Friday, October 31, 2008

Easy Crock Pot Chili

Whew.

I am tired.

We passed out candy to an estimated 300 trick-or-treater's last night.

Three Hundred(!).

That's a lot of ghosts, goblins, skeletons, pirates, cinderella's, Buzz Light Years, tramps,, monsters and miscreant's traipsing up to my door.

I blame the warm weather. Every kid in town decided to come out.
But it was fun!




It was a beautiful fall evening. We carved jack-o-lantern's and basked in the glow of autumn leaves. And the chili I served for my daughter's birthday party turned out tasty and delicious. One of the things I like best about this chili is the longer it sets in the slow cooker, the better it gets. It's one of those recipes you can make in the morning and forget about until later that evening when the ghosts arrive.

Easy Crock Pot Chili
3 - 4 lbs. coarse ground beef
1 small onion chopped
2 packets of Williams Texas Chili Seasoning
1 can chopped green chili's - drained
1 large can Muir Glen chunky tomato sauce
1 bottle O'douls Amber beer
1 can chili beans
salt
pepper

Brown coarse ground meat in a large dutch oven on top of stove. Salt and pepper meat to taste. Add 1 small chopped onion and cook just until onion softens. Add (2) packets of chili seasoning. (I use 1 packet for every 2 lbs. of meat). Stir this mixture around a bit to let the spices blend well with the meat. Next add chunky tomato sauce; 1 can drained green chili's; 1 bottle of O'doul's Amber beer; and 1 can of chili beans. You can use any beer you want here. I heard about O'doul's from America's Test Kitchen. And I like the flavor it adds when cooking. Also add 4 cups of water until you get your desired consistency. I prefer Chili that is almost soup-like, but others like it really thick. It's up to you. Allow to simmer in crock pot, or on top of stove, for several hours until spicy and delicious.

Serve with Frito's; shredded, sharp cheddar cheese; and chopped green onions.

Happy Autumn everybody. I almost forgot, I've been blogging for exactly one year today. It's been a great year. I hope to have a contest soon. I am sorry, I have been so busy lately. It just crept up on me. Looking forward to Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 27, 2008

All Hallow's Eve

My favorite time of year is upon us.

A time for ghost stories, Poe, fallen leaves, hot cider and soup.

A time for snuggling up beneath the covers and watching a not too scary movie.

I spent my early formative years living next door to an old, brick two-story funeral home in a neighborhood of brick roads, lined with tall trees and autumn leaves, where every one carved jack-o-lantern's on Halloween.




It was a time when The Twilight Zone, The Addams Family, and The Munsters, were at the height of their popularity. And my mother spent afternoons watching Dark Shadows. Every one in our little town seemed to get into the spirit of halloween.

I remember one elderly women who even invited trick-or-treaters into her foyer for a cup of hot cider, which always warmed our hands and belly's before venturing back out into the brisk autumn air again.

And then there was the old man who worked the night shift at the local tire plant, naturally pale and gaunt, who donned fangs and a cape and stretched out on his sofa, arms bent across his chest, while his amiable wife invited trick-or-treaters into their living room to see Dracula sleeping soundly on their sofa.


My son, last Halloween.



So now you know the mixed-up childhood I had(!). And hopefully understand my demented love of all things autumn and Halloween. I even like Halloween so much that I had a baby born on that day.

We have a tradition of eating chili at our house on Halloween. Mostly because, with a birthday party and trick-or-treaters to get out the door, this was an easy meal to put in the crockpot and dish up in a hurry.


A while back I mentioned that I was going to be doing some practice pies in preparation for Thanksgiving. Well, here is a pumpkin pie that I baked tonight using a recipe from America's Test Kitchen. It was spicy without being too sweet and tasted much better than it looked. I still need a little more practice on the crust, however. Pie crusts are hard(!). 



Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

After

Remember after school specials? Those corny movies that aired once in a while around  3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, just after school let out.

On the day of these specials, I would look forward to it all day long, then run straight home from school to watch.

There was something so comforting about these silly movies. I don't know why, but I always considered it a good day if I was able to go home and watch an "after school special." But I was a weird kid.

And perhaps I am still weird, because I have learned something about myself. I often look forward to the after part of an event even more than the actual event itself.

For instance: Who hasn't been to a big party or event, or even a prom, and actually had more fun at the late-night after party, than the actual stuffy dinner or event itself?

And then there's Christmas. I always tend to relax, let my hair down, and have more fun the days following Christmas ... eating leftovers, going to the movies, hanging out with my family and friends, than I ever do on the actual day itself.



Perhaps it is just me. Perhaps I am too uptight, and work myself into such a frenzy preparing for such events, that when they are over, there is a bit of a relief.

I think people, by nature, just enjoy the after part of things. Like dessert. Or a cup of hot cocoa after a long days work. Or that moment when the movie is over, and you're walking out of the theater, listening to the music playing with the closing credits, and you take comfort in that. The end came. We took solace in it. And moved on.

So my theory is, that 'after events' do become important and memorable elements of our lives as well.

Take this soup for instance. I am already looking forward to eating it after Thanksgiving.
It will be the perfect soup for leftover turkey. I've made it a couple times before and it tastes much better than it looks.




Creamy Wild Rice Soup With Smoked Turkey


Yesterday, my football fan hubby happened to be cooking some pork on the smoker and we decided to throw on a fresh, whole turkey breast just for fun. And it turned out great. With the leftovers I made this soup for Sunday dinner. I ran into one problem, however, as I did not have wild rice on hand. And the nearest grocery store is twenty minutes from home. So I substituted whole grain rice instead. The end results weren't quite as pretty, but tasted just as good. Smooth and creamy, with a hint of rosemary, and the smokiness of the turkey, a very unique and satisfying soup. The perfect after Thanksgiving soup.

Creamy Wild-Rice Soup With Smoked Turkey
adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons butter
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups homemade chicken broth
1 1/2 cups chopped, smoked turkey breast (about 1/2 lb.)
1 cup uncooked wild rice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon salt

1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrot and next 5 ingredients (carrot through garlic); saute 8 minutes or until browned. Stir in rice, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Then stir in broth, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour or until rice is tender.

2. Combine flour with milk in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk to make sure there are no lumps. Add to pan. Add smoked turkey to pan. Cook over medium heat until thick (about eight minutes), stirring frequently. Stir in sherry and adjust salt if needed. Yields 8 servings.

Note: This soup looks much prettier when prepared with the wild rice and it adds a nice nuttiness to the dish. The version I made today, as you see in the photo, did not have wild rice, but whole grain instead, and it still tasted creamy and delicious. Also, if you don't have a whole smoked turkey on hand, no problem, just pick up 1/2 pound smoked turkey breast from the deli and that will work just fine. Remember to tell the man behind the counter to slice it thickly, so you can easily cut it into bite sized pieces at home. Lastly, I found the soup a little thick at the end, so added just a touch of chicken broth to thin things out a bit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beans

One of my earliest and fondest childhood food memories involves setting at my grandma's kitchen table and watching her sort beans. Early in the morning, she would spill a dusty bag of Pinto's out onto the kitchen table, swishing and strewing, like a Las Vegas card dealer, picking out the pebbles, looking for imperfections, making sure each bean was clean.

Once a week this ritual took place in Grandma's kitchen as beans were a staple back then. And I was in awe. To take this dry, hard, pebble, and turn it into something tender and delicious seemed magical to me. And what's more magical than beans? Grandma took the simplest of foods, the lowly legume, and raised it to a new level.




My kids were never wild about beans until I found this recipe in a 'Southern Living' magazine years ago. Now we eat them all the time. This recipe reminds me of the beans we used to get as a side dish at El Chico's. They go great with chicken enchilada's or with a big slice of jalapeno cornbread.

I highly recommend Rancho Gordo beans here as they are the freshest and best I have found.

Mexican Pinto Beans

1 cup dried pinto beans
3 cups chicken broth
Enough water to finish covering beans.
3 bacon slices, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Sort and wash beans; allow to soak in water overnight. Or cover with water 2 inches above beans, and bring to a boil. Boil beans 1 minute. Cover, remove from heat, and let soak 1 hour. Drain.

Bring beans, broth, and remaining ingredients to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 2-3 hours until tender.

I used the crock pot for this recipe and doubled the amounts and they turned out great.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Soup Season

It began as an uneventful week.Weather-wise and cooking-wise.
The food was ordinary.
The birds were chirping.
The sky was blue.
But tonight. Oh wonderful night.
An autumn eve in all its glory(!).
The rain is drizzling.
The skies are gray.
The pumpkins are on the porch.
I am wearing a sweater.

Soup Season has arrived!

Time to get out the cauldron.





I've been known to read a cookbook straight through like a novel. And this was no exception: Braises and Stews by Tori Richie and Ben Frank. The recipes are straightforward and simple and who can resist a cookbook with a pumpkin on the cover? Also, braising is my favorite way to cook. There's something so satisfying about big 'one pot' meals. I am looking forward to Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions and red wine on a cold winter's night.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks?