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A cooking marathon (with recipe). January 18, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. In these financially challenging times, it makes more sense than ever to look for sales, even on fresh produce. But when fresh produce comes on sale, you’d better be on notice that you should cook and/or eat said produce at the EOM*, or it’s likely to go bad. Sure, if you have chickens, an earthworm composter, and/or a compost bin system, as we do, you can give past-peak produce to one or all of them, so everybody wins. But if you actually use the produce for your own meals and feed the scraps to the chickens, earthworms, or compost, then you’re really getting the most from your grocery money.

The cooking marathon referred to in this post’s title came about because I’d bought a bunch of green bell peppers, mushrooms, new potatoes, carrots, and onions on sale. I figured I’d better do something with them, and fast. As it happens, I’d also bought some really good tomatoes when OFB and I passed through Virginia on our Christmas trip down to visit family in North Carolina, and, with visions of tacos with refried beans dancing through my head, I’d also snapped up some shredded lettuce and red bell peppers on deep discount at our tiny local grocery.

So I’d made my famous refried beans (including cinnamon and cloves as seasonings; see “Fiesta time! It’s Cinco de Mayo!” for the recipe for Silence’s Top Secret Disappearing Refried Beans) with tortillas and all the toppings (chopped red peppers, black olives, tomatoes, and scallions, shredded white Cheddar, sour cream, shredded lettuce, green and red salsas) earlier in the week. There were plenty of leftovers for a second supper, so I didn’t have to worry about cooking dinner from scratch. Instead, I could focus on cooking those peppers,  potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and carrots for future meals. No pressure.

I’d decided that I wanted to use the green bell peppers to make stuffed peppers and to season spaghetti sauce, so this was uppermost in my mind as I began to plan my cooking marathon. If you’re a meat-eater, stuffed peppers typically involve green peppers stuffed with a mix of ground beef, rice, onions, and seasonings and topped with tomato sauce. But if you’re a vegetarian like me, and are also contending with a guy who’s not wild about cooked tomatoes like OFB (unless they’re cooked in pasta or pizza sauce), what would make a really satisfying pepper stuffing? I’d already saved leftover rice from a couple of earlier meals with the stuffed peppers in mind. Now, my challenge was to think of how to make a rich, satisfying stuffing for the peppers, hopefully using some of the produce I’d bought on sale.

After pondering this for a bit, here’s what I did: I sauteed diced sweet onion and mushrooms in melted butter and added herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, rosemary) and seasoned salt (Trocomare). When the onions had clarified and the mushrooms had cooked down, I stirred in the cooked rice, thoroughly coating it with the herbed butter and mixing in the onions and mushrooms. When the rice was heated through and completely coated, I turned off the heat and added cottage cheese, shredded mozzarella, and shredded sharp white Cheddar, stirring well to blend.

Yum!!! Our friend Ben and I agreed that we could have just eaten this, without even bothering with the peppers. But chasing OFB away from the stuffing, I filled four cored green peppers with it and set them in ovenproof loaf pans with 1/4 inch of water in the bottom, then put them in the oven at 350 degrees F.

Only thing was, there was leftover stuffing! What to do?! I grabbed a ‘Carnival’ winter squash, which we’d used as part of our Harvest Home display and which is supposed to be as delicious as it is beautiful, halved and seeded it, stuffed the halves with the remaining stuffing, and put them in a baking dish, also in 1/4 inch of water.

However, I was far from done. Hey, the oven was on, 350 degrees for at least an hour, right? Better take advantage of that! Seizing another Pyrex baking dish, I washed the new potatoes, chopped the carrots into 1-inch pieces, cut a sweet onion in wedges, broke up some cauliflower into manageable pieces, and removed the stems from the remaining mushrooms. Pouring a little olive oil in the bottom of the dish, I arranged the veggies, sprinkled more olive oil and added tiny bits of butter over the top, then dusted everything with Trocomare and put the dish in the oven on the top rack (the bottom rack was filled with the peppers and squash).

Then of course I made our taco dinner. As OFB and I were enjoying the tacos and toppings, I could smell the delicious fragrance of the roasted vegetables. And at the end of the meal, when we removed the stuffed peppers, squash, and roasted veggies from the oven, it was all we could do not to sample them on the spot, full as we were. Now we’re looking forward to several scrumptious meals later in the week that are good to go if we just heat them up. And, with the rice saved and ready to go, I can’t tell you how little time it took to get this all together!  So easy, so yummy. Try it! (And if you have a multicolored assortment of bell peppers—yellow, orange, and red, as well as green—to stuff, so much the better!)

Mind you, when I started planning this cooking marathon, I was envisioning making the spaghetti sauce while I was at it. But a quick trip over to the neighbors’ with a treat turned into a “won’t you sit down and have a glass of wine” affair, followed by “don’t you want another glass of wine?” By the time I got back home, OFB had arrived and there wasn’t as much time for cooking as I’d hoped. Never mind. With all this good food ready to heat and serve (maybe with sides of snap peas or broccoli or spinach or green and yellow wax beans and, of course, always a big tossed salad), I’ll have plenty of time to make spaghetti sauce!

           ‘Til next time,


* EOM=earliest opportune moment