Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Stuffed Peppers

print recipe card posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

Stuffed peppers are great (and easy) to make for a family meal or casual get-together. My filling for stuffed pepper starts with two simple ingredients – cooked rice and browned ground beef.

You can use leftover cooked rice (from Chinese take-out?) or make your own. Get the rice started first as it usually takes about 20 minutes to cook. Check out my video on “How to Cook White Rice” for a quick review.

Cleaning the Peppers

While the rice is cooking, get the peppers washed and remove the stem and seeds. Any color bell pepper will do. But remember, the red ones are the sweetest!

Start by slicing off the very top of the peppers.

Then,with a small paring knife, carefully slide the knife around the stem to loosen it. You should then be able to gently pull the stem out.

With a spoon scrape out any remaining seeds and “stem ribs”.

It is important that the bell peppers are able to balance upright on their own. Slice off the tiniest bit off the bottom so that the peppers can stand without rolling over.

Set the cleaned peppers snugly in a baking dish and set this dish aside for just a moment.

Making the Filling

In a large frying pan, over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef and drain off any excess fat. For a quick review, check out my video on “How to Brown Beef”.

Add one can of Rotel tomatoes…

…which are diced tomatoes with green chilies.

Using a colander, drain one can of black beans in the sink, rinse, and drain again, and add them to the frying pan as well.

Mix everything together and simmer for about 5 minutes.

At this point you could add 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder if you wish.

Remove the pan from the heat and add 2 cups of cooked rice

…and 1 and 1/2 cups of pre-shredded Mexican four-cheese blend. (This is a great time-saving way to buy cheese for cooking. Most grocery stores always carry both a Mexican blend and an Italian blend.)

Stir everything together.

Filling the Peppers

(A note: Many recipes have you blanch the cleaned peppers in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 3 minutes before adding the filling. I prefer the peppers to have a bit of a crunch to them, rather than being really soft. Consequently my recipe does not call for blanching the peppers before filling them.)

With a spoon, fill the peppers with the filling.

They should fit snugly in the baking dish!

Cover the baking dish with tin foil and put them in a 375 F. degree preheated oven.

Bake the covered peppers for about 40 minutes and then remove the tin foil…

…and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until tops are slightly browned and pepper skin can be pierced easily with a fork.

I served these beautiful stuffed peppers with butternut squash and they were fantastic!

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Bark

print recipe card posted in Sweets by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

To make chocolate bark — a sweet, tasty snack or dessert – you just melt chocolate, mix in some extra ingredients and spread it out in a pan to harden. It’s simplicity itself, but there’s lots of opportunity to be creative!

I’m making mine with white chocolate chips, Spanish peanuts and dried cranberries. I like the salty sweet combination of the nuts with the cranberries and white chocolate.

You can also use pretzels, chopped apricots, candied ginger, cashews, pecans, and lots of other ingredients. Many, many things go well with melted chocolate! Choose your ingredients to mix up the textures and the colors.

For the chocolate, you can use chocolate chips or a chocolate bar, using white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate or a swirled combination of all three. If you are using a bar of chocolate, chop it into small pieces so it will melt more evenly.

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In a medium size, microwave safe,mixing bowl, slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave. Start melting the chocolate chips on high for about 1 minute and 30 seconds. Then zap them in 15 second increments until the chocolate is melted.

Chocolate chips don’t really change their shape until you mix them with a spoon or spatula. Be sure not to zap them past the melting point. 12 ounces of chocolate chips in my microwave took 2 minutes and 15 seconds to melt.

2 Cups of add-ins to 12 ounces of chocolate is the perfect ratio! I’m actually adding only 2/3 cup of the cranberries into the mixture and the remainder I’m going to be sprinkling on top.

Gently mix everything together.

Now, line a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan with wax paper or parchment paper.

Spoon the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan and spread it evenly out over the bottom of the pan. (Hang onto the wax paper when you are doing this!)

Sprinkle on the remaining cranberries.

Put the bark in the refrigerator to harden. This should take 1-2 hours.

Once set, lift the bark out of the pan and peel off the wax paper.

You could use a knife to cut it into pieces.

But it’s more fun to break it apart with your hands into uneven chunks.

Serve it as is, or wrap it up to give away as a gift!

If there are any leftovers, store them in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

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Guide to Grains

posted in Pasta, Rice and Grains, Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces by Kathy Maister

Most of us depend on rice, pasta and potatoes as side-dish standbys.

However, there’s a world of other interesting grains out there to explore: couscous, quinoa, barley and bulghur, for example. They provide that carbohydrate kick with a twist, and a different texture or flavor is always worth a try. This guide will explain the differences between various grains, and try to inspire you to try something new.

Bulghur

Bulghur, a form of wheat, is the base of taboule salad.

A Middle-Eastern staple and the base of taboule salad, Bulghur refers to wheat kernels that have been boiled, dried and crushed. It is available in fine, medium and coarse grinds.

How to cook it: Put one cup of bulghur in a small pot with one and a half cups of water. Bring to a boil and then cover and turn heat down to a low setting. Cook for 15 minutes.

How to use it: Bulghur is good in salads, pilafs and meat and vegetable dishes.

Couscous

The spongy texture of couscous goes well with stews and saucy dishes.

Native to North African countries, couscous is a grain that’s often served with meat and vegetable stews. Its soft, spongy texture really absorbs sauce or liquid. Couscous granules come from semolina, which is the form of wheat that goes into making pasta. The great thing about couscous is that it takes six minutes to cook. Here’s startcooking.com’s tutorial on How to Make Couscous.

Quinoa

Quinoa is great in savory dishes and as an alternative to oatmeal.
Photo courtesy of Susan at Feasts and Fotos.

A grain native to the Andes, quinoa grains are actually the seeds of a leafy plant. Quinoa has a distinctive crunchy texture, and a slightly nutty flavor. In terms of nutrition, quinoa is rich in protein and it’s gluten-free. Look for quinoa in health food stores.

How to cook it: Bring one part of quinoa and two parts of liquid to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the grains are transparent.

How to use it: Quinoa is great as a warm side dish, mixed with seasonings and beans. It’s also good in salads, like this Quinoa and Black Bean Salad. For those looking for a change from oatmeal, here’s a recipe for Quinoa Porridge.

Barley (also known as groats)

Barley can be used as a base for many side dishes, including Pea Barley Risotto.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Lynch at Closet Cooking.

This grain, which comes from the grass family, is well known for its high fiber and health benefits. It’s important to remember to buy whole barley (or hulled barley), as opposed to pearl barley, which has been processed and is not considered to be whole grain. Barley is well-known as an addition to soups and stews, but its chewy texture also makes it a great side dish.

How to Cook it: Use 2.5 to 3 cups of water per cup of hulled barley. Bring the water to a boil, then add the barley, cover the pot, reduce heat to low and cook for about 1.5 hours.

This Beef, Leek and Barley Soup from Smitten Kitchen, delicious!

Grandma’s Grain Recipe, makes a big batch of mixed, cooked grains that you can use to make hot cereal, or as a savory side dish.

Rice

Brown rice is chewier, nuttier and healthier than white rice.

Startcooking has tutorials on making white rice, brown rice and fried rice on the stove. It’s also possible to bake rice in the oven, as this recipe for Oven-baked Brown and wild Rice demonstrates. Keep in mind that brown rice is the healthiest choice.

Wild Rice

This is actually a kind of seed, rather than a grain. It’s got a hearty, chewy texture and is even healthier than brown rice, containing lots of protein, calcium, iron and potassium.

How to cook it: Cook one cup of wild rice with three cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat for 35 to 55 minutes (or until the water is absorbed).

How to Use it: Wild rice makes an excellent warm side dish, and is also delicious in cold salads. Pioneer Woman serves up an excellent tutorial for Fresh Corn With Wild Rice – a side dish she recommends for Thanksgiving.

What are Whole Grains?

Eating grains in their whole grain form (as opposed to their processed form) has been shown to have a host of health benefits. Studies report that regular consumption of whole grains reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and obesity. Refining processes typically remove 25 per cent of the typical grain’s protein and many other nutrients are lost.

Tips on Cooking Grains

  • Although most grains will have cooking instructions on the package, here’s a handy guide to grain cooking times.
  • Toasting grains before cooking will make them more flavorful. To toast the grains, spread them out in an even layer in a frying pan and heat for a few minutes. Stir them so that they don’t burn.
  • Grains can be cooked in water or broth, or a combination of the two.
  • Cooked grains keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge.
  • You can freeze any leftovers to use later.

Enjoy!

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