My Chili: A Spicy Hot-Button Issue

I have been making chili for nearly 20 years now, starting with a simple recipe I’d seen in the 800+-page Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It started off innocently: diced onions and peppers, garlic, canned tomatoes, spices, and some ground beef or turkey.

I’ve since experimented with the spices recommended in that initial recipe, and I’ve also switched up the beans (from kidney to pinto or black beans) and added corn and fresh cilantro. But one modification I made ended up being a point of contention between me and an old boyfriend.

That was leaving out the meat. I had a quasi-vegetarian stage immediately after college, eating many vegetarian meals a week, without committing to that diet in full every day. So it made sense to me to modify the chili recipe, as the beans in the recipe were already providing protein. So I made a batch of chili, brimming with a supporting cast of vegetables and a blend of seasoning that was spicy and bold, but not hot to the point where you no longer tasted the flavor.

I mentioned to my boyfriend at the time that I had made vegetarian chili, and he was not amused. He basically wanted to know “where’s the beef?” like the original Wendy’s commercial. I made my disappointment known that he wouldn’t try something different. But I kept making the chili the way I wanted to; we just agreed to disagree.

Fast forward about 15 years, and I’m about to make vegetarian chili again today. I made it for a while after that tense conversation, but most often since then I’ve made it with ground turkey. This time around, though, I am prepared to accommodate my vegetarian version and a ground turkey version for my husband–I’ll be cooking the ground turkey separately, and he can mix it into the chili.

Mind you, my husband doesn’t have reservations about eating vegetarian meals–he’s eaten the chili sans meat before and has heartily eaten the soy chorizo and potatoes I’ve profiled. He also is a fan of vegetarian riblet sandwiches. Offering the meat is (1) me learning to not be pushy about my food preferences and (2) something that was going to be cooked anyway, for my son who won’t eat the chili (too spicy) but loves ground meat, only unadorned by any kind of sauce (no sloppy joe sandwiches, for example). 

Walking the line of eating the way that maintains your own health and still satisfying the palates of those who do not subscribe to your preferences is one of the biggest challenges I’ve had with eating healthy. But I realize now that it’s not fair to badger people into eating things they don’t want to (think the recent Bud Light beer commercial where the man is baffled by the quinoa patties that his girlfriend has brought to the tailgate party). I welcome the challenges that come with meeting the needs of different eaters, because it keeps me fresh on coming up with new recipe ideas.

Still Writing Down the Street

Thank you for stopping by to visit this blog. I have had a great time writing it, sharing my thoughts on weight loss, food and emotions. While my posting has gotten sporadic this year, I’ve been slowly putting writing efforts toward another blog I started recently, called The Savannah Spirit.

The Savannah Spirit is a bit more free-form, about my life, and how I am fighting my way out of the shyness and social anxiety that has followed me around for pretty much all my life. At one point you could say I put value on these qualities for how they protected me from the things I thought were negative and harmful in my life, but now I am longing to live more freely and more connected with others. To that end, I have been focusing my writing on the ways that I have fought back at my fears and defenses.

I am not shutting down Let Them Eat Great, but I will not be keeping up the three times a week publishing that I once provided. Stop by the new blog for tales about how my life has been enriched by BBC Sherlock, Led Zeppelin, and other experiences that don’t involve British people, like neglected scallions, board game luncheons, and a rock climbing wall. And, here’s a little something on why I’ve given my new blog its name.

Fun With Chia Seeds

ChiaSeedsI agree with this ABC news post that chia seeds have replaced kale as the “it food” this year. These tiny seeds, which most of us are more familiar with as giving Chia Pets their “hair” or “fur,” have gotten a lot of attention for being loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. They are also chock-full of protein and fiber, for few calories.

What’s the advantage of dumping some into your food? A nutrient boost, as well as fiber to help you feel fuller longer.

I decided to buy some on my last visit to Whole Foods, and then the experiment was on. My first stop: breakfast.

I added the chia seeds to fat-free Greek yogurt, along with honey, and I topped off this breakfast bowl with diced banana and strawberries. It was delicious, as you would expect honey and Greek yogurt to be, and the chia seeds added extra crunch. (Shout-out to ripe banana and strawberries as well.)

The interesting thing about chia seeds is that they become a bit gelatinous when exposed to moisture for a bit–which explains the paste you’ve seen slathered on Chia Pet heads in the past–so you could also consider them a thickener for whatever you ChiaYogurtwant to make. It is something to get used to, and I’d think that would be what would make this a love-it-or-hate-it superfood. I didn’t mind; my yogurt got a little thicker over the course of time, but was still enjoyable, partially because despite swelling to sport a gel-like coating, the crunch doesn’t go away from the seeds.

I purchased my bag of chia seeds on sale for about 6 bucks, but a bag can hover around the $10 mark, give or take a few bucks, from what I’ve seen from the other options at Whole Foods. (I’m still on my first bag after having made several meals with chia seeds now, though, so I think it’s worth the price when on the left side of $10.) I haven’t explored yet whether chia seeds have hit the regular grocery stores of if they’re still a specialty item to be found at health food stores, but I imagine they’ll make their way to a Pathmark, Ralph’s, or Publix near you soon. (Wheat germ is still on the shelves after making its debut in 1936, according to this New York Times article, so why not?)

Chia seeds seem like they’d be a little more shelf-stable than wheat germ and, from what I understand (without having tried them), flax seeds.

Interested in adding chia seeds to your meals? Let you know what you come up with! I’ll have more recipes to share here soon myself.

Surprisingly Good Oven-Fried Fish

Have you ever had a weekend that just wasn’t long enough? I bet you have. I seem to have had too many of them in a row lately.

This past weekend, I wanted to make oven-fried catfish. I’ve made it before: Tenderize the fish in some form of dairy, dust with seasoned flour, spritz with cooking spray, bake, eat. Only it didn’t go down that way. I marinated the fish for several hours, and I seasoned some flour and dropped in the fish, but I didn’t get to actually make the fish right away. Not until the next day, in fact.

My husband was awesome enough to actually bake the fish for me, but he got a bit sidetracked, too, and ended up leaving the fish in too long. But that ended up being the final unfortunate event that made the best oven-fried catfish I’ve ever eaten.

Here’s the recipe:

2 lbs. catfish nuggets
1 c fat-free Greek yogurt
2 c flour
Seasoned salt to taste

Cover the fish with the yogurt; refrigerate it for an hour.

Wash the yogurt from the fish. Mix the flour and the seasoning; place it in a gallon size Ziploc bag. Add the fish; shake thoroughly to coat it. Refrigerate the fish mixture for several hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking pan or two with cooking spray. Add the fish, being careful not to crowd it in the pans. Spray the fish with the cooking spray. Bake for an hour, or until crispy.

Leftover Veggies Pizza

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My refrigerator is often like a jungle of commestibles, plastic and tin cans, a dense, Amazonian jumble of meals, future meal ingredients, and condiments, where no light gets through.

Sadly, from time to time, I lose something in this food jungle. I hate wasting food, but like everyone else, it does happen from time to time. I’ve been trying a little harder lately to avoid being wasteful, and the recipe I have for today is one of the things I’ve done recently toward that.

I found myself with roasted tomatoes, from this sophisticated BLT idea (though I adapted it a bit to make it more flavorful; see below). I also had extra sauteed kale (again, see below). I took these leftovers, placed then on a garlic pita, topped then with an ounce of mixed Italian cheese, and had a sublime vegetarian pizza.

Roasted Tomatoes Recipe

Four medium-to-large, or 8 small tomatoes, sliced. (The original recipe called for Roma tomatoes, but the regular ones I had on hand did just fine. I’d cut the Romas into thirds, and regular tomatoes into quarter-inch slices.

1T olive oil

Salt, garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste

Put the sliced tomatoes in a bowl. Top with the oil and spices and mix thoroughly.

Place the tomato slices on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Place in an oven heated to 250; roast for 2 to 3 hours until desired doneness. (Mine weren’t super-dry like sun-dried tomatoes; I left in a smidge of liquid.)

Sauteed Kale Recipe

1/2 bag washed kale (next time, I’d remove the thick stems)

1/2 large onion

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1 T olive oil

1 c fat-free chicken broth

Heat the olive oil, and add the garlic and onions; cook until the onions are translucent. Add the kale in handfuls at a time. When some has wilted, add the chicken broth. Simmer until desired tenderness. (I left mine a bit crunchy still.)

Notes: if you wanted, you could add a couple slices of center-cut bacon or grilled or roasted turkey or chicken. Turkey ham our pork loin would also work.

Guilt-Free Eating

I started getting more diligent about logging my eating again via Weight Watchers, to work through a “fun holiday season,” with events with friends and family, a work function, and just general lack of inertia that comes with one’s bed (or comforter-draped couch) becoming too comfortable when it’s cold outside. I find myself doing a precarious tap dance of trying to be more accepting of myself and wanting to do better for myself, at the same time.

It’s been an interesting go-round so far. Apparently some Points values have changed on the plan. Other than surprises here and there, though, it’s been like getting back onto a bicycle, so long as I’m willing to have total honesty about myself and my eating.

Part of my blind spot has been just that–not having the courage (or respect, depending on how you look at it) to face the music on choices that I know are less than healthy. I want to just keep walking past the meal tracker like that snack, heavy dinner, or dessert never happened. But, the scale never lies. And neither do our pants!

So I’ve forced myself to log things that I haven’t before. This weekend, it was a sandwich made of chicken liver pate.

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I first had this delicacy at at Bistro San Tropez, a French restaurant that my husband and I visited during Philadelphia Restaurant week a number of years ago. The pate, the crusty bread, the cornichons (aka baby pickles) and the mustard… Delicious!

Sometime after that, I set out to make it myself, and I found it surprisingly cheap to make, and not too difficult, either. (Here’s the recipe I use.) But the catch: it requires nearly two sticks of butter. So I stopped making it when I embarked on my weight loss journey.

I thought about making it this year, thinking it would make a great addition to a Valentine’s feast for a couple of parents without a babysitter. I ended up not making it for the holiday, but I did make out soon after.

And it tasted just add good as I remembered! The silky, melt-in your mouth feel, the meaty taste… it was nice to eat it again.

And then it was done, and I was left with the task of coming clean to Weight Watchers about having eaten it. That part I didn’t like so much. But I did it, and I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t quite add bad nutritionally as I had feared. And I kept everything else light, eating it on a medium-sized spinach wrap with lettuce and some fruit. I had faced a fear about eating and survived… and had a delicious meal. How’s that for guilt-free eating?

Roast Beef Chipotle Mini Pizza

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After I completed the challenge of making as many things as I could off a turkey breast last week, I got the insane idea to get a turkey breast again this week. Needless to say, we’re getting tired of turkey.

So I backed away slowly from the turkey and the carving board. And put on my thinking cap. I did some grocery shopping list night, and I knew I would need something to make that night that would be easy to put together. So I went with deli roast beef, and I went with pizza. And I went with my adventurous taste buds and came up with this idea.

1 pita of your choice, wheat or white (I went with a flavored one: garlic pita)
1 to 1.5 oz deli roast beef (with the size of my slices, this meant about 1.5 slices; be sure to weigh yours!)
2T Taco Bell chipotle sauce (found with the Mexican/Southwest foods in the international aisle)
1 oz mozzarella or Italian cheese blend

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. On an oven-safe pan or cookie sheet, assemble your pizza: top the pita with the sauce, top three sauce with the cheese, and tear/shred the roast beef and put that in to of the cheese.

Put your pizza in the oven until the cheese is melted to your liking.

Notes: if I had time and the ingredients, I would’ve added some grilled onions and peppers to this, to add another dimension of flavor.

Not in the mood for pizza? Try this as a wrap sandwich in a tortilla. Add the peppers and onions and salad greens of your choice.