An old friend, when she calls, always asks, “what’s for dinner”? After twenty-five years of association, she pretty well knows there’s something cooking in my kitchen. I’ve been asked if I’ve always liked to cook. The honest answer here would be “no”. The stove and I have had a rocky romance. With working parents and no formal training as a kid, I was less than an accomplished chef when newly married. As a matter of fact, for the first year we survived on scrambled eggs, dry cereal, In-N- Out burgers, and Arby’s roast beef sandwiches. Without several chickens, General Mills and the two fast food joints we might well have faded away to nothing.
My mother, both grandmothers, and my two aunts all excelled at cooking. Aunt Barbara, my mother’s youngest sister, made legendary shortbread cookies every Christmas. Even after we relocated from Halifax to California the colorful holiday tins would arrive each year from Ontario with her familiar handwriting on the front. Inside would be the delicate, buttery cookies, each most probably containing enough calories to satisfy an average daily requirement for sumo wrestlers. I can still taste them if I think about it. When you put one in your mouth it simply dissolved on your tongue. Yum.
I do not profess to be a baker, although coming from such stock I should be. Rick still reminds me of the infamous yeast rolls of 2002. The recipe called out a yield of three dozen rolls. I produced ten. Had I accidentally dropped one on the kitchen floor it most likely would have sunk right on through to the floor below and continued on to Tibet. To describe them as hard would be nothing short of kind. Nearly impenetrable by human teeth, I believe even a crocodile with its massive incisors would have been forced to swallow one whole. Had the creature done so most likely it would have been its last act as I can see these doughy clay balls being the perfect instrument to permanently block a reptilian intestinal track. It wasn’t pretty. To achieve the ten rolls took two trips to the grocery store for yeast. I went through 8 packs before I got one batch to rise. Expensive and inedible. Can’t ask for much more than that in a recipe. All in all not one of my more memorable days at the stove. You will not find a blog titled “Delicate Yeast Rolls” among my repertoire.
As with all things, if at first you don’t succeed….. In my twenties I had many meals end up lining the trash can. Once we had invited several friends over for dinner. One guest in particular, a gifted cook, made me a nervous wreck. We had been to her house on several occasions. She could take shoe leather and weave it into something delicious. For a wedding present we had been gifted a deep fryer. Up until that point, it had remained boxed without a splatter of grease tainting its shiny stainless steel. One thing I might suggest before continuing, the night you are having guests as it is not the time to introduce a new recipe, neither it is it the time to experiment with a tool you haven’t used before. I’m just sayin’. Scanning my recipe book I decided on beer battered chicken. It seemed simple enough. Make the batter. Dip the chicken in the batter. Put the chicken in the fryer. Easy peasey.
The batter appeared thick. I had no cooking chops back then so wouldn’t have known to add a little milk. (Chops as in talent here, not the cut of meat.) Even at that larval stage of cooking acumen, the batter appeared to my inexperienced eye a bit glutinous. Having no choice but to press on I took my chicken pieces and dipped them. Into the fryer they went all at once. The rolling oil rose up accepting the sacrifice and after the allotted time the chicken took on a lovely golden brown exterior. Success was mine. My husband took the tongs and removed the chicken from the fryer. It only took one attempt because somewhere during the frying process the pieces had melded into one unit giving the poultry the appearance of what might have been Picasso’s interpretation of fried chicken. Hmmmmm. There it sat draining on the paper towels a wing poking out here, a drumstick there. Not good, not good at all.
Our company due to arrive within the half our my husband, a creative being, grabbed the car keys and headed for the KFC around the corner. Back in flash we put the purloined chicken in the oven on warm, tossed the evidence (the box and lid) and waited for our guests. Dinner was a rousing success. Each woman at the table asked for my chicken recipe. I said it was a family recipe. Well, it was, just the Sander’s family. Ahhhhhh, what a tangled web we weave. One friend told me years later when I confessed my sin, she had tried to recreate that recipe so many times never fully succeeding. Mia culpa.
There were many other disasters of the pallet to follow. The microwave oregano green chicken debacle in the 80’s, the frittata missing the two cups of cheese necessary to make it edible. There was also the turkey cooked with the giblet bag still in the cavity, and the frozen pie shell put in the oven without the protection of the tin plate provided to keep it from oozing through the grids. I could go on here but it might put me off my feed.
We love stuffed peppers at our house and I often experiment with new recipes. This one was a keeper.
Two-Step Hungarian Stuffed Peppers
4 large bell peppers, various colors if desired
1 lb. ground chuck
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup uncooked rice, rinsed
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. hot paprika
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
12 oz. tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 6 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 tsp. sugar
Slice the tops off the peppers and seed. Chop the tops finely. Into a large mixing bowl add chopped tops, onion, meat, rice, egg, minced garlic, paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well with fingers to incorporate ingredients. If you have extra filling form into meatballs and put in slow cooker around peppers.
Sprinkle the insides of the peppers with salt and pepper.
Spray the bottom of a 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Pack each pepper lightly with meat and rice mixture. Mix together 12 oz. tomato sauce and 1 tsp. sugar. Put peppers in slow cooker and top with sauce. Cook for 8 hrs. on low.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Remove peppers with slotted spoon. Set aside. Mix together sauce ingredients and add any meat/rice mixture left in the slow cooker. pour into bottom of large casserole dish. Place peppers on top and bake for 35 mins.