Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chili, An Experiment in the Making

Working a total of 26 hours in the past four days really took a toll on this aging body; yet the with the free time I did have we still squeezed in some family time. On Saturday, Hannah and I attended a production of Macbeth with the Chicago Youth Shakespeare; it had an unconventional staging but with traditional text. We both observed some new acting techniques and learned some new directional dialogue and can't wait to share them with our students back at SELAH.

My family flipped over these tasty treats
(I barley had time to snap these pictures before
they disappeared! 

The next day was Sweet Sunday; at least that's what we are calling it now in our attempt to create new traditions that will bring the adult children into the kitchen and to the dinner table more often. For this week's dessert we made "Remi Bars" which are actually rice crispy treats made with Fruity Pebbles. A sugary sweet (although full of food coloring) gluten free cereal - but so very good in this dessert! I actually had them for the first time last week at work where a co-worker, named Remi, brought two trays of tempting cereal bars to work. Apparently it was national Cereal Day and he thought it would be appropriate. If nothing else, his elf like gesture made us all sugary high, full of smiles and able to pass the work day on a sweet note. If following the linked recipe, please note that I used eight cups of cereal. Most recipes online call for 5-6, but that just seemed to marshmallow dense; mine turned out gooey and light (and very sweet!).

Now it's finally Souper Tuesday and I'd like to attempt to share another chili recipe. You see, my married daughter recently asked if I could make my chili when I go to visit her this summer, because she "can't seem to get her's to taste like mine." But the truth is, even if she follow's the below recipe with the exact same ingredients, it will probably never taste the same; and I've never had two pots of chili taste exactly the same either. With each new batch comes meat of a different flavor (depending on where the animal was fed), different flavors and temperatures of peppers (depending on the time of year) and different ingredients (do we feel like adding beans this time or not?).

According to an author at the Food Lab, making a tasty pot of chili is a science and requires some thought and patience. I can attest to this as the pot I made this week took several hours. But it's all worth it when you get to store the left overs in the freezer for future lunches or homemade batches of chili fries!
I used my Pampered Chef Chopper to get my
vegetables to the right consistency. 

Better than Koney Island Chili (but taste almost the same): 
1 pound organic ground beef
2 pounds ground turkey
1 large red pepper, chopped fine
3 poblano peppers, chopped fine
1 large onion, chopped fine
5 cloves garlic, crushed
9 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons cumin
3 tablespoons Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sucanat or turbinado sugar
4 cans (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz.) can petite cut diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 (7 oz.) can chipolte peppers with sauce, chopped
5 tablespoons beef stock base (Better Than Bouillon brand, recommended)
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
1 pound organic carrots, peeled, chopped, and blanched (when cool, chop fine)

Use good quality ingredient to insure the best tasting chili!

  1. Prepare all ingredients before you start. This will take some time, so cue up your favorite music to make the time pass happily. 
  2. Begin by browning the ground beef in a saute pan, place in large stock pot when finished, follow with ground turkey meat, add to pot. Saute one pound of meat at a time to fully brown all surface of meat. Browning all three pounds at once has a "stewing" effect on the meat,
  3. In same pan, saute onions and peppers until onions are clear, but not caramelized; add garlic and warm threw. Use a lightly flavored oil such as grape seed, sunflower or canola so not to compete with the flavors being cooked. You really want to highlight the flavors of the peppers and the chilies.
  4. Add the chili powder, cumin and oregano to onions and peppers and saute a couple of minutes or until spices are toasted. Add this mixture to stock pot.
  5. To stock pot add cinnamon, sugar, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, chipolte peppers, beef stock, quinoa and carrots. Cover all ingreidents with filtered water and stir.
  6. Cook over medium heat until it comes to a gently boil, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from heat to cool. 

Fred and I returning to the place
we met 24 years ago!
Chili is a well loved recipe in this house. My husband and I even met over a plate of chili fries! The first sentence he ever said to me was "I'll have a bacon double cheese burger, a side of chili fries and the biggest pop you've got!"  I was his waitress at a little diner just north of Detroit, Michigan. I served him him the burger and over the next several visits, a few dates and lots of time together, we fell in love. So don't underestimate this humble American stable, it can be as romantic as it is common, and as spicy as you want it (just as marriage should be!!!).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Chicken Salad on the Run

The last couple of days have been pretty busy! First we were able to attend a magical production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, Chicago. Ironically, it was snowing as we traveled into the city, but we trudged threw snow, slush and the traffic it created to make it there just as the introduction was being given. I would have to say that this was my favorite interpretation I've ever seen of this play, and the costuming was the same era that we are focusing on for Orphan Train, so inspiration abounded!
Students pose with actors from Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Titiana, Hermia & Mechanical/Fairy)
I think the greatest blessing was that three of the students brought with us were relatively new to Shakespeare and they left with positive impressions of the art form and the youngest said "I can't believe I actually understood what was going on!"

Which SELAH classes and rehearsals happening the next day, and today Hannah and I facing double shifts at work; it is a good thing we had the foresight to make some chicken salad the day before these activities began. This has provided quick take along lunches and late night nourishment after a long day of running. Comforting family dinners do not have to made daily, just be made available daily.

Chicken Salad
  1. Begin with four pounds seasoned, boneless, skinless, chicken breast, trimmed of all fat and baked in oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until pink center disappears. Do not overcook chicken - nothing worse than dry chicken to make a dry chicken salad. Reserve juices
  2. Let chicken cool to room temperature then chop into bite size pieces. I use a serrated knife to give it a tron texture. Place in a large bowl. Drizzle some pan juices over chicken to maintain moisture.
  3. Add to bowl and mix well:

              ~ 1 cup chopped pecans
              ~ 1 cup dried cranberries
              ~ 1 cup mayonnaise (Hellmanns Olive Oil Blend recommended)
              ~ 1 1/2 cups copped celery
              ~ zest of one orange

Chicken salad the is type of dish that can evolve each time you make it. I used Great Texas Bar-B-Que Gourmet Seasoning (thank you Allyson, my friend from Texas!) But try different seasonings (savory as opposed to sweet: garlic, basil and sun-dried tomatoes) or adding fruit (grapes, pineapple and chopped apples are delicious additions). Either way, it's not rocket science, just using the ability to know what you like. So mix up a batch and keep it in the fridge and enjoy for more than one day!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Olive Garden Zupa Toscana (Fail)

With my family aging and constantly on the move these days I've been trying to incorporate new traditions that will help link us together each week. One such tradition came easily as I've always been in the habit of serving soup as a main dish at least once a week. Lately, I've been serving that one dish on Tuesday's. It has become known as Souper Tuesday! I always make a large portion of the chosen soup and it supplies left overs that lasts for day's (and sometimes soup is better the second day). Leaving a loving, home-cooked, healthful option for lunches and snacks throughout the rest of the week.

This soup just had to be served with a Raspberry Lemonade
(just like the OG) and some garlic toast made with gluten free bread
(the best immedicate option to replace OG's delicious bread sticks).
This bowl of soup is pictured on my kitchen counter where we spent
hours in homeschool lessons and homework, hence, the reason
there is an old school pencil sharpener in the background!
Although not all Tuesday dishes have been so super; take this past week for instance. Those of you that know me well, know I work at an Olive Garden here in the south suburbs of Chicago; desperately trying to squirrel away some savings to eventually visit my family in England some day. Now, if you've ever visited an OG, you know they have great soup. Unfortunately, being gluten intolerant, I can't eat their soup often without suffering some physical consequences. But I just love their Zupa Toscana, "a spicy sausage and potato soup with fresh kale," (that just happens to be how I describe it to my guest while taking orders). So I get this bright idea to find a similar recipe and see if I can re-create it at home.

Well, I found several attempts at "top secret" recipes online, and the recipe I chose even made a pretty decent pot of potato soup with sausage and kale, but sadly, it did not taste the same as the Zupa at Olive Garden. I think the additions of onions to this recipe lent itself to failure, but I may try other versions of this soup just so I can enjoy a gluten free option. But if you want a really good bowl of Zupa, come and see me at the OG or visit one locally, otherwise, I doubt you will find one just as good!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lentils, not just for the soup pot!

Being involved in homeschool co-operatives can lend inspiration in the most unusual places. Such as the below recipe which was originally introduced to us by a fellow homeschooler while she was doing a demonstration speech in our 4H Club. She shared a recipe printed in her history/geography book for Yemiser Selatta, which is a lentil salad eaten by Ethiopian Christians during lent. I remember the looks of skepticism on the faces of her peers as she spoke through her demonstration, adding ingredients and mixing as she went. But she was a persuasive speaker and engaged her young audience with vivid language that boosted their curiosity to try something new. When she offered samples at the end of her demonstration, they devoured this tasty dish.

As the years have passed, I've returned to this recipe several times; it's is a crowd pleaser and since It's nutrient dense, it's a win-win with young people. I recently made this and brought it to a day long rehearsal with my daughters senior project. I knew she would enjoy it, but was happy to see all the teenagers with their plates heaping with this healthy snack option. 

I've altered the original recipe many different ways. For example, the dish I brought for the teen rehearsal was spiced up with taco seasoning and garnished with colorful peppers to make it more appealing. You could probably use different color lentils as well. Enjoy!

Yemiser Salatta
  • 1/2 pound dried lentils (1 1/4 cups)
  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 8 large shallot cloves, peeled and cut lengthwise into strips
  • 2 jalapenos, cleaned and cut into strips
Place the lentils in a sieve and wash them under cold running water. Then drop them into enough lightly salted boiling water to cover them two to three inches. Reduce to low heat, cover pan partially, and simmer 25 to 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender but somewhat firm to the bite. Drain the lentils in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain and set aside.

Combine vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper in a deep bowl and beat. Drop in lentils, jalapenos, and shallots; mix well. Let marinate in refrigerator at least an hour, then serve with tortilla chips or gluten free crackers. Also good sprinkled over a lettuce leaf salad. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"12 Angry Jurors" and one Proud Drama Mama

Last week my daughter played a significant role in a student production of 12 Angry Jurors; an adaptation of Reginald Rose's screen play 12 Angry Men (1959). This production was a special project of the upper class students at her homeschool cooperative, SELAH. Hannah took on the role of Juror #3, typically the angriest of the 12 jurors.
Besides taking on this exciting role, she also acted as the costume designer. Because of budget limitations, the cast had to supply their own costumes, but Hannah undertook the part of researcher; compiling samples of period clothing. She also suggested color pallets that would complement the character's temperament, for example, she insisted that the passive jurors wear lighter colors and the aggressive characters, red.
For myself as a parent, I was thrilled to see her utilize the skills she has been working on throughout her high school years. It was exciting to she her deep in character in this play and she truly surprised me as a director and actor.

I was also blessed to see her working with younger actors, mentoring their skills and encouraging them while they perform roles that increase their own confidence and leadership skills.

The play was also directed by one of my long time theater students and many in the cast were also students that I have taught throughout the many years of homeschool theater. Although they were my students, they were Hannah's friends and it was exciting to see them working together on a project of this nature. They even used the proceeds from the ticket sales to donate to Prison Fellowship's "Angel Tree" project.

Can you tell I'm bursting with pride? If not, let me sum it up: I'm thankful for the opportunities that God has given my family to serve others with the passions and skills with which He has blessed us!

"You’re right. It's the kids. The way they are – you know? They don't listen. (bitter) I've got a kid. When he was eight years old, I caught him with some of the neighborhood gangs – fighting – and right out in the street! After all I said about staying away from those thugs – and he goes and joins them! I gave him a whipping he wouldn’t forget! And you know what? When he was fifteen he hit me – a woman – his own mother – in the face! He's big, you know. I haven't seen him in three years. Maybe I’m better off. The rotten kid! You work your heart out.... (pause) All right, let's get on with it." ~ Juror 3, 12 Angry Jurors

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Keep Calm, and Trust in God

Feeling very overwhelmed with unfinished lesson plans, upcoming plays, financial obligations, and graduation details all compounded by the pressing need to spend time and reconnect with friends and family.  The obvious answer to this is not to stress, but pray that God will help me complete the tasks he's laid on my heart and then trust in Him. Somehow, just reading his Word, seeing it in print and sharing the good news makes it more powerful.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chicken Taco Soup

Having been stuck in a rut making the same soup every week for quite some time, I broke free of the tomato base Italian style soups we've been consuming (not that they weren't tasty) and tried making Chicken Taco Soup as found on the Food Network site.

Of course, as true to my nature, I had to change up some of the ingredients to match what I had in my cupboard and fridge. After all, half the purpose of making soup once a week is to eliminate ripe vegetables and left overs from the fridge. So I used small colored peppers instead of just the green; giving the soup beautiful rainbow ribbons of color; a half jar of black bean and corn salsa mixed with half a bottle a tequila lime salsa, a bag of fire roasted corn from Trader Joe's to replace the can corn or hominy, and a couple of cans of Rotel tomatoes with green chilies to take the place of the tomato paste. And lastly, I used my own Taco Seasoning Mix for the suggested store brand taco seasoning packet.

My biggest concern was how the cream cheese was going to mix in with the already delicious soup warmly awaiting on the stove. Following the directions in the recipe to incorporate the cheese with a little warm soup broth, I was left with a bowl of messy, chunky, unappetizing cheese soup. Well I threw it in the blender and it pureed thoroughly, I then added it to the soup, turning it from a dark red-brown to a light orange color complemented with the contrasting peppers. The cheese turned out to be the magic ingredient, truly making it taste like a "liquid taco" (my nephew once described a bowl of my Tortilla Soup as "liquid nachos" and I've always thought that was so funny).

I plated the soup with a few dollops of sour cream and a healthy siding of tortilla chips for dipping and scooping the family was very pleased with this week's Souper Tuesday concoction!

I finished off the evening with a quick batch of Peanut Butter Cookies using a bag of organic coconut sugar I also picked up at Trader Joe's. It was a very easy recipe to put together, but the baking process was a little tricky. The sugar burns easily so the cookies have to be "babysat" so they do not stay in the oven even a half minute too long. But the cookies that made it through were a big success and I think my daughter ate at least a dozen as she passed through the kitchen several times to do her laundry! It's nice to know that I'm appreciated, at least for my cookies if nothing else!
If music be the food of love, play on, 
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, 
The appetite may sicken, and so die. 
Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3