Thursday, 17 February 2022

Italian Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

This is a delicious and healthy vegetarian dish perfect for Meat Free Monday

Tomatoes are the hero of this vegetarian dish, and whether you bake these with mushrooms or roast potatoes, the latter will also measure up and absorb all of the beautiful flavours from the tomatoes. The second vegetable also keeps the tomatoes from toppling over if necessary. This was a spur of the moment meal I decided to make late one afternoon, when I felt like something really healthy and vegetable based to serve with grilled pork chops. However, this is a simple and slightly retro dish than can also be served as a  delicious Meat Free Monday dinner, accompanied by a green salad, as a side dish as part of a Sunday roast which is how I remember it, or as a light lunch with some crusty sourdough bread. These little beauties are ideal for entertaining, as they can be prepared in advance and and then popped into the oven just  before your guests arrive. They are also very patient when cooked, and will happily wait whilst the rest of the food is being prepared. The whole dish is probably best served just warm rather than hot, so that guests don't burn their mouths.

 I am slightly challenged by cooking at the moment, but becoming very used to the new kitchen in my daughter's new home. I am missing my herb garden at home, as normally I would have added some fresh oregano or basil to this dish and garnished it with fresh parsley for presentation purposes. I'm trying not to drive to the supermarket every time I need an ingredient, particularly for an unplanned dish like this one. However dried oregano seasons the brown rice stuffing beautifully, and I love the nutty flavour of the rice. We have a very good selection of dried herbs and spices in the pantry which are so useful for all kinds of dishes. As I mentioned in my last February In My Kitchen post, much of my cooking at the moment whilst we enjoy a "working holiday" in Cairns is improvisatory, making do with what I have on hand. At the time I wasn't even thinking that this "recipe" would be bloggable, however as I started preparing the tomatoes and the stuffing, my cooking mojo came on board, and  I realised that this dish would be delicious and might be blog worthy. Mr. HRK loved them, but I wasn't sure if our daughter would as she doesn't like cooked tomato generally,  particularly not if they are grilled or fried with eggs and bacon, unlike moi. However she was impressed, which was a great recommendation. The tomatoes tasted fresh and delicious and kept their shape, and the rice stuffing was full of delicious Italian flavours. 

The key to any healthy vegetarian dish is quality produce, and we had four perfectly firm and beautifully red tomatoes in our fruit bowl. These tomatoes came from Jonsson's Farm Market, a local Cairns business in the suburb of Stratford, which specialises in  providing fresh local produce, vegetables, fruit and meat, from paddock to plate. These tomatoes probably came from Mareeba, the food bowl of the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns. The quality of produce available at Jonsson's  is superior to what I have found in the supermarkets here, as some of the supermarket vegetables and fruit has by the time it has been unpacked and reshelved, endured a lot of road miles. Whilst I only used 4 tomatoes for this dish, the stuffing recipe will fill 6.

Ingredients:

Serves 6

6 large firm ripe tomatoes

3 cups cooked brown rice

1 cup grated parmesan

2 teaspoons dried oregano, or 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes, if you like a little heat

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped black olives, or use capers (washed well if salted)

3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Handful of cap mushrooms

Method:

Before you start preparing, preheat the oven to 180 deg. C or 350 deg. F.

I won't beat around the bush, hollowing out the tomatoes can be fiddly, but very rewarding, and this can be done well in advance when you have some time. Slice off the caps from the tomatoes, at the widest part just below the top as this will become their lid when they are baked. Remove the pulp from the inside of the tomatoes. I used a small sharp knife to carefully cut about 1 cm inside the the outer skin of the tomato, and then I spooned out the pulp. There needs to be enough tomato skin and pulp left in tact so that the tomatoes remain firm when stuffed and cooked. Chop the tomato pulp that you have removed, into small pieces.Some people remove the seeds, but I can't see the point of doing that.

Place the cooked rice in a medium sized bowl and add the chopped tomato pulp, dried oregano, chilli flakes, garlic, salt, and chopped black olives or capers. Anchovies also make a delicious addition if they suit your taste.

If the rice mixture is too moist, mix 1 tablespoon or even more fresh breadcrumbs through it, remembering though that the rice will continue to absorb some liquid and flavours during the cooking process. Spoon the rice mixture into the tomatoes, pressing down gently, piling the mixture as high as you dare. 

Now let's dress up these babies. I like to top the stuffed tomatoes with a layer of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and then add their lid.

Pour a very light layer of olive oil into the baking dish. Carefully place the tomatoes in the baking dish and add the tomato lids to the top.I used a Pyrex dish which would easily hold six tomatoes, but as I only had four I packed the cap mushrooms in between the tomatoes and baked them with the tomatoes. The mushrooms were delicious, absorbed the flavours of the tomatoes,  and also kept the tomatoes in position.

If you have potatoes on hand, cut them into small chunks, bake them first, and then bake them again with the tomatoes instead of the mushrooms, or serve both separately.

Pour a little olive oil over the mushrooms and the tomatoes, sprinkle with more fresh grated parmesan cheese and ground black  pepper, and a little more dried oregano.



Cook's notes:
  • The quantities I have given are suggestions only depending on what you have on hand. Hopefully all of your tomatoes will be the same size. However if they're not that doesn't matter, as this is a rustic dish. If your tomatoes are smaller, you will just need more of them.
  • If you grow your own herbs that's wonderful. Use fresh parsley, basil or oregano, to season your rice, and for garnishing. The more fresh herbs the better.
  • I cooked the brown rice first so that it was ready to eat, and that worked perfectly for a stuffing. 
  • If you cook with rice, brown or white, during the week make some extra, and then it can be easily used for baked tomatoes later in the week.
  • Did you know that rice which has been chilled in the refrigerator after cooking, and then reheated in another dish contains less calories? I'm sticking with that theory anyway.
  • Leftover Stuffed Tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container and reheated in the oven or the microwave until just warm. Delicious.
These tomatoes will become a family favourite in no time, and you will know that you are serving a healthy and tasty dish that will accompany most food already on the table.

Happy Friday, and have a nice weekend everyone, thanks for dropping by.

Pauline



 


Friday, 11 February 2022

In My Kitchen, February 2022

It's been a topsy turvy time for us since before Christmas. I have been cooking in three different kitchens, one after the other, in addition to my kitchen in Mackay. We have recently helped our daughter move house, and she is now settling in well. So the last month has been a mixture of packing up, moving, storing furniture and possessions, and unpacking, and other things mixed in as well, whilst she kept working. The three of us have been quite peripatetic, and have met some genuinely very helpful and lovely people along the way which really helped.

I cook this Perfect Plum Dessert cake every year, to celebrate beautiful plums being in season. I added more plums this time and once more it was absolutely delicious. You can find the recipe here. Making this cake soothes my soul. It is indeed perfect. I made this one in my own kitchen.

It's well known that buying a new home can be stressful, however now that our daughter is settling in, we are all  happy that she has found a very nice home, with an easy to maintain garden, and I am thrilled with the kitchen. Kitchens are the theme of this post. It's a difficult time to purchase a house in the current market. Prices are wildly inflated, and quite frankly real estate agents are revelling in properties selling quickly and not needing to work quite as hard to earn their commission. Anyway, that's just my observation.  I can't tell you how many kitchens I have set up over the years, and this one is a medium sized kitchen, has adequate bench space, and enough space for the coffee machine, the air fryer, the kettle and toaster, the Kitchen Aid when it needs to be used. and a very large pantry. Yes, she is her Mother's daughter, she likes good food and likes to cook as well. The layout of the pantry is constantly evolving, as we use the kitchen and group all of the different cooking ingredients together. I love setting up kitchens, and my daughter is very happy to leave me to it, as she goes out to work. Meanwhile, Mr. HRK has been doing some slight renovations in the kitchen and the house.

 When you are moving house, or undergoing big changes in your life, some comfort food is a must, don't you think?  It's time to be kind to yourself and and indulge in some good old fashioned style eating. Much of my cooking over the last month has been improvisatory, making a meal from whatever is available and on hand. That is how this Chicken, Broccoli and Cheese Slice evolved. The only chicken fillet I could buy was already cubed, we had broccoli in the refrigerator, so all I needed to buy were the cans of soup and the sour cream from the nearby Friendly Grocer, a really nice bloke. I had some bread slices which were a few days old, so these transformed into perfect breadcrumbs in the food processor, and this dish  was on the dinner table in an hour.


There are so many ways that this dish could be stretched even further, by adding a layer of pasta or even adding more chopped vegetables, mushrooms or corn. I added baby spinach leaves to this recipe as I had them on hand and they needed to be used up, however these aren't essential by any means. This is how I love to cook.

Chicken, Broccoli and Cheddar Cheese Savoury Slice

Serves 6

Ingredients: 

3 cups cooked shredded chicken

3 cups cooked chopped broccoli

2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup, low salt if possible

2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves (optional)

1/2 cup sour cream

1 pinch ground black pepper to taste

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese, definitely  not low fat

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

1/4 cup salted butter, melted

Method:

Preheat the oven to 190 deg. C, or 375 deg. F.

Combine  the chicken, broccoli, spinach, condensed soup, sour cream, and pepper in a bowl. Mix in 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese,

Pour into a large rectangular baking dish and top with the remaining cheddar cheese.

Combine breadcrumbs and the melted butter in a bowl. Sprinkle over the slice.

Bake in the preheated oven until the breadcrumbs are golden, and the cheese is bubbly and melted, 30 to 35 minutes.

Cook's notes about this recipe:

  • Mr. HRK loved this savoury slice, however it wasn't quite perfect for me, but leftovers the next day tasted delicious.This can be the cook's dilemma though, sometimes it just doesn't quite measure up after I've cooked it myself. Whereas if someone else had cooked it and served it to me I would think it was delicious.I thought it was a touch salty, so next time I will buy unsalted canned soup, and I suggest that this dish doesn't need to be seasoned at all, except with some freshly ground pepper.
  • This dish is called a casserole in some Northern Hemisphere countries. For me, a casserole is a dish cooked on a lower heat in the oven in a round casserole dish with a lid.
  • To save time, shredded chicken from a bought cooked chook would also be very tasty.
  • This dish could be stretched further by adding a layer of pasta in the middle, or serve it with pasta which is what I did.
  • If you like a really crusty thick breadcrumb topping, and who doesn't, double the quantity of breadcrumbs and butter.
  • The heady aroma of this dish cooking in the oven is tantalising, and has everyone hovering around the kitchen in expectation of a delicious dinner.

During this rollercoaster ride I was describing before, of assisting our daughter to deal with real estate agents, solicitors, conveyancers, banks, and moving house, I have found solace in reading actor Stanley Tucci's latest book, "Taste:my life through food." A foodie writing for foodies, and bringing the passion of the Italian and the actor's gift for storytelling to the plate, it is a great read. I am on a mission to track down Pizzoccheri, a noodle composed of 50 per cent buckwheat flour and 50 % wheat flour, but I doubt Stanley that I will ever get the chance to sample some Historic Bitto like you have, the most expensive cheese in the world, comprising 10% Orobi Goats milk. However, cooking a rich and unctuous Carbonara based on Stanley's Italian recipe sounds achievable. Tucci's regular use of  four letter expletives packs a powerful punch throughout the book, and perhaps he considers it necessary to use them in his book, to set it apart, as cooking programs and indeed cookery books are now ubiquitous, and his flamboyant writing style and absolute passion for a magnificent repast sells copies. I hasten to add that I am not aiming to write a review of this book, my comments are purely observations. But I am glad I downloaded it onto my kindle, this kind of reading being very economical, stimulating, and convenient when travelling. I would like to meet this man, who is more at heart a gastronomist than actor, although he is a damn fine actor and knows how to eat well.

Last week, once more experiencing an improvisatory moment, I thought about making one of my favourite dishes, Bulgar Wheat Risotto with Chicken and Artichokes. Simple and tasty. Alas, there was no chicken to be found, but we did have in our substantial pantry some bottled artichokes and bulgur wheat, and pumpkin and haloumi cheese in the new Samsung French door refrigerator, which we love. Check it out if you like.


You can find the recipe for the Bulgar Wheat Risotto with Chicken and Artichokes at this link.
And after I had improvised with the recipe, this is what it looked like.


I added 500 g of cubed and cooked but not soft pumpkin to the pan at the end of the cooking time with the artichokes.


Because it was a warm afternoon, we decided to grill the haloumi which is a substitute for the chicken, and some broccoli, on the BBQ, which gave it a subtle smoky flavour. 


The whole dish came together beautifully, and is healthy as well. We cooked more haloumi than necessary, as hey, there always needs to be more haloumi for a second serving.

After unpacking boxes one morning, we needed something sweet for a treat and some energy. I found this packet of Choc Chip Cookie mix in the pantry, and improvising once more, rather than make cookies, and quite frankly I wasn't in the mood for fiddling with cookie making, so I made a slice with the packet mix. The packet has now been thrown out, but I think the cookie mix just needed one egg and some melted butter to be added, 1/2  cup from memory, however it's on the packet. Then I added 1 cup of rolled oats, and 1/2 cup of  Robertson's Traditional Fruit Mince, which I bought for Christmas but didn't use. The fruit mince was a great substitute for dried cranberries, or frozen berries which we also didn't have. I plan to use the rest of the fruit mince in a cake recipe this weekend.


This is the first masterpiece to be cooked in the new oven in the new house, and whilst this oven is a little bit slower than mine at home in my kitchen, it is a great oven with a lot of potential. By the way, this slice was absolutely delicious. I would never normally buy a packet mix at home, but this one saved the day and made my job very easy.


So here we are for a little bit longer, enjoying spending time with our wonderful daughter, and savouring the experience with her of turning this lovely house into her new home. We are well on our way. I feel the need for a siesta now though and a read of a few more pages of Stanley's book. I'm not even half way though it yet, but it keeps drawing me back.

This post is part of the In My Kitchen series hosted by Sherry from Sherry's Pickings.

Take care, and happy cooking and eating,

Pauline