Friday, December 31, 2010

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers

If you know me at all, you know how much I LOVE spicy food. Not spicy to the point of burning your face and taste buds off, mind you, but a little kick is good. And these delightful little bullets of yumminess always hit the spot!
This recipe is one that I came up with, incorporating my version of savory cream cheese and adding my other vice, bacon, swaddling the pepper so lovingly. Then, you cook them over some hot charcoal until the bacon is crispy and the peppers have a little bit of char on them. Really, does it get any better than that?! I think not!! I suppose, if you really insisted upon it, you could grill these on a gas grill over low heat, but I love my charcoal grill. And, yes, I am the one who uses the charcoal grill, and consider myself quite adept at it!
If you ask me, one of the most important things you can buy when using a charcoal grill, other than the charcoal, is a chimney starter. You can find them for fairly cheap at many stores, including Wal-Mart, and you will definitely get your money's worth out of it. If you think about it, you probably waste at least $20 a year buying that toxic charcoal lighter fluid which doesn't ever really seem to burn off, leaving you with the terrible flavor all over your food. I don't know about you, but I don't find it altogether appealing! Not to mention, the chimney starter gives that stack of old newspapers and flyers a purpose, as the use of paper and fire is required in getting the charcoal started. You simply crumple approximately three pages of a newspaper and stuff them in the bottom space of the chimney, place that side down on the grill grate, fill the top with charcoal, and light the newspaper in a few different places. In 15 to 20 minutes, you should see fire near the top of the chimney and the charcoal will have grey ash around the edges - it's ready! Simply pour the charcoal out onto the bottom grate, making sure to use a long-handled utensil to spread the hot coals around, and set the cooking grate in it's place. I generally like to add some extra charcoal before putting the cooking grate in place, but that's a matter of personal preference... Then, close the lid of the grill, allowing the coals to work their magic while you finish preparing your food. See?! It's really not so hard! :-)

Now that we've had our lesson in using a charcoal grill, let's get on with the good stuff that we really came here for!!

18 -21 good-sized jalapeño peppers (equal to the number of bacon strips)
2 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened slightly
¼ tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. dried minced onion
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
¼ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ c. shredded cheddar or Colby jack cheese
1 pkg. center cut bacon

Wash the jalapeño peppers and clean by cutting off the stem end to make a cap and then removing the seeds and membranes. (They have special coring tools that can be purchased for a decent price if you're going to make these often. This helps to ensure the peppers remain intact and that the filling will remain inside when it is cooked.) Rinse the peppers under cool running water to make sure the insides are cleaned out, and then turn upside down next to their caps to dry while you prepare the filling.
To prepare the filling, start by mixing the cream cheese with all of the spices, making sure that they are fairly evenly distributed. Next, add the two cheeses and mix thoroughly. Once everything is mixed together well, spoon the mixture into a plastic cake decorating bag fitted with a large round tip. (You can also use a heavy duty zip top bag and cut one of the bottom corners off, if you don't have cake decorating supplies.)
While the filling is still slightly soft, pipe it into the insides of the hollowed out jalapeños, filling until very nearly full. Attach the pieces of jalapeño back together by threading them onto thin metal skewers or bamboo skewers soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (this helps to prevent them from burning on the grill), going through the bottom of the pepper and then up and through the cap. You should be able to fit 2-3 peppers on each skewer, just be sure to push the caps down as close as possible to cover the filling inside each pepper. Then, wrap one piece of bacon around each jalapeño, overlapping the meaty part with the fatty part if necessary, and secure each end with a toothpick that's been soaked in water. At this point, you can cover the peppers and refrigerate if you're preparing them ahead of time.
When you're ready to grill the peppers, be sure that your grill is not flaming hot. If it's too hot, all of the bacon grease will drip down and cause very large flare-ups; you're going to have some flare-up anyways, as you are cooking with bacon, but if the coals are more like embers they won't be nearly as bad. Place your skewers of bacon-wrapped peppers on the grill, making sure to turn them fairly often; cook until the bacon is crispy, the peppers are slightly charred, and the cream cheese filling is heated through. Enjoy! :-)

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