Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chili - The Best

I've been making this chili for years - fifteen at least, maybe closer to twenty.  I don't pay attention to any other chili recipe because this one is perfect.  And the vegetarian version is great for those times you feel the need to take a beef break, as I sometimes do.  Try both versions.  You'll thank me.

Mmmm... hot chili on a cold day!

Chili - The Best

About 1 pound lean round steak (lean ground beef can be substituted)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 generous tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 generous teaspoon chili powder
1 generous teaspoon ground cumin
1 generous teaspoon bottled hot pepper sauce (I like Frank's)
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 15-oz cans chili beans in chili sauce, either hot or mild (Bush brand is good)
2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup ketchup
Optional garnishes:  shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, finely diced onions, corn chips

1) Cut round steak into bite-sized cubes and pat dry with paper towel.  Heat Dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot.  Add olive oil to Dutch oven and heat until shimmering.  Add beef cubes to hot oil and cook over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, 5-6 minutes.  Remove beef from skillet with slotted spoon.

2) With heat still at medium-high add diced onion to Dutch oven.  Cook, stirring frequently, 3 minutes then add minced garlic.  Continue cooking and stirring another 3 minutes then turn heat down to low.  

3) Add cocoa powder, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper sauce and Italian seasoning to onions and garlic.  Stir thoroughly until spices are incorporated.  Mixture will be thick.  

4) Add chili beans and sauce, undrained tomatoes and ketchup to onion mixture, stirring well.  Turn heat up to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, at a slow simmer, until beef cubes are very tender, about an hour or so.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Serve with optional garnishes if desired.  Makes about 6 generous servings.

Vegetarian Chili

2 cups finely chopped zucchini - about 2 medium
1 1/2 cups finely chopped carrot - about 2 large

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add zucchini and carrot.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.  Continue recipe with Step 2 above and cook until vegetables are tender, about an hour.   


Both versions are great for slow cookers/crock pots:  In large skillet cook beef (or zucchini & carrots) on stovetop in hot olive oil over medium-high heat.  Still in skillet continue with recipe through Step 3 then transfer mixture to slow cooker/crock pot.  Add chili beans and sauce, undrained tomatoes and ketchup. Cook, covered, until beef or vegetables are tender, approximately 4-6 hours.

The addition of unsweetened cocoa powder may seem strange but don't omit it!  It lends a wonderful richness in flavor and color that can't be obtained otherwise.  Trust me.

I usually double the recipe and make a large batch at one time.  If you use a slow cooker make sure the vessel is large enough to hold a double batch.  I have a large, 7-quart slow cooker and a double batch of chili fills it to about 3/4 capacity.  Both versions freeze beautifully.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time Flies

The year - 1983.  I was wandering among the plants of a small nursery situated on the grounds of a large, stately, two-story home on Main Street in League City, Texas.  And they had herb plants!  Of course rosemary, but also thyme, chives, oregano, parsley, sage, and probably others as well.  I had been to my fair share of plant nurseries over the years but had never encountered more than the token rosemary and maybe a chive plant or two in any of them.  What a find this place was!  And to think that the proprietors lived right here on the grounds.  To a plant-lover like me it seemed like heaven.  

I purchased two of just about every herb they had available ... one for me and one for my mother.  I then purchased a strawberry pot (an upright, about 2-foot-tall pot with small holes arranged all around for planting) and proceeded to plant my mother's herbs in that pot. A gift for Mom.

A few years later I would hear bits and pieces about an herb farm in Cleveland, Texas, run by a mother/daughter team.  Along with growing and selling a wide variety of herbs they also hosted herbal lunches and dinners.  Along with being a plant-lover I was also an avid and adventurous cook as well. I had entered (and won!) a few local cooking competitions and I loved to cook for a crowd. So the thought of not only growing plants and herbs for sale right where I lived, but also cooking with those herbs for others seemed like icing on the cake to me.  

I never made it out to Hilltop Herb Farm in Cleveland, run by Madalene Hill and her daughter, Gwen Barclay, but years later I did have the opportunity to meet both of them at the International Festival-Institute in Round Top, Texas, where they lived. They had sold their business in Cleveland and "retired" to the Hill Country. Gwen became Director of Food Services for the Institute and Madalene was the "Grande Dame" of the plants and grounds. It was a perfect fit for both of them.  And again, walking the beautiful grounds of the Festival-Institute, I thought to myself, "Wow... to live and work in a place like this doing what I love best in life... Heaven."  

Fast forward to 2013.  As I am going through some papers I realize Pineywoods Herb Farm has been an active business for ten years.  Ten years! I started selling herb plants, herbal candles and potpourri in 2003, right here where I live.  And a couple of years after that I added herbal luncheons, catering, and special events to my repertoire, right here where I live.  

As I enter my second decade of selling herbs, native plants, wildflowers, vegetable plants, herbal products, and hosting luncheons and special events here at the herb farm, I realize how very blessed I am to be doing what I love most in life.  And of course I could never have made it this far without all my loyal customers and friends.  Customers who have become friends.

Friends, please join me in person here at the herb farm, on the Pineywoods Herb Farm website, and here on this blog, as I thankfully enter our second decade.  My enthusiasm for what I do is stronger than ever and I want to share it with everyone who will listen.