Easy Peasy Chili…

There are certain meals that just become necessary to make once the weather gets cooler – pot roast, beef stew, roast chicken… And one of my all time favorite cooler weather meals has to be chili. It is so easy to make and I serve it with shredded cheddar cheese and diced sweet onion and boy or boy, does it ever stick to your ribs! Chili is the ultimate in comfort food on a crisp Fall evening.

What I like about chili is it’s so easy to make. There are a couple of hints to making a chili that suits our needs that I will share. But bottom line, the chili pot is your canvas and you can make chili basically any way you want. I will share with you my go-to recipe.

So let’s talk chili…

Chili Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – The onions: I use a large sweet onion when I make my chili. I dice the onion and use about three quarters of it in the chili itself. The rest I set aside and use as a raw topping when I serve the chili. I’ve found the best way to use these onions to enhance the flavor of the chili is to caramelize them. That takes a little time. The pictures below show how I dice the onions and the onions when they first become translucent. The photo below them shows when they are caramelized. Technically you can use them either way but I’ve found if you take the extra time and let them caramelize they add more flavor to the chili.

The challenge when you caramelize onions is the extra time. Normally I can get them the way I want them (as pictured below in the bottom photo) in about 15 minutes. If you want to cook your chili faster that may not be an option. But if you can take your time with this first step you will definitely taste the benefits of doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of seasoning during the initial stages: I find if I season the onions and the meat with salt and pepper each time during the first two steps the flavor of the chili is greatly enhanced. Besides is their anything better than the smell of onions seasoned with salt and pepper cooking on the stove? So after I season the onions and let them caramelize I add the meat and season the meat with salt and pepper as well. It may seem like a lot of seasoning but it actually is not.

After that I don’t add any more salt and pepper until the very end after all the ingredients have been added and combined. At that time I taste the chili to see if it needs anymore salt and pepper. Very seldom do I have to add any at the end. Seasoning the first two layers and then adding the other seasonings makes a big difference in the end result. Don’t forget to do this.

Lesson Learned 3 – When to add the garlic:  I’ve tried adding the garlic a couple of different ways and have landed on a preferred choice when I make chili. You can always add the garlic once you caramelized the onions but I prefer adding them to the ground beef just before I start adding the other ingredients. I allow them to cook in the meat for a minute or so until fragrant and then I continue adding the rest of the ingredients. I find this totally prevents the garlic from burning and better infuses the garlic into the chili.

Lesson Learned 4 – Chopping the green pepper: I guess I don’t actually chop the green pepper – it’s more like dicing. I like the pieces small so that they add flavor to the chili but aren’t necessarily highly visible. The green pepper flavor, in my estimation, balances some of the heat of the chili and adds a nice freshness to it. The pictures below show how I prepare the green pepper:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 5 – Chili seasoning: I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to season my chili and finally chose my preferred method. I use McCormick Mild Chili Seasoning Mix because we prefer our chili on the mild side but you can make it has hot as you like. McCormick has a few varieties of seasonings and if you can’t find a seasoning mix that gets you the heat you crave you can always add red pepper flakes. This seasoning mix contains a blend of chili pepper, paprika, cumin, onion salt and garlic. I also add about a teaspoon of chili powder and this combination of seasonings gives us the kind of chili we prefer.

Lesson Learned 6 – The mushrooms: I am a big fan of fresh mushrooms especially now when you can buy them in bulk. This time I had a jar of canned mushrooms in the pantry that I wanted to use so I went that route. Either way, add the mushrooms at the very end so that they don’t overcook. Generally I add fresh sliced mushrooms to my chili.

Lesson Learned 7 – A little bit of tomato paste helps thicken the sauce: Here’s a handy dandy little trick. Add about a tablespoon of tomato paste to the ground beef before you add the seasonings. This will help thicken the sauce. Look for tomato paste that’s sold in a tube. That way you’ll have no waste and can use it whenever you need versus wasting a whole small can.

Lesson Learned 8 – Simmering the chili: I’ve found the best way to meld all the flavors in the chili is to let it simmer for about an hour. Put your heat on very low and stir the chili occasionally making sure none burns on the bottom of the pan. Then the chili is ready to serve. And, of course, if you have the luxury, you can always let it sit overnight to let the flavors meld.

So that’s basically it. Once you’ve browned the ground beef and added the seasonings it’s just drop in and stir from there…

Stir in the diced tomatoes

Drop in the beans

Add the mushrooms and green pepper

IMG_5714

Stir and simmer for about an hour and you’re done. I serve this chili over rice, my husband’s preference, or over elbow macaroni, my preference. Or you can serve it plain. I add shredded cheddar and raw diced onion to mine, but you can top it with sour cream, guacamole, diced jalapeños, or whatever you like. I’ve been making this recipe for years and have it down to a science. It is unbelievably easy to make and so good. Try it. I know you’ll love it!

Easy Peasy Chili...

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. butter (or 1 Tbs. butter and 1 Tbs. olive oil)

1 large sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

1 Tbs. tomato paste

I pkg. McCormicks mild chili seasoning

1 tsp. chili powder

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1 20 oz. can of chili beans in chili sauce

1 10 oz. can of sliced mushrooms, drained

1 green pepper, diced

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Serve with rice or elbow macaroni, optional

Toppings can include: Shredded cheese, raw onion, sour cream, guacamole, sliced jalapeño peppers, or whatever your preference

DIRECTIONS:

In a 5.5 quart dutch oven melt the butter. On a medium heat add the onions and cook until caramelized, approximately 15 minutes. Season the onions with salt and pepper while cooking. Push the onions to the side and add the ground beef. Layer the cooked onions on top of the beef. Break up the ground beef with a spoon and cook through, seasoning the ground beef at the beginning with salt and pepper. Once cooked, stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.

Stir in the tomato paste and thoroughly combine. Stir in the chili seasoning and chili powder. Add the diced tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add the chili beans. Stir to combine. Cook for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and the green pepper. Gently stir to combine. Taste to see if any additional salt and pepper is needed.

Cover and simmer for one hour. Serve with desired accompaniments.

 

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole…

Casseroles can be deceptive. On the outside what you see is a one dish meal – couldn’t be easier right? But upon closer inspection you see a wide variety of ingredients that have to be “bake-off” ready in order to assemble the casserole. And if you don’t have those ingredients on hand, there’s a lot of work involved in putting a casserole together.  Just be aware of that, especially if you are prepping ingredients from scratch. Let’s face it, casseroles are basically designed to help you use your leftovers – sort of a “fooled you, you ate this the other night for dinner and here it is again, just dressed up differently!” But whether you are using leftovers or preparing ingredients from scratch there is nothing as comforting as a casserole. And besides, I’d rather be relaxing an hour before the meal than scrambling right up to the last minute before you put the meal on the table. For me, that is the beauty of a casserole.

Casseroles also feed my love of prepping things. So I’ll admit I made this the other day without using any leftovers. This was a from scratch casserole. But if you’re a prep nut like me who gets satisfaction out of chopping, mincing, dicing and slicing than it really is no big deal.

So let’s talk about making a chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole…

Casserole IngredientsLesson Learned 1 – Get all the individual ingredients prepped first: This is pretty much a rule of thumb for almost any recipe, but since there are so many different types of ingredients in a casserole I’ve found the best thing to do is to get everything “assembly ready” first. That way you’re much more organized and the casserole assembly process is a breeze. That means have the chicken cut up or shredded, slightly steam the cauliflower, sauté the mushrooms, either use leftover rice or cook your rice, and shred all of your cheeses.

And by the way, it is always better to shred your own cheese. Packaged pre shredded cheese has an “ingredient” in it, cellulose, designed to keep the shreds of cheese from sticking together. And guess what – cellulose is made from wood pulp. So unless you want to have a regular amount of wood pulp in your diet, I’d recommend shredding your cheese by hand. It’s not that hard and obviously healthier for you.

Lesson Learned 2 – A chicken casserole’s best friend – store bought rotisserie chicken: You can always roast the chicken you need ahead of time in your own oven, but it’s so much simpler just to buy store bought rotisserie chicken and use that. I bought a small chicken, removed and discarded the skin and shredded the meat. It saved a lot of time and believe me, no one knew the difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use any melting cheese you have on hand: I had gruyere and havarti on hand so I just combined those two for this casserole. To top the casserole I found a specialty cheese called buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese. That cheese was great because it had a nice kick to it and added a unique flavor to the top of the casserole. Really, you can be inventive with your cheeses. You just want to make sure that whatever cheese(s) you use it is good melting cheese.

Lesson Learned 4 – Just slightly steam the cauliflower: I steamed mine for about 5 minutes. Really all you want is for them to just show the first signs of cooking. Remove them from the heat. No need to shock them. Just don’t feel that you have to steam them for a long time. All you really need to do is give them a little nudge.

Lesson Learned 5 – Once everything thing is prepped, assembly is a snap: Here is what the assembly looks like in pictures.

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread chicken mixture over the rice and cauliflower

Top with cheese

Top with cheese and pop into the oven

And there you have it. Forty-five minutes to an hour later you will be in casserole heaven. So try this one, play with the ingredients and as always let me know what you think…

CHICKEN, CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1  Four pound rotisserie chicken, skin removed, cubed or shredded

1 small head of cauliflower cut into florets and slightly steamed (4 cups of florets)

8 large cremini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 1 Tbs. of  butter

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (cooked in low sodium chicken broth for additional flavor)

1 ten ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup of sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 cups shredded melting cheese (I used a combination of havarti and gruyere)

1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese (for the top)

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 6 quart casserole dish with butter or spray it with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the dish with the cooked rice. Arrange the cauliflower florets on top of the rice.

In a large bowl combine the chicken, sautéed mushrooms, havarti and gruyere cheeses, sour cream, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower. Cover the casserole with the buffalo wing cheddar cheese.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. If need be, cook up to an additional 15 minutes longer. Casserole is done when the cheese on top is melted and the casserole is bubbly. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Chicken, cauliflower mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole

 

 

Pork Medallions with Marsala Mushroom Sauce…

There’s almost nothing that beats a good pork tenderloin. I’ve mastered the art of cooking this very tender cut of meat and am always looking for new ways to prepare it. I made this recipe the other day and it hit the spot. It’s a shining example of what comfort food is all about.

You can easily find pork tenderloins in the grocery stores packaged in a variety of marinades or plain. For this recipe I chose a lemon pepper marinated loin. You can choose whatever you want. Just make sure whatever marinade you choose will blend nicely with the marsala mushroom sauce.

What’s also great about this dish is it’s pretty easy and quick to prepare, so instead of having the same old boring thing for dinner you can make this and get it on the table in half an hour. I served it over store bought pre-made mashed potatoes (I like the Bob Evans brand the best) with a side of marinated grilled zucchini. it was fabulous!

So lets talk pork medallions with marsala mushroom sauce…

Two Inch Thick Medallions...Lesson Learned 1 – Cut the tenderloin into 2 inch medallions: Two inches is the perfect thickness to cook in the allotted time. Remember pork tenderloin is just like a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Both can be extremely flavorful and tender but most people tend to overcook them. A slight pink in the center of the pork is perfectly fine. Overcooking a piece of meat that has minimal to no fat like this can be a little tricky. If you cut the medallions to two inches in thickness, three minutes on each side should do the trick (you will also simmer them in the sauce for a couple of minutes at the end).

Make sure you start with a hot pot. That is why you use a combination of both butter and oil in the pan. Butter has a lower smoke point and the oil offsets that so you can get the pan warmer without burning Nicely Seared Medallionthe butter while still getting the butter flavor. You want the pork to get a nice sear. At about three minutes you should easily be able to turn the medallion over without it sticking to the pan. If not, let it cook a little while longer. Don’t force the meat from the pan. When the meat is adequately seared it will automatically release itself from the pan and you will be able to turn it over easily. The picture on the left shows the type of sear you want to get on your medallions. Don’t worry, the pan will do all the work for you if you are patient. The second side should cook within 2 -3 minutes.

Simmer the medallions in the wine sauce for a few minutes before servingLesson Learned 2 – Don’t crowd the medallions while searing them: If you have to, cook the medallions in batches. If you overcrowd them in the pan they will steam instead of sear. Once you return the medallions to the sauce you will simmer them for a couple of minutes to complete the cooking process (picture to the right). Searing will insure that you keep all those wonderful juices in the meat.

Lesson Learned 3 – Shut off the heat and take the pan off the stove when adding the Marsala and white wine to the pan: Recipes quite often forget to mention this, and this is an important safety tip. Any type of alcohol added over a heat source can cause a fire flare up. You want to avoid burning yourself or setting the house on fire. So be on the safe side. Take the pan off the heat source, add the wine and then return the pan to the heat. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

I cut the entire tenderloin into medallions used six for this recipe and froze the rest. This recipe is designed to serve two bigger or three smaller appetites but you can easily increase the ingredients to serve more.

Pork Medallions With Marsala Mushroom Sauce

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:Pork Medallions in a Marsala Mushroom Sauce

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

2 Tbs. olive oil

6 two inch thick pork medallions (I chose a lemon pepper marinated tenderloin)

1 large shallot, minced

1/2 cup Marsala wine

1/4 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)

2 Tbs. heavy cream

1 Tbs. cornstarch

Salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced

DIRECTIONS:

Heat olive oil and butter over medium – high heat. Add pork medallions and brown on both sides – approximately three minutes on each side. Remove medallions from pan to a plate and cover with foil to keep them warm.

Add shallots and mushrooms to the pan and stir until coated with the pan drippings. After the mushrooms have slightly softened, remove the pan from the heat. Add the Marsala wine, chicken stock and white wine. Place back on the heat and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Combine heavy cream and cornstarch. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Add the cream mixture to the pan and whisk into the sauce until it starts to thicken. Taste the sauce to see if it needs salt and pepper. Season to taste. Return the pork medallions to the pan an simmer in the sauce for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serving Suggestion: Pork Medallions Over Mashed Potatoes With Grilled Zucchini

Serving Suggestion: Pork Medallions Over Mashed Potatoes With Grilled Zucchini…

Pork Medallions With Marsala Mushroom Sauce: so easy and great for any week night meal!

Brandy Chicken With Mushrooms and Pearl Onions…

After my post last week that featured one of my favorite go-to recipes, chicken roll ups, I thought I would be off of the chicken bandwagon for awhile. But lo and behold the very next day I got my copy of Cooking Light in the mail and what was this months feature but “12 ways for perfect chicken!” On the cover was an enticing picture of chicken smothered in mushrooms and pearl onions and I thought, I just gotta make this one. And so I did, last night.

I am always on the look out for a good chicken recipe and this issue features an abundance of them, but I was drawn to the recipe pictured on the cover. I’d never cooked with Brandy before and was a little fearful and skeptical. I looked online to see if there was a viable substitute for brandy, as I don’t drink it and would use it only for cooking, but the information I found stated there really was no substitute. Wine was mentioned as an alternative but it would not provide the same flavor. So off to the liquor store I went. I actually found a small bottle of Korbel brandy for $10 and so I figured I could live with that. Other than fresh thyme and pearl onions, all the other ingredients I already had in the house so this seemed like a no-brainer. So here is my rating and lessons I learned making the dish for the first time.

Rating: A- for the recipe B- for the instructions. As I’ve mentioned several times I am not an intuitive cook so I need for the directions to be explicit and correct. I tend to take things literally, but more and more I am beginning to trust my instincts. I enjoyed this recipe, would definitely make it again and maybe even experiment using wine instead of brandy. I’ll explain all that in my lessons learned.

Lightly Dust With Flour and Cook In Olive Oil Until Almost Done

Lightly Dust With Flour and Cook In Olive Oil Until Almost Done

Lesson Learned 1: The time of this recipe was overestimated in my opinion. The recipe calls for halving boneless skinless chicken breasts, thus making a “cutlet”. So how do you define cutlet? I’m thinking about a quarter of an inch thick, right? When I halved a breast I wound up with 2 pieces that were a half inch thick. I decided to use that thickness instead of pounding them out based on the cooking time for the recipe, 43 minutes (how they came up with 43 versus 42 or 44 gives me a chuckle), taking into consideration I was not making as many “cutlets” as called for in the recipe so I was cooking a lesser amount of meat but at a greater thickness. My pieces of chicken were probably double the size of what I assume a cutlet should be (and that’s another thing that aggravated me, the recipe never defined the thickness of the cutlet – you just can’t assume every knows). I found that using that time as a guide for the rest of my meal wound up giving me slightly overdone chicken. I think one of the common errors most cooks make is overdone boneless skinless chicken breasts. Next time I make this I’ll reduce the cooking time by 7-10 minutes. Because I planned the rest of my meal around that 43 minute timeframe, I wound up keeping the dish on a very low simmer until everything else was ready and I think that lent to having slightly overdone chicken breasts. Mind you, they were not bad, but I do know the difference between a chicken breast that is juicy and tender and one that is overdone. (OK, I’ll get off of my soap box now).

Lesson Learned 2: Cooking with brandy did not wow me. I’m not sure what I expected the flavor to be, but it really did not supply the depth of flavor I thought it would. The recipe calls for cooking the brandy down until it’s almost evaporated (which I did) but the chicken stock that I added next seemed to overpower it. Next time I might leave a little more brandy in the pan or try this with either red or white wine. Most of the information I looked at regarding a substitute for brandy recommended using white wine, but I think red wine (like a good merlot) could also make this recipe interesting.

Lesson Learned 3: You also have to be careful cooking with brandy as it can produce a large amount of flame coming out of your pan. The recipe states that you should take the pan off the heat add the brandy and then put it back on the heat. I would highlight something like that in a recipe and even do a warning that if you don’t you could produce a large flame and injure yourself. Again, not everyone is a seasoned chef and I think a pointed warning would be helpful.

Cook Mushrooms Until Browned and Onions are Slightly Caramelized

Cook Mushrooms Until Browned and Onions are Slightly Caramelized

Lesson Learned 4: This recipe called for button mushrooms. I never use button mushrooms anymore now that baby portobello mushrooms are so easy to get. I think button mushrooms are virtually flavorless and baby bellas stand up to the cooking process better and have a much better texture. So I substituted baby portobello mushrooms for button mushrooms and I highly recommend it.

Lesson Learned 5: The original recipe cooked 8 cutlets and called for 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves. One teaspoon was not enough even for my recipe for two people. I would recommend two teaspoons of fresh time for four servings. With one teaspoon I could barely see the thyme much less taste any flavor from it.

Lesson Learned 6: Adding the butter at the end gives a nice silkiness and shine to the sauce. Don’t skip that part.

Even with some of the issues, this recipe is a keeper and one I will continue to play with. What I also like about this recipe is the progressive cooking process allows you to do your clean up in stages, so by the time I served dinner the only prep dish that needed to be washed was the skillet. I liked that aspect a lot. So here is my version of that recipe:

Brandy Chicken With Mushrooms and Pearl Onions

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts halved (ideally 1/2 inch thick)

1 jar of pearl onions or 1 box of frozen pearl onions (thawed and drained)

6 – 8 ounces of baby portobello mushrooms sliced

2/3 cup of brandy

1 cup of chicken stock

2 tsps. cornstarch

1 TBS butter

2 teaspoons of fresh thyme

1/4  cup all purpose flour

Olive oil

salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Halve the chicken breasts horizontally. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken breasts in flour and shake off the excess.

Heat skillet with just enough olive oil to lightly coat it. Cook chicken breast for 4 minutes on each side until almost cooked through. Remove them from the skillet and wrap them in foil to keep them warm.

Add some additional oil in the pan. Add mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes and then add the onions. Continue to cook until mushrooms are nicely browned and onions begin to caramelize. Remove from the pan and set aside.

TAKE THE PAN OFF THE HEAT AND ADD THE BRANDY (this is important so as not to produce a flame). Put the pan back on the heat and cook down the brandy by half. Whisk together the chicken stock and cornstarch until smooth and add it to the skillet. Continue to whisk the mixture for a couple of minutes until smooth and mixture begins to bubble.

Return chicken, mushrooms and onion to the pan, reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Add salt, butter and thyme. Serve once the butter has melted.

Brandy Chicken with Mushrooms and Pearl Onions

Brandy Chicken with Mushrooms and Pearl Onions