Sunday, January 29, 2012

Basic (and easy) Chili

I used to be afraid of chili. Whenever my parents made chili, I cringed (but not quite as much as I cringed when they made stir-fry. Stir-fry was their crack. To this day I won't touch the stuff.). I liked absolutely nothing about chili. I find chili tolerable now. It's not my first choice, but its not one of those things that I'd rather go hungry than eat.

And since every family has their own variation on the old classic, I'm going to share ours. It's gluten-free, but that wasn't intentional, just lucky, especially considering chili is one of Larin's favorite foods. Yes, this is just a basic chili recipe, but Tim always devours it – eating until the point of sickness each time I make it. Thus, I'm just going to have to assume that its tasty. I wouldn't know. All chili tastes pretty much the same to  me. There is one thing I love about chili, however, and that is the fact that, aside from browning the meat and cooking the onions, you can pretty much just dump it in the pot and walk away.

I guess I should have named this blog "The Lazy Cook." Oh well, too late now.

Basic Chili 

  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 1 lb. ground beef (or more, if you like meaty chili)
  • 1/2 of a green bellpepper, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp California garlic salt with parsley
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp salt

Brown the ground beef in a saucepan. Put the olive oil in a saucepan. Set the saucepan on medium and multitask, cooking the ground beef and onion/bellpepper mixture simultaneously (Not required, but it saves time.) Or better yet, ask your significant other to cook one while you cook the other. Cook the ground beef until it is completely browned and the onion/pepper mixture until the onions are translucent. 

Set a stock pot or Dutch oven to medium low. Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, cooked ground beef, onion/bellpepper mixture, kidney beans, garlic salt, chili powder, and water to the pot. Bring the chili to a boil, stirring it regularly. If you're using a Dutch oven as instructed, you shouldn't have to worry about scrubbing burnt bits of chili out of the bottom of a pot later on. 

We're lazy, remember? We don't like scrubbing.

Take the chili back down to a simmer, put the lid on the Dutch oven and leave it for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes stir the chili and add the butter. Stir the butter in well until it melts. Voila! You're done. You get to eat. As for me, I get to spend the next 20 minutes fighting to get a spoonful of chili in my four-year old's mouth. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gluten Free Pineapple Chicken

I'm testing my daughter out on a gluten-free diet after several weeks of constant stomach pain. It seems to be working. Because lets face it, man cannot live on Vicodin alone. When I initially suggested that she might need a gluten free diet she looked at me with fear in her eyes and said, "I won't be able to eat delicious foods with you guys anymore?"

Pfft. Ye of little faith.

If one of us has to eat gluten free, we all eat gluten free. Enter the pineapple chicken.

What I wanted was to be able to give my daughter that crispy fried chicken taste that she likes. Grilled chicken just isn't the same, and baked chicken? Gag me with a washcloth dipped in Lysol. No 13 year old girl should have to strike fried chicken from her diet (unless she's one of those 300lb. children from daytimie talk shows. Those girls can skip the chicken). 

Given that flour is a no no, we start out by washing the chicken, dipping it in whole milk and rolling it in cornmeal. I usually fry with a mix of flour and cornmeal, so this isn't quite so different. I forgot to salt the cornmeal, but you should. You totally should. 

Heat up about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan. Heat it until it starts to pop lightly on its own. It's important to get the oil very hot so that the cornmeal sears to the chicken skin immediately. Cornmeal has a greater tendency to slough off during cooking than flour, and we want to make delicious gluten free fried chicken, not wet, crustless, fail chicken. You can turn the oil down slightly after searing. 

While your chicken cooks, toss 1/2 a can of chunk pineapple (this will work with crushed pineapple too) into a saucepan with 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar and roughly 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar. It just depends on how sweet you want it. I'm not sure exactly how much sugar I added. I don't really measure things. 

Word to the wise: No matter how funny you think it may be, do not ask your four-year old to taste test the pineapple sauce before you add the sugar. Two things will happen: One, he will spit it out on your nice, clean floor. Two: he will refuse to eat the finished version. 

Bring the pineapple mixture to a boil. Mix 2 tbsp water and 2 tbsp corn starch in a small cup. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the pineapple sauce. This will thicken it. 

Turn the heat down to a low simmer. Add 3/4 tsp ground ginger. Remove the chicken from the pan and pour a generous amount of pineapple sauce over each piece. If you wish, you can serve this dish over rice. The pineapple sauce and the rice go quite nicely together. 

My goal isn't to work around my daughter's dietary restrictions, but to make her forget that she even has dietary restrictions. The pineapple chicken suited that purpose quite well. It's a keeper. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Grilled Salmon in Spinach Cream Sauce

I am always surprised whenever I hear someone claim to dislike fish.  When a person says  he doesn't like poultry, that's pretty straightforward. After all, a bird is a bird and the flavor doesn't differ that much. The same is true of beef. Whether they're free-roaming, grain-fed or stuffed in a corral for the duration of their short lives, cattle taste like cattle.

But fish? Surely you jest. There are literally thousands of different types of fish out there, and each has its own distinct texture and flavor. There are similarities of course, but generalizing and claiming to dislike all fish is like saying you don't like anything with salt in it – as if pretzels had anything in common with vegetable soup.

Tim used to be one of those fish-haters. But, like most fish haters, what he hated wasn't the fish – it was that "fishy" taste. Get ready, because here comes an impromptu science lesson: fish aren't supposed to taste fishy. That "fishy" taste and smell is bacterial growth. The goal, of course, is to get to the fish before that bacteria has time to replicate and create the characteristic unpleasant odor and flavor that so many people associate with seafood.

Salmon in spinach cream sauce

Long story short, we're a fish-eating family. 

Now, you'd think after my less-than-wonderful experience with that onion soup that I would toss my Quick & Easy cookbook into the trash and move on. But no. I am a giver of second chances and ole' Quick & Easy got a second go tonight in the form of grilled salmon in a spinach cream sauce. It sounded perfect. We all like salmon. We all like spinach. We all like cream. 

But we did not all like this dish. Before I go any further, I'll post the recipe and you can take a good long look at it and see if the same thing jumps out at you that jumped out at me. 

Spinach Cream Sauce for Fish

  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bunch spinach, finely chopped

Pour the sour cream into a saucepan. Heat to simmering. Remove from  heat. Stir in dill. Set aside. Melt the butter in a second saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the white wine and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook until reduced. Add the sour cream mixture. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until thickened. Pour over fish. 

I'm all about some good sauce, but sour cream and wine? Together? I felt like a moth must feel when its headed for the bug zapper but can't seem to stop. I know for a Rock.Solid. Fact that I am not capable of pulling off that combination, yet I went ahead and did it anyway because the book told me to. This is the same book, mind you, whose authors seem to feel that soups do not require seasoning. 

Tim actually liked it. I would have assumed he was just being polite if I hadn't sat and watched him devour every bite of that fish. In my opinion, the flavor created when one mixes sour cream with wine is retch-worthy. I think Logan put it best when he crinkled up his nose and said: "I do not like this strange chicken."  

Feel free to try it if you must, but don't say I didn't warn you. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Braided Almond Sweetbread

There are two kinds of people in this world: bread people and non-bread people. The bread people (and I know their kind well. I am one) are those who will gladly have two, or even three, rolls with dinner. They'll fill up on buttery, doughy goodness at restaurants that give you rolls to munch on while you look at the menu. At a pizza joint, they'll think nothing of snatching the last breadstick. They would never, ever, ever give up carbs. 

This is for all you bread people.

These sweetbreads aren't nearly as complex as they look. As a matter of fact, its almost impossible to screw up this recipe. My recipe makes about 10 almond sweetbreads, so feel free to halve the ingredients if you have a small family or aren't a complete pig like I am when it comes to bread. 

Braided Almond Sweetbread (Prep time: 1 hour 25 minutes  Cook time: 15 minutes)

2 and 1/4 cups water
3/4 pack fast acting yeast
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt 
7.5 cups flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Start by dumping the yeast into a large bowl and adding 2 cups warm water. The great thing about fast acting yeast is that you don't have to proof it. I usually proof it anyway, just to be safe, but I didn't have time to do that today and the rolls still turned out fabulous. Because you're not proofing the yeast, it will tend to clump together just to scare you. Be brave, and don't let it smell your fear. It will work, even when it looks like this:

Add the sugar, oil, salt and 2 of the eggs. Mix until well blended. Add 7 cups of flour, one cup at a time, and mix well. At this point, your bowl of scary yeast-water should have yielded forth a nice, sticky dough. 

Track down your child and wash his/her hands well. Tell your child that the neighbor's garden gnomes stuck into the house and laid tiny little eggs in the flour. Ask your child to beat the dough until its smooth to make sure those gnome eggs don't hatch. 

Sit back and watch. Feel very satisfied with yourself for getting out of kneading the dough. Eat a cookie.

Add the last 1/2 cup of flour (or more, if necessary) as the child kneads the dough to keep it from getting too sticky. Don't worry about adding too much flour. Like I said before, you really can't screw this up. Once the dough is smooth, form it into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to rise. I like to put a bit of oil on a paper towel and rub it over the top of the dough ball for good measure. 

You don't need to cover the dough. Just sit it in the microwave for an hour to rise. It goes without saying that you should not turn the microwave on while the dough is in there. After an hour, take the dough out and punch it down. We are not going to do a second rising because we are lazy. 

Preheat the oven to 375. Start pulling clumps of dough from the dough ball and rolling them into strands roughly six inches long with your hands. When you have three strands, braid them together and pinch the ends. Arrange the sweetbreads on a greased cookie sheet. Or, if you'e a piglet like me, two greased cookie sheets.

Crack the last egg into a small bowl. For the love of all that is holy, please pick out the disgusting little chicken fetus. Please. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water and whisk with a fork until you've got a nice, frothy egg wash. Brush each sweetbread with a small amount of the egg wash. If you don't have a food brush, dip a paper towel in the egg wash and wipe the top of each sweetbread with the paper towel. Remember, it doesn't take much.

Sprinkle the sweetbreads with the sliced almonds. They'll stick nicely to the egg wash. Put the pan of bread in the oven at 375 for 15 minutes. If your oven is like mine and rivals the pits of hell at 375, you might be able to get away with cooking the sweetbreads for a mere 10 minutes. Take them out when they're golden and the crust begins to harden and flake.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tomato Basil Soup and BLTs

I generally plan the following week's meals over the weekend. This ensures that I have all the correct ingredients for each dish. Because lets face it, nothing is as irritating as realizing you're out of something when you've already got dinner going. The meal I'd planned for tonight was simple but hearty: BLTs and tomato soup.

The tomato soup recipe that I originally planned to use was in the same "quick & easy" cookbook as the onion soup recipe that tasted like runny styrofoam. Last night's dismal soup experience taught me a valuable lesson: if it sounds like its going to be bland, it probably is. After reading through the book's tomato soup recipe and noticing that, like the onion soup, no spices of any kind were included, I decided to hunt for a recipe elsewhere. is generally my online cookbook of choice since the ratings and reader reviews give you a pretty good idea of what a particular dish will turn out like before you begin. Unfortunately, I'd already bought the ingredients to make the soup that was listed in the cookbook that I no longer trust. Every version of tomato soup on listed at least one ingredient that I didn't have, and I hate, hate, hate  "quick" trips to the grocery store.

Finally I said "Screw it" and just decided to wing it. As it turns out, winging it wasn't a bad idea. This soup turned out creamy and delicious with just a hint of underlying basil flavor. And better yet, its easy. This is an ideal meal for cold winter days when you're craving homemade soup but don't feel like standing in the kitchen for an hour chopping, peeling, stirring, etc.

Tomato Basil Soup – Prep time: 5 minutes/Cook time: 45 minutes

  • 6 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 6 oz. cans tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Generous handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • Dried basil flakes (optional)

Chop up the garlic and toss it and the butter into a stock pot set to medium low. While the butter melts, wash your tomatoes.

Chop the tomatoes up into chunks. Don't worry about peeling or seeding the tomatoes. That requires more effort than we are willing to expend tonight. The chunks don't have to be tiny either. Big chunks, little chunks, it doesn't matter. It's all going to be pureed eventually.

Add the chopped tomatoes, the chicken stock, the tomato paste and the crushed tomatoes to the pot. Set the pot to medium-low and put the lid on. Then go do something else for 30 minutes. All you need to do is stir the soup periodically. 

After joyously neglecting that soup for a half hour, add the salt and puree the whole pot with an immersion blender (yes, he finally bought me one) until the tomato soup is smooth. Chop up the fresh basil. Add the cream and the fresh basil to the pot. 

Let the soup simmer for 15 more minutes. This part is the most important. The basil flavor has to have time to leech out into the soup, but you can't add it in the beginning because you don't want it ending up pureed with the tomatoes. 

After you let the basil simmer for 15 minutes, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each with a dollop of sour cream and dried basil flakes. This recipe makes a pretty large pot of soup, so be prepared to freeze some of it. 

I won't insult your intelligence by giving you instructions on how to make the BLTs. If BLTs are a problem then its time to just throw in the towel and go to McDonalds. 

Happy dining!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Quick, Easy and Flavorless

As desperately as I wanted a food blog, I told myself to hold out on creating one until I had a decent camera with which to take semi-decent food photos. Alas, I have no willpower whatsoever (perhaps this is why I come running when something chocolate starts calling my name from the opposite end of the grocery store) so here I am.

And I'm going to tell you a story about nasty soup.

A friend of mine gave me a new cookbook for Christmas. I love that cookbook. It inspired me to go through my old cookbooks again. It's like a rekindled addiction. Anyway, I happened upon The Best Ever Quick & Easy cookbook. Without stopping to question why on earth I'd want to make something out of a cookbook that advertised recipes that were both quick and easy (because lets face it, the best food takes forever and leaves you staggering out of the kitchen like a culinary zombie) I sent my husband out for the ingredients for onion soup.

Now, here's the kicker: I make a mean cream of onion soup, but my version takes at least an hour – and that's just the prep time. My husband and daughter both love my cream of onion soup. I figured if I could whip up this "quick and easy" soup and it was tasty enough to satisfy them, I could give up on my "It will be done by Easter. Maybe." soup.

I'll admit, I did question the fact that the soup called for almost no spices whatsoever, but I chalked that up to the fact that the flavor of the carrots and onions would be more potent without a bunch of confusing spices. Right? Right?? It certainly turned out pretty. I served it with beer-battered fish and parmesean wheat biscuits.

So there we are, my husband my son and I (my daughter opted to go to a friend's house and have pizza for dinner. At first I was insulted, but now I see that she probably made the right call) tasting our soup – expecting one thing and getting another. Finally my husband looked up and said, "It...has no flavor." 

Indeed, it was like eating warm, runny styrofoam. The fish was delicious and the parmesean wheat biscuits are definitely a keeper, but I've learned my lesson about cooking "quick" soups. Soups aren't supposed to be quick unless they come out of a can. 

But one good thing came of tonight's dinner: the biscuits. Here's the recipe if you're interested in making them. 

Parmesean Wheat Biscuits 

  • 1.5 cups wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup milk 
  • 4 tbsp parmesean cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Grated or shredded parmesean for topping

Preheat the oven to 425. Mix together the flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and drop it into the bowl. Mash the butter pieces and dry ingredients together with a fork until the mixture appears crumbly. Add the 4 tbsp of parmesean and the egg. Mix well. Add the milk. Mix until a soft dough forms. 

Knead the dough into a rectangle roughly 1 inch thick. Lightly flour a cookie sheet and place the dough rectangle on the cookie sheet. Cut "slices" in the dough bar. Don't cut all the way though. Your cuts should mark the place where you will slice the bar into biscuits when it comes out of the oven. This also helps it cook evenly. 

Sprinkle the grated or shredded parmesean over the biscuit bar. Bake at 425 for approximately 20 minutes. I found that I had to cook the biscuits a little bit longer to avoid a doughy center, but cooking times really depend on your oven more than anything.