Slow Cooker Chili con Carne

What to eat after 28 days in a row of subfreezing temperatures?  What do we crave after endlessly enduring one of the coldest winters on record?  What food could possibly cheer our Midwestern hearts in the wake of an artic polar vortex collapse that shows no sign of recovering?  Chili, of course!

A one-pot meal cooked in the slow cooker, nothing beats chili for cold-weather comfort food and convenience.   Because upwards of 6 hours has passed since I completed all the chopping, cooking and cleaning, by the end of the day it almost feels like someone else cooked a meal for me.  Seeing that simmering pot of hearty, savory, goodness after a day of work and an evening of schlepping kids to practices brings on feelings of relief, satisfaction and pride all at once. “Hell, yes.  I am Supermom.  I can do it all and still serve delicious and nutritious meals.  “Yeah!”  Fist pump.

Besides whipping up a delicious and nutrition meal, the other part of that “pride” comes from the fact that this recipe makes use of the locally grown foods I spent the summer preserving.  Even if you didn’t preserve them yourself, most likely you have them stocked in your pantry already.  This plant-based recipe includes meat but less than 2 oz. per serving. With less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed beef provides a  healthier option to corn-finished meat.  Black beans and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) easily trade places with the meat for a vegetarian alternative.  Serve it with cornbread or whole wheat pasta (both whole grains) and top it with a bit of grated cheese, minced onion, or sour cream  The kids and the man cheer when they see chili on the table and so do I (along with a fist pump.)

Awesome Chili Con Carnepuree the beansI spent 2 years on this recipe changing ingredients and tweaking measurements in an attempt to find just the right flavor and texture to please everyone in the family. (The entire staff of the Food Network might have been an easier crowd to please.)  I have discovered a few secrets in my quest to invent the perfect chili recipe which I shall now share with you. Use grass-fed beef; it gives the dish a fuller, meatier flavor even though each serving contains less that 2 ounces of actual meat. Hard apple cider provides umami and a subtle sweetness while cutting the acid in the tomatoes.  Pureeing the beans adds a creamy, substantial texture. Smoked paprika imparts a deep, rich layer of flavor.  If you don’t can your own tomatoes, try using fire-roasted canned tomatoes; they add to the smoky flavor.

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Slow Cooker Chili con Carne
Author: 
Recipe type: Main Dish--Meat
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 10 cups
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pound of grass-fed ground beef
  • I ½ T canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (1 ½ cup)
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper, any color, fresh or frozen
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 2 t salt
  • ¼ t black pepper
  • 2 T of good chili powder
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pint jar crushed tomatoes or 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked light kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 12 oz. bottle hard apple cider
  • GARNISHMENTS
  • Grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Minced red or white onion
  • Chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Brown the meat in a skillet. Remove cooked meat to a colander lined with paper towels and allow to drain of grease.
  2. Meanwhile, clean the skillet of beef fat and add canola oil to the pan, heat over a medium flame and cook onions and peppers until the onion becomes transparent—about 5 minutes. Add spices and garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from heat.
  3. To the slow cooker add the cleaned and drained pinto beans and 1 cup of water. Use an immersion blender or hand held masher to completely purée the pintos.
  4. Next add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker—meat, veggies, tomato and cider. Cover and cook on low for 6 – 8 hours or high for 3 -4 hours. Skim off any oil that rises before serving.
  5. Serve on top of whole wheat pasta or with corn bread on the side. Garnish.
Notes
If you don't have the time or a slow cooker, this can be made in a pot on the stove top simmering for 1 - 2 hours.

 

Chili con Carne--Ingredients

Ingredients Deconstructed: Peppers freeze so easily and cook so nicely that I can’t remember the last time I bought a pepper from anyone besides a farmer—that explains why they’re covered in frost.  I spent most of September canning tomatoes—no small task—but they cook down better than commercially canned tomatoes which contain a firming agent, and of course, they taste better. I buy my chili powder from Penzey’s or the Spice House.  The grass-fed meat comes from Whole Foods.  I used to buy it directly from a farmer but we eat so little meat it didn’t make sense.  If I have my act together, I cook big batches of dry beans and freeze them in 1-cup portions.  They cost less and taste better but canned beans are just fine in a pinch.

Chili con Carne-- sauté onions

Like most home cooks, I cook while I prep.  Start sauteing the onions on medium heat with a bit of salt while you chop the peppers.  Chili con Carne--sauteing aromatics

Indian dishes frequently require the cook to saute the spices.  It is a technique called tempering.  I tried it in this recipe, and I think the Indians might be on to something. It really does release more flavor. Chili con Carne

Eight hours later.

Cooking with Kids:  Have the kids measure all of the spices for this and any recipe.   Children, big and little, love smelling, discovering and eventually identifying spices. Measuring is also a good way to apply math skills.  After years of coaching and training, my own kids have finally learned to read and distinguish between a tablespoon and the various teaspoons.  In the process the second grader at least has gained a pretty good understanding of fractions—two ¼ teaspoons equals one ½ teaspoon—that sort of thing.

My children also like to “chop” the garlic.  Get a cutting board, a sturdy flat-bottomed dish (I use Corelle) and a garlic press, and have the children follow these steps:

  1. Remove the appropriate number of cloves from the garlic bulb
  2. Place cloves on the cutting board, cover with the plate, and press slowly crushing slightly
  3. Set the plate aside and remove the garlic skins.
  4. Crush cloves one at a time in the press and use a butter knife to cut away the crushed garlic from the bottom

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Fried Green Tomatoes–The Tasty Upside to the Coming Cold

For many years I did a weekly cooking show at a farmers market in an African American community that served not only the neighbors but also the many immigrant communities that call Milwaukee home.  I developed and demonstrated recipes each week that focused on seasonal produce.  I employed the spices and cooking techniques of various cuisines to demonstrate the range of the food and gave out samples to the customers.  The shows were popular and enjoyed a small but loyal fan-following.  Besides free samples, the shoppers seemed genuinely excited and curious to taste foods from around the world.

That all changed the day I did a show demonstrating how to make fried green tomatoes.   My one-time fans—the ones with Southern roots who considered themselves soul food aficionados, teased me endlessly about my choice of ingredients, cooking techniques and general credibility as a Southern food cooking instructor.Green Tomatoes--Fried

I reminded them that #1: the Indians, Koreans and all the other ethnic groups whose cuisines I borrowed from week-to-week seemed genuinely pleased that I had embraced the food of their native land, and they complimented me on my recipes. What happened to their Southern manners?  #2:  My connections were every bit as strong as theirs. Due to my father, I grew up watching Hee-Haw and listening to WMAQ.  His childhood was spent in Appalachia, and when his family moved to central Illinois, the school held him back a year because the teacher couldn’t understand his thick accent.

Authenticity as a Southerner aside, in the end, they relented. You can’t argue with a tasty fried green tomato.  This recipe has a coating which is crisp and savory not thick and eggy.  In addition to flavor, it keeps oil use and mess to a minimum because the tomatoes are pan not deep fried.Green Tomatoes, Fried--ingredients

Fried Green Tomatoes
Author: 
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Southern
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 servings
 
Leftovers make sandwiches--crisp lettuce, spicy remoulade and stacked fried green tomatoes on a lightly toasted bun.
Ingredients
  • 6 medium green tomatoes, cored and sliced into ½ inch slices
  • ⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup fine ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp regular salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup yogurt or cultured *buttermilk
  • ½ cup oil
  • lemon for garnish
  • SIMPLE REMOULADE SAUCE
  • 2 Tbsp good mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp chili sauce
Instructions
  1. Prepare the tomatoes.
  2. Mix the flour, cornmeal and spices in a large bowl.
  3. Pour yogurt or buttermilk into a separate bowl.
  4. Dip each tomato slice in the buttermilk or yogurt to coat. Next, dredge the slice in the cornmeal mixture coating both sides well.
  5. Once all the tomatoes are coated, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat and add oil.
  6. When the oil becomes hot, pan fry the tomatoes in batches. Fry until golden brown—about 1½ - 2 minutes on each side. Drain on a wire rack or paper towels.
  7. Make the remoulade dipping sauce by combining the mayo and chili sauce.
  8. Serve fried tomato slices with lemon wedges and remoulade.
Notes
*Make buttermilk by adding 1 t lemon juice to ½ cup milk. Stir and wait a few minutes for the milk to curdle and thicken.

Cooking & Eating with Kids: Fried green tomatoes are a treat of early fall when the green ones must be harvested before the frost comes and turns them to mush.   I serve them as part of meal I like to call “Southern Sides” –cheesy grits and  Southern-inspired vegetable side dishes.  No meat.  It’s a kid favorite.  Leftover fried green tomatoes also make great sandwiches.

I have my kids harvest the tomatoes, measure and mix the coating and then do all of the breading.  My kids are particularly fond of making cultured “buttermilk.”

Preserve It:  Enjoy them now as there is absolutely no way to preserve the green tomatoes for frying later.  I’ve tried with zero success.  If you have a way, please let me know because I miss them November to June and so will you once you have tried them.

Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles–Sandwich Toppers Made Easy

This time of year, when everything is in season, you will find me at the farmers market wringing my hands and looking a bit frantic—so many veggies and so little time.    Soon after, I will begin talking out loud to myself.  Naturally.  How else does one make plans and set priorities?  “Mid-September.  Okay, pickling cucumbers are on the way out, and I still have about a month before the first frost takes the tomatoes and even longer for the peppers, soooooo cucumbers it is…”

…which means pickles.”   I did the full ferment kosher sours long ago at the start of the season.  If you read this blog or know me even a little, you know that I am passionate about pickles and pickling. If you didn’t know, well, let me tell you that I’m kind of a big dill in the world of pickling.  Get it, kind of a “big dill.”   I even have a T-shirt that says so.

My tastes run toward salty, savory, garlicky, or hot when it comes to pickles.  However, another camp of pickle connoisseurs stand firmly in allegiance with the sweet pickle.  I don’t share that opinion, but a sweet pickle, I admit, does have its place on the plate. Tart, tangy, and sweet, a tuna fish or pulled pork sandwich wouldn’t be the same without an old-fashion bread & butter pickle on top.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer PicklesWhile I’m not a sweet pickle fan per se, this is no second-class bread & butter.  I’ve taste-tested it on bread & butter fans and have received rave reviews. The simplicity of the recipe with its consistent, flavorful, and crunchy results has led me to make this year after year.   Moreover, it takes just minutes of prep time and freezing allows me to store it in small and extra-small portion sizes.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Ingredients

Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles--Sandwich Toppers Made Easy
Author: 
Recipe type: Pickle
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 cups
 
Salt and sugar (for unknown reasons) keep cucumbers crisp even after freezing them. If you want them even crisper, dry soaking the cukes in ice cold water for 12 - 24 hours before cutting and preparing them.
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ lbs. pickling cucumbers (5 cups sliced)
  • 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced (1 ½ cups)
  • 2 T pickling salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ t turmeric
  • ½ t paprika
  • 1 T whole mustard seeds
Instructions
  1. Wash and thinly slice the cucumbers removing the blossom end—do not peel.
  2. Combine cucumbers, onions, and salt in a large glass bowl and let stand for 2-4 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, vinegar, and spices and allow the sugar to dissolve completely.
  4. Rinse and drain the vegetables well, drying and blotting them on a clean tea towel.
  5. Combine all ingredients and place in individual freezer containers leaving an inch of head space for expansion.
  6. To use, thaw for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.
Notes
Once thawed, these pickles will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Blossom-EndCooking with Kids:  Let the kids slice the cucumbers while you slice the onions.  Use a steak knife if they are under 11.  They should still use safe knife skills especially tucking their fingers in on the hand that holds the cucumber.   Kids are also able to measure the salt, sugar, vinegar, and spices. (It’s not canning so you don’t have to get too panicked about precise measurements.)  Lastly, my kids really like to mix so let them toss the cukes with salt using their clean hands or mix the sugar into the vinegar.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Preparing

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--drying

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--freezer bags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whole Wheat Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

Rhubarb--just pickedI love strawberry-rhubarb anything.  As a Midwesterner, I know that’s a bit of a cliché. My New York City friends used to tease me about my folksy, Midwestern origins when, in an unguarded moment, I’d blurt out something like “Oh, don’t you wish we could eat some strawberry-rhubarb cobbler right now?!” “Oh yeah, gee whiz, that does sound mighty good,” they’d respond in their best Lake Wobegone accent.  But I can’t apologize.  People who live in USDA growing zone 7, don’t own a snow shovel, and take runs in Central Park in April wearing shorts, how can these people truly appreciate summer? As special as Christmas or Thanksgiving, summer for us in the Great Lakes IS A HOLIDAY—all 8 weeks of it; and as with all holidays, our summer has certain traditional, celebratory foods.

Strawberry-rhubarb cobbler is just the first of many in a parade of seasonal classics like corn on the cob, BLT’s, and brats on the grill.  When that sweet berry and the tart stem reach ripe perfection at the precisely the same time, you know summer has arrived.  Because Wisconsin has had a slow, wet and cold start to the season, you can still find plenty of strawberry and rhubarb at the farmers market.  Even if you don’t have time to bake a cobbler this weekend, buy the rhubarb and strawberries before time runs out.  It takes very little time to freeze these fruits, and then you can enjoy them even in the dead of winter.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--plate

Wholesome, simple, sweet-tooth satisfying, America perfected rustic baked fruit desserts like cobbler.  It remains one of our few positive contributions to the global banquet.

Feel free to substitute other berries or fruits as they come into season; blueberry, peach and apple are classics.  Likewise the strawberry-rhubarb can be baked with a crisp topping with equally delicious results.  Check out Apple Crisp for the crisp topping recipe.Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--dish

Whole Wheat Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: America
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: about 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB FILLING
  • 3 pints strawberries (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1 lbs. rhubarb thinly chopped (about 3 cups)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 T corn starch
  • BISCUIT DOUGH COBBLER TOPPING
  • 1 ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 ½ t baking powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 6 T cold butter cut into small chunks
  • ⅔ cup half & half or cream
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • BISCUIT DOUGH GLAZE
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 T half & half
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375◦ F.
  2. Butter an 8 or 9 inch glass or ceramic baking dish (2 quart capacity).
  3. Mix the strawberry-rhubarb filling together and place in the bottom of the greased baking dish.
  4. Prepare the biscuit dough by first mixing the dry ingredients—flour, 3 T sugar, baking powder and salt.
  5. Next, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or using the food processor until it has a mealy texture.
  6. Combine the half & half with the vanilla and add all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir gently until just combined. DO NOT OVER STIR OR IT WILL BECOME TOUGH.
  7. Liberally flour a counter surface and pat dough out to ¼ inch thick with your hands.
  8. Use a knife or cookie cutters to cut into desired shapes like circles, triangles or stars. To make a lattice, cut into long strips and weave. The dough is sticky and easily breaks. Don’t worry over it; just cobble it together.
  9. Place the dough on top of the fruit filling. Do not completely cover the fruit or steam will not escape.
  10. Brush dough with half & half and sprinkle with sugar.
  11. Bake for about 45 minutes and allow to cool 15 minutes before serving with a side of whip cream or vanilla ice cream.

IMG_5127

Cooking with Kids:  My kids love to cut up produce.  They take this responsibility seriously and they should.  I’ve given them a knife!!  In this recipe,  I put them to work taking the stems off the strawberries.  If your little ones are between 4 – 11 years old, give them un-pointy steak knives and start teaching them very basic knife skills–especially tucking in the fingers that hold the fruit on the left hand (also known as the bear or tiger claw). Check out this video from the Rhyming Chef to see an entertaining demonstration. The steak knives can also cut the more tender stalks of rhubarb.  If you have lots of rhubarb to cut, have the kids do it in the food processor–loud noise, buttons to push, my kids never say no to helping with the food processor.  Un-fussy desserts like cobbler don’t require absolute precision so let the kids measure and teach them about fractions and measuring tools while you work.  They also love to stir the batter but don’t let them stir too much or the cobbler might turn out a bit tough.Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--the girls eager to eat

Tips and Food Safety: If you have a sunny patch of land available, plant some rhubarb.  This perennial comes back year after year and adds beauty to the landscape with ruby red stems and elephant-ear sized leaves in deep green. Once you do have a patch of rhubarb, DON’T EAT THE LEAVES. They contain oxalic acid and other toxins. The stem, on the other hand, may be enjoyed anytime of the year not just spring—stems never contain toxins.

Whole Grain Apple Crisp

Apple Crisp--ServedI easily succumb to the temptation of sweet treats particularly baked goods.  My daughters share this weakness, though they naturally gravitate to candy.   My husband is the exception, and despite his relentless admonishments, we eat a sweet treat nearly every night after dinner—not a lot but something.  The meal just doesn’t feel complete without it.

Though I love bakery treats, I have limited talent for the art of baking, and that is purposeful. As a limited resource, I have only so much time to dedicate to cooking.  If I’m doing my best to create whole-food, plant-based meals every day that are not only healthy but enjoyable to eat, well then sweet treats have to take a backseat. Moreover, let’s say that I did regularly bake.  Who would eat it?  Not my children.  I am a responsible parent, and would limit their intake.  Not my sweet-toothless husband.  That leaves me, standing alone in my pantry, quietly cramming cookies in my mouth while my children call out, “What are you doing in there, Mama?”  I’ve been down that road to Weight Watchers more than once.

When I do find the time to make desserts, I incorporate the foods we need for good health too—fruits, legumes and whole grains.  I don’t delude myself.  Even though they they are made with whole foods, they remain desserts—hard-to-resist, calorie-dense, goodies made with butter and sugar.  Eating a lot of them will make you fat.

Some of you may poo-poo my sweet treat philosophy.  You’re thinking, “Just let cake be cake, and healthy foods be damned at dessert-time.”  But cake is too easy to come by, and I eat enough of it without going out of my way.   My own cooking efforts have to go toward the goal of including at least 8 – 12 serving of fruits and vegetables in our diet every day. This adds a challenging new dimension to the art of creating sweet treats. While I want them to be healthy, taste is essential. Nothing leaves me feeling more cheated than eating a grainy, tasteless food masquerading as a sweet treat.

Fruit is a natural solution.  It’s nature’s candy. I make apple crisp a lot and have for years.  The prep work takes only a few minutes with the right tools, it’s chock full of apples, and no-one feels cheated when served a warm, fresh from-the-oven helping of apple crisp topped with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Apple Crisp
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8
 
Pears, peaches, and cherries also work nicely in this recipe. Serve it with a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Ingredients
  • 3 ½ pounds apples, cored and peeled
  • 1 T lemon juice (optional)
  • ½ cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional)
  • 6 T unsalted butter, cold
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Lightly butter an 11” x 7” (8 cup) baking dish and preheat oven to 375◦ F.
  2. Core and peel the apples; toss with lemon juice and dried fruit; and place in the baking dish.
  3. Cut the butter into small chunks.
  4. Using a food processor or fork or hands, cut the butter into the rest of the dry ingredients until it is just combined. (It should look lumpy and crumbly).
  5. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the apples and bake until the apples are tender and the crisp is crisp—about 50 minutes.

Cooking with Kids:

Apple Crisp Prep--Pealing Apples

This may be one of the easiest, no-fuss, no-danger recipes to make with your kids.  Invest in an apple peeler if you don’t have one.  Kids never tire of using that gadget.

Officially, to make the crumble, you should not use your hands to cut the butter into the dry ingredients as the heat from your hands will melt the butter. I ignore this rule as the kids love to use their hands. Just don’t let them do it for too long and start with ice cold butter. I haven’t noticed any difference in crisp mixed with a fork or hands.

Apple Crisp Ingredients--All   Apple Crisp Ingredients--ButterApple Crisp Prep--Nutmeg2

The girls made this recipe with me just supervising and setting up.

Apple Crisp Prep--Making Topping

Apple Crisp--Before Baking

The crisp before placing it in the oven.