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Stuffed peppers come in many variations

By Jeff Wilkin
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

During the 1980s, when the Schenectady Gazette’s headquarters was on State Street, many supper-minded editors and reporters regularly visited the DeWitt Cafeteria and Tap Room on Clinton Street.

Some might remember this casual, old-fashioned restaurant. It was across from City Hall, and served lunches and dinners such as stuffed chicken breasts, meat loaf, spaghetti and meatballs, hot roast beef sandwiches. Vegetable and potato side dishes often were served separately, in small bowls or on small plates.

Sometimes I think we went to see the counter woman, Ann Cross — a pleasant, maternal woman who took our orders and always told us when our dinners were ready: “Pick up, Randy,” she’d say to Randy Walerius, who covered business for us. “Pick up, Betsy,” she’d tell education reporter Betsy Sandberg.

I guess that’s why it was a cafeteria — we all walked to the back of the restaurant, grabbed our plates from the stainless steel counter and sauntered back to The Gazette supper table.

The good old DeWitt closed about 20 years ago, and the space was occupied by several Indian restaurants. So it’s been a while since I had my DeWitt favorite, the Thursday night special — stuffed peppers.

Rare menu item

For such an easy dish, I rarely see them on restaurant menus. A mix of ground beef, rice and spices goes into a hollowed green pepper and baked. It’s sort of like meatloaf with an edible container.

I’ve been on a stuffed pepper kick this spring, ever since I noticed frozen stuffed peppers have made the lineup at Stouffer’s in supermarket frozen food cases. I also noticed they were on sale.

I’ve made stuffed peppers at home, and think preparation of this dish can stoke the flames of culinary creativity. Ground beef is a staple, but I like to throw favorites into the mix. So my big bell peppers are stuffed with minced onion, crumbled bacon, salsa, sliced chick peas and chopped olives. Splashes of barbecue sauce, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce are options for extra taste.

I know the chefs at the old DeWitt probably cooked everything inside the bell. I break that rule in my home kitchen, and brown the ground beef and saute the onions before mixing them with the salsa, peas, olives and the usual liberal spice shakes. It only takes an hour or so to bake the pepper, in a 350-degree oven, so once the pepper is tender I am reasonably assured everything inside is sufficiently cooked.

Right before serving, I’ll top the roasters with sliced cheese. I’m partial to extra sharp yellow cheese, for both a tangy kick and extra color for presentation.

mix and match

There are lots of variations. Cooked, chopped chicken mixed with salsa is one; sausage and homes fries work too. The Thanksgiving stuffed pepper is loaded with chopped turkey, bread stuffing and cranberries. You can even make vegetarian versions, with diced tomatoes, sauteed olives, mushrooms and onions.

While stuffed peppers will never be considered elegant, exotic or extravagant, they can be colorful. While the DeWitt always used green peppers, I generally add red and yellow peppers. Ground beef, bacon and salsa can go into the green vegetables; sausage and potatoes can fill the red ones; and chicken or turkey recipes can pack the yellow peppers. Consider it natural color-coding for dinner parties!

“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at features@dailygazette.net.

 
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