Saturday, January 26, 2008

Back to the deep freeze...

So much for that teaser 40-50 degree weather. We're back to hardcore winter in these parts. In fact, I was foolish enough to try and start a load of laundry a couple of days ago, but the drain pipe froze, and I couldn't finish it until today when it got back into the balmy 20's. (And not a moment too soon, as I was down to that last desperate pair of clean underpants--you know the ones--threadbare, ripped, hanging on by one overworked strand of elastic.) Also, as of Thursday, school is back in full swing, and I have hit the ground running as I do every semester. So these frigid and busy times mandate meals that are not too fussy to make and that stick to your ribs. Nothing fancy, just hearty fare to warm your cockels. Do girls even have cockels? Well, even if we don't, we can still be comforted by a pot of fabulous chili and a homemade cinnamon loaf for dessert.

When I make chili, I usually just throw a bunch of stuff into the pot until it looks and tastes right. But this time, I consulted the International Chili Society's website and perused many of the World Champion Chili Cook-Off recipes, gleaning excellent tips that I used to fashion what I feel is the best pot of chili that I have ever made. The only thing that would have taken it over the top would be if I had used tri-tip beef roast instead of regular ground beef. I'll definitely try that next time. But it was still marvelous as it was--rich, flavorful, and both sweet and hot, just like I like it! To make it easy and to give it that slow-cooked flavor, I simmered it in the crock pot all day, only adding canned beans to the mix about an hour before eating. Here is the recipe for you to try, but also to remind myself what I did this time so I can replicate it in the future.

World-Class(y) Sassy Chili

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 black pepper
1/2 cup (up to 10 tablespoons) dark chili powder
salt to taste
1 small can chopped green chilis (don't drain them)
1 large can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Tabasco (or to taste)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth
juice of one lime (1-2 tablespoons)
2 cans dark red kidney beans (or light red kidneys or chili beans or what have you), drained

Brown the hamburger with the onion and garlic. When just browned, drain off the excess fat, then mix in all of the dried herbs and spices. Add the meat mixture to a crock pot, then the chilis in their juice, the tomatoes, brown sugar, Tabasco, and the broths. Stir together and taste to correct the heat and seasoning. Cook on low all day (6-8 hours or however long you're at work/away from the house). A half hour to an hour before serving, add the lime juice and the beans. Garnish with a handful of shredded cheddar cheese and a smattering of chopped onions. To make a more substantial meal, serve it over spaghetti (Cincinatti-style).

For dessert, I suggest something simple but satisfying. I found a recipe for a fine cinnamon swirl loaf in one of my holiday baking magazines that just fit the bill. It really is a quick bread--doesn't take any more time than a boxed cake mix, but it's infinitely homier. And who doesn't love streusel? No one, that's who! Even if you're not a seasoned baker, you should try making this. It's easy and darn tasty. And I think it looks fairly impressive; even though I over-swirled my marble, it still came out pretty. Try toasting a thick slice of it the following day--divine!

Cinnamon-Swirl Bread
(Source: Christmas Baking, BHG 2007)

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup cooking oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9x5x3 loaf pan. Combine 1/3 cup of sugar, nuts, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Combine 1 cup of sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat egg. Then, stir in milk and oil. Make a well in the flour mixture and add the egg mixture. Stir just until mixed. Do not overmix.

Pour half of the batter into loaf pan. Sprinkle with half of the cinnamon mixture. Repeat. With a wide rubber scraper or spatula, swirl mixtures together with a down and up circular motion.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until done (mine took an hour!). Cool in pan for about 10 minutes. Then, cool completely on a wire rack.

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