Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chili - It's Not Over Yet!

Just a few short weeks ago I was rifling through the freezer looking for one more container of frozen chili. It was the kind of day when winter gives you the cold shoulder for even thinking spring was in the air. Certainly, I thought, this could should would must be the last chili I'll need for the 2011 winter comfort food season.

Wrong! Today our temperatures are in the high 70's, but a strong wind will be bringing us down into the 30's by tomorrow. 

I double checked the 10-day forecast and I see that there will be days of a slow climb through the 40's and 50's before we are back into milder spring weather.

Again? Really? But it can't be. I'm out of chili already! And I've already searched the freezer again. I know it's all gone.

There might be just enough time to make one more batch of chili. Why not? It's not that you can't eat it when the temperatures warm up, but just that you don't necessarily crave the sweet, spicy comfort that is so good when it's cold outside. Like it will be tomorrow.

I know I'll be happy tomorrow, if I make one more batch today.

Hot today - chili tomorrow!

2 lbs. ground beef
1 29-oz. can tomato sauce
1 29-oz. can kidney beans, drained
1 29-ounce can pinto beans, drained
1 medium onion, diced
1 4-oz. can diced green chiles
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
3 tsp. ground cumin
3 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
3 cups water
Brown and crumble the ground beef over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or similar deep heavy pot; drain fat.  Replace ground beef in pan and add remaining ingredients; bring to a simmer.  Continue to cook for 2 to 3 hours, stirring often.  Can also be prepared in slow cooker after browning ground beef.  Makes 10 servings.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

100% Whole Wheat Bread for the Bread Machine

Recently, I was inspired by a loaf of bread I saw on Kalyn's Kitchen. Her recipe was for 100% Whole Wheat Bread with all sorts of healthy stuff added in and made in a bread machine. I wanted to make it right away.

Small problem. My pantry is usually well-stocked with ingredients, both common and uncommon. I had the exact flour she used, as well as the oats, bran and flax seed. What I didn't have on hand were vital wheat gluten and dough enhancer, probably because I can't buy them around here. I know. I checked again, just to make sure.

So, after a lifetime of living without immediate access to many of the things I want, I went to Vermont! I was surfing the King Arthur Flour website and had both items in my basket and ordered in no time. All that was left was patiently waiting for the UPS man to bring the order to my door.

But I grew impatient. Soon I was back in the kitchen,flipping through my files for a whole wheat bread machine recipe without the missing ingredients. The one I found did not have the all the additional healthy ingredients, but it called for regular 100% whole wheat flour, which I liked. What the heck, I decided, and hauled the bread machine out of the cabinet.

The wait continues for the King Arthur order but, in the meantime, I've made a great loaf of bread. I will admit that the top of the loaf collapsed at some point during the baking, but I don't think it had any negative effect, other than appearance. In fact, I kind of like the moist, dense loaf of bread I ended up with. A little trimming of the crispy edges around the top and it looked just like the square loves of very thinly sliced Pepperidge Farm Whole Wheat - one of my favorites for calorie counting and tea sandwiches. Mine also has the sweet, nutty flavor of whole wheat and none of those scary ingredients from most commercial loaves.  It toasted nicely and held up to juicy sandwich ingredients.

Thanks to Kalyn for the inspiration and I will try her recipe as soon as my groceries are delivered from Vermont. In the meantime, here's my take on a simple, delicious whole wheat bread machine recipe. I think I'll try it again with the Vital Wheat Gluten, Dough Enhancer and a bit more yeast next time, just to see if it will hold the rise through baking. All in all, my simple loaf of whole wheat bread is delicious consolation while I wait.

Guess I won't be putting the bread machine away for a while.

100% Whole Wheat Bread
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp. powdered milk
2 tbsp. margarine
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. yeast

Follow the instructions for the bread machine for adding ingredients to the baking pan. Insert the baking pan into the oven making sure it is locked in place securely. Program bread machine for a 2-pound loaf of whole wheat bread. Press start. Follow machine instructions to remove and cool bread. Store bread in a plastic zip bag.

This is a moist dense loaf of whole wheat bread and it is sturdy enough for toast and regular sandwiches. It can also be sliced very thinly, similar to Pepperidge Farm Very Thin Whole Wheat Bread, making it perfect for cucumber and other tea sandwiches.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Simple Pleasures - Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

Roasted Chicken - A classy culinary classic!

Between my junior and senior years of college, I spent the summer working in Washington, DC  and living away from my family for the first time ever. The day my parents left to drive back home, they dropped me off at my office at Georgetown University. For the rest of the day, I sat in a conference room reading computer printouts and crying. For eight hours. But that's another story.

I became good friends with a co-worker, a young single mother named Peggy, who invited me home for dinner one evening after work. While she worked in the kitchen, I enjoyed playing games with her little boy in the living room. Before we knew it, Peggy called us to the table, where I first laid eyes on one of culinary world's classics -- a whole roasted chicken surrounded by vegetables.

What's this, I thought? I was familiar with roasted turkeys for the holidays, but I had no idea you could roast a whole chicken. What a great idea! Before I even knew the term for it, I made a note to self. 

An hour is a very reasonable amount of time to prepare dinner. The aroma wafting from the kitchen for that hour was tantalizing. The presentation made a weekday seem like a special occasion. And the flavor was pure and simple comfort food.

With the hindsight that comes with age and experience, I know now why my mother had never served us a roasted chicken. Even though the preparation was fast and easy and the taste divine, my mother would have been wasting her time (not to mention putting all of us in danger!) by placing a platter with a whole roasted chicken in the center of a table ringed with my five hungry brothers.

I shudder to think how that scene might have played out. Hands reaching out from around that table simultaneously selecting grabbing legs and wings and then cutting yanking the less obvious pieces out from the shreds of honey-brown skin.

No, even a stunning presentation could not trump, my mother's need to feed -- with all deliberate speed!

And let's not even consider arming my brothers the hungry horde with carving knives. No, no, my god NO! 

So instead, my mother became an expert at carving up two or more whole chickens in the kitchen ... all by herself ... probably while we were still at school ... and serving them oven-fried. It was a thrifty, simple and fast way to feed the family hungry horde. And we gobbled up every piece on the platter! Every single one.

I didn't discover leftovers until I graduated from college a year later and left home for good. It was quite a while before I learned to cook for two, instead of eight, so I had plenty of leftovers. But that is yet another story!

I love how easy it can be to roast a whole chicken for a smaller family dinner -- four to six is good. And even if you prepare meals for just one or two, the light lemony-herb flavor of this chicken is perfect for chicken salad sandwiches or potpie. It's a twofer!

Let's recap:
  1. quick and easy
  2. healthy ingredients
  3. impressive presentation
  4. feeds the average family
  5. good for one or two, too
  6. good leftovers
  7. comfort food

1 whole chicken (5-6 lbs.)
1 lemon
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
dried or fresh chopped rosemary
1 head garlic
1 small onion
vegetables, chopped in 1-in. pieces
  (your choice of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions etc.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove any giblets from inside of chicken. Rinse and pat dry. Roll lemon on counter with palm of hand to release juices. Pierce lemon all over with point of sharp knife and cut in half. Squeeze 1/2 of lemon over the outside of the chicken. Rub entire chicken with olive oil, inside and outside. Sprinkle inside and outside generously with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and dried chopped rosemary. Cut whole head of garlic in half crosswise. Peel onion and cut in half. Place lemon, garlic and onion inside chicken until cavity is filled. Any pieces that won't fit inside may be placed in the roasting pan with chicken. Place chicken in oven and roast for 30 minutes. Remove roasting pan and add chopped vegetables, turning them in juices to coat. Return chicken to oven and continue to cook. As soon as internal temperature of chicken reaches 180 degrees, remove immediately and allow chicken to rest about 10 minutes before slicing. If vegetables are not cooked completely, return roasting pan with vegetables to oven and continue cooking while chicken cools. Vegetables should be slightly brown and crispy on the outside, but not mushy! Chicken may be served whole and sliced at the table or cut and sliced before serving on a platter with vegetables. Leftover chicken may be used for chicken salad or a potpie with vegetables.