Mama Love’s Crock Pot Chili

Baby it’s cold 59 degrees outside (shut up, don’t laugh.)  And tonight it’s supposed to RAIN!  Woohoo!  Break out the Uggs & the earmuffs, kiddos, cuz I’ve been stalking the weather guy all week for these cloudy skies.

Before we get to the good stuff, I need to just bitch about the weather some more, ok?  I know, I know, you’re snowed & you want to reach through your computer and smack my little suntanned, California girl face with your mittens.  I’m sorry, but even though I’m a Cali girl, I like my seasons – I mean, all 4 of them, not just “summer” and “more summer.”

Anyway, I’ve been waiting until it was cool enough to make my neighborhood-famous Mama Love’s Crock Pot Chili.  Chili just screams football season & crisp fall evenings to me, and I love the way the house smells while this delicious chili simmers in the crockpot all day long.  So, tonight’s the night: Thursday Night Football, baby!

This is some kick-ass chili right here!

This is some kick-ass chili right here!

Now, this one morphed out of a family recipe, and I’m sure you remember my lecture on the subject of sharing secret family recipes last year, right?  Just remember, if my mom asks, we don’t know each other, ok?  This originally started as a “Quick Chili” recipe handed down from my Great Aunt Margie, (cute, little, old lady who could kick back a lot of gin & tonics.) I got my hands on it about 15 years ago, and made some tweaks after I met the love of my life, my first CrockPot. It’s still super easy & super yummy.  Oh, and some people call me Mama Love.  Why?  Well, “The Fairly Good Mother” is a mouthful!  No, I’ve actually had this little nickname since before I was a real mom, and I guess it’s because I’m so motherly & adorable, and I make all my delicious food with love … Love is the secret ingredient.

The Line-Up!  (diced green chilis not pictured :))

The Line-Up! (diced green chilis not pictured :))

(serves 6)

1-1/2 lbs ground beef (85%/15%)
1 green bell pepper – chopped
2 cloves garlic – pressed
1 onion – chopped
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 small can diced green chilis
salt & pepper (not a lot, just a dash of each)
16 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
1 can Ranch Style Beans* – regular flavor
1 can Ranch Style Beans* – with jalepenos

Ranch Style Beans : Essential!

Ranch Style Beans : Essential!

*Now – before I get to the method, I need to school you a little bit.  Do NOT mess around with the beans here, ok?!  Ranch Style Beans are a brand of beans & it is a big deal to use these specific beans if you want to be a chili master.  You do want to be a chili master, right?  Ok, so you’re going to have to go on the hunt for them, (I put an Amazon link in there for you folks out in the sticks,) and if you have to resort to using some inferior type of bean, well, don’t expect your chili to kick ass like Mama Loves.  

Brown ground beef, garlic, onion & green pepper over medium-high heat.  Drain fat, return to burner.
Add cumin, chili powder, diced chills & salt & pepper. (Season your meat first, don’t just dump everything in.)
Add tomatoes and tomato sauce & simmer 1/2 hour uncovered.
Pour in crockpot, & add beans.
Simmer all day on low.
And don’t forget the love 🙂

Let’s say you don’t have all day, no biggie, I’ve dumped that meat concoction in the crockpot right away & everything was hunky dory.
Or what if you don’t have a crockpot.  No worries!  After you simmer the meat & tomatoes for 1/2 hour uncovered, just add the beans to your pot & cover, then simmer for 2 hours or as long as you like.  (I think it tastes better when it simmers all day, but that’s just me.)
You can add more beans if you like a bean-y chili, or more meat if you like a meatier chili.
This is even good without meat if you’re a vegetarian. (I was a vegetarian for almost 12 years, but that’s another story for another day.)
Also, good with turkey meat if you’re looking for a slightly healthier chili.
And, I’ve made it with steak and roast too, if you prefer chunks of meat in your chili.

I serve warm tortillas with butter on them as an accompaniment to this chili – I roll them up and you can just shovel chili into the tortilla if you want.  I don’t like cornbread very much, so I don’t serve it as a side, but feel free to do that if cornbread’s your jam.  And to make it a little fancier, (like if I’m serving this to dinner guests,) I will put out some toppings for people: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream & diced green onions.

You can add more chili power if you want to kick it up a notch, but let me tell you what you should NOT do … You should not open up someone’s crockpot after they got up early to make this chili before going out to ski for the day, and then proceed to screw around with it by adding things like sliced olives, coffee, bay leaves, and crap like that.  First of all, it’s not cool to mess around with someone else’s recipe, especially when she’s hormonal & PMS’d, (true story!)  Also, I gave you the gold here – don’t mess with perfection.  It’s simple for a reason.  Not everything amazing needs to be complicated & time consuming.

And now, a challenge to my sweet bestie & amazing food blogger, The Kitchen Snob.  I challenge her to make this chili & take prettier pictures with her professional camera.  I know she has made this chili before, but they don’t have Ranch Style Beans in Pennsyltucky, so I am sending her the proper beans.  Let’s see if we can get her to make this again & if she has any wonderful insight on kick-ass chili making.


Butternut Squash Risotto

I recently signed up for this service where they will deliver a box of fresh, organic produce directly from local farms to your doorstep. I was leery of doing this because I’m a planner & you don’t know what you’re going to get until you open the box, but there was a special offer on Groupon, so I figured what the hell. The box comes every other Wednesday, so on those weeks, I can only meal plan for Monday & Tuesday until I see what I’m working with produce-wise.

This past Wednesday, I opened the door and shrieked like a child on Christmas morning. “It’s here! It’s here!” The Boy was thrilled by my enthusiasm & we dragged the box inside & opened it up, exclaiming with excitement at each item we pulled out.

Carrots, Meyer Lemons, Fiji Apples, Spinach … Butternut Squash!! It was very exciting, let me tell you … ok, that makes me sound like a housewife whose life is not very eventful, getting all excited over produce. Or maybe it just makes me sound like an enthusiastic cook. In any case, it was a great opportunity to talk about each fruit or vegetable with The Boy.

I have concocted a really delicious recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto. Allow me to share it with you. But before I do, let me give you a few insights about Risotto. It’s a dish that requires attention. You can’t just walk away from it, it needs to be stirred consistently.  It’s a fun dish to make with a friend / lover / spouse, so you can take turns stirring the risotto.  Using the correct heat is also important ~ if you cook with the heat too high, the grains won’t cook evenly & using too low heat will render you a sticky, gluey risotto.

I usually make this on Thanksgiving, but this year I was on my own in the kitchen with a house full of boys who were busy watching football, so I decided to skip it … Lucky for me, my first farm fresh delivery included 2 perfect butternut squash so I got to make this last night.

butternut squash risotto

serves 4-6
(a lovely side dish, but filling enough for a main dish as well)

1 butternut squash (2 lbs) Peeled, seeded & cubed into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch cubes (about 6 cups)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
smidgen of cinnamon
2 tbsps olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock (you can use vegetable stock instead if you prefer)
6 tbsps unsalted butter
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 oz)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the squash in a bowl and toss with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, the nutmeg and just a dash of cinnamon.  Toss well to coat all the butternut squash cubes.  Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing half way through cooking time.  Be careful not to overcook the squash, otherwise it will turn to mush.  You want it fork tender.

While the squash cooks, heat the chicken stock in a saucepan, leave on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottom pot or a dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the shallots on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the shallots become translucent but not browned.  Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with the butter / shallot mixture.  Add the wine and cook for about 2 minutes or until the wine is mostly absorbed.  Add 2 ladles of stock to the rice, plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt & 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Stir and simmer until the stock is absorbed (about 5-10 minutes.)  Continue to add the stock – 2 ladles at a time – stirring every few minutes.  Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry and then add more stock.  Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente – about 30 minutes total.  You may not use all the stock, don’t fret!  Taste frequently to gauge the doneness of the risotto.  Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes & the Parmesan cheese.  Mix well & dash with a tiny smidgen of nutmeg.  Serve & enjoy!

2013 Bake-It List

Yes, I did, I wrote Bake-It List instead of Bucket List.  And in posting this, I am hereby committing to doing this!  What is a Bake-It List you ask?  Very much like a Bucket List, but instead of things like sky-diving or learning French, my Bake-It List will include things I want to bake, but have been too timid (or lazy) to attempt.

I was talking to The Husband the other day, right around New Years, and telling him that I have been wanting to make cinnamon rolls from scratch for a year now, ever since I received my gorgeous standing Kitchen-Aid Mixer from him last Christmas.  “Why haven’t you?” He asked me.  Well, the truth is, I’m a little intimidated.  The recipes that intrigue me are lengthy & look extraordinarily time consuming.  I wanted to make them for Christmas this year, and even got up super early to do so, but then chickened out.  I will need to have a couple of test runs to perfect the recipe, (just like when I made toffee for the first time this holiday season.  No, it didn’t turn out right either time, but most people didn’t seem to notice or care.)

good cooks | The Fairly Good Mother

Truth be told, I am an excellent cook, (if I do say so myself,) but baking is sort of my nemesis.  It has always been something that I’ve had to really work at.  However, the things I do bake every year for the holidays are awesome, but have taken YEARS to perfect & they are now easy staples to me.  A while back, I sat and reflected about why I’m a better cook than a baker … Well, here’s the easy answer, I love improvising & I suck at math.  When you cook, you can substitute things, add more of something, subtract an ingredient, eyeball a measurement.  But when you bake, oh no, you must be PRECISE!  Everything needs to be measured out perfectly and timed.

Cooking relaxes me, (which is why I cook every night,) but baking stresses me out, (well, except for the things I have mastered: pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, lemon cake, rum cake, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal walnut cookies, peanut butter balls, fudge, strawberry cake, cheesecake, apple pie …)  But I think back to the first time that I made chocolate cake from scratch.  I was eleven & it was my  mother’s birthday.  I threw out the first two attempts & finally settled on the third try simply because I was running out of time.  It was terrible, but she would NEVER have told me that.  Even to this day, she maintains it was delicious.  I knew it was awful.  Even my seven year old chocoholic brother was gagging.

It took me 10 years to belly up to the chopping block & give it another whirl.  Again, my poor mother was the subject of my culinary affections.  Again, two cakes down the drain, third one had to be the “one” because it was 3am & I was exhausted.  I don’t know what my obsession with chocolate cake is, that’s not even her favorite kind of cake!   I wrote her a poem as a back-up present in case the cake was awful.  Good thing, because “awful’ isn’t even the best description of this epic failure.  This cake sucked the moisture right out of your mouth!  I apparently used way too much cocoa & not the right kind of flour!  It easily weighed 5 pounds!  My mom (again) praised my efforts, but told me later that I shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble for her, that using a box cake is just as good as homemade and so much easier.  That was her polite way of saying, “please, daughter, never do this again.”

My step-dad and my brother will never let me forget that cake.  Never.  Every time I bring over a homemade baked good, I’m met with, “is there cocoa in here?”  I have to laugh.  It’s a funny family joke.  But guess what?  Joke’s on them, her birthday is later this month & I am D E T E R M I N E D to bake her the perfect chocolate cake … from scratch.  Ok, maybe not chocolate.  I think we have worn out our welcome with the cocoa, but there are other cakes & cupcakes I want to make from scratch.

Strawberry Cake!  (FYI, I'm no food photog, this much I know, but it was DeeeLISH!)

Strawberry Cake! (FYI, I’m no food photog, this much I know, but it was DeeeLISH!)

So here’s my Bake-It List for 2013 (I’ll add to it as I think of more things I want to bake:)

  1. Cinnamon Rolls
  2. Tiramisu
  3. Cupcakes from scratch, like a lot of them  (Valentine’s cupcakes to start with, Mint Chocolate Chip cupcakes for St. Patty’s day, Surprise Cupcakes with the cream cheese middle & many more . No link, I have a 360 page book called 500 Cupcakes that should keep me busy.)
  4. Red Velvet Cake
  5. Vanilla Bean Cake
  6. Apple Fritters
  7. Dare I say … Chocolate Cake?  Heehee.
  8. Carrot Cake

What’s on your Bake-It List?

What’s For Dinner?

Since I’m feeling pretty confident about my craftiness, I thought I would share something I made a couple of months ago.  A menu board!  It feeds into two of my favorite things: Cooking & Being Organized.

I love meal planning, but I was getting lazy about doing it because it meant trying to scramble late on Sunday night or early Monday morning & sift through 4 different places my recipes are currently being kept, (pinterest, a folder stuffed with papers of recipes, a cookbook mom made me & my brand new, gorgeous wooden recipe box – which is another project that I will write about later.  The goal is to get everything INTO the wooden recipe box.)  I actually got the idea for the menu planning board off of pinterest, from this blog.

The total cost was less than $25 & the time spent was about 2 hours or so, (I’m certain that it would take everyone else less time, seeing as how 98% of the female population is craftier than me.)  I went to Joann’s & bought a small framed cork board, some pretty scrap-booking paper, some  clothespins, some adhesive border stickers, some jeweled stickers, self-sealing laminating pouches, some small round velcro with adhesive on the back & some adhesive letters.  I already had scrap booking card stock for the cards & little cereal boxes for the card boxes.

Here's the meal planner without cards

Here’s the meal planner without cards

I covered the cork board with paper, I also cut the top off & covered the two mini cereal boxes with paper & then used a adhesive border to make them a little prettier.  I used the adhesive borders & jeweled stickers to make the clothespins pretty & I attached the clothespins to the board by using velcro with adhesive backing, (that way, in case one of them breaks, they’re easily replaced!)

Then I made my menu cards.  On the front I listed the menu: main course & side(s) – the colors of the paper that I used for them means nothing, (some people like to do one color for meat, one color for poultry & so on.)  On the back, I listed all the ingredients, (but I didn’t write out the actual recipe.)  I didn’t print the menus on paper, but rather on clear mailing labels & then stuck them on card stock & used self-sealing laminating pouches, (the business card size,) then cut them a little to fit into the holders.  I even made cards for “date night” “new recipe” or “leftovers.”  I use the top card holder for recipes that are “to be used” and the bottom one for “recipes recently used.”

Meal Planning Board - With Cards ... Inside my pantry

Meal Planning Board – With Cards … Inside my pantry

Here’s how easy it is to use:  Sunday night or Monday morning before I trot off to the 2 or 3 grocery stores that know me by name, I flip through my cards to see what I feel like making that week, (since I know them pretty much all by heart, I know which ones use similar ingredients, so that if I buy cilantro I don’t just use it in one recipe, I can use it in 2 or 3 of them.)

Here are some of my meals … Trout Amandine, Egg Noodles & Steamed Asparagus; Turkey Meatloaf with Sauteed Mushrooms & Yukon Gold Potato Watercress Hash; Lemon Artichoke Chicken, Steamed Artichokes & Jasmine Rice;  Baked Rigatoni w/ Zucchini & Eggplant, Butter Lettuce Avocado Salad & Garlic Bread; Veggie Tacos (for when I’m in a hurry to get dinner out.)  I have a whole bunch of seasonal meals, (for instance, a cold chicken and rice salad which is a summertime favorite & chicken and dumplings which is a good cold weather dish.)

Happy Meal Planning!