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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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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The Ultimate Guide to Cooking a Thanksgiving Turkey

posted in Meat, Poultry and Seafood by Kathy Maister

cooking a turkey

Welcome to startcooking’s ultimate (and updated) guide to cooking a turkey!

The thought of cooking your very first Thanksgiving dinner can be a bit intimidating, but with just a bit of advance planning you can definitely pull it off. Roasting a turkey is very similar to roasting a chicken except your oven temperature should be set at 325 degrees and not 400 degrees. Go have a look at that video of mine before you begin. The USDA’s Fact Sheet on Poultry Preparation is also an excellent resource. It includes information on buying, defrosting, cooking, storing, and an emergency hot-line to call for advice as well!

This post will cover the following 10 questions:

  1. What kind of turkey should you buy – fresh, frozen, whole, or just the breast?
  2. What size should I buy?
  3. What’s that stuff already inside my turkey and do I eat it?
  4. What kind of pan do I need to cook the turkey and for how long?
  5. Is making stove-top stuffing cheating or should I stuff the turkey?
  6. Should I make gravy from scratch or just buy it?
  7. Now that the turkey is cooked, how do I carve it?
  8. Is turkey healthy and why am I so tired after eating it?
  9. Is there a turkey hot-line for emergency questions?
  10. What kind of side dishes do I need and how about some dessert?
  11. What do I do with all those turkey leftover?

1. What Kind of Turkey Should You Buy; Fresh, Frozen, Whole, or Just the Breast?

Fresh Turkey

If your guests are coming tomorrow, you will need to buy a fresh (not frozen) turkey. If you have time to plan in advance, you can reserve a fresh turkey ahead of time, from your local butcher shop (if you have one!)

Frozen Turkey

Frozen turkies need time to defrost. The fastest way to defrost a frozen turkey is to put it (in its original packaging) in the sink and let it soak in COLD water. Be sure the turkey is completely covered with water. Change the water every half hour. Allow one hour of thawing time per pound of turkey. If you have the time, typically a couple of days, you can thaw your turkey in your refrigerator. Calculate five hours of thawing time per pound.

Whole or Breast of Turkey

That depends on your own personal tastes. One year, I decided to just buy and cook turkey breasts figuring it would be easier to carve and serve. Everyone asked where the legs were! You can buy whole turkeys that are “self-basting”. They are moist and delicious and I would highly recommend them for the beginning cook.

(Note: Don’t be concerned if your turkey does not come out looking like the ones on the cover of all the food magazines. Photographers sometime use shoe polish to make those turkeys have that beautiful coloring!)

2. What Turkey Size Should I Buy?

Calculate one pound per person. So, for a group of six, a six-pound turkey should suffice. Go for one that’s bigger if you want to have leftovers.

3. What’s that Already Stuffed in my Turkey and Do I Eat It?

When you remove the turkey from its wrapping you will have to reach into the cavity and remove the bag that’s inside before you cook the turkey.

(I show this in my Roasted Chicken video and — yes — there is an “ick” factor here!) The bag usually contains the neck, liver and various edible innards of the turkey. These parts can be simmered in seasoned water on the stove. They are then strained and the flavored water is used as stock to make the gravy. (Pioneer Woman shows how to do this here.) If this is the first turkey you have ever cooked, I am going to recommend tossing this bag away and using store-bought gravy.

4. What Kind of Pan Do I Need to Cook the Turkey and How Long Do I Cook It?

The Pan

A roasting pan with a V-shaped rack is your best bet – but they are expensive. The rack elevates the turkey, allowing the juices and fat to drip into the pan.

A less expensive alternative is to buy a disposable roasting pan from the grocery store.

To give a disposable roasting pan a bit of stability, it is best to place it on a baking sheet with sides.

You can make your own rack by coiling a strip of tin foil.

How long do I cook it?

Read the directions on the package of the turkey and be sure to write down the weight of the turkey. (I even cut out the cooking chart and put it on a plate for reference…just in case!)

Many turkeys come with a single use thermometer that pops up when the turkey is done. You can also use your own meat thermometer or you can buy a single use pop-up thermometer. (I prefer instant read thermometers) I explain more about thermometers here.

If you are using a regular meat thermometer, insert it about 2.5 inches into the deepest part of the turkey, without touching the bone.

The minimum internal temperature should reach 165°F.

“A whole turkey (and turkey parts) is safe to eat when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.”

Prior to 2006, (as per recommendation of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service) most cookbooks recommended that the internal temperature of a turkey should reach 170 degrees F in the breast or 180 degrees F in the thigh. If you cook your turkey that long it will end up dry and tough.

For a good visual to determine if your turkey is cooked, make a slice by the leg joint to see if the juices run clear. The joint should feel loose.

An unstuffed turkey takes less time to cook than a stuffed turkey.  Shady Brook Farms has a great site that will help you to determine the cooking time of your turkey.  Plus, they have a TURKEY HOTLINE!  Call 1-800-810-6325 for all your questions!

5. Is Making Stove-Top Stuffing Cheating or Should I Stuff the Turkey?

Bread stuffing (with gravy) is one of my favorite parts of this meal. Instant stove-top stuffing is surprisingly tasty. This stuffing uses dried bread croutons and you can add chopped celery and onions if you like. (That’s how my mom used to make stuffing!)

Make the stuffing and bake it in the oven (or on the stove top). You do not have to stuff the turkey. In fact the USFDA advises against this method for food-safety reasons. The unstuffed turkey will take less time to cook.

6. Should I make gravy from scratch or just buy it?

As I said above, if this is the first turkey you have ever cooked, I am going to recommend using store-bought gravy. Making gravy is not difficult but it can be tricky for a beginner cook. If you are considering making your own gravy from scratch, start by checking out my post on How to Make Gravy. There are several different ways to go about making gravy. Here are some additional links to really good photo tutorials and videos on making various kinds of gravy:

  • This video shows how to make gravy in advance.
  • The Mayo Clinic also has an excellent video on Making Healthy Gravy. Their recipe uses cornstarch instead of butter and flour to thicken the gravy.
  • Instructables has a great photo-tutorial on a superb looking Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy.
  • For lovers of Giblet Gravy, head over to The Pioneer Woman for a very well done photo-tutorial.
  • Martha Stewarts Perfect Gravy is made with Madera Wine. She thickens her gravy by making a “slurry” of giblet stock and flour in a jar.

7. Now that the Turkey Is Cooked, How Do I Carve It?

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Once the turkey is out of the oven, loosely cover it with tin foil and let it rest at least 20 minutes to 30 minutes. When carving the turkey, make sure you have a sharp knife and be sure to carve it in the kitchen – not at the dinner table. Any spills or mishaps should happen behind closed doors. Garnish the turkey platter with lots of fresh parsley and maybe even some sliced oranges. (By the way, there are about 65,000 videos on Google showing you how to carve a turkey!)

8. Is Turkey Healthy and Why Am I so Tired After Eating It?

Turkey is a great source of protein but the l-tryptophan can make you sleepy. Or maybe it’s just that you worked so hard preparing your first, utterly fantastic, turkey dinner!

9. Is There a Turkey Hot-Line for Emergency Questions?

Of course! And there are real people on the other end of the phoneline!

10. What Kind of Side Dishes Do I Need and What About Dessert?

Startcooking.com has tons of appetizers, side dishes and desserts to choose from. Here are just a few suggestions:

Pumpkin Soup

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Cranberry Sauce with Mandarian Oranges

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Mashed potatoes

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Gravy (from a jar) or Make Your Own Gravy

Sweet Potato Casserole

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Butternut squash

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Steamed fresh vegetables

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And for dessert how about Pecan Pie!

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Pumpkin Pie

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Chocolate Cheese Cake Pie

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11. What Do I Do with all Those Turkey Leftover?

Cooked turkey can be substituted for any recipe that calls for cooked chicken.

Chicken (or turkey) Salad with Wild Rice and Avocados (video) can get made in the morning and dinner will be ready and waiting when you get home from work (or shopping!).

Chicken (or turkey) Noodle Soup is everyone’s favorite. This recipe takes less than 20 minutes to prepare.

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Chicken (or turkey) Salad is great made with walnuts and grapes!

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Caesar Salad often has cooked chicken add so why not some cooked turkey!

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Taste of Home definitely knows what to do with their turkey leftovers. They have a great list of the Top 10 Things to do with Leftover Turkey.

Kate’s Global Kitchen does something really cool called:Turkey 3 Ingredients = Luscious Leftovers

I can’t wait to try this Turkey & Swiss Panini.

Good Luck and Happy Holidays!

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