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I always find it curious that one of our favorite hearty meals to bring cold weather comfort is a homonym of the weather: Chili. And, it has been very chilly around here for the past few days. The first few days after last week’s snowstorm were glorious. The sun was shining, and though it was cold, the world was sparkling and bright. Howard and I went snowshoeing in the woods near our house with Bella, who enjoyed romping in the drifting snow.


Now it’s downright arctic with the thermometer reading in the teens and the wind taking things down towards zero. The end is in sight, but it is cold.

Chilly weather cries out for chili. A big giant pot of chili. So that’s what happened in my kitchen. There are so many different variations. I have a handful of different recipes I like making over and over. I like testing out new ones too. I even have a cookbook with just chili recipes. This weekend, I went with a tried-and-true recipe, the one I’ve been making since I had my first apartment.

There’s nothing special about this chili. It has all the expected elements: ground beef, beans, chili powder. It’s easy to prepare, can be on the table in an hour, and always hits the spot. This recipe can be tweaked for your preferences. I use a mild chili powder with some jalapeno. You can easily turn up the heat with a hotter chili powder or more jalapeno. I’ve made this with ground turkey. I’ve also made with half the meat. Any kind of bean works well: red kidney, black, pinto. The following is just this week’s version.

Chili for Chilly Weather
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, finely chopped
3-4 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 Tbsp finely minced garlic
1 finely minced jalapeno, fresh or pickled (optional)
1 Tbsp crumbled dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
¼ cup mild chili powder
1-28-oz can whole tomatoes in puree, tomatoes chopped or broken by hand into smaller pieces
1 cup beef broth
1 cup water
Salt & ground pepper
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups cooked kidney beans
Sour cream, lime wedges, and diced avocado to garnish

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the oil and add the meat. Cook, breaking down the lumps with a spoon as it browns. Add the onions, green pepper, celery, garlic, jalapeno, oregano, bay leaves, cumin and chili powder. Stir to blend well. Add the tomatoes, broth, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook about 20 minutes, stirring often. Add the beans and cook about 10 more minutes.

Serve in bowls over white rice and garnished with sour cream, lime wedges, and diced avocado. Cornbread with honey butter goes well on the side.

Thoughts on January from the cool new set of monthly inspirations my sister Jane gave me.

Thoughts on January from the cool new set of monthly inspirations my sister Jane gave me.


Just an Ordinary Week

Tomatillo Chili

It was an ordinary week. It started with a relaxing weekend in Maine. We got started on garden cleanup there. The weather was sunny, though crisp. We had a good day on Saturday and planned to spend most of Sunday there.

Unfortunately, Bella foiled those plans by rolling in something dead during her early morning walk with Howard. Howard woke me at ten minutes before 7 on Sunday morning, with a plea for help in cleaning her up. She reeked. I managed to clean her up enough that we could bear to spend 2 hours in the car with her on the ride home.

We drove straight to Laundromutt (my favorite pet-related business). It’s a self-serve dog wash. You bring the dog. They provide the tub, the shampoo, the hose that mixes the suds, the chamois and the towel. Most importantly, they clean up afterwards! They recommended a special citrus shampoo to help cut her odor. It worked, mostly.

The high point of the week was the kickoff of Boot Camp for the season. Last year, from April until November, I went to a local field twice a week at 6 am, rain or shine, where I exercised for an hour with 25 other women, led by a retired PE teacher. It was awesome.

It started again on Tuesday. We run, we skip, we jump rope, we do pushups, we lift weights, we move in many different ways for a solid hour. I love it just as much this year as last, despite some sore muscles this week.

The low point of the week was my mother’s birthday on Wednesday. It would have been her 71st birthday. I still miss her after the almost 3 years she has been gone. I know she lives on in my sisters and me. We still keep her close to our hearts. Plus, she would be happy that my sisters and I remain close, talking to each other often and seeing each other as often as geography allows.

Cooking this week had its ups and downs, more than its share of disappointing or run-of-the-mill recipes. The best was an impromptu chili. We had thawed ground beef from Codman Farm for hamburgers. At dinnertime, it was raining. There was no way that Howard was going to start the charcoal in the rain.

I took a container of my trusty tomatillo sauce from the freezer and a can of beans from the shelf, combined with the ground beef. I served it over quinoa. It was appropriately hearty for the chilly turn of weather we saw this week.

Spontaneous Tomatillo Chili
Serves 4 to 6

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp chili powder (I used hot New Mexican green chili)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano (preferably Mexican, which you can get at Penzey’s)
3 cups tomatillo sauce (see recipe in this post)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
Chopped cilantro

In a large skillet, heat the oil Saute the onions until tender. Add the ground beef and cook until browned. When it is mostly browned, add spices and mix in well. (If the meat is fatty, drain off any excess fat after the meat has browned.)

In a large soup pot, combine the tomatillo sauce, the meat, and the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for at least 10 minutes for flavors to combine. Stir in a handful of chopped cilantro.

Serve over cooked quinoa (or rice)