**Listening to The Misfits**
When my friend Mike asked me to lend him a hand at the Cleveland's Finest Hors D'Oeuvre Contest, I have to admit, I was a little intimidated. I'm just a little guy, doing my own thing and now I'm going to be playing with some big guns. Mike and I discussed what he wanted to make, but was open to suggestions for something different so I set out to make something that fit into his concept of "Garage Cookin." What is that concept? Well if I had to describe it simply I'd say, guy food. I have some experience in this area, I have a smoker after all!
I decided I wanted to make a stuffed pepper and I had a plan. My first thought was to use sausage in the stuffing. But I ended up deciding against that. Why? Because I wanted to wrap the pepper in bacon and it seemed like it would be just too much fat. So I switched gears and decided to use just ground pork instead of sausage. Did I cut back on the fat by much? Probably not. But that's besides the point. I bought two different kinds of peppers to try... Poblano's and Hungarian. I wanted something with a mild spice to it, but not something that would send you into hot pepper orbit. I know Hungarian peppers are hit or miss, but I liked out with the ones I got. They were a hit, just the right amount of heat.
I rubbed the peppers with a little olive oil and then put them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. This is just long enough to soften them, but not really cook them too much. While they cooked/cooled, I started on my filling. I apologize in advance for not having a lot of photos. I apparently got so involved with what I was doing that I forgot to take them. I started with leeks. I cannot extol the virtue of the leek enough. I love them and I believe they enhance whatever they are in. So that is where this recipe starts. Leeks, cleaned well and sliced thinly.
Take the cleaned, sliced leeks and saute them in about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil until just softened. Don't let them brown too much. Remove them from the pan and add the ground pork.
This is one package, which is about a pound... give or take. Brown and crumble the pork. Once it's completely cooked, add the leeks back in and saute together. Are you remembering to salt and pepper as you go?
Now, what else should I put in this stuffing mixture? I decided on quinoa. Quinoa is a grain that also happens to be a good source of protein. It's small and almost looks translucent when cooked. It has a nice nutty taste and I thought it would be a nice accompaniment to the leeks and pork. I was right. It worked out perfectly. So once the quinoa was cooked, I added it and the leeks to the pork mixture and cooked them together for just a few minutes to marry the flavors and that was it.
While the stuffing mix cooled, I cut the tops of the peppers off and scooped out the seeds, being very careful not to tear the peppers. When the stuffing had cooled, I chopped some smoked white cheddar into bite sized or a little smaller pieces and mixed it with the stuffing. I was once very skeptical about smoked cheeses and really not at all interested. But the more I have them, the more I like them! Smoked cheddar is really quite delicious on a burger. Anyway, very carefully take some of the stuffing mix and put it in the pepper. You want to fill them, but you want to do it carefully. Don't tear the pepper! Just take your time, use the back of a wooden spoon if you are having trouble getting the filling all the way down to the tip of the pepper.
Once they are all filled, very delicately wrap the whole pepper in bacon. It doesn't stay on very well, but you can adhere the bacon with toothpicks. Use as many as you need to keep the bacon wrapped neatly around the pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake the peppers at 375 until the bacon is completely cooked (about 30-35 minutes). After about 15 minutes, if you dare, gently turn the peppers so the bacon cooks evenly. If you don't, you may end up having to put the peppers under the broiler for a minute or so to completely cook the tops.
Once the peppers are out of the oven, let cool for a few minutes then remove all the toothpicks. Some will probably still fall off, but some will look nice and perty, like this one...
These peppers were a hit with all who tried them... that being the resident taster in the house, and my mom. Oh and me too. The smoked cheese plays off very well with the bacon. The pepper was nice not too hot. The quinoa and pork were hearty.
Alas, we didn't use them for the contest, but it was nice to be challenged and come up with something pretty damn delicious!