Category Archives: Gadget

Stuffed Peppers-A Classic!

pepper cupsAs the days keep getting shorter and the temperature keeps dropping, I keep gravitating towards warm, comfort foods for dinner.  One that I’ve been craving for a while is stuffed peppers.  I didn’t really have a recipe for traditional stuffed peppers, with meat and rice, so I went looking.  I have to tell you, there are a ton of stuffed pepper recipes out there, but not a whole lot that are like the classics.  After reading tons of reviews and a bunch of recipes, I came up with this recipe.  It’s the classic combination of rice, ground meat, and tomato sauce stuffed in a pepper, and they are delicious!

chopping topsI was feeding a crowd so I made a double batch of these.  Since you probably don’t need 12 peppers, I’m posting the single version!

Start with your peppers.  Cut off the tops, but just the tops.  I found if you cut just where the sides start to curve, you can then just pop out the stem to discard.  Then you can chop the top pepper pieces to add to the stuffing.  Cut the tops off and clean 6 peppers.  Add them to a pot of boiling salted water, and boil for just 5 minutes, to start the cooking.  Don’t worry, they won’t look very cooked (and they shouldn’t), but this helps them to soften in the oven.  When you take them out of the water, put them in a bowl with cold water and ice to cool.  Set aside.cooked pepperscold peppersFor the stuffing, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan.  When hot, add the chopped onions and pepperstops of the pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, until they start to soften.  Next, add 1 medium onion, chopped, and 3 cloves garlic, minced (or just use that garlic press).  Cook these for about 10 minutes until the onions start to brown and soften, and they start turning brown.  Pour the vegetables into a bowl, and return the pan to the stove.

Next for the saute pan, add 1 lb ground beef and 1/4 lb sausage meat (without the casing).  Stir to break apart the meat, and cook until the mixture is no longer pink, then add to the vegetables.  Add 1 cup cooked rice to the mixture, and 1 cup marinara sauce, 1/2 beef and sausagetablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon ground peppers, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Allow the mixture to cool a bit, then add 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese and 1 egg.  Stir everything to combine.

Another tip here, if you’re tasting for salt and pepper (and you really should), be sure to taste before you add the egg.  Once you feel the seasoning is right, then add the egg. This way you get the seasoning right without having to worry about eating raw eggs.

rice mixtureall combinedstuffingNext, take a 13×9 casserole dish and start stuffing your peppers.  You want to stuff them pretty full, and line them up in the pan.  You should have more stuffing than you need, but just scatter it around the peppers in the pan.  Finally, top the peppers with another 1 cup marinara sauce, cover with foil, and cook at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until hot throughout.

These really are delicious, and I hope you enjoy them.  I also hope you’re getting some inspiration from the fall.  What are you making these crisp fall nights?ready for the oven

The Garden’s Food-Compost

When my grandmother was gardening, she had the most amazing roses.  I don’t even know what types they were, but the thick bushes were always filled with beautiful, fragrant blooms.  She had vases full of roses in the house all summer.  Her secret?  She would “feed” the roses.  She would dump coffee grounds, egg shells, even banana peels into the dirt, work it under the soil so it wasn’t unsightly or stinky, and over time, the “food” would break down for the roses.  And, while my grandmother never used the term “compost” or probably even knew what it was, she certainly knew about feeding the soil.

Compost ReadyFor those of you who have been gardening for a while, compost is probably old hat.  But if you aren’t currently composting, or haven’t heard much about it, let me make a suggestion…as Nike would say, Just Do It!  Compost is basically organic matter that decomposes into rich fertilizer.  As I tell my niece and nephews, you’re take trash and making dirt (or dirt food) out of it.  The added bonus is that you’re recycling a lot of your kitchen and garden waste, cutting down on actual trash that makes it to a landfill somewhere.  Also, it is easy to do if you have a spot in your yard for a pile.

PilesMany years ago, when I was in college, I built my first compost pile.  I was so excited, I did tons of research.  I read about the right proportions and what should be included.  I built a “pen” out of old wooden skids and filled it with the right mix of nitrogen rich green matter and carbon rich brown matter (suggestions are 1/3 green to 2/3 brown, but I don’t really follow that these days).  I added earth worms and shredded newspapers.  I watered the pile and turned it often.  It was perfect.  I can remember one cold September evening that first year when I could see the steam coming off of the pile, knowing that mother nature was hard at work, working her magic.  Then, one of my neighbors thought it was just a junk pile and dumped loads and loads of grass clippings into my pile.  It ruined my perfect balance, and, while I tried to clean it out and save my hard work, my enthusiasm was crushed.  I took apart the pile the following year and that was it.

StructureWhile my first attempt was a bit OCD, several years ago I created another compost heap.  With this go around, I have become much more lax, and much more successful.  The first thing I did this time around was create two piles side by side.  My thought was that the one pile could be for dumping “new” material while the other pile was decomposing the “old” material.  I used inexpensive metal fence panels to create the walls of my compost pile. As I mentioned before, I had used wooden pallets in the past, but the wood started to decompose as well, so metal seemed like a better choice.  Each panel is 36 inches wide and 42 inches tall.  And because the panels are open, there is a lot of air flow, which also is good for compost.  Because I was using the fence panels, I needed 5.  I left the front side for each pile open, so it was easier to turn the piles periodically, and they share the middle panel.

PileOnce I had my structure built, I was ready to start adding to it.  For a compost pile, you can add almost any organic material, with a few exceptions.  First, be careful with weeds.  If the weeds went to seed, then they could spread those seeds in your compost, basically meaning you’re planting seeds as you spread the compost out.  And do not include clippings of diseased plants.  Again, this could just pass the disease to other healthy plants when using the compost.  Also, don’t add any kind of animal products from the kitchen.  You can add egg shells, and they are great for compost, but don’t add any meat or vegetables that are cooked with meat.  This will only attract animals to your pile.  For the most part, that’s about it.  Everything else is pretty fair game.

I add all of my clippings and deadheading As I mentioned when I was cleaning out the garden, I also add all of the leaves and debris I clean out of the garden in the spring.  Most of this already has started decomposing, so it works perfectly.  I add any soil I’m getting rid of that was in pots from the year before (with the dead plant, why not).  My sister is a big fan of campfires, so I also add in the ashes she has after her big bonfires.  And I do add weeds. especially the young ones that I pull in the spring.

Kitchen CompostAs far as the kitchen, I always have a bowl on my counter that I use for compost waste.  I know there are fancy things you can buy, but I just use a bowl.  I wait till it fills up, or starts to smell, whichever comes first, and then take it out and dump it on the pile.  I add egg shells, vegetables, fruits, banana peels, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, and even used paper towels (if just wet).  Most of the materials end up drying out a bit, so the bowl rarely smells…I usually just dump it when it’s full.

On Vegetable GardenOnce you start building up the pile, just turn it every few weeks or so to get air in it and get things moving.  As I mentioned earlier, throughout the spring and summer, I like to add to 1 pile, then the other is the one from the year before that may have some compost at the bottom, or may just need to sit longer.  You also want to make sure it stays moist, but I’ve found that summer rainstorms work pretty well for that.  After a while, you’ll notice that everything starts to break down and you’re left with a rich soil.  Use it wherever you feel your flowers, fruits, or vegetables need some extra nutrients.  I’ve been spreading mine on the vegetable garden before I till the soil, and it’s worked out really well.  I also add some to the hole when I’m planting any new trees or shrubs.  But wherever you use the compost, you’ll be rewarded.

And, if we’re being honest, back to the turning and watering, I’ve gone months where I’ve been busy and have completely forgotten to turn or water the pile, and it still works out great.  I’ve essentially ignored it, but I’m still rewarded.  The biggest difference is speed.  The more you turn it and take care of it, the faster you end up with compost.  However, I’m a patient person! 🙂

More Prep for the Yard and Garden…Painting Wrought Iron

One of the best things about having a porch, or arbor, or pergola, is to have beautiful things climb up the supports.  I just love climbers that cover a support with beautiful blooms.  It doesn’t matter to me if it’s wisteria, or clematis, or even gourds (I saw this years ago in a Martha Stewart Living magazine and had to do it, and it worked…they were awesome), I love the climbers.  And both my front and back porch have great wrought iron More Rustsupports in a traditional scroll pattern that are perfect to have these vines climb.  The only problem is, the flowers can put some extra wear and tear on the finish.  I’ll admit it, in all these years, I’ve never touched up the wrought iron with paint, but I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Because my supports have vines growing up them most of the spring, summer, and early fall, I had to get a jump-start on the painting.  I also had to wait until the weather was warm enough.  Lucky for me, this past weekend was perfect.  The weather was in the 60s, and, while the vines are growing, they haven’t hit the supports just yet.

RustAs you can see, the supports were looking pretty bad.  There were many places where the paint had completely come off, and there were some spots that had a good bit of rust.  I really shouldn’t have put off this project as long as I had, but I digress.  The first thing I did was got my supplies together.  I needed a good, durable paint, and, after consulting with my friends at Home Depot, decided on 1 quart of Rust-Oleum Stops Rust in flat black.  This is Rust-Oleuman oil-based paint, but I needed it to be oil-based for durability and because of the rust.  It’s pretty easy to deal with, but you need to use a paint thinner to clean the brushes, and yourself if you’re like me.  I just used some gasoline…I put some in a metal can for the brushes and rubbed some on my hands to get the paint off.  Maybe not the best idea, but it worked.  As for the color, the reason I went for flat is glossy paint shows more imperfections…and I figured I might end up with some Brushingimperfections!

To begin, I took a wire brush and metal Brillo pad (without soap) and knocked as much of the old paint off as I could.  The wire brush gets most of it off, and I used the pad for sections that I couldn’t quite reach.  You don’t need to take all of the old paint off, just everything that’s loose or flaking.  Once that was done, I wiped everything down with a damp towel and got started.

The paint was pretty easy to get on, and it covered really nicely.  I did use two types of brushes, one that was about an inch wide, and another that was much smaller for those Clematistight spots.  It also dried really well.  I didn’t do a full two coats, but I did spot check and touch up where needed.

I’m pretty happy with the finished result, and how well the vines are growing.  As you can see, the clematis is already stretching out to reach the trellis.  I just kept pushing it away until I was done the painting.  Now I can be nice and redirect it.

I’m pretty happy about how well the other flowers and trees are growing too.  Here are some pictures of what’s going on in the yard, outside of the climbers, so far this spring.

Daffodils are blooming like crazy.

Daffodils are blooming like crazy.

The magnolia tree is bursting with color.

The magnolia tree is bursting with color.

The apple trees have a lot of buds on them.

The apple trees have a lot of buds on them.

And the tree peonies are going to be great when they open up.

And the tree peonies are going to be great when they open up.

Ceramic Knives-A Cut Above the Rest

Tuscan Cooking ClassThis spring, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Italy for 10 days.  It was a great trip, we saw a ton, and had a phenomenal time.  And one of the highlights of the trip was taking a cooking class in Tuscany.  The class was in this wonderful old villa with a huge olive grove and rosemary plants that looked more like landscape bushes then herbs.  We cooked and drank wine and ate and cooked some more.  Boy did we cook…I think it was an 8 hour experience!  But it was a great one.  The food that we prepared was excellent, and I learned a ton.

One of the most shocking revelations for me though was concerning the knives.  While in the class, our instructor talked about why you need to use ceramic knives to cut tomatoes.  Apparently there is some chemical reaction that occurs when theRosemary tomato comes in contact with the metal, and it alters the taste…who knew???  I was blown away. This was all news to me.  In all of my cookbook reading, food magazine perusing, food and cooking show watching, I had never heard this!  So, I knew as soon as I got back to the states, I had to get a ceramic knife.  I just had to have one.  As God as my witness, I will never cut a tomato with a metal knife again!  And, true to form, I got back…and…I sort of forgot about it!  I didn’t get the ceramic knife.  I cut tomatoes with my handy dandy METAL chef knife, and, well, things were fine.  That is, until Christmas.

Hampton ForgeOut of the blue, without ever mentioning the whole tarnished tomato thing, on Christmas Day someone got us not only a ceramic knife, but a whole set.  It’s the Hampton Forge Duraceramica 10 piece set, and it’s awesome!  Needless to say, I was shocked.  Really shocked because it reminded me that I never got that ceramic knife over the last seven months.  But it was a perfect gift, so appropriate.

Cutting TomatoesI have to admit, I was a little nervous using a ceramic knife.  For some reason, I kept envisioning this delicate knife that would just break on me.  From what I understand, you do need to be careful.  You shouldn’t use them to chop through bones or anything like that.  But I happily tested them out while making a salad, and they did an awesome job.  I chopped the lettuce, tomato, fresh mozzarella, and even the chicken, and the knife was great.  Cut through everything “like butta”.

Slicing ChickenSo, if you need to get a new knife…perhaps your brother used your good paring knife to pry open a stapler and broke it (true story, just this past November, and I’ll admit, I’m still a little bitter) or you just want to add to your collection, consider a ceramic knife.  It really is a great addition, and oh, those tomatoes!!!

The Oven Thermometer-My Favorite Kitchen Device!

Ancient OvenSo, I’ll admit, my oven is old!  No, it’s ancient!  I guess one could say it’s retro.  But it’s an old, brown, Frigidaire wall oven, and it still works.  And, with it, I’ve pumped out countless meals, awesome baked goods, and even a bunch of Thanksgivings.  So, I thought things were great, that is, until I started making bread (more on the actual bread making in a later post).

In my quest to make homemade bread, last year, for Christmas, I asked for the book “Flour Water Salt Year” by Ken Forkish.  The book is fantastic if you’re a beginner bread maker.  And, in the very thorough instructions, Ken suggests getting an oven thermometer to check your oven.  Actually, I’m not sure that he really suggests…I think it was a demand.  But anyway, I had to do it.  And, sure enough, my oven was off.  Not just a little off, it was WAY OFF…by between 50 and 75 degrees.  Crazy, right?  I was shocked, SHOCKED! And that totally explains why my “little too golden” pie crusts occurred on occasion (see last year’s Thanksgiving pie pictures…so sad).Last Year's Pies

So, I know what you’re thinking, of course my caveman oven would be way off.  It is ancient after all.  And yes, you’re probably right, I should have checked ages ago, but I didn’t.  I had to be scolded in a book.  But I learned something, and now I’m imparting that wisdom on to you.

And even though I have that ancient oven, I did a little experiment.  I checked other ovens of friends and loved ones, and, sure enough, even newer ovens were off a bit.  So there! 🙂

Moral of the story, do yourself a favor, and just get an oven thermometer.  They are really cheap.  Amazon has a bunch of them for under $10.  The lovely TruTemp that I have was only $6.35 from Target.  And even though they make more expensive ones, you just don’t need to get them.  Get a cheap one, hang it in your oven, and go!

This Year's Pies!Trust me, you’ll thank me when your baked goods turn out amazing…well…assuming you make baked good.  I do (and just look at that perfectly golden crust from this year’s Thanksgiving pies)!

Oh, and a word of advice, DO NOT leave the oven thermometer in when you use the self-cleaning function.  I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve gone through 2 thermometers already.  They just don’t survive!