Monday, August 5, 2013

Stuffed Chilis with Bacon (and Ice Cream)

Jalapeno Poppers.  Like 'em?  I do, but I hate the frozen ones.  Something bad happens to fresh chilis when you freeze them, cooking them up again renders them soggy.  Also, commercially processed poppers seem to lose all of their heat by the time they come to your table.  There are so many variables involved when it comes to creating the "Perfect Popper" that I like to make them myself.

What follows here is a recipe I call "Peppers a la Cindy" because my friend Cindy brought me a bag full of fresh chili peppers from the Farmer's Market this past weekend and we stuffed them and LOVED them!  The principals used in the creation of these peppers apply to any chili you choose to stuff.  You can apply this method to Jalapenos, Cayenne, Poblano, Anaheim... even "unkown" peppers (like Cindy's mysterious Farmer's Market peppers).  Enjoy!

How hot are your peppers?  God did not make all Jalapenos the same.  In fact, if you have a garden with Jalapenos and other peppers, bees will cross-pollinate them for you and you'll end up with some crazy combinations of heat and pepper.  You can spike the heat of a bell-pepper or a poblano pepper by growing Habaneros next to them, for example.  Bottom line?  You'll need to eat one to be sure!  Pour a cold glass of milk (Dairy fat wicks the heat away, so milk, cream cheese, or ice cream always helps with recovery), and prepare to take one for the team.  Dice one of your peppers up into small bits and mix them all together.  Take a spoon a scoop up a small bit of pepper flesh, pith, seeds, and all and eat it.  Chomp down to mix it up in your mouth before you swallow.  Make a note of the heat on a scale of 1-10.  If there's no heat at all, you may want to consider a different batch of peppers because this dish is about balance... balanced heat and flavor.

Prepare the peppers for stuffing.  First, you have a decision to make...

Keep them whole?  Or cut them in half?  There are advantages to each method:

 Leaving them whole makes for an awesome presentation.  It also gives your eaters the "full spectrum" of pepper goodness, from the mild tip to the hot "butt" of the chili.  It's a bit more work to cook these, however, unless you have a handy Jalapeno support tray like the one pictured on the left.  Slicing the peppers in half, lengthwise, gives you more control of how much heat you leave, and how much cream cheese you can pile on.  Sometimes, the decision is made for you; it's tough to slice a big curly Anaheim pepper in half, lengthwise, for example.

Once you've decided on how you wish to present them, you'll need to balance them.  If your peppers rated a 9 on the heat scale, you have some work to do.  Take a close look at your chili... The white "pithy" stuff on the inside is where the heat is.  It's not in the seeds, so don't think seed removal will save you.  The trick here is to remove (via scraping, cutting, etc) as much of the pith as you need to make your peppers "just hot enough."  Pith removal also gives you more room for the cream cheese stuffing. If you don't have a Jalapeno coring tool, you can make one by bending an old serrated grapefruit spoon into a cylinder with a pair of pliers.

The rest, as they say, is easy!  Stuff your peppers with cream cheese.  I like to use "Spreadable" cream cheese because it's easier to manipulate, but you can use a softened block of it as well.  If you cut your peppers in half, layer on a thick slice of lean bacon that matches the length of your pepper.  If you're wrapping a whole stuffed pepper, use a very thin slice (or two slices if you have a long Anaheim pepper, etc).  Thin slices of bacon tend to cook where you mold them to cook and they have less of a mind of their own when they hit the heat.  In other words, they won't curl up and try to escape!

Now, put them on a cookie sheet or stand them up in a holder (if you have one), and cook them!  A 400 degree oven for 1/2 an hour should do the trick, but they're way better if you cook them outside on the grill.  Layer a non-stick slab of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, and put the cookie sheet onto the grill over charcoal.  Close the lid.  Check back every 15 minutes or so, and when your bacon is sizzling and done, the peppers will be, too.  Turn your "whole stuffed" peppers once or twice during cooking to prevent burning, and to evenly crisp the bacon.

These are the greatest "finger foods" ever!  Trust me, there is nothing cooler than watching the sweet little old ladies from your church's social outreach committee, walking around with one of these in their mouths like a big delicious cigar, at your next church picnic.  Be sure to have some ice-cream nearby, to sooth the mouths (and the colons) of those who are "overly affected" by the heat!  :)

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