comfort food

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The minestrone I make is the same that my mom makes which started with Marcella Hazan’s Minestrone from her book “The Essentials of Italian Cooking”. I highly recommend this book. If what I make from memory isn’t dead on with Marcella’s recipe, then it’s pretty darn close. First thing to know – although minestrone is essentially a vegetable soup, this is no vegetarian vegetable soup. I’m sure that an interested vegetarian could easily modify the recipe and switch the beef stock with vegetable stock. Probably the single most important ingredient is the hunk of reggiano parmigiano rind. I’ve had the soup made without it and well, let’s just say that making the soup without it really isn’t an option. My grocery store sells the rind in the specialty cheese section, they also have hunks of the parmigiano for sale that still have a rind side on them. I usually go for the hunk of cheese, cut the rind side off for the soup and save the rest for grating over the top at the end. This is a soup that the whole family loves. If you’re going to make it I sure hope you have some decent knives that are sharp and ready to be put to work!

Minestrone Soup

2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter

1 medium white onion, diced

4-5 carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks of celery, washed and diced

1 1/2 handfuls of fresh green beans, ends snipped and beans cut into bite sized sections

2-3 zucchini, washed well, ends cut off, quartered and sliced

3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and large diced

1 head of napa cabbage, washed and chopped

2 cans of diced tomatoes

6 cups of Beef Stock (GF peeps, make sure you use a GF stock – I often use Kitchen Basics)

Reggiano Parmigiano cheese and rind

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a heavy stock pot (I heart my Le Creuset Dutch Oven), melt butter and oil together over medium heat. Add the diced onions and cook until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the carrots and celery and cook for 3-5 minutes more, stirring. Then add the green beans and zucchini. Cook, stirring for another 3-5 minutes. Add the diced potatoes, cook and stir for 4 minutes. Add the chopped cabbage, cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and then the stock. Stir, turn the heat down as low as it can go for a simmer. Put the rind from the parmigiano into the soup, cover and simmer for at least an hour. Stir the soup occasionally, if you have anything sticking to the bottom of the pan then the heat is too high. Once you are ready to serve the soup, dish it into a bowl and grate some parmigiano on top.

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Chili

I welcome the arrival of fall and cooler weather. Fall and winter foods are my favorite! Chili is one of the first things I make at the sign of cold weather. It’s also the food that both my husband and I grew up eating on Halloween night. The chili I make has beans and ground beef. Sometimes I change it up just a little – maybe adding some chopped pickled jalapenos or fresh chopped chilies of any variety. You’ll find my classic recipe below which started from very nonspecific directions from my mom and has changed to become what we like (and gluten free). This recipe makes 6-8 servings, which can be stretched out if you make some noodles and serve it over the noodles. It’s great left over too.

Chili

1 3/4 lbs ground chuck

1-2 T. Oil (Olive or vegetable)

1 large white onion, diced

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 green bell pepper, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 – 2 T. chili powder (you can always add more!)

3/4 t. cumin

1/2 t. cayenne

1/2 t. chipotle powder (this isn’t necessary, if you don’t have it, leave it out – it just adds a bit of a smokey pepper flavor)

1 t. garlic powder

2 T. ketchup or 1 t. tomato paste

2 cans diced tomatoes, drained

3 cans kidney beans, drained (beware – many brands of “chili beans” have gluten so I use regular and season the chili myself)

2 cans red beans or pinto beans, drained

1-2 T. corn starch + water

Salt and Pepper to taste

Things to accompany chili – chopped onion, shredded cheese, sour cream, noodles, oyster crackers/goldfish crackers.

Using a large stock pot or dutch oven, put the oil and ground chuck in the pan. Cook over medium high heat. While that cooks, clean, chop and dice your onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Be sure to stir and scrape and bottom of the pan as necessary to cook all of the meat. Keep in mind that the more you break up the beef, the smaller the chunks will be in your chili. Once the beef has all browned, you can add your spices – chili powder, cayenne, cumin, garlic powder. Stir. Add your onions, celery and bell pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Turn heat to medium. Add the minced garlic stir and be sure not to burn your garlic because it will turn bitter. Add the drained tomatoes and ketchup or tomato paste. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the cans of beans. If your chili appears dry you can fill one can with water and add it. Cook on low heat with your lid askew, stirring every so often – take care that your heat is low enough for a simmer but not so high that the beans burn to the bottom. The longer your chili simmers, the better the flavors will come together and the softer the beans will get. This past week in a pinch, I put my canned beans in a glass bowl with some water and covered them with plastic wrap and then microwaved them for 4 minutes to soften them up because I wasn’t going to be able to cook my chili long enough before it would be time to eat it. This worked well to soften them up. Once you’re close to mealtime, taste your chili and make any seasoning adjustments. Remember that salt will bring out flavors. If your chili is good but not quite there, add some salt, stir and taste again. If you want to thicken your chili put 1 T. of corn starch in a glass and add 1 T. water. Stir it around to make a slurry. Then pour the slurry into the chili and stir while simmering (turn up the heat if you need to). The corn starch will thicken the whole mixture. If after a few minutes of stirring the bubbling mixture it still isn’t thick enough then repeat – be careful though because the corn starch will thicken all of a sudden so make sure that you’ve stirred it at a high enough heat to activate it before adding more.

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