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.

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How to Make a Turkey Disappear: Salads, Etc.

I gushed last week about the turkey smell in my house that had me daydreaming about tasty meals. Well, that turkey is a distant memory. I have to say thank you to my family for helping me to gobble up the gobbler!

I made several salads with the turkey and had some other ideas that I didn’t get to execute, but will definitely do it next time. Here goes on where the six pounds of turkey went…

ImageCranberry Blue Cheese Turkey Salad

  • 2 oz turkey
  • Salad greens and veggies of your choice
  • 1T pecans, crushed
  • 2T dried cranberries
  • 2T light or fat-free blue cheese dressing

Mix, eat, and enjoy!

Fajita Turkey Salad

ImageGrill some peppers and sliced onions, or, while closely monitoring them, char them in the oven set to broil.

Add some to:

  • Salad greens of your choice
  • 2-3 oz. turkey
  • 2T guacamole
  • 2T fat-free Greek yogurt
  • (You could also add cheese; if you do, go with 2 oz of turkey.)

Satay Turkey Salad

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  • 2-3 oz turkey
  • Broccoli slaw
  • 1/4 c peanut sauce
  • 1T peanuts, crushed (measure 1T of peanuts and then crush them)

Mix the turkey, broccoli slaw, and peanut sauce. Top with the peanuts.

Turkey Club Salad

  • Salad greens and vegetables of your choice
  • 2 oz. turkey
  • 1/2 c whole wheat pasta (I went with rotini)
  • 2 slices bacon (center-cut pork bacon or turkey bacon), cooked
  • 2T light or fat-free ranch dressing

Mix all ingredients together and enjoy! (You could also add 1/2 oz. of cheese; I’m thinking a sharp cheddar.)

Buffalo Turkey Salad (I didn’t make this one, because I ran out of turkey, but here’s the idea I had!)

  • 2-3 oz turkey
  • 2T light or fat-free blue cheese dressing
  • Cholula garlic hot sauce to taste

Add your turkey and salad greens to your bowl/plate. Mix the dressing and hot sauce together; add on top of the salad. Top with 1T of sunflower seeds or a serving of garlic croutons. And/or add 1/2 to 1 oz of cheese–mozzarella or cheddar.

So, obviously a handful of salads doesn’t make a big ol’ turkey breast disappear. How else did my family help me make it disappear? These recipes offer light options and heavy options to accommodate all eaters in your household.

Turkey burritos, tacos and nachos:

  • Go heavy with a large flour tortilla, rice, turkey, cheese and a good hot sauce (I used Cholua lime hot sauce).
  • Go lighter with a smaller, fat-free flour tortilla, 2 oz. turkey and 1/4 c fat-free refried beans (or turkey and grilled peppers and onions), cheese and hot sauce.
  • 2-3 oz turkey, 1 oz. cheese, and salsa verde (all ingredients split between taco-sized corn tortillas).
  • 2 oz turkey over 1-1.5 oz baked tortilla chips, with 4 T salsa con queso. (2T fat-free Greek yogurt and 2T guacamole are optional.)

Turkey, steamed peas and polenta:Image

2 oz turkey, a serving of steamed peas (from a frozen steamer bag heated in the microwave); and polenta made to the instructions on my bag of corn meal, plus a little minced garlic

Turkey club sandwich: Go heavy with turkey, 2 slices of bacon (center-cut pork or turkey), light or heavy mayonnaise to taste, cheese slices (optional), and bread of your choice. Go light with 2 oz. turkey, 2 slices of bacon, 1T light mayonnaise (or 2T light ranch dressing), 1 slice of bread, or a fat-free flour tortilla.

And, of course, a Thanksgiving-worthy entree of turkey, a starch and vegetables!

Review: Mexican Weeknight Easy

I read. A lot. Whether it’s reading what my digital peeps and Tweeps are up to, reading music blogs, scouring Pinterest for new recipe ideas, or trying to make a dent in my Kindle book pile (I’m currently reading the Sherlock Holmes collection, in hopes of getting ideas in how he survived the fall on the British show), I’ve always got words whizzing by my eyes for some reason.

Sometimes the writing comes from magazines that I’ve picked up at the market. That’s how I got my hands on Mexican Weeknight Easy, a magazine devoted to Mexican cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as information on spices and produce that figure prominently in Mexican cooking.

I probably confess to my Mexican food addiction just about every week, but let me tell you, I still learned a lot from this publication.

Here are the 5 most useful things I got out of parting with $5.99:

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One of the five things I learned was how to make this!

  1. How to make sophisticated chips. I routinely microwave tortillas into crispy chips, but I typically don’t spruce them up with anything more exciting than salt. I will, however, be trying the smoked paprika, cumin and salt chips, as well as the lime jalapeño ones.
  2. How to pickle red onions. There’s a pretty easy recipe for picking red onions in citrus juices and spices that sounded interesting. A little web research told me that picked red onions, aka cebollas encurtidas, pair nicely with a variety of foods. I have a weak spot for onions, so I will definitely be doing this!
  3. How nachos (supposedly) got their name, and other tales. I won’t spoil the story for you, but I really enjoyed this, and the other factoids that run throughout the magazine.
  4. What to do with a chayote. I’ve seen this puffy pear-looking piece of produce in the market, but I didn’t know it was (technically) a fruit. Or that I could cook it like squash.
  5. How to make a delicious, healthy Mexican breakfast. Huevos oxaqueños, eggs poached on a bed of vegetables, will become a staple dish for me, served with corn tortillas and a little cheese.

I’d recommend this magazine to anyone who likes Mexican food like me, or anyone who’s looking for new ways to make flavorful meals with tons of fresh ingredients. I’m looking forward to expanding my Mexican repertoire!

Salsa Verde Enchiladas

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I eat a lot of Mexican/Southwestern food somehow. It’s something about the spice combinations, the use of fresh vegetables in salsa, and the unique dimension that a bit of chopped cilantro adds to whatever you throw it on.

I recently found myself with a lot of leftover turkey breast on hand, and my first thought was to turn it into enchiladas. (Apparently my brain is hard-wired with this appreciation of all things Mexican.)

Here’s the road I took to further feed my Mexican food addiction:

  • 1 lb. turkey breast, diced or shredded
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 1 jar salsa verde
  • 1 to 1 1/2 c cheese (reduced-fat cheddar or a Mexican blend)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the turkey breast with half of the jar of salsa. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes to give the meat a chance to get marinated (or leave overnight, if you’d like to prep in advance).

Heat the tortillas a little. I did this in the microwave for about 30 seconds, and then I kept then covered with a damp paper towel as I began to work on the next step.

Take a tortilla and fill it with the turkey mixture. Roll up the tortilla, and place it seam-side down in a square baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Repeat for the rest of the tortillas and turkey.

Top the rolled tortillas with the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tortillas are heated through and the cheese is melted. Serves 4.

Notes: you could also use a rotisserie chicken as your meat source. Or try using leftover pork loin.

Question of the day
: what is your favorite kind of food? What country or ethnicity of coking will always have a place in your stomach?

Keeping the Balls in the Air

I’ve stepped into a very busy work period lately. That’s because I’m trying to juggle 3 projects at the same time. And write this blog. And maybe get some time in with my family, and some time for myself as well. It’s trying, but I’m making the best of it that I can. (One thing I’ve done for myself is to halt the kebab challenge I wanted to embark on this summer, making a kebab recipe a week for this blog. Sorry, maybe I’ll pick it up again next year.)

I found myself finishing up my work yesterday, with no dinner or complete lunch for the next day on deck. I quickly decided on grilled chicken breast and turkey chili.

I bought chicken and ground turkey from the store, and some cheese to go with the chili. (Thankfully I keep beans, crushed tomatoes, spices, onions and garlic handy, so this wasn’t a major shopping expedition.)

At home, I pounded the chicken uniformly flat, then marinated it with spices, a little olive oil, and vinegar. I chopped some onion and smashed and minced garlic. Then, I went to sit in with my husband and son for reading practice. It’s a special treat when I’m home early to get to be part teacher, part cheerleader!

After that, it was back to the kitchen. I turned on the grill and heated my skillet. I rinsed and drained my beans while everything was heating. Then I threw the chicken on the (indoor) grill and began on the chili. Fast forward about 30 minutes, and everything was ready. We live to eat again another two or three days, and I also get the satisfaction of knowing that my loved ones are well fed with quality food.

That’s a glimpse into how I pull healthy meals together, how I juggle kitchen duties, how I make room for family time, and what I keep in stock to make life easier for myself. But I know I’m not the only person juggling life needs and a desire to eat healthy. How do you keep all the balls you have to juggle safely in the air? What are your quick, healthy go-to meals?

Chipotle Meatballs

Probably about 10 years ago, I picked up a Mexican cookbook, made by the Ortega company to celebrate a key milestone in their history. The book is now well-worn, the pages dusted with flour and cornmeal. It has been one that I’ve used over and over again.

So when I saw a McCormick seasoning packet for chipotle meatballs (Yes, I intend to try every seasoning packet that catches my eye!), I knew exactly what they were, thanks to that Ortega cookbook. I never made the book’s recipe for albóndigas al chipotle (chipotle meatballs) in a soupy sauce, but in looking at the ingredients and process on the seasoning pack, I knew it would be simple to try.

The Ortega recipe takes you from start to finish, making meatballs from scratch, but this prices is much quicker, thanks to frozen meatballs.

Recipe

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30 1-inch turkey meatballs (cooked and frozen or thawed)
1 McCormick Albóndigas al Chipotle seasoning packet
15-16 oz of tomato sauce (depending on whether you use two 8-oz cans or one 15-oz can)
Water per package instructions

Mix the water, tomato sauce and seasoning in a saucepan. Boil the mixture, then add the meatballs. Heat until the meatballs are heated through.

Notes: I ate these with couscous and steamed spinach, but brown or white rice would also work, as would whole wheat or white pasta. You could also mix some grilled peppers and onions into the finished meatballs/sauce combo.

Peach-Mango Turkey Kebabs

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Here’s my first recipe, from my challenge (to myself) to make a kebab recipe a week this summer. I’m kicking off the season with a recipe that’s grill-ready: ground meat skewer kebabs.

I enjoyed the peach mango sausages I had a few weeks ago, and figured I’d try my hand at combining those flavors with other Southwest seasonings. The end result is this half sausage, half burger hybrid.

Recipe

  • 1 package ground turkey
  • Peach mango salsa (1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • Red or sweet onion, finely diced (I used about a quarter of a medium-sized onion)
  • Cilantro to taste
  • Adobo powder and cumin to taste
  • Minced garlic to taste
  • Lime juice to taste (I used half a lime, but consider it optional)

Mix your ingredients together, and let them sit in the refrigerator a bit to blend. (I waited an hour or so, but you could also refrigerate overnight if you’d like.)

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When ready to make the kebabs, start heating your grill. Divide the meat into 4 servings. Fashion them around skewers sausage style. (I used long, flat metal skewers, as I will for the rest of the recipes this summer. If you use the shorter bamboo skewers, you would likely have to make more than 4.)

Grill away! Until the meat is cooked through.

Notes: Try adding a little bit of the salsa at a time to your meat, to avoid making the kebabs too goopy to stay on the skewers. (It’ll depend on how firm or watery your ground turkey is. Making this recipe confirmed my suspicion that I need to stop buying Aldi ground turkey… another rant for another day.) You’ll want a consistency that’s pretty close to what you’d have for burgers, but a bit more moist. If you find you’ve gone overboard with the salsa, add bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time. Another thought: lean ground beef would likely hold up to the salsa a bit better.

I served these on fat-free tortillas, topped with a little more of the salsa, some reduced-fat cheddar, spinach, and thinly sliced red onion. I’d also try queso sauce instead of the cheddar.