Friday, September 10, 2010

Adult-Adjustable Slow Cooker Chili (with Pico de Gallo)

When I was growing up my mother (a gourmet cook) didn’t go in much for the concept of “kid friendly cuisine”. She made what she liked, how she liked it, and whether or not I was interested in it didn’t matter – that was what was for dinner. She’s a very good cook, but she has always had extremely “adult” tastes; serving me things like onion-packed lamb-burgers with blue cheese, moussaka and asparagus quiche at the age of 6. I didn’t like it. For some reason she mellowed later and my much younger brother had a different culinary experience, which included hot dogs, brand name cereals and store-bought chips.
I remember interrogating one of my friends at age seven about what this miraculous sounding “Dorito” thing was (I only had dried soybeans as a snack). She described it for half an hour, and in the end I imagined a triangular, cherry flavored candy – totally off. I’ll stop before I sound too damaged from my childhood food experience (and my mom does read my blog, after all), but I will admit I back-lashed in my teens and young twenties eating nothing but frozen fried chicken, nachos and ravioli for 5 years (I really don’t think I ate a vegetable the entire time, outside of salsa and Bloody Marys). Mmmmm....Bloody Marys.

Because of that backlash I’m careful to consider my kids’ tastes, but I don’t want to serve them anything so dummed down that I can’t eat it myself. I know some parents have solved the problem of differing age tastes by serving separate dishes to the kids, but I want us to all sit down every night and eat the same thing at the same time.

One way to make a dish “Adult-Adjustable” is to keep one or two components separate and add them together on your plate only at the end (grilled onions, mushrooms, spinach, etc, to top a creamy pasta, which may only have peas and chicken on their plates).

A common problem is not being able to make things as spicy as I want them. I like spicy. REALLY spicy. Chili, undoubtedly, needs to be spicy in my book, but my two guys also love chili (albeit, the kind you get on your foot-long coney at Sonic). Since it’s a great slow cooker meal I really wanted to perfect Slow Cooker Chili in a way that made everyone happy. I start with a chili that’s an homage to 50’s housewives (I used canned and jarred ingredients…but this is supposed to be a quick meal you throw in the pot before you leave for work). The secret is the fresh pico de gallo (you can make it super duper hot) that only the grownups top their chili with just before serving.

Slow Cooker Chili
1 pound ground beef
3 TB chili powder
3 TB paprika
1 TB Onion powder
3 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
1 can diced tomatoes
*1 small jar Pace Picante (or a salsa you like) medium or mild depending on your kids’ tolerance
*you can substitute 1 can of tomato sauce if your kids will freak out about the
“green bits and onion chunks”. Sigh.
1 big or 2 small cans V8
1 can red kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can white northern beans (or navy beans)
½ cup water

Mix all the spices together
Turn Slow Cooker to Low. Brown beef in a pan and add half the spice mixture.
Add beef, tomatoes, salsa and juice to the cooker. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse thoroughly.
Add beans, the rest of the spices and the water to cooker and stir well.
Salt to taste. Cover and leave for work.

The chili will be good whether you cook it for just 4 hours or as much as 8.

You can make the pico when you get home, or have it already made (it’s good in the fridge for about 24 hours, then it gets wilty).

Pico de Gallo
½ cup Diced Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup Diced white onion
4 or 5 diced serrano peppers (I prefer them to jalapenos, but you can use
2 or 3 hot jalapenos instead – if they’re hot- sometimes they’re just not
hot. What’s up with that?)
½ cup chopped cilantro
Juice of ½ lime
Salt to taste

Mix in a bowl and you're done!

Top your chili with cheddar (and maybe sour cream) as well. Eat with tortilla chips instead of a spoon.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Vintage Can Label Craft

This is just a lightening quick craft project I made the boys do to indulge my vintage label preoccupation.

Clean your cans. Look up “vintage can labels” (or here is a good source), download images and open the artwork in Photoshop to manipulate the size.
Regular soup-size cans use labels approximately 10.5 inches long by 4.5 inches tall.

I repaired and edited the ones I found to coordinate better with my office (see manipulated versions below).

Then I printed the labels, cut them out and had the boys rubber cement them right over the old labels.

These could be cute teachers gifts (pencil cups) or last minute mother’s/ father’s day crafts (you know – when you completely forgot and it’s the night before, and you have no money to buy anything so silly anyway).

I strongly believe kids should value homemade gifts and start early coming up with clever alternatives to gift buying.


Seed Collecting

Although I very much enjoy gardening, and spend a lot of time planning garden schemes and projects, I have a pretty brown thumb. It may be due, in part, to my notoriously corner-cutting and penny-pinching tendencies, but I’ll admit there really is something missing from me that awesome gardeners seem to just have.

In the past most things I’ve planted have tended to dry up and die, or get water logged, rot and then die, just get over run with weeds or even become over run themselves, becoming a rampant mess indistinguishable from weeds.

So maybe there’s no one problem I can put my finger on and then fix, except to pay closer attention and learn how to garden better with experience.

Even with such a high rate of gardening failure, I still reap the meditative benefits gardening awards, and I still try, year after year, loyal to my un-sprouted seeds each season.

This year I did so well most of my ladies made it through an entire growing season, and lo-and-behold, as they wilted and dried (at a natural age) I participated in the joy of seed harvesting for the first time.

I was very excited to realize that I was eliminating a huge obstacle I run into each year: "seeding fever" with an empty bank account.

Next year I will already have my labeled packets (free!) ready whenever I am.

I collected the seeds carefully into little yellow coin envelopes, being careful to label as I went along.

My adventure began with the hollyhocks, which have the most amazing seed pods, ingeniously designed and packaged [see left].

The Foxglove also had pods but the minuscule seeds were like grains of fine sand, which my boys loved to try to capture in the envelopes.

The nasturtium produced little double nodules which I plucked and then let dry inside, before packing.

The geranium were also fun to collect, as you pinch the dried flower and pull gently, pulling out fifty or so needle shaped seeds at a time.

While researching the seed collection process I was distracted for days by vintage seed packet art, and decided my little yellow envelopes, although cute, weren’t quite as fancy as they could be. I manipulated a vintage greeting card featuring nasturtiums, and designed a little packet you can print, snip and double stick. This led me to the next vintage label project (see next entry).

You can see more vintage seed art here.