Ding-aling… Ring-aling… it’s Christmastime in the city. And what do city girls do to get into the spirit? Well, if you’re like half of the informal poll I’ve taken of my favorite ladies, you actually go out and buy a medium to large-sized tree to drag back to your apartment. That’s right, a suburban family-oriented phenomenon no more. (Interestingly, most of these tree-buyers have roommates, while the others live alone or with a significant other. I guess it’s not much fun having a tree with only one person to enjoy it.) And if you’re one-third of that population, namely my friend Erin, you hold a tree-trimming party filled with colorful arts and crafts supplies for make-it-yourself ornaments.
But it wouldn’t be complete without a festive spread of snacks. Browsing the wintry, muted colors of the produce at the Farmers’ Market, my eyes were suddenly jostled awake by the sight of these jalapenos, all red and green and curled like little stockings. They looked perfect for stuffing — just like any good little boy or girl’s stocking.
bright and merry, the perfect Christmas party favors
Since I adore the flavor of jalapenos themselves, I didn’t want to go too overboard with the filling options. Mild cheese and chiles are a classic combination because they each do one another a service. Cheese, like most dairy, soothes the scorching heat of chiles, while the peppers in turn give non-aged cheese a zippy bite. That’s really all the flavor I really need to throw my tastebuds a party. But in this case, some smokiness and a little onion were also on the list.
Before I get into the recipe, though, as one of the non-Christmas tree buyers (I don’t believe in growing trees to chop them down), I just thought I’d share how I decorated this year. It happened as an accident, really. With barely enough time to cook and feed myself 24/7, I was willing to throw in the towel and just say to heck with decking the halls (okay, maybe I don’t have any halls… so, um, the walls). But I did envy that unmistakable fresh, piney smell of an indoor tree. A wreath, I mused. To put inside, somewhere. Incidentally, the church down the street from me has been selling trees and wreaths from Vermont for the past week, so I sauntered by to check out their selection. I pointed to a small and completely undecorated wreath and asked a congregation member how much it would cost. $20. How much were the decorated ones? $30. Now I was really kicking myself for missing a recent foraging walk in the park, where I’d planned on grabbing some fallen nature that didn’t have any pricetag on it. As it turned out, I didn’t have to. The forest instead came to me — to the trash can on my block. Only a few paces from the church, I stumbled upon this public trash can filled to the brim with discarded tree trimmings and yards and yards of string. (The picture here was taken after I’d grabbed most of the bigger tree pieces from the top.)
tossed-out Christmas tree scraps, the makings of a very Freegan-esque wreath
What serendipity! I almost looked around me to check that I wasn’t on Candid Camera before picking out the good pieces — and lots of string — and stuffing them in my bag. Armed with a pair of scissors, I plopped down on my front steps and in a few minutes’ time, constructed this. I’ll admit it’s not the most full nor fluffy-looking wreath this side of the North Pole. But I think its oddly jutting angles give it rustic character. And it makes my apartment smell great regardless. The end.
pinecones are easily tied to branches with string — which their ridged surfaces completely hide
Jalapeno Popper Stockings
(makes a dozen, or a small tray)
This recipe is not for the faint of heart. While fresh peppers always vary in heat, these are still very spicy, and should not be eaten all at once by the inexperienced. Choose more jalapenos that are red or orangish as they are milder and sweeter than the deep green ones. Additionally, you could continue from the finished recipe by battering the jalapenos in cornmeal and egg wash and frying them. This will cook off more of the spiciness.
This recipe also calls for queso blanco, a mild unaged white cheese. Mozzarella works as a good substitute, because when melted it is more firm and elastic than Monterey Jack and so better for staying inside the chile.
12 bite-sized red or green jalapenos
1/2 cup shredded smoked cheddar
1 cup shredded queso blanco, or substitute mozzarella
1 large scallion, both green and white parts, finely chopped
dash of salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a paring knife and wearing rubber gloves if desired, trim the tops off the jalapenos and set them aside. Cut a slit down the side of each one, about three-quarters of the way to its tip. Cut away the membranes connecting the seed pocket to the top of the pepper a little with a knife. Using a spoon or blunt edge of a knife, scoop out the seed pocket. Rinse under cold water to remove all the seeds from the pepper. Dry with paper towels and place peppers on a baking tray. Add the tops of the peppers to the tray stem side up. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until peppers are just softened. Let cool completely.
Combine the queso blanco (or mozzarella), smoked cheddar, scallion and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a bowl. Using your fingers, carefully stuff each jalapeno, without tearing them. Close the top of each pepper by carefully wedging the pepper tops back in. Line the stuffed jalapenos slit-side up on a baking tray and place under a broiler for 2-3 minutes. Check to see if they’re nice and bubbly. If not, broil for a minute or two longer. If the cheese has oozed out of them, simply use a spoon and push it back inside. Let cool a few minutes before serving.
(for 12 poppers)
12 small jalapenos (at $3/lb): $1.25
1 cup shredded queso blanco (at $3.99/6 oz.): $1.50
1/2 cup shredded smoked cheddar (at $5/lb): $1.00
1 scallion (at $1/3 bunches of 5 each in Chinatown): $0.07
dash each of salt and pepper: $0.01
Four brownie points: I was really frustrated to discover that nearly all the recipes I found online when Google searching “stuffed jalapeno” had bacon in them. Aren’t there indefinite things you could stuff them with? A smoked cheese could imitate the bacon’s smokiness for a bit of complexity, I thought. So here’s a much more benign stuffed jalapeno recipe than most. While it’s a satisfyingly cheesy, greasy, oozy hors d’oeuvre, jalapenos have much of the same nutrition as the bell pepper, and share its relatively low calorie count.