My Favorite Beef Chili

I was going to tell you about a homemade salad dressing.  But then today is all cold and blustery (we had our first snowfall of uh…autumn…just last week), so you’re probably in the mood to crank up the stove and warm up your home.  By popular demand, I’m giving you a warm and hearty dish!

Long before I was able to appreciate the fabulousness of making chili from scratch, I was a huge fan of chili seasoning mix.  For the sake of convenience, I would even use it to make taco or burrito filling by adding the mix to browned ground beef or turkey.  A problem I had with the storebought mix though was that something could be improved upon.  Maybe one more tablespoon of chili powder?  An extra pinch of cayenne pepper?  Not too much salt, perhaps?  One of the many benefits of mixing your own spice blend is that you can control what goes in.  Granted, you do need to have a few spices on hand, but those are great to keep anyway.  Few years ago while shopping for new kitchen supplies, I spotted a set of twelve glass spice jars and wanted them so badly.  At the time, I was still new to cooking and had probably less than five things to fill those jars with, but I thought, hey I’m an adult and I really should have a proper spice drawer!  So I started with the essentials and eventually built a collection of dried herbs and spices that I now use all the time.  There are some spices I still don’t have because they are for very limited purposes and I don’t know what to do with them (like star anise and clove).  But not so with these spices!  Cumin and chili powder are great in other Mexican-inspired dishes, and oregano and bay leaves are ever-versatile, especially in slow-cooked dishes like stews and tomato sauces.

The key ingredient here is the cocoa powder.  The cocoa compliments the chili very nicely, and it actually isn’t so obvious that you’re able to spot it.  Is your mouth watering yet?  Well, good news because this is incredibly easy to make.  And you only need to use one pot from start to finish, meaning less dishes to wash and more chili eating for you.  Which is just another reason why this is my favorite dish to cook up.

A quick reminder: the flavor of the chili tastes even better the second day, and the next, and the day after next if it manages to last that long…

My Favorite Beef Chili
(serves 8)

1 tbsp canola or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb lean ground beef
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp ground chili powder
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 24-oz canned whole tomatoes, crushed
2 cups beef stock or water
1 15-oz canned black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
Salt, to taste

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat, then add the canola oil.  When the oil is sizzling hot, add onions, stir with a wooden spoon and cook until they’re translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, cook for about 30 seconds, then add the ground beef into the pot.  Continue to cook the meat, stirring often and breaking up into pieces, until it’s no longer pink.

Add tomato paste and spices, and stir until combined, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes (pulp and juice), beef stock, beans, and corn to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and let the chili simmer covered for at least 30 minutes.  Serve with your favorite condiments.

*Sometimes I like to add a can of Cuban-style black beans in addition to the canned black beans for more flavors.  You can also use kidney or pinto beans if you don’t like black beans.

*Use more and less beef stock if necessary to achieve desired consistency.

*I like to use canned whole tomatoes (crushed with your hands or roughly chopped) because of the texture and the pulp to juice ratio.  Diced tomatoes also work if you don’t have whole tomatoes.  Crushed or pureed tomatoes are too watery, so you might want to cut back on the beef stock or water to get a thicker consistency.

*How about a generous sprinkle of cheddar cheese, a few sprigs of cilantro, a dollop of sour cream, or some crushed tortilla chips?  Or all of the above if you’re greedy like me :-)

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Chicken Noodle Soup (With Homemade Chicken Stock)

I love to try and experiment with new flavors, textures, and combinations of those. My “recipes-to-try” folder has more than enough items to keep me busy in the kitchen for a long while, and still, I cannot stop looking for more interesting ideas.  Having said that, for the everyday meals, I prefer simple foods over anything too complex for my palate.  Like a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

One of the rewards of roasting chicken at home- after enjoying the chicken itself, of course, and after the leftover has been turned into sandwiches- is that you can use the carcass to make a wonderful broth that will elevate any soup or stew you make with it.  It is like a gift that keeps on giving.  This time, I used the carcass of a seven-pound roasted chicken and the reserved pan drippings, and omitted the celery (only because I didn’t have any on hand and was too lazy to make a trip to the grocery store for it).  More often than not, making stock is just throwing a bunch of readily available ingredients into a big pot and simmering away for hours.

Chicken Noodle Soup
(serves 4)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 bay leaf
8 cups chicken stock (recipe below)
8 oz cooked pasta, in any shape you like
1 ½ cups diced cooked chicken
¼ chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Coat the bottom of a soup pot with olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and bay leaf.  Cook until the vegetables are softened.  Pour in the chicken stock, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add the pasta, chicken, and parsley, and simmer for another couple of minutes to heat through.  Remove the garlic cloves and bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve hot.

Chicken Stock

Leftover bones from a cooked or raw chicken carcass
1 onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 bay leaf
A bunch of fresh parsley

Put the leftover bones from a chicken carcass into a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Add celery, onion, carrot, and parsley.  Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to bring the stock to barely a simmer.  Simmer uncovered for at least 2 hours.  Remove the bones and vegetables, strain the stock, and skim off the fat.  Let the stock come to room temperature and store in refrigerator or freezer.


Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup

During the past few days, I’ve been pacing around sniffling and sneezing.  The cold medication I took seemed to have killed my appetite.  Plus, having stuffy and runny nose at the same time (has that ever happened to you? it’s a pretty awkward situation) made eating not so much fun.  It was a sad state of affairs for a glutton like me to be in.  But as soon as I had some appetite for food and enough strength to get out of the bed, I made myself some warm and hearty soup.   I was craving soup in the midst of this July heat.  Life is strange, I know.

This is where today’s recipe is perfect; it’s a full meal and truly a comfort in a bowl!  The wild rice and veggies make it a filling and earthy soup without that greasy, heavy aftertaste.  It has all the good stuff you need to soothe those aches and pains and regain some strength.

Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup
(makes 4 servings)

1 cup wild rice
1 onion, diced
1 pound mushrooms, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the wild rice and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the rice is tender. Drain and set aside.

In a large stock pot, heat some olive oil over medium heat and cook the onions until they have softened and turned translucent. Add the mushrooms, red peppers, and garlic, and cook until the mushrooms have released all their liquid. Add thyme, bay leaf, chicken stock, and the cooked wild rice to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes minutes, until the soup has thickened to your liking. Add heavy cream and season with salt and pepper before serving.