Chili: Let the Winter Search Begin

So everyone has those dishes that are old school staples, you know, stuff that only “mom makes the best” kind of deal. I am a firm believer that Chili…and Lasagna are key memories of every child growing up of how their mom/dad, grandma’s, ect used to make them. I decided to attack chili this episode. I LOVE my mom’s chili. I don’t think it was until about 2 years ago that I ever found another chili I truly enjoyed. (Bison Witches). Not to mention…I found that every time I made “our” chili… more times than not, it’s not a big hit. It’s very creamy, thick, and has it’s own sweetness to it too, which is probably what throws most people off. (Brown sugar and Pork’n’Beans brand beans)

After years of saying no to any kind of restaurant chili, I was tired of my favorite Wisconsin Cheese at Bison Witches downtown being inconsistent, so I ventured outside the fence and tried the chili. Holy awesome. It’s the total opposite of everything chili I was accustomed to. Runny, less beans, cheese, and just killer savory flavor.  It’s been years since this moment, and I still haven’t tried a new recipe.Shame. Not only is Mom’s the ‘ol’ steady’, but it’s also fast. It doesn’t need to be in a crock pot or on the stove for hours upon hours, and that is my excuse for never trying anything new up until now.

My parents were out of town this week on vacation so I was house sitting. They happen to have a bunch of last-minute tomatoes and peppers from the garden that made it before the freeze the other night, and beef was on sale this week at the store…so winner, winner, beefy…dinner. Let the chili makin’ begin.

I decided to use butter initially instead of oil. No reason at all, except for that I wanted to break rules… you’ll find that EVERY recipe says to start with oil. Rebel. Throw in the onions,  mushrooms, peppers, salt and pepper…just let em cook until the onions get soft. I would love to tell you that there was order to this madness….but from here on out- I literally just started throwing things in there and taste testing it until I got what I wanted. Beef stock, beef,tomato paste, garlic, lots of chili powder, black beans, cayenne, ginger,oregano, lots of fresh tomatoes and all there juices, and cinnamon.  So oops… so on accident, I let a lil’ too much cinnamon get away from me, so from here forward I more or less attempted to fix the slightly over powered spice. ha!


Surprise!!…guess what the two secret ingredients in chili are? Beer…and cocoa powder.  Does every one else know this, or have I just been in the dark from only using one chili recipe for 25 years? I went chili recipe surfing before this situation began, and I found that most “award winning” have the strangest things in them. Who would have thought to combine beer with cocoa powder? Genius’s, that who. Seriously though, beer, tsp or two of cocoa. Oh…and mustard. Squeeze some in there…I love the little zip it gives, as well as the lime juice (ya lime juice, feel free to start rolling your eyes). Have you totally doubted me yet? Does it sound like I just started opening cabinets and throwing things in a pot? It’s ok…I would feel the same way if were reading this. But hey… they aren’t the worst ingredients in the world to combine and soak!

Two hours of sizzling later, I ladled up along with some cheddar cheese stirred in and healthy dollop of sour cream. I absolutely ADORE the finish that sour cream gives to this chili. It really wraps everything up and brings all the ingredients in together. 

Bottom Line: Good chili- definitely had a lot of character. I think the sour cream made it come together very cohesively. I’m curious to see what would have happened if I hadn’t overkilled on the cinnamon. Just a little too much ….is a lot too much with that powerful and potent spice.  I will remain on the hunt…for the best possible chili over the course this winter. Feel free to post/submit/email yours so I can try yours, and maybe throw my own twist on it. Chili-Mission-GO!

Saturday Afternoon: Breakin’ Rules

Baked Catfish and Lemon Cream Pasta

So, my second week at my new job is in the books. More so than that… my second week of forcibly becoming an ‘early’ riser is in the books. Apparently my new calling is 6am: NOT. But hey, gotta do what you gotta do. Pay dem bills right? So all this early rising has taken my former 11am weekend waking up habits spiraling down the drain and into the abyss, never to be seen again. Crawling into bed last night, I can tell you one thing, the last thing on my mind was definitely NOT waking up at 8am this morning, but that’s what happened! Guess my internal clock is already working on resetting itself. On the other hand, being up bright and early, allowed me to knock out breakfast, go to the bank, sign a new lease (yay!), and get in a great workout at the gym,…and back home by 12:30. Not the worst morning I’ve ever had.

Egg n' Shake Bag

Upon arrival at home, I was famished; I decided it was ‘spoil me’ Saturday for lunch. Wishing I was in Omaha this beautiful fall morning to be able to call up any one of my favorite people and do lunch wasn’t exactly an option, so I broke out some catfish and decided that since I just got back from the gym…frying it how ever delicious it would be, was a no-no. I had some spare cornflakes already pulverized so away I went.

Soaked the catfish in milk, salt, and egg. Then threw them in a bag with crushed cornflakes, red pepper flakes, and parsley: then threw them in the oven (on parchment paper of course!) at 375.

Shake n' Bake!

So…I feel like there are certain food rules…and I broke two big ones today. Usually you serve fish with a veggie or rice… well for whatever reason, when I make it…I’m always out of those little necessities. What’s the obvious substitute you say? Pasta of course! But, BROKEN RULE #1. don’t serve breaded fish with pasta. What else was I supposed to do. They both sounded good…not good mixed together…but good together. I’ll just have to find a big plate so they don’t touch 🙂

Post Shakin', Pre-Baked

As the fish is finishing up in the oven, I have water a-boiling and ready to go…I didn’t want to do a ‘sauce’ because that would really be awkward with fish, so I decided that a fresh oil and stock base one would work well.  Pasta, salt, pepper, olive oil, crushed red pepper, basil, and just a little touch of cream.

Baked CornFlake Fishes

It’s all good right, well here’s where BROKEN RULE #2 occurs. Lemon. You’re not supposed to combine citrus and creams- at least to a significant extent. My problem is I love citrus in my pasta…so I couldn’t help by douse it in lemon. I loved it…but felt guilty about committing this food fopaux.It works as long as you taste it as you go not adding too much. Make sure that the contents on the stove are not super hot, because if they are when you add in your lime or lemon: it will curdle. No one wants curdled noodles ! 🙂

Baked Catfish=check, yumPasta=Check. Definitely and upscale lunch for no reason, but hey why not right? Only thing missing was a mimosa or tall glass of white wine!  Still need to work on the fish: Breading was great, but for some reason I really only like catfish if its fried. I don’t know if I’m just not a catfish expert, or maybe if fried is the only way to go! Who knows… regardless. Broken Rule Saturday lunch was not disappointing.

I’m heading out to the ‘boonies’ this evening for a lil’ family celebration so maybe I’ll have an updated stories again tomorrow. My dad’s 56th birthday and my parents 33rd Wedding Anniversary have all happened within the past five days, so we’re lighting the fire pit and probably going to try to find some food to burn…and cake to eat 🙂 More soon friends~ 

Salmon: Back up, I Did It (right)

Yay! Just wanted to give a big hug to all my supporters and you silly people that actually read this thing on a normal basis…I just looked my numbers and they have just gone thru the roof in the past month, so thank you, thank you, thank you! For something that just started as a way for me to talk to myself and keep track of my own recipes… this has been quite the surprise.

So…I’ll be the first one to admit that I am skiddish about cooking fish. Back in February fish was something I started eating a little more regularly due to the influence of someone else. By March, a fish entre’ was the theme to a once-a-week special dinner night. I would research really interesting recipes and then sit at the HyVee fish-counter/or speak with them via phone about which items I wanted, where they came from, and all kinds of other dorky things. This new fearless fish devil in my life challenged me to quit running away from it and embrace it. So slowly, I’ve started to mess with fish/shellfish wanting to really get good at cooking them correctly, and delicately. Fish isn’t something that needs to be very seasoned, just cooked the right way.


I actually have a hilarious story about stuffed baked clams regarding this topic…I’ll give you the 5-second synopsis. These baked clams were the most amazing dish EVER…but I couldn’t/can’t do clams by myself. I’m afraid they’ll open up and bite me, like they have rows of shark teeth waiting to gnaw off my hand. I need help shucking them, not because I can’t: well kind of because I can’t. I’m just quite literally they’re going to take my life.

So per usual, I went to the store for one thing (milk) and I leave with $8 of three bags of amazing proteins. Whenever I try to go and hit the discount sales…they’re never there waiting for me, they always seem to have these rockstar specials when I’m at the store for milk. I’m guilty for walking by the red meat and fish albeit, you never know when they’re having those clear out specials! 50% off… are you kidding me? Get in my fridge!! I left ghetto Russ’s with Angus Steak the size of Asia, two giant salmon fillets, and  Korean beef short-ribs. I know…total steal, especially for me…being single allows me to freeze great deals until I get to them…and not only that, but I get many meals out of my product since it’s just me.

These salmon fillets are calling my name. Not only do they have great color (when they’re faded…super gross) AND they still have the skin on them- which is the best part! It’s like the breading on fried chicken- yes, please! I love salmon, I really do. But- I rarely cook it because I’m so terrible at it. Absolutely terrible. I always over cook it and never season it right so it’s either dry or too fishy, or both. The great thing about salmon is that when it’s cooked correctly it doesn’t taste like fish. If I ever order salmon out, I only go to certain places I know that cook it accurately and also specify that I want it well-done.

I opened up the package and seasoned them with salt, pepper, ginger, lemon, and teriyaki glaze. Then I hit the internet to try and (once again) try to snag some tips on how to make these right! I feel like I kept reading the same things over and over…or everything was in a different language. Argh-give up.  So… I heated up my stainless steel, melted down some butter and (here come the tips…ready!) 1. Make sure the heat is on medium high, you want it hot enough to really get a good sear on it. I found that as hard as it was to wait 2. Seven minutes on each side works pretty well for a thicker fillet. 3. Make sure that the skin side is up initially. 4. Really watch your fillets because you can watch them cook and see the skin change color as it cooks similar to steak. Even though this ruins the ‘pretty’ factor, mine were big enough were I could test them without destroying the size/portions, but 5. Stick a fork in it and pull…it should just fall to your fork, and you can also see this way how cooked it is inside. (or be smart…and don’t forget you have a meat thermometer in the drawer-*smacks head*)

 I think salmon goes great with rice, but I was craving pasta (not good with salmon) so I made risotto 🙂  (good middle ground!) I cooked down some green onions, shitakes, and white onion for about 30 minutes, throwing in a splash of sugar in half way thru. Then I made a simple chicken broth based risotto, then threw in the mush/onion mix about 10 minutes before the risotto was done. So it was like a caramelized onion/mush risotto. Pretty good. This paired with my cooked salmon that was actually cooked right, (first time!!) was definitely worth a decent rating on the yum-radar. I literally don’t think I’ve ever cooked them right before, so I’m  glad I sat in the kitchen and just starred at them cooking for 15 minutes. ha!

BottomLINE: Risotto, good: I feel like I’m always trying to get better at this. I know what my problem is…and it’s that I don’t watch it enough. You really have to stir it almost the whole 20 minutes and be cautious about using the exact amount of liquid it calls for. But definitely loved the mushroom inspired version I whipped up. The Salmon- I was so excited and pumped about cooking it correctly…I even giggled to myself about it when I was all done. The skin was crisp, and incredibly flavorful- win! I wish I thought about dinner prior to 10 minutes before getting ready to attack the kitchen. THis probably would have been even better if it would have had more time to marinate in the fridge.  Lesson Learned: Babysit Cooking Salmon & Marinate in Fridge Longer.