A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Teresa's Best Chili-From-A-Can

I'm here to report back on tonight's bean-featuring dish. I wanted to post this recipe even though it differs only marginally from some of my past chili attempts, because for whatever reason, this turned out to be the best chili I've ever made (possibly excepting my lentil chili, which has such a different flavor that it really can't be compared). I'd like to think that the improvement was due to my innovative use of beef broth, but I suspect that using a pre-packaged chili mix for seasonings had more to do with it. Guess I'll have to eat my words about the uselessness of such things.

1 lb. ground beef
1 very small onion, or about 1/4 to 1/3 very large onion, diced (sorry, I'm bad at estimating amounts of onion!)
2 cans diced tomatoes or petite diced tomatoes
1 can chili beans
1 can other beans of your choice (I used black-eyed peas, but any beans of a contrasting color would work)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 can beef broth
1 can no-salt-added sweet corn
1 packet of mild chili flavorings
1- 2 tablespoons sliced jalapenos (sure, take 'em from a jar if you want. This is chili-from-a can, after all)
dash of salt, if desired
additional liquid, if desired

1. Spray the liner of a large crockpot with cooking spray of choice.
2. Place the onion and ground beef in a skillet and brown, turning frequently. While the beef is browning, do step 3.
3. Pour the canned beans into a colander and rinse to get rid of that nasty bean sludge. Pour beans into slow cooker.
4. When the beef is browned, pour it into the colander and rinse to get rid of fat. Or, if you think that's weird, use your preferred method of removing excess fat.
5. Add all the other ingredients, except salt (see below). Use your judgment about the amount of liquid: between the beef broth and the canned veggies, the chili may be "soupy" enough. I added a small amount of water just to be safe.
6. Stir ingredients thoroughly. Cover and cook on high for 3 1/2- 4 1/2 hours, depending on your slow cooker. You may want to wait till the end to decide whether it needs salt. I added just a quick sprinkle of it at the end of cooking.

Serving suggestions
To eat this chili the Teresa way, add table cream, strips of velveeta (yeah, I know, it's yucky, but when there's eight inches of snow outside, you make do with what's in the house), and crumpled up tortilla chips. To eat the chili the Leopold Tulip way, skip the velveeta but add hearty spoonfuls of salsa verde in addition to corn chips and table cream. Either way, serve Texas toast on the side.

This is a moderately hot chili, by my standards. (Yes, the chili packet I used was a mild one, but the addition of jalapenos ups the ante.) If you know that all consumers of your chili prefer a spicy chili, go ahead and by a hotter seasoning packet, or add more jalapenos. My own preference is to go for a mild chili and add abundant garnishes, such as hot sauce, or, in this case, the salsa verde.

Beans, Beans, Beans

I've been making a lot of bean dishes in my slow cooker lately. And when I say "a lot," I mean a LOT. As in, "lotsa beans, lotsa beans, lotsa beans." As in, the freezer is full of frozen bean soup of various kinds, and has been for weeks. As in, my husband is going to freak when he wakes up from his peaceful Sunday nap and discovers that there's ANOTHER huge pot of beans bubbling away- a pot so large we can never hope to finish it in one meal, which will mean storing more food in the already-full freezer. (I'm sorry, dear!)

Today's dish is chili, and I have an excuse for making it. I was initially going to make a chili cheese burrito for myself during lunch, using some slices of velveeta and a can of "Mexican style" chili beans. (Yes, you and I know that chili is really an American food. Apparently the people who label the beans don't know.) Then at some point it occurred to me that rather than hoard all the chili-cheesy goodness to myself, I could make chili cheese burritos for supper. It was a happy thought, given that I previously had had no clue what to make. So I thawed some hamburger and started gathering ingredients, and at some point I started noticing that we had all the ingredients necessary for a full pot of chili. Heck, we even had a packet of chili seasonings, which I don't even normally use. (I can make my own mix of cumin, cayenne, and/or chili powder, thank you very much.)

I suppose I could have resisted, but why? There's practically a blizzard outside. We'll be snowed in for the whole evening. (It's not as if we had anywhere to go, but that's beside the point.) What better way to mock the bitter cold outside than by eating a nice hot bowl of burn-your-tongue chili? What better way to use up that can of tomato paste that's probably been there for months? How better to start making inroads in the collection of various brands of canned corn? What was I saving that chili packet for, anyway? The very fact that I can't remember surely indicates that it's long past time to use it for something else. So, I comfort myself with the fact that I've done my part in emptying the pantry, if not the freezer.

While the chili cooks, I thought I'd mention some of the reasons for my new-found love of beans. You see, I didn't always like beans. A year or two ago, if you had asked me what I thought about beans, I would have said that I didn't like them. I objected to their mushy texture. I objected to their flavorless taste. And I certainly didn't know any good ways of preparing them. All that has changed, in part because I've learned to appreciate the following things about beans.

1) They're cheap. Really cheap. You can get bags of dry beans for, what, 50 cents? And a single bag of beans makes about a million servings.

2) They can help you use up leftovers. Take some beans, add left-over ham, chop up an onion, add seasonings, and voila- soup!

3) Many bean dishes freeze well. (How fortunate it is that chili is among that number!) In our case this means that, since most bean-soup recipes make far too much food for two people, a single pot can provide two or three meals for the future. Let tell you, it's nice having frozen homemade meals to fall back on. All you have to do is thaw the beans, heat 'em in a pot, and heat up some bread or cornbread. Hey presto- a nearly instant meal that will probably taste better than something from a can. (I say probably because these bean soups don't always turn out QUITE as I plan.)

4) Beans are pretty healthy for you. A person of my age and exercise level is supposed to try to eat 3 cups of beans a week, according to the USDA food pyramid. And the nice thing about beans is that they can count as either a "meat" substitute or a vegetable. Either way, they're good for you. This was actually the single biggest factor in my starting to eat beans, believe it or not. I don't normally go to great lengths --or indeed, any lengths--to eat a balanced diet, but when confronted by the food pyramid, I couldn't help but notice that we were eating far less than three cups of beans a week. So I opened the door to a previous legume-non-grata, and look how far I've come!

5) Did I mention how cheap they are? It's not that we're poor; it's just that saving money in one section of the grocery store means more money for the not-so-cheap things like lamb and gourmet pesto. (Not that I would necessarily combine the two. Though I might.)

6) Dry beans store well. Buy 'em in a bag, sling 'em in the back of the cupboard, and forget about them until they're needed. No need to worry about using them up quickly after purchase. Cookbooks recommend tossing them after two years- which is a pretty impressive lifespan, in my opinion.

7) I'm sure there's another reason, but I can't think of it. Anyway, who needs a reason? If for no other reason, I eat beans because they're there. Somehow, we always seem to have beans on hand for a nice chili of one kind or another. And in my newly bean-enlightened state, that's the way I like it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Secret Librarian Conspiracy Revealed!

If you've ever used a university library, you're probably familiar with the Library of Congress classification system. It's not like the friendly Dewey decimal system with which you became familiar in elementary school. Oh, no. It's quite different. For one thing, it uses letters to organize subject. You might think that these letters were abbreviations related to the content of the books in question, but if so, you'd be wrong. I'm afraid it's just not that simple. You won't find books on China under "C" or "Ch." or even "Chi." They'd be under some other category altogether, one randomly assigned.

Or is it random? Is there some deviant, atheistic mastermind secretly behind the system? Surely there must be, because why else would Bible commentaries be categorized under the initials BS ? (I'm using white lettering so that they won't know that I'm on to them!)
Think about it!

Monday, January 08, 2007

I Am Latin, Hear Me Roar!

Note: I don't actually know Latin, I am Latin. (Mulder would be so proud!)

What obsolete skill are you?

You are 'Latin'. Even among obsolete skills, the tongue of the ancient Romans is a real anachronism. With its profusion of different cases and conjugations, Latin is more than a language; it is a whole different way of thinking about things.You are very classy, meaning that you value the classics. You value old things, good things which have stood the test of time. You value things which have been proven worthy and valuable, even if no one else these days sees them that way. Your life is touched by a certain 'pietas', or piety; perhaps you are even a Stoic. Nonetheless, you have a certain fascination with the grotesque and the profane. Also, the modern world rejects you like a bad transplant. Your problem is that Latin has been obsolete for a long time.
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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Now Taking Bets. . .

. . . as to how long I'll manage to keep up this year's Bible reading program. In the past, I've sometimes read through the Bible in a year, using either an out-of-print Tyndale House NRSV or this Bible. The latter Bible, published by Our Sunday Visitor, seemed ideal until it fell apart. Alas, I had to round file it. (This made a convenient excuse for never having finished it.)

This year I'm not doing a "Bible in a year" program. Instead, I subscribed to the Fellowship of St. James' Daily Devotional Guide. This is, intriguingly, not a book but a little journal which contains prayers, commentary, and a list of scriptures to read for given days. (You have to supply your own Bible!) As one might expect from the publishers of Touchstone, the guide follows the liturgical year, the selected readings being loosely based on the lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer. What makes it unique is that the Collect for each week is drawn from a wide range of liturgical traditions.

My first impressions about the Daily Devotional Guide are as follows:

1) That's a lot of Bible! The guide is advertised as a being a manageable two year program, but if you read the fine print, you'll discover that in the course of two years, you'll actually have read the New Testament twice.

2) That's a lot of Psalms! The guide is designed for morning and evening prayer, which means there are morning and evening psalms assigned for each day. You might think that this means that you read two psalms a day. And sometimes, it does mean that. But smaller psalms are assigned in groups of two or three, which means that on some days you could end up reading four or five psalms.

3) Reading the KJV out loud is HARD! Technically, this is not the fault of the Fellowship of St. James. As I mentioned above, you have to supply your own Bible. It just happened that the only small, conveniently-bound travel Bible I have is a King James Bible. So that's what we started with when we started reading the Bible on January 1st, and for some reason, we've kept doing it. (Perhaps because this particular Bible is a good size for leaving at a bedside.) And here's the curious thing: I'm pretty sure I've read most of the KJV in the past. I thought I was familiar with the style. Yet, somehow, I had no idea just how weird the language was until I began to read it out loud. Sentences that would make sense when read silently are revealed in their full syntactical strangeness when one has to pronounce them. Try it for yourself sometime.

4) One year or two, it's still hard to remember to make time for daily devotions. It helps that LeopoldTulip is doing the reading with me, so that there's a double chance that one of us will remember and say "Hey, we need to read the Bible!" Still, it's the sort of task that gets put off until we're ready for bed and exhausted. (Could that be the real reason why I have so much trouble reading the day's text correctly?) I predict that our perfect track record will be spotted with missed days by, say, February. Let's start the pool now!