light, this recipe is a winner. My family ate it ALL and I had people who said they never liked or tasted grits, scraping them off their plate. Enjoy! And Leigh I hope this makes you proud!

Ingredients (makes 5-6 generous servings):

3 ½ cups Chicken Stock (divided)

1 cup Heavy Cream

1 cup Quaker (5-minute) Grits

Salt & Pepper (to taste)

½ teaspoon Garlic Powder

½ teaspoon Hot Sauce

½ cup Parmesan Cheese (1 good handful and Sharp Cheddar works too!)

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 small Onion (diced)

2 cloves Garlic (minced)

½ cup Dry White Wine

1 ½ lbs. Shrimp

Old Bay Seasoning (to taste)

1 lemon (juiced)

2-3 tablespoons Chopped Parsley (for garnish)


In a medium sized pot, bring 3 cups chicken stock and the cup of heavy cream to a boil. Once bubbling, add the grits, salt and pepper to taste, garlic powder, and hot sauce. Stir to combine ingredients, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 5 minutes and remove from heat.

While grits are cooking, heat olive oil over medium high heat then add onions and cook until softened, 4-5 minutes. Then add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Add in the white wine and the other ½ cup of chicken stock and stir to combine, being sure to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. While that begins to bubble, generously season the raw shrimp with Old Bay and then add the shrimp to the pan. Cover and steam for about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Now you can check the grits. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and give them a taste. Add more salt, pepper, or hot sauce to taste, but the grits should be creamy with a mild kick from the hot sauce. Pour grits into a large, deep serving dish.

Now your shrimp should be cooked. Add the juice of 1 lemon and parsley. Give the shrimp one final stir and then pour everything on top of the grits. Serve immediately.