Delicious Pot o’ Chili

chiliSo here’s the thing. I have been trying for YEARS to make a good chili. It doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult but I’ve never gotten it quite right. I’ve used a wide assortment of recipes and every one seems to come out mediocre – mainly in the spice/hot category. They’re usually not spicy enough or way too spicy. Yesterday, however, I guess I was charmed because I managed to figure it out. I mean, I made one delicious pot o’ chili. Even the kids agreed! (Gotta throw that in for legitimacy) I really need to write down the recipe somewhere so I can make it again and I figured why not on the blog? I might as well share it with you at the same time. If you have your own favourite recipe, well…good for you! You’re welcome to share it in the comments.

A few notes:

  • I’m not claiming that this is traditional chili, or chili con carne, or chili of some great chili guru. This is just chili that I really like. So if you make it and don’t like it…well, I can’t be held accountable. However, the nice thing about it is that you can make all the tweaks you like to make it taste the way you like.
  • This recipe calls for ground pork. If you don’t like to eat pork I believe it would be good with ground beef or venison as well.
  • All chili powder is not created the same. The chili powder I bought has the following ingredients: chili pepper (obviously), paprika, cumin, salt, oregano, garlic powder, and coriander. You can also make your own with the above combination of spices if you can’t find a pre-mixed one.

Delicious Pot o’ Chili (The sheer creativity in the title tells you why I’m not in marketing)
Serves 10

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion chopped
3 Cloves garlic diced
2 stalks celery chopped (you can use other veggies like red peppers)
2-6 tsp chili powder (as described above)
650g (1 1/2 lbs) lean ground pork
Half of a 750g (1.65 lbs) bag of dried red kidney beans (soaked overnight)
750ml (3 cups) beef broth
1 796ml (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes
250ml (1 cup) tomato juice (you can use spicy if you want)
White rice
Monterrey Jack cheese with Jalapeno shredded
Sour cream

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in large pot (the one you will use to cook the chili)
    2. Add onion and cook until translucent
    3. Add garlic and celery and cook for about 5 minutes
    4. Toss in a couple of teaspoons of chili powder and mix to coat. Remove pot from element.
    5. Brown meat in a large skillet until there is no pink in it.
    6. Drain the fat off the meat and add it to the large pot with the kidney beans, 1 cup of broth, the can of diced tomatoes, and the tomato juice.
    7. Return pot to element and turn it up to medium high to bring it to a boil.
    8. Once at a rolling boil, turn the element down to low and simmer the chili for several hours. You can cover the pot so that the liquid doesn’t evaporate too quickly – you need to cook the beans. If it starts to dry out, add more broth (I ended up adding 3 cups in total). You can keep adding teaspoons full of chili powder until you’re satisfied with the flavour. I think I added about 5.
    9. Cook the rice. The chili can be poured over it. They taste good together.
    10. Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream.

ENJOY!!!

Oatmeal Squares

Oh Jeepers! I’ve just realised how far behind I’ve gotten in my posting. Well, time to remedy that. Some days nothing jumps out at me as inspirational but I guess some days I’m just not paying as close attention as I should be.

Every day at about this time, I’m usually preparing a snack for the ravenous hoard who will be arriving home from school in an hour. By 3:30 there are 7 kids in my house and 3 of them need gluten-free foods.

Gluten-free isn’t really a problem these days as there are loads of good options in the grocery store and a kazillion recipes on the Internet to choose from. I usually opt for the easier recipes though and sometimes it takes a while to find one for which I have the correct ingredients.

Today it suddenly dawned on me that my favourite treat from when I was a kid is actually gluten-free – my mom was  way ahead of her time. I quickly threw the ingredients together and felt very happy reclaiming this treasure from the past. The fact that it’s gluten-free is definitely a bonus but isn’t the reason for today’s post. Just happy memories.

image

For the recipe and to read another person with fond memories of these squares, see this article by Gwendolyn Richards in the Calgary Herald.

Mediterranean Bean Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad I’ve been on a little health kick lately. Oh no, don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details. I only want to share the occasional recipe that I make or come across in case it’s of use to you. I will, however, give you a few reasons behind my making of each recipe just to explain why I sought to combine certain ingredients.

I’ve long known that eliminating simple carbohydrates from a diet is almost essential to maintaining a healthy weight. However, knowing it and doing it, are two very different things. I tend to be quite a simple carb addict and now that I’ve reached middle age and my metabolism is slowing down, excessive carb munching is starting to catch up with me. So I decided to eliminate them all pretty much cold turkey. Recently I read that this is a good first step for another reason. Young people’s bodies are much more adept at producing energy from carbs (simple and complex) than those middle-aged and older. It is recommended that those of the over 40 age group eat fewer carbs and increase their protein intake. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not talking about a Low Carb or a No Carb diet. I’m just talking about eating a reasonable portion of complex carbs (which have a much higher nutritional value than simple carbs and beneficial attributes such as fibre) and increasing protein slightly to benefit muscles and bones.

Of course, whenever you get a plan of action in your head, there always has to be fly in the ointment. At least that’s what happens to me. I heard on the radio that too much protein, especially for women, can increase chances of developing osteoporosis. Upon further reading, however, I discovered that the culprit was actually not protein itself but rather acids in the meats and dairy from which we derive the protein. This acid may contribute to excessive leaching of bone calcium.1 So how do you raise your protein intake but lower your consumption of food and dairy? Well, the answer is pretty simple and Vegans have known this for years. Start eating more vegetable protein. Luckily there are many sources for vegetable protein and the bonus is that many of them also are a good source of complex carbohydrates and calcium.

Some of the top sources of plant protein include quinoa and beans which are the two main ingredients I included in the salad I concocted tonight. Besides black beans (very heart-healthy) and quinoa, I had very few other ingredients to choose from in my fridge except for cucumber, tomato, and feta. Of course, when I combine those three ingredients in my head I already have most of a Greek salad…just add olive oil, olives, and oregano. Sadly I had no olives and oregano didn’t seem right with quinoa so they weren’t included but I did sneak in a couple of cloves of garlic. Also, after dinner, I found a similar recipe (minus the beans and garlic) which includes the use of lemon juice which would be very nice. Happily this is the kind of recipe you can play around with until you get the right combination for your taste.

If you give it a try, let me know what you think. I served it as a meal as it is quite rich in calories, but it would also make a nice side dish. If you aren’t able to get quinoa, try replacing it with bulgur which has many of the health benefits of quinoa. :)

Serves 4 (dinner portions)

100 g Quinoa (approx. 2 cups cooked)
2 cups Black Beans cooked
8 to 10 grape tomatoes quartered or 1 tomato diced
1/2 an English cucumber cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic (diced or crushed)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (or other similar cheese)
salt and pepper to taste

Mother Hubbard Strikes Again: What to do with them Squash…

Ok, I know, squash should be a no brainer. Cut ‘em in half, stick ‘em in the oven with butter and sugar and roast ‘em ’til they’re done. But I want something different! I bought two beautiful Heart of Gold squash on my trip to the farm. It’s a variety I’d never heard of before but a little bird told me that they were sweet and delicious, so how could I resist? Then today I was faced with the dinner dilemma. I don’t have much in my cupboards and my kids don’t like squash (harrumph) so I had two choices, I could cook them the usual way and the kids won’t touch them, or I could cook them in a way that would disguise them. Now, please understand that my kids are pretty good at eating most things. Normally I don’t have to disguise anything BUT if I can disguise and cook something new and interesting, why not?

So what does one do when one needs to find a recipe using specific foods? GOOGLE!

My search put me on track of stuffed squash…one recipe calling for stuffing with bulgar…which made me think of quinoa…and low and behold I found a recipe I could work with (I even had almost all the ingredients)! And OH! WOW! is it ever tasty! (the little bird agreed) Below, I have shamelessly copied the recipe from the site I found for your convenience. Believe when I say that the cooking experience is almost as delicious as the eating. The scent of the spices and apples is to die for. Enjoy!

Gingery Quinoa-Stuffed (Acorn) Squash
(from allrecipes.com)

Serves 4

2 acorn (or heart of gold) squash, halved and seeded
1-1/3 cups quinoa
2-2/3 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 apple, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced (tragically I had no fresh garlic so I used 2 teaspoons of garlic salt)
2 (2 inch) pieces fresh ginger, minced (I never have fresh ginger unless I shop for a recipe so I used 2 teaspoons of ground ginger)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 dashes crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Place the squash halves, cut-side up into a small baking dish, and bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
  2. Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. When done, stir in the butter until melted, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, green pepper, and celery; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the apple, and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more. Add the garlic and ginger, cook 2 minutes more, then stir in the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Although the original recipe doesn’t say this, I believe the quinoa and the apple mixture should be combined.
  5. When the squash is tender, scoop out some of the flesh, leaving the halves 1/2 inch thick. Roughly chop the acorn squash, and combine with the quinoa and apple mixture. Spoon the mixture back into the squash shells, and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven, and bake until the cheese has melted and is bubbly, about 5 minutes.

Let me know if you try it! :) Bon Appetit!

Mother Hubbard’s Udon Soup

There comes a time, usually at the end of a pay period, when originality blossoms in the kitchen. Or, at least, in my kitchen anyway. I had a mish-mash of ingredients in fridge and cupboard and really wasn’t sure how to put them together. I knew that I wanted to make soup and I could have gone the easy route and have thrown together a pot of lentil soup but I just didn’t have the appetite for it. So I dug deeper. More than a month ago I made a trip to the nearby Asian grocery. It’s a place full of wonder and mystery to a white girl from small-town Ontario. I move up and down the aisles with some trepidation as most of the time I’m entirely unsure of what the products are that I’m looking at. But, luckily for me, I have a stubborn streak and I’m determined to acquire knowledge of authentic Asian cuisine.

You see, I love it. When visiting a Thai, Japanese, or Vietnamese restaurant, I’m thoroughly seduced by the mouth-watering combinations of fresh herbs, exotic spices and oils, noodles, crisp vegetables and light meats or seafood. The scent of coriander alone makes me want to order every item on the menu. Not practical, I know, but a great temptation. So as I’m perusing the grocery aisles, some products remind me of certain dishes I’ve seen or ordered at a restaurant and I gleefully throw them into my cart. Once home, however, I eye the product suspiciously and wonder if at any time I can do it justice. So it gets pushed to the back of the fridge or the cupboard until I’m feel adventurous…or desperate.

Udon noodles were one of these products. They had been sitting on the top shelf of my fridge and greeted me every day, several times a day for weeks. Luckily they are well packaged and seem impermeable to deterioration. So today I timidly pulled them from their shelf and eyed the packaging trying to find the English counterpart to the Japanese characters. It was pretty simple. Bring water to a boil, throw in the noodles for 5 minutes, and drain. “Oh! I can do that!…But…what do I put with them?”

Google.

Naturally, there are hundreds of Udon soup recipes and many of them sounding absolutely delightful, but none that called for any ingredients that I had available…which was close to nothing. One called for egg. I had that. Another called for sliced vegetables (carrots and the like). I didn’t have those, but I did have green pepper fresh from the garden. Could work. One of the common ingredients was prawns. I had no such thing, but I had some left over chicken. Ok, not even close but if I was using chicken stock (bouillon cubes), then why not chicken? I’m sure what I came up with would make Udon soup aficionados curl their toes in disgust but I have to say, I enjoyed it and so did the kids – and that’s key! So I thought, why not share it with you? You might be able to make your own variation. Come on! Be creative!

Mother Hubbard’s Udon Soup

Udon noodles (Mine came in a bag with 4 packages. I used 2)

1. Put them in boiling water for 5 minutes and drain. Set aside.

Eggs, 2-4
Butter or margarine

2. Heat the butter in a frying pan and when simmering, add the eggs. Break the yolks immediately so they spread out over the whites. As the whites start to become solid, cut the egg into pieces and fry until golden. Remove and place to the side.

Green peppers
Chicken pieces
(use your imagination here or look up the traditional ingredients…often mushrooms, spinach, carrots, etc.)
Sesame oil (or any vegetable oil)

3. Heat a small amount of oil in the same frying pan used for the eggs to a high temperature. Once hot, throw in the other ingredients and quickly stir-fry until tender. You may want to add a little water for steam so they don’t burn or stick.

Chicken stock or bouillon.

4. Heat stock or boil water for bouillon. Figure on about 1 cup per soup bowl.

5. Place the noodles in deep bowls. On top of the noodles place the vegetables and meats (if any). Then add the egg. Finally, pour the chicken stock over and serve.

You can add salt, pepper, or whatever other spices you enjoy. We added a little Soya sauce to the mix which gave it a nice flavour.

Now…ENJOY!!

Here are some other sites with delicious looking recipes for traditional Udon. I hope to make one of these very soon.
Nabeyaki Udon
Udon Noodle Soup Dashi Recipe
15 Minute Udon Miso Noodle Soup

Oven Roasted Giant Beans

I promised this recipe to a friend over six months ago. And yes, she’s still my friend. So I thought well, if I’m going to write it out, I might as well post it on my blog. It’s definitely one of my favourite bean recipes. Absolutely delicious and super easy to make.

500 gr. dried giant white beans (I buy two cans of Large Lima Beans)
3/4 cup olive oil
4 ripe tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes. If you use these add a sprinkling of sugar to the pot)
Parsley, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced (my addition so it’s optional)
Salt, Pepper

The evening before cooking, if you are using dried beans, put them in water to soak. Next day, boil them until they are tender and drain them well. Whether you are using dried or canned, now put the drained beans in a baking dish and add the olive oil, peeled and chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and parsley. Bake for 90 minutes to 2 hours at 200 C (400 F). Serve hot or cold.

From The Greek Cookery – 300 Traditional Recipes

Enjoy! :)

More Mediterranean: Oven-baked Ratatouille

In the vein of my previous post on Baba Ghannouj, here is my recipe for Ratatouille which, incidentally, is very much like the Greek dish, Briam Fournou (Oven-baked Summer Vegetables). This is a great summer dish because it is eaten cool. It is also excellent as a left-over.

Oven-Baked Ratatouille

1 large eggplant (or 3 small ones), peeled and sliced
3 medium tomatoes, sliced
3 medium potatoes, sliced
1 red, green, orange, or yellow sweet pepper, sliced
3 zucchini, sliced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, grated
fresh Italian parsley (1/4 bunch or as much as you like)
salt and pepper

Note: I didn’t use eggplant in the ratatouille dish you see photographed here. My kids don’t like it but if you do then I recommend using it.

Pre-heat oven to 375F. Peel the eggplant, slice it, and salt it. Let it sit while you slice the other vegetables. Once everything has been sliced, rinse the eggplant and arrange all vegetables in a baking dish as shown in the photo, interchanging each vegetable as you lay them in the dish. Once done, grate the garlic overtop. Although I didn’t use parsley in the last ratatouille I made, it is quite a delicious addition. Just add the full leaves. Then add the salt and pepper. You may cover the vegetables with foil or parchment but I usually don’t as I find they are better tasting when a little browned but not burned (of course). Bake for an hour and a half. Once done, remove it from the oven, let it cool a little and serve.

Bon appetite!

Experimenting with Food – Baba Ghannouj

For years now I’ve been cooking a variety of Greek dishes and if I do say so myself, I’ve gotten pretty good at many of them. Many Greek dishes are basic in that they use simple ingredients but are very robust in flavour – particularly in comparison to the regular ol’, practically flavourless meat and potatas I grew up eating. Brits (my heritage), as we all know, do not have a reputation for their culinary delights. That’s why when I got the opportunity, I was thrilled to learn new and tasty cuisines. Much of the fare from the Greek villages use a lot of seasonal, fresh vegetables including things like beans (many varieties), string beans, eggplants, sweet peppers, and wild greens. Wild greens (dandelion, endive, rapini, etc) was something I was surprised to find quite tasty when boiled and mixed with olive oil and a little salt. In fact, there’s nary a dish a don’t like.

Greek food, as we all know, is very typical of Mediterranean cuisine. As you move around the sea from the south of France to Italy to Bosnia/Croatia/Serbia to Greece and Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon, and so on the ingredients are very similar but are used in slightly different ways. Unique twists to a common theme. Greece, having been occupied by Turkey for 400 years, couldn’t help but integrate some of Turkish traditional dishes into their own cuisine and perhaps vice versa. Which is probably the case for most countries around the Mediterranean that were all occupied by the far-reaching Ottoman Empire. Dishes with names such as Briam, Moussaka, Baklava and Imam Baldi, found deeply immersed in Greek cuisine, are definitely not Greek in origin.

I decided that since I’ve cooked the same dishes over and over again for at least ten years now, it was time to branch out and investigate dishes from Greece’s neighbouring countries. Well, you know what they say…variety is the spice of life! I’m pleased to say that my investigations have really paid off. I’ve come across some really delicious recipes so far and I fully intend to share them all with you…including the recipes I promised months ago (Ratatouille and Gemista). :D

The first dish that I will introduce to you is a version of Baba Ghannouj or Melitsanosalata that I have never tried before and BOY is it delicious! Normally this dish is like a creamy dip but this version is more like a salsa and not at all creamy. Interestingly it is very much like Briam or its French relative, Ratatouille except that those dishes normally include potato and zucchini. The star veggie in Baba Ghannouj is eggplant and when baking you have to be sure that the eggplant is cooked thoroughly so it’s soft and not bitter. If the eggplant is cooked you can be guaranteed that the other veggies are cooked enough too. Serve it with your favourite style of pita bread. Mine is Greek pita or Naan which are fluffier and sweeter than Middle Easter pita. The nice thing with Middle Eastern pita, though, is that you can scoop the food up in the “pockets” (the bread separates between the top and bottom). Greek pita doesn’t normally do that.

Anyway, enough of my blatting…here’s the recipe! :) Enjoy!

Baba Ghannouj (Salsa style)

1 kg eggplants
5 medium-sized red tomatoes
1 large white onion
1 medium-sized green pepper
1 bulb of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
a little vegetable oil
a dash of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 225 C (450 F). Peel the eggplants and cut them in circles (thick slices), place them in a pan after brushing its surface with vegetable oil (or substitute for not sticking). Place eggplants in the oven for 10 minutes each side (20 min total).

Cut the onion and the green pepper into rings, separate the cloves in the garlic bulb and peel them. Saute them all together with the olive oil until they become soft and tender (a few minutes).

Peel the red tomatoes and cut them into circles and add them on top of the veggies above with a dash of salt on the tomatoes to help them to get soft fast.

Cover over medium heat for 15 minutes

Top the eggplants with all the soft veggies evenly.

Wrap the pan with aluminum foil and place in oven at 175 C (350 F) until the eggplant is very soft. The original recipe suggested 30 minutes. I had it in my oven for about an hour and a half. This could be because mine is a convection oven or it’s just that 30 minutes isn’t long enough for the eggplant. You can judge according to your oven.

Once cooked, remove, uncover, and let cool at room temperature. Once cooled you can break it up into smaller pieces and then put it in a serving bowl and place it in fridge to cool further. Best served cold.

It’s Burns Time Again

The 25th of January marks the 252nd anniversary of the birthday of the Scottish poet, Robert (Rabbie) Burns. He wrote many poems that we are very familiar with today such as Auld Lang Syne and My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose. Every year I try to do something to celebrate but it usually just amounts to a glass of wine and a nod in his direction. The last time I had a big do was 2003, several months before my son was born. I ordered haggis and invited some friends over, including one who played the bag pipes. We piped in the haggis (a little parade from the kitchen, through the dining room, into the living room and back again) and I believe it was I who read the Address to a Haggis before digging in. I still have fond memories of that evening.

So fond, in fact, I managed to round up another group of friends…of mainly Scottish heritage…to join me for another dinner tonight. We’ve got a proud selection of Wallace, Anderson, Montieth, and McDonald. I also have a whopping four pound haggis…they must have had a heck of a time wrestling it to the ground. We’re lacking a piper but I’m sure an extra sip of fine Glenfiddich will fix that (what else can we do?). Along with the haggis we’ll have neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), and a delicious cock-a-leekie soup (chicken/leek soup) as a starter.

Cock-a-leekie soup is a lovely soup for eating in the winter. The combination of chicken and leeks is very tasty as well as healthy and comforting. So I dug out my old Scottish cookbook aptly named The Highlanders Cookbook: Recipes from Scotland and thought I would write the original recipe here for you.

- – – – – -

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

1 plump old cock (or fowl) and giblets (love this: I would suggest getting chicken rather than rooster though)
2 quarts of water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of parsley
Salt and Pepper

8 leeks, sliced
2 tablespoons rice (optional)
1 dozen whole prunes (optional – I’ve never tasted it with prunes)

Clean and truss fowl. Clean giblets. Place in a large pot with water, bay leaf, parsley, salt and pepper, and two of the leeks. Simmer one hour. Skim off the fat, remove the fowl and giblets, and strain the soup. Add the remaining leeks.

Many cooks like the addition of rice although it is not strictly traditional. The addition of whole prunes is traditional, but not everyone likes them.

Simmer gently until leeks (and rice or prunes, if used) are tender, perhaps a half hour. A little of the breast meat of the fowl may be minced and added to the soup. Serves 6.

- – – – – –

As a finale, I have a song written by Robert Burns called Scots Wha Hae (Scots who Have) and beautifully sung by a group called Scocha. Go here for the translation.

Scots Wha Hae – Scocha

Slainte! (To your health)

Isobel’s Kick-ass Veggie/Rice Soup

Yup. I made this one up all by myself. In a time of colds and flu there’s nothing better than a good ol’ soup in chicken broth. Ok, granted, making a veggie/rice soup is a no-brainer but making it good is the key and this time I succeeded if I do say so myself! Keep in mind, I was basically emptying out the fridge so if you have a different collection of veggies, feel free to use them. Really, anything goes…but this combo was pretty good. In the end I divided the soup into two pots, one I left mild for the kids and the other I spiced up for the adults. The adult version is what I would refer to as “kick-ass”! So here we go…

Isobel’s Kick-ass Veggie/Rice Soup

Big Pot o’ water (I didn’t measure the cups, but I filled a soup pot about 2/3 full)
Chicken Bouillon
1 Onion sliced
2 Green Onions (I use scissor to cut slices)
2 Carrots sliced thinly
2 zucchinis sliced
1/2 540 ml can of Black-eyed Beans
1/4 cup rice or pasta (I used Basmati rice)
1 bay leaf
pinch black pepper
2 pinches ginger
2 pinches cumin
(the amount of spice used can vary according to your taste)
(I didn’t add salt because there is a lot in chicken bouillon already)

At this point I brought it to a boil and let it simmer until the veggies were tender. Then I divided it into two pots and added the following to one pot for a spicy soup:

2 cloves garlic, grated
A few peppercorns
2 pinches crushed chili peppers
and/or
2 pinches red pepper (cayenne)
(I used both but I think they’re the same thing…one is just more powdery than the other. If anyone can tell me more about peppers I’d be happy because Wikipedia only confused me more)
(again, adjust to your taste – but this did make it pretty hot – and if you want to make the entire pot spicy without dividing it, add a bit more of the spices given above)

Serve with bread or crackers and enjoy!

If anyone has any suggestions for additions to the soup that I and the other readers can try, please feel free to let us know!