a man for more seasons

My favorite type of chili to make is spicy Texas-style chili, without beans, either simmered for a long time or cooked in a pressure cooker to speed things up. Because of this, you want to either use coarsely-ground or “chili grind” beef, or beef cut into little half-inch cubes. I either use a variant of Alton Brown’s pressure cooker chili recipe or a product like Wick Fowler’s 3-Alarm Chili Kit. The Wick Fowler product used to have directions for a long-cooking preparation; those aren’t on the package any more, only the quick recipe with ground beef.

But I enjoy just about any type of chili, quick or slow, beans or no beans. Once in a while, a quick-cooked product will attract my attention and I’ll try it out, and it’s usually fine. The Tabasco sauce people make chili fixings in a jar – brown some ground beef, add the contents of the jar, and simmer just enough to heat through and wake up the flavor.

And (put your fingers in your ears, Texas friends) while I love making a good thick chili without beans, I don’t mind something like Wendy’s chili which has beans in it. And the beans are a healthy extender, with lots of fiber.

chilikitToday, while at Dollar General Market (the kind of Dollar General that has a full grocery store), I found something called a Hunt’s Chili Kit. It had a regular price of $2.75 but was marked down to $2.50. I had a pound of ground meat at home and figured I’d buy the Hunt’s kit to use with it. The chili kit is a box containing a full-size can of Hunt’s tomato sauce, a full-size can of Hunt’s diced tomatoes, a full-size can of Van Camp’s kidney beans, and a seasoning packet. None of the canned products is labeled as being “chili flavor” or “chili-seasoned” or “for chili” or anything like that, so none of them appears to have any sort of chili flavor built in. They are just the regular varieties of beans or tomatoes that you’d buy separately off the shelf.

The trouble is, I opened the box to look at the ingredients and found that it’s a very small seasoning packet – half the size of those packets of chili seasoning or taco meat seasoning you find in grocery stores. I don’t see how this packet could possibly have enough chili flavor for a pound of ground meat and the contents of those three big cans.

Even worse, I appear to be out of chili powder. I’m going to have to put off making the Hunt’s chili kit until I can have some chili powder standing by to augment the packet that was included.

Roast beef friday

A few days ago, I was responding to a post on Facebook – not even a friend’s post; a commercial post, from Kroger – and I recalled the wonderful Cook’s Illustrated / America’s Test Kitchen recipe for eye of round. I got to thinking that I hadn’t made that eye of round in ages. So I went to the grocery store yesterday – Kroger, no less – and eye of round was on sale.

Well played, Kroger.

I can’t link to the actual recipe because it’s behind a paywall. But here’s a blogger who reviewed it, and I’ll give you some of the high points. Eye of round is more expensive than pot roast cuts but usually less expensive than fancy oven roasts. But you have to treat it well in order to get it to turn out well as an oven roast. The ATK recipe involves coating it liberally with kosher salt and then wrapping it in plastic for 24 hours. It looks like too much salt, but it gets distributed throughout the meat and helps tenderize and flavor it.

Then, you sear it in a hot cast-iron skillet, to give you the lovely brown crust, before putting it in a very low and slow oven. (I should have added pepper before searing but forgot.) There are some times in the recipe but they suggest, because of the nature of it, that you go by probe thermometer instead of by the clock. I’m talking about the kind of thermometer where you put the probe in the meat but the digital readout sits outside the oven, attached by magnet to the oven door. You cook the meat slowly until it reaches 115 degrees (if you want to wind up medium rare) or 125 (if your final destination is medium). Then, then you turn the oven off, without opening the door, and let it sit in the oven. The carryover heat should get you an extra 15 degrees, which is 130 for a nice medium rare or 140 for medium. You slice very thinly, against the grain, and it tastes like a much more expensive roast than it really is. Medium rare is the way to go.

The roast is in the oven right now. Of course, I knew there was a lot of browned goodness in the cast iron skillet I used for searing, so I deglazed the skillet with a little water and am using the water to make rice in my rice cooker. The rice will help tide me over until the beef is done, since that will take a couple of hours. When your’re cooking for yourself, it doesn’t all have to get done at once.

I’ll have a few wonderful hot slices tonight, but it will also be quite good cold in the next few days.

Turkey stroganoff

Our family tradition on Christmas Day is a big sit-down breakfast but then a lot of munchies and sandwich fixings on the table for people to enjoy as desired.

Well, for various reasons – nobody staying overnight, and what have you – Dad had a lot of leftover turkey as thing were breaking up yesterday. He was going to split it between Elecia and me but Elecia told me to take it all, and I did.

Tonight’s dinner menu, therefore, is turkey stroganoff. I’m heating up some mushroom soup to which I’ve added a little worcestershire, soy sauce and dry mustard. I’ll add the leftover turkey and warm it through, and then take it off the heat and whisk in some sour cream (actually, a slightly-healthier sour-cream-and-Greek-yogurt blend I got at UGO this evening). I’ll serve it over rice, which is going in the rice cooker.

… and now, a few minutes later, I’m actually eating it. Turned out pretty good.

Berry tasty

Yesterday, when I was at United Grocery Outlet, they had bags of cranberries on sale in the produce department. On a whim, I decided to buy a bag, and last night, for the first time ever, I made cranberry sauce. The recipe on the bag just called for sugar and water, but – with a vague recollection of other cranberry sauce recipes I’d seen in the past – I opted for orange juice, the bottom of a plastic bottle of honey and a little stevia.

The resulting sauce didn’t set up as much as I was hoping, but it was quite tasty. I had some with breakfast this morning.

Then, during the day, I tried to figure out something else I could do with the sauce. I ended up baking some chicken thighs in a mixture of my homemade cranberry sauce, soy sauce, grated onion and red pepper flake. (Perhaps too much red pepper flake. Ask me tomorrow.) The sauce itself has berries in it, but for purposes of this glaze I used a stick blender to make the cranberry sauce smooth before adding the other ingredients.


Friends, this turned out rather good. The extra sauce was wonderful over rice.

Scattered, smothered and capped

Our family Thanksgiving dinner is going to be relatively late in the day – I’m not even headed over to Dad’s until about midday – so I thought I’d have a hearty breakfast to tide me over. Thankfully, Waffle House was there for me.

There’s been a lot of discussion about stores being open on Thanksgiving – and I’m not going to step into that minefield – but I’m sure glad Waffle House is. Every Waffle House has a 24-7-365 schedule. When they opened in Shelbyville, the ribbon-cutting ceremony included something that takes place at virtually every Waffle House opening. They tie a key, representing the key to the front door, to a helium balloon and release it, saying it won’t ever be needed again.

The chain’s disaster planning is said to be without peer in the restaurant industry. The restaurants have generators, and have pre-printed limited menus that that can be used if external factors prevent the restaurant from normal operation.

In fact, the company is so good at staying open that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has what’s called the “Waffle House Index” as one of a number of metrics it examines in the early stages of a disaster. If the Waffle Houses near the disaster scene are open but offering a limited menu, it’s a serious disaster. If the Waffle Houses near the disaster scene are closed, well, it must be a really serious disaster.

So I had a cheesesteak omelet this morning, with hash browns scattered, smothered (onions) and capped (mushrooms). I tipped 30 percent, not knowing if the waitress had volunteered or had been made to work the holiday. If I’m the only one who did that, of course, it’s a pretty feeble gesture, but maybe others will think the same way.

Saute, can you see?

There are a lot of things I love about Southern cooking, but one thing I’ve never liked is the way we cook the life out of green beans. I like mine with a little bit of snap. Anyway, I was in the produce department of our fine French grocery store, Kro-zhay, this afternoon and found this on expiration day special:


There’s nothing fancy, just some grape tomatoes, very thin green beans (haricots verts?) red onion and a packet of balsamic vinegar.


The directions were simple: heat oil in a skillet. Saute the veggies at medium-high heat for two minutes, then add two tablespoons of water and steam covered for two minutes, then a minute more uncovered to let the water evaporate. Then add the vinegar and cook just until the vinegar is warm. Season with basil, salt and pepper.

It turned out pretty well:


The onions were soft and just a little browned, the grape tomatoes were soft and bursting, and the green beans had some snap to them. Absolutely delicious, and something I could easily make myself without the kit.


I feel like I owe Debra Snellen an apology.

Debra – and I’m sure I’ve told this story before – is the co-founder and executive director of LEAMIS International Ministries, the group with which I take my foreign mission trips, and she’ll be my traveling companion on our trip next year to Sierra Leone (no, we don’t have new dates yet, and may not until after the first of the year).

Earlier in her life, Debra lived with the Inuit for several years, and ever since that time, she’s had a thing about anyone wasting food. She’s much too nice to make a scene about it, but if you know her and see some egregious case of food being thrown away you can just see the gears in her head turning and little wisps of smoke coming out of her ears.

Well, a few weeks ago I bought a super-cheap box of frozen hamburger patties. They weren’t good. I ate them from time to time, hoping that the tomato and onion would make up for the sins of the patty. I had a couple of patties left tonight and I decided that I would cook them with some rice and make a sort of ad-hoc “dirty rice” recipe, thinking maybe the seasonings and the rice would make up for those lousy patties.

It was terrible. I ate two-thirds of a bowl, never finished it, and just now I threw the rest of the saucepan-full into the garbage and found something else to eat.

Sorry about that, Debra.

Invited the wrong cousin to the party

I found some beef at UGO today that I thought might be good for jerky, and I decided to have some fun with the marinade. I had some leftover cooking wine (the salted stuff you can buy in the supermarket) from something I had cooked the other day, and some A1 sauce. I combined them with a little bit of honey, some liquid smoke and some red pepper flake.

The marinade didn’t taste exactly as I had imagined it, but I figured it would turn out OK. It didn’t seem as salty as I had been expecting, and so later I added a little salt to the marinade. I let the beef sit for four hours, and then got ready to put it in the dehydrator just before I headed to play practice.

The meat didn’t look right either – its color wasn’t what I was expecting when I pulled it out of the marinade.

It turns out that Kroger uses the exact same shape and size plastic bottle for its red cooking wine and its red wine vinegar. I had partial bottles of both in the cupboard, and I had made my marinade with vinegar instead of the cooking wine. The color of the meat was turned a little gray because the vinegary solution had denatured it a little bit (the same thing that happens to fish when you make ceviche – the acid produces changes in the meat similar to those that would happen from heat).

Anyway, there was nothing unsafe about the jerky, and so I went ahead and put it in the dehydrator. It’s nearly done now, and I tried a piece or two to test just now. It’s not up to my usual standards, but it’s certainly edible. It’s got a little bit of an unexpected tangy flavor, not bad but just not what I wanted. This was not one of those culinary mistakes that turns out to be a good thing.

Sausage squares

This is what I brought to the T-G coffee today.

1 pound breakfast sausage
1 can Ro-Tel (or equivalent) tomatoes and chilies, drained, reserve small amount of juice
1 8-ounce bar cream cheese or lower-fat Neufchatel cheese
4 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
2 cans refrigerated crescent roll dough

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brown sausage in skillet. If brown sausage bits are stuck to the bottom, deglaze pan with a small amount of the reserved Ro-Tel juice, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen and dissolve browned bits. Add drained tomatoes and cream cheese. Reduce heat and stir until cream cheese has melted and mixture is well-combined. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Line a baking sheet with cooking parchment. Unroll one can of crescent roll dough, as one large rectangle, onto the parchment. Pinch together seams and perforations as much as possible. Spread sausage mixture evenly on top of dough, going almost to the edge. Sprinkle with grated sharp cheddar. Unroll other can of crescent roll dough and place on top, again trying to pinch together seams and perforations.
Bake about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes. Cut into squares or rectangles using a pizza cutter.
Spiciness of recipe can be adjusted by using hot or mild sausage and regular, mild or extra-hot Ro-Tel.

A saucy tale

Lizano SauceWalk into any restaurant in Costa Rica and you will find a bottle of Lizano Sauce (or one of its imitators) on each table. I discovered it during a mission trip to Costa Rica in 2008, and it was love at first bite. I bought a big plastic bottle of the stuff and hoped it wouldn’t burst in my suitcase on the flight home.

I’m not exactly sure how to describe it to you. It’s not a hot sauce. The bottle says “salsa” only because that’s the Spanish word for “sauce”; it’s nothing like the salsa you think of from Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine. My fallback description is that it’s sort of like steak sauce, but with more of a cumin flavor to it. I’m not sure that description really does it justice. Whatever it is, I love it. You can use it as a condiment or as a marinade.

I was thinking about Lizano Sauce just the other day, while I was out walking. There are some online sources, such as Mo Hotta Mo Betta, where it can be ordered here in the states, and I bet it can be found at World Market in The Avenue in Murfreesboro. I was thinking that if I ever get back over to the Avenue (I can’t remember the last time I’ve been), I would look and see.

Meanwhile, both Jason Reynolds and I had, separately, eaten at Taco Plus / Tortilleria Gonzalez in Shelbyville, and we’d been recommending it in the newsroom. So we decided to go out for lunch as a group today. We had a lovely meal. The business consists of a restaurant, a little Latino grocery, and a tortilla factory. After you’ve eaten in the restaurant, you pay your bill in the grocery. As the six of us were standing around, waiting our turn at the cash register, I wandered around the Latino grocery … and found Lizano Sauce on the shelves. I’d never seen it anywhere else in town, not even in the Latino aisles of the regular grocery stores.

Needless to say, I added a big ol’ bottle to my restaurant tab. Now, I just need to figure out what to have for dinner tonight that I can put it on.