Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I won a chili cook-off! I know, I’m surprised, too.

(peekaboo… here I am checking out the competition with my team mates) 
Are you a chili person? 

Do you find yourself defending beans versus no beans?  Ground hamburger versus steak?  Hot versus mild?  Thick versus runny? 


Not so much.  I’m just not a chili person. 

Sure, it’s great for football, winter, and probably fantastic for this weekend with the Final Four games.  I’m more of a soup person.  Make that a brothy soup person, I am not even crazy about a thick chili-like soup. 

How un-American.

Okay, so imagine my dilemma when a chili challenge invite popped up on my work email inbox. 


Yes.  I don’t do chili.  I take that back.  I made chili once, a decade ago.  But c’mon, it’s a FOOD CHALLENGE.  I’ve GOT to sign up.  And… I off course, I’ve GOT to win. 

I’ve got my pride and reputation.  Some might say… ego, when it comes to food.  My nickname is foodie, after all!

So what did I do?  I went to the expert source that has NEVER steered me wrong.  

I went to Cook’s Illustrated to get the best well-tested recipe from the folks who know how to test recipes (tip:  take the 14 day free trial, then wait until they offer it to you for 50% off).  These are the folks who bring us America’s Test Kitchen on PBS each week (did you know that I am one of their volunteer recipe testers?). 

I wanted to learn how to do chili right.  No short cuts.  Only the best.  I wanted a winning recipe.  And the name of the recipe had me hooked. 

Published by Cooks Illustrated, January 1, 2011


Table salt
1/2 pound dried pinto beans (about 1 cup), rinsed and picked over
6 dried ancho chiles (about 1 3/4 ounces), stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2-4 dried árbol chiles , stems removed, pods split, and seeds removed  
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions , cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 small jalapeño chiles , stems and seeds removed and discarded, and flesh cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons light molasses
3 1/2 pounds blade steak , 3/4 inch thick, trimmed of gristle and fat and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (I used a chuck steak and trimmed it down into teeny tiny bits, almost like ground beef)
1 (12-ounce) bottle mild-flavored lager , such as Budweiser (I used Corona.. which is NOT gluten-free (I'm feeding the masses with this one... you can substitute with a gluten-free beer!)


1. Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 quarts water, and beans in large Dutch oven and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse well.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Place ancho chiles in 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently, until flesh is fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes, reducing heat if chiles begin to smoke. Transfer to bowl of food processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.

3. Add árbol chiles, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa, and ½ teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted ancho chiles; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With processor running, very slowly add ½ cup broth until smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer paste to small bowl. Place onions in now-empty processor bowl and pulse until roughly chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add jalapeños and pulse until consistency of chunky salsa, about four 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture has evaporated and vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chili paste, tomatoes, and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined. Add remaining 2 cups broth and drained beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer.

5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Add half of beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to Dutch oven. Add ½ bottle lager to skillet, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, and bring to simmer. Transfer lager to Dutch oven. Repeat with remaining tablespoon oil, steak, and lager. Once last addition of lager has been added to Dutch oven, stir to combine and return mixture to simmer.

6. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook until meat and beans are fully tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Let chili stand, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir well and season to taste with salt before serving.

I put the chili in the refrigerator overnight and let it get extra-awesome.  The next morning I put it in a slow cooker and set it on low before bringing it into the office.

Then it was up to the team to judge mine along with the others.  My pot was anonymous letter “D” and waited for its fate as the team rated all entries in the following four categories:  Color, Aroma, Texture and Flavor.

I have to say it was a blast tasting and judging along with my teammates.  Check out Whitney and Megan as they handle the very important task set before them. 

(judging chili is a tough job at work… somebody’s gotta do it, right Whitney and Meghan?) 

I gotta tell ya… my office mates can cook up some mean chili!  I was so impressed with the variety of offerings:  beans, no beans, white bean and chicken, hamburger, steak and the condiments?  Don’t get me started.  We had every regional pleasure:  rice, guacamole, spaghetti, Fritos, onions, sour cream, cheese… need I go on?  

Believe me, it was a sight to see.

As the results were announced… I found my heart racing inside my chest.  What’s this?  Sweat on my upper lip?  I couldn’t stand it anymore… did I win?  Did I win?

Yes!!  Cook’s Illustrated did not let me down!!  I won!  I won!  I won!  I was honored, proud, relieved, jazzed, cocky, thrilled, amazed, proud, honored, relieved, jazzed, cocky… okay… you get my drift!  I was totally jazzed.  My final vote was 334 versus the number 2 (and my pick for second place) at 297 points.

So now, I just may be a chili lover after all.

I’d love to hear about your favorite chili story, ingredients, or any congratulatory well-wishes on my achievement is okay, too.

Happy eating!


(Let’s talk foodstuffs together on twitter or facebook, okay?)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Oh-so-easy rosemary garlic grilled salmon (or bake it, that’s cool too).

Salmon makes me sigh with happiness. 

It must be the combination of knowing it is good for you with all those crazy-great omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients and, when cooked properly, scrumptiously satisfies all those ready-to-be-pleased taste buds residing in your mouth.

C’mon… all together now… sigh with happiness.  Ahhhhhhhh.  That’s good.

Wait.  You didn’t sigh, did you? 

Is it because you haven’t had salmon for a while?  Or, perhaps you haven’t strayed away from your dill+salt+pepper seasoning companion?  I know, I know, simple is great.  But sometimes don’t you want other simple and great options?

I’ve got to tell you about Tone’s Rosemary garlic seasoning that I purchased at Sams Club.  I am often skeptical of pre-combined seasoning containers since so often there have extra-added ucky ingredients. I usually pass them by in the aisle with a happy-go-lucky see-ya.  Are you like that? 

Here is the ingredient list:  rosemary and other spices, dehydrated garlic, salt, dehydrated onion, dehydrated red bell pepper, lemon peel, paprika.    

So I decided to check out this seasoning after coming across an easy salmon recipe that was part of Sams Club Seafood Splash Event (March 19-20). 

Thank you internet, because what I missed in the store during that time is forever (okay, maybe not forever ever) posted and available for us online!  Like this recipe for rosemary garlic salmon and other recipes and helpful seafood tips.  Check out what’s available on their site, here.

To make your life easier (and tonight’s dinner, perhaps?), here is the oh-so-easy recipe for the salmon.

Rosemary Garlic Salmon


1 ½ to 2 pounds salmon fillet (go with wild salmon vs farmed)
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons Tone’s Rosemary Garlic Seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper


·     Combine melted butter and oil and brush on both sides of the salmon.

·     Sprinkle the Rosemary Garlic seasoning and the black pepper generously on both sides of the fish.

·     To bake:  Place fish on a shallow baking dish or roasting pan. Bake or broil 8 to 12 minutes until cooked through (flip once).

·     To grill (this is what I did):  Pre-heat grill and turn to Low.  Place fish skin side down on grill and cook, covered until you see the fatty deposits of the fish begin to turn whiteish, about 10 minutes.  Flip and cook until through, about 5 minutes.  I like to then lightly but tightly wrap in aluminum foil to seal in the juices.

·     Serve with lemon wedges.  (if you want to.  I never saw the point. Okay, here’s the point:  apparently spritzing with lemon juice kills any fish worms.  Ewh, right? Call it fish insurance but I’ll take my chances.)

What’s so fantastic about this oh-so-easy recipe is the consistency of the woodsy, heavily textured seasoning.  I’ve used it on both salmon and chicken and it just delightful.  It darkens to a heavenly patina when you cook with it on the grill and the flavor is simple enough to satisfy the picky eaters of your household as well as the foodies looking for something different.

Anyhow, I just thought you would be interested.   



(Let’s share foodstuffs together on twitter or facebook, okay?)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Celery Root: the vegetable that looks like a brain.

Posted by Lyndi

 I have always been intrigued by the humble celery root, also known as celeriac.  No, it’s not the root of the common celery.  It’s grown for its root... and not for its leaves and stems.

Okay, let’s celebrate it’s root, shall we?

I’ve only purchased a celery root once before.  Not quite sure what to do with it, I cut it up and steamed it.  I treated it like a turnip. It was okay.  Not great, okay.

Which wasn’t good enough for me.  Would it be for you?  Nope… I was bound and determined to find a way to utilize this intriguing little gem of a vegetable.  I must, for the greater good of humanity!

Okay, okay.  Chill out Lyndi.  It’s just a vegetable.

But it’s more than a vegetable.  It’s celeriac.  I mean, take a look at that picture again.  HOW INTRIGUING IS THAT?!!

And then it happened.

I found THE. PERFECT. RECIPE.  And yes, you have to try it yourself.  It’s over-the-top rockin’.  And I found this recipe while reading a cute innocent memoir (and bestseller) called Lunch in Paris, A Love Story, with Recipes.  I figured since it was a French recipe, it’s got to be good.  Right?


Here’s the recipe.  Just slice away the outside (my peeler wasn’t strong enough) and follow the instructions.  It will rock your world.

Puree de Celeri


2 pounds (4 medium) potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into 1-inch cubes (I used Yukon golds)
2 ½ - 3 pounds celery root (1 large or two small), peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2-3 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste


Fill a stockpot with cold, lightly salted water.  Add the potatoes and bring to a boil.  Add the celery root and continue to boil until both are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.  Drain well.

Return the celery root and potatoes to the pot, and over a very low flame, mash the two together.  (The heat will help evaporate any water left in the celery root.)  Aim for a chunky consistency.  This is a rustic puree, so there’s no need to get OCD about the lumps.  Add butter, salt, and pepper to taste.  Serve at once or put in a gratin dish, dot with additional butter, and pass for a minute or two under the broiler.

Serves 4

So, where you can purchase this little root gem?  I found them at the Pinnacle Station Market in Rogers for $3.79 each.  If you live in Washington County, you can find them at Ozark Natural Foods, too!

Mostly, I just hope you have the chance to taste a celery root.  I am quite smitten and I know now that I can never go back.  Does it taste like common celery?  Yes, only it has more depth.  It gives a rustic dimension.  You know how a shallot will add more depth than an onion.  That's what celery root is.  It's celery to the tenth power.

My mashed potatoes will never be the same again without some added to it.

If you use celeriac in a favorite recipe, please let me know about it!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lemon lover?

Posted by Lyndi

Are you someone who can’t pass up a lemon wedge?  Does your ice water feel naked without one?  Or two?  If Chicken Piccata is on the menu, is it a sure-fire guarantee that is what you’ll be having?

Yeah, I’m not that person.

Don’t get me wrong.  If I’m in an establishment where they offer a lemon wedge and it looks to be fresh and has the appearance of being neatly stored, I’m in.  But I will be honest with you.  When a recipe or mixed drinks calls for lemon juice… I’ll be the one who cuts back the measurements. A little goes a long way with this gal.  

I’m just saying.

That being said, I am actually hooked on TRUE® lemon, crystallized lemon packets.  What are they?  Introduced to me by my friend and fellow NWA blogger, Whitney, TRUE® lemon are individual sized portions of lemon wedges.  That’s right.  Lemon wedges. 

One portable packet equals one large lemon wedge that has been cold pressed and crystallized.  Apparently, TRUE® lemon is preferred in blind taste tests against fresh, frozen, or juiced lemons.  Ingredients are minimal and include citric acids, evaporated can juice as a bulking agent, lemon juice, lemon oil, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).  0 calories.  0 carbs. 

The best part?  It really tastes like a refreshing burst of lemons. 

Which of course, it is.

Whitney gave me a few samples of the TRUE® lemon, lime, and orange.  All three are equally pleasing to the palate.  The only drawback was that I have to order them online.  Okay, I admit, in this day and age, that’s not really a drawback excuse, I know.

But then it happened.  I found it. 

Here, locally, in Northwest Arkansas! 

I found the 32count package at Allen’s Market in Bella Vista for $3.49.  Now we all can easily have access to the light and refreshing citrus palate pleaser whether at work, home, school, traveling, or at our favorite dining establishment!  Isn’t life grand?

Oh before I forget, there is one more really fantabulous benefit of TRUE® lemon… recipes!  Each box comes with recipes printed inside and outside the carton.  And of course, their website has hundreds of delicious recipes and healthy living tips.

Tonight’s dinner came from the recipe on the box.  Only I adapted it a bit to meet my portion needs.


Makes 4 servings


8 packets True Lemon
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves


1.      Mix the True Lemon, water, olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.

2.      Set aside ¼ cup of the mixture to use for basting.  Place chicken in a bowl and marinate at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

3.      Grill or broil chicken on high heat for 6 to 8 minutes on each side, until juices run clear, basting occasionally with the reserved marinade.


Refreshing and future-repeat-worthy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yes, you CAN have a July tomato experience in March!

Posted by Lyndi

You know the July tomato experience I am talking about.  The hedonistic properties of touch, taste, see, smell, and savor.  That enveloping gorgeous scent of a perfect tomato which can be both juicy yet firm.  Sweet yet savory.  Red yet brown.

What.  What?  Did I just say brown?

Indeed I did.  A beautiful deep brown speckled with bits of dark green and brilliant red.


I was so jazzed yesterday to discover that Sams Club brought back their special buy of Kumato brown tomatoes! I jumped all over these a month ago and meant to tell you about them… except they were all gone by the next day.  So what’s a girl to do?  Blab on and on about my discovery while all the time KNOWING that you couldn’t buy them for yourself?  No way.  I’ve got morals.  You don’t mess with the tomato.  You don’t lift up people’s expectations and then dash their hopes and dreams to the ground.

Oh I asked.  I begged and pleaded with the produce folks to plllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaassssssssssssssseeeeeee bring back the brown tomatoes.  No can do, they said.  It was a home office special buy.


So imagine my EXTREME DELIGHT to fixate on those brown babies once again!  So hurry, hurry, hurry and scamper on over to Sams Club so you won’t miss out.  Don’t have a Sams Club membership?  Ask for a 1-day pass, that’ll do ya.

Okay, let’s talk details.

·       Brand is kumato™ simply unique BROWN tomato™
·       Grown by the Mastronardi Family from Canada
·       Mastronardi Produce built the first commercial greenhouse in North America in the 1940’s
·       Family owned for 4 generations
·       $5.78 for package of 10
·       Look for them in produce section with all the other packages of tomatoes
·       If you’re shopping at the Bentonville Sams Club, ask for Gustavo.  He’ll let you sample one!

And last but not least… are you curious on how to prepare these little gems?

You know that I am a simple girl. 

To best bring out the flavor and highlight the captured July-in-March experience, simply slice the tomatoes and arrange on a plate.  Then with a twist of the wrist, grind your cracked pepper and toss a little sea salt into the mix.  You’re done. 

Want to add a little extra?  

In a prep bowl, pour two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.  Instead of sprinkling the tomatoes with the salt and pepper, add them to the oil and vinegar mix.  Whisk, taste and now lovingly pour the vinaigrette over your tomatoes.  Let sit and mellow before enjoying.

Don’t forget:  Never, never, never, never, never, NEVER place tomatoes in the refrigerator.  It will get mealy and mealy = mushy.  And mushy = a very very bad day.

So if you want to have a beautiful day today, enjoy a brown tomato!

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