Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cheater's Chili

I love this chili and so do my friends and in laws. I've kept this recipe locked up because its so easy and cheap that its almost embarrassing. The chili comes out tasting sweet and savory, like it took me hours to prepare. I usually make Jiffy Corn Bread Muffins with this meal. They're simple and quick to mix up, costing only 68 cents at Walmart. I actually prefer them to any other cornbread mix except for Penguin mix sold at Costco.

I think the secret to good cooking comes not from following recipes to the "T" or from being timid with ingredients. Good cooks know which flavors pair well, and season to their taste. The only way to learn what pairs to perfection is to practice! We've eaten many meals in this house that we're just terrible and my husband, on his best behavior, gagged them down but we've had so many more that we're phenomenal. My recipes are templates for a delicious meal, start here and add as you like.

Cheater's Chili
Feeds 2 for a few days, 3 very hungry people, 4 average eaters

You will need
Time: 1 hour
(for this recipe assume all ingredients generic)

2lbs ground beef, or turkey
2 cans chili ready tomatoes. I actually prefer Walmart generic for this, though their generics are often very bad.
1 can chili ready beans
6 oz can tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
Several tablespoons chili powder
Raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Dice the onion and mince the garlic.
2. Heat olive oil in pot. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper and chili powder.
3. Saute onion and garlic in a large pot until golden.
4. Add the beef or turkey and brown over medium heat. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon of chili powder.
5. Add in 1 tablespoon of raw sugar. The flavor is much fuller than white sugar.
6. Once the meat has browned add the canned goods. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
7. Stir in 2 tablespoons of chili power, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and if you like it hot, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
8. Let simmer with the lid off for at least 10 minutes. The flavors will blend better if the chili is left to simmer for about a half an hour but if you're in a hurry it will be just fine.
9. Serve with fresh grated cheddar cheese and diced sweet onion.

This recipe doesn't call for any bell peppers but I've made it with bell peppers, and hot peppers too. They would be cooked the same as the onions and garlic in the beginning. If you're low on meat or surprise guests arrive just add additional beans and tomatoes.


Like any other mom, my time for food prep is limited by the occasional screaming of children, or in this morning's case, Eva sweetly asking, "please" over and over. I used to make my girls instant fruit oatmeal packets for breakfast. It was fast and seemed healthy enough... Well, it isn't that healthy, many flavored oatmeals contain the dreaded high fructose corn syrup and many other fillers! I have a much healthier and cheaper way to mix up some fruity oatmeal for your littles ones.


Servings 2 children
You will need
Time >5 minutes

18 oz canister of generic quick oats. This is much cheaper than individual packets and even saves the environment by using less packaging. For this recipe use...
3/4 cup quick oats
1 cup whole milk
Several generous tablespoons of apple sauce (or fresh mashed banana, mango, strawberries). We used a generic organic applesauce, again we do not buy individual sized servings.
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 pinch of salt. I used sea salt that I got in a bulk size grinder from Costco.
A drizzle of raw honey.

1. Add the oats, milk, salt and cinnamon.
2. Microwave for about a minute and a half.
3. Add applesauce and honey.
4. Serve to your little ones with love! :)

You can also substitute fruit juice for the milk,or water, depending on what you have and what nutrition you need.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't overcompensate with soy sauce!

Today, as usual, I cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my little family. Our "baby" girls are getting pickier by the day. It seems that they will only eat fresh avocados, mangoes, bananas, select cheeses, yogurt and occasionally chicken. All other foods are thrown to the floor and followed with tears. I find myself asking, "how did I let this happen? I read all of the Pearl's child training materials!" Perhaps it happened out of convenience, those things are all healthy and easy to prepare. Cooking separate meals for babies is a lot of work. "Why not feed them what you eat?" Well, until recently our diet generally consisted of very spicy home cooked meals, rare steaks, and take out. None of which are baby friendly. But I digress. Hopefully, over the next week my girls will start eating a more varied diet. For now, they have to eat the stockpile of mangoes and avocados in the kitchen.

Around 4:30 as Michael was still deep in the matrix (writing code), he told me that he wanted Chinese food for dinner and since we are now budgeters, that I should cook up something Chinese, and fast, because he was ravenous... And ravenous men are mean! Here is my take on a take-out classic.

Chinese Take Out Flickinger Style

You will need
Time: >1 hour

3 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup or more of oil for frying
2 eggs
2 chicken breasts
1 cup (or more) broccoli
1 onion cut into eighths
1 shallot sliced thin
4 cloves of garlic sliced thin
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 parts schezuan sauce
1 part soy sauce
1 part hoisin sauce

1. Set up 3 bowls
Bowl 1 corn starch, bowl 2 eggs, beaten, bowl 3 flour
2. Season the flour with salt, pepper, and paprika to your liking. Be generous.
3. Heat up the cooking oil in a deep skillet. I used our cast iron because it holds heat so well. Fill the oil up about an inch and a half, so that the chicken will be half submerged in the oil as it cooks.
4. Dredge the chicken in the corn starch, eggs, and then flour.
5. Fry the chicken until it lifts clean off the skillet and is golden brown. Flip and repeat. I wasn't paying attention as I cooked but I think its about 10 minutes a side.
6. While the chicken is cooking, saute the broccoli, onion, shallot and garlic in a wok or other large pan with olive oil. It is wise to season the oil itself with the salt and pepper. It imparts a greater flavor to your food.
7. Once you've flipped the chicken, the house smells amazing, and the dog is so close that you've tripped over him 3 times its time to mix up the sauce! Any Asian style finishing sauce will do but for this meal I prefer a schezuan sauce mixed with 1 part soy sauce and 1 part hoisin. The schezuan alone is very spicy, but when tempered with soy sauce and the sweetness of hoisin, its just amazing. Stir some sauce into your saute and drizzle the rest over the chicken once its plated.
8. Hopefully you made yourself some white rice along the way!

Serve the chicken on a bed of white rice with the veggies on the side or mixed in with the rice.

This whole meal took me just less than an hour from start to finish, including all prep, distractions, dragging highchairs onto the back porch, and setting the table.

A word of caution! In my efforts to be the best, most economical wife, I used extra soy sauce because we were out of hoisin and probably won't be buying any more this month. What a mistake! If you don't have all the delicious sauces that make this meal ideal just cut back all together. Too much soy made the meal too wet and too salty.