Chili is one of my cold weather go-to dishes. Chili, however, is one of those dishes that is a very personal thing, and, as such, has endless variations. But for me, if the chili isn’t spicy, it’s not worth it. I actually always carry a bottle of Tabasco in my purse for any bland food emergencies I may encounter eating out, which tells you something about me. (I also always carry a corkscrew, which tells you even more. I figure that between the two, I have all the important contingencies covered).
Anyway, back to this chili of mine. It’s spicy, but not even three alarm, in my opinion. Of course, there are people who live in my surrounding area who would disagree. But, keep in mind that most of these people would consider ketchup spicy. (Don’t even get me started on how many small, family owned Mexican restaurants in my area whose even moderately spicy food has been “blanded down” by complaints by these folks. It’s really a pity).
Anyway, this chili is a nod to a Mexican/Southwest style by its use of Mexican chorizo blended with ground beef, as well as a serrano pepper and chipolte pepper powder.
This is also a very easy recipe, as it does not require the meat to be browned – the meat is simply cooked in the tomato sauce and water. Not only is this easy and convenient, but also the best way I’ve found to get that fine grained texture to the ground meat – I’m not a fan of big chunks of ground meat. (Of course, if that’s what you like, feel free to pre-brown and leave larger chunks).
This is a nice chili to make for a quick lunch, but, as is the case with all chilis and many soups, it is actually better reheated, so it can also be made ahead and frozen.
1serrano pepper, seeds and membranes removed,diced
115.5 oz canpinto beans,drained
Place ground beef, chorizo, tomato sauce and water in a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil while breaking up meat with spoon until it is a fine, even texture. Boil until meat is mostly cooked through. (Meat will be more brown than pink).
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, until onions and peppers are soft, about 20 minutes.
One of the few consolations about winter, to me, is that it’s soup weather. And the absolute favorite at my house is this one, fondly known as “‘tato soup”. I don’t make it quite as frequently as I used to, since we have a bit of carb-watching going on lately, but it’s something I could never completely give up.
I’m trying to remember where this recipe came from – I may have gotten it from a newspaper long ago, but, in any case, I’ve been making this for well over twenty years. It has evolved a bit over time, but I’ve always liked it for its simplicity combined with richness. I also like that I usually have all the ingredients on hand at any given time. This is also the first dish that my son learned and made for himself when he got out on his own.
If you don’t have a leek, feel free to substitute an onion. (My son actually prefers to make it this way). The extra shot of heavy cream is optional, but highly recommended. If you don’t have evaporated milk, I would imagine it would be possible to use whole milk or half and half.
When you break up the potatoes at the end, feel free to mash things finer if you like – we like to have some rustic chunks of potato remaining, but if you like a smoother soup, mash it a little more.
This is a really great soup for lunch on a cold, snowy day.
This is one of those dishes where I didn’t know what I was missing until I had it prepared correctly. I grew up in the 1970s, that heyday of prepackaged foods. To me, as a kid, scalloped potatoes were the dehydrated boxed version with the packet of powder that you mixed up with liquid and threw in the oven. And I liked them, since I didn’t know any better.
And then I grew up and started cooking. And then I learned to make a basic beschamel sauce. And then I got a food processor.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least boxed scalloped potato mix was history to me from that point on.
The basis of this recipe is that mother of all sauces, the beschamel, that simple but genius combination of butter, flour and milk and/or cream. To me, you can’t really call yourself a cook unless you can whip up this basic white sauce. I mean, it’s the basis for so many dishes, from these scalloped potatoes to macaroni and cheese to lasagna besciamella to mornay vegetables to moussaka.
I’ve seen many scalloped potato recipes that just have you putting potatoes, butter and milk in a pan and baking. I’ve also seen those that use condensed creamed soups. Please don’t take these shortcuts. Trust me, the extra few minutes to make the beschamel makes a far superior dish.
Oh, and you will also see recipes involving cheese, but, to be nitpicky, then this is not scalloped potatoes, but rather, potatoes au gratin. Nothing wrong with it, to be sure, but I like to call things by their proper names.
You will see that I have onions in this recipe, because, well, we like onions at our house. However, if that’s not your thing, feel free to leave them out. Also, I use a combination of milk and cream, but, you can use all whole milk if you want the dish a little lighter. It won’t be as creamy, but it will still be delicious. Or you could use all half and half.
The baking times are approximate – it really depends on the amount of potatoes and how thinly they are sliced. (A food processor or a mandolin is a great help to cut down on slicing time). You just need to keep the dish covered in the first stage of baking so the top doesn’t brown too much. This recipe is also easily doubled to fit into a 9″x13″ pan, as well.
Scalloped potatoes are a classic accompaniment to ham and pork, but they can really go with just about every meat entree.
“If I’m a picky eater, Mom, it’s mostly your fault. You didn’t make me eat different things when I was little.” This from my 24 year old son, as I bemoan my even-more-limited-than-usual cooking palette when planning dinner. Sam is at home with us for awhile as he finishes his clinicals in his last year of physical therapy school. I know that he is basically pulling my chain to get a reaction out of me, but I can’t help taking the bait.
“Hold on there, Chief”, I reply. “There were plenty of things that I liked and served to you, but you refused to even try just because your dad wouldn’t eat them. So don’t go pinning it all on me.” I give my husband Ron a dirty look as I say this, and he just laughs.
So yes, not only did I marry a picky eater, but I also gave birth to one. Lucky me. Now, I do have some profound dislikes myself, which, fortunately, coincide with my spouse and offspring.
Stuff we all hate:
Peas. Yuck. Nasty little balls of mush. You will never see any of us eating peas, or even worse, pea soup. (Ron and I will do snow peas, but that’s a very different thing).
Winter squash. Squishy baby diaper stuff.
Blue, roquefort, feta, and all other very strong cheeses. Stinky.
Rye or pumpernickel bread. Totally overpowers everything on a sandwich, and not in a good way.
Fennel, tarragon, anise or anything that involves a black licorice flavor. No, just no and hell no.
Stuff Ron and Sam won’t eat:
Pickles or pickled anything
Stuff Ron won’t eat:
Any fruit pie other than apple or key lime
Scallops (to be fair, he may have had an alergic reaction to these)
Raw tomatoes or cooked tomato in large chunks (though he is okay with tomato sauce)
Stuff Sam won’t eat (or won’t try):
Any soup other than potato or egg drop
Creole or Cajun food
Corned beef (or the hash derived therefrom)
There lists are not all inclusive, nor are they in any particular order. But, you can see that these preference sheets mean I’m dealing with a fairly limited universe when it comes to getting some variety into the dishes I serve, especially when my son is around.
My world pretty much revolves around beef, pork and chicken for meats, and green beans and corn for vegetables, supplemented at times with fried peppers and onions. Potatoes are well received, with the exception that Sam won’t eat my fantastic from scratch scalloped potatoes. (His loss.)
So, in some ways, I have to be more creative than cooks with more options. I have become a master at different ways to dress up corn and green beans. (Although I can never serve my guys green beans al dente, as current fashion dictates – they have to be cooked through, like a limp dishrag, every time. Sigh.)
And sometimes, when I do try a new dish, despite my careful adherence to said preference lists, it is greeted with suspcious looks and subjected to after-the-fact custom seasonings.
For example, there was the night I proudly presented Chicken Francaise. Sam peered at the chicken breast pounded thin, fried with its crispy egg crust and served with a lemon, butter and wine sauce. “What’s this, and what’s in it?”, he queried, his brow furrowed. I explained. He tasted a bite, then walked into the kitchen, and returned with ketchup. I looked at him incredulously. “It’s a chicken tender”, he announced, and proceeded to eat happily.
I closed my eyes, sighed and thought of that saying about pearls and swine.
I’ve often wondered about this picky eating thing. Nature or nuture and all that. According to flavor scientists, the aversion to certain tastes seems to be inborn, while an aversion to aromas is learned behavior. And sometimes, pickiness is modeled on parental behavior.
So, I would say that our familial hatred of anise flavor is definitely genetic. Ron claims his hate of everything tomato (other than sauce) is linked to being bombarded by non stop fumes as his mother canned tomatoes every summer. (To be fair, the man does have an unusually heightened sense of smell. I didn’t realize how much this can affect how you feel about certain foods until I was pregnant and had a temporarily heightened sense of smell.)
Sam’s refusal to eat mushrooms is definitely because Ron won’t touch them. Not to mention his dad’s commentary about how he won’t eat fungus or anything that reproduces asexually. (My husband thinks he’s clever.)
So, I’m pretty much resigned to the restrictions that picky eating has placed on my cooking. If I want mushrooms or brussel sprouts, I make them for myself. As the saying goes, more for me, then. And if I’m really feeling diabolical, I will sometimes amuse myself by sneaking a taboo item into a dish and quietly contain my glee when it is unwittingly consumed. (Like the chicken liver in the traditional Bolognese sauce that Ron loved. Gotcha, smart guy.)
On the other hand, my son, as he gets older, has started to show flashes of adventurousness. Thanks to some study abroad opportunities he has been able to visit numorous spots in Europe in the past few years. I was stunned to learn that he tried, and liked, things like venison pot pie in London and mussels in Monaco. And he also loves, of all things, calamari.
Also, Sam has shown some interest in cooking beyond heating up convenience foods. When he started grad school, thus moving from dorm life to apartment life, he asked me to teach him how to make some of his favorites from home. So, he is comfortable making stir fry, ribs and even potato bacon soup from scratch. This is an area his dad would never think of venturing into. He’ll even watch cooking shows with me.
So, I hold out hope that perhaps at least my son’s palette will expand a bit. My husband, not so much. I think he would probably be content to eat the exact same things week after week – he’s certainly never been one to seek out a lot of variety. (Come to think of it, this is probably the main reason he’s stuck with me for almost three decades, lol.)
I guess I’ll just have to keep researching green bean recipes and maybe find a way to sneak some mushrooms into something every so often, just to keep things interesting.
Nothing says Italian food like spaghetti and meatballs, right? Well, no, not if you’re talking to Italians.
If you travel to Italy, you won’t find spaghetti and meatballs on a restaurant menu (except possibly to cater to the expectations of American tourists). Italians do have their own version of the meatball (as do most cultures around the world), but these polpettes, as they are known, are never served with pasta. Instead, they are either served as a meal by themselves, or in soups. They are also made with any meat, even turkey and fish.
Moreover, polpettes are rarely served in restaurants, rather, they are more commonly seen on the family table as the province of the home cook. In addition, they have a different proportion of meat to breadcrumbs – about an equal ratio, as opposed to our meat dominant American version.
So, the dish we are familar with here in America is really Italian American – developed by immigrants who, with better jobs in America, were able to afford more meat in their diets. Red sauces began to dominate since canned tomatoes were one of the few ingredients available in grocery stores. Spaghetti became an accompaniment either because it was one of the few Italian foods available here, or because early Italian restaurants needed to offer it to satisfy the tastes of Americans who were used to having a starch served with their meals.
But, no matter what the origins, what we Americans call Italian meatballs are a favorite. My version has been developed by attempting to take the best of several recipes I have tried over the years.
One of the most important elements, in my opinion, is to use a blend of ground beef, pork and veal. I firmly believe that you can never have the best meatballs using ground beef alone. Pork adds flavor, and the veal makes the meatball more tender. Most groceries carry a beef, pork and veal blend known as meatloaf or meatball mix. If that is not available, simply buy the three meats separately and mix in approximately equal proportions. If you can’t find ground veal, at least do half and half beef and pork. (Since the pork is fatty, use a leaner beef). The meatballs won’t be as tender without the veal, but the flavor will be superior to beef alone.
I love a good, basic marinara type sauce. And I’ve tried a few different methods to make it at home. Many recipes are done on the stove top, but I never was able to get the rich flavor I wanted that way. Then I happened to see the oven roasted method on some cooking show (can’t remember which one, now), and I’ve never gone back.
One thing that may give you pause here is that I have written the recipe using (horrors) canned tomatoes. There’s a reason (actually a few) for that. Just stay with me here.
Now, I have done this sauce with fresh tomatoes (and onions, and garlic and herbs) from my garden, and it can be wonderful that way. However, the tomatoes have to be absolutely dead ripe, otherwise the flavor will be nowhere near its potential.
So, unless it’s summer and you have access to really fresh, really ripe tomatoes, it just won’t be the same. Store bought fresh tomatoes tend to be (especially in winter), a bit underripe (so they can be shipped) and the greenhouse types that the stores tend to carry really don’t have a huge amount of flavor.
Not so with canned Roma tomatoes, especially the San Marzano variety. They are very ripe and have a good, meaty texture. So this is one instance where a canned product can be better than the fresh version. And, using canned makes it a perfect option for winter, when it’s a great time to have the oven going for several hours.
The slow oven roasting does something important – it carmelizes the tomatoes, which really develops and concentrates the flavors. I really think it’s a lot better result than a stove top sauce. Yes, it takes longer, but you can put this in the oven, forget it and then do other things for a while.
I like to make a batch of this, use half, and freeze the rest for another meal. It’s great on pasta, in lasagna, and on pizza.
Give it a try – I think you’ll be pleased with the result.
One day, as I was binge watching Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, I reflected on how often the chefs would comment on how they did everything in house – from sauces, breads and sausage, to yes, pasta. I began to feel as if I’d love to be able to make that statement – that everything in an entire meal was made by me.
I’d already gotten to the point where premade gravy and pancake mix were banned in my house. I could already throw down a killer lasagna with homemade roasted tomato sauce and scratch made bechasmel. Not to mention my homemade meatballs. So why not go to that next level and do the pasta from scratch?
The recipe for basic pasta is pretty simple – flour, salt, egg and water (some recipes call for olive oil as well). It’s the rolling and the cutting that’s the tedious part.
My first attempts using a tabletop manual pasta roller/cutter were a bit frustrating. It was kind of a pain to get the machine clamped to the countertop and to remain stable. I also had a bit of trouble with getting the dough thin enough for the proper texture but also strong enough to stay together when boiled.
Then, two things happened. First, I decided to invest in a pasta roller/cutter set for my KitchenAid stand mixer. (Thanks Whirlpool retiree discount). I also happened across an episode of Beat Bobby Flay where the challenging chef was making pasta, and talked about the importance of, in the first few passes through the roller, of brushing the pasta sheets with flour, folding in half, and running through again until the dough is silky and elastic.
Those two things did the trick. Honestly, the pasta attachments that work on the power takeoff of the stand mixer are amazing. I know it sounds like a blatent plug for my former employer, but these are so well made (in Italy, no less) and do such a quick and masterful job of turning out pasta that they are totally worth an investment if you’re going to make pasta with any regularity. And the technique of adding flour to the early stage sheets until the dough is the perfect texture is clearly the way to turning out pasta that is tender but strong at any thickness.
So, is there really a difference between fresh pasta and dried in a box? Yes, it’s like night and day – just very silky and tender. The first time I did spaghetti from scratch it was described as “melt in your mouth” by my son who is not given to effusive praise of my meals. (He does say that one of the best things about coming home is my cooking, but he doesn’t feel a need to wax poetic about every meal. “I take it for granted that your cooking is going to be at a certain level, Mom. I’ll let you know if it’s not”). So I take him pointing this out as high praise, indeed.
Be aware that fresh pasta is going to cook much faster than dried – from two to four minutes, depending on the thickness. Also, it’s best to make the dough the same day you are going to roll and cut it. You can dry or freeze the noodles to cook another day, which I haven’t tried yet, so I can’t vouch for how this affects texture, etc.
So, if you’ve got some sort of pasta roller/cutter languishing in a cupboard, break it out and give fresh pasta another try. You’ll be glad you did.
Add eggs into flour. As you mix, pull flour into eggs until you have a soft dough. Add water as needed until you can form a ball that is the consistency of play doh. This can be done in a mixer or by hand.
Knead dough either by hand on a floured board, or in a mixer with a dough hook, until it is firm. Add flour if needed to keep from sticking.
Form dough into a ball and let rest for 30 minutes.
Divide dough into two pieces. Shape each piece into a flattened oval and sprinkle with flour. Pass through widest setting of pasta roller. Sprinkle with flour, fold in half and send through roller on widest setting again. Repeat this step until the the pasta sheet is smooth.
Continue to pass pasta sheets through progressively thinner roller settings, until at desired thickness.
If cutting into noodles, cut sheets into desired lengths and pass through pasta cutter.
Cook fresh in boiling salted water for 2-4 minutes until al dente. You can also freeze or dry the pasta for later use. (Dried pasta will take 7-10 minutes to cook).
The story behind this salsa is tied to my final years in the workforce. In April of 2019, I retired from a 28 plus year career with Whirlpool Corporation. Working there got me involved in many interesting projects with great people from all over the world. I also enjoyed great benefits – not the least of which was the employee discount (which the company generously still grants me as a retiree). This has allowed me to fill my home with the world’s best appliance brands, including KitchenAid small appliances. My KitchenAid food processor figures large in this recipe.
I have always loved the kind of salsa you get in Mexican restaurants – the fresh, finely chopped kind. I have never been a fan of the chunky, cooked type you get in jars. So, as usual, I wondered if I could create my own version at home.
I knew that to get that fine chop in any reasonable time frame would require my food processor. I made a few trials using fresh jalepenos, serranos, etc, but somehow the flavor lacked the depth I was looking for. Then I remembered those cans of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in the Mexican aisle. Chipotles are dried, smoked jalepenos, and the adobo sauce is tangy and slightly sweet. I wondered how that would play in a salsa instead of a fresh hot pepper.
It turned out great – but I’d made such a big batch I (double the recipe below) that I knew it would take us forever to eat at home. So I took it to work.
The timing was right because it was during what we accountants refer to as “closing”. This is the period of time during which we make adjustments to “close” the books and produce financial statements. It takes place during the first few days of the month following the month being closed. It was also the time when we generally worked the most overtime, and, in order to “ease the pain”, it was common for people to bring in food to keep the team’s motivation up.
The remarkable thing about this salsa is that it appealed to a very diverse group of tastes. It has some heat, which is great for hot sauce lovers like me, but even the non heat lovers in our group liked it. It became known at work as “Closing Salsa”, and before I knew it, I was bringing a big batch and a couple bags of tortilla chips in every first day of closing. This was a team tradition for several years until I retired.
Note that since vegetables vary in size, you my have to adjust seasonings and amounts. And another very important thing – don’t skip the sugar – it’s essential to get all the flavors in balance. Also, the flavors won’t fully settle until the salsa has been refrigerated for awhile, so you may have to adjust slightly after that.
Anyway, that’s the backstory of this recipe. Hopefully it will be a hit with your team, as well.
I am fortunate enough to live in what is known as the “fruit belt” of Michigan. Scientists consider my corner of southwest Michigan as the most productive fruit growing environment not just in the state, not just in North America, but in the world. The climate is moderated by our close proximity to Lake Michigan, by what is referred to as “lake effect.” This phenomenon keeps the area warmer in winter, and cooler in summer, and increases rainfall. The climate and the geography — the rolling terrain, the soil — are perfect for growing high quality grapes, peaches, apples and any number of other fruits.
October is prime time for apples, and, since I live right in the midst of many orchards, I have easy access to the very best and very freshest of the harvest.
For many years I made a very good, straightforward and simple double crust apple pie. But this time I wanted to try something a bit different. So, after researching many recipes, I settled on a version incorporating sour cream, walnuts and a brown sugar topping. I think it’s a real winner – the sour cream adds a richness that plays well with the tartness of the apples, and the walnuts and the topping adds crunch.
When selecting apples for this (or any apple pie, for that matter), you need to choose a tart, crisp variety. While Red or Yellow Delicious or Honey Crisps are great for fresh eating, they make for a very bland pie. My go to standby is the McIntosh, but a Jonathan is also a great pie apple.
Note that the pie shell should be frozen before you fill it and bake – this helps ensure that the crust doesn’t get burned. Also note that this is baked in two stages – first without the topping, then the topping is added and for the second stage.
Mix topping ingredients in a small bowl using a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse pebbles. Set aside in refrigerator until needed.
Mix sour cream, egg, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in large bowl.
Peel the apples and slice into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. As you slice each apple, add to the bowl with the sour cream mixture and stir to coat apples so that they won't turn brown. Add the walnuts to the mixture and stir.
Place apple mixture in frozen pie shell, and bake in 400° oven for 25 minutes
After 25 minutes of baking, remove pie from oven and top with topping mixture. Return to oven and bake at 400° for an additional 20 minutes. Let cool one hour before cutting.
2019 was not a good gardening season in West Michigan. First we had a very wet, cold spring – the cold weather reached deep into May. Then we had a hot, largely dry summer. This meant most of us had to plant our vegetable gardens twice, and water profusely. Then, at least at my house, just when I got things up and coddled along a bit in June, what seemed like the entire rabbit population of Allegan County decapitated most everything.
Plans are already in motion for next year to move the main garden closer to the house, away from critter hiding brush (and within range of my .22), and also to put in an electric fence. But in the meantime, I am left with what few survivors I have.
Those survivors were mainly the tomatoes, herbs and peppers that I grow in planters on my south facing deck. (Rabbits don’t usually climb steps).
One of the new peppers I tried this year was a Habanada, just because the description in the catalogue intrigued me – a heatless habanero!
Now let me state right here that I am not afraid of hot peppers. I love hot sauce, and firmly believe that there’s hardly anything it doesn’t improve. I grow serranos every year.
But since habaneros are so insanely hot, one goes a really, really long way. I would probably only be able to find use for maybe a half dozen in total – so why grow a plant that would produce 30 or 40 plus? But habaneros have, in addition to their heat, a unique, fruity, almost melon like flavor – so I thought that a heatless version that let that flavor shine through would be interesting to try.
I was not aware of the background of this pepper until I started looking for recipe ideas, but its back story is pretty interesting.
The Habanada was created by a Cornell University plant breeder named Michael Mazourek, who created it as part of his doctoral research. He got the idea when he found a unique heatless pepper whose genetics were very different from the sweet peppers like bells. Its genetics were more like hot peppers, but it had somehow lost whatever made it spicy.
This original pepper tasted kind of bad, so he cross-pollinated it with a habanero, and after a couple generations he was left with a pepper with the aromatic qualities of a habanero, but minus the heat. This was around 2007, but the Habanada has only been known beyond academia in the last few years.
Today, access to Habanadas is pretty much limited to chefs – they are sold to restaurants through distributor Baldor Foods, who gets them from Ark Foods, which, last I checked, was the only commercial grower. So, if you want to try them, you can either hope to find them in a restaurant, or do like I did, and grow your own. Most of the major seed and plant catalogues have them available.
So what’s it like? I can truly say that it really does taste fruity, pretty much melon like, as advertised. It’s really quite surprising – unlike any other pepper I’ve had. The flavor is intense enough to really be called aromatic.
So what do you do with them? I’ve tried halving them, filling them with some burata cheese, topping with bacon crumbles and baking till the cheese melts. This seemed to complement the fruity flavor quite well. I would also imagine that given their melon flavor, they would pair well with prosciutto (think prosciutto and melon). I’ve also sauteed them in butter with shallots. I’ve also heard of some chefs doing Habanada sherbets and jellies. I will probably have another 20-30 or so of these to use yet, so I’ll continue to try to come up with ideas.
Hopefully this unique little pepper will become better known and more widely available. In the meantime, if you have a chance to sample and/or grow some, do it!