Converting to Chili

It’s safe to say it – I’m a chili snob. I mean, it’s not just chili; there are other things I’m snobby about too. I have, possibly after drinking too much of it in college, grown to severely dislike watered-down beer and will only drink ales, aka beers with substance, or soul. I have very slowly started to like whiskey, but only from small-batch distilleries and so far, only when combined with ginger. I think my cat is the prettiest and loveliest of them all, because she is, and that’s all I need to say about that. And when it comes to toothpaste, I prefer Crest Pro Health, in cinnamon, if available.

So yeah, it’s not just chili. But until I met Hubs, I was never a chili-likin’-girl. Past chilies have been too bean-laden (specifically of the way-too-large kidney bean variety), or conversely, too watery. Both prompt some level of embarrassment after my consuming them, either in foul smell or by the appearance of chili-stained shirts. Sometimes both, I suppose.

But shortly after the Hubs and I started courting, I met his sister’s fiancee (now husband), a fellow Southerner, and frequent wearer of Carhartts. He had me hooked after making his biscuits n’ gravy, but after a couple bowls of his chili I knew I had to find a way to stay in that family, at least long enough to procure his recipe.

And no, this isn’t that chili. But that’s the chili that converted me; it was thick (but no so thick I felt like I was spooning ground meat alone into my mouth), it was spicy, it wasn’t runny in the least, and it warmed my heart, filled my belly, and made me wonder what was the matter with all those other chili-makin’ wannabees.

This chili here, this chili gave me that same feeling. And then some. This one is all of the above, but it is also full of complexity and layered with flavor upon flavor. It’s spicy, that’s no lie. But it’s spicy in only the best way possible. It’s healthy, with a generous amount of beef but rivaled by just the perfect amount of beans, black beans to be specific. It’s exactly what you want when the winter won’t quit.

And at least in these parts, I don’t see myself making any summer salads just yet. The good news is that, at least for the few minutes I’m eating this chili (and perhaps the time before when the smell is wafting around every corner in our house), I don’t care for all that warm weather. Give me chili, good music, a magazine, and my electric throw and I’ll watch the snow all day long, smiling all the while.

Cold weather concoctions, previously:
Moroccan Beef Meatball Tagine
Ancho Pork & Hominy Stew
Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Chili con Carne
Loosely adapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 8 (leftovers freeze well, too!)

printable version

ingredients
fajita seasoning
2 t g cumin
1 t smoked paprika
1 t onion powder
1 t dried oregano
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t g coriander
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t g cinnamon
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t g ginger

chili
2 T evoo, divided
2 lb beef stew meat, cubed
1/4 c tequila
2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes (fire-roasted, preferably)
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 white onion, diced
2 T garlic, minced
1 sm can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, pureed
1 T tomato paste
1 T mole sauce
1 1/2 c beef broth
2 T all purpose flour
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 lime’s worth of juice
sour cream
avocado

instructions
stir together all seasoning ingredients; set aside.

heat 1 T oil in Dutch oven. brown meat in two batches, adding 1 T oil again for the second batch. transfer to slow cooker. Deglaze pot with tequila, scraping up bits from bottom, and add to slow cooker. (if using a Dutch oven instead of slow cooker, just leave steak in pot and deglaze as instructed)

add tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, fajita seasoning, chipotle puree, tomato paste, mole to slow cooker. stir in beef broth and flour. cover and cook on high for 4 hours. (Dutch oven – bring to boil, partially cover, simmer over med-lo for 1 hour)

stir in beans and lime juice before serving, garnish with sour cream, avocado.

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Finding My Second Wind

Butternut Squash Salad
I will be talking about that bowl of loveliness in a moment – I promise.

But first, I have to talk about this:

New blog header

Don’t you just adore it?! Don’t you want to hug it and squeeze it and call it George?! I sure do. Luckily, I have a very creative friend who was willing to put some brain power into making me a fancy new header. I’d become a little bored with the “google images” and also felt a little guilty (a little) for stealing images of pretty pictures I didn’t take…

You’ve heard me talk about my buddy Jennifer (aka JSimps, or sometimes just Simps), right? Jennifer recently started her very own design biz using Etsy, and she uses her blog, Second Wind Studios, to talk about her new creations and various other things. I’m sure she’d love to design a new header for you too, if you’re in the market for one! She also designs invitations (yes, for weddings too!), cards, pottery, etc. Head on over and chat with her – she’s very nice!

cubed butternut squash

I finally came out of my sickness slump on Friday, following a trip to my Jewish internist a few floors down. I only see him when I’m desperate, which is due simply to my aversion of taking medicine unless all else fails – it did, once the cookies were gone. Aside from my one annoyance with him, which is his inability to read anything in my chart before walking in (yes, I know…big whoop), he’s a pretty nice guy. I only wanted to punch him once at this visit – right after he made the assumption that I was a nurse because I’d switched specialties (pediatrics to cancer), because surely I wasn’t a doctor.. and what is a genetic counselor, anyway? Meh…
But the meds slowly relieved the ickiness, and by Friday I was feeling more like a 6 than a 3, which was good since the parentals were en route. Yes, my (divorced) parents, for whatever reason decided it’d be a good idea to drive up together from North Carolina for a weekend. Who flies these days, anyway – right?! Well, 17 hours later, they were here (yes, 17…. starting from Wilmington, meeting up in Fayetteville, & making pit stops at various intervals), and both were in need of a stiff drink!
Unlike most divorced parents, they can stand each other for a few days (with a few wise quips at each other thrown in for good measure), and they even choose to without any coercion. So visit they did, and cook I did thanks be to the z-pak, the aforementioned cookies, and a lot of sleep. They are super-easy guests in that right – no touring the city or fancy restaurants required, just visiting and eating whatever I make them!
roasted squash with cranberries and pine nuts
For dinner one night, I insisted on using butternut squash as a side dish, in some way. I’ve seen them in the stores and at the markets, and have literally been fiending for the nutty, creamy vegetables since last year. My friend Jenn from The Whole Kitchen recently blogged about a tasty squash salad, and I found a version that reminded me a little of her Colorado find. It had everything I love – chipotle pepper, homemade ranch dressing, said squash, dried cranberries, and nuts. How could I go wrong?

For most of you – this salad will be nothing short of nirvana. I’m serious. For me, it was too -although my salad nirvana was achieved sans lettuce. Being a supertaster and all, I am highly sensitive to bitterness (hence the need for added flavor in my coffee & pure hatred of brussel sprouts). Though I’d never tasted escarole, I always like to try everything once, so I went with the recommended lettuce for this recipe and gave it a shot. I could have easily been eating aspirin, and attribute it to the escarole bitterness (which in lettuce doesn’t usually bother me – I love arugula, frisee, and endive) coupled with a spicy dressing. Next time I make this salad (and there will be a next time), I’m using romaine, and you should too. I’m saving escarole for other salads with more sweetness to counterbalance that hefty bite. Pops & Chris ate all (or most of) the lettuce, mom left some behind and ate around it like me.

Maybe she’s a supertaster too?

Romaine & Butternut Squash Salad w/ chipotle-ranch dressing
Adapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 8

ingredients
1 1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled & cubed
2 T evoo
salt & pepper
1 clove garlic
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/4 c buttermilk
2 T fresh lime juice
2 t honey
1 1/2 t minced chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce (San Marcos, gluten-free)
8 c romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 c toasted pine nuts

instructions
preheat oven to 400 F. cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. toss squash with oil, salt, and pepper. roast on the baking sheet until browned, 25-30 minutes. cool to room temp.


mince garlic with 1/2 t salt to form paste then place in bowl. add mayo, buttermilk, lime juice, honey, and chipotle. mix and blend with immerision blender until smooth (or puree in food processor). season as needed. refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 days.


toss romaine with desired amount of dressing. toss in squash, cranberries, and pine nuts.

Off the Couch & Into the Kitchen

Lasagna Ratatouille Tart


Do any of you readers listen to Fresh Air on NPR? I for one, am an avid fan of Terry Gross, despite the ten thousand times she says, “um” in her interviews. I started downloading the podcasts to listen to during my eensy teensy 20 minute commute to work (not bad for Chicago eh? although yes, I cheat and drive – until September when I don’t have the excuse of carrying a chef’s uniform AND knife kit AND gym bag). It’s usually enough time to get the first half of Fresh Air in, although I will admit I do delete many of them and instead listen to classic rock. There’s nothing like hearing “Paradise City” or “Pinball Wizard” at 7:50 AM.


So earlier this week, guest host Dave Davies interviewed Michael Pollan, a food writer, journalist, and cookbook author (to download the interview, click here). Pollan recently wrote a cover story for the New York Times called “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch” where he chronicles the dramatic shift in our food pop culture, from the days of Julia Child to today’s Iron Chef America. In doing so, he expresses an unyielding concern (or fear, rather) that the days of home cooking are endangered, as even the shows have shifted toward treating cooking as more of a “sporting event” rather than actual educational episodes.

zucchini squashyellow squash



Is this true? Really? Help me here, because I’m obviously biased and could spend all my vertical moments in the kitchen whether it be destroying a gluten-free pie crust or making home-made pumpernickel bread. Is he right? Does the typical American spend more time watching food television than actually cooking? And if so, why? How has such an essential part of our being, those moments when we spend quality time with our family to discuss our failures and successes of the day while eating a fresh, soul-satisfying meal, mutated into 20 minutes in the kitchen (or ringing the first Thai restaurant on your speed dial) and hours upon hours of food TV?

I have to confess here, I love those shows that are akin to a sporting event, those shows that portray seasoned chefs battling it out and having a sweat-inducing fierce competition with the goal of an ultimate winner, or champion, at the end. I love them. Oh, and I find that we spend more time eating dinner while simultaneously watching a previously DVR’d show rather than at the table. But on the other hand, I have no problem setting aside time to cook – maybe not every night – but many. I get little shrills up & down my spine when I make something tasty, and then share it with those I love. Heck, I get shrills when I eat it myself.


tart assembly


I need ya’lls thoughts here. Seriously. Well, sorta seriously – I’m really just nosey. Do you really spend more time watching food tv than cooking? If so, what is it about those shows that draws you in, but doesn’t finish the job and make you run straight to the g-store, buy your goods, and whip that meal up (the one your mouth watered over) instantly? Do you get the sports analogy? I sure do..


And of equal pertinence, are you just dying to scroll to this recipe? You should be, peeps. I’m not sure what to call it, as I merged (sorta) two recipes. I suppose it’s a lasagna-ratatouille tart. But there’s no lasagna, per se but rather the innards of lasagna without the noodle and the tart in place of it. And there’s no eggplant which is totally typical in ratatouille. Although there could be…. if you want.


slice of lasagna ratatouille tart



Call it what you want, really. But either way, it’s damn good. And if cooking is not something you want to spend all your time doing, this here tart-sy makes 8 pieces so it should last a bit. Maybe. And it’s much easier than making lasagna – although the texture is similar. Have you heard that it’s summer squash season? If not, the word “summer” in front should have given that away…

Lasagna-ish Ratatouille-ish Tart
Inspired by 101 Cookbooks and Cuisine at Home, 2009


printable recipe

ingredients
tart
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
6 T butter, diced & chilled
3 T shortening, diced & chilled
3 T (+) ice water
filling
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c diced onion
2 T olive oil
red pepper flakes
1 can diced tomatoes
1-2 yellow squash, thinly sliced (1/4″)
1-2 zucchini squash, thinly sliced (1/4″)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (or other combo – I had about 3/4 cup at home and combined some parmesan and goat cheese as well as a little Boursin cheese spread to make 1 1/2 cups)
2 T thinly sliced basil
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella or other cheese for topping, optional
salt and pepper
olive oil for drizzling


instructions
To prepare tart dough, pulse flour, salt, pepper in food processor. Add butter and shortening and pulse until pea-sized clumps form. Add 3 T water, pulse to combine. Shape dough into flat disk and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.


Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll dough to 1/4 ” thickness and fit into 9-inch tart pan. Press to edge and trim excess. Cover w/ foil or parchment paper and fill with dry beans, weights, whatever. Bake about 25 minutes, remove foil and beans and bake 5 more minutes. Let cool to room temperature.


Meanwhile, Stir garlic, olive oil, red pepper and a little salt into small saucepan. Bring to med-hi heat and once garlic sizzles, add tomatoes (drain them a little before adding). Simmer about 10 minutes and remove. Let cool.


Using a mandoline (or cutting carefully with a knife) slice zucchini and yellow squash into 1/4 inch disks and pat dry. Set aside.


Preheat again to 375 F. Mix cheese and basil in small bowl. Spread onto bottom of cooled pre-baked tart. Gently spread tomato sauce over cheese mixture. Arrange vegetables around edge of tart shell in whatever pattern you choose (I did outer of zucchini and alternated) Cover tart completely. Sprinkle top with 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or other cheese you have on hand that melts well). Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Bake tart at 375 F until tart is golden brown around the edge, about 30 minutes.

Combating the Jean-Tightening Genes w/ Alfredo

Lite Pasta Alfredo


I remember back in the day when I was young I’m not a kid anymore, but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again (Ahmad, circa 1994). But really – I remember back in the day when eating anything you wanted didn’t cause a cottage cheese-like effect on your thighs and booty. And mushy arms. And maybe the worst part – growing out of your favorite Martin & Osa jeans or trying on your favorite tank top from last summer, the one you looked oh so cute in, and realizing that your “flat tire” has miraculously been replaced by a spare.


I’m not sayin’ I was ever petite – with my Hall knees and cornbread-induced voluptuous backside. You were lucky to see me in shorts even as a kid; I prefer clamdiggers any day. My dad surely gave me some IQ points, love for NC State, & blue eyes, but he also gave me big knees, a head of cowlicks, and horrible [practically legally blind] vision. My mom – she gave me boobs, good teeth, and the confidence to speak my mind even when I shouldn’t, but she also gave me my love for sweets and slow metabolism. That damn metabolism!


The days of eating Big Macs, chimichangas, ranch dressing (loaded over some cheesy gooey french fries with bacon), and definitely alfredo sauce are long gone, or at least few and far between. Everything in moderation, right people?!

Wrong answer! One of the reasons I started cooking so much in the first place was the ability to be more in control of what I ate. Yes, me, wanting more control. Who woulda thought?! It’s too easy to live in Chicago (or any other city with great food) and pack on the poundage. There are way too many Thai restaurants with wonderfully fried tofu pad thai and curries, Italian restaurants with “family style” servings of chicken alfredo & parmesan (not to mention a thousand types of bruschetta), and definitely too many neighborhood bakeries with the cutest little cupcakes that of course, have the creamiest icing on top. I agree with the everything in moderation motto, but for me, I can’t really moderate what I eat if it’s already in front of me :). So along with keeping portion control in check, I’ve tried to find and make recipes that are delectable but don’t (always) leave me wondering how many hours of exercise I owe myself.


[Of course, none of this counts while in culinary school. Have I said that before?]


Cajun-spiced chicken strips


The first foodie magazine I ever subscribed to was Cuisine at Home (thanks to my mom-in-law), and believe-you-me, they have some lovely food in there. The down side? Almost every recipe uses heavy cream, which translates to the previously mentioned cottage cheese effect and snug jeans, not to mention a frown on my face. I almost stopped subscribing this year, but they must have sensed it and started a healthy eating section. If you can believe it, I’ve found a recipe for a light version of alfredo sauce. I tried it out recently, and I think Chris said how good it was in between each & every mouthful. Which looking back, may not have been that many times since he literally scarfed it down. I liked it too, but tried to savor each bite a little more than he.


mushrooms and peppers


One of the great things about this recipe is that it’s loaded with veggies, unlike your typical alfredo dish with just fettucine, chicken, and gopping thick sauce. It’s colorful too, so very easy on the eyes. Oh, and instead of just chicken, there is also kielbasa, and the chicken has cajun seasoning to spice it up a bit. I think next time I’ll add even more. The sauce is creamy and yummy, but made with evaporated milk instead of cream & one egg yolk instead of butter. I am willing to bet that the use of the bowtie pasta wasn’t a random idea, as the folds and crinks encase some of the sauce, and that way it seems to last longer even if there is less of it.


Now, don’t go into making this thinking it’s just like the classic fettucine alfredo. The sauce won’t coat your lips, and there won’t be a puddle at the bottom of your plate after you finish eating. But a great stand-in and healthy alternative to the low-cost artery clogger? Totally.


So, if you’re like me and have chosen red sauces over the whites for as long as you can remember, consider a brief switcheroo. Pretty pretty please? Just this once. You won’t regret it. And if you don’t like it, just head on over to Bucktown and drop that dish off at my pad. I love leftovers 🙂


lite pasta alfredo


Lite Pasta Alfredo w/ Cajun Chicken & KielbasaAdapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 4

printable recipe

ingredients
4 oz uncooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta
1/2 cup evaporated 2% milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
salt & pepper
1/8 t nutmeg, freshly grated
8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 T Cajun seasoning (preferably no-salt version)
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz kielbasa, cut into half moon slices
1 cup peas, frozen
1 green onion, sliced thin, for garnish

instructions
Cook farfalle accoring to package directions. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of pasta liquid. Set pasta aside.

Meanwhile, combine milk, cheese, & yolk. Add in salt, pepper, nutmeg. Set aside.

Sprinkle Cajun seasoning on chicken and toss to coat. Spray large skillet with cooking spray and heat over med-hi. Saute chicken ~4 mins on each side until fully cooked. Remove and set aside. Add onions, pepper, mushrooms, garlic, kielbasa to skillet and cook ~4 mins until kielbasa begins to brown. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water to deglaze; scrape up browned bits and let simmer until water has almost evaporated.

Add in chicken, pasta, & peas. Stir to heat all ingredients and to break up frozen peas. Pour in alfredo sauce and simmer until thickened. Divide among 4 plates (or if you’re like me, 2 plates and two tupperwares) and garnish with green onion and a little cheese.

*Side note: I made a quick salad to go with – baby arugula with cherry tomatoes & English cucumbers. Made a quick tomato vinaigrette (1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, 2 T red wine vinegar, 2 t EVOO, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt, pepper mixed in processor). The salad was a great addition and went well with the pasta.