Winner Winner, Chicken…Chili?

current tempIn case you haven’t heard, it is freezing in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. In fact, below freezing. Today, at 3:30 pm, it is TWENTY-THREE DEGREES. This is not normal, even for mid-January. Also not normal: the Saints, my husband’s beloved New Orleans Saints, are in the playoffs. For his game-time meal he requested chili. No problem.

winner-winner-chicken-dinnerAround 10:00 this morning, I made a grocery list and off he went to the store. Some time later, he comes home and unloads the groceries. I get ready to make chili, and then I noticed. Ground chicken? I had asked for ground turkey but he grabbed ground chicken by accident. And so today I am making Chicken Chili. First time for everything!

Years ago, in an attempt to eat healthy, we switched to ground turkey for meatballs, meat sauce, burgers, shepherd’s pie, and yes, chili. I am so used to ground turkey now I really don’t like chili made with ground beef. I will still happily eat a “real” hamburger, but for meat sauce and chili, I actually prefer the ground turkey.

Pops at the StoveI didn’t have chili growing up. It’s not really in the Cajun repertoire. My mom cooked, and we ate, mostly what my dad preferred. I think my mom felt that since he was the breadwinner, he should eat the bread he wanted to eat, and ethnic food outside of Cajun or Creole, was not what he wanted to eat. He didn’t really like meatballs and spaghetti, lasagna, casseroles of any kind, any type of Mexican food, or really, any other type of “foreigner’s food”. But, my mom would occasionally serve us hot dogs with good ole Hormel chili right from the can (without beans).

1280px-Dry_Chili_pepperI had my first pot of homemade chili at the home of my college suite-mate’s house shortly after she was married. I was blown away. “You made this?” I asked incredulously. She wrote out the recipe on a 3×5 recipe card, which I still have. As a base for the seasonings, it called for a packet of McCormick’s Chili Seasoning. And that’s how I made chili for years and years, until we moved to Belgium of all places. Yeah, I know. Crazy.

chicken chiliOne night when we were living in Waterloo, Belgium, my good friend invited us over for an impromptu dinner. She had made a pot of chili, and we ran into each other at school that afternoon picking up our kids. That pot of chili was life-changing. She didn’t use a packet of seasonings, mixed up in a factory. She did it all from scratch. Thus, began my quest to make my own perfect pot of chili, with a spice profile that matched the average tastebud of our family. My husband is not a fan of anything too spicy, and one daughter absolutely won’t eat anything spicy at all.

New_Orleans_Saints_alternate_(1967_-_1984)Right now, the chicken chili is simmering on the stove. It smells fantastic! Shout out to my former chili coaches Marcy and Shawna! I have every reason to believe this pot of chili will be delicious, served at half-time while the Saints go marching on to victory and to the next step to their triumphant return to the Super Bowl!

Winner Winner Chicken Chili

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 lbs. ground chicken
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 15-oz cans dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

  • Heat olive oil in bottom of large Dutch oven with lid.
  • Brown ground chicken, breaking into small pieces.
  • Season with crushed red pepper flakes, chili powder, ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine, cook on medium heat until all liquid has evaporated from pot. Stir in flour and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add diced onion, bell peppers, celery, and green onions. Stir to combine.
  • Add whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, and kidney beans. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for one hour. During the cooking process, break up the whole tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.
  • Serve with rice, elbow macaroni, tortilla chips, corn tortillas, or on a hot dog!
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Soup: Easy Peasy (Really)

am temperatures

 

AM Temp

 

Let’s cut right to the chase. It’s cold. Really cold. Like single digit cold (as of this morning), and this is not Fargo, North Dakota. It’s Rockville, Maryland, suburb of Washington, DC. Even though the temperature climbed significantly during the day, it was blistering cold walking to my car at 5:15 today. #bombcyclone #teacherslovesnowdaystoo

I’m a Cajun girl, as you can see from my blog’s name. I never owned a coat until I moved to Bethesda, Maryland, in 1988. We didn’t even have many sweaters, other than the requisite wool ones that our Scottish cousins sent us every few years. We never wore them, though. Growing up in my hometown, Port Sulphur, Louisiana, is almost like living in the tropics, except there’s no beach, no resorts, and no celebs arriving on private jets for vacation. So basically, our version of the tropics was just gnats, mosquitoes, 100% humidity eleven months of the year, and summers so hot you ran from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car to run errands or “go to town” which meant a forty-mile drive to New Orleans.

evening temp

 

PM Temp

 

So, waking up this morning to unseasonably cold temperatures, I knew in advance what I would be having for dinner tonight: soup. I love soup. I could eat it every day. In fact, I had homemade chicken noodle soup for lunch today. A few years ago, one of my requested Christmas presents was a baby Crock-Pot which I plug in at my desk in my classroom. It doesn’t cook but it does reheat. I bring my container of soup to school each morning, plug it in, and by lunch time, it is steaming hot and I am a very happy camper, which is important when you are a teacher. Trust me.

soup naziBut, that pot of soup was nearing its end so I had already made up my mind that I was making a big pot of soup when I got home from work. I knew what I had on hand in my fridge: an onion, some celery, two bell peppers, and a package of Italian sausage. That, combined with pantry staples, was all I needed to make a wonderful, belly warming dinner tonight. And the best part: there will be plenty left over for lunches the rest of this week!

easy peasy memeBecause I eat a lot of soup at school, people are always asking me about it. When I say it’s easy to make, they always look at me like I’m crazy. But, really, soup is easy. It’s all about layering the flavors. During the two years we lived in Belgium with limited TV programs broadcast in English, I watched a BBC One cooking show every afternoon, Ready Steady Cook. For me, that show was basically a lecture series in how to make soup. The British chefs made soup on almost every episode, and they always started a pot of soup the same way: in a large, heavy pot, sauté a finely sliced onion in a bit of olive oil. Season it with salt and pepper, dried herbs, and red pepper flakes. Add your veggies and/or protein, a starch if you wish (pasta, potatoes, rice), some broth, and simmer until veggies are tender and protein is cooked. Voila! Soup!

Italian Sausage and Bean SoupSoup du jour chez Michelle was Italian Sausage and Beans. I got home at 5:30, by 6:00 it was simmering away and I was setting the table, and at 6:15 we were soup-soup-souping away. With a little planning we could have had a salad and a crusty baguette, but – still – in under an hour, we were having a lovely bowl of soup and feeling all warm and cozy inside.

Here’s the “recipe”, adapted loosely from dozens and dozens of episodes of James Martin making soup on Ready Steady Cook, with my own Cajun twists here and there.

Michelle’s Italian Sausage and Bean Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced (or orange or yellow, matters not)
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 32-oz carton of Swanson’s beef stock
  • 1 package of Johnsville Sweet Italian Sausage, casings removed
  • 2 15.5-oz cans Hanover cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14.5-oz can Hunts petite diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • Seasonings

Directions:

  • In a 6-quart heavy pot with lid, brown sausage in olive oil, breaking it up into small pieces. When browned, remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving oil in pot.
  • Add onion to pot, and sauté on medium heat. Season with kosher salt and pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, herbes de Provence or Italian herbs, and garlic powder.
  • When onion is soft, add celery, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Cook on medium heat to allow tomatoes to soften and break down, stirring often.
  • Return sausage to pot and add cannellini beans and beef stock. Stir to combine, cover, and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. If liquid does not completely cover the solids, add more broth or water.
  • Optional: add a bag of baby spinach near the end of the cooking time to up the nutritional value, although it is pretty healthy as is. Bon appetit!