Recipe: Tamales

IMG_5798A couple times a year, I get out the steamer and the cornhusks, and make a batch of tamales. I’d like to say I do it at the same time, but no…it’s pretty much whenever I get a hankering for home. There’s nothing like a good, fresh, homemade tamale. They’re a labor of love, really— you can’t throw tamales together on a whim, but they’re also not rocket science— anyone can make them with the right ingredients and a bit of time.

There are some ingredients that might be unfamiliar to some cooks. You will need cornhusks, chiles, and masa flour. While you might find the ingredients at a well-stocked supermarket, you’ll probably find fresher things at your local international market. I do almost half our shopping now at the international market- I can get Latin ingredients, kimchee and bibimbap, the fixings for Phò and Indian paneer all in one place. And, the meat and produce are *always* fresh and much cheaper than at the mega-mart. Don’t be intimidated if you cant read all the labels- ask.

(Pro-tip: If you need gluten-free flour, buy the ingredients to make your own mix at the Asian market! I can make almost 20 pounds of gluten-free flour mix for less than $20 by buying the ingredients from the Japanese and east Indian aisles.)

Recipe: Tamales


  • 2-2 1/2 pounds pork roast, cooked until very tender. A crock pot works great.
  • 3 dried pasilla chiles
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • anchiote paste (a reddish-orange spice without much flavor, used as color in latin foods- and in cheddar cheese, actually!)

In a sauce pan, break up the dried pasilla chiles in the oil, discarding the stems. Sauté until chiles are soft and fragrant, about five minutes. In a blender, puree the sautéd chiles and chicken broth. Set aside.

In a bowl, break apart and shred the pork roast. Add the pureed chilie/broth mixture, salt, pepper and sesame seeds. Combine well. If you want the color to be the more traditional red-orange, add a teaspoon of anchiote paste. Set aside.

Before you make the masa, get the cornhusks soaking. They’re brittle when dry, but after a soak in very hot water, they will be soft and pliable. You can use a large pot, bowl, or do what I do, and just fill the clean sink with hot water. Let them soak until soft, usually about the time it takes to make the masa.

Masa flour is made for tamales. It’s finely ground cornflour which has been treated with lime- regular cornmeal or corn flour will not work. 

  • 4 cups masa flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 2/3 cups chicken broth or water
  • 1 1/3 cups lard or solid shortening (yes, you have to)

In a large bowl, mix masa, baking powder and salt. Add broth or water and mix throughly to make a soft, moist dough (hands work well for this). In your mixer with the whip attachment, beat lard until light and fluffy. Add the masa mixture and continue to beat until well incorporated and the mixture is uniform and slightly sticky.


Gather your prepared ingredients- masa, filling and soaked, drained cornhusks.

Spread the masa evenly over 2/3 of each cornhusk. You can do this with a spatula, your hands, or using a tortilla press. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but an even layer will help in steaming better finished tamales.

Add about a tablespoon of the meat mixture to the center of the masa. Close the husk, bringing the sides together, rolling, and then folding up the bottom. It’s okay for the top to remain open, but squeeze the masa to enclose the meat, even if left open.

Continue using all husks, masa and filling.

Arrange tamales in a steamer over simmering water, open ends up. Don’t squish them- it may take more than one batch to steam them all. Cover with a damp cotton dishcloth and then with a lid. Steam about one hour. They’re ready when you can peel the husk away and the masa is firm and holds it’s shape.


Enjoy them right from the steamer. We love them fresh and plain, but they’re great as part of a meal with your favorite sauce and some cheese sprinkled on top, too.

Recipe: Easy Weeknight Chicken Mole

cq5dam.web.266.354Mole is awesome sauce. Mole can be intimidating. Mole really just means “sauce” and in Mexico, mole encompasses a wide range of different flavor profiles. Outside of Mexico, it usually means mole poblano, which is a thick chili-based sauce with as many as 30 ingredients, and can take days to make. Home cooks can be intimidated by unfamiliar ingredients and the daunting task of a sauce taking so long. Enter, Weeknight Chicken Mole. This recipe originates with my sister-in-law, and is very forgiving of adjustments to personal taste. For a quick weeknight meal, make the sauce, serve it over a rotisserie chicken on a cheesy, warmed corn tortilla, and top with cilantro or some crumbly queso fresco.

Easy Weeknight Chicken Mole

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, or enough to cover the bottom of a heavy stock pot.
  • 2 large or 3 small onions, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp unsweet cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 Tbsp peanut (or other nut) butter (but regular ol’ creamy peanut butter works fine!)
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce (a smoked jalapeño, found with other canned chilis in most major markets)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, cut up and skin removed
  • Yellow corn tortillas
  • grated cheese
  • cilantro or sour cream for garnish
  1. In a heavy stock pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and add onions, cooking until soft- about 5 minutes. Place garlic, chili powder, cocoa and cinnamon in a bowl to the side. When onions are soft and starting to color, add spices all at once, stirring continually for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add broth and bring back to simmer.
  2. Add peanut (or other nut) butter, tomato paste, raisins and chipotle pepper with whatever adobo sauce is on it. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10-20 minutes. While sauce is simmering, prep chicken, and place corn tortillas sprinkled with cheese on a baking sheet into a warm oven to melt.
  3. With a stick-blender, puree the mole sauce on the stovetop. If you don’t have a stick-blender, you can leave it bumpy, or run it carefully through a blender in small batches to achieve the traditional smoother texture. Be careful with hot liquids in a blender- or use your food processor.
  4. Add the chicken to the sauce in the stockpot. Turn and stir to coat all the pieces, and serve on over the plated, warmed, melty cheese tortillas. Top with cilantro, queso fresco or a drizzle of sour cream. Also always good: rice and beans.

And there you have it. It’s actually kind of shocking how good this tastes for something so quick and easily made from your pantry and a rotisserie chicken. Return and report how you like it! Thanks to my sister-in-law, Erin, for sharing this one.

Recipe: Caramelized Onion & Cauliflower Soup

steaming_bowlI was talking with Mo the other night, and she was waxing poetic about baking (She’s a good baker; I however, am not. Too precise. I don’t measure.) while I waxed poetic about the alchemy of just…cooking. With that in mind, I headed to the kitchen. What can you do with a (very) few ingredients?

Even when it seems like there’s not much to fix, usually something wonderful can be managed. I had a cauliflower that needed using, and I had some onions. Perfect. Onions are a cook’s favorite friend in the kitchen- they are so kind and versatile, with a little cajoling willing to be spicy, sweet, pungent, or just background scenery, depending on what you ask of them. I adore onions. The amounts are flexible, cater to your taste. This is what I used, literally, because it’s what I had. And it was stunningly good in it’s simplicity and flavor. Comfort in a bowl.

Caramelized Onion & Cauliflower Soup

  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 medium head cauliflower
  • Olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or water, even)
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • Splash of cream
  • Smoked gouda, goat cheese, or whatever you have on hand
  1. Preheat the oven to 450* and slice/chop the cauliflower into small-ish pieces. Mine were about 1″ chunks. Spread on a baking sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven until they start to brown nicely. This will vary depending on your oven, the size of the pieces, and where the moon is in the sky. Basically, I don’t know your kitchen, so watch them. I think mine took about 25 minutes.
  2. While the cauliflower is roasting, warm a heavy stock pot over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil, the butter, the two sliced onions, and a pinch of salt. It takes a bit to get a good caramel on the onions- stir them around and then let them sit. Stir. Sit. Stir. Sit. When they are really soft, the trick to getting them deeply browned but not burned is this: Let them cook until there’s a decent fond on the bottom of the pot and most of their liquid is evaporated. Then add a splash of broth or water. They will bubble and steam like crazy, loosen from the pot, and brown up quickly. Repeat this process 3 or 4 times, while the cauliflower roasts and you will have LOVELY, sweet, beautiful caramel onions. You can add a dash of brown sugar to aid the process, if you like.
  3. When the cauliflower is nicely golden and roasty, scoop it all from the baking sheet into the pot with the onions. Add the broth (or water) and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to simmer, and use a submersible hand mixer to puree the entire pot. It will be a thick, caramel creamy color. If you don’t have a hand mixer, and food processor or blender will work, but putting hot liquids in a blender can be really dangerous- seriously. The lid usually blows off- so if you opt for a blender, do it in small batches, on low. Or just go to Voldemart and buy a hand mixer. Or use a potato masher and call it “rustic” soup- really, there’s no wrong way!
  5. Once it’s a texture you like, add a splash of cream and top with sprinkle of your favorite cheese. I used smoked gouda, but chevre, gruyere, curls of shaved parmesan, or even sharp tangy cheddar would have works lovely as well.
  6. That’s it. No fancy spices. Nothing complicated. Just gentle processes coaxing out the loveliest flavors of two simple ingredients.

This is why I’m a cook and not a baker.cauliflower onions1

Recipe: Living Gluten-Free: Making Flour

I’ve been off gluten for more than four years. It’s not a fad diet or something that just makes me feel better— it’s life and death. Before the wheat-allergy diagnosis, I was on a nebulizer three times a day, and it wasn’t working. I was taking Prednisone to keep my airways open. It was that bad. It had been 20 years since my last extensive allergy testing, the decision was made to just see if there were any unchecked food allergies. Et voila- a raging allergy to wheat. I was panicked- how does one get by without wheat? Wait, no bread? NO BREAD??!

Turns out I like breathing more than I like bread. After much of my life on nebulizers, albuteral, inhaled steroids and pneumonia, in less than a week completely wheat-free my asthma was gone. Gone. GONE. In four years, I have not once had to use my nebulizer, and had to use an inhaler once, during a bad cold last winter. That’s it.

One of the pitfalls is that gluten-free things are often a) really expensive, and b) taste like crap. I have failed (and done so spectacularly miserably) so many times while trying to figure this gig out. I’ve spent a lot of money on grainy, sludgey, gross foods trying to replicate what really only gluten can do. You can get passable (and getting better, really) substitutes for flour in the healthy-foods aisle, but they’re really, really pricey. You cannot just sub rice (or any other grain) flour for wheat flour and get the same results. (See “grainy” and “sludgey” above.) So I opted to try and figure out making my own baking mix. I did some research, read a lot, and bought small quantities and played with the mix.

Here’s the biggest tip I can give you: If you have an international foods market near you, buy your flours there instead of from the fancy, green, locavore National Whole Chain Foods. I can get my flours for less than $0.75 a pound at the international market. There is a 700% markup on the same flour at NWCF. So here’s my recipe.

Gluten Free Flour Mix

  • 4 pounds rice flour (half brown & half white, if you can)
  • 2 pounds soy flour
  • 2 pounds millet flour
  • 14 oz potato starch
  • 14 oz tapioca starch

Now, there are a lot of ways to mix this, but the trick is to not get it everywhere, and to have it uniformly and homogeneously combined. A bucket or giant bowl would work, but I have found the least-messy way is to use a clean large plastic bag, pour all the ingredients in, tie it off, and roll it around. I’ve made some serious messes stirring flour, and this, by far, is the best way.

It’s necessary to add the starches to alleviate the graininess of the rice flour— the both improve texture in the finished baked goods. When I first started, I didn’t know about millet flour, and it make a big difference in the crumb and holding-together of whatever you bake. You can add corn flour, or fava flour or other bean flours, but I find the flavor too strong. Millet has a flavor, but it fades into the background after cooking.

I use this flour mix, cup for cup, as I would in any recipe. Yes, it really works. It won’t feel like wheat flour dough- it will be more delicate. It will rise, and it will bake up nicely- as shown in the muffins above. Rolling it out will require a gentler hand and parchment paper, but otherwise, it’s even substitution.

I do add xanthan gum to a lot of recipes- particularly if I want a chewier crumb and am using yeast. Again, helps the texture. It’s pricey, but Bob’s Red Mill makes a good one, and you only use, at most, 1 teaspoon in a recipe.

So there you have it. Go forth and mix, my gluten-challenged friends!

IMG_1138Also? I baked chocolate chip cookies with this, and the kids had NO IDEA. That’s a win, folks!

Recipe: Rustic Cheese & Onion Enchiladas with Beef Sauce

cheese & onion enchiladas

I love enchiladas. When I was a kid, I never understood why Nana said they were so much work- at my house, my mom would crack a can of enchilada sauce, roll cheese in a tortilla, and pop ’em in the oven. Presto! American enchiladas. And even those were good. But then I learned how to really make them… and my culinary world changed. I also understood why Nana said they were a lot work. When I’m feeling really ambitious, I even made masa and press my own tortillas,  but you don’t have to. Good quality tortillas are available at any latin grocery, and you should totally get them there. Fresher, better all around.

With the help of a crock pot, this recipe is easy, and the ingredients are found in most kitchens. (Seriously though, I can’t encourage you enough to head to the international or latin market near you.) Remember, improvisation is part of the adventure of cooking, and cooking is awesome.

Rustic Cheese & Onion Enchiladas with Beef Sauce

Regular enchilada sauce is made by roasting and softening dried chilies in oil, simmering them in broth and spices, and pureeing them in the blender. I can give you the recipe for that another day. This sauce uses chili powder and tomatoes, but despite the shortcut, the beef creates an unctuous texture and outstanding depth of flavor.

  • 1 1/2 pounds stew beef or chuck roast, cut into 2″ chunks
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, minced
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato puree
  • 2 oz red wine
  • 2 cups grated cheese
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 cup queso fresco, a crumbly fresh Mexican cheese
  • corn tortillas
  1. Heat oil in a heavy skillet and pat beef chunks dry. You want to form a good brown crust on them, and if they’re wet, they’ll steam. Brown all chunks and season with salt and pepper.  Brown over medium-high heat, turning only as needed, until caramelized and dark brown on most sides.
  2. Transfer to crock pot standing by. There are a lot of good browned bits on the bottom of your frying pan. Deglaze the pan by adding the 2 ounces of wine to the pan and using a spatula to get all the goodness up- transfer to crock pot. If you prefer not using wine, use chicken broth or water. It won’t taste as deep, but it will still work.
  3. To the crock pot, add the minced onion, spices, garlic and tomato puree. Stir to combine and cook on low for 3-5 hours, or until the meat is falling apart. I start mine in the morning and let it go all day.
  4. When beef is tender, you can pull the chunks of meat out and run the sauce through a strainer to create a velvety sauce, or you can leave it, have a chunkier sauce. Shred the beef into tiny bits and add half the beef back to the sauce. I do the sauce both ways, depending on how much time I have. (the kids like it smoother)
  5. Saute remaning minced onion until soft, mix in a bowl with the other half of the beef and the 2 cups of grated cheese. Any shredding cheese you like is fine- colby, a mix of cheddar and jack, or Mexican cheese.
  6. Pour a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish, and assemble the enchiladas by rolling a heaping 1/4 cup of filling in each tortilla. Corn tortillas roll easier if they’re warm— wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds— that should help. Once the pan is full of neat little rolls, pour the rest of the beefy sauce over the top, and sprinkle with crumbled queso fresco. (If you don’t have it, more of your regular cheese is fine.)
  7. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and hot.

Recipe: Oooh Pretty! Too Hot to Cook Recipes


I understand why they call DC The Swamp in the Summer. Holy heck it’s been hot this week. I apologize for not believing in the heat-index back when I lived in the mercifully arid west. This plain sucks. So the last thing I want to do is cook, right? But the kids want to eat. Every day. I know. It’s time to feed them again??! Yeah. So yesterday I dug out my trusty cookbook, and decided to find a way to make cold dinner. No oven use, and only the barest of stovetop- you’ll need one frying pan, used for two things. It’s three separate recipes, which I served family-style and everyone had small tapas style portions. Except Bean. He had… wait for it… peanut butter toast! I know, you’re shocked. Anyway… There’s plenty of leftovers, and while they may not be as pretty the next day, they taste even better.

Recipe #1: Apple Curry Chicken Salad


  • 1 Rotisserie chicken from Costco, shredded. (I made Jeffrey do this, because… bones.. ick… he thought it was fun)
  • 1 red onion, small dice
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tart apples (fuji or macintosh work well) diced
  • a handfull of grapes, sliced if you have them, but not utterly necessary
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped or sliced almonds

Dice the red onion and get it in a frying pan over medium heat with the olive oil and a dash of salt. Let this saute and caramelize while you work. Tear up the chicken and add to a bowl big enough to toss everything. Add the apples and grapes, if you have them. I kind of like it better without them- the apples add tartness and crunch. But I had them, so there you go. In a smaller bowl, mix the mayonnaise, curry power, lemon juice and salt and pepper with a whisk. When the onions are caramelized, pour them on top of the chicken and fruit, and add the dressing. Toss well. Top with green onion and slivered almonds, and serve in a pretty bowl.

Recipe #2 Marinated Italian Vegetables

IMG_0776First, prep all your vegetables:

  • 1 small American eggplant, 1/2″ dice. No need to peel. Keep this separate. Everything else can go in the same microwave safe bowl:
  • 1 red pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 container of button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thin
  • (any other veggies you like- cauliflower works, yellow squash, broccoli, etc…)

Lay the eggplant out on a layer of paper towels. Microwave it for five full minutes, then toss it, put on fresh paper towels, and microwave for another 3 minutes. This gets all the moisture and bitterness out, and makes it like a little sponge to soak up the marinade. Put it in a big bowl and set aside.

Add all the other vegetables to a microwave safe bowl, and zap them for 3-4 minutes, then add to the bowl with the eggplant. To the same bowl, add the following:

  • 1 can of olives, whatever kind you like- black, kalamata, spanish, whatever, drained
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (in water, not the marinated ones), drained
  • 1 cup of sliced, cherry or grape tomatoes

For the marinate, the best part, that turns all these colorful awesome veggies into a dance party:

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (or 1 regular)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sugar or honey

Mix this by hand with a whisk, or you can whirl it up in the blender/food processor if you want it really emulsified. Either way is fine. Pour it over the warm veggies, toss them well, and wait for them to soak up the yummy marinade. That’s the purpose of briefly heating them, by the way- makes the suck up the goodness.

Top with some basil chiffonade and some extra pepper, and you’re good to go.

Recipe #3 Mozzarella A La Capresse with Reduced Balsamic Vinegar Syrup

Everyone knows how to make this, right. Yeah, pretty much. The only difference is reducing the balsamic vinegar turns it into a thick, sweet syrup the likes of which you won’t believe.IMG_0775

  • 1 pound pretty heirloom tomatoes. Splurge, and buy the pretty ones- they actually DO taste different and better!
  • 8 ounces fresh, soft mozzarella cheese, sliced, or use boccacini (the small balls, cut in half)
  • good salt and fresh pepper
  • fresh basil, shredded
  • 1/2 cup dark balsamic vinegar, simmered in the same frying pan you caramelized the red onions, until it’s reduced by half and is thick and syrupy.
  • Drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.

That’s it. Toss the tomatoes and cheese together sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with basil, drizzle the syrup over the top and follow with the fine olive oil. (Add the olive oil after the vinegar, or the vinegar will just slide off) This is a place for your best, freshest ingredients, since there are so few. It really is sublime, and worth the 5 minutes it takes to reduce the vinegar. So, SO good.

Recipe: General Conference Cinnamon Rolls

This is what I’m making tonight- a recipe I originally posted years and years ago, but a recipe which still gets huge traffic. I can’t eat them, but for my kids and those I love, these are a must for the first weekend in October. Hope your Saturday is lovely! If I get these babies in the oven on time, there might even be some chalkboard wisdom.


That’s right, you make the rolls with vanilla pudding as your primary liquid. That, and a lot of butter. I have no idea what the nutritional breakdown is, but to be on the safe side, and out of kindness to your heart, I suggest making them only 2 or 3 times a year. Without further ado, I give you,

General Conference Cinnamon Rolls!

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

Bloom the yeast with the sugar in the warm water, waiting for froth and bubbles. Set aside.

  • Small package instant vanilla pudding, prepared per package directions. (2 cups)
  • 1/2 c warm water
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 lightly beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6+ cups all-purpose flour, or as needed to make soft but cohesive dough.

In a large bowl, with a wire whip, mix the prepared pudding with the water until well combined and smooth. Add the butter, eggs and salt, whisk to combine well.

Add the bloomed yeast/sugar/water mixture and combine well.

Add flour, one cup at a time, until the dough comes together, and is still soft, but not sticky. Knead until smooth. It will feel like fat baby thighs.

Let rise in a warm, covered and lightly oiled bowl until doubled in size. About 2 hours.

Punch down, and knead again.

With a rolling pin and a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to a 34 x 22 inch rectangle. Keep moving the dough as you roll, to keep from sticking to the board.

  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon

Melt the butter and pour the whole cup on your rolled out rectangle of dough. (I told you only a few times a year!) In a separate bowl, combine with your impeccably clean hands, the sugar and cinnamon, then cover the butter-drenched dough rectangle in an even and delectable layer of cinnamon sugar.

Starting at the 22 inch side, roll the entire thing into a nice, long cinnamon tube. Seal the edge with a little bit of water on a pastry brush or your fingers.

With a serrated knife, (or even better, a piece of thread or dental floss) cut the log into 2 inch segments, and carefully move your giant cinnamon treasures to a glass pan.  Put no more than 8 in a large glass Pyrex casserole dish.  Do not crowd them- they will rise almost double. Whatever baking dish you use, deeper sides give the rolls a softer exterior = better.

Cover in a warm place and let them rise again until fat and happy- about two hours.

Bake at 350* for 18-22 minutes. Really, only that long. Do not over-bake. You want them to be soft, yet set, in the middle. The house will smell divine.


  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cream

Whip all ingredients together and smear on top of still warm rolls.

Remember, only a few times a year!! (For us, it’s Christmas and General Conference- the grand-poo-bah of all Mormon meetings) Your taste buds will rejoice, your heart will need a serious, sweat inducing walk afterwards. Enjoy!!

Recipe: HumbleBrag Blue Ribbon Chili

Last night, I’m pretty sure I made the best chili in the history of the universe. I know, I know- It’s not like chili is hard to make- throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and cook the crap out of it. And yet… the difference between a decent chili and something truly outstanding is more than a gulf. Less is more, as it so often the case- no need for fancy add-ins or strange tricks. This is simple and perfect. I’m glad I kept track of what I did for this one, because dude…aces. Plus, any excuse to bust out the enameled cast iron dutch oven. Yay! Cook. Eat. Roll eyes and enjoy.

HumbleBrag Blue Ribbon Chili

  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp powdered garlic
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 cans small red beans or pinto beans
  • 1 can dark red kidney beans
  • 1 large (28 ounces) can diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 large (28 ounces) can tomato puree

Get out yer big ol’ dutch oven. If you don’t have one, go here and get one- you’re never going to get a better price (they’re clearing out for a new design) and on top of that, it’s the America’s Test Kitchen winner for best enameled cast iron. GO!! Anyway…. get your pot on the stove.

Heat vegetable oil over medium heat, and add the onions and peppers and saute until soft and have a little color, about 8 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, paprika cayenne, and salt. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add all three garlic variations. (If you only have fresh, use six cloves, but the different types adds some nuance and depth) Cook for a few seconds until you can really smell the aroma of garlic.

Add the ground beef and turkey and turn the heat up to medium-high and cook, using a spoon to stir it all together and break up the ground meat as it cooks. Saute until meat is brown and cooked, about 10-15 minutes.  Drain the cans of beans and add, along with both cans of tomato, including the juice. Adjust heat and bring to a simmer, covered, for about an hour.

Uncover and cook for another hour, until the meat is tender and the whole pot smells mouthwateringly good. Stir occasionally and adjust salt to taste.

Serve with sharp grated cheddar and a sprig of cilantro. If you’re not me, add some Saltine crackers for a vintagey homey feel. It’s even better the next day, by the way. Enjoy!

Recipe: Take the Cannoli. Leave the Gun.

Oh yes. Yesssss, indeed. You bet your bootie they taste as good as they look! For those not in the know, a cannoli is an Italian rolled-tuile cookie filled with an amaretto-ricotta cream and tiny chocolate bits. They’re not a cake-walk to make, but they translate to gluten-free quite well at home, so it was totally worth it. If you don’t believe me, watch.

Almond Cannoli

  • For the cookies
  • 1/3 cup light Karo syrup
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, pulsed to meal in food processor
  • 2/3 cup gluten-free baking flour (or regular if you’re not allergic)
  • For the Filling
  • 16 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp amaretto or almond extract
  • 1/2 cup tiny chocolate chips
  • dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350*. To make the cookies, put the Karo syrup, butter and brown sugar in a medium sauce pan on low heat. While that is melting together, whirl the almonds and flour mixture in a food processor until the consistency of coarse cornmeal. It’s okay if there are small pieces of visible almonds. Yay for texture! Put in a mixing bowl. Pour the melted butter/sugar over the top, and mix well.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, and place five 1″ balls of dough on each. (a small dough scoop works great!)  It will run. It’s okay- it’s gonna run- hence only five cookies per sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

When you pull the cookies from the oven, they will be flat and thin- let them cool for 2 or 3 minutes, then cut the parchment paper around each cookie, and wrap the still soft and warm cookie around a dowel, wooden spoon handle, or anything cylindrical you have around- I used a paper towel tube covered in foil. The parchment will hold them in place while they cool. Once they cool, they’ll be crisp and you can slide them from the tube.

For the filling: In a mixing bowl, whip the whole milk ricotta with the confectioners sugar, salt and almond extract (amaretto would probably be better, but alas, I am fresh out). Once it’s well incorporated, add the chocolate morsels. Fill a piping bag with a wide round tip (or a zip-bag and nip the corner off) and pop it in the fridge to chill while you wait for the cookies to cool.

When ready to serve, (and do this right before you serve lest the cookies get soggy) fill each cannoli shell, first from one side out, then flip it around and fill the other side. Dust with confectioners sugar and a few extra chocolate morsels and enjoy!

I have six of these babies sitting on my kitchen counter, and I keep stabbing my hand with a fork as I reach for another one.


Recipe: Tao Tao Chicken Salad

Going to Tao Tao Restaurant was always a treat reserved for a special night with my grandma. As a child, I remember going in the back entrance and waiting while the pretty ladies in red satin dresses would seat us. I remember the rocks and plants by the back door, and the tiny Chinese sculpture in the small alcove, and the shiny enameled screens with inlays of pheasants embroidered in silk. But more than anything, I remember the first salad I ever fell in love with.

Tao Tao Tossed Chicken Salad is the single item on their menu for which they are most famous. It’s also a recipe I’ve been trying to get right at home for nearly a decade now- the entire time since moving from California. I have finally gotten it. NO JOKE. It’s a lot of work, but when you live 3000 miles from your favorite Chinese place, it’s worth it. No mandarin oranges, no ramen noodles, no mini corn, no mayonnaise- this Chicken Salad is simply perfection in a bowl.

Consider this my gift to you.

Tao Tao Chicken Salad

For the Salad:

  • 1 head finely shredded fresh iceberg lettuce
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped, no stems
  • 3-4 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 3-4 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces thin cellophane rice noodles
  • 4 chicken breast tenders, crisp-fried and chopped (recipe below)
  • Vegetable oil for frying

For the dressing- it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough. You just barely want the lettuce coated, shake the following together in a small jar or whisk in a bowl:

  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp TOASTED sesame oil (ridiculously important)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dry asian mustard

First thing I do is prep and fry the chicken and cellophane noodles. To do that, I soak the four tenders in about a cup of buttermilk for an hour. While it’s soaking, mix in a plastic bag the following: 1 cup flour, 2 tsp Morton’s Season All, 2 tsp of powdered chicken broth bouillon, 2 tsp onion powder 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning and 1 tsp fresh black pepper. Toss the chicken in the bag, shake to coat, and fry in the oil you have heated to 375 in either your fryer, or in a deep pot on the stove. Tenders cook quickly- usually 5-6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

Take your time doing this part: While the oil is still hot, break your cellophane noodles into manageable pieces. I sometimes use scissors for this, as dry, they are quite tough. Usually cellophane noodles are soaked in hot water and served soft. For this, we are going to toss them, dry from the package, in very small bunches, into hot oil. They will puff up almost immediately. Make sure you do it in small bunches, flip them, and remove them promptly. Uncooked cellophane noodles are tough and inedible, but fried, they become delicate, tender little crunchy darlings. You will have quite the pile of white crunchy noodles when you’re done. (buy them in the asian section of any market).

Now that your frying is done and the dressing is made, you can get to making the salad.

In a large bowl, toss the shredded lettuce, chopped cilantro (yes, the whole bunch), scallions, sesame seeds and cashews together. Top with the chopped cooling (but still warm) chicken and the pile of white crunchy cellophane noodles.

Drizzle the entire amount of dressing over the salad, and toss thoroughly with some tongs or with your hands. It will be very lightly dressed, but this is a good thing.

Transfer to a pretty bowl, and if you feel fancy, top with a few choice cilantro sprigs and some whole cashews. ENJOY!!


These are uncooked cellophane noodles. You will use maybe 1/2 of one bunch:

GET TOASTED sesame oil, not plain. Plain is just oil, toasted is a strongly flavored condiment: