Dornish Peppers

I first made this recipe for my Game of Thrones premiere party back in April. I am now addicted to them and I need an Anonymous meeting for them. So I’m going to get you all addicted to them and then we can have meetings and eat them together. 😉

The original recipe for this came from Inn at the Crossroads, a blog that specializes in Westerosi cuisine. I love them and their mission (they have a cookbook out now!), but I have made some modifications to their original.
I also want to mention that, as a work in progress, I have actually made some more adjustments to this process since the date that I took these pictures. I’ll make note of the changes as I go. I would normally have waited to share this until I was more settled on the recipe, but I’m sharing this recipe at a tutorial event on Saturday and I wanted to have it available if anybody wants to know the recipe.

These are the ingredients you’ll need:

– Peppers. Bell peppers of any color are nice, and I’m a big fan of the “mini bells” that I’ve found at the market this season. Spicy peppers like jalapenos are also good for this!

– Goldfish crackers. Other cheesy crackers will work as well.
– Onions. I used two small ones this time, but one large will do as well. Adjust to your preference.
– Cheese. Cheddar was my choice this day. I also have used Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, and Mozzarella. Any of these are nice.
– A block of cream cheese. I never said these were light on fat.
– Spices of your choosing. I always put cumin in. Garlic and red pepper flakes are nice, as are chile powder and just about anything you’d like to add.

There are essentially three parts to this recipe: the filling, the topping, and the peppers themselves. First, let’s prep the peppers so they’re ready when we are. Use a paring knife to remove the stem end of each pepper, and then cut it in half so it can lay flat. Remove all the seeds.  If you’re using spicy peppers and don’t want them to be too hot, make sure you get all of the white membrane inside as well.
If you’re using smaller peppers like jalapenos or mini bells, you can simply cut off the top and scoop out the seeds, leaving the peppers intact. This is my current favorite way to do them, but I also really love the big bells.

Next, let’s create the filling. Chop up your onion(s) into a small dice. Here’s one of the biggest changes I’ve made – put these onions in a skillet with a splash of oil and cook them first. They’ll get soft and transparent, and a little brown around the edges. You can add spices directly to the onions if you like (garlic and red peppers are good here). I feel that the added flavor, not to mention softness, of the cooked onions is way better here. You may skip this step if you choose, as I did on this preparation.

Now you can shred your cheese, if it’s not pre-shredded. There was, at one point, a measurement involved with this, but I just eye it now. When the mountain looks big enough, I’m done. Haha.  You’ll also want your cream cheese softened. If you cooked your onions, all you need to do is put the cream cheese in a bowl and put the onions on top and they’ll soften it right up. If you’re going with raw onions, try popping it in the microwave for a few seconds (withOUT the metal wrapper).

Put your onions and cheeses in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Looking at this photo with a bit more practice, I can say that there are a few too many onions in here and perhaps not enough cheese. You can adjust the ratio to your liking of course. You can also add any spices you’d like at this point. I generally don’t, though, since the onions are already spiced and I’m about to spice the topping.

Pop some cheesy crackers into the bowl of your food processor and crunch them up. You can also just beat them in a plastic bag but that takes too long for me. You can make the topping as crunchy or as fine as you’d like. I prefer it somewhere between the two, with some larger chunks but also a lot of fine-crumb sized pieces. While the crackers are spinning, add the spices. The spice that must flow here, for me, is cumin. Not too much; you don’t want to overwhelm it. Red pepper flakes will add a nice kick, and garlic is never remiss. Paprika and chile powder are also nice, and I bet nutmeg would make a good appearance as well.

Now that you’ve got all the parts, it’s time to assemble! Simply scoop the filling into the peppers. If you’re doing it popper-style with whole peppers, you may want to use a chopstick to press it down into the tip of the pepper.
Then, add the topping. Just sprinkle it on and press it down into the cheesy filling a bit. Or, you can pick up the peppers (the smaller ones) and just dip them in. The original recipe called for an egg wash and some rolling, but I didn’t like that very much.

Pop those babies into the oven! I think I do them at 350F for, oh about 15 minutes? I’ll be honest – I don’t time it. 350 is the default for my oven so I go with that, but then I just kinda keep an eye on them until they get all melty and soft. You can poke and prod them if you’re concerned about pepper texture.
However long it takes them in the oven, when they come out they are full of molten cheese and absolutely delicious. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was addicted. These make a great appetizer, of course, but I’ve also served them as a main course with a side of rice! And don’t worry about making too many. On the rare occasion that they’re not all eaten immediately, just put them in the fridge. Warm them up a bit in the microwave the next day and they are Even Better! (If that’s even possible, that is.)

Have you ever made a “geek recipe”? What was it, and how did it turn out?

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Homemade Onion Rings

You may have noticed that I am a big fan of onions. They’re an ingredient in just about every savory recipe I’ve shared here, and in fact in just about every savory recipe I make, shared or not. I love their taste, I love their texture, and I especially love their versatility. They work with just about every flavor profile and cooking method.

Every once in a while, I get a craving for FRIED onions. Specifically, onions shaped like rings and covered with crust. A lot of people would just dash out to the nearest fast “food” place and pick some up, or maybe get some premade ones from the freezer case at the supermarket. But I’m sure you know me well enough by now to know that that’s not how I roll. And I’m here to tell you that homemade onion rings are SUPER easy.

You will need:
– onions. I generally use one small-t0-medium onion.
– two forks, a medium bowl, a sharp knife and a cutting board
– a cooling rig – paper towels are fine, a rack on top of the paper towels would be better.
– batter, see below
– oil – an inch or so deep in your cast iron skillet – put it on the burner first so it can get hot while you prep the rings

Here’s your batter.
3/4 cup flour, 2/3 cup milk, 1 egg, 1 tbsp oil, 1/4 tsp salt.
Mix these together in a bowl. Stir until smooth and unlumpy. Feel free to adjust the texture as you like. More flour will give a thicker batter, more milk will thin it (obviously). You can leave out this salt if you are concerned about sodium, but seriously this is not health food. Just leave it in – it tastes much better.

Slice the onion(s) into a big ol’ pile of rings. Separate them gently with your fingers. The center of the onion will be too small to make decent rings with; just put that part in a container and use in your next meal. If the outer layers have green veins (like the one on the left side of this photo), they won’t taste very good, so discard them.

Dip the rings into the batter and swirl them around to coat them. This particular batch has extra milk and is a little thin. Lift them with one of your forks and let the excess drip off. If your oil is ready (I think 350 degrees is the temperature, but I never actually use the thermometer for this. I actually take a drop of the batter and put it in the oil – if it immediately starts to sizzle, it’s ready), drop in the rings, one at a time.

Sorry for the fuzzy photo, lol. Make sure not to crowd your pan or add too many at one time (so that the oil temperature doesn’t fall too much). If your rings are not bubbling like mad from the second you put them into the oil, they’ll absorb the fat and be horrible and gross. Take them out if this happens, and crank the heat.
Watch the edges of the rings for the telltale color of Golden Brown and Delicious. It usually takes around a minute for each ring, but it’ll depend on the thickness of your batter and of your individual onion. Use your second fork (or a frying spider) to flip them over.

When they’re done, evacuate them to your cooling/draining rig. If your oil is hot and you don’t let them overcook, and you allow them to drain properly, your onions will retain very little oil. They’ll not be healthy, but they also won’t be balls of grease.
If you get drips of batter in the oil as you fry, try to remember to get them out, or else they’ll burn and then stick to the rings, which is why you see those black dots on these rings. :/
Salt them while warm (if you want) and serve. I like ketchup with mine, but just about any dipping sauce will work here. Onions are versatile, I told you. 😉

I don’t have a pretty staged food photo for you this time. I was too busy devouring my onion rings. What are you still doing reading? Go make some.

Fried Mozzarella Sticks

I love fried cheese sticks. I don’t love weird preservatives and high prices. I love to make my own yummy things. I don’t love dumping something from the freezer into the microwave. So, it’s pretty obvious that I make my own cheese sticks. I started with this recipe from Allrecipes, and it’s pretty much the same. But I have pictures! 😉

These are a great, easy introduction to frying, and nearly impossible to mess up.

You will need:
– string cheese (look for coupons for these, I scored a great deal on mine!)
– crumbs
– herbs and seasonings
– an egg and some water
– flour and cornstarch
– lots of oil
– three bowls, two forks, a pair of tongs, and a heavy frying pan

First, mix up your crumbs with the seasonings. I used dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil, and some garlic powder. (I used saltine crackers, but any kind of crumbs you have on hand would be acceptable.)
Then, beat your egg a bit with some water.
You’ll need about 2 parts flour to one part cornstarch (say, 2/3 cup and 1/3 cup) as well.
Line all these bowls up, assembly-line style. This is a pretty standard setup for frying – a series of bowls full of coating materials, ending at the hot oil.

Speaking of the hot oil, get it hot, preferably in a cast iron pan (it helps keep the temperature steady). You can use a frying thermometer for this, but usually the pan is too shallow. You’ll need the oil to be about the depth of the cheese, more or less.
I usually take a tiny drop of water on my hand and fling it (from a distance) into the oil. If it immediately sizzles and pops, you’re ready. (NO, that’s not safe, but I’m being real here.)

When the oil is hot enough, take a cheese stick and roll it in the flour mixture.

Then, dip it in the egg mixture. Let it sit there for just a moment, so that the flour soaks up some of the egg. Make sure the whole cheese stick is coated thoroughly.

Now, fish out the eggy cheese and roll it in the crumbs. Roll it and pat it (and mark it with a B if you wish) and make sure the whole cheese is covered.

Drop your cheese into the oil (use the tongs to protect your hands). It’ll only take a few seconds to cook. Since it’s just cheese, you don’t need to worry about “internal temperature” like you will with meats – just judge the doneness by the color of the crumbs and the amount of leaking cheese you can see.
Don’t crowd the pan with too many cheeses, and don’t walk away – this is a quick and dangerous process.
If the cheese doesn’t immediately begin bubbling like crazy when you put it in, take it out again and let the oil get hotter. If it just sits in the oil and isn’t furiously bubbling, it’ll absorb the oil and get gross.

When they’re done to your satisfaction, pick them up with the tongs and place them on a few layers of paper towels. The paper towels will soak up some of the remaining oil, leaving them crispy instead of soggy.

Serve them hot, with marinara sauce.
Now that you’ve mastered this process, you are ready to move on to more complicated fried items (although none of them are especially hard except for chicken – there is a *secret* to chicken).

Do you have a favorite appetizer? Are you afraid of frying? Are there any cooking methods that you’ve been afraid to try?