A Chili Kind Of Week

Cold weather calls for soup if you ask me. This weekend I made a small pot of chili but even a small amount goes a long way for just one person. That makes it important to have a game plan for when you’re sick of the chili.

Luckily, I don’t mind leftovers and enjoy the art of reinventing food so that I don’t grow too tired of it.

People who make chili seem to obsess over their recipe and claim to make the best. I make no such claim. Since I don’t eat meat, I use kidney, black and great northern beans along with corn, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and spices. But not too many spices because I like to keep it mild enough to be reinvented.

I’ll eat some as a simple bowl of chili but then it will get repurposed. Drain off the juice and suddenly it is perfect for taco salad. It also makes a terrific meal on a baked potato with a little steamed broccoli and shredded cheese.

I could use some as a sauce on a veggie hot dog or I could add some elbow macaroni to make an entirely different soup. It will more likely be used for Cincinnati chili before the week is over. If you’re not familiar, Cincinnati chili is not really chili but is a Mediterranean spiced meat sauce served over spaghetti. The Smithsonian named it one of America’s most iconic foods several years ago.

Cincinnati has a rich immigrant culture and this dish is one of the gifts these immigrants have given us.

There are a couple of Cincinnati based chili parlor chain restaurants that specialize in this dish and other local spots that sell it too. The most common way to order it is as a three way which is the meat sauce over spaghetti and topped with a ridiculously large pile of shredded cheddar cheese.

I feel my arteries hardening just thinking about all that cheese.

You can get it topped with beans and onions and everyone seems to eat it with oyster crackers.

My version isn’t remotely authentic but I like it and that’s all that matters. I’ll top mine with some fresh diced onion and a modest bit of shredded Colby Jack cheese. It will be good, even if I am breaking quite literally all the rules. But you know, my house, my rules.

I appreciate foods that can be reinvented so that I’m cooking once and just reworking it a bit later. It’s not always the easiest thing to do but it certainly is possible.

For example, I often roast extra potatoes to turn into a breakfast hash later. Have excess eggs? Boil them for snacks and turn the leftovers into egg salad. Leftover spaghetti can be baked in a shallow pan with mozzarella cheese and your favorite pizza toppings for a type of pizza casserole. Even the humble stale bread takes on new life as French toast casserole. When I still ate meat I would roast chicken and repurpose it into a sandwich, salad topping and eventually soup.

The possibilities are endless and the effort saves time, saves food from spoiling and allows you to flex your creative culinary muscle.

Grandma’s Cake

My Grandma Betts made a cake that was kind of special because I remember only having it at Easter. It’s light and fluffy and tastes like spring.

It’s the simplest recipe in the world and I’ve seen it called a lot of different things, often on a Cool Whip container or magazine ad for canned pineapple.

We call it Mandarin Orange Cake.

She’s been gone for more than 25 years now. I was a freshman in college when she passed so I’ve lived more years without her than I did with her. It’s strange to think of it that way but she’s still with us when we have her cake.

Somewhere along the way. I picked up the tradition and always make it for Easter. I get a little heavy handed with the icing but that’s the best part, if you ask me. In fact. I like to make extra and just eat it off a spoon.

Yes, it’s that good.

Anyway, it’s not a state secret even if I do consider it a kind of family heirloom. If you’re interested, read on and give it a whirl for yourself.

Grandma Betts’ Mandarin Orange Cake

For the cake:

1 package of golden butter cake mix (any brand)

4 eggs

1 small can of mandarin oranges and their juice

1/2 cup of oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all ingredients by hand until oranges are broken up and mixed well into the batter.

Grease and flour three 8″ cake pans. Split batter equally among the three pans.

Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

* the recipe doesn’t specify but I mix the wet ingredients first before adding the cake mix.

For the icing:

1 large package of instant vanilla pudding mix

1 can of crushed pineapple (drain off about half of the juice)

1 large tub of Cool Whip

Mix all together.

Note: A three layer cake is a relatively tall cake. I bake the cakes the day before Easter and mix up the icing to allow the flavors to marry nicely. However, I assemble the cake on Easter morning so that it isn’t monopolizing fridge space for a long time.

We all have those flavors that represent a special time, place or person. This is mine. Hope you enjoy yours, whatever it may be.

Happy Easter!

Veggie Quesadillas From Leftovers

A half package of tortillas has been languishing in the cupboard for a while. One of these days I’m going to learn how to make my own so that I don’t have to buy a giant package for one person. Meanwhile, I needed to do something with the leftovers.

It just so happens that I had an abundance of veggies and some vegan cheese waiting to be tried so it was veggie quesadillas for lunch! Actually, for a couple of meals because they were excellent and I had the supplies.

I just sautéed small amounts of veggies that I already had – onion, green pepper, mushrooms, squash and broccoli in one pan.

In another nonstick pan, I put down a tortilla, added the vegan cheese, and tossed in the veggies. Then I added the top tortilla and let it all warm up and brown on both sides.

Served with some lettuce, black olives, black beans, and barbecue sauce for dipping (you read the right- bbq sauce) and it was a delicious meal.

All ingredients were things I already had that would’ve been wasted and it came together in mere minutes. The green pepper had actually seen better days and was teetering on the edge of becoming compost so I was glad to give it purpose!

What’s your go-to meal for using up leftover veggies? I do a lot of stir fries and often sautée veggies to put on top of a baked potato. When I still ate eggs, omelettes were a wonderful way to use odds and ends.

Comment and share your ideas!

Beyond Burger

A recent trip through Kroger revealed a refrigerated case full of Beyond Burger patties near the check out. I squealed like a little girl and grabbed a package to try.

I’ve had Beyond Burger in restaurants but never had the opportunity to cook it at home.

In case you’re not familiar, it is a simulated beef that contains no meat or dairy. If you eat beef every day, it may be a clear imposter. However, if you’re like me and haven’t tasted cow in a while, it’s a convincing replacement. The texture and taste are great but I will admit that it doesn’t smell quite right. It doesn’t smell bad – just not right. However, it cooks up nicely with no shrinkage and good flavor.

If you are a beef eater and are happy doing that, say no more. Do your thing. I’m not interested in pushing my choices off on anyone.

If you’re interested in eating less meat, this might be a good way to ease into it. And if you’re vegan or vegetarian like me, it’s a fun way to have something that reminds you of your old life without harming an animal or eating meat.

When I stopped eating meat some years ago, there were few faux meats worth eating. Thankfully, many advancements have been made and the options are broadening rapidly. It’s fun rolling up to Burger King for an Impossible Whopper or finding really good fake chicken tenders in the frozen food section.

This stuff is still processed and not something we should be eating every day but it’s a great treat and I highly recommend giving Beyond Burger a whirl if you’re so inclined.

Happiness Is…

Happiness is a homemade meal that comes together in mere minutes. This veggie enchilada dish allowed me to use up odds and ends of yellow squash, onion, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli and spinach that might have been wasted. It took just a few minutes to prep and twenty minutes to bake!

Happiness is also homemade “Nicecream” made in the blender with just three ingredients – all of which have names you can pronounce!

How Lucky Are We?

How fortunate are we to live in a place where this bounty is accessible year round at a store? I think about it all the time but don’t say it nearly enough.

I’m grateful for access to affordable fresh foods. People the world over would give anything for easy access to fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables. Here we have it as close as our local grocer or farmer’s market.

What small thing are you grateful for that you don’t say nearly enough?