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Winter means chili with lots of veggies

By Jeff Wilkin
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Much of the time, the seasons plan my weekend dinner nights.

Summer means hamburgers, potatoes and vegetables on the grill. Spring is the time for corned beef and boiled potatoes. Autumn is time for meatloaf.

Yeah, I have to start eating more salads. I’m taking the culinary pledge for 2013.

Winter is reserved for chili con carne. Give me a snowy Saturday, logs in the fireplace, a bunch of movie rentals and a Crock-Pot full of homemade chili. There’s something homey and wintery about the whole set-up.

Bachelor chili is easy to make. I start with about six or eight fresh tomatoes, and put them through a medium dice. Canned diced tomatoes — two 14-ounce cans —are an option and I’ll occasionally make that move. Good tomatoes in January can be hard to find. Fresh or canned go into the pot, sometimes with a large can of tomato sauce for company.

Vegetables first

Chopped onions, celery and green and red peppers are the next additions. I’ll chop one green pepper, one red pepper, two onions and five or six ribs of celery. A bottle of pearl onions often makes the team.

For fiber, dark red kidney beans have always been chili stars. So far this season — thanks to a sale on Progresso beans in December — I’ve been adding cans of red, black and white beans (either 14- or 19-ounce cans) to the mix. Two of my secrets are chickpeas and black olives. They are a natural for summer salads, but I’ve found they add extra taste to chili con carnes.

The beans, peas and olives go into a colander first. I douse them all under the faucet spray. They’ve been marinating in canned water, after all.

And speaking about con “carne,” I can brown ground beef and drain excess fat like any other home chef. But instead I’ve been trying my chili “con pollo,” that’s “with chicken” for you folks who have forgotten your Spanish.

It’s actually easier than using ground beef. Oscar Mayer’s “Cutting Board” line offers rotisserie-cooked chicken breast chunks and other chicken and turkey products. Perdue also has the goods, in the company’s “Short Cuts” brand of chicken breast strips.

I can usually find them on sale. I cut about a pound of the chunks and strips into bite-sized pieces and toss them into my Crock-Pot. It saves me a cooking step, and it’s a healthier way to put protein on the table.

Keeping things mild

Spices come near the end, with a liberal helping of roasted garlic and herb seasonings, ground pepper, a couple pinches of sea salt and any other bottle of spice in the house.

I’m not an advocate of spicy hot chili. While I do have a lifetime supply of Tabasco sauce in the house, I rarely use it in my winter kettles. Splashes of Worcestershire sauce and barbecue sauce are OK. My mild chili is an equal-opportunity employer when it comes to cleaning out the refrigerator.

I prepare these winter dinners during the late morning, and turn on the slow heat for six to eight hours. Half the fun of cooking with a Crock-Pot is enjoying the aroma that fills the house during the day. With plenty of stewed vegetables and chicken along for the ride, along with three kinds of beans, chick peas and black olives, this has become a pretty healthy diversion.

“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at features@dailygazette.net.

 
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