Thursday, January 2, 2014

Comfort food during a winter storm, part one

As Winter Storm Hercules sweeps into the Northeast, the urge to create warm, safe, and comforting locations for friends, family, and four-legged kin is compelling. Do you find cold and snow to trigger the same compulsions too?

I began pondering what might be the most satisfying meal to have tonight and tomorrow (particularly if the power were to go out during the storm). I remembered that I had made some Winter Chili just before New Year's that probably had aged well. Plus my neighbors loved the chili and they'll be helping me plow and shovel out, if we get the expected 12-16" this Greek demi-god bearing gifts delivers.

As I surveyed the contents of the pantry and the refrigerator, I realized that I could easily prepare some split pea soup for tomorrow. So game plan in place, I began to prepare for the  storm. Without trepidation!

I love my new slow cooker. It's a 5 quart oval shaped one - that, quite frankly, was on sale at Wal-Mart for $16.00. (Who could resist that and it was a Christmas present I got to choose myself!) So far, the few things I've prepared in it, like yesterday's Hoppin' John, have been really successful. But since I'm a Virgo, I'll keep testing it for a while (well, that's what I tell myself I'm doing).

So, while I prep the split pea soup (recipe and photos will be posted tomorrow), I also pulled out the Winter Chili and began to imagine how to dress it for company!

This chili is a real crowd pleaser and again, another recipe that finds it best home prepared in the slow cooker. Here's the lowdown to create it yourself if you're so moved.

Emsy's Winter Chili, slow cooker comfort goodness

Steps 1 & 2: 2-3 cups of dry red kidney beans, 2 cups of white (small) navy beans - soak overnight in about 10 cups of water, then drain and rinse in the morning. Put the beans in your slow cooker, cover with water so that the water is approximately 2-3 inches above the beans, cook on high for about 3-4 hours till almost soft, drain (reserve about a cup or two of cooking water, discard the rest).

Now the fun begins!

Step 3: Pour some olive oil in the slow cooker along with one thinly sliced onion and 5-7 cloves of garlic. Make sure the heat is on high and let this cook for about 20-30 minutes. Add the spices. I use about 3-4 tablespoons of chili powder, 3-4 tablespoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of celery salt, 1 teaspoon of paprika, a teaspoon of cocoa powder, a dash of Herbes de Provence, a dash or two of Kosher salt (to taste), and some crushed red pepper. Stir the spices into the oil/onion/garlic mixture until combined and the aroma tickles your nose.

Step 4: Using1-2 pounds of stew meat, slice the chunks into bite size pieces and stir into the hot oil/onion/garlic/spice mix. Then add about 1-2 pounds of ground sirloin (hamburger) and stir well. I then add about 1/2 - 1 cup of texturized vegetable protein to the mix in the slow cooker and stir really well. Keep slow cooker on high and put the cover back on.

Step 5: I love to add carrots to chili as I think they add both a little sweetness as well as crunch. I love to slice them into 1/4 inch wide slivers about an inch or two long. Once I've sliced about 3 carrots, I add those to the meat mixture in the slow cooker and stir some more. Let this cook for about 10-15 minutes on high.

Step 6: Once all those ingredients have begun to meld together in the slow cooker,  I add a bottle of beer (I used a wheat beer), 1 - 2 cans of diced tomatoes (depending on how large your slow cooker is and how much you like tomato in your chili), the beans, and the reserved water. At this point I'll also throw in some chopped fresh cilantro and parsley (or dried if I don't have fresh on hand). Stir this mixture well and reduce the heat to low.

That's it. Let it simmer for about 8-10 hours on low and your chili will be ready for friends and family to descend. It's great for wintry days like today, football games, parties, and just to have on hand as a quick comfort food that can be reheated easily in the microwave.

I like to serve it with a bit of pizzaz and friends and their children find it fun to create the toppings they like to see. I'll put out bowls of sour cream (some with horseradish mixed in), pickled jalapeños, shredded cheese, tomato and tomatillo salsas, and olives. It's fun to see which combinations are chosen.

Cornbread makes a great accompaniment as does some kale salad. I'll share those recipes later.

I hope you all are either some place the snow isn't flying, or, if you're like me in snow belt territory, that you're staying warm and safe at home.

Happy Winter Storm Hercules, this second day of January 2014!