Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Roasted Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup

To me, autumn does not officially start until certain things are available at the grocery store. This past weekend I saw one of those items, the first pumpkins of the season. They had several varieties available for purchase. There were small decorative gourds, large ones for carving jack-o-lanterns, and sweet pie pumpkins. As soon as I saw these, I knew I wanted to make a pumpkin soup.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Smoky Sausage and Bean Chili

The third installment of my chili series is a chili that combines flavors from multiple cuisines. This chili also represents the area of Texas along the Gulf Coast between Houston and the Louisiana border. It is a slow cooked chili that simmers all day, then is finished in the amount of time it takes to cook a couple cups of rice.

The area along the coast of Texas is a huge melting pot of cultures. Many people moved to this area of Texas when oil was found. As a result, numerous influences can be seen in this part of the country, especially in the cuisine. While there is definitely a strong Mexican heritage in this area, there are also influences from Cajun, French, southern, and Eastern European cuisines.

This chili draws from the Mexican, Cajun, and Eastern European cuisines (specifically Polish, Houston has the 13th largest Polish population in the United States). The base flavoring of the chili is onions, cumin, oregano, and chilies, but the traditional beef is replaced by two kinds of sausages, Polska kielbasa and andouille sausage. These ingredients are combined with beans and slow simmered until everything is tender and the flavors come together. The chili is fairly spicy due to the use of the chili powder, chipotle peppers, and andouille, especially if you use hot andouille like I did, but the heat is cut by topping the chili with rice, a la gumbo style.

The end result is a spicy, hearty meal perfect for week 3 of the NFL season.

Smoky Sausage and Bean Chili

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large white onion, diced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
14 oz polska kielbasa, sliced
14 oz andouille sausage, sliced
1 lb navy beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
3 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp liquid smoke flavoring
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, seeded and minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
Cooked rice
Green onion, for garnish

In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onion and red pepper until softened, about six minutes. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds more.  Add chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook one minute, or until fragrant. Transfer to slow cooker.

In same skillet, saute kielbasa and andouille until lightly browned and heated through. Transfer to slow cooker.

Add beans, chicken broth, soy sauce, liquid smoke seasoning, and chipotle to slow cooker. Stir to mix well.

Cover and cook on high for two hours. Reduce heat to low and cook for six hours longer (or leave on high and cook a total of five hours), stirring every two hours. Thirty minutes before serving, stir in tomato paste to thicken. Serve with rice.

Next Week:  Cincinnati Chili

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jamie's Dream Cake

A couple weeks ago, my wife was telling me about a dream she had. During the dream, for some reason, she was eating a slice of cake. She could not tell me why, only that it was the best cake ever. As she started to explain the cake (knowing her, I was expecting a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting), she told me the cake seemed weird to her. She then proceeded to describe the cake as a blueberry cake with cream cheese frosting. I kind of perked up at that moment, then she said she hadn't told me the weird part yet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

French Bread

To me, French bread is perfect. Nothing makes better garlic bread than a loaf of fresh French bread. At the same time, nothing is simpler to make than fresh French bread. In fact, it is nothing more than flour, water, yeast, salt, and sugar. The key is in the preparation.

Monday, September 17, 2012

White Chicken Chili

Week 2 of the NFL season means the second of seventeen chili recipes. This week's recipe is loaded with chunks of chicken and cannellini beans. It is a hearty, meaty chili that looks nothing like traditional red chili. It is, however, a nice change of pace from the ordinary. I use two Anaheim chilies and two jalapenos in this recipe, but I treat them both the same way. I roast them, remove the skin and seeds, and chop them. Combined with cumin and oregano, the chilies give the dish the majority of its flavor. 

The secret to this chili is the chilies. Or more specifically, roasting the chilies. There are multiple ways to roast chilies, so use whatever method works for you.  The first method is using an open flame. If you have a gas stove, you can roast the peppers by turning the burner on to medium and placing the peppers right on the burner. This method is pretty quick, but you have to turn them often and be careful not to burn the peppers. A second method involves placing the peppers in a heated iron skillet and dry roasting them. The third method is to spread the peppers on a baking sheet and place them under the broiler. Regardless of method, the key is to char the peppers all over and then place them in a paper bag. Placing the peppers in a paper bag for about 15 minutes allows the steam to loosen the skins of the peppers. Once removed from the bag, the peppers can be seeded and skinned by pulling off the top and rinsing the skin and seeds away.

Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I enjoyed watching the Colts get their first win of the season!

White Chicken Chili

2 Anaheim chilies
2 jalapenos
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 large white onion, chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp oregano
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground red pepper
4 cups chicken broth, divided
3 cans (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz) white cream corn
2 Tbsp cornstarch
Avocado, cheese, and sour cream for garnish, if desired

Roast the peppers according to one of the methods listed above. Remove seeds and skins. Chop roasted peppers roughly and set aside.

In large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and onion and cook until onions are softened and chicken is no longer pink, stirring often. Add chilies, cumin, oregano, and red pepper. Stir and cook one minute, or until spices become fragrant.

Add 3-1/2 cups chicken broth to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for one hour.  Remove lid, raise heat to medium and add corn and beans. Dissolve cornstarch in remaining 1/2 cup broth and stir into chili.  Continue cooking until chili is thickened and beans are heated through, about 30 minutes.  Garnish and serve.

Next week:  Smoky Sausage and Bean Chili

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Liquid Laundry Detergent

About a year and a half ago, my sister posted a recipe for homemade laundry detergent on her Exceedingly Blessed blog. Her version was a powdered detergent, and my wife has never been a big fan of powdered laundry detergent. We didn't really give it a second thought again until around Thanksgiving when we were at the local Walmart. We were in the detergent aisle and I pointed out the supplies my sister used in her recipe. My wife still had no desire to use powdered detergent, but she asked me if it was possible to make liquid laundry detergent. I told her I would look into it (code for "whatever"), so she took it upon herself to find out how to make it.

At the same time, my son was having problems with eczema, so my wife was willing to try anything at that point, especially if it was hypoallergenic. She found this recipe, and we decided to try it. We decided to go with a soap we knew was a mild enough to not make our son's eczema worse. The first time we made this was right before Christmas last year, and last week we finally had to make some more. That's right, almost nine months without buying laundry detergent. Hopefully the next batch lasts as long.

I make this in a five gallon bucket in the tub, then dilute it in an old liquid laundry detergent container for use. Half a cup will do a medium sized load, while 5/8 cup is plenty for a full load. Based on the full load size, this will do approximately 250 loads of laundry. Not bad for less than $10. As far as additives, with our kids being in school, we decided to add some tea tree oil to keep to help prevent them from having to deal with lice (so far, it has worked like a charm).  You can add whatever scent you like (lavender would be great).  If you do add essential oils, 5-6 drops per gallon is about the right amount.

Liquid Laundry Detergent

2 1.75 oz bars Dove soap
1 cup washing soda (NOT baking soda)
1/2 cup borax
Essential oils, if desired

Heat about six cups of water to a simmer in a large pot. Grate soap bars and add to water. Stir until all soap is melted (if needed, add a little more water to make sure all soap melts).

Fill a five gallon bucket about half full with hot tap water. Add washing soda and borax, stir to dissolve.  Pour in melted soap. Mix, then fill bucket to one inch from top with hot water. Let set overnight (mixture will thicken). Add essential oils to thickened liquid, if using. Stir well.

To use, mix equal parts water and detergent mix in a separate container suitable for pouring (we use an old liquid laundry detergent jug). Shake well prior to each use.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Vegetarian Chili

The first weekend after Labor Day means one thing....the start of the NFL season. I am a huge football fan. My favorite team is the Colts, and I like watching them as much as I like to cook.  To me, one of the foods that is synonymous with football is chili.  Whether watching the game at home or tailgating at the stadium, nothing tastes as good as a piping hot bowl of homemade chili.

This season, I plan to take my love of football and chili to the extreme. I will make a different batch of chili every Sunday and share them all with you. That's right. Seventeen weeks of football, seventeen batches of chili. From now through December 31, every Monday I will share a different recipe for homemade chili. There will be all different types of chili. Some with beans, some without. Some spicy enough to make you think twice about a second bite, others milder.  Some with pasta, some without.  Some with ingredients you normally would not think of for chili.  Some pork, some chicken, some beef, and even some with no meat whatsoever. Seventeen different chilies. Seventeen weeks. This is going to be a good season. I can feel it.

The first chili of the season is a vegetarian chili. Much of the produce I use in this chili is from the Omaha Farmer's Market. Portabella mushrooms, zucchini, and corn combine with beans, tomatoes, and traditional chili seasonings to make a thick and zesty chili that will please even the most carnivorous of football fans. Additionally, this is a good way to get some vegetables in at a time normally reserved for hot wings, pizza, and beer.

Vegetarian Chili

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small zucchini, diced
1 1/2 lbs baby portabella mushrooms, chopped
3 ears corn, husked and removed from cob
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cans (15 oz each) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup water
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

In Dutch oven or large stockpot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onions, bell pepper, jalapenos, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until soft, about 4 minutes.

Add zucchini, mushrooms, and corn. Continue cooking until mushrooms begin to soften and give off a little liquid, about 6-7 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, salt, and cayenne. Stir and cook until spices become fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Garnish with sour cream, cheese, and additional cilantro, if desired.

Next week:  White Chicken Chili

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Red Chicken

Today I have been asked to not only share my recipe for Red Chicken with you, my loyal readers, but also with the followers of The Sexy Single Mommy. She has just re-launched her blog with a whole new format, so show her some love and visit her new and improved site.

In our house, weeknight dinners need to be fast. Between homework, extracurricular activities, and squeezing in time to relax, there just isn't a lot of time for cooking. This recipe is perfect for nights when dinner has to be on the table in a hurry. From start to finish, this chicken dinner can be prepared in under 30 minutes using fresh ingredients, rather than reaching for a box of Hamburger Helper or heading to the drive-thru.

I call this dish red chicken because everything that goes into the pan (with the exception of the chicken) is red. Red bell pepper, red onion, and red wine vinegar make a flavorful topping for the chicken, while the red pepper flakes add a little bit of heat in the background. Even my picky daughter likes this, and that says a lot. I like to serve this with buttered noodles or Oven-Roasted Potatoes and a green vegetable.

Red Chicken

1 1/2 lb boneless chicken tenders
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup red onion, sliced thinly
3/4 cup red bell pepper, sliced thinly
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
Pinch of red pepper flakes

In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown on each side, about 3 minutes each.

Add onion, bell pepper, and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking over medium high until onions and peppers are softened, about 3 minutes.

Add red wine vinegar to pan and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until chicken is cooked through and vinegar is reduced and thickens to form a sauce. Serve immediately.

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