(“Building the American Bento” will continue later, recent experiences are better shared while fresh.)
Okay, so I don’t have a whole “peck” of peppers, but you get the point. (1 peck: approximately 2 gallons)
The recipes don’t have ingredient lists as they are simple enough with only a couple of ingredients, all eyeballed.
Today I was grocery shopping and found a 1 pound bag of baby bell peppers. You know, the red, orange and yellow sweet bells that (for me) taste so much better than the green ones. Normally I would pass by as I rarely finish a bag before they go bad, but I can’t get them individually and these were ½ price. My little bargain hunter’s heart fluttered, so I grabbed them. After I got them home, I had to decide what to do with all the little buggers.
Since I haven’t had stuffed peppers in a while, it seemed like the logical thing to do. After washing and coring, any that didn’t make the stuffing muster got sliced and frozen for later recipes. This was easy enough, just line up the slices in a baking pan, freeze for about an hour, then stuff them in a freezer bag.
What are my stuffing criteria? They must have a nice, hollow inside and not be flat. Flat ones just tend to squeeze out their fillings. Then I had to stuff them, but with what? I didn’t want to thaw out a whole pound of meat for these guys, so I dug out some meatballs. While those were thawing, I found the cream cheese hiding in the back of the fridge.
Way 1: Seasoned Cream Cheese (smaller peppers)
Soften a couple spoonfuls of cream cheese (depending on how many and what size peppers you’re stuffing, approx 1-2 teaspoon per pepper). About 15 to 30 seconds in the microwave will do this.
Mix in some spices, I used Italian dressing mix. Other options: Ranch dressing mix, onion soup mix (w/ sour cream), fresh herbs, basil, oregano, garlic, onion, sun dried tomato, other cheeses, whatever floats your boat. Just try to avoid over-seasoning, feel free to taste it.
Mix it all together and stuff the peppers. I did both the top-stuff method as well as the slice-and-fill method work, using a spoon. If you’re going to do several in one batch, place your seasoned cheese in a plastic bag, cut off a corner and use it to pipe the cheese inside, it will make a much neater and more evenly filled product. If you want to grill these, consider going heavy with a nice, melty cheese and go light in the seasonings.
These can be served cold, at room temperature, or can be lightly grilled. They work great as a snack, appetizer or in a lunch box.
Way 2: Meaty Goodness (larger peppers)
The measuring here is heavy on the eyeballing of ingredients as I just made six of them this way.
Most people stuff peppers with meat and rice. Well, I didn’t have any prepared rice and figured these were so small they didn’t need it. Also, my meatball recipe has all sorts of fillings, so they should be fine.
I used one meatball (about 1 tablespoon) per pepper and added about 1/8 cup of shredded cheese to them all as well as a drizzle of Teriyaki sauce. After mixing it all together, I stuffed these peppers the same way as the cream cheese, making sure the meat was all the way down into the peppers. The sliced peppers got an extra drizzle of teriyaki in the slice.
My toaster oven baked these at 350 for about 20 minutes until the meat was cooked through. Time may vary depending on your oven. The peppers were cooked but still a bit firm, the way I like them. They don’t have to stand up, either. Mine came out just fine with no leakage except for the excess oil.
These can be served warm and if you like, with a little extra sauce. They would definitely make good appetizers or you could pack a couple for lunch.
Verdict for both off-the-cuff recipes? I think I used too much Italian dressing, maybe I should have done Ranch instead. But my meaty peppers were awesome.