Dinner. It’s become a looming word in my daily life after an entire year living through the COVID pandemic. Typically, my day begins first with a yearning for caffeine followed quickly by a thought of dinner and what I will feed my family. It is always with joy that we gather together after our day apart, sharing our experiences and enjoying our time together. Since October, this experience changed dramatically for me, possibly for you as well, as a feeling of burn out set in. Months of in-home cooking, healthy though I know, had become dismal and boring. The blessing of family in the routine had been lost. The changes in seasons with holidays thrown in certainly added some change in dishes during the winter months, however, on most days it currently just feels like another daily chore.
If my experience resonates with you, please read on for inspiration and hope in finding change to the dinner routine. Every household has its staple kitchen items, mine being peppers (poblanos, bell, and jalepeño), onions, rice, quinoa, beans, chicken, beef, and an assortment of vegetables and fruits. For others, this might be garlic, onions, rice, fish, chicken, pasta, and an assortment of vegetables and fruits. Breaking it down to basics, what can you make with what you have on hand in the kitchen?
A few days ago, I found myself in the dinner slump, working from home, wondering what the heck I was going to feed my crew. Taking a break to run to the store, I found a gorgeous assortment of rather large green bell peppers. In that moment, inspiration hit again! Stuffed bell peppers with a mixture of left-over cooked rice and quinoa in the fridge, ground beef, some added spices, a few chopped poblano peppers and the beautiful green bell peppers I had found. I went home and later went to my dinner preparations, cooking down the poblanos with some of the bell peppers, garlic, chili powder, and some cumin. I added a bit of onion with the ground beef, cooking what felt like an aromatic wonder. Mixing in the left-over rice and quinoa, I stuffed those wonderful peppers and topped them with a few sun-dried tomatoes I had on hand. I will say, dinner the other night was a big hit at my house. My family has also grown tired of the same dishes each week, varying from rice bowls, tacos, spaghetti, chili, soup, and something off the grill. Needless to say a variation from the COVID dinner norm was well-received.
You might be wondering where the inspiration in my story lies. Stuffed bell peppers are certainly not a gourmet dish you will find at a high-end restaurant. The inspiration lies in the moment of discovering something at the grocery store you were not expecting to find and knowing you can use your normal kitchen items to switch up flavor and create a great dish. I recently read a meme stating something like “when imagining grown up life as a kid, I bet you didn’t think about cooking dinner every day for the rest of your life”. A basic truth is that we all eat, every single day. The food we put in our bodies fuels us, nourishes us, and often brings us closer to those we love. When we struggle with our routine, burning out on cooking, shopping, and the mundane part of daily living, it becomes easier to eat less heathy food. Suddenly take-out and fast food becomes more appealing with their convenience and instant gratification. I find that taking extra time to explore the grocery store, especially the produce section, or a local farmer’s market is a way to bring inspiration back into the kitchen. It is a way to re-connect with the culture of eating. Eating is an experience, not just an act to fill the void in an empty stomach.
While this certainly does not solve the question of “what’s for dinner tonight?”, I hope it sparks some creativity in weeks to come. Thinking about seasonal foods as we move into spring and remembering why cooking is an expression of love and artistry for many of us is inspiriting. Like the stuffed bell pepper dinner, changing up the routine brings life back into meals. It does not have to be complex. Just last night I took my normal supply of poblanos, cooked them down with shallots, garlic, and cumin. I added in cut up chicken tenders and 4 cans of a variety of white beans. After cooking the flavors together for a while, I added more cumin, a dash of sea salt, and some chili powder. Boom! Dinner was once again served with a variation on my normal black bean and ground beef chili. A lighter dish with beautiful green color for spring.
Dinner. That looming word that follows many of us throughout the day, often triggered a feeling of dread first thing upon waking. My experience reminds me that dinner is a cherished time of nourishment and gathering together with friends and family. It can be dull, tiresome, but also creative and inspiring! Seasonal change gives us opportunity to play with flavors and ingredients, bringing joy back into the experience of providing a meal at the end of the day. I wish you happy moments of dinner prep and grocery shopping, knowing you work hard to provide healthy meals for yourself, family and friends.
Stuffed Bell Peppers
6 large bell peppers with tops cut off and hollowed out
1.5 pounds ground beef, chicken, or turkey
1 cup each cooked brown rice and quinoa
2 poblano peppers, de-seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet onion, diced
4 TBSP chili powder
a dash of sea salt
1 tsp Italian herb blend
1 small jar of sun-dried tomatoes
1 can of fire roasted tomatoes, blended
Preheat oven to 325*
Cook poblano peppers in an oiled pan until softened. Add minced garlic, onion slices, and herbs with a dash of sea salt. Saute lightly. Add ground meat and cook thoroughly. Mix in cooked rice and quinoa and simmer for 15 minutes. Stuff cooked ingredients into the hollowed-out bell peppers and top with sun-dried tomatoes. Place in a baking pan and bake for 25 minutes or until peppers are tender. Voila! Dinner is served!