Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vegetable Stuffed Peppers with Cous Cous

Last night I had the challenge of making something for dinner without really having anything on hand that screamed "dinner". I was in need of a trip to the grocery store, but couldn't get there yesterday. I had all the makings for a spinach salad that I make frequently, so I decided to make that, but I knew I would need something else to go with it in order for my carnivore of a husband to feel like he ate a "real" dinner (insert eye roll here). I saw some red peppers in my fridge, so I decided to do some stuffed peppers to go with the salad.

Now, I usually do a meat stuffing with beef, pork and sausage when I make stuffed peppers, but I didn't have any of those things on hand yesterday. I know my husband doesn't care for a plain breadcrumb stuffing in peppers. So I opened the fridge again. I had a ton of vegetables, so I decided to make a vegetable stuffing.

To make the stuffing:

Begin by dicing 3 large carrots, 3 ribs of celery and half of an onion. Set them in a sauce pan to sautee over medium low heat with half a stick of butter. While they're sauteeing, dice some button mushrooms, and chop some endive spears into ribbons. If you don't have endive I think any leafy green would work in this application, but I liked the flavor of the endive in this dish. After the carrots, celery and onions are starting to look somewhat cooked, add in the mushrooms and the endive. At this time, season liberally with salt and black pepper, and also add a dash of worcestershire. Stir well and cover.

As the stuffing came together and started looking good, I really started questioning whether or not the spinach salad I had in mind would go with these peppers. The salad has a lot of sweet flavors, and I was starting to think that it wouldn't taste good next to what I already had going. Thankfully, fate intervened. When I took the lid off of the sauce pan, I realized that I had much more vegetable sautee than I could ever possibly stuff my two peppers with. Inspiration struck, and I decided to use some of the vegetables in the stuffing, and some in a cous cous.

Using a slotted spoon, I transferred the sauteed vegetables from the sauce pan into a large bowl. There was a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan from the addition of the mushrooms and the endive, and I wanted to save it to cook my cous cous in it.

Combine about a third of the vegetables with approx. three quarters of a cup of breadcrumbs and mix well. I cut my peppers in half for easier stuffing. Just spoon the stuffing into the peppers with a teaspoon, packing tightly. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a thin coating of olive oil and place the peppers on it. Bake them for about half an hour at 350. You'll know they're done when the edges of the peppers start to look puckered and the stuffing starts browning on the top.

To make the cous cous:

Add a cup of beef broth and a dash of worcestershire to your reserved cooking liquid and heat it on high heat. Once it reaches a boil, add in your cous cous. I'm not big on measuring so I always eyeball the cous cous, but your cous cous package should have exact measurements of how much you should add if that's your thing. You're adding cous cous to about a cup and a half of liquid. Once the cous cous goes down in the pan, stir it once, remove it from the heat and cover it. The cous cous cooks by absorbing the hot liquid. It is seriously one of the easiest things in the world to make. Forget about it for about five minutes, then lift the lid to see how it's doing by fluffing it with a fork. If it fluffs up and looks good, perfect! If it seems a little dry, it's ok to add some water to moisten it up. Once you get the consistency you want, add in the reserved vegetables and hit it with a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some salt. Mix well and your cous cous is ready to serve.

At this point, I had a delicious looking cous cous and some peppers that were almost ready to come out of the oven, which also looked delicious. I almost called it a meal there. But I knew that making a little sauce to go over the peppers would really make it something special, and it wouldn't take that much more effort either. So I quickly whipped up a little beef flavored romano cheese sauce.

To make the sauce:

Begin by building a small roux. Melt 1 tbsp of butter in a small sauce pan. Once it's melted, add 1 tbsp of flour and mix well. Allow your roux to cook for about five minutes on medium low heat, then add in some beef broth. Just add a little at a time, whisking constantly. The roux will seem to suck up the beef broth and expand. You're going to add about half a cup total of beef broth. You should still have a clump of light brown "roux" in your sauce pan after all of the broth goes in. Add some skim milk to this, whisking constantly, until you get to the consistency of a thick liquid. It shouldn't take much, because we're only making a small sauce to go over our peppers. Continue whisking to keep your sauce from settling. Bring the heat up to medium high. The sauce should bubble for about ten minutes to cook the starchiness out of the flour. After about ten minutes, reduce the heat to low and add about 2 tbsp of grated romano cheese. You will also want to season with salt and pepper to taste, but you will need less salt than you might normally want because the romano cheese is pretty salty. Whisk together well and leave on low heat until you're ready to use it. You should spoon it directly from the hot pan onto your peppers when they're done.

And that was what we had for dinner last night; peppers stuffed with sauteed vegetables, topped with a beefy romano cheese sauce, and sauteed vegetable cous cous. After dinner, my husband and I agreed that a phoenix had risen from the ashes because don't forget, this meal was the creation of a woman who did not want to drag her butt to the grocery store :)

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