The Chili Experiment

When Darren and I moved in together, we always referred to making chili as “The Chili Experiment,” because no matter if I thought I was making it the exact same way, it never turned out tasting the same.  Chili is one of those things that you can sort of make up as you go along.  I do a lot of my cooking like this, and so for this post, there is not a standard recipe at the end.  Over the years I’ve made many different types of chili like vegetarian chili, chicken chili, and many many many variations of standard chili.  The instructions I’m posting today is pretty much what I do to make a standard chili.  This time I used my crock pot because it was one of those days where we were coming and going all day, and this way I got it going in the morning and it was perfect when we got home at dinnertime.

I started by browning my ground beef in a frying pan.  I used a non-stick pan so I didn’t have to add any extra fat.  I also like to buy extra lean ground beef, but once the beef is browned, I’ll rinse it with cold water and drain it to get all of the fat out.

Browing some extra lean ground beef

Browing some extra lean ground beef

 

After the meat was browned and rinsed, I kept it in the frying pan and added some finely diced onions and continued to cook this mixture over a medium heat.

Adding some onions to the meat

Adding some onions to the meat

 

As the onions started to soften up, I added some diced celery and continued to cook over medium heat.

Adding diced celery

Adding diced celery

 

Next I added about a half teaspoon of minced garlic and continued cooking.

Getting a bit steamy, but minced garlic was added and mixture continued to cook

Getting a bit steamy, but minced garlic was added and mixture continued to cook

 

Once everything was a bit soft and browned, I poured the contents of the frying pan into the crock of my slow cooker, along with a large zucchini that I diced up.  You can add any vegetables you want at this point (often I will add shredded carrots as well).

Into the crockpot it goes

Into the crockpot it goes

 

Next I poured in 2 cans of plain stewed tomatoes.  I then filled both cans with water (to get all of the tomatoey goodness) and added the water to the crockpot and gave everything a stir.

Addition of stewed tomatoes and water

Addition of stewed tomatoes and water

 

Next I added two large cans of red kidney beans and two large cans of black beans.  I like to rinse the beans before I add them to get rid of all of the gross goo that is in the can.  Normally I would replace one of the the cans of red kidney beans with a can of canelli (or white kidney) beans, but I didn’t have any on hand.  You can add as much or as little beans to your chili as you want.  You can also add pretty much any variety that you like.  Beans are so healthy and full of fibre, so I like to load my chili up.  You can also add chickpeas if you want.

Adding the beans

Adding the beans

 

Next it is time to start flavouring the chili.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add chili seasoning to taste.  Sometimes I also add hot sauce or cayenne pepper to really spice things up, but since I was hoping Scarlett would eat some (she didn’t), I kept it fairly mild.  During my many chili experiments, I have also discovered a few additions that really make the chili.  One of these additions is Heinz Chili Sauce.  I usually have a bottle of this in the fridge and another in the cupboard.  It is a really great addition to a lot of things.  It is sort of like a zesty, chunky ketchup and can be found with the ketchup in the grocery store.  For this batch of chili, I added a whole bottle, but again, add to taste.

Chili sauce

Chili sauce

 

The other addition I like to make is one that I came upon by accident and not something that I would normally buy or use.  For some reason we had a can of Heinz Chili Style Beans, so I threw them into a batch of chili, and they added just the perfect flavour, so now I always make a point to use a can or two in my chili.

Chili style beans

Chili style beans

 

Once everything was in the crockpot, I gave it a big stir and then set it to high to start to simmer.  You can’t keep it on high too long, because beans tend to stick to the bottom of the crockpot and start to burn.  I ruined a whole batch of chili once because of this.  Once the chili starts to simmer (it took about an hour), I gave the pot a big stir again, making sure the scrape the bottom of the pot, and then set the crock pot to low.

Cooking away

Cooking away

 

We have a standing rule in our home, that whoever gets home from work, or wherever, first, turns the crockpot to the “keep warm” setting, especially if it has been on for more than 6 hours.  At this point, I also did some tasting (since the flavours had had a few hours to mix), and added any salt, pepper, or spices that I thought it still needed.  I also mixed in about a cup of frozen corn.  This is a new addition to chili for us, but the corn gives the chili just a little bit of sweetness which is a nice touch.

When it’s time to serve the chili, I like to make sure that we have a nice crusty bread to go with it.  My favourite at the moment is the Ace Bakery Harvest Grain Oval which you can get at Zehrs.  I also make sure we have a nice sharp cheddar cheese grated up, and some sour cream to garnish.

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

 

The great thing about chili is that it freezes well.  This particular batch of chili made enough that I could freeze two large containers of it, and still have some in the fridge for Darren’s lunches.  We also had just enough to make chili dogs for dinner one night.  I had never tried them before, but they were pretty delicious.  We’ve started buying hotdogs from a local farm store here in Ayr, Oakridge Acres (http://www.oakridgeacres.ca), which I highly recommend you visit if you are in the area.  The hotdogs we get there are nitrate free, which is fantastic because normally hotdogs induce migraines for me, but these ones do not, and made by Stemmler Farms.

So Darren barbecued the hotdogs while I made some fresh french fries and heated the chili.  I wasn’t entirely sure how to garnish these, so I put out shredded cheddar cheese, and regular hot dog condiments and everyone sort of put on what they liked.  I enjoyed the cheese as well as ketchup and mustard on my chili dog.

An added bonus of leftover chili...chili dogs!

An added bonus of leftover chili…chili dogs!

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You gotta try new food, because it might taste good!

We can all learn a lot from Daniel Tiger…this specific lesson is a good one…

 

So, I like to experiment in the kitchen. That is what this is all about and I can proudly say that I haven’t really had any dinner fails yet. I suppose there is always a first time for everything, but this wasn’t it.
Our actual conversation pre-dinner:
Darren: What’s for dinner?
Me: Pork tenderloin.
Darren: (giving the stove a once over) with blueberry sauce?
Me: Yes.
Fast forward 20 minutes to dinner.
Darren: This is actually really good.
Me: Did you think it wouldn’t be?
Darren: You have to admit, it sounded gross…blueberry sauce on pork.
Me: Have I ever made anything gross?
Darren: No. But you’ve also never made this.

Well, I did make it.  And it was delicious.  I never really know what to do with pork tenderloin.  I usually make some sort of apple-based sauce for it.  But we had a bit of red wine leftover from the weekend and some wild blueberries in the freezer, so I thought I would get creative.  I will admit, it could have definitely gone badly, but the wine cut the sweetness of the blueberries just enough that it was delicious.

I started out by heating some olive oil in a frying pan and prepping the tenderloin.  I rubbed some sea salt, pepper, and coarsely chopped up thyme (you could use dry thyme, but I happened to have fresh) over the surface of the meat.

Prepping the tenderloin

Prepping the tenderloin

 

Next I put the meat into the frying pan, and lightly browned all sides.

Into the frying pan

Into the frying pan

 

Browning all sides

Browning all sides

 

Then I transferred the tenderloin into the over which was preheated to 350°F.

While the meat was roasting, I drained the excess oil from the frying pan and poured in some red wine.  I let the wine come to a boil, while scraping the brown bits from the pan with a wooden spoon.  I then let the wine simmer a few minutes until it was slightly reduced.

Letting the wine reduce

Letting the wine reduce

 

I then stirred in the blueberries, some sugar, and the grated rind of a lemon, and brought it back to a boil.

photo 1-2

 

I added some cornstarch dissolved in cold water to thicken the sauce up a bit.  I let it simmer just until it was clear.

Thickening up

Thickening up

 

Once the tenderloin reached an internal temperature of about 160°F (as registered on a meat thermometer), I removed it from the oven and let it sit tented under foil for about 5 minutes before slicing.

160 F

160 F

 

Camping in a foil tent

Camping in a foil tent

 

I then sliced the meat in about 1/2 cm slices and plated them.  I poured some blueberry sauce over top.

Plating the tenderloin

Plating the tenderloin

 

I served the tenderloin with some boiled new potatoes (buttered and dilled) and asparagus.  Delicious.

photo

 

Ingredients:
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1 pork tenderloin (12 oz/375 g)
1 tsp olive oil
Wild Blueberry Sauce:
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup fresh or frozen wild blueberries
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp  grated lemon rind
1-1/2 tsp cornstarch
Method:
Rub thyme, salt and pepper over pork. In large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; brown pork all over for about 4 minutes.
Transfer to 350°F oven; roast for about 30 minutes or until just a hint of pink remains and meat thermometer registers 160°F. Transfer to cutting board; tent with foil and let stand for 5 minutes before slicing.
Wild Blueberry Sauce:
Meanwhile, drain any fat from frying pan. Pour in wine; bring to boil over high heat, stirring to scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan. Boil over medium-high heat until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.  Stir in blueberries, sugar and lemon rind; return to boil. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water; stir into sauce and simmer just until clear. Serve over sliced pork.

You DO Win Friends with Salad…This Salad Anyways!

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I enjoy a good salad.  I don’t mean lettuce and carrots and light dressing.  I mean a delicious, calorie-rich, meal salad.  Darren came across this recipe for Steak-Peach Salad in the April issue of Runner’s World Magazine, and he knew it would be right up my alley.  The dressing is chocolate!  How can you go wrong?  It also calls for goat cheese which I am absolutely obsessed with right now; so creamy and delicious.  At first glance, steak, peaches, granola, and a cocoa-chili-infused dressing seem like an unusual combination, but they provide a delicious mix of textures and flavours that balance each other out beautifully.  The prep on this took about 30 minutes and it was definitely filling.  We had it with some garlic brushed toasted pita triangles and it was a great meal.

Here’s how to make it:

Grill 1lb flank steak (flank steak is very lean, great if you are looking for a low fat, high protein punch, but a striploin would be just as delicious) until desired doneness.  Let rest 5 minutes, then thinly slice.  Brush 6 pitted peach halves (we used canned) with oil and grill, cut-side down, for 3 minutes over medium heat.  Flip and heat 1 minute more.  Cut into wedges.  Toss 6 cups of baby spinach with 1 chopped cucumber, 1 sliced red bell pepper, 1/3 cup chopped mint leaves, 3 oz of soft goat cheese (we used more, like I said, I’m obsessed), 1 cup granola, and 1/3 cup toasted coconut flakes with Cocoa-Chili dressing (recipe below).  Divide onto 4 plates and tip with grilled peaches and steak.  Enjoy!

Cocoa-Chili Dressing

Whisk 1/4 cup canola oil (we used sunflower oil and it was fine), 1 and 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I was a bit more liberal when I measured this out), 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and chili powder.

 

Pre-steak

Pre-steak

Steak added to finish it up!

Steak added to finish it up!

 

This salad is worthy enough to be considered a summer salad and consumed while watching Chocolat…might end up being one of the best nights of your life!

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All the Vegetables, Soup

It is time to make some changes to the way that I am eating.  Seven weeks ago, we welcomed Hunter into our family.  After eight months of the worst morning sickness known to humankind and surviving off of milk and oranges, I was ready to eat all things delicious.  I decided that for my six week recovery from childbirth, I wouldn’t think for a second about dieting or losing the baby weight, instead I would indulge in all of the yummy things that I had been unable to eat since last summer.  Well, my free period is over, and it
is time to get serious and start eating healthier.  I needed something that was quick and easy, but also delicious.  Healthy doesn’t have to be tasteless!  I decided it would be smart to make a big batch of vegetable soup.  I could have it in the fridge ready to heat up for lunches, and freeze some too.

I chose a day that Scarlett was at daycare, and Hunter and I set out for the grocery store to buy what we needed.  Hunter is a bit colicky, and sometimes a car ride is all that is needed to put him to sleep.  This particular trip however, he stayed awake which made for an interesting and quick zip around Sobeys filled with dirty looks and a few random comments from senior citizens who always know best.  “Yes I know my baby is crying…No, there isn’t anything wrong with him…I am not a bad mom for letting him cry…No he isn’t hungry…”  Wouldn’t you know it, the little guy fell peacefully asleep as I was leaving the checkout.

Peacefully asleep as we exit Sobeys.

Peacefully asleep as we exit Sobeys.

 

Back home and groceries unloaded, I got Hunter settled and got out everything I would need for the soup.  I got to work chopping up vegetables.  I started by dicing onion, celery and carrots into fairly small pieces.

Necessary supplies.

Necessary supplies.

 

While I was chopping, I had my pot heating up on the stove with a bit of coconut oil.

Coconut oil melting on med/high heat.

Coconut oil melting on med/high heat.

 

Once the oil was hot, I put the onion, celery and carrots into the pot and sauteed them until they started to soften up a little bit.  I turned the heat down to medium at this point.

Onion, celery and carrots

Onion, celery and carrots.

 

Next I added a whole zucchini, quartered and sliced and continued sauteing.

Some zucchini

Some zucchini.

 

Then I added chopped up broccoli and cauliflower and continued sauteing.

Addition of broccoli and cauliflower

Addition of broccoli and cauliflower.

 

Then I added some asparagus, chopped into small pieces and continued sauteing.

In goes the asparagus

In goes the asparagus.

 

Next I added a bag of Compliments Broccoli Slaw.  Its essentially broccoli, carrots, and a bit of red cabbage shredded into strips.  You could use a bag of coleslaw instead, but I don’t love cabbage.  I sauteed a few more minutes until everything seemed like it was softening up.

It is like cheating because you don't have to chop

It is like cheating because you don’t have to chop.

photo 5

 

Now it was time to add the liquid.  To keep it easy, I poured in a large bottle of low sodium V8 juice and a carton of low sodium chicken broth.  I added salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper, and let this slowly simmer.

With liquids added

With liquids added.

Simmering nicely

Simmering nicely.

 

At this point, Hunter needed some snuggles, so I would say that the soup simmered for about an hour (but it really just has to simmer until everything is cooked).

Little man was starting to lose steam

Little man was starting to lose steam.

 

Next I took my immersion blender and blended the soup (I didn’t cut the veggies as small as I could have, plus blending thickens the soup up nicely).  I didn’t blend it completely smooth, because I like to have some chunkiness to my soup.  You can still identify individual vegetables.

pre-blend

Pre-blend.

Post-blend

Post-blend.

 

After blending, I added a can of black beans and a can of cannelli (white kidney) beans to up the protein factor,  a whole container of baby spinach which I chopped up a little bit, some frozen corn (I like a lot of corn), and some frozen peas. I also tossed in a few tablespoons of chia seeds as they naturally thicken liquid.

Added in the finishing touches.

Added in the finishing touches.

 

I was planning to make a separate dinner that evening, but the weather was great, so Hunter and I walked to pick Scarlett up from daycare.  Time sort of got away from us, so we ended up having the soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.

Dinner!

Dinner!

 

This soup is so good, and very filling.  I’ve been eating it all week!

You could omit vegetables that you don’t like, and add in others that you do, same with spices.  It is one that you could make if you had a lot of vegetables in your fridge that needed to be used up.  Quick, easy, healthy, and delicious.  Enjoy!