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Archive for the ‘Family Dinner’ Category

First, a confession: chili is one of my all-time favorite foods. For me, it’s all the spices and texture and rich flavor I love in one bowl. Better yet, it’s one of those modern “mother” recipes from which you can make a million different versions. Some of you have watched us make this is one of our cooking classes. But I thought it high-time I share my basic chili recipe broken down so you can see how easy and versatile it really is. Along the way, I’ll share some of my secrets and tips to what I humbly consider the “Best Ever Chili.”

BEST EVER CHILI

makes about 2 1/2 quarts

FIRST – the vegetables

To me, chili is not chili unless you have some actual fresh chilies as the base. However, I know many people do like the heat of chilies or the tang of peppers, so you certainly can leave them out. But you absolutely must have plenty of onion and garlic. If you’re making this into a vegetarian chili OR just want to get a few more servings of vegetables in your day, you can add a cup of finely diced carrots or 2 cups of chopped mushrooms to this list.

2 cups diced onion

1 tbl chopped garlic

1 cup diced red or yellow bell pepper (or poblano chili)

1 finely diced jalapeno or Fresno chili (if you like it hot, add more chili or 1-2 canned chipotle chilies)

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add a small drizzle of olive oil and all of the vegetables. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until all of the vegetables are beginning to soften.

SECOND – the meat and spices

I have my favorite combination of four spices I always use for chili — this is one area I don’t mess with. And when it comes to spices, I love to get mine at Penzy‘s — they have a fantastic selection and everything is ground recently so the dried spices are so flavorful. However, when it comes to the meat, this is where you can really start to make this chili your own. If I’m in the mood for something rich and meaty, I like to use ground buffalo – it tastes like beef but it’s leaner and a better “eco” choice. If I want something lighter, I’ll use ground white-meat turkey or chicken. And if I’m having a vegetarian day, I’ll skip the meat and add more beans in the next step (OR add some crumbled tempeh in this step for some meat-like texture.). The key to this step of the recipe is to allow the meat to brown and then add all the spices and cook for another 5-10 minutes so the spices brown a bit and their flavor really begins to release.

2 lbs ground meat (or 8 oz crumbled tempeh)

1/4 cup ancho chili powder

2 tbl ground cumin

1 tbl ground coriander

1 tbl smoked Spanish paprika

2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Add the ground meat or tempeh to the vegetables and cook for about 15 minutes, breaking it apart as it cooks, until it’s nicely browned.

Add the spices, stir and cook for another 5-10 minuets until the spices are very fragrant.

THIRD – the “bulk” ingredients (and a secret ingredient)

Next up are all the ingredients the create the real bulk of the chili. Canned tomatoes are a must, but here, again, you have choices. My favorite are San Marzano whole plum tomatoes. They are tart and sweet and perfect. I like using whole tomatoes and just squeezing them apart with my hands on their way into the pot. Maybe because that’s the way I think my grandmother would have done it. Or maybe because I like to get messy with my food. Actually, it’s at least in part because I like the ragged texture of the tomatoes when treated that way. Your other options are to add diced tomatoes (if you like big chunks of tomatoes in your chili) or crushed tomatoes (if you want a more “saucy” chili). And then there are the beans. This is where chili purists will look down their nose and insist that real chili never has beans. But I’ve never been a purist, especially when it comes to cooking and making food your own. So my rule of thumb is to add at least two kinds of beans….possibly 3-4 different kinds if this is a vegetarian chili. The more color (and the more fiber!), the better. Lastly, I make one final addition that is my “secret” weapon: cornmeal. I add it at the end to thicken the liquid slightly and create a thick and hearty consistency.

1 15-oz can beans (any kind — my favorite are black and kidney)

1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, with their juices (OR diced OR crushed tomatoes)

4 cups beef stock (OR chicken OR vegetarian OR water)

1/4 cup cornmeal

Rinse the beans very well and drain. Then add them to the pot. Add the whole tomatoes to the pot, squeezing and crushing them as you go (OR you can use a more civilized approach and chop them with a large knife or pulse them in a food processor). Add the stock and stir to combine. There should be about 1-inch of liquid above all of the solids — add water as needed to achieve this. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal, stir and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat, taste, and season with salt as needed.

FOURTH – the garnish

Perhaps  I love  chili the most for all it’s potential garnishes. I’m always the one adding the extra sauces and salsas to my plate when given the chance and chili is no exception. While all of these garnishes are optional, I really must insist on, at the very least, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream (I use Greek yogurt these days exclusively in place of sour cream, but either works) and some chopped cilantro.

sour cream OR Greek yogurt, for garnish

chopped cilantro, for garnish

chopped tomato, for garnish

chopped green or red onion, for garnish

shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish

Fill bowls with steaming chili and top with any combination of the above garnishes. Enjoy!!


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The first day of Spring just passed and with it came….more rain. As a Southern California girl, the only way I usually know a season is changing is by what’s new at the Farmer’s Markets — as my East Coast relatives often tell me, we don’t get “real weather” here. But this past winter it’s been different. There’s been rain, cold and even snow in LA. And while I’ve been enjoying all the Fall fashion (coats, hats, boots and scarves that are usually tucked away in the closet for most of the year) I think the passing of the first day of Spring officially kicked me into Spring fever. I’m ready for sunshine, outdoor walks and beach days— this is California after all! But apparently, Mother Nature is not ready to acquiesce quite yet. So, as another rainy day set in, I decided to make myself feel better with a one-pot, comfort food dinner and chase the blues away. A kind of “good-bye Winter” meal that would be closure to a wet season and make way for some sunshine.  After a quick look in the fridge, I realized I had everything I needed to make one of my favorites, a quick version of Shepherd’s Pie.

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This dish is one of those makes-everyone-happy dinners — equal parts meat, potatoes and warm-belly happiness. Stewed meat and vegetables topped with creamy mashed potatoes — what could be better? When I have an afternoon to cook, I like making it with cubes of lamb braised in wine. But since it was a weeknight I opted for the ground meat version and within 45 minutes I was curled up on my couch, a steamy bowl of meat and potatoes in hand, saying “good-bye” to the rain and searching the horizon for some blue sky. And since it’s so family-friendly, I think I’ll add this recipe to the menu one of our kids cooking classes or camps.

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QUICK SHEPHERD’S PIE 

This dish is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes but I was starting with a pile of baby creamer potatoes I had on hand. You can certainly make this dish in a casserole dish or individual oven-safe bowls, but I like to make it in a cast iron skillet that can go from stove-top to oven. Easy and one less dish to clean.

serves about 6

1 tbl olive oil

8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup chopped onion or shallots

1 tsp chopped rosemary

1 lb small creamer potatoes or yukon golds

1 lb organic ground beef (or ground lamb or turkey)

1 1/2 cups diced carrots

1 tbl tomato paste

1 tbl flour

1/2 cup chicken or beef stock (or water)

1/2 cup frozen peas

salt and pepper

2 tbl butter

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

splash milk, as needed

Heat a cast iron skillet (or any oven-safe skillet approx 9-inch round) over high heat. Add the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat until browned (5 minutes). Add the onions and rosemary and reduce the heat slightly. Cook until onions are softened.

Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into like-size pieces, place in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until very tender.

Add the ground meat to the pan and cook, using a wooden spoon to crumble, until the meat is mostly browned and cooked. Add the diced carrots, tomato paste and flour. Cook for a minute, stirring until everything is coated evenly by the flour. Add the stock. Once bubbling, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes until carrots are tender. Remove from heat and add the peas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the broiler on your oven.

Once the potatoes are tender, drain and place back into the hot pot. Add the butter, yogurt and milk as needed while mashing. Season with salt and pepper. (NOTE: Don’t make the potatoes too smooth or thin — you want thick, chunky mashed potatoes for this dish.) Spoon the potatoes on top of the meat mixture and spread out to the edges of the pan.

Place the pan into the oven under the broiler until the top is golden (I like to leave it until some of the potatoes peaks are charred and crispy!).

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