Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Tart With A Heart

Even us tarts have a little soft spot for Valentine's Day. Mind you, I resent the "establishment" sort of things like roses, chocolates and Hallmark cards. There are so many more wonderful ways to celebrate love, aren't there? It's like my college English professor always said (albeit in quite a different context): "Show, not tell."

Ever since I heard some poor man telling the story over the watercooler of his Valentine's Day rush to buy $10/stem roses, crammed into a tiny flower shop along with hundreds of other desperate men in an after-work effort to fulfill his Valentine's Day quota (and really, for that much money, I'd rather have a pair of shoes... call me practical), I've revolted against the established V-Day festivities.

I don't want overpriced flowers, I don't want chocolates, I don't want the madness of trying to reserve a restaurant on February 14th (er... in the spirit of truth, I have to add that A. deals with the reservations, really, but that's not the point). Not that there's inherently anything wrong in any of that. I just didn't enjoy the stress of it when we went through all those things, and I am a firm believer that in life, you should do the things you enjoy. Therefore, we've developed a sort of pattern over the years: A. and I make dinner at home, just the two of us, loudly pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate how lucky he was to find me we were to find each other. It makes both of us truly happy, and that's the most important thing.
Some traditions, however, are hard to break out of - nothing speaks V-Day like red and hearts. And when my stuffed pepper came out of the oven looking like a big red heart, I just knew it foretold the beginning of one good week. So, here's to V-Day, here's to the traditions, here's to us jaded 21st century people having a nice, relaxing week full of love and doing things you enjoy!

Stuffed Peppers
6 red peppers, hulled and seeded
1 lb lean ground beef
2 Italian sausages, casings removed (or another 1/2 lb ground beef)
1 cup rice, cooked
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 cup tomato sauce
salt/pepper/dried Italian spices
sour cream and dill for garnish
First, put 1/2 cup dry rice and 1 cup water and some salt on high heat. Wait until it boils, then turn down the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, deal with the peppers. Once the peppers are washed, hulled and seeded, cut a bit off the bottom of each pepper so that it can stand in the baking dish you've prepared. Ideally, the baking dish should hold all six peppers, but mine held only 4 so the other 2 had to rough it all alone in two ramekins. This should only take you a couple of minutes unless, like mine, your peppers decide to break out during the hulling process (um, a bit late in the day to stage a rebellion guys, no?).

Chop the onions and garlic and sauté under medium heat in 1/2 tablespoon of butter or olive oil until very soft (6-7 minutes). Set aside. In the same pan, brown the beef (and sausage if using) on moderate heat until almost all the pink is gone, about 10 minutes. Make sure to salt and pepper it well, and also add any spices you want to use at this time (Italian spices, thyme, a dash of Tabasco sauce, etc). At this point, I like to pour off the fat from the pan, but that's just me.

Add the onions/garlic to combine. Then add the cooked rice also to combine. Add the tomato sauce and the can of tomatoes so that the mixture is good and moist. Add more tomato sauce if it's too dry. It's okay, it'll all be inside the peppers, so the wetter the better (he he he). Taste it to make sure it's good.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Stand the peppers side by side in a baking dish. They should sit together pretty snugly (I could make all sorts of group double entendres here, but I won't). Spoon the mixture into the peppers and put them into the oven for 45 minutes - 1 hr. At 45 min, the peppers will be firm and taught and at 1 hr, they will be very soft and tender (oh boy, I'm going to get in trouble, but this is a Valentine's week post).

Russians garnish with a big dollop of cool sour cream and some freshly chopped dill. Mmmm....

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