Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spicing It Up: Curry Puffs & Stuffed Peppers

My husband is a Green Bay Packer fan. Wait, let me rephrase that. My husband bleeds green and gold. We have a neighbor that is in the middle of repainting their house from yellow to green. They’ve run into some setbacks and the project is temporarily on hold, so now the house is half green/half gold. Ryan stares longingly across the yard and asks if he can do that to our house. At first I laughed, and then I had the sickening feeling that he wasn’t kidding. Every time he needs to make a “quick run to the hardware store” I check to make sure no cans of Packer-colored exterior house paint found their way into his cart. So far, so good.

His brother is just as big of a fan as my husband, but instead of painting the outside of his house the team colors, he dedicated an entire room inside to the players instead. The “Man Room,” as they call it, is quite an impressive display, even if you don’t care for the sport. The walls are painted in the official Packer green, official Packer carpet covers the floor, and historic team and player photos cover the walls. Every Sunday, I lose Ryan to the Man Room where he follows the moves of his favorite team (and all the players throughout the league who he recruited for his fantasy team). He sits on plush leather chairs, drinking beer ceremoniously from his leather mug (which he swears brings the team luck), and rarely moves his eyes from the 60” flat screen TV for hours on end.

I choose not to partake in these events. Well, let’s be serious, girls aren’t really “allowed” in the Man Room anyway so I don’t need much of an excuse to spend the day doing other activities. But a couple of weeks ago, Ryan made a request for some appetizers from The Found Recipe Box that he could bring over for the festivities. I gave him the list of recipes and he picked out curry puffs and stuffed peppers. I was excited to explore a new category in the box and to try two recipes I’ve never made before.

I started with the curry puffs because the meat filling needs to be chilled overnight. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of curry so I wasn’t excited to try this one. But after browning the onions and meat and filling the house with the aroma of the completed mixture, I began to change my tune. There isn’t much curry powder in this recipe at all and when I sampled the meat filling, I never would have known it was in there if I hadn’t been the one to add it. Instead, I was greeted by a savory mixture of meat and vegetables that were bathed in a pleasant array of spices. I couldn’t wait to try the final product!

The next day, while the pastry puff dough and chilled meat filling thawed out, I started on the stuffed peppers. This is a recipe card that, had I pulled it from the box a year ago, would have scared me to death. There aren’t many exact measurements on the card and most of the ingredients are lists of options of items that could be used for each step. This was the first time I’ve really experimented with a recipe and truly made it my own.

I started by cutting the peppers in half and parboiling them for a few minutes to soften them up. For my stuffing I chose the following combination: brown rice, ½ pound of browned ground beef, tomatoes, chicken broth, onions, celery, salt, pepper, and paprika. The only ingredients I had exact amounts for were the brown rice and ground beef. The card recommended three cups of rice, but I think two would be plenty. The rest of the ingredients I added and reevaluated along the way, especially the spices. 

Peppers - post parboiling
Stuffing mixture for peppers
Over the summer, I attended several cooking demonstrations at the Mill City Farmer’s Market in downtown Minneapolis. Every time, the chef would talk about interacting with your food, tasting it throughout the cooking process and determining what, if anything, needed to be added along the way. Over the past year, I’ve pretty much followed these recipes to a T and other than licking the batter from the bowl after the cake was placed in the oven, haven’t really done much interacting until I devour the final product. But making the stuffing for the peppers was a new and exciting experience. I felt more in control of what I was doing, like I was a captain and could decide where this ship would go next. It was liberating and empowering and gave me an entirely different perspective on the cooking process. I’d add a dash of salt, grind in some fresh pepper, sprinkle a red dusting of paprika over the mixture, stir it up, taste it and then decide which step needed to be repeated. Once the stuffing met my approval, I packed it into the waiting pepper cups, added a layer of bread crumbs and placed them in the oven. 

Stuffed Peppers - before baking
While those baked, I spooned the curry meat mixture onto cut up pieces of pastry puff, folded them up and once the peppers were done, gave the puffs their turn in the oven. The combination of the cooking appetizers made the house smell amazing. Once everything was completed, they were all packed up and sent for their unveiling in the Man Room. I could only hope they’d bring just as much luck to the team as my husband’s leather mug. 

Curry puff shell, filling and a completed pre-baked puff
As I cleaned the heaping pile of dishes produced by my latest culinary exploits, I considered how fearlessly I had tackled this challenge proposed by my husband. If he had requested these appetizers for a game last season at the beginning of my journey into The Found Recipe Box, I don’t know if I would have accepted the challenge. My lack of confidence in my cooking skills might have caused me to shy away. However, I didn’t hesitate when he pulled those cards from the box. In fact, I not only made the dishes, but I also ate the curry puffs, something that I never would have thought I’d try and you know what? They are one of my favorite items I’ve made. In fact, I was home in Illinois visiting my family this past weekend and made them again. I’ve learned a lot from this little box of cards and one of the biggest lessons has been to try new things, especially the ones that bring you just a little bit outside of your comfort zone. I never imagined that I could learn so much from cooking, but I’m grateful for every nugget of wisdom that has been attached to each card I’ve pulled from the box. It makes me wonder what the previous owner learned while she prepared these recipes. Maybe these lessons are her words, her experiences that she somehow magically attached to each card so that the next person to make the recipe would absorb the knowledge as if through osmosis. Perhaps this box is more like the block of wood from the movie Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium than I previously thought (click here to read my previous post about the connection between this box and that movie). I truly believe there is magic packed inside and if the previous owner spiced it up with some of her own life lessons, then I can only hope mine are being added to the list as I tuck each completed card back into the box. Hopefully someday someone else will learn as much from these cards as I have!
Stuffed Peppers

Curry Puffs


  1. You are doing a great job on your cooking adventures! Love your stories and am glad you haven't painted your house two-toned.

  2. HI Molly,
    I am really surprised that such recipes were in the box! That is pretty awesome.
    I love this story about "The Man Room". At least he supported your project by requesting appetizers, right??
    Big Smiles to YOU!