Texas_Twinkies

Most jalapeño poppers are merely stuffed with some sort of cheesy mixture and then breaded and fried. These beauties not only include chunks of tender, smoked brisket in the filling, but also are swaddled in thick slices of bacon that crisp up just so when the peppers are baked. A dab of sweet barbecue glaze gets slathered on top.

My family loves a little spice on everything from chicken to eggs to pasta. So I always have a couple of fresh chili peppers on hand to add some oomph.

One of my favorites is the humble and easy-to-find jalapeño, because it only burns with a mild to moderate heat, even when eaten raw. But lately, my local grocery store stopped selling its chili peppers loose by the pound. Unless I go complain to a produce manager that I only need one or two, I’m stuck with an entire bag of six or eight peppers. One can only use so many pickled jalapeño slices.

Enter jalapeño poppers.

I used to scoff at these spicy appetizers, which my teen-aged son begged to order whenever we went out to eat. They just looked so … messy.

Then I stumbled upon a recipe for a southern treat known as the Texas Twinkie, and, boy, did I change tunes.

Conceived by the folks at Hutchins BBQ in McKinney, Texas, as a way to further showcase their award-winning brisket, these just might be the best guilty snack to ever come out someone’s kitchen.

Most jalapeño poppers are merely stuffed with some sort of cheesy mixture and then breaded and fried. These beauties not only include chunks of tender, smoked brisket in the filling, but also are swaddled in thick slices of bacon that crisp up just so when the peppers are baked. A dab of sweet barbecue glaze gets slathered on top. They’re addictive.

Hutchins makes Texas Twinkies on a hot grill, but I opted for a hot oven. As for the smoked brisket — a dish not in my wheelhouse — I turned to Bobby D’s, a barbecue restaurant in Kenmawr Plaza in Kennedy Township.

Well aware that more people than ever are doing their best to eat more plants, I also devised vegetarian and vegan versions of the Twinkie. They’re not as savory, but they’re also guilt-free. Any would be perfect for your Cinco de Mayo celebration, or anytime you’re craving something spicy.

Texas Twinkies

  • 6 whole, large jalapeño peppers
  • 8-ounce package neufchatel or regular cream cheese
  • 8 ounces smoked brisket
  • 6 thick-cut strips bacon
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sweet barbecue glaze (recipe follows)

Slice one side of each jalapeño from stem to tip. Slice across stem end; remove seeds and membranes. (You may want to wear gloves to avoid getting the oil on your hands.) Place jalapeños on baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and place peppers in bowl of ice water to extract additional seed oil. Increase oven heat to 350 degrees.

Cover each pepper’s inside bottom with approximately 1 tablespoon of cream cheese, then stuff with one sixth of the brisket. Close pepper around stuffing and wrap with bacon, using a toothpick to secure. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper on top of each pepper.

Bake or about 30 minutes or until peppers are soft and bacon is crispy. Turn oven to broil and broil peppers for another minute or two, until sizzling hot. Remove from oven and generously brush peppers with the barbecue glaze. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Sweet barbecue glaze: Combine 1 cup dark brown sugar, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup mustard in medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine, then bring glaze to a full boil. Let simmer for five minute then remove from heat. Allow glaze to sit for another hour for flavors to mingle. Makes about 1 cup of glaze.

Recipe adapted from: American Culinary Federation

Vegan Jalapeño Poppers

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tofurky andouille sausage (about 3.5 ounces), sliced into coins
  • 1-1/2 cups pepper jack-style non-dairy cheese, divided
  • 6 to 8 fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce, either homemade or jarred
  • Crushed corn tortillas
  • Red pepper flakes, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In medium-size cast-iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add sausage and fry until crispy, tossing frequently.

Place sausage in a blender or food processor along with 1 cup of the non-dairy cheese. Pulse until sausage and cheese are finely diced and evenly mixed.

Halve the jalapeño peppers and remove seeds and membrane by scraping with a small spoon; also remove the stem. Discard those pieces. Be careful not to touch your face, eyes or lips with fingers.

Place pepper halves on the baking pan, and evenly divide the sausage/cheese mixture among the peppers. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top. Top with crushed tortilla chips.

Place peppers in oven and bake for 10 to 13 minutes, until the cheese looks melted and the tops look golden.

Serve immediately, garnished with barbecue sauce and chili pepper flakes for extra spice.

Makes 12 to 16 poppers.

Cheesy Vegetarian Poppers

  • 8 large jalapeño peppers
  • 8 ounces neufchatel or cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup panko or regular bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Halve the jalapeño peppers and remove seeds and membrane by scraping with a small spoon; also remove the stem. Discard those pieces. Be careful not to touch your face, eyes or lips with fingers because even the tiniest bit of pepper oil will burn!

In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cilantro, green onion, and garlic and onion powders. Stir to combine, then season to taste with salt and pepper. In small bowl, mix together bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Stuff the peppers with the cream cheese mixture. Top each of the peppers with the bread crumbs/Parmesan mixture and sprinkle with reserved chopped cilantro or parsley.

Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the poppers look golden. Serve immediately.

Makes 16 poppers.

Let’s Eat! is a Tribune News Service column from Gretchen McKay, a feature writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The mother of five has won numerous national awards for her food writing and features. Email her at gmckay@post-gazette.com and check out her “Cooking With Gretchen” videos on YouTube.

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