I haven’t been entirely successful with my experiment. Instead of a roast on Sunday after church like my mom used to make, we had a roast Saturday night and went out to breakfast after church. I will keep trying.
But this week is about Halloween. It’s the first year we won’t have company so I don’t need to make dinner (or order pizza) for a crowd. It’s always been a tricky (ooh, pun alert!) entertaining day for me, because out of the 9 total years I’ve had kids in school, last year was the only year I wasn’t helping at or running the classroom Halloween party… the only year I was able to see the school parade marching around the building, and didn’t rush home exhausted from the most cacophonous, chaotic hour known to mankind (we have an open floor plan school) and straighten my wig/witch hat combo as I turned off of Fairmount because grandma and grandpa were already waiting in the driveway with their single use disposable camera at the ready. (Where do they keep finding those? Are they still in production? Is there a secret grandparents store that stocks things long thought extinct, like transistor radios and Necco wafers?) Even though I’m back in the crazy-making class party business this year, the lack of visitors will make dinner much more relaxed this year. Although a bit melancholy, since an era seems to have ended.
This is also likely the last year my 13-year-old will be trick-or-treating. (I haven’t actually stated this out loud before today, so give me a moment to deal with my grief.)
I came up with an idea for dinner I thought was original, but it turns out is not at all. Nevertheless, I am forging ahead.
I like stuffed peppers because they are veggie, protein and grain all in one package. I do not par-boil my peppers, because ONLY avocados are supposed to be that color green and that mushy. Also, like chili, you can make a perfectly wonderful vegetarian version.
For dessert, I found something Ultra Foods helpfully stocked in an end cap, which was new to me (I don’t often peruse the puddings and Jell-O’s, although my kids would prefer I did) but has obviously been around a while based on this review: Pumpkin Spice Pudding. Also based on the review: I will be making the “mousse” version. I don’t normally like using things when I feel I need a degree in chemistry to understand the ingredients, but what’s Halloween without feeling a little scared?
Before I give you my recipe for stuffed peppers, which like my meatloaf is pretty basic, I would like to address the issue of onion powder and garlic powder. It is okay to use them. While there are some people who wouldn’t even have spices if their aunt hadn’t given them a spice rack for a wedding shower gift 18 years ago (if that’s you, please just throw them out at this point), there are also people for whom the thought of using onion or garlic powder (or dried herbs for that matter) causes the same level of anxiety as the thought of being trapped undersea in a submarine with only 15 minutes of oxygen left causes me. I would like to say life doesn’t always fit the ideal, and using dried or dehydrated versions of things you don’t have fresh on hand is fine. It can be tasty, even; this is a dish where it will work without a hitch. Sometimes dried versions can even work better, but that’s a column for another time. Please don’t order take out just because you’re out of garlic and/or onions. Also, feel free to use a garlic press without guilt. Really. I won’t tell Alton Brown when I see him next.
STUFFED PEPPERS (I’ve never tried to cut faces into the peppers before, so that part is new to me):
1 ½ pounds ground beef
3/4 cup uncooked long grain white rice (if you only have instant rice, just make it per package instructions. Nobody is judging you here.)
1 1/2 cup water
6 bell peppers (4 if HUGE) normally green is used, but orange this time
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 or 2 cloves garlic pressed or minced fine OR ½ to 1 teaspoon garlic powder (you know how much garlic you like)
½ medium onion diced fine OR 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
salt and pepper to taste (usually 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons salt, sprinkle or few grinds of pepper)
- ½ teaspoon each dried basil and oregano
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Place the rice and water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook 20 minutes. Meanwhile, brown the beef in a skillet over medium heat (if using fresh onions, put them in now. Add the garlic at the very end of browning time)
- Wash the peppers, and cut jack-o’-lantern faces into the peppers with a sharp paring knife. Slice off the tops of the peppers, and scoop out the seeds and cores. Keep the tops for later; normally you’d throw them out. Arrange peppers in a 9×13 baking dish with the hollow sides facing up. (Slice the bottoms of the peppers if necessary so that they will stand upright.)
- In a bowl, mix the browned beef, cooked rice, 1 can tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, (if using garlic powder and/or onion powder, this is when you’d add it), salt, and pepper. Spoon an equal amount of the mixture into each hollowed pepper. Mix the remaining tomato sauce, basil and oregano in a bowl, and pour over the stuffed peppers. Put tops on so they look like pumpkins. Pour about a 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the baking dish.
- Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven until the peppers are tender.