Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers, hard to believe there was a time not too long ago when they were not around. Now they “pop ” up on menus and grocery stores everywhere. Some are filled with the classic- cream cheese, cheddar cheese and bacon and others have seafood fillings with gourmet cheeses! The possibilities are endless! Some are fried, some are grilled, some are roasted! There are special stuffed jalapeno “tools” to purchase to remove the seeds and gadgets to buy to hold the peppers while roasting or grilling!!
I do love stuffed jalapeno peppers, but I was never one to pull it off successfully. Usually I ended up with a big mess. Either it was a bacon grease mess from the bacon wrapped around the pepper or it was the oozing of the cream cheese filling everywhere. I would get excited at times to have mistakenly thought they actually came out perfect, only to bite into one and have a raw jalapeno pepper packed with too much heat to eat!! Do you ever have any of these problems?
Stuffed Jalapeno: For the filling, the amount will depend on how many peppers you want to stuff. Average, about 1/2 oz of filling per pepper or 3 tsp. I keep it simple, I add 2 to 1 ratio of cream cheese to whatever grated cheese I have on hand (Monterey Jack and Colby cheese is my preferred cheese). Instead of wrapping the pepper with bacon, I like to add cooked crumbled bacon. (less mess) For seasoning, add same amount of garlic, onion, and chili powders, for instance all 1/2 TSP in one batch and a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce.Adjust according to taste. I spray my hands with non-stick spray and roll the filling into logs. Judge the size of the logs needed by eyeing your jalapeno peppers. Wrap each in Saran wrap (you can roll them up in the wrap but just make sure they do not touch each other!) and put in freezer bag. Freeze for at least 2 hours or overnight. This slows the cooking time for the cream cheese helping to prevent the oozing mess!
Have you ever wondered why the stuffed jalapeno peppers you order at your favorite restaurant don’t seem as hot as when you make them at home? If so, for an insight, read the ingredient list on a jar of jalapenos? (Some restaurants use jarred jalapenos) Notice there is vinegar listed? Vinegar is part of a pickling process, which not only helps remove some of the heat, but also helps the pepper cook faster.
For preparing the jalapenos, I recommend wearing latex free gloves or using sandwich bags on your hands. All it took for me was one accidental wipe of my eye and my contacts to burn for hours to learn this lesson. You can make the jalapenos whole or halved. I prefer halved for the appearance, presentation and ease of eating! If you agree, slice the jalapenos in half – end to stem. (Cut off top of pepper, if using whole.) See all the seeds and white membrane? This is what holds most of the heat. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and membranes. Hold the pepper under running water while removing the seeds and membranes, it will keep the spicy juice from shooting up in your eye, another recommendation learned the hard way. If you prefer your peppers a little bit spicy, just leave some of the white membranes. Afterwards, place on paper towels scraped side down to drain. (Upside down for whole.) When all done, put peppers in a shallow dish. (If you like them spicy, skip next step, stuff with filling, bake!) If you want to lessen the heat, let’s pickle the peppers!!
Boil some water! Boil enough water to cover peppers. Pour boiling water over peppers and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain. The peppers should feel a little bit softer already! Next, take equal parts olive oil and vinegar (white vinegar is my choice, but have used apple cider, too) and a little sugar. To give you an idea, I used 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, and sprinkled 1/4 tsp sugar on top. Give the dish a shake to mix liquids. Cover and put in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. I do 24 hours for both my freezer filling and my “pickled” peppers. It just makes it easier!!
Time’s up? Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drain. (Reserve some of the juice to use in following recipe or a couple splashes in a bloody mary!!-but don’t keep it longer than 2 days.) Rinse and dry the peppers. Take frozen logs out freezer and lay one in each half. (Or if using whole pepper, put log inside each one). On a foiled lined sheet pan, place halved filled peppers side by side. (Or put whole peppers sitting up in muffin tin, depending on size of peppers, 2-3 per muffin spot!) Bake for 10-12 minutes or until brown. Take out oven and while hot, sprinkle with shredded cheese and paprika. Carefully enjoy all the toasty cheese!! I think they call them “poppers” because once they are done, I can’t wait to “pop” them in my mouth! Which reminds me better make some extra for “popping” for yourself and for leftovers!!!Speaking of which, have leftover stuffed jalapenos? (Great excuse to take home some from your favorite restaurant-even the fried ones will work.) Whether you have them already cooked or planned ahead and have some ready to go, you can make a tasty entrée.
Stuffed Jalapeno Chicken: I like to use boneless chicken breasts, but you can use boneless chicken thighs, too. Protect your work station (or counter top!) by folding over a dish towel. Place parchment paper over dish towel or you can use a Ziploc bag to prepare the chicken. Place chicken between layer of parchment paper or in bag. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to flatten out chicken breasts. This is a good stress reliever!! Pound the chicken until thin, being careful not to tear the chicken. Place the pepper (filling side down) on the chicken and roll up. Use a toothpick if needed to hold in place. Next, use what you have on hand, milk, buttermilk, Italian dressing, leftover pickling juice for extra spice to dip the chicken breasts. Dip and roll in cornmeal or bread crumbs or combo of both-I prefer cornmeal. Spray lined sheet pan with non-stick spray and place breasts seam side down. Spray top with non-stick spray. It helps “oven fry” the chicken. (Note: You could also use melted butter drizzled on top instead of non-stick spray) Bake 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until done. (Depends on how thin you pounded your chicken as to how quickly it will cook!!)
I like to serve these chicken breasts with enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Don’t have any enchilada sauce? Let’s make some! Remember the taco seasoning?
Enchilada Sauce: To a skillet, add the taco seasoning: 1/4 tsp each of cayenne, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and 1/2 tsp of chili powder, and a dash of cinnamon. Drizzle with olive oil. Toast the spices over low heat until they resemble coffee grinds, about 1 minute. Add 1 8oz can tomato sauce. (I use unsalted) and 1 can of water or beer. Turn heat to low. Simmer 10 minutes. Go ahead and make a beurre manie’ (kneaded butter with equal parts flour and room temperature butter. For the 8 oz can tomatoes, use 1 TBSP each. (Keep in mind, a beurre manie’ works “like” a roux as a thickening agent. Unlike a roux, it is added in the end to thicken a sauce much like cornstarch. The difference is the beurre manie’ flour is not cooked and roux flour is cooked. You could add equal parts flour and oil in with seasonings making a roux, before adding liquids. I, however, like the richness the butter gives to the sauce and the less work!!) Add the beurre manie’. Raise heat, bring to boil, whisk for 1 minute. Turn off heat. Let cool slightly. This makes 1 cup homemade enchilada sauce. Can be put in fridge for a week, simply heat in microwave to reheat.
Put your TO COOK IS TO CREATE thinking cap on: What would you like to add to the cream cheese for your peppers? Substitute the bacon for cooked crumbled beef or skip the bacon! Think about a favorite cream cheese dip you have and use it. For instance, to the cream cheese add shredded carrots and blue cheese (think buffalo style peppers)-add rotisserie chicken for a true buffalo chicken popper! Have any leftovers that would go well in it? Experiment with some of your favorite flavors, as long as there is cream cheese involved, it has to be good!!
FOOD FUN: While making the pickled peppers you probably thought of this or at least knew this was coming, so here it is. Say this tonque twister over and over while pickling your peppers!!
“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?”
Don’t feel too bad for poor Peter Piper, the peck of peppers Peter picked were not pickled until after he picked the peck! A peck-about 1/4 of a bushel, I believe, but I do know what happened to them …We ate them all in Jalapeno poppers!!