Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cheese Stuffed Bell Peppers

I have been feeling a little lost lately. Being a wife and mother is wonderful but some days I want something for myself that has nothing to do with being a wife and mother. Not necessarily a full-time career because for the most part, I like being a stay at home mom. I just want something....for me.

I have been reading this book that is part memoir, part recipe index called My Berlin Kitchen. This book inspires me. Not in an Eat, Pray, Love kind of way (which I absolutely adore!), but in a find your bliss and don't stop or settle until you find it and while you're at it be risky and chase the BIG dreams you have. You know, the ones that lurk in the back of your mind when someone asks, "What are you going to do with your life?". The kind of dreams that you only tell someone with a laugh as if you too understand how ridiculous it is.

I have not finished reading it yet (hello! I have 2 kids, 4 and under. I count myself lucky if I eek out a shower and a chapter most days) but I am in love with it. The author, Luisa Weiss, seems like a girl that I would love to be friends with. She grew up in West Berlin-remember when there was an east and west?-and then when her American father and her Italian mother divorced, she was shuttled back between her mother's Berlin home and her father's Boston home. My childhood was the complete opposite. We moved about every three years, but in the same 15 mile radius. 

I fell in love with Germany when I was 15 years old. I was taking German as a freshman in high school and the German Club was participating in an exchange program with a school from Schessel, Germany. About 10 or so kids from the Eichenschule were coming to live with our families and then about 3 months later, about 10 of us would go stay with the same student's family.

Considering that my family didn't have a lot of money and that we were a little...chaotic (1200 sf. home, 5 kids ages 6-23, about a gazillion cats, oh and my grandmother came to live with us as well for a short time. Finding alone time in our home was difficult. But we always had a lot of love which for me, trumps a big house, lots of money, and really, stability.), it is amazing that I was able to participate. But I was! And in the summer of 1994 I went to Germany to live with my host family. I will save the details of that summer for another post but I will say that I fell in love with this beautiful country and one of my BIG dreams is to go back...a lot. I am even still friends with my host-sister.

Anyway, this book gets me thinking about my dreams. What I want to do with my life. Yes, even at my age (shhh! I will be 35 in T minus 3 days) the "What to do with my life" question still arises. I shared my BIG dream with you in my about me section and it's still the same. I have the ability and time...well, sometimes anyway,  to learn a language and write and play with my boys and go to Farmer's Markets and cook. I just can't do it in Lubeck quite yet and I haven't written that novel quite yet and I haven't got that master's degree quite yet. Yet....I plan to do it all. On the ubiquitous one day....

Because I can't hop on a plane to my beloved Germany (which Weiss' book beckons me to do) and my son is in the midst of a Minecraft-video-watching obsession, I couldn't get on the computer to write so I decided to cook.

Cooking is another form of creative expression to me. Maybe that's why I shy away from casseroles (or as my Iowan mother and father would call them: doggone good hot dishes) or crock pot meals in favor of particular creations that I can focus on constructing. I am no chef by any means and I always start with a recipe mastered by someone far more talented than myself. But I like to take said recipe and tweak it a little and make it my own.

Every summer my family looks forward to the squash blossoms that you can find at the local Farmer's Markets. I use Giada De Laurentiis's recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms and fry up some goodness. The squash blossoms only appear for a short period of time and alas, I have been unable to find the time to get to my local farmer's market (last Thursday was the USA v. Germany game so I know you will excuse me for that!).

While I was at the grocery store yesterday, I remembered that Giada's (yes, I am on a first name basis with her, it is my kitchen after all) recipe said that baby bell peppers could be used in lieu of squash blossoms. So I decided to give this a try.

I picked up some bell peppers at the grocery store and since I was at a  grocery store that stocks primarily Hispanic foods, they didn't have the goat cheese that the recipe calls for. While I still think the tang of goat cheese would be better, I bought some Mexican country cheese, even though I hadn't tasted it before.

It was the exact opposite of tang and was instead crumbly and salty. Almost too salty to simply eat right out of the package but I used it to mix with the cream cheese in hopes that the saltiness would spread out a bit. It worked quite nicely and the light crispness of the batter and the motlen basil infused cheese made these bell peppers to die for.

They are also very rich, I would eat it as a main course with a light vegetable side. It is very decadent. Slice into these bell peppers and dip into a good marinara sauce. 

Cheese Stuffed Bell Peppers
(adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)

6 Bell Peppers, tops cut off and cleaned out
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese
4-8 oz. of goat cheese (though you can substitute another cheese if goat cheese is unavailable)
2 cups of flour
2 cubs of sparkling water (I used lemon sparkling water)
1/2 of a Mexican onion, diced (any onion will do, really)
2-3 green stalks of the Mexican onion, chopped 
5 small fresh Basil leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (add at will, I didn't add any as my cheese was pretty salty)
vegetable oil for frying

After you have cut, cleaned, and dried your bell peppers, set aside. In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese, goat cheese, onion, and Basil leaves together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour and sparkling water. Add salt and pepper if needed. 

In a large pan, add oil and heat.

Scoop the cheese mixture into the bell peppers, leaving about a quarter to half inch gap at the top. You do not have to push the mixture down to fill every nook and cranny of the bell pepper. Then dust a little extra flour on the tops of the bell pepper.

Once the oil is heated, place the stuffed bell pepper in the batter until it is covered completely. When you pick it up to place it in the oil, some will come sliding off of the sides of the bell pepper. This is okay, just make sure that the top of the bell pepper is completely covered. Once the bell pepper is placed upright in the oil, you can add some more batter to the top of the bell pepper if needed.

Fry the bell pepper for a couple of minutes and then quickly turn the bell pepper upside down so the top fries and forms a tight seal. I used two utensils to help me do this.

Allow the bell pepper to cook for a couple of minutes and then place on a towel lined plate. Continue cooking until all the bell peppers are done.

Allow them to cool for about 5 minutes. When you cut into them, the inside will be extremely hot so be careful. 

I know that one day, I will be a published author and have my master's degree so I can teach online courses and travel everywhere. But for now, I will settle for reading about other women's fantastic adventures and keep dreaming those BIG dreams. And thank you Luisa Weiss for inspiring me.

Bon Appétit!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Lemony Shrimp Tostadas

Summer is right around the corner and temperatures are heating up. Over the weekend, temps rose to well over 100 degrees here in the High Desert. We chose to head to the mountains to beat the heat where it was a good 20 degrees cooler. 

If you can't escape the heat however, I have a recipe for an easy, low-fat, lunch that is quick to make. These lemony shrimp tostadas have next to nothing as far as calories are concerned but they pack quite a punch in the flavor department. The lemon makes it light and refreshing on a hot, almost-summer day. 

3 garlic cloves (I am a garlaholic, so if 3 is too pungent for you, reduce)
2 large lemons
1 cup of medium shrimp (cooked, peeled and deveined, and defrosted) 
Tostadas (like Guerrero)
1 small onion
2 large tomatoes
one green onion. chopped
cilantro, salt, and pepper to taste
olive oil

Chop up the garlic and lightly saute in olive oil just until it begins to brown.

Toss in the defrosted shrimp and squeeze a tablespoon or so of lemon juice in the pan. Cook just until everything is heated up nicely. Remove from heat and set aside.

Next, chop up the tomato, onion, green onion, and cilantro and add to a bowl. Squeeze the juice out of the remaining lemons. Add salt and pepper. Then add the cooked shrimp from the pan into the bowl. Stir to combine.  Taste and add more lemon or salt if necessary.  You want a tart, lemony flavor.

 Now it's time to compile our tostadas! On a plate, place the tostada and spoon a generous amount of the lemony shrimp mixture onto it.

Then enjoy! I usually serve two tostadas per person which requires a large plate and makes for a messy presentation. These are so good and the tostadas themselves are really the main source of calories in this dish. Don't be stingy with the lemon, the more the better as far as I'm concerned.

Bon Appétit