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Creamy Chicken Tortellini Soup

Last week in a hunger for savory warmth, I roasted a chicken, but knowing the snow was coming, I pulled the remaining meat and stored it for making what may just be the finest use of leftover roast (or rotisserie) chicken. Frequently in the summer with the leftovers of roast chicken a lighter version of this soup can be found in my kitchen, but waking to snow and freezing cold, the heartier, creamier version is called for.

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I woke in mood to do little but read, tend and create, and as these first weeks of the new year are thus far deeply productive, I caved to my relaxation whim. Aside from keeping a warm fire going in the stove and tending the already started early cool season vegetable seedlings now taking up better than a third of the dining room table, there was no real must in the air.

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And after some wandering in the cold quiet woods, a bit of reading and mild tending of business, I found myself in the kitchen to create. Outside the smell of crisp smoke tendriled down from the chimney, the fresh biting scent of snow hung from the branches and inside, the warm intoxicating aroma of chicken broth filled the air. There are few places as warm and comforting as a wintertime kitchen.

Hard-pressed to think of a better way to relax would be understating the situation and those are the days worth all the efforts between.

CREAMY CHICKEN TORTELLINI SOUP
Perfect served up with a nice crusty bread, this soup is simple, creamy, and delicious, a perfect use for left over roast chicken. It can be made with freshly cooked, shredded chicken just as easily.

ct4post4 carrots, sliced
2 leeks, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, sliced
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
Olive oil
8oz cheese tortellini
2 cups shredded roast or rotisserie chicken
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp dried thyme
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
Salt & Pepper
¼ cup butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté carrots, leeks, celery and onion until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté an additional minute. Pour in broth, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, and add salt and pepper to taste. Add tortellini and cook about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, over a med heat melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour whisking constantly for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and continuing to whisk constantly, slowly pour in the milk. Return to heat and pour in cream. Heat to a boil, whisking constantly to remove any lumps. Pour milk roux into soup and add chicken. Cook for 3-5 minutes more until tortellini and chicken are cooked through. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, remove bay leaves, and serve immediately. Approximately 6 servings.

New Year’s Day Soup

Every year, no matter the kind of year just closed, no matter the hopes or anxieties of the coming year, one thing stays the same. Well, to be more accurate, four things: pork, greens, cornbread, and black eyed peas.

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Today is vaguely unceremonious for all my excitement at ousting a tiresome year. All the seed cases have been sorted and a list of needed seeds and other garden accoutrement made for the coming season. The annual Twilight Zone marathon has droned on for more than a day. But more than anything, it is a quiet day, calm and tranquil.

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Rather than casting forward nets toward mighty goals as was my proclivity with yesterday’s goal noting endeavors, today is all about the quiet. After too many months trapped in a forward moving and somewhat productive but more so deeply stormy and saddening year, today is like the first break in the clouds. Our house feels restful thus wrapping up garden planning, idly prattling away in the kitchen, and reading up on new to me ideas in soil amending sound ideal.

Here is to a serene year filled to the brim with luck.

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NEW YEAR’S DAY SOUP

Wildly superstitious and too hillbilly blooded for my own good, I never miss a meal of greens, ham, black eyed peas, and cornbread for the first eats of each year. Whether or not you believe in the good luck mojo of these vittles, this soup is an amazing combination of all but the cornbread, which makes the perfect sopping companion for this meal. Over the last few years, I’ve honed this adaptation from Southern Living for those years when the first comes cold and soup in lieu of hog jowl speaks to my appetite.

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp bacon grease
6 green onions, sliced, green tips separated
2 cups diced cooked ham
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups black eyed peas, soaked in advance
1 bunch turnip, mustard or collard greens, stems removed, leaves shredded
2 cups water
bep5post4 cups chicken broth
1 tsp Tabasco
Salt & Pepper
2-3 tsp white wine vinegar

In a large pot, heat butter and bacon grease over medium low heat. Add ham, onion bulbs, and garlic. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes, just until fragrant and heated through. Add the water, broth, greens, Tabasco, black eyed peas, and a dash of salt to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes or until black eyed peas are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in a teaspoon of pepper, the vinegar, and green onion tops. Add additional Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fresh cornbread.

Notes: While fresh black eyed peas are best, frozen work just as well. Avoid canned.

This soup keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days. Personally, I think it is even better the second day once the flavors have had all night to merge.

If your taste leans away from spicy, you might turn down the Tabasco or use Louisiana Hot Sauce for kick with less heat.

Gingered Shortbread Cookies

 In the early morning, long before dawn, the cold crept in and woke me. The fire was dying. A quick rekindling and coffee turned on, I took my first glance outside at the icy glaze glistening in the dark. The world had been coated overnight, the first ice storm of the season and winter hasn’t officially started yet.

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But Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas tree is up, and plans for hanging outdoor lights are being bantered about. It is that time of the year. And so, since this is the time when homemade sweets are ever at the ready for grazing, a simple cookie recipe. Because I love gingerbread and usually make it around Christmas (to be fair, in my world anything ginger is acceptable any time of the year) but this year I crave the soft sweetness of shortbread, a sort of combination of the two seemed in order. All the sweet sharpness of ginger pairs beautifully with the buttery softness of shortbread, making these cookies a simple go to recipe for company or yourself. Add a touch of white chocolate icing and be ready to enjoy these tiny delights with a warm cup of cocoa.

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GINGERED SHORTBREAD COOKIES

¾ cup softened butter, chopped
cc7post½ cup sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
4oz white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and next three ingredients. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix into a dough. Refrigerate dough for half an hour. When dough is chilled, roll flat and using a cookie cutter cut out the cookies and lay them flat on the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned at the edges. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, break the white chocolate into small pieces and place in a microwavable bowl. Microwave in 15 second increments, stirring between each until the chocolate has melted. Spread the icing on top of the cookies or dip them in the chocolate as preferred.

Notes:
These cookies are equally good without the icing. They could also be dusted lightly with icing sugar instead of chocolate for a truly delightful richness.

 

 

Winter Vegetable Salad

Love though I do Halloween, Thanksgiving is a very close second. Every year the pattern repeats: up pre-dawn, shower and coffee, begin the feast by 7am. Pies and goodies prepped the night before mingle with timeworn cookbooks and flying utensils while the Macy’s parade plays on tv. We’ll eat in the early afternoon, if nothing goes awry. The menu is planned well in advance, always essentially the same, with or without turkey (we’re a ham family) and with an occasional swapping of a side, albeit scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, and dressing are absolute mainstays. Post feast come naps and decorating the Christmas tree to the tune of E’s excitement and George Bailey finding out it really is a wonderful life.

And while those traditions repeat annually, this year something new to celebrate our first Thanksgiving in our home. My poor little 50’s kitchen table I’ve had since college has sufficed as our dining table for a time now, but its scant four feet by just under three feet surface hardly cuts it especially for larger meals. Knowing we wanted something special, not just any store-bought premanufactured piece of furniture for our dining room, we opted to build our own table farmhouse style from these instructions.

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Perfect in its imperfections? Yes. Made from construction lumber, it was officially Josh’s second piece of furniture and he is no carpenter. Neither am I by any stretch. And neither are he and E furniture finishers, but I did my best to explain the how to’s and oversee as they helped me. In spite of our combined inexperience, it is perfect indeed in its imperfection.

And so our family gathered round a feast featuring both ham and turkey, because there is now room for both, and enough sides to choke a horse as the saying goes. And here for your family’s table is a bright and pretty winter salad, simple to make and featuring winter root vegetables played up by the delicious bittersweet bite of orange and cranberry. The flavors and ingredients are so well suited to the season and the salad itself is so pretty on the table, this recipe is ideal for Thanksgiving or Christmas feasts, but it is so delicious it pairs beautifully with any winter meal.

ts8postWINTER VEGETABLE SALAD
1 1/2lb carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 2” pieces
4 large parsnips, peeled and sliced
4 large turnips, peeled and cubed
1 cup cranberries
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
2 cups arugula
2 cups chopped radicchio
Orange Vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 400. Toss vegetables in about three tablespoons olive oil and place in a single layer in a lightly greased jelly roll pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cranberries to the vegetable mix and bake another five minutes. Allow to cool completely, approximately 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together dressing. When cooled, place vegetables in a large bowl and drizzle with desired amount of dressing, toss to coat. Toss with arugula and radicchio and serve with any remaining dressing on the side.

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Orange Vinaigrette (Adapted from Southern Living)
1 tsp orange zest
Juice of one orange (Approx ¼ cup)
1 tbsp finely chopped shallot
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar ts6post
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp fresh cracked pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small jar or bowl with lid, combine all ingredients except the olive oil. Shake thoroughly to combine. Add the olive oil and shake again to combine.

Notes:
For a pretty presentation, the arugula and radicchio can be spread on a platter then topped with the veggie mix after tossing it with the dressing.

A mix of colors for the carrots makes for a gorgeous salad, but if you include purple carrots roast them separately from the other veggies so that their juice does not tint all the other veggies pink.

A few ounces of crumbled feta is a nice addition to this salad for those who enjoy cheese.

Persimmon Nut Bread

Waking up late on a weekend morning, just in time to see the golden orange syrup of first light in autumn playing on the last of the turned leaves and the deep dark green of the pines, and I felt inspired to be outdoors. We winterized, cutting back my fruit trees and clearing the flower beds, trimming up outgrowth and splitting wood.

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Autumn is shifting toward winter, first frost is coming, the light stays filtered in amber all day and the long shadows never dissipate from sunrise to dark. Inside, the smell of chicken broth from the all-day cooking of chicken and dumplings mingled with the smell of an apple pie baking. It’s cool season, when cooking becomes heavy and the savory smells of each meal permeate the air long after the food is devoured. And this is the season when an instinctual need to bake takes over.

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This year, inspired by some stunning persimmons, I opted to adapt a bread recipe of my granny’s with a recipe run once in the Times-Picayune. As a child, it was ritualistic, annually watching with wide eyed anticipation a persimmon being cut open deftly and carefully with a two inch pocket knife. Would there be a knife, fork, or spoon inside? Did the almanac predict the same? If so it’s gospel truth. If not, the almanac must be having an off year, because the persimmons know.

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And so an homage to those most beautiful of autumn fruits, those natural weathercasters, a deliciously moist bread. It’s none too rich and well adapted to be served as a light snack to guests this time of year or to be eaten by hand leaning lazily against the kitchen counter barely awake in the a.m. as the coffee brews and the first orangey gold light lazily peers through the windows.

PERSIMMON NUT BREAD

pb10post½ cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
¼ cup buttermilk
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup persimmon pulp, mashed
1 ¾ cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp clove
½ tsp allspice
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, blend the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and persimmon, mixing to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir flour mixture into permission mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Add walnuts and cranberries and mix well. Pour into one large or two small greased and floured loaf pans. Bake for one hour in smaller pans or one hour and fifteen minutes for larger pan or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

 

Vanilla Cranberry Pumpkinseeds

Anyone who has known me for more than a day or two will likely be aware of two things: waste disgusts me and Halloween is the end all, be all greatest holiday of them all. Although, to be fair the latter is hardly opinion, it is fact.

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And so, as we prepare costumes and travel plans and watch E run amuck in her amazing unicorn costume, a new recipe for those tired of the old standard roasted pumpkin seeds. With multiple pumpkins carved into Jack O’ Lanterns or roasted into homemade pumpkin pie, standard roasted seeds would’ve been running out of our ears. But this recipe, adapted from Wallflower Girl, plays the wholesomeness of roasted pumpkin seeds against the sweetness of honey and the tartness of dried cranberries. A delicious snack, it’s perfect for an overabundance of pumpkinseed.

VANILLA CRANBERRY PUMPKINSEEDS
Adapted from Wallflower Girl.
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1 cup pumpkinseeds
½ cup dried cranberries (dried cherries or raisins may be substituted)
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tsp honey
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp. boiling water

Preheat oven to 300°F. Stir together the honey, sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl to make a paste. Slowly add the boiling water just until the mixture becomes syrup like. Pour the pumpkinseeds and cranberries (or choice of dried fruit) into the bowl, stirring constantly until they are completely coated in the sugar mixture. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using a spoon drop the seed mixture in small clumps to make approximately 15-20 clusters. Bake 15-20 minutes until just golden brown. Cool before serving.

Chickpea & Spinach Ginger Tomato Soup

And so, October. Most days have been unseasonably warm, but then came the first with cold gray skies and wind that carried that sharp snow smell. It seemed ridiculous to put off the last of the garden clearing any longer. The tomatillos and some of the beans are still putting on, but otherwise the season has ended for another year, and due to the amount of soil damage and powder mildew, winter gardening is being skipped this year.

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Final vegetables were picked for seed, each plant was pulled for compost if possible, supports were stacked with like kind and the greenhouse is nearly full now with stored supplies. Raised beds built for rotation have had their frames pulled and stacked and their dirt spread as the rest of the garden was plowed down. I am, however, postponing pulling the remaining flora until first freeze as the hydrangeas, morning glories, and four o’ clocks are still bearing.

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By project end, my face was flushed and cheeks cold and the sky was darker, leaves blowing out of the trees in great clusters. Inspired, a soup was in order, but not just any soup. This soup is ideal at the turning of each equinox, tomato heavy and ginger seasoned, it features the warmth of summer, but the chickpeas give it a heartiness ideal for the incoming or outgoing cold. And when you find yourself craving tomatoes at the turning of spring or, as in this case, lamenting the end of their season, this recipe lends itself well to the use of the last year’s canned (or store bought) tomatoes.

 

CHICKPEA & SPINACH GINGER TOMATO SOUP
Adapted from Serious Eats.

soup7post28oz can diced tomatoes
1” knob of ginger, peeled
Olive Oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp smoked paprika
6 oz fresh baby spinach
2 14oz cans chickpeas
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Sea Salt & Fresh Cracked Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar

Pour half of tomatoes and liquid into a blender and add ginger knob. Blend on high until completely pureed. Set aside. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan or stew pot over med high heat and add onion, garlic, and paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and slightly browned. Add tomato ginger puree and stir to combine. Add spinach a handful at a time, allowing each handful to wilt before adding the next. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining tomatoes, chickpeas with their liquid, bay leaves, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle each serving with additional olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Heirloom: Red Kuri Squash

I found out on one of our trips to back to Tennessee this year that my husband had no idea what kudzu is. On occasion those tiny nuances that are engrained in my being and completely alien to him arise and remind me that I married a non-Southerner. And such a strange feeling to live in a place so near home and yet cut from completely different cloth, a state that borders the South and yet might as well be another planet.

But I digress. As I drove the winding back highway to mom’s, I pointed out the kudzu eating the landscape, swallowing barns and other myriad amorphous shapes of things long forgotten under those eerie emerald leaves. He was dumbfounded at the sight of it and the botanical characteristics that make it such a nuisance. It must seem strange to someone who’s never seen kudzu, like some plant from science fiction come to eat the rural South, and yet the very sight of it to me is comforting, decided proof I lived in Mississippi too long.

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Upon returning home, flashbacks to the story of how we came to have kudzu in the South and how it took over washed over me when I saw that of all my squashes and melons, in the ideal temperature and rain amounts, a Japanese selection I ordered out of curiosity had all but taken over the front of the house during the week we were gone. We moved into this house too late in the winter for me to plant the bulbs I wanted along the front gardens, so en lieu herbs and a few compact vegetable plants took those places for the year. At least, they were intended to be compact.

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The Red Kuri squash seeds I planted had proceeded to take over the front, growing approximately twenty feet in total length and making for surprisingly attractive vines trellised along the front. Thus it makes its way into this heirloom series, recommended for simplicity of growth and productivity as well as attractiveness, but one that requires space.

fu6postAnd not only are they attractive and productive, they are delicious. Their flavor is mildly nutty and semi-sweet, but more than their flavor it is their texture that is so amazing. Super creamy, these make ideal soup and pies. They keep very well and those we have left will become soup this winter.

Red Kuri Squash (Cucurbita maxima) is a hardy Japanese winter squash. Also known as Orange Hokkaido Squash, Japanese Squash, and Onion Squash. Fruit has thick red orange skin, similar to a small pumpkin without ridges, and are about 4-10lbs each. Prolific and easy to grow from seed. Great keeping variety, 92 days.

Apple Slaw with Orange Ginger Dressing

ac3postMore often than not, I crave home flavors. The stylings of food rooted deeply in the great gumbo pot of the South, the most basic vittles based in hillbilly essentials and seasoned with heart. And, over the years and many varied moves, I have adapted those tastes and flavors exotic and new to me into the fold, taking that which my granny taught me and adding a splash of flavor standards from other regions I called home, from recipes of friends near and far, from cookbooks of the other side of the world.

To wit, this. A recipe founded in that most basic concept of apple slaw, a roots food autumn staple, while gently folding in a layer of Asian influence, taking the basics of cooking with spices common to my much adored Thai dishes and rolling them back into Southern equivalents, just for a bit of flair. Out went the more common mustard and lemon replaced with orange and ginger, ideal for fall.

APPLE SLAW WITH ORANGE GINGER DRESSING
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½ small red cabbage, sliced
1 endive, sliced
1 green apple, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup dried raisins
¼ cup cashews

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 orange
2 tsp ginger, finely grated
2 small garlic cloves finely minced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small jar with lid and shake to blend. If you do not have a jar available, they can be briskly stirred together in a small bowl.

Combine cabbage, endive, apple, raisins, and cashews in a large bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss to fully coat. Serve immediately.

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Notes: 
While the dressing can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator, the salad should only be prepared immediately before serving.

Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Honey

There is talk, whispers of autumn all over the internets. I’m certain I’ve already read the words pumpkin spice a dozen or so times. The deer who was a fawn last I looked is less reticent to emerge from the back woods and can frequently be spotted in the driveway at dusk, all awkward adolescent legs and jutting neck. And my mother turkey and her dozen brood are no longer an adorable trail of tiny tag alongs, but rather they are all nearly grown and have no fear of me or my camera. They were roosting outside my bedroom window in the shade yesterday.

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Most of what remained of a garden after the rough weather season is ready to be pulled and the sumac trees are turning. Perhaps because sumac is one of the first to turn and one of only a few trees native to the many varied regions in which I’ve lived, their change in particular is the great heralder, the harbinger of the equinox.

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In spite of the hints of season’s change, a few plants are still putting on and the peppers have out shown them all. To be fair, it took very little to shine as most of my scant garden production post-monsoon this year is for seed, but in spite of stunted growth all but a few bell types have produced fairly. And so, a pepper dish. Not so much a dish as a side or hors d’ oeuvres, but never the less a mildly spicy sweet homage to the warm days fading. A healthy dollop of feta whipped with just enough cream cheese for smooth texture, garlic to compliment the peppers, honey as a farewell to long sweet afternoons and smoky paprika to bring it all around again. Playing with cravings rarely turns out so perfectly. Even Josh liked these, and he hates the texture of peppers. That level of crowd-pleaser love letter recipe to summer makes this an ideal replacement for that potato salad you thought you’d take to next weeks bbq and will use up that overabundance of peppers to boot.

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STUFFED SWEET PEPPERS WITH HONEY
1 dozen medium sweet or mild peppers
8oz Feta cheese
2 oz cream cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp honey, plus more for drizzling
Pinch of sea salt and dash of fresh cracked pepper
Smoked paprika

pep4postPreheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with foil.

Making sure to protect your hands, cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove the pith and seeds from the center. Lay the peppers open side up on the baking sheet; if any peppers wobble, cut a sliver off the underside of the pepper creating a flat surface on the bottom. In a medium bowl, microwave the feta cheese and cream cheese for 20-30 seconds, until softened. To the cheeses, add honey, garlic, pepper and salt and stir until combined and smooth. Scoop an equal amount of the cheese mixture into each of the open pepper halves. Sprinkle lightly with the paprika. Bake for 10 minutes, then place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to darken the tops. (Watch peppers during this step to prevent over browning.)

Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes. Transfer the peppers to a platter and lightly drizzle with honey. Can be served still warm or at room temp.