Jul 22, 2010
Make do with what you have... Make Ahead Meals!
Make Ahead Mini-Stuffed Bell Peppers
I am always on a quest to find dinners to make and freeze ahead of time since most days I am too tired to cook by the end of the day and we all know how hard it is to get something decent on the table while the kids are screaming "when's dinner?" or "I'm hungry!". You would think they never got fed sometimes the way they carry on. I have no illusions that they will actually eat the following recipe, although I have a little bit of hope because... the little peppers are "cute"! Who knows?
The harvest: the peppers have officially started coming in batches of this amount every 3 days or so... what to do? Stuffed peppers, of course!
This year I am growing an Heirloom "'Lil' Yellow Stuffer"... not sure why it's called a stuffer, maybe the thickness of the walls? It's just as good raw! These just scream to be made in bulk and frozen however, they are about the size of meatballs. I am thinking I will use them that way, too, depending on what I stuff them with.
It was too hot to go to the store, so I just used whatever I had on hand. To the day's harvest of peppers and tomatoes, I added yesterday's tomatoes, some basil, shallots, a package of ready-heat rice & bean pilaf, and a baggie of ricotta mixture I had in the freezer from our last lasagna filling. That's the beauty of bell peppers, they will take pretty much anything you can stuff them with!
First, I diced some shallots and a few small tomatoes, sauteed them in olive oil. I added this in to a bowl containing the heated rice & bean pilaf package and the ricotta mixture. Stuffing: done!
I took the remaining tomatoes, blanched and peeled the skins off, added a bit of kosher salt and basil, and cooked down to make a sauce. Instead of slaving over straining the tomatoes, I just cooked the whole mess down in 30 minutes and stuck a stick blender in at the end. This only made a half pint, so easy was the goal here.
While the sauce was simmering, I cut the tops off and seeded all the peppers. This was by far the most time consuming part of it all, I would suggest a 2nd person to help, but I don't have that option! Then take a spoon and stuff all your peppers. I was lucky and had exactly enough stuffing for today's batch of peppers, not really sure how that worked since I don't measure!
Place your peppers on a cookie sheet in the freezer for a few hours. This pre-freezing is what gives you the "convenience" in convenience food. They don't stick together that way you only need to take out what you need for dinner.
After a few hours on the cookie sheet in the freezer, I put them in bags of 20, then placed those into a larger bag for extra protection. I don't use my Food Saver for things like this since I tend to be in and out of the bag frequently since these make a great side dish, too. Label, pop in the freezer and you're set!
Of course I had to try them last night...
I just took out what I needed, baked them at 350 straight from a frozen state until the peppers were soft, about 20-25 minutes, then topped with the sauce I made earlier in the afternoon. These particular ones had a southwest flavor since I used a rice & bean mixture, but of course would be awesome with most anything, meat, cheese, breadcrumb stuffing, etc. A new local gardening friend of mine brought a zucchini casserole to a BBQ last weekend that was delish, it had stuffing, shredded zucchini, shredded carrots among a few other ingredients and I am thinking peppers would be great stuffed with this too. We could all use a way to get rid of more zucchini, right? Full size peppers would make a great meal too, process is the same. I am thinking that these are so small I may even top pasta with them and use them just like meatballs.
All told, it took 1 person a little less than 2 hours from start to finish, which = the length of the kid's movie I stuck in to keep them out of my hair! Not bad, considering that I got at least 5 dinners from it into the freezer. Now what to do next with those peppers? It's not often that I am this motivated or that the kiddos actually sit still long enough for me to cook this much stuff!
I am thinking this is the perfect activity for a girl's night, with enough wine, hands, and peppers, this would take no time at all and everyone could leave with several dozen! (too bad I don't get to have girl's nights... just 5 & 7 year old boys nights LOL)!
What's your favorite make-ahead meal?