Today, I’m especially excited about what I’ve been cooking lately. As a result of some of the feedback I’ve been getting from readers, I’ve been trying extra hard to focus on recipes that are budget friendly, quick, and convenient. As an added bonus, I spent this week experimenting with recipes that not only utilize basic staples that I keep in my kitchen, but which also incorporate many of the odds-and-ends produce that might otherwise go to waste. How many times have you found yourself with one leftover limp carrot, or avoided purchasing zucchini because you’re not sure what to do with it?
So my week saver has been the most amazing vegetable chili EVER, used in three different dishes. Chili is fun because you can pretty much put anything in it, you can’t mess it up, and making a lot at one time is no more difficult than making a little. I made a huge batch and divided it in half so that I could freeze some for another time. So not only did I save myself tons of time this week, but I also have a quick fix backup meal for some week in the future when I get too busy to cook.
For the record, this post is making me feel the painful sting of identity crisis. When on earth did I become the Betty Crocker mom? Geez I’m almost embarrassed. But, in order to live the lifestyle that I value, it takes practice, commitment, and preparation. So please refrain from laughing at me!
So here’s the recipe for the chili that I prepared this week, which serves as the base for three different meals that I will be sharing. Tip: Most dried beans require pre-soaking, and to be honest I put off chili for a week because I couldn’t remember to soak them before I went to bed! So finally I bit the bullet and decided to try soaking them in the morning; I covered them with water at about 7 a.m. and let them soak until about 3 p.m. You could use canned beans if necessary. You could use any vegetables, but the ones I chose were just what I had laying around this week.
6 cups of beans, soaked overnight (I chose 4 cups of black beans and 2 cups of garbanzo beans because that’s just what I had in my kitchen. I would have used pintos if I’d have had them).
4 large carrots
3 green bell peppers
1 stalk of celery
4 ears of corn, corn removed from cobb (frozen corn would work too)
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
several turns of freshly ground pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
a dash of cinnamon (damn, my secret’s out now…)
A couple of tips: To make the vegetable chopping process quick and easy, and to placate children who may not welcome chunky vegetables, put all of the vegetables into a food processor! Minimal mess, minimal fuss, and you get all of the benefits of the vegetables with none of the textures that can be off-putting to children (and picky adults….).
This also helps cut some time off of the preparation later: there’s no way Mike will be able to make my chili without me, but that didn’t stop him from helping me. When I set the beans to soak in the morning, I also stored all of my chopped veggies in a plastic dish in the refrigerator, with spices and seasonings, so that later he could add them to the pot of beans for me while I was absent.
So now it’s time to cook. You have a bowl of veggies and spices, and a big container of beans…add them together in a big pot, add ¼ cup of olive oil and only about one cup of water (the vegetables will reduce), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, with the lid on, for at least an hour. Cooking time depends on you: If you can’t get around to starting it until an hour before dinner, then that’s fine. If you have a wiling helper or if you find time in the early afternoon, then you can let it cook a little longer. There is seriously no way to mess this up!
Now for the fun part: 3 easy meals, all with chili, and all kid-friendly (I hated chili when I was a kid!)
1) Chili, homestyle with cornbread
2) Chili Boatatoes
3) Tortilla pie
Meal #1, pretty self-explanatory. But, here’s my recipe for the accompanying cornbread:
2tsp baking powder
dash of salt
¼ cup oil
Mix dry ingredients in bowl; add milk, oil, and eggs and mix with fork until blended. Pour into greased pan or muffin cups; bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Cornbread is done when top is golden brown and a fork inserted into center comes out clean. If you’re making muffins, check after ten minutes, as cooking time will be less.
Meal # 2: Chili Boatatoes!
Bake large baking potatoes in oven, 425 for about 30-45 minutes. When potatoes are done, roll them on a clean, flat surface to mush up the insides. Cut a slit longways down the middle of the potato, and push ends toward the middle to open it up a little. Top with chili and cheddar cheese and add sour cream if desired. Isabella calls them chili boats.
Meal #3: Tortilla pie!
This dish gets its name because it’s my homemade version of Frito pie. It was my favorite football game fare when I was a kid, so I knew my daughter would love this spin on a classic kid-friendly meal.
Starting with my homemade corn tortillas, I cut them up into strips and pan-fry the
strips until they are extra crispy and golden brown. Then I top the strips with chili and cheddar cheese. Simple but amazing.
I have listed the recipe before, but here it is just in case—and it is super easy! For this meal I cut the recipe in half.
1 cup corn flour
¾ cup water
Mix ingredients to form a dough; divide into six golf-sized balls. Press each ball flat between two sheets of wax paper; you can either use a tortilla press or a rolling pin. For round tortillas, I recommend the press! But for this recipe, the shape really doesn’t matter because we’re just going to cut them into thin strips anyway!
Fry each flattened tortilla in an ungreased pan for about a minute on each side. When all tortillas are done, use a knife to slice them into long, thin strips. Return to greased pan and fry until strips are golden brown and crunchy. Top with chili and cheese.