Chicken Tostadas

Has it been one of those days?  Long?  Exhausting?  You need dinner in 20 minutes?  I got you covered.  One word: tostadas.

This is another 3-2-1 meal.  3 meals, 2 people, 1 chicken.  The other recipes are the Yucatan-style Chicken Soup and this Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Tostadas are one of my go-to meals.  One makes a great snack, 2 makes a light meal.  They are an ideal way to use up leftover meat from previous meals.  For me, one thing that is essential in making tostadas is having a lot of colorful ingredients.  I often use red (really purple) cabbage in addition to cilantro.  Other colorful vegetables you might want to consider playing around with are colored bell peppers, carrots, red onion, green onion, roasted beets, cucumber….  You get the idea.  The more colorful your tostada, the more fun you’ll have.  (I just got an idea for rainbow tostadas- I wonder what that could be?)

Printable recipe: Chicken Tostadas

Here’s how you make tostadas in under 20 minutes.

start with your quick refried beans.

1 14-ounce can low sodium black beans (or pinto beans)

1 tablespoon roasted garlic flavored olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Rinse out the beans in a colander.  Combine the beans, oil, and cumin in a small bowl and smash with a fork until you get quick refried beans.

In another bowl, combine 1 cup shredded red cabbage, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro (about 1/3 of a bunch), and 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar.  Mix well and enjoy the beautiful color, especially when the vinegar turns a little purple.

Take 4 tostada shells and layer each with a 1/4 of the beans.  Then add leftover shredded rotisserie chicken.  Layer on the cabbage and sprinkle with cheese.

Serve with fixings like salsa or sour cream.

Note: You can make your own tostada shells by lightly coating tortillas with cooking spray and baking them at 350 degrees for 4-7 minutes, flipping them once, until crisp.

Buen Provecho!


Perfect Black Bean Goodness

Perfect Black Bean Goodness, the ultimate comfort food.  Did I mention that it’s vegetarian?  Most black beans are made with some combination of pork: fat, sausage, bacon drippings, etc.  On top of the rich meaty taste of the beans, the pork flavors them during cooking.

And cook they will.  For an hour plus.  Making beans requires forethought, something I’ve generally lacked, and patience, something we are all improving upon.  In any case, making beans is an essential kitchen skill.

Beans are probably the most economical of meals.  But their cheapness is only one of their many fine qualities.  Make a large pot of beans and you have dinner for the next few days.  Moreover, leftover beans only get more and more flavorful, something not every dish can flaunt.

This recipe is a combination of cooking knowledge from 2 amazing women.  My mom who’s sofrito method I use, and Ms. Dragonwagon who has an ingenuity at making healthy and richly flavorful vegetarian recipes.  (See my note at the end of the post for specifics on what changed and what stayed the same)

OK, OK, gimme the recipe: Perfect Black Bean Goodness recipe

Start with a little forethought.  Cover the beans with water and soak overnight or all day while you work.

Drain the beans and place them in a large dutch oven.  Add water until they are covered about a 1/2 inch, about 8 cups.

Here’s what we’ll need for our first round of flavor.  1 entire onion, 6 cloves, 1 head of garlic, 2 bay leaves, and some fresh oregano (It’s from my herb garden).

Take the 6 whole cloves and stud the onion.  Push them into the onion like nails- that is what cloves look like.

Add all of this to the pot.  Yes, the skins is on for the onion and the garlic head.  Trust me on this.

Bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low and cook 1 hour.

After an hour, add chopped sweet potatoes and rough chopped carrots.  Lots of orange color=lots of beta carotene.

After an hour an a half of cooking, fish out the whole head of garlic and clove-studded onion.  Set aside the garlic and discard the onion.  Here’s what they should look like, a mess.

Make the sofrito.  We’ll need another diced onion, 6 cloves minced garlic (not shown), about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 2 diced bell peppers.

Cook these ingredients in large saute pan with a little olive oil.

Add in 1 diced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce.  Oh…I love this stuff.

Saute these aromatics 4-5 minutes.

Add in half a can of tomato paste.  (Use a 6-ounce can)

And coat all of the sauteed vegetables.  Cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add the sofrito to the beans.  Also add more flavor in the form of 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground cumin smoky goodness, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, zest of one orange, and salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons).

Remember that cooked head of garlic.  This is the true secret to giving these beans a depth of flavor.  Squeeze out all the garlic pulp onto a plate and stir into the beans.  It will be very messy, and you will be utterly tempted to lick off pieces of garlic pulp on your fingers; go ahead, my full support is behind you, just don’t “taste” it all.

Cook another few minutes for all the flavors to get friendly with each other.  Serve with rice.  Trust me this stuff only gets better with time.

Recipe Notes: This recipe was inspired by my mentor-vegetarian, Crescent Dragonwagon, from her Black Bean Feijoada recipe.  I followed her process for the preliminary cooking of the beans, using a clove-studded onion and entire head of garlic with its cooked puree added in afterwards.  This method has completely transformed how I cook beans.  I also kept the orange zest and chipotle, a classic combination.  I changed her process based on how my mom taught me to make beans which is to combine the aromatics (onions, garlic, bell pepper holy trinity) in a separate saute with tomato paste.  I also didn’t add any of the soy-meats to make it a feijoada.

Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

What my husband doesn’t know won’t kill him.

In this case, what my husband doesn’t know is that instead of using cream in a recent quiche recipe, I used soft tofu.  All to a brilliant ending of “Wow, this is tasty, honey.”

I love quiche.  Not only is it a simple, very versatile recipe, but it’s also a fabulous way to use up leftover vegetables.

Here’s the finished product.  I forgot to charge my camera battery, so I don’t have a step-by-step tutorial.  Sorry folks.

Print this recipe: Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

In any case, the basics of a quiche are the following:

  • 1 pie crust.  Use store bought for a faster prep time.  Use a store bought one that’s already in a tin for the epitome of convenience.
  • 2 cups of cheese.  I like Gruyere cheese because it has a rich, nutty flavor.  Regular Swiss cheese is fine too.
  • 2 eggs to help bind everything together.  3 would be fine too if you like your quiche with more egg flavor.
  • Other flavorings.  Obviously salt and pepper, but herbs and other spices work well too.  I used dried marjoram (one of my favorites) and 1 seeded and diced canned chipotle pepper with an extra teaspoon of its smoky adobo sauce.  De-seeding it is optional; it decreases the spiciness.
  • Heavy cream or tofu.  1 cup of cream if that’s your route.  I wanted to go lower fat so I used half a package of soft tofu which melted as soon as my mixing spoon touched it.
  • 1diced onion, sauteed with vegetables to start the cooking process
  • Vegetables.  Also sauteed with the onions.  Open your produce drawers and play connect the dots.  This is truly a recipe for making-over any leftover vegetables into a knockout.  I used about 2 cups of fresh eggplant and 1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach.

Ready set, 3 steps.  That’s all.

1.  Mix cheese, eggs, tofu, and extra flavorings in a large bowl.

2.  Saute the diced onion and vegetables in olive oil for 5-7 minutes until they are cooked.  The onions will be translucent.  I used eggplant and their color went from pale white to buttery yellow. Generally the vegetables need to cook a little beforehand to ensure that they are fully done and melt-in-your-mouth-soft when you serve the quiche.

3.  Mix everything together to make the filling.  Empty it into your pie shall.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, plus or minus.  Insert a toothpick or butter knife in the center and make sure it comes out clean.

Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Kale, and Olives

Skip the cooking tutorial, print the recipe, and get cooking: Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

Ever poached anything besides eggs?  Even if you haven’t poached eggs, which is delicious and makes them creamy and delicate, poaching is an underrated cooking method.  It gets no love.

Poaching is actually very easy and fool-proof, my favorite way to cook.  At its heart, here’s the poaching equation:

liquid+something to cook=poaching

Of course variations exist for everything.

What kind of liquid? Water, chicken or vegetable broth, wine, dessert wine.  With herbs?  With vegetables like beets to add color?

What are ya cooking? Eggs, chicken, pears, fish….  You get the idea.

Today we’re making an easy herb-poached chicken with a sweet and piquant taste.  This method of poaching will make your chicken absolutely, flawlessly moist and flavorful, but here’s the caveat.  You have to follow directions to a tee.  I know this is hard (look who’s talking), following a recipe word for word makes me feel like I’m in a straight jacket sometimes.  However, due to some awful baking disasters recently, I’ve learned that directions have a purpose, especially in something where the method guarantees delight.

OK, I exaggerate, you don’t have to follow every single direction for ingredients, but THE METHOD of poaching including timing and taking it off heat MUST maintain its purity.  I repeat.  Follow the method like your life depended on it, but you can improvise with ingredients.  (In my personal opinion, though no one asked, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, piquancy of the olives, and extra healthiness of the kale are a very tasy and colorful combo).

Start with your poaching liquid.  I have 2 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken broth.  I’m going to have so much herb-flavor going on that I wanted a diluted chicken broth.  Here’s the list of herbs: 2 bay leaves, 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, 3 sprigs of fresh oregano, and 10-12 fresh basil leaves.  Oh yeah, plus 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  If you are flavor-phobic, just halve the fresh herbs; it’ll still give the chicken a subtle herb taste, just not as robust.

Don’t be intimidated by the amount of herbs here.  Or for that matter your hands smelling like an herb garden.  This is goodness.

Liquid- check.  Now place 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the poaching liquid.

Warning: this is the part where you HAVE to follow directions.

Bring the pot up to a boil.  Cover it.  Bring down the heat so the liquid has a nice simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  TURN OFF THE HEAT, and let the chicken sit, covered, in its poaching liquid for 15 minutes.  After you’re done, take the chicken out.  Don’t keep it cooking in the pot otherwise it’ll get dry and over cooked.  Make sure you use your microwave or oven timers to remind you about this process.

OK, that’s the end of the mandatory method.  Let’s get to work on the topping for this chicken.

Start with prepping the kale.  I have 1 bunch of dinosaur kale.  I love how the grooves on the leaves look like dinosaur scales.

We’ll need to remove the woody stems.  Fold the leaves in half.

Then carefully, slide your knife along the stem to cut it out.

When you open the kale back up, it’ll look like it has legs.

Once you have all the kale trimmed of the woody stems, rough chop it.

Next.  Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and heat it over medium-high heat.  Add the cherry tomatoes.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  You’ll see the skin start to crack open like a flower bursting on some tomatoes.  Others will begin to gush their sweet, red juices.

Sprinkle the kale on top.  Now add in about 1/2 cup of dry white wine.

Don’t forget to pour yourself a glass.  Cooking is tough stuff.  If you don’t cook with alcohol, use chicken broth or, worst case scenario, water.

Cook this about 5 minutes until the kale starts to wilt and look like it’s hugging the cherry tomatoes.

Now add 1/2 cup of mixed flavorful olives.  I like kalamata and pimiento-stuffed green olives.

Have I told you that I now have 3 jars of kalamata olives in my cupboard?  Just gotta make sure we’ll never run out of them.

Cook the olives, kale, and cherry tomatoes another 3-5 minutes.  Make sure some cherry tomatoes have maintained their shape- oh Lord, when you bite into them, warm sweetness will explode on your tongue.

Once you’re ready to serve, cut up the herb-poached chicken in slices, then top with the Cherry tomatoes, kale, and olive mixture.

I promise, your taste buds will dance in delight.

Veracruz-Style Tilapia (Tilapia Veracruzana)

We’re riding the end of summer produce wave here in NorCal.  It started with zucchini, now we are in the midst of a tomato influx.

For more tomato recipes see Homemade Tomato Sauce and Chilled Gazpacho.

Skip the story and get a cookin’ with the printable recipe: Veracruz-Style Tilapia

Some of my favorite foods are from what Christopher Columbus intriguingly called “The New World.”  These foods include tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, avocados, and let’s not forget potatoes from the land of the Incas.  As much as we equate tomatoes with Italian food, it was a Central American ingredient first, and indeed some of the tastiest uses for summer-ripened tomatoes can be found especially in Mexican food.

Veracruz-style fish is the most popular fish dish in Mexico, followed closely by fish tacos.  OK, I made up the fish tacos taking second place, but Veracruz, a state on the eastern edge of Mexico bordering the Caribbean Sea, is well-known for its seafood.

Traditionally it’s made with red snapper, a medium-firm white fish, but bass and (in this recipe) tilapia make fine substitutes.  The only thing to remember with tilapia is that very thin fillets have a tendency to fall apart since it is such a light fish.  You can see this evidenced in my above final dish picture.  What this means is you have to cook the fish at the absolute last minute before you’re ready to serve so it doesn’t totally fall apart.  OK the last 6 minutes; they do need to cook.  Another option would be to cook the sauce and fish separate, then top the fish with the rich, red sauce when ready to serve.  Your delicious choice.

We’ll start with tomatoes, about 1 large tomato per serving.  We’ll need to peel these with a paring knife which is a short, sharp knife, usually with an edge about 2-3 inches long and a handle that just feels like it’s made for the palm of your hand.  It’s used for precise cutting requirements, like peeling tomatoes.  Adult supervision is required for anyone over age 18.  First hint: be careful.  Second hint: have confidence in your abilities; the knife, not to mention the tomato, can feel it.  Third hint: don’t use overripe tomatoes since there is a higher chance of cutting yourself as you peel the skin off.

Start at the top, where the core is.  Slide your paring knife just under the tomato’s skin.  This is the kind of cutting task that will let you know if you have a sharp knife or not.

Making a circular path, continue cutting the peel until you reach the bottom.  With practice, it should come off all in one long, funny looking concentric circle piece.  Don’t worry if yours doesn’t look like that.  We all need a goal to work towards sometimes.

When you get to the end, sometimes you can just pull the last chunk off.

Rough chop your tomatoes and place in a food processor.

Whir them until they look like this.

Many people like to puree half the tomatoes and chop up the other half for a chunkier sauce texture.  This is a delicious variation.  I’m lazy, so I just puree them all.

Dice up 1 onion of your color choice.  Dice up a bell pepper of your color choice.  There can be a lot of color combos here.  I’ll leave the algorithms to people who know how to figure that out.

We’re also going to seed and de-membrane 2 fresh jalapeno peppers.  This means cut the peppers in half and slip your knife right under the membranes to cut the white parts out.  Can you handle a lot of heat?  Then be lazy and leave the seeds and membranes in and just dice the pepper up.

Saute these pieces of aromatic bliss (onions, peppers, jalapenos) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Don’t forget about the 5 cloves of minced garlic.  This recipe is not for the flavor-phobic.  Then again, none of my recipes are.

Pour in the pureed tomatoes.  Bring the sauce up to a simmer.

Slice up some pimento-filled green olives.  Those are the ones with the little red peppers stuffed inside, but don’t worry they’re not hot peppers.  Think 4-5 olives per serving.

Oh goodness this makes me want to have a dirty martini.

Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

Simmer the sauce until it thickens.  Or, if you’re in a rush, make a slurry by dissolving 2 teaspoons of corn starch in 2 teaspoons of water in a small cup.  Once it turns a murky white color, drop it into the tomato sauce, then continue the simmer until thickened.

Add your tilapia fillets.  Drown them in sauce as best you can so they soak up all the delicious flavor. Cook until flaky, about 6 minutes for super thin fillets, like mine.

Serve with sliced, boiled potatoes for a true New World dinner.  This dish gets along with white or brown rice also.

Ratatouille Lasagna

Ratatouille is French for recipe that uses up everything from summer produce.

Zucchini- check

Eggplant- check

Peppers- check

Tomatoes- check

Basil- check

It’s very versatile too.  We can make it, like the famous Pixar movie, into a gratin.  We can use it as a jazzed up spaghetti sauce.  A calzone.  A quiche.  An omelet (very French).  Wrapped up like a cigar in crepes (very, very French).  You get the idea.

Today we’re making a Ratatouille Lasagna because in an attempt to clear out my pantry, I noticed that I have 3 1/2  boxes of lasagna noodles.

Wanna print this recipe and get on with the cooking? Ratatouille Lasagna

This recipe is a Choose Your Own Adventure style based on 4 key components: noodles, sauce, cheese, and yumminess (veggies, meat, leftovers, you get the idea).  I’m gonna give you options at each step, except for the yumminess part because I’m a control-freak, and this is a Ratatouille Lasagna

Part 1: Noodles.  You can (A) save yourself about 1/2 hour by going with the no-boil which means 10 seconds of opening a box or (B) neurotically obsess over whether the noodles are just under al dente as you boil them in preparation.  We’ll need 9 noodles.  Choose wisely my friends.

Part 2: Sauce.  Since ratatouille is tomato-based, we’re sticking to tradition.  You can (A) save yourself 2-3 hours of work by opening a jar of your favorite tomato-sauce (or the one that was on sale this past week) or (B) neurotically obsess over the thickness of Homemade Tomato Sauce from the avalanche of tomatoes your garden has bequeathed you.  I will be the first to admit that some days you want to go all Anne-of-Green-Gables and do things from scratch and some days you just want to open that jar of tomato sauce and call it a day.  No judgement here.  We’ll need 2 to 2 1/2 cups of sauce.

Part 3: Cheese.  You can (A) use 1 cup of cottage cheese or (B) 1 cup of ricotta.  Mix it in a small bowl with 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of salt.  The egg helps thing to bind.  Set this aside until layering time.

Mixin’ it up.

You will also need some grated mozzarella, about 1/2 of an 8-ounce package.

And about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  If you are a cheese-nut (not to be confused with a cheese-head Packers’ fan) feel free to add more grated cheese.

Part 4: The Ratatouille Yumminess.  All adventures lead here.

First we’ve got the classic summer vegetables.  Forgive me for not photographing the diced onion.

We’re going to saute the onions and peppers over medium-high heat in a little olive oil (1 tablespoon) to give the house a mouth-watering aroma.  Be sure to beat off stray husbands who wander in with a wooden spoon.

Next add the eggplant and 1 more tablespoon of olive oil.  If I had remembered to take a picture, you’d see that I’ve got half of a large one chopped into 1-inch pieces.  When eggplants cook their color changes to a brilliant yellow and they turn sweet.  They need a little more oil to help them along in the cooking process.  As little sponges, the eggplant will soak up the extra olive oil you add to the pan.

Saute about 4-5 minutes, occasionally stirring to avoid burning.  But don’t get obsessive, we do want some edges to caramelize.

Add 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and the zucchini.  The eggplant should look halfway softened and sweeten even more as the zucchini cooks, another 4-5 minutes.

(Side note: if you’re using store-bought tomato sauce you’ll need to add some flavor: oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, a couple of minced garlic cloves, whatever suits your mood for the day.  You could also just buy one of those all-in-one Provencal spice mixes and use that.  Choose your own Ratatouille adventure.)

Now the layering process.  My theory is this: first, it needs to start with a little cooking spray and sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking; two, it needs at least 3 layers of noodles to be called a lasagna, and finally 3, it needs to end with sauce and cheese on top.  Everything else in the middle really doesn’t matter as long as these 3 requirements are met, so below is just a suggestion for layering.

Start with a light spray of cooking spray (extra prevention against sticking) and 1/2 cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 7 1/2″ by 11″ baking dish.  (Requirement #1 met)

Layer 3 lasagna noodles.

Top those noodles with about a third of the remaining sauce and half of the ratatouille vegetables.

Make sure you have everything around you, assembly line style.

3 more noodle layers.  Try to mix up how you layer the noodles.

Plop on half of the riccotta-egg-salt mixture.

Isn’t that graceful?  Spread it around as best you can.  I doubt it will cover everything, don’t worry it’ll melt and spread out in the oven.

Top this with half your mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and another third of the sauce.

Also spread around the rest of the ratatouille vegetables.  Realize you’re reaching the top of the pan and need to somehow cram the rest of the ingredients in; this is an expected situation when making lasagna.  Remember, it all bakes down.

Cover with 3 more noodles.  I had to reach for another box (remember I have 3 other boxes of noodles) which is why 2 of these noodles look like they don’t belong.  (Requirement #2 met, 3 layers of noodles).

Now finish it off with the rest of your sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella/Parmesan mix.  (Requirement #3 met: end with cheese.)

Cover with foil (quick hint: spray the foil with cooking spray to prevent half of your cheese topping from coming off when you remove the foil).

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Remove the foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes until your cheese is browned to perfection.

Merci l’été.

Chilaquiles Verdes

Not Chee-la-qwee-les.

It’s Chee-la-kee-les, and for every Mexican grandmother or mother in the world, there exists a different recipe for them.  What are chilaquiles?  Fried tortilla strips (or triangles) cooked in salsa often mixed with other meat, eggs, or vegetables.  Not only are they a great way to use up old tortillas (though new ones are fine too), but allegedly they cure hangovers too.  Not that I would have any experience with that.

There’s a spectrum for how people like their chilaquiles.

Very soggy–soggy–somewhat soggy–somewhat crispy–crispy–very crispy.

And yes, there exists shades of gray between each of these categories.  I like mine somewhat soggy, otherwise I’d just be eating chips and salsa.  If you want crispier options, see the note at the end of this post.

Printable Recipe: Chilaquiles Verdes

You’ll need some Salsa Verde first.  Click the link if you don’t know how to make it, but the printable recipe also explains how to make fresh Salsa Verde in step 1.  Basically pulse tomatillos, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, and jalapenos until it liquifies but not so much that it becomes one uniform green salsa; we want to be able to see the bits and pieces.

Next, prepare the tortillas.  I’ve got 12 here, approximately 3 per person.

Cut them in half.

Then make strips from those halves about 1/2″ wide.

If you prefer triangle over oddly shaped rectangles, you can do that with your tortillas.

Heat up 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil over high heat.  Add half of the tortillas strips.

Move ‘um around to make a single layer.  As best you can.

Now DON’T TOUCH for 3-4 minutes.  They are frying up, edges start crisping, but some parts stay soft.  After 3-4 minutes, move them around with a wooden spoon and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.  Cook longer for crispier tortillas, but you may also have to use more oil.

Drain them on a paper towel and sprinkle on salt.

Repeat with another 1/4 cup of oil and the rest of the tortillas.  Set the just barely crisped tortillas aside until the last moment of cooking when we will put them in at the end to maintain those bits of crunch.

Now, let’s attempt to make chilaquiles healthy.  It is not an oxymoron.  We’ve got zucchini.

And a sweet bell pepper.  This is a gypsy pepper.

We’ll saute this yumminess for 3-5 minutes.  Please use the same pan you fried the tortilla strips with, unless you like to do dishes.

Add the Salsa Verde and swish it around to coat everything.

Cook for another 3 minutes so some of the excess water can evaporate out.

When you are ready to serve, add the tortilla strips.  This way parts of the strips will retain their crispiness integrity, but the softer parts will soak up the Salsa Verde.

Coat the tortilla strips with vegetables and Salsa Verde.  Cook a couple minutes until heated through.  Eat as needed to alleviate hangovers, I mean to use up leftover tortillas.

Variations: Add tofu, cooked meat, scrambled egg, or top with a fried egg for a more substantial meal.

Note at the end of the post: For crispier chilaquiles, use tortilla chips or broken tostada pieces, or fry the tortilla strips in smaller batches and in more oil.  Don’t mix the fried tortillas and salsa until the absolute last minute you want it, unless you like your chilaquiles very soft.

No Bake Stuffed Peppers

It’s HOT and the last thing I want is to have my oven going for 45 minutes to an hour baking a stuffed pepper.  This recipe makes life much easier.  The peppers get seared in hot olive oil, giving them a roasted flavor in less then 8 minutes.  Though a word of caution- there’s lots of spattering oil, so keep a healthy distance.  The stuffing is a basic meat-potato-tomato one that cooks up very quickly.  Your choice if you want to use ground beef or a package of spicy seasoned ground tofu for a vegetarian option.  This recipe is inspired by an empanadas recipes from The Passionate Vegetarian.  The pepper preparation method is also from this book.

Printable: No Bake Stuffed Bell Peppers

1.  Start with prep.  Boil 1 large or 2 small potatoes in water until done.  If you are using ground beef now is the time to cook it and set it aside until needed.
2.  While the potatoes cook, prepare the bell peppers by searing them in hot oil.  Click here for the step by step tutorial.
3.  Saute 1 diced onion and 2 diced jalapeno (seeds and membranes removed for less heat) in the left over pepper-oil.
4.  Mix in 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and 3-5 cloves of minced garlic, depending on preferences or the number of vampires in your neighborhood.

5. Add in the cooked ground beef or 10-ounce package of spiced ground tofu.
6.  By this point, your potato should be finished cooking.  Chop into approximately 1-inch pieces.  Some of the skin may fall off.
7.  Spoon in 1/2 can of tomato paste and enough water to help you disintegrate the paste with a wooden spoon.

8. Gently mix in chopped fresh parsley and cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper.

9.  Heap each pepper half with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of stuffing.  Serve with a garden salad or rice.

Homemade Chili

Who doesn’t love those cook once for several meals recipes?  This is ingenuity at its best.  One recipe, 3 meals.  Did I mention that these were camping meals? Though, of course, they don’t have to be.

This chili recipe is one of those cook once for several meals, and it is an ideal time saver for camping.  When camping you don’t have to sacrifice a delicious meal because you have to cook over a fire or only have a 2 burner camping stove.  From my mother-in-law, Pat, an all-star camper, I’ve learned that all you need to do is a little bit of preparation.  The day before we headed out, I cooked up a batch of this chili.  While camping, it became the key ingredient for 3 dinners.  I kept it in a tight fitting Tupperware in our cooler.

First night: Classic chili with toppings: cheese, green onions, and tortilla chips for dipping

Second night: Chili Dogs.  Roast the hot dogs over the campfire until the casing has cracked and the juices leak out and sizzle.  Lightly toast the bun over the fire as well.  Top the hot dogs with chili beans, cheese, green onions et al.

Third night: Stuffed baked potatoes.  Cook potatoes by the campfire by wrapping them in 2-3 layers of aluminum foil.  They take between 30-45 minutes, and you have to remember to flip and move them around so they evenly cook.  (Warning some parts may burn, just cut those off)  When potatoes are fork tender, cut them in half.  Pile on the remaining chili and any other toppings of your choice.

I hope you’re going camping soon because we all need to get away for a few days and sit chatting around a campfire.

Printable Recipe: Homemade Chili

You’ll need one large pot so you can minimize clean up.

Start with browning 1 pound of ground beef.  Since we don’t eat ground beef very often, when we do, I like to buy 100% grass-fed beef.  The taste is much more flavorful and heartier.I love using this gadget, I call it my ground beef breaker-upper.

Also add 1 small diced onion.

Cook these over medium heat until just barely browned, 7-10 minutes.

Since grass fed beef generally has more fat content, I drain it by placing paper towels in a colander in order to soak up the excess fat.  If you’re using beef that has a 10% or less fat content or really like the fat, you can skip this step.Eewww, gross.  That’s why we’re throwing it out.

Using the same pot, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute some of the veggies that require more cooking time: red pepper and carrots were what I had in the fridge.  Cook these over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.  Add 5 cloves of minced garlic.  It sounds like a lot, you can always use less.  In my house, we are flavor junkies, so we like lots of garlic.

Add the beef back to the pot.

Open a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and dump it all into the pot.  I only had a can of whole tomatoes on hand, so I had to break them up with my fingers before adding them in.  Here’s hoping your pantry is more prepared than mine.

Here’s what we have so far.

The secret to good chili is spices.  My preferred ones are cumin for smokiness, chili powder to make it taste like chili, and dried oregano for earthiness.

You cannot make chili without spices.  If all you have on hand is chili powder, at least add that in.  If you don’t have anything, now is the time to go to the store and get some.  We cannot move forward in a chili recipe without spices.

Drain 1 14-ounce can of red kidney beans (pinto would be good too) and add it to the chili.Your chili will be thick.  Some people like it this way and others, like me, need more juices. I added 1 cup of water plus 1/2 of a 6-ounce can of tomato paste.  You can’t just add water to chili without bringing in some flavor.  A small can of tomato sauce would be a nice substitute.

Do some soul-searching and figure out how you like your chili.  Don’t take it personally if someone criticizes your chili and thinks it needs more or less liquid.  Chili is one of the most personal dishes one can make; be especially careful when serving Southwesterners; they are VERY opinionated about their chili and every Southwesterner I know likes to share his/her opinion whether you are listening or not.

If you’re trying to use up zucchini from you garden this is a good time to chop it up and add it in.

Simmer the chili for 20-30 minutes.  The flavor only gets better with each day which is why it’s perfect for taking on a camping trip.

Sorry no end photo- I was getting sleeping bags, tent, and other camping gear ready.

White Chicken Chili with Beer

I ask myself, it’s the middle of summer, why on earth am I making a soup?  You may doubt my thought processes (I sure do sometimes), but this White Chicken Chili with Beer recipe will make you want to forget the heat and just go and make a batch.

Printable Recipe:White Chicken Chili with Beer

It all started with an idea to use cashews in chili to try to thicken it and make it creamy delicious.  Since cashews are a light taupe color, the chili had to be a white chili, not your classic red one.  This required some chicken and white beans.  I wish I found some white navy beans, but all my store had was white kidney beans, no matter.

Like any good chili, it all starts with the pot.  Stainless steel in my case.  Warm it up over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Swish it around to coat the bottom.

Now add 1 small diced onion,and 4 minced garlic cloves.We used to have this nifty plastic device that would poke through all the holes of the mincer and get the strangled remains.  Then it got mangled in the garbage disposal, and we decided to just use our fingernails.  Make sure you get all the garlic pieces.  Don’t get grossed out that your hands will smell.  If someone doesn’t like the smell of garlic, I think you need to reevaluate your relationship.

Shake it around so the onion begins to change color, some edges will be browned and beginning to caramelize and look like this: a little bit of brown, a little bit of translucent.Now add the diced chicken breast and your spices.1 heaping (and I mean heaping, abounding, overflowing) teaspoon EACH of chili powderand 1 of ground cumin.Dice up 1 jalapeno.  Can your house handle all the heat?  One person, who shall remain nameless, in my house isn’t a fan of spicy, so I have to cut out the seeds and membranes where all the heat is stored, like so.Also dice up the canned roasted chilies.  The seeds are fine from these chilies because they’ve been roasted and canned, so their taste is much more subtle.  Check out the charred parts.  That’s where the goodness is hidden.A little extra sauce is fine to add to the chili, but not all of it.  Or heck, why not, add all the sauce in.Use your trusty spoon to coat the chicken with spices and aromatics (AKA onions ‘n garlic ‘n chilies).  Start to cook the chicken for about 4 minutes until it’s white in parts, but other parts are still pink.  Now come the liquids.

Find yourself a great beer.  If you pick Bud Lite or Coors, well,  I suppose I can still appreciate you if you like those beers.  Just get some beer.

Add half the bottle to the chicken.  It’s up to your own discretion what you do with the other half of the beer. While the chicken starts to cook, go out to the garden and clip some fresh oregano.  Dried oregano is fine too though.

This was my fist time using herbs from my garden, so I got a little giddy.  He…he.

Chop the oregano and add it to the cooking chicken.

Add 2 cups of chicken broth. Drain the 2 cans of beans in a colander.  While you’re there, make sure to rinse them well with water; you’ll remove a lot of the excess salt. Place about 1 cup of beans in a blender, but dump the rest of the beans into the pot.

To the blender add ½ cup of cashews (about one left handful)and ½ cup of low-fat milk.  Liquefy until you get a creamy paste.  Then add to your chili.  It will change everything, color-wise.  It’ll also change the thickness of your chili.Here’s what it’ll do…make your chili beautiful and delicious.  Heck, it’ll make you beautiful and delicious.Last thing, stir in 2 tablespoons of cornmeal to help thicken it even more.  Make sure to break up any clumps that form from the cornmeal with your spoon.  This is a good place to end, but if you can handle another level of heat, mix in some good hot sauce, like Tapatio (preferably not Tabasco which is a little too vinagary).  3 splashes per serving.  That’s 6 servings.  You can do the math.

It’s inevitable.  All chili must be served with fresh, chopped cilantro.  I wish I added cheese.  I was desperately hungry.  Make sure you add cheese.  Mmmmm…a good pepper jack or monterey jack would be divine.P.S. Don’t forget about the rest of your beer.  Enjoy!