Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fig & Pecan Stuffed Baked Apples

It's not really the time of year you would think to make baked apples, but that's me, always going against the grain :) Actually the reason I decided to make them is because my mom gave me a bunch of granny smith apples because she knows I eat a lot of fruit.

I tried eating them raw just as a snack, but they were a bit too acidic, which is weird because they usually don't bother me. So I figured I would make a quick snack by stuffing and baking them.

My inspiration for the recipe comes from Mary Ann Esposito of Ciao Italia. Her recipe uses some different ingredients, such as walnuts and apricots, but the technique is basically the same. I watch her every week and she always cooks up something worth trying. And her recipes are usually so simple and quick to prepare.

This recipe is no exception. I whipped these up at 9:00pm one night when I had the hankering for something sweet. The prep is so easy it took just minutes, so I got them ready, popped them in the oven, continued watching a movie and I was already eating them before ten. Plus, the house smelled so delicious before bedtime, perfect for "sweet dreams".

The best part about these apples was the stuffing... All those warm and chewy bits of fig and the delicious cranberries that give a bit of a punch! And my favorite... the toasted pecans! I think I would try anything if there were pecans in it.
Fig & Pecan Stuffed Baked Apples

2 large Granny Smith apples, washed and cored
2 dried figs
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup water (you could also use orange juice or
apple juice)
Add the figs and cranberries to a small saucepan of boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Drain, cut the stems off the figs and discard. Chop up the figs into small pieces and place them and the cranberries in a bowl with the peacans. Add the honey and mix well.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Divide the mixture in half and stuff it in the cored apples.
Place the apples in a baking dish; add the water and orange zest to the bottom of the dish.
Dot the apples with the butter.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the apples are just soft but not collapsed. Serve warm with some of the pan juices.

Note: This recipe can be doubled very easily... go for it!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lentils & Turkey Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers were a staple in my house growing up. We would have them at least twice a month. I always liked them. Although as a kid you don't realize how much you like something until you don't have it anymore. I miss eating them because I really don't make them that often myself, mostly due to the fact that they take a while to prepare. Also, I don't really eat much ground beef anymore either.

So I got to thinking... Why not come up with a quicker version and lighten it up a bit. I decided to use my usual substitute for ground beef - ground turkey of course. Plus I cut the amount in half and added some healthy fiber filled lentils in its place. And instead of using white rice which is not all that healthy, I used brown rice which has more nutrients and fiber.

With all these healthy changes, I had to consider flavor. So I added lots of garlic... But don't worry because I could barely even taste it. Remember, the brown rice is really bland and the turkey is also so lean that it really needs a flavor boost. I think I would even add more next time. :)

Ok now, let me tell the best part of all. The time savers and my two new best friends... Joe and Ben.
That's Trader Joe's lentils and Uncle Ben's ready rice. By using these pre-cooked ingredients, I saved so much time. And they are just as healthy as if I cooked them myself.

So I hope you give these healthier stuffed peppers a try, they won't take all day and you will be happy that you ate such a nutrient rich and satisfying meal.

Also, just a note on pepper shape and size. When I bought the red bell peppers, I wasn't thinking about making stuffed peppers because I would have bought short, wide ones if I had thought about it. Because they were so tall and thin, I had a problem standing them up in my usual baking dish. So I improvised and put them in a oven safe pyrex bowl and placed it on a pizza sheet pan just in case anything dripped or oozed over and out of the peppers. It worked out just fine and it looked kind of cool too!
Turkey and Lentil Stuffed Peppers
by Mixed Salad Annie

4 large green or red bell peppers (about 1 pound)
1/2 pound 93% lean ground turkey
1 bag Uncle Ben's Ready Brown Rice
1/2 bag Trader Joe's fully cooked Black Beluga Lentils, heated according to package instructions
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large chopped shallots or 1 small chopped onion
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for top and passing
1/4 cup chopped green olives
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning or chicken seasoning (such as McCormick Grill Mates Salt-Free Chicken)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (8-ounce) cans no-salt-added tomato sauce, divided use
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cut tops off bell peppers; discard tops, seeds, and membranes. Steam peppers in a steam basket in a large pot of boiling water for about 7 minutes (until crisp tender) or cook in boiling water 5 minutes; drain and set aside.

Add olive oil, shallot and garlic to a dutch oven or large skillet, sprinkle with a little salt and cook over low heat until softened. Raise heat to medium high and add turkey, stirring to crumble. Cook until liquid evaporates and turkey begins to brown and the bottom of the pan has developed a brown film. Stir in brown rice, lentils, olives, chicken seasoning, oregano, parsley, salt, pepper, worcestershire and 1 can tomato sauce. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan and cook around 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn off heat and add Romano cheese; stir to combine.

Divide turkey mixture evenly between peppers, and place them in an 8-inch square baking dish or oven safe round bowl; top with remaining can of sauce. Sprinkle each pepper with a little extra grated Romano cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Serve with extra Romano cheese.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ricotta Pie

Making Traditions Come Alive!

In Rhode Island, and other heavily Italian populated areas, it is tradition on Easter to make and eat rice pies, rice and ricotta pies, also known as pastiera and ricotta pies. Although I am Italian, on my mom's side, she nor I have ever made or even eaten one. Can you believe that? I don't know what took so long but I finally did it. I made a ricotta pie. I have wanted to make one for such a long time and somehow never got to it.

It was so exciting, getting all the ingredients together, trying to figure out which way to go with it. Should I add pineapple, chocolate chips, candied fruit, etc.? I looked at many recipes and and got some ideas from Susan's blog Food Blogga, and also from Emeril. I sort of created my own based on everything I looked at.

Also, it was my first time using a real vanilla bean. YUM!!! So much fun... I will definately be using these again!

I couldn't wait for my mom to try the pie, so I decided to film her first bite...
Here it is.

She's so cute!!! I love her to pieces.

Italian Ricotta Pie
For the dough:

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter; cut into pieces
1 large egg
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

1 1/2 pounds reduced-fat ricotta cheese, drained well
3/4 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 vanilla bean, inside scraped out
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 12-15 times or until the flour mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg and 2 1/2 tablespoons of water and pulse repeatedly until the mixture forms a ball; adding more water if necessary. Remove the dough from the processor, form a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or place in the freezer while making filling.

Roll the dough out between two sheets of waxed paper to 1/8-inch thick. Fit the dough into a greased spring form pan or a greased 9 1/2-inch deep dish pie pan. If using a spring form pan, pat the dough into the bottom of the pan and up 3/4 of the sides. If using pie plate, trim the edges so that an inch hangs over the sides and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the ricotta cheese, orange zest and vanilla bean scrapings and sugar until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add chocolate and pine nuts and stir to combine.

Pour the filling into the pastry-lined pie pan. If using a pie plate crimp the edges decoratively using either your fingers or a fork.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425º; lower temp to 350º and bake for 40 minutes, or until the pastry is light golden brown and the filling is just set (and does not jiggle when moved). If the edges of the pie start to brown, cover them with a piece of aluminum foil wrapped around the pie.

Remove the oven and cool on a wire rack. The pie can be served slightly warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Note: Don't worry too much if you see cracks form on the top of the pie. As it cools, the filling will sink a bit and the crack become less apparent.