Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spicy Beef Chili

I don't know about you, readers, but I've got the winter blues. I love the snow, I love when it's snowing, I loved the movie Frozen but I am tired of relying on soup for warmth. I've made a lot of soup these days and I think I've run out of vegetables I liked to puree (I'm open to suggestions but just know that celery soup does not appeal to me in the least). What's a girl to do but make stews and chili. Chili is a classic!

Christmas colored peppers
In alignment with the Super Bowl, many areas have Souper Bowl chili cook-offs. I have no idea where this tradition stems from but it's okay by me! I attended a couple of these contests but didn't enter (this year anyways). I was inspired by the 40+ varieties that were at one competition, there were so many different ones that by the time we reached the end, it was difficult to remember what was what. There's a psychological principle at work here where we remember the beginning and the end but not the middle. Sorry middle numbers, you got the short straw. There were some chilis that were way too spicy for me, it instantly burned my taste buds off and left my mouth tasting like metal. And then there were some that were so sweet, they tasted like brown sugar but with the consistency of meat. I felt like Goldie Locks with a spoon instead of a chair.

Nearly 40 varieties
So I set out in search of a nice and easy chili recipe that was simple for my first chili attempt. I found a recipe on Food52 and was intrigued that it used sweet elements like dark chocolate and brown sugar but also called for some heat. I took a little risk and erred on the side of more jalapeno than less but then again, I also erred on the side of more chocolate.

Just a little bit of sweet for the spicy
After chopping the onion, I browned the beef and onions together while chopping the remaining vegetables. I added mushrooms to the recipe since I had them in my refrigerator from last week's mac and cheese adventure. Pasta sauce tastes pretty good with mushrooms so it made sense to add them. Once the beef was browned, all the ingredients get dumped into the pot. I ended up leaving the crushed tomatoes out of the recipe. I added the can of black beans with the juices intact so it was already looking like a good consistency and I was worried that the crushed tomatoes would make it too soupy.

One pot of ingredients for easy clean up
While everything simmered together, I whipped up a batch of cookies. Just call me June Cleaver. The chili stewed for about 40-45 minutes before I tested a bite. This has just enough heat that by the end of the serving, you're sweating a bit but if you add a helping of cheese and sour cream, it evens right out. You can definitely taste the sweet in there with a hint of chocolate before the bite of the jalapeno.

I am quite the cookie monster!
Being a one pot recipe, the cleanup was easy! My favorite recipes are those that require both fresh and canned items because the prep and cleanup is nice and fast. The cookies also turned out deliciously but apparently are too exotic for children. The kids I shared them with drooled all over them before deciding they didn't like them. It was only two cookies, but that's two more I could have eaten to make a perfect dozen consumed my yours truly. Just call me Cookie Monster--June "The Cookie Monster" Cleaver. Thaaaat's me!

The final product with the cooling benefits of sour cream and cheese

 Recipe adapted from One-Pot Chocolate Beef Chili on Food52
  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 onion
  • 1-2 bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup of carrots
  • 1 stalk of celery  
  • Mushrooms or other vegetables you desire 
  • 1 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz. can of black beans
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers
  • 2-3 teaspoons of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin 
  • 1/4 cup of dark chocolate
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of brown sugar
  1. Combine ground beef and chopped onion in one pot and cook until the beef is browned.
  2. Chop the vegetables and add them to the beef along with all other ingredients to the pot and stir.
  3. Cover mixture and simmer mixture for 45 minutes or until all flavors are mixed well. 
  4. You can add crushed tomatoes to make it more liquidy but I prefer to leave it as meaty as possible.
  5. Serve with cheese and sour cream as desired. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Galentine's Day

I am not a fan of Valentine's Day, I haven't liked the holiday since I was about 7 years old. And before you think I'm a bitter cat lady in the making, hear me out. From the ages 8 to 13, I was violently ill on Valentine's Day. Usually it was just for the day itself, not leading up to it, not the day after but just the holiday. At some point, I realized this was probably a sign of things to come. Eventually, I grew out of being ill but I'm always worried the 14th will bring on a bout of 24 hours illness so try to avoid the holiday altogether. I have had exactly two dates for Valentine's Day and yes, I liked getting flowers but otherwise, it was pretty anticlimactic to have a date for the occasion.

Tulips are just as red and lovely as roses and not cliche
So this year, to curb my fear of sickness and also gagging at all the hearts and poems, I planned a dinner. Hurray entertaining and hurray for the trending #galentines pun. On top of the usual romantic posts all over the internet, sarcastic Valentines were a thing this year which I find utterly hilarious. If I had been a little more successful in planning, these would have been placecards with a card for each guest. I drafted the menu with classy comfort food in mind and no cliches. The pasta dish of choice was originally a creamy Alfredo dish from Smitten Kitchen but was swapped for Joy the Baker and the Pioneer Woman's mac and cheese, per the request of my roommate. I'm all for cheesy goodness that I can make a couple days ahead so the main dish was chosen.

Sneak preview!
The mac and cheese can be made ahead of time, so when I got home from work, I just had to add some bread crumbs on top and pop it in the oven. The recipe calls for cremini mushrooms but I don't know what those are so I just used plain mushrooms from the produce aisle. Picking the cheeses for the sauce was very exciting because I love cheese and it gave me an excuse to read all of the labels in the cheese aisle. Also you only need some of the chunks of cheese for the sauce so you have the rest of the cheddar and gruyere for snacking and appetizers.

So much cheesy goodness
For dessert, I waffled between making something with chocolate like silky chocolate pie or chocolate covered strawberries and something new and a bit lighter. I poured over my many cookbooks and chose poached pears from Pippa Middleton's book Celebrate (yes, you can judge me for a few seconds and then move on because it's fun to pretend to be British and rich and social).

The main ingredients for poached pears, besides pears
Poached pears were a new adventure as was purchasing port (purchasing port for poached pears, say that five times fast). I have never had port before and I thought it was pretty telling that the bottle in the store was covered in dust. It's not an expensive buy and you only use a portion of the bottle. I felt like I was making potpourri while adding the spices and orange peel to the pot of bubbling wine and port, ultimately placing the pears in to soak up the flavors. The part of this recipe that didn't go well was once the pears turn purple, you are meant to remove them and continue boiling the liquid to make it into a syrupy sauce. Syrup did not happen, it just stayed soupy. The pears were still delicious but I bought ice cream just in case as a pear-ing but didn't end up using that either. They were a little slippery to eat with a spoon so we just used our fingers, in true lady-like fashion.

It's like a pear hot tub in here
Now, on top of the mac and cheese and delicious desserts, there were brownies and cupcakes at work on Friday. One of my coworkers got cupcakes from my favorite shop, Georgetown Cupcakes (check out my top rankings here!) so of course I partook. She also recognized me from Twitter and asked if I was LivinLemon, the first time anyone has called me by my blogger name. It was a moment and worth a toast of champagne!

The final compilation 
 Poached Pears adapted from Pippa Middleton
  • 8 pears
  • Peels and juice from 2 oranges
  • Assorted spice such as cloves, all-spice, or anise (original recipe calls for 4 whole-star anise but I improvised with cloves and all-spice in random measurements)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 split vanilla beans (or a dash of vanilla if you're like me and don't have the beans)
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 1 1/4 cups of port
  • 1 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons of honey
  1. Combine all ingredients except the pears in a large saucepan. Heat the wine, port, sugar and spice mixture until the sugar has all dissolved. 
  2. Peel the pears while keeping the stems intact and place them upright in the pan, submerging them in the wine. 
  3. Cover the pot and simmer for 25-30 minutes until they are purple in color. 
  4. Leave the pears in the liquid for another hour before transferring to serving bowl. 
  5. Bring the liquid back to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes until syrupy (good luck). Alternatively, spoon the liquid over the pears, even if syrup consistency is not achieved. 
Note: The pears can be made 1-2 days in advanced if stored away from the liquid. You can also garnish with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bold Brownies & Resolutions

I'm a little late on the New Year's resolution train. New Year's was not all that great, it kinda gets bucketed into the December mayhem. So I'm celebrating my own darn New Year as one year since I made my big life move to a new city. It was Valentine's Day 2013 that I broke up with my first post-collegiate job and found a new apartment (and awesome roommate). Right around that time, "This Girl Is On Fire" was super popular and it was my theme song. I saw this shirt that said "Every Thing Will Be Amazing" and it was. It was a great time for growth and change and it was awesome. And then the year kind of fizzled out in the end so I'm reflecting on my one year anniversary of making a really good life choice. And remembering the good times before the rough, it happens, it's life.

Old Navy had it right
It's taken me some time to figure out this year's motto and theme song (I swear, I don't always do that but it seems appropriate) and generally set a course for 2014. It helps to have goals, even if they aren't concrete or resolute like "give up mac and cheese" (as if). This year's theme song is a tie between Katy Perry's "Roar" and Sarah Bareilles's "Brave"--because they sound super similar but instead of being brave, I want to be bold. I think that's better than being brave, it's like a combination of bravery and additional strength.

Joy the Baker went to Uganda last week (say whaaaaat?!) and she wrote this amazing post about how we can have so much to share with so little. Meaning, we can make so much impact on the world, someone else's or our own, by just being ourselves and being good people. You'd think it was a given to be a good person but really it's not. If you're questioning if you're a good person, then you probably are because you're worried about it.

I saw this on Facebook as part of an ad or article. But I love it. 
So back to New Year's resolutions, be bold. Be adventurous and don't back away because it seems too hard or like too much of a long shot or you might fail. If there's one thing I learned in 2013 it's that nothing will change if you don't try something different and it's all about how you look at things. There are tough things in life and there are almost always worse things out there. Okay, end motivational speech.

Pour some sugar on that
If all else fails, make some brownies! I have a friend who has an unhealthy love of brownies. He makes a box of brownies a week, and eats them, no joke. Of course he's also one of those people you love to hate for having a ridiculous metabolism (and an equally unhealthy addiction to the gym). So for his birthday, I sent him homemade brownies and test new recipes on him. Enter the Pioneer Woman with an Instagram photo of delicious brownies.

Well done
Now, we have established that I have restocked my pantry with chocolate chips and all other forms of chocolate. One of my favorite things about homemade brownies is you melt chocolate and butter together in one pan. If it wasn't unsweetened chocolate, I would stick a spoon in this and eat it as is. But, as it were, chocolate tastes a lot better with sugar. So I restrained myself until I could mix the other good ingredients in there. Pioneer Woman said to use dark chocolate chips but I only had semisweet ones so was going to go all rouge. But between reading this recipe at work and getting home, she magically managed to make another batch and modified her recipe to use semisweet chips. So much for being a rebel!

I may have added slightly more chocolate chips
I like my brownies gooey and these promised to fulfill that need. Naturally, I was going to test the brownies before shipping them across the country. So I cut the center out of the brownie pan and they were very gooey, to the point that I was pretty sure they were still raw. The oven got fired back up and I tried cooking them longer but still pretty squishy. The recipe did say that you should let these set overnight and it was right! Hey all, you should let the brownies set overnight.

Ready for the oven--or my mouth
Now I'm really craving brownies but I'll have to settle for hot chocolate because winter never ends. But there is always another blog post to be written and work to be done. More to come!

More desserts, more dessert plates!

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) of Unsalted Butter
  • 5 ounces Unsweetened Chocolate
  • 1/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup Flour
  • 3/4 cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (or 1 cup...)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate over low heat, whisking occasionally until smooth and melted. Add in the unsweetened cocoa powder and whisk to combine.
  3. Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in sugar and vanilla until combined.
  5. Add in the eggs, one at a time.
  6. Stir in the flour until mostly incorporated. At this point, I switched from a whisk to a rubber spatula and folded in the flour.
  7. Add the chocolate chips and fold until combined.
  8. Pour batter into a greased 8 x 8 baking pan. For thinner brownies, use a 9x13 pan (and then be ashamed for making them flat). Even out the top and place in the oven.
  9. Bake for 40 minutes, then check the brownies with a toothpick. If it is overly gooey/messy, continue baking for 5-10 minute intervals until cooked to desired consistency (and not raw).
  10. Allow to cool completely. No for real, this is a crucial step. Do as I say, not as I do. 
  11. Cut out the center piece and enjoy!