This semester has been absolutely hectic and my absence from blogging has been weighing on me. I apologize to those of you who follow and read my musings and recipes; hopefully this delightful and hearty soup will make up for my inability to keep more than a few plates spinning at the same time.
We’ve entered Autumn in the midwest; my favorite season. The air gets crisp and clean, the windows are open, and the sweaters have been unpacked. I love baking and cooking during this season, as it lends itself to some of my favorite recipes: roast chicken, shepherd’s pie, chicken noodle soup, lasagna and chili.
Recently I was craving the latter, but was also craving a change. Rather than go with the usual tomato-based chili with pinto, black, and kidney beans, I opted for simplicity: chicken thighs and cannellini beans.
Going to the market is one of my favorite things. But so is not going to the market.
I love looking in the fridge and pantry at dinner time and realizing that I have everything I need to make a dish. Especially after the day I had yesterday.
6:45 a.m. came way too early yesterday and almost everything that happened after the alarm went off wasn’t ideal. Do you ever have those days when you feel like you’re just one step behind? Or those days that you should just spend in bed with a good book and a cuddly pet? Well, that was yesterday. All. Day.
The Halloween costumes we ordered were too small. Like, waaay too small.
I opened our front door on my forehead so hard I saw stars. Now it’s swollen and starting to bruise.
The cake I baked fell in the middle. It went in the trash. Ugh.
Fraudulent charges were made on my credit card.
That was my day. Luckily, dinner was the easy part. As you all know, over the summer I bought a quarter of a hog (#50) with my friend Sarah. Slowly but surely, we’re eating our way through all the porky goodness.
We had one package of ground pork left, and chili was just what the doctor ordered after the day I had. Chili is one of those dishes when a recipe isn’t really necessary. You just add what you like or what you have on hand and voila! Chili!
I went for ground pork, red onions, garlic, vinegar, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, black beans, cilantro, and my favorite spices. But really, the beauty of chili is that it’s flexible.
So, take a peek in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Here in Nebraska it’s cold and wet outside. Weather like this demands chili. Throw it all in a pot, let it simmer away, eat it and forget about your bad day.
Hello there. Remember me? I haven’t forgotten about you. It’s just that I’ve started a new semester at school and, well, things are a bit busy for me. I’m not making excuses…just stating the facts, ma’am. Don’t worry, we’re still eating, still taking photos, and still making notes. Consider it a stockpile if you will, of…ahem, culinary greatness.
That’s how life is, though, isn’t it? One day you have all the time in the world, and then BAM! you’re buried under a pile of William Blake, John Keats, and William Wordsworth! Not a bad pile, but we still have to eat, right? For the most part this last week, I’ve really given it my all and tried a few new things. Not just new dishes, but new ways of looking at my kitchen and the ingredients within. In the past I have been known to go to the store for one or two missing ingredients in a dish I’m dying to try. Not anymore!
I make my list, go to the market, and when I get home I’m left to figure things out. I usually have a few dishes in mind for the week when I’m pushing my cart around the store, but I never have an entire meal plan set in stone. I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried to think that far in advance and truly plan – make a menu of sorts. But nope, it never works. Baby steps, is what I say. I’ll get there someday.
So, if I’ve exhausted all my ideas for the week and it’s only Thursday, what happens then, you ask? I choose to go to war with the remaining ingredients in my kitchen and come up with something delicious. I will not go to the market. I will not go to the market. That is my mantra and it keeps me going when all I want to do is give up because I have a half-written paper looming over my head and I just need more time. Instead of wasting gasoline and my precious time going to the store, and instead of giving up and going out to eat, I say to myself, “What do I already have? What can I do with these things?” In fact, by asking myself this very question, I made for us last week our very first vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie and yes, it was delicious. We had some Boca crumbles in the freezer and the rest, as they say, is history. Sorry, no photos, though. You already have the recipe…just substitute Boca for the real deal.
At some point last week I realized we had the proper ingredients for one of my favorite cold weather “nights.” Chili Night. I love chili. I love making chili, I love eating chili, and I love the way the scent fills the house as it simmers away on the stove. I tend to follow a basic outline for chili, but it’s never quite exactly the same, as sometimes I have less of one ingredient or not enough of another. But chili is forgiving that way. It says, “Go ahead, toss in whatever you want. More beans? Sure! A little cinnamon? Why not?!” It’s only request is that you start early so it can truly come together as it simmers. The longer the better. I like my chili somewhere between soup and the point at which I can stand my spoon upright.
It’s important to develop your flavors in the base of the chili. This is when I toss in a few of my secret ingredients. I’d love to tell you, but someday I plan on winning a chili contest at a county fair with this recipe. I’m taking home a blue ribbon if it kills me.
If you have the time (which you will, because you’re letting your chili simmer, right?) and the ingredients (whadda ya know? I did!) you can whip up a batch of honey cornbread muffins. Chili Night is not complete without cornbread!
What I’m trying to say with all of this is that you can challenge yourself to come up with a delicious dish even if you think you have nothing in the cupboards. You’d be surprised how motivating a lack of obvious ingredients can be. I battled my sparsely-stocked kitchen and I won. And now I feel that my next battle is looming with Wordsworth and Keats at the front lines. I will be victorious and I will soon find the balance between homework and blogging. For those of you who read this, thank you for your patience.