I am currently getting my Masters and have no income. Consequently, I’ve been doing a lot of things to try to beat the beast of brokeness. For example, this Spring I walked into American Apparel, smiled at everyone working there and perused the merchandise. Then I walked out and went to a thrift store half an hour away, finding exactly what I saw in American Apparel for a fraction of the price. This type of ingenuity (is it generous to call it that?) must be what attracts everyone to Pinterest. It’s the thrill of the chase. However, I don’t typically see a lot of people following through on the recipes and DIY projects they are pinning and I can understand why. It takes work. Why take the time to walk into an American Apparel, then go all the way across town and go to a different store? Why not just buy the expensive dress and save the time/effort? I will reiterate: I AM BROKE.
Today I was craving stuffed peppers. And when I found this popular and tasty-looking recipe I found that I couldn’t afford it. Two different kinds of meat?! Beef broth? Fresh everything? Fuck that, Chef John! There are a trillion ingredients in there! And not only do I have to worry about a crazy ass grocery bill, I have to worry about how I’m going to get all those groceries home on public transportation. Sorry, stuffed peppers. I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment. But wait!…I thought. Beef broth is essentially salty water (calm down, foodies). I have garlic growing leaves somewhere in my pantry, as well as brown rice I bought several months ago. I have salt AND pepper, olive oil, and water is included in my rent so I can use as much as I want. Is it possible that, with just a little creative thinkin’, I can switch up this recipe and make it cheap, delicious, and actually healthier than Chef John’s? Because, come on, beef and sausage ain’t doing my cholesterol any favor’s, CJ…
It was to the grocery store for me.
I hit up Mariano’s, a Chicago grocery store that is the closest to Wegmans a Chicago-based grocery store can aspire to be. If you are from Upstate New York, as I am, you can’t help but compare every grocery store you’re in to
Wegmans. It’s bred into us. I grabbed two green bell peppers, two organic chicken breasts, a can of what I was told were “finely chopped tomatoes” but turned out to be just tomato sauce, and a box of buttery Parisian croissants. They were on sale for $2.50! Wowwie! The bell peppers ended up costing me $1.46, the organic chicken breasts were, on sale, $4.14, and the “Mutti”-brand canned chopped tomatoes were $0.75. Combined with what I already had at home, the meal cost me $6.35. Light on my wallet AND on my arms/back/backpack! But seriously, why haven’t I bought one of those pull cart things yet?
When I got home, I determined that I would need to half CJ’s recipe, as I only had two green bell peppers. This is fine, as it’s for just me. Here is the recipe I ended up using, made up on the fly using CJ’s recipe for guidance:
- Cook half a cup of brown rice in water (with half a tablespoon of olive oil and ¼ teaspoon of sea salt poured in with it)
- While the rice is cooking, chop half an onion or some kind of onion equivalent (I had a shallot hiding in a drawer and I used the entire thing). Cook until tender in olive-oiled pan.
- Add ¾ of your can of finely chopped tomatoes (AKA SAUCE YOU’RE FOOLING NO ONE) to the olive-oiled pan. Add red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste (I like it spicy and salty). Optional: add maple syrup, honey, or sugar if the tomato sauce isn’t sweet enough for you. I added about a teaspoon of maple syrup. Stir until mixed.
- Pour sauce concoction into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Spread evenly. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. They always tell you to do this step first, but I don’t get why. Why waste the gas? I guess you should use your discretion. Rice takes me way longer to cook than an oven takes to preheat, so the rice comes first in my kitchen.
- Chop the 2 chicken breasts finely, but don’t pulverize them. I had it so that it was about the texture of ground beef. It should be squishy in your hand and the pieces should be about the size of a dime. Place into a bowl.
- Chop garlic and put into bowl with chicken.
- Pour a tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken and garlic and stir.
- Pour 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of basil, and ¼ teaspoon of red cayenne pepper onto chicken mixture and stir.
- Mix ½ teaspoon sea salt into chicken mixture and pepper liberally (honestly, just use as much salt and pepper as you want)
- Pour the rest of the canned slice tomatoes into the chicken mixture and stir. The chicken mixture should now look pinkish, and smell like olive oil, garlic, tomato, and Italian herbs. Feel free to make “pink slime” references and gasp at the horrors of what you have created.
- Slice your peppers in half. Make sure the seeds, core, and white parts are out of there. Or don’t. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life.
- Once the rice is cooked, mix the chicken mixture and rice together.
- Spoon the rice/chicken mixture into the pepper shells. Distribute the mixture evenly amongst the peppers. Or make sure one has less than all the others and tell everyone it’s a metaphor for the sad state of your finances.
- Place the peppers into the 9 x 13 inch pan on top of the sauce concoction. Top the peppers with cheese if you have it. I happened to find some Trader Joe’s Asiago/Parmesan blend in the back of my fridge. It said, “Use by April 2015” but I didn’t see any mold, so…
- Cover with aluminum foil and place in oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
- Once the peppers have bake for 45 minutes, uncover and bake for another 20-25 until the cheese (or the cheeseless mixture) is brown and crusty (but like, crusty in a good way).
Well, there are 12 minutes left on the clock until I have to remove the foil and, according to CJ’s recipe, cook for 20-25 more minutes. Of course, he was using beef and pork and those typically take less time to cook than chicken. The good news is that the smell filling my kitchen is one of deliciousness. This is a good sign, folks. Fingers crossed these don’t taste like Satan’s testes.
The timer went off. The peppers rested and cooled for ten minutes. The moment of truth:
For a second I thought, “A little bland.” But nope. Everything was so fresh that it wasn’t bland at all. The spice was perfect. The roasted tomato sauce was hearty and rich and combined with the spice very nicely. The chicken and rice was filling, moist, very garlic-y, and tasty. The pepper was so fresh! It melted in my mouth with hot, watery goodness. This recipe was a total success, in my opinion. The only suggestion I might make is to have more marinara sauce on hand to pour on it to add extra moisture and tomato flavor. It just goes to show that I can feel full and satisfied for not a lot of money but still eat fresh ingredients and lean meats. EAT IT CJ!*
*I keep picking on Chef John. It should be noted I have never met him, I don’t even know what he looks like, and have nothing against him. I’m sure he’s a fine human being who doesn’t deserve to be the target of anger for the sake of my jokes. Ah, well! He’s probs a good sport.