Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not Rachel Ray, But Well Worth The Extra Ten Minutes....

This week for Meatless Monday, we decided to see if we could back up Cynthia's words from her recent blog post and make a great meal without a lot of fuss and in a modest amount of time. Working together, without rushing, our plan was to make:

Three Cheese Ravioli with Garlic Scape Pesto and Baby Beets with their Sauteed Greens

Although we didn't quite enter into the Rachel Ray realm of 30 minutes, we did sit down to eat 40 minutes after we started, and it was well worth the extra 10 minutes!

Before you ask, no, we didn't make the ravioli from scratch. There are actually a few brands of packaged frozen ravioli available these days that are quite good. We used Rosetto Cheese Ravioli, available in many supermarkets. We did, however, grow the beets and the garlic scapes used in making the pesto. 

If you're unfamiliar with garlic scapes, they are  the flower stalks of hardneck garlic plants that produce a "bulb" that is both edible and delicious. It has a definite garlic flavor but is typically milder that the actual garlic. Here they are, next to the baby beets and their greens that we used for this recipe.

Here is a quick "timeline" of how it went down.

6:00 - Big pot of water onto boil, toaster oven on 425 F to preheat, shelled 1/3 cup of pistachios, grated 1/3 cup parmigiano cheese.

6:05 - Blender/food processor set up, pistachios into toaster oven

6:10 - Clean beets and greens and prep an ice bath (simply a bowl of water with ice) to receive cooked beets and greens

 6:15 - Beets into boiling water for approx 5 mins (remember, these are baby beets and don't need a long cooking time -- and leaving them with a little crunch adds to the finished dish)

6:20 - Beet greens into boiling water for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, literally, no longer, beets and greens into ice bath to stop the cooking process and hold the colors
6:20 - Grrrrrrrrrr, discard first batch of pistachios (forgot them and they burned), shell 1/3 cup more, back into toaster oven, paying more attention this time.

6:25 - Make pesto by adding scapes, toasted nuts, olive oil and parmigiano cheese to blender. Blend until smooth.
6:25 - Drop ravioli into boiling water used for beets and greens. Cook 5-7 minutes (or per package instructions)

6:32 - Drain pasta water, reserving 1 cup, leaving ravioli in the pot. Add pesto and that cup of pasta water back. Add beet greens. On medium heat, gently stir to combine and heat thoroughly. 

6:40 - Plate ravioli , add grated parmigiano cheese to taste nd garnish with baby beets. Serve while hot!

Just goes to show that you can get a pretty spectacular plate to the table in 40 minutes. Sure, there were two of us, but getting someone else involved is half the fun. Yes the burnt pistachios set us back a few minutes, but don't let those kind of setbacks kill the fun. Just fix it and move on.

A little hint: you can use almost anything to make a pesto, parsley, basil, broccoli, etc. The pistachios can traded out for other nuts. Experiment, don't feel like you can't put your own touch into it. Good proportions to begin your pesto quest are 1/3 cup main ingredient, garlic scapes in this case, 1/3c nuts, 1/3c good parmigiano reggiano (or any good hard grating cheese), 1/3c EVOO.  If using anything but garlic scapes, add a couple of cloves of garlic.  This will yield a fairly thick paste that turns into a beautiful sauce with the addition of a couple scoops of your pasta cooking water. 

P.S. Cynthia still thinks we could have done it in 30 minutes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Herbs and Berries and Veggies, Oh My!

If Spring is kind (and it was this year in Northern Virginia), the first few days of summer are an exciting mix of things ready to eat, others growing rapidly and even more newly planted. We're not complete fresh food fanatics but we do really appreciate the difference between something you pick from from your own garden versus that which you can find at even the best (and priciest) grocery store.

So, rather than bore you with words, I'm going to let the pictures of our garden do the talking in this post. Enjoy!

The Herbs

Tuscan Blue rosemary w/ Pink Poodle echinacea

Santolina, thyme and chammomile
Lavender, upright rosemary, alpine strawberry

'Arp rosemary, fennel feet
Fennel Gone Wild --last measurement, 9' 9"
Artichoke, garlic chives, more Tuscan Blue, parsley, lovage, Greek oregano, ornamental salvia and portulaca

The Berries
Alpine strawberries - tiny but intensely delicious

Strawberries - gone now - but we had a bumper crop this year   

Wild blackberries in our 'natural' area

Virginia's famous wine berries

The Veggies

Baby beets (Three Root Grex) and garlic scapes - just picked
Garlic fresh from the harvest
The tomato zone is full this year!
Clusters of 'Juliet tomatoes and a big fat mystery plant --it was marked 'Juliet as well!
Can't resist adding hot peppers to the garden!
'Socrates peppers
'Red Russian kale underplanted with a fancy schmancy mesclun mix from Johnny's Seeds
'Red Russian kale
'Bright Lights swiss chard with a horseradish back
'Homemade Pickles' cucumber seedlings
the newly planted bed o'beans --'Kentucky Wonder and 'Mellow Yellow
Leeks gone by but still beautiful.  We're hoping these beautiful flowers provide seeds for lots of 'leeklings'.

Potatoes - growing above ground in bags Cyn made from landscape fabric

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Meatless Monday (and lots more) in Las Vegas

My first trip to Las Vegas was in 1972. Yeah, I'm that old. There are a lot of things to remember about that trip; playing blackjack in Caesar's Palace, even though I was under age, going to Hoover Dam for the first time and even seeing Elvis perform at the Hilton. Yes, THAT Elvis -- he wasn't even fat yet. Looking back, I find it hard to believe I actually saw Elvis perform live. I also remember you could get a full breakfast for 99 cents at any casino in town and most had all-you-can-eat dinner buffets for $3.99. It was all about getting you into their building to gamble. The food was plentiful but unspectacular.

I've been back to Las Vegas more than 20 times over the past 40 years and, needless to say, a lot has changed. Many of the hotels I saw on that first trip are gone, replaced with shiny new ones like the Wynn, the Cosmopolitan and the Palazzo. Over the years, Vegas has reinvented itself several times, including a failed attempt to portray itself as "family friendly." Now Vegas is back to its roots with the "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" campaign. But what has changed more than anything, at least in my opinion, is that Las Vegas is now an extraordinary food city.

Something happened in 1992 that changed the food culture in Las Vegas forever. That year, Wolfgang Puck opened a branch of his very successful Los Angeles restaurant, Spago, in the Forum Shops of Ceasar's Palace. Most people thought that the Vegas crowd, who had been trained to eat anything as long as it was cheap, would ignore the upscale and pricey interloper from California with the funny name. Wrong. It seemed that people on vacation and in town on business with expense accounts were more than ready to embrace a higher level of dining. Since then, every celebrity chef you've ever heard of and some that you haven't has opened one or more restaurants in town. Las Vegas is now THE destination for foodies that want to be able to eat the culinary stylings of everyone from Robuchon to Lagasse, from Flay to Keller and from Batali to Ramsey, all without leaving the Strip.

I recently spent 7 days in Las Vegas. Before you get all jealous -- it was (almost) all work. I did, however, get to three restaurants worth writing about, including one on Monday night, which presented a small challenge with stick to my Meatless Monday commitment.

The first of the three was Carnevino, (there must be some sort of cosmic irony that had me eating at a restaurant called Meat and Wine on Meatless Monday) one of the several restaurants that are partnerships of Mario Batali of Iron Chef fame and Joe Bastianich who has created quite the wine empire for himself. (I could be unkind here and say of his Mother Lidia's fame, but I won't).  I've been to several other Batali restaurants and have always come away happy, so I was looking forward to something good. Since this was a group dinner, we weren't ordering off of the regular menu.

The appetizer was set for everyone as a classic Caprese salad. I'm not a big fan of either fresh mozzarella or tomatoes but I will admit I ate most of it and really enjoyed it. The three main choices were a beef, a chicken and a fish -- all off the table for me since it was Monday. I spoke to the wait staff when we first arrived and asked if hey could accommodate a vegetarian meal. Without any hesitation they offered me several choices, all sounding great. I settled on a garganelli pasta with a ragout of mushrooms cooked in a brown butter sauce. When they served my dish, it was the sauce as advertised but on tagliatelle. I didn't particularly care and dove right in. About 3 minutes later, the waiter showed up with another full serving of the dish, this time on the garganelli. He apologized profusely and said he just wanted to make it right. Nice -- each of my five other table mates got a decent sized serving of the pasta from the extra dish. At least two of them told me they wished they had asked for a vegetarian meal! The wines were, as you would expect, spectacular, the pasta was made fresh and the mushroom sauce was perfect.

The second of the three was the Palm Steak House in Caesar's Palace. The Palm is  a national chain, founded in NYC in 1926 and is widely recognized for excellent steaks and seafood. Again this was a group dinner, although small enough this time to be able to order from the regular menu. I don't eat a lot of red meat these days, but when I do, I typically order a NY Strip steak. When we eat it at home, our usual portion size is 4-6 ounces, so when I saw that most of the steaks at the Palm were 16 oz and bigger, I defaulted to the only one that wasn't, the 9 oz fillet, not my favorite cut, but usually reliable. When I ordered it cooked medium, I told the waiter that it would be fine if it was a little on the medium rare side, knowing most fine steak houses will miss in that direction rather than the other. After having one of the finest wedge salads I've ever had (super crisp lettuce, tangy blue cheese crumbles and crispy fried onion straws), my steak arrived looked nicely charred on the outside. But when I cut into it, there was no pink warm center, it was medium well to say the least, and that may be being kind. Since I was sitting right next to my dinner host, I decided not to make a a big deal of it by sending it back, I didn't want to cause any sort of scene, so I just picked at it, eventually eating about a third of the steak. I know that every kitchen makes errors, but come on, this wasn't even close. Honestly, it was a waste of of good piece of meat. Although the classic side dishes were good, lyonnaise potatoes and creamed spinach, there is no making up for a badly cooked steak at a restaurant of this reputation. Dessert was served family style -- huge pieces of chocolate cake and carrots cake that were big enough to serve a family of 6 each. I sampled each, they were good, but I was pretty disinterested at that point. I really have no more to say about the Palm. On to a much better experience....

The last of my "big three" was another Batalli and Bastianich restaurant, aptly called B&B and located in the Venetian, my favorite hotel in Vegas. This time I was fortunate to have dinner with a friend who appreciates fine food and wine. We had great service, a great wine recommendation from the sommelier and pretty amazing food. Since this was a less business oriented dinner, I was able to spend a lot more time choosing and enjoying my meal. An added bonus was that my dinner companion felt, like I did, that sharing was a good thing.

There were so many good things on the menu that it was difficult deciding. After discussing it for a while we both decided to pass on the antipasti course and move right to the primi list of pastas. That is, until a guy walking by our table on his way out, told us to have the octopus appetizer. That's right, an unsolicited recommendation with the following words, "the best appetizer I've ever had, bar none, and I eat at a lot of restaurants." This was said as he pointed to his, shall we say ample stomach. So, how could we resist, we ordered the grilled octopus to share. The menu describes it as being served with borlatti marinati and a spicy limoncello vinaigrette. OK, I don't know who the guy was, but I wish I knew where to find and thank him. The octopus was perfectly grilled, succulent without a trace of rubbery texture and the borlatti beans were flavorful and al dente, the way beans should be served. The vinaigrette was a perfect foil for both.

Back to the original plan....we each ordered a pasta dish from the primi selections. I picked the bucatini all'amatriciana with guanciale and hot pepper and pecorino cheese. My friend picked one of the house specialties, Jose's Pyramids. The waiter explained these were named after the guy in the kitchen whose only job was to make these every day. Apparently the entire preparation takes six hours! Basically they was a hand made pasta, hand formed into a pyramid shape and filled with the creamiest, most savory short rib mixture ever. By this time, the waiter had figured out we were in it for the long haul and made the recommendation that he split each pasta dish into two, allowing each of us to have half of each. He further suggested that we do the pyramids first since the subtlety would be less appreciated if we were to eat the more aggressively flavored bucatini first. We liked this guy and took all of his suggestions.

Just about this time, the sommelier showed up asking if he could be of any help in choosing a wine. If you are a regular reader, you know I like red wine but don't really know it in depth. No fear - my friend did and he launched into a long and involved discussion about the merits af several reds from the amazing wine list. When he asked about a particular bottle of Barolo, the sommelier pointed out that, in his opinion that particular vintage would be better off with 10 and maybe 20 more years of aging. Yikes! Having a better idea of what we were looking for, he recommended a different Barolo saying that the 1996 was perfectly ready to be enjoyed. Um, he was right. To my uneducated tastes, this was a fantastic bottle of wine and paired perfectly with the pasta and main courses we told him we were considering.

At this point we were both pretty damn happy and were developing some high expectations for the main courses. Good news -- our expectations were met!

I had the grilled veal chop served with rhubarb mostarda and collard greens. I've eaten many a veal chop over the years and I'd have to say this one was the best. Cooked perfectly, this exceptional piece of meat was also presented beautifully with the greens placed just so on the chop. The slight bitterness of the greens and the little bit of sweetness of the rhubarb worked together to both complement and offset the richness of the veal.

 My friend had the rabbit porchetta with "vignole" and rabbit confit. The meat from the rabbit leg had been de-boned and made into a roulade. He was kind enough to share a bite with me (as I did with the veal for him) and it was pretty amazing. The meat was almost tender enough to cut with a fork! The surprising element of the dish was the sweet red pepper sauce that elevated the rabbit to a whole new place.

Finally, with our main courses, we shared a side of De Cecco broccoli served with peperoncino and garlic.

The waiter offered us the dessert menus, but I'm sure he wasn't at all surprised when we took a pass. I'm sure it would have been excellent, but we decided enough was enough. All in all a great meal. Good food, good service and good company makes a great combination. If you're in Las Vegas and have only one "special" dinner on your schedule, you won't go wrong by having it at B&B.

(I'm hoping my friend Brock will chime in in the comments section with his impressions, particularly of the rabbit)

P.S. I know this post is long -- I hope you made it all the way through to the end. If you did, thanks.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Where does she find the time??? Cynthia rants -- in a good way!

 A Guest Post from the real talent behind A Reluctant Foodie - my wife

I'm often accosted with the phrase, "Where do you find the time to cook?  I could never do what you do!"

Well, frankly, bullshit.  Pardon my bluntness.  With a little foresight, planning and help from the diners, you too can have an interesting and exciting meal, at least once a week. Here's how my system works: planning for Meatless Monday starts the week before, when we're eating the current MM. We discuss flavors we like, things we haven't had in awhile, new things we'd like to try, and what needs to get used in the pantry. Your food becomes very personal when you have a conversation and consider.

Then the implementation of ideas begins.  Recipes are looked for, remarked upon, perused and discarded. It can be as simple as a 'search' for 'tamarind' on the epicurious.com site or opening one of the cookbooks and looking at the vegetable and/or pasta/side dish offerings. It really shouldn't take more than a half an hour or so to narrow down what you'd like to make, and you could spread that out to ten or fifteen minutes here and there, when you have a moment. You must eat, why not make it as fun and tasty as possible?

During the week or weekend proceeding MM, get your necessary shopping list together. Find a cool new ethnic store -- walk around. Go on a Saturday and try the kimchi that's being forced on you by a Korean grandma, so pushy but so adorable you can't say no. Not close to a asian/indian/hispanic supermarket? Go online! There are a ton of options out there, all ready, willing and able to sell you something delicious. Heck, your local supermarket probably has what you need, and most of them now deliver. (Thank you Peapod!)

"I can't cook" IS NOT an excuse. Can you read? I betcha you can if you're here. Pick up a simple cookbook, read, follow directions. One of my favorite food websites, Chow.com, has a list of ten cookbooks for newbies, buy one. Read, gather ingredients, follow instructions. You can cook, don't make me call you out.  "I choose not to cook" is much more accurate if you're a Can't Cook Person, and I'll buy that.

Please don't forget, Meatless Monday suppers can be as simple as grilled cheese and tomato soup. Who doesn't love that? You can always add some spinach to your grilled cheese, or sauteed broccoli rabe, a couple of pieces of sundried or fresh tomato, basil, chutney, use a new cheese, piggyback multiple cheeses, you get the idea. Make your tomato soup from scratch, or add herbes de Provence to your can o'soup, use milk instead of water, a little Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder, spring onions and queso fresco, wild rice from an instant bag-o-rice and a little tofu.  Too out there? I went over the line with the tofu? It's a perfect pairing with the tomato, trust me ;)  You'll hardly know it's there.

As for getting the diners involved, ask your kids to come up with some ideas. Get them in the kitchen, put them in front of a food website, ask them what they'd like to try. Make them wash their hands and get in the kitchen with you -- give them a knife, that usually works! A butter knife and some green beans for tykes 3+. I believe any kid over the age of 5 or 6 should have had supervised experiences with paring knives, but I come from a foodie family and may be slightly biased toward knowing how to feed yourself and others well. My favorite Chef Cousin had a knife in his hands at 3. His father freaked out. His mother supervised and Nick learned. No more father freak out, Nick is training to be a Chef. I'd like to think my cooking with him strapped to my back when he was a wee young Buddha may have had something to do with it - don't burst my bubble.

So you have a plan, you've gone shopping, you've made your meal and eaten well.  Clean up is the bane of most cooks, and I'm no exception.  I do try (after many years of being harangued, pleaded with and cajoled) to clean as I go. But there's a rule in our house --- He Who Doesn't Cook, Cleans. Team effort and all. So train your support staff accordingly, or become the cleaner yourself and hand over the reins to the Cook in your family.

If you have a plan and a team on board, you are on your way. Meatless Monday shouldn't be difficult or time consuming, unless you want it to be. Of course, you can always go out!  We're always open to hosting a couple of new cleaners, ummmm, I mean diners, at our home on Monday nights.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sea Pearl Restaurant - Falls Church, VA

This past Saturday night, we kept up our tradition of going out to dine on the first Saturday of the month at a restaurant we hadn't been to before from the top 50 list published in Northern Virginia Magazine.We've been on kind of a roll -- well, at least for the past two months we have been. In April and May we had two really great meals at The Restaurant at Potawmack Farm and The Market Table Bistro respectively, both in Lovettsville, VA. We had high hopes for continuing this trend when we picked Sea Pearl in Falls Church, VA for our June outing. For the most part, our hopes were fulfilled. We'll explain the qualifier later.

The restaurant is,as the name implies, focused on seafood. What is not as evident from the name, is that the food is all prepared with an Asian flair. This is much easier to understand when you find out that the owner/chef is Sly Liao, born in India to Chinese parents. It should also be noted that his wife is one of the sisters of the Vietnamese restaurant Four Sisters, almost directly across the street, a former Top 50 joint.

When you first enter you are immediately in a very handsome bar, quite large and visually appealing. There is a smaller lounge connected that has an almost Las Vegas feel to it. The dining space is themed consistent with the name and there are reminders of the sea everywhere. Curtains constructed of mother of pearl discs separate the bar area from the dining space.

Service was prompt and very professional. Our waiter was polished and went out of his way to ask if we had been there before or if we had any questions about any of the dishes. He also pointed out that their "signature" dish was the oven roasted Chilean Sea Bass.

First Course (Al)
There are quite a number of very interesting and appealing first course selections on the dinner menu and I waffled back and forth for a while before settling on the onion and zucchini pakora. Found throughout southeast Asia, pakora is made by battering any number of ingredients in chick pea flour and deep frying them. This was obviously a nod to the chef's Indian roots. Think really grown up onion rings, with a fine julienne of what had to be baby zucchini added. Someone in that kitchen knows how to fry things. The oil was obviously hot enough to get the finished dish that GBD (golden brown and delicious) state that all fried food should aspire to -- without any trace of being oily. As good as the pakora was, the two dipping sauces served with it were even better. The first was chilli/cumin/cilantro, and for someone who isn't all that fond of cilantro, it was mighty tasty. But I've saved the best for last. The second sauce was a tamarind chutney that was somehow both sweet and savory and had me asking the waiter if he could sell me a bottle of it. It would be good on anything -- even ice cream!

First Course (Cyn)
It was high, it was stacked, it was tasty.  It was predictable, safe, and dare I say it, boring?  I wanted a  little more crunch than the small spoon of tobiko-on-the-side provided, and the tuna a little less mangled but more precisely cut.  I know tartar is the saving grace for many a kitchen, where the trimmings of a beautiful piece of fish are turned into a wondrous dish, but please, don't let me imagine I'm eating trimmings because of sloppy knife work.

Presentation:  beautiful, who could complain?  Taste:  lovely, everything fresh and harmonious.  Soul:  nope, not even a little.

Main Course (Al)
I swear, I'm not easily swayed. I ordered the sea bass because I wanted the sea bass, not because the waiter told me it was the signature dish. Really.

Patagonian Toothfish is marketed in most of the world as Chilean Sea Bass. I think even the most inexperienced marketer can see why. I can only imagine the pitch meeting where the creative types wracked their brains trying to find a way to make it sound appealing. Asa side note, it should be noted that it is illegal to call Patagonian Toothfish Chilean Sea Bass in the UK. Who knew?

I like this fish. It has a firm white flesh, a mild taste and can prepared in a pretty wide variety of ways all of which allow for another flavor element to shine. I've eaten this fish in a lot of restaurants and I'd have to say that this preparation was one of my favorites ever. One thing I've learned over the years is that you can make a good piece of fish into a bad dinner but you cannot, regardless of the skill of the chef, turn a bad piece of fish into a good dinner. This was a good piece of fish.

Cooked to perfection (for me that is just past medium rare but not far enough toward medium that it starts to dry out), and glazed with a shiro miso that added both sweet and salty notes. It was topped with a few small jalapeno rings that elevated the heat quotient just enough. Accompanying the fish was braised kai lan tips (OK, I had to look this one up). It's also known as Chinese broccoli and was reminiscent of broccoli rabe but less bitter. A coconut jasmine rice provided the starch and was topped with julienne vegetables. Everything on the plate was excellent.

Main Course (Cyn)
Fat and juicy grilled shrimp were paired with edamame, potato, scallions, water chestnuts, carrots and peanuts in a play on the flavors of Kung Pao, and sent out with a small bowl of sriracha aioli.  It was hot and spicy, the veg were alternately crunchy and tender, the flavors melding but not lost in the Kung Pao seasoning. The sriracha aioli with the shrimp was absolutely the highlight of my meal.  I thought the aioli would overpower the delicate flavor, but the creaminess of the mayo base hits you first and then the chew and ocean of the shrimp and then pow! the sriracha heat marries Kung Pao spice for an explosion. You need to have another bite.  When it's all gone, you're sorry.  If I had been at home, I would have picked up the shrimp tails, dipped them in the aioli and sucked out the last little morsels after chewing on them for a bit.  Classy chick, I know. Luckily I know when not to embarrass my dinner companion.

Summary (Al)
Was this a good meal? Yes, actually it was better than good. This kitchen has it's act together. They are buying good ingredients and preparing them expertly. Even more importantly, they are doing all that without trying to be overly clever. The dishes are well thought out, the flavors all made sense together and they stayed true to their stated theme - Asian influenced seafood. The service was good without being overbearing. The wine list looked good (we did not have any) and the beer menu was just good enough to make someone like me happy.

So, am I over the moon about Sea Pearl? Well, for the food, yes. The overall experience, not quite. This may not be completely fair but, to me, it seemed like a hundred other restaurants that I have been in before. In a word, it felt corporate -- the kind of place you can take a client and he would be impressed. There was nothing special about it. It may be that our last two experiences were both so memorable. I don't know, maybe I'm being overly picky.

Summary (Cyn)
Eh.  I'm jaded (no Asian pun intended).  Reception was warm and welcoming.  Restaurant is beautiful, tranquil and the energy excellent.  Server (thanks Samir) was professional, personable and prompt.  Food was very good.   Why am I not impressed????  Everything was just a little too slick and rehearsed.  There wasn't any intimacy, with the restaurant, staff or food.  No connection.  (Well maybe a connection with the sriracha aioli.)  Would I go back?  Absolutely!  But next time, I'm heading to the bar, where it looked like the bartender was having a great time with his diners, and they, all strangers, were having a great time with each other.  The Happy Hour menu looks like it has soul --can you say "pork belly bao?" -- it just may be the intimate piece of the puzzle.

Sea Pearl Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Grilling on Meatless (Monday) Memorial Day

I committed to observing Meatless Mondays back in November, it didn't occur to me that some holidays, like Memorial Day, would be Mondays.  I'm not sure why this simple fact escaped me, since Memorial Day is always a Monday. So, there we were, talking about the high holy day of grilling and needing a menu that was...... meatless. Sure, we've grilled our share of vegetables in the past, but they were side dishes. We needed a main course!

Some number of months ago we made a vegetarian version of stuffed peppers that turned out great. I love stuffed peppers and it occured to us that we had grilled peppers before so off to the Google machine we went. It wasn't long before we found a promising one at the seriouseats.com website. In the spirit of full disclosure, they referenced their version as being adapted from one they had seen on chow.com. As always, we are grateful for the inspiration and wanted to credit both of these sources for inspiring our version.

Stuffed Poblanos with Black bean and Cheese

Cojita Cheese
  • 1/2 cup uncooked short grain rice
  • 3/4 cup water (rice) + 1/4 cup water (beans)
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 6 medium poblano peppers
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Cotija cheese (approx 3-4 oz)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4 fat scallions, chopped 
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (keeps seeds and membrane if you'd like more heat)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 large white onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil

  • Saute onion in cooking oil until translucent and soft
  • Add 1/2 jalapeno and cumin, saute 1 additional minute
  • Add black beans and tomato paste, saute 1 additional minute
  • Add 1/4 cup water (or stock, or beer), saute 5 minutes
  • Let cool and reserve this mixture.

  • Add rice, 3/4 cup water and 1/2 tsp salt to a medium sauce pan
  • Bring mixture to a boil
  • Cover pan and reduce heat to low
  • Cook until water is fully absorbed (about 10 minutes). The rice will be slightly undercooked - this is good.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool.

  • Place  the bean and onion mixture in a bowl
  • Using the back of a fork, lightly mash about 1/2 of the mixture
  • Add sour cream, cheese, cilantro, scallions, remaining jalapeno, and pepper into the beans
  • Gently fold in cooled rice
  • Taste and season if necessary with additional salt and black pepper

  • Cut out tops of peppers, reserving caps.  It works best if you jig jag your knife around the top to create a cap that works only with the pepper it came from.  Flat cuts don't hold as well, even with toothpicks.
  • Remove ribs and seeds as best you can without breaking the sides of the peppers.
  • Fill each pepper loosely, as the rice will expand some during cooking.  We used a chopstick to help move the rice mixture into the nooks and crannies of the poblanos.
  • Replace caps and seal them with toothpicks.

  •  Cook the peppers for 25-30 minutes on low heat on the grill, turning on each side every 6-7 minutes
  • The skin will blister and blacken some -- this is a good thing.
  • Serve hot!

The filling was creamy and delicious but I'll admit I was expecting more from the jalapeno. What's up with jalapenos these days? Seems like they have bred most of the heat out of them. Even leaving in the veins and seeds doesn't help that much. We did what any spicy food lover would do -added our favorite hot sauce, Cholula.

Earlier in the weekend we had visited one of our local Farmer's Markets and scored some great seasonal produce; early corn from down south, sugar snap peas and a couple of baby zucchini. As you can see from the picture above, we grilled the corn at the same time as the peppers. It was a perfect match, 30 minutes on low heat right in the husk. One of the advantages of grilling corn this way is that the corn silk comes off really easily when it's done. No fuss, no muss, no silk all over the kitchen floor.

We sliced the baby zucchini the long way and brushed on an herbed olive oil. Then grilled it very briefly, directly on the grates, just enough to give it some marks and get it hot all the way through.

Lastly, we cooked the peas by using one of our favorite tricks. After cleaning them we simply put them in a wrap of parchment paper, seasoned them, added a couple of pats of butter and a few ice cubes. We sealed the whole thing in heavy duty aluminum foil making sure all the edges were tightly closed. The ice cubes melt once on the heat and provide the moisture that steams them inside the foil pack.

Less than five minutes on the grill on high and they were perfectly steamed and delicious.  Our pups, Jack and Cooper, love steamed pea pods of any type, so I always try and add a few extra for 'treats'.

While I did miss my big once-a-year-on-Memorial-Day treat of a Martin Rosol hotdog and kelly dog, the creamy rich filling of the fruity (with a little bite)poblano was a fine substitute.  Very satisfying in the way only rice and beans can be.  I'll just have to order my dog and kelly for the Fourth of July.  Luckily, not on a Monday this year!
Four Seasons Food
Four Seasons Food hosted by Delicieux and Chezfoti

Pea on this, Pea on that

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