I’ve often wished that I could draw or paint well, but alas, that’s never been one of my strong points. Rudimentary stick figures or some truly “abstract” expressions, to put it kindly, are pretty much all that I can offer up, but my admiration runs deep for those that are gifted in that way as I enjoy good paintings and drawings. Something happens to me when I look at an intriguing piece of art -it pulls me in. I get lost in the details, the colors, the shades and the complex nuances; my eyes go to the strokes of the brush, the curves in the lines and the uncanny resemblance to life-like qualities, or perhaps even the uniqueness of an imagined, twisted reality. I long to know what the artist had going on in their mind, what pulled at their spirit that informed a particular expression. What does the artist care about and how do they see the world? Interesting art, in all of its forms, speaks, and I feel inclined to listen. It sweeps me away to another place, stirring in me the wind of emotion, and engages my own creativity in a way that inspires and encourages me to find my own voice in relation to how I view life. Artistic expression in all of its various forms gives color to life, and it feeds the soul; therefore, it makes perfect sense that food can be a muse and the empty plate, a beckoning blank canvas.
Creative expression is so very dear to my heart on a very personal level. From very early on it has been the way that I communicate what’s inside of me, and throughout my life it has taken many forms. It’s how my mind works; it’s what I know. I never would have thought earlier in my life that food would turn out to be such a powerful medium for me to work with and to engage my creativity with -it allows me to use my imagination with flavors, colors, textures and presentation. Cooking is an incredibly expressive endeavor for me, because it truly brings out the best I have to offer on a purely human level. It’s an outlet for my feminine nurture, and my desire to serve others; it allows me to witness someone else enjoying themselves, feeling contentment from eating; and it also allows me the joy of pondering what I could come up with to possibly combine with something else that would taste pleasing to others. The entire process, from my initial thoughts on the ingredients I plan to use, to the visualization of the dish and how it will taste and feel in the mouth, to the preparation of it and finally to the serving of it, allows me to take my attention off of myself and to maintain a fixed gaze on those that will be receiving the meal. I really love that. Cooking stirs in me the desire to place my attention on others, creating for their sake and their enjoyment.
A plate containing beautiful food is no different from the canvas containing a beautifully painted expression. It literally has a life force that calls out to be admired and consumed, and to be digested. To be away from cooking would be like losing a part of myself, that very part that longs to connect and share, to imagine and taste, and ask “What if?” and “How?” Ah, what a muse God’s beautiful, colorful, flavorful food is; creatively engaging, wonderfully satiating.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Stuffed Sweet, Red Bell Peppers with Quinoa and Chorizo Topped with Pepper Jack Cheese and Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce
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Stuffed Sweet, Red Bell Pepper ingredients:
1 ½ cups quinoa, rinsed in cold water and drained well
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
12 ounces chorizo (pork or beef), casing removed
1/3 cup sundried tomato packed in olive oil
¼ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds), plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
4 green onions, chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, plus 2 tablespoons leaves for garnish
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
• Drizzle of olive oil, for peppers
4 Red Bell peppers cut length-wise in half (long way), cored, seeded, membrane removed
8 slices Pepper Jack cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with foil.
-In a medium sized pot set over medium-high heat, combine the quinoa, the water and the salt, and bring to the boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until cooked; while quinoa cooks, cook chorizo by setting a medium pan over high heat, and add the teaspoon of olive oil; once hot, crumble in the chorizo and cook for about 4-5 minutes until cooked through; set aside.
-In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, the cooked chorizo, the sundried tomatoes, the ¼ cup pepitas, the green onions, the ¼ cup fresh, chopped cilantro leaves and the garlic powder, black pepper and ground cumin; mix well with a spoon to combine.
-Drizzle the halved and cleaned-out red bell peppers with a light coating of olive oil, and stuff the quinoa/chorizo mixture into each pepper cavity, filling to slightly above the cut top of the pepper; be sure to pack the filling in fairly well to help the pepper maintain shape while it roasts.
-Place the stuffed pepper halves onto the foil-lined baking sheet, place into the oven and baked for 20 minutes (*while peppers bake, prepare the Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce that follows); after 20 minutes, remove peppers from oven and spoon about ¼ cup of the Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce over each half and top with a slice of Pepper Jack cheese, and place back into oven for additional 6-7 minutes or until cheese is melted and gooey.
Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
2 (14.5 ounce) cans of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes with or without peppers (plain dice tomatoes are fine, too)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
-In a small pot set over medium heat, add the oil and the garlic; once garlic is aromatic, add the 2 cans of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, the salt and pepper, and stir to combine; simmer the sauce on low for about 15-20 minutes while the stuffed peppers are baking in the oven; set aside and keep warm.
-Place a heaping spoonful of the Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce onto the center of the plate and place one Stuffed Pepper half on top of the sauce; sprinkle a few pepitas and a few cilantro leaves over top to garnish.
*Each Stuffed Pepper half is a fairly hearty portion, so this recipe can easily feed 8; but 4 can be served if each person gets a whole pepper.