Friday, October 30, 2009

CHPA Chili Cook-Off

Today is the day.  A few weeks ago, Tim forwarded an email to me from the practice manager that was simply a call for entries for an office chili cookoff.  I didn't so much ignore it, it was more that the past few weeks have been crazy, crazy, crazy with wedding stuff, brunch stuff and Maggie's first sleepover birthday party.  Honestly, I'd pretty much forgotten about it until yesterday, when I stopped by to drop off some pumpkin muffins and to talk to the practice manager about the office holiday party, that I "remembered":  The two honchos in charge of the chili cookoff were in need of a few more entries, and little ol' cookin' me was standing right there.  And you know that I can't say NO.
So, let's back this up a bit.  Anyone who lived in the Triad of North Carolina in the late eighties and early nineties knows that being a vegetarian in that time and place was not an easy task.  We had the Fresh Market and one natural foods store and both were SMALL.  And let me assure you that there was very little vegetarian fare on any menu other than that of the Rainbow News and Cafe, and even there, it was bound to be smothered in cheese.  The one vegetarian item on most menus?  Vegetarian Chili.  I ate so many darn salads with veggie chili, I am literally nauseated just thinking about it.  Most of it wasn't even GOOD veggie chili.  Very seldom was it stewed long and slow to make a nice, richly-flavored stew.  Nope.  Most of the time, it was thrown together so that you could still taste the metal from the bean cans.  So, after a seven-year slog through what I considered Vegetarian Hell, I can confidently say one thing:  I HATE VEGGIE CHILI.  In fact, for several years, I hated ALL chili, but my love of Mexican food finally won out and I started making chili again.  BEEF CHILI with BEANS.  No vegetables, other than the necessary onions and peppers to season it, and some cilantro and lime to give it tang.  Even those were cooked into submission so that you really couldn't find them among the crumbled beef and the shiny beans.  And I still don't make chili often:  Game day, or when Tim begs for it, or when we are in need of a quick, hot and filling meal and ground beef is on sale.  Occasionally, I will try something new:  Turkey and Black Bean chili, or some other variation, but the one rule stands:  NO VEGETABLES.  
So, yesterday, when asked to make a chili, I thought about what was already in my freezer:  Kroger had a sale on low-fat ground turkey last week and I had a few packages of it stashed.  I had a couple of onions and one can of cannelini beans.  Not much, you see.  So, since I had errands to run and a happy baby in tow, I actually used my phone to google a recipe for Turkey and White Bean Chili and came up with a 5-star rated Turkey and White Bean Chili by Emeril Lagasse.  (Good news, Valerie: I didn't accidentally text you!)  Off to Whole Foods I went, in search of dried navy beans, another yellow onion, a good selection of peppers, and some cilantro.
Now, I know some people think Emeril's recipes are too hard and some say his mix of spices is annoying or overly complicated.  But I like Emeril, and I think that he, like so many other celebrity chefs (NOT Rachel Ray, thankyouverymuch, but ACTUAL chefs) make great food accessible to us mere cooking mortals.  I was surprised to find that not only did so many reviewers love the recipe, but, more importantly, none of them had actually followed the recipe exactly as written.  Everyone fudged something, giving the chili a little personality of its own.  Daring to defy the master, I grabbed a bottle of chipotle (not in the recipe) and a serrano pepper (also not in the recipe) and dashed to the check-out before any Food Network spies checked my cart.  (I also had to grab a block of that super-yummy white cheddar they were sampling, but that's another story.)
It turns out, I didn't quite have what I needed to double the recipe.  I only had three packages of turkey instead of four.  But I am working on the chili now and have tweaked and tasted along the way, and it's pretty darn good.  It's also the first time in probably 15 years I've used dried beans, and I realize that I miss them.  They require patience and planning, but I think they are well worth the effort and time.  Some might think I am crazy for entering a chili cookoff with a untried chili recipe, but I disagree:  Millions of fans can't be wrong.  And even Emeril knows that chili really is fool-proof.  In fact, I am surprised he even wrote down his recipe, because chili seems to be the one dish in everyone's house that is forever changing and always open to suggestions.  My nephew's wife commented on my "Leap..." post that his chili was awesome and never the same twice.  My own chili, the one I make when I am whipping up a batch, has three key ingredients, and always in some variation:  Chipotle, at least two other types of peppers, and at least two types of beans.  The amounts vary, the cooking time varies, but I always include those three things to give it texture and depth.  (Oh, and, of course, a bay leaf or two!!)
Besides, is an office chili cookoff something to win, or just another excuse to share food and tales with friends and colleagues?  Apparently, Tim is a judge for the cookoff, and this was of some concern to the organizers.  What they don't understand is that, after 16 years together, I expect Tim to tell me the truth about my cooking.  And Tim is too much of a team player to vote for his own wife's chili.  He'll vote to make sure that the nurses and staff know how much he appreciates them, and he'll thank me for being a part of it when he gets home, which is good enough for me.  (What can I say?  I like to see him happy.)
So, go cook your own chili, but if you want some inspiration, take a few hints from my friend (and yours), Emeril:
And don't forget to grab your secret ingredients.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Great Northern Bean Soup

It's dance night and it's Tuesday, but for some reason the energy level around here feels like Thursday.  Franny's a zombie, Tim was in his pj's at 6:30, and the girls barely said a word during dinner.  My head has that dull ache of a too-busy week.  So, even though it did hit the mid-70's today, I thought we could use a really warm, delicious and healthy soup for dinner.  
Now, this is one of those recipes that didn't come from a friend.  I actually found in in one of those county cooperative extension newsletters from when I lived in Surry County.  Even though this soup had absolutely NO characteristics of a soup I would normally like, I decided to try it.  Stranger still, for the first time ever, I didn't follow the recipe exactly, which is what I normally do when trying a recipe for the first time.  Somehow, I just knew what small changes this soup would need and it really turned out delicious.  I must have been cooking with The Force.

Great Northern Bean Soup
1 lb extra lean ground turkey (or beef)
1 cup chopped onion
1-1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 quart stewed tomatoes with liquid (I use puree or finely diced tomatoes)
2 cans Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed or 4 cups cooked dried beans
2 cups chopped cabbage (or more, I usually buy a bag of shredded cole slaw mix, about 3 cups) 
1 T brown sugar
1 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce (I use Buffalo Chipotle and TO TASTE... I swear the amount changes every time I make this soup!)
1/2 cup chopped parsely
1 quart stock, optional (Strangely, The Force told me "beef stock" and it does add a depth and richness to this soup.  But, TF isn't always right, so feel free to use vegetable or chicken.)
Combine onions and ground turkey in stock pot.  Brown together and drain.  (Since it's lean, I actually just brown it in the bottom of the soup pot and dump everything in on top.)  Combine in soup pot with the remaining ingredients.  Add 1 quart of water (or vegetable, beef or chicken stock) to get to desired consistency.  Simmer at least thirty minutes or until carrots are tender.
Something about this soup tastes like tomato soup, but all grown up, so I serve it with grilled cheese on whole wheat.   Or make a toasted cheese open-faced using your toaster oven.  Not in a refined-palate mood?  Make it with good old American cheese.  Feeling a little fancy?  A nice Sharp Cheddar.  Either way, use a lot of unsalted butter for grilling!
Enjoy... and may The Force be with you!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Old Friend, New Recipe

A few months ago, I reconnected with an old friend, Traci.  No, we didn't laugh as we discovered that we lived just two blocks away from each other.  Nor did we run into each other in a crowded airport, she clued in by my distinctly obnoxious laugh, which, sad to say, has happened more times than I care to admit.  Nope, after years of google searches, I found her on Facebook.  Now, I know what you're going to say:  Facebook is a big time-suck.  Because it is.  I waste far too much of my morning coffee or tea generating my stripper name, ghetto nickname and Star Wars Character name and reading and commenting on the status updates of friends and family members.  But I will say this:  Facebook has been a great way to keep in touch with folks, and even if my bathrooms are never clean again, if Traci was the only person I every found there, I would be a fan for life based on just that.  Traci and I have known each other since kindergarten.  Though our paths and choices were divergent at times, Traci always just rolled with our friendship, never expecting me to be anything other than who I am, and her friendship has always been unconditional, even when I probably didn't deserve it.  I was thrilled to reconnect with her after so many years; it's been nice to catch up and share our joys and sorrows of the last 20 years.  With some friends, there's just a trust that the friendship has endured and that's just the way it is, which brings me to this week's recipe and blog post:  When a few weeks ago we experienced our first Fall weather, I updated my Facebook status to say that I was craving "something pumpkin-y", I was quickly rewarded:  Several of my awesome friends posted suggestion for what I could make.  Traci, however, sent me a message with her Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffin recipe.
Now, for those who know me well, you know that I don't take recipes from just anyone:  I like to know you can cook!  So, for me to read over the recipe and decide, with Teacher Appreciation Week upon us, that I'd make these muffins this weekend, this was a big leap of faith.  However, I trusted Traci to share something amazing, and you know I would only make the most delicious yummies for our awesome teachers!
I am going to admit that perhaps trust in Traci's friendship wasn't the only reason for my decision, especially given the status of canned pumpkin in my pantry:

So, while the girls lovingly made Thank-You cards for their teachers,

I made Traci's muffins.  And, boy-oh-boy, are they delicious, even when cutting the recipe in half, which isn't easy with baking.  As reported by my official Katy's Kitchen Tasters, these muffins are "sooooo gooooood, Mom!"

So, how cool to know that a new recipe from a very dear, very old friend will soon become a new family favorite, and, consequently, an OLD family favorite?    Which brings me back to the reason for this entire blog...

Traci’s Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 cups oil
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups sugar
8 beaten eggs
1-1/2 Tbsp baking soda dissolved in 2/3 cup warm water
4 cups pumpkin
7 cups Flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp ginger
2 tsp nutmeg
4 tsp cinnamon
Beat oil, brown sugar and sugar together.
Add eggs and dissolved baking soda and beat together.
Add pumpkin and beat together.
Add four, baking powder, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and mix well.
Add 1 cup warm water and 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips and blend well.
Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes.
Makes about  6-1/2 dozen super-double-extra delicious muffins.

To cut the recipe in half use the following measurements:
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
4-1/2 tsp baking soda
5 tbsp plus 1 tsp warm water
2 cup pumpkin
3-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup warm water
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Leap and the net will appear.

Years ago, I bought a notecard at a funky bookstore with this quote on it: LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR. I imagined I'd send it to a friend at a time when they needed inspiration or support through a difficult time. Little did I know that *I* was the friend and it was *I* in need of inspiration from time to time, and in more areas of my life than even I could ever know.
I was reflecting on how I share some recipes and not others, and how my friends and family might view this, so I think it's time to share a little secret: For some of my favorite dishes, I simply do not have a recipe. I wanted to make a dish because I'd had it somewhere and wanted it RIGHT THEN, so I bought ingredients that I thought would help me re-create it.
These recipes include, but are not limited to, my Baigan Bartha, Croissant French Toast Casserole, Chicken Soup (which explains why it isn't in my bay leaf post!), Chili, and Chicken Pot Pie recipes. In fact, for the longest time, there was no Shepherd's Pie recipe, until I decided to actually write it down while I cooked one day. Many of these recipes have been under construction for years and, even though they garner raves when served, I am never quite sure when they're perfect and tweak them a bit each time I make them.
So, my wisdom to share: If you try a dish at a friend's house, a pot luck, a family gathering or a restaurant, there's always a google search for a recipe, but there's also taking the chance and unravelling the mystery of that delicious dish for yourself. The process can be frustrating. It can be fattening; ask Ellen about how our thighs fared through the Great Vegetable Egg Roll Quest of '94. It can even feel like total failure at times; I am sure there was more than one meal that even our dogs wouldn't eat. But, I assure you, when that final attempt yields culinary success, the elation you experience will be completely worth the effort. And the resulting recipe will be ALL YOURS, a favored family fare, a delightful dinner for dreary days, and another fine recipe to share among family and friends.
So, when you have a meal that sticks with you, you know, the one you think about the entire drive home, and wake up the next day thinking about how you'd love to have it again, I say to you, simply, LEAP. Try to reproduce it. Laugh at your failures and savor your successes.  Let your friends and family taste it and take their suggestions or praise with grace and gratitude.  They will be your net and, I assure you, a favorite dish will appear.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Breakfast for dinner

It's a cold, rainy Thursday and I am going to admit that the big bin of spinach in my fridge wasn't speaking to me. At all. Of course, the frozen chicken breasts in the freezer didn't have much to say either. So, to the surprise of two very happy little girls, Breakfast-for-Dinner it was.
The menu: Pancakes, bacon, sausage links, fruit and orange juice. I made the pancakes while the bacon and sausage were frying. Everyone was happy. And it sure as heck wasn't spinach.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What to do with beheaded roses...

My niece was married this weekend, and these beautiful roses were hanging on the end of every other pew:

My sister-in-law had asked me to pick up the flowers since the church didn't want them hanging around for Sunday services. At first, I thought I could use the roses to make arrangements for the post-wedding brunch we were hosting for the families of the bride and groom on Sunday, but then I realized that the sweet and lovely roses had been beheaded, Morticia Adams-style. (The following was one of the longer stems!)

Luckily, there were plenty of arrangements from the reception. So, I thought about it, and decided to bring them all the way back to NC and float those babies in my cool new bowl I bought at the Vietri warehouse sale last week. By the way, this bowl is about 18 inches wide, so you can imagine how many roses are floating in it.

Now, my dining room smells of these lovely roses... and soon so will almost every room of my house because I brought home 19 of these hanging arrangements. Come over to stop and smell the roses!
Too bad I am not having a brunch this week. Hmmm... anyone free next Sunday?