Home Made Marinara Sauce

Marinara

Since getting the new refrigerator, revamping the larder cupboard, getting the vacuum sealer and experimenting with canning, bottling and picking – we’ve been stocking up even more intensely. Well – now that we have the space, or the re-vamped space, and the technology – why not? Indeed, thanks to a fortunately-timed stop at the marked-down shelf at the local HEB a couple of weeks ago, I can report that our requirements for exotic vinegars, balsamic and otherwise, have been fulfilled for the foreseeable future. And one of our projects over last weekend was to clear out the deep-freezer in the garage. Yes, indeed – it is possible to lose track of what is on the rearmost shelves; we found a package of frozen chicken with a best if by date of 2008 on it, as well as some other stuff that was so old we didn’t even recognize it at all. Hence – our current insistence on labeling and dating items before consigning them to frozen storage.

This weekend I had a new project – that of making an enormous batch of marinara sauce. The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, has a very simple and serviceable one on her website, but I went for broke and doubled it, with an eye towards adding different things when the basic sauce is eventually used. We do have a liking for meatballs in marinara over spaghetti, a dipping sauce with calzones, as a basis for eggplant parmagiana, and sometimes in desperation, for pizza. If I make it, we will use it, one way or another.

Slosh a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a fairly large pot, and gently sauté six or seven cloves of slivered garlic and two medium—sized chopped onions. When the onions are limp and the garlic aromatic, deglaze the pan with one cup of chicken or beef broth, and simmer until the liquid reduces by half.

Pour in a whole number-10 sized can of crushed tomatoes. A number-10 sized can will contain about three quarts of tomatoes; this is why I used the big pot to cook this up in. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme and a pinch of sugar.

I left this to simmer over low heat for nearly an hour. Toward the end of that time I added half a bunch or ½ cup chopped fresh parsley and about a quarter of a cup of chopped fresh basil.

I had a number of pasta sauce jars given to me by a neighbor who thought they were the sort which could be re-used in home canning – they can’t, of course, but they were a good size, and the batch of sauce filled up four of them. I put the lids on very loosely, so that the sauce would have space to expand as it froze and not break the jars. They do sell special containers for freezer condiments, or I could have parceled it out in vacuum-seal bags, but the recycled pasta sauce jars are what I had on hand, and they didn’t need labels.

When it comes to using the sauce, it can be used plain, or punched up with the addition of half a cup of sliced mushrooms, or chopped olives, pureed roasted red pepper, or some browned Italian sausage to every two cups of sauce. And that was

Comfort Food – Part 2

Comfort Food – Part 2

It seems, we were having winter during the week, and something like spring on the weekends. It was warm enough to get out and do a little yard work and consider all those wonderful garden plans … before the relatively icy cold drove us indoors again, and to consider hearty, warming comfort food for dinner. Nope, winter is not the time for Salad Nicoise, or for gazpacho. Those are summer dishes; winter is for fortifying soups and stews, for sturdy casseroles of macaroni and cheese … and meat loaf.

The classic meatloaf that Mom used to make was based on ground beef; back in the day, ground beef was about the cheapest meat protein out there. Mom and other frugal cooks had extensive repertoires of main dishes utilizing it; no cook with any pride needed Hamburger Helper back then. The version of meat loaf that I grew up on usually only contained 50 per cent meat, though. The rest was chopped onions and celery, maybe a can of tomatoes, filled out with bread crumbs and/or oatmeal, bound together with a couple of eggs, a splash of milk, and topped with a spritz of ketchup and a slice of bacon for flavor down the middle of the loaf. There are all kinds of variations on it, depending on the state of your pocketbook and pantry – but come out pretty much tasting the same.

Not so one of my own favorite meat loaf recipes; I think I found it in one of the cooking magazines which had a feature on wild rice. I copied the most intriguing of them into my own hand-written book of recipes, and promptly forgot the name of the magazine. The original version called for ground pork, which made it altogether too fatty and rich.

Simmer ½ cup wild rice in 1 cup boiling water for 20 minutes until barely tender. Cool (the original recipe directed the cook to drain the rice – but added ¼ water or milk. Why waste the rice liquid anyway, since it has lots of flavor in it?)

Combine the cooked rice and liquid with 1 cup soft bread crumbs, two beaten eggs, ½ cup rolled oats, one medium onion chopped very fine, 1 ½ teasp dried ground sage, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese, and a pound of ground pork or turkey – or ½ pound each ground pork and ground turkey.
Form into a 7×4 inch loaf shape, and bake in a 350 degree oven until juices run clear. (About 1 ¼ hours). Serve with a sauce of 8 ounces sour cream mixed with 2 TBsp Dijon mustard. It’s great, served with mashed garlic potatoes – which are just your average mashed potatoes, only the potatoes boiled together with 2-4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped. Now – there is some comfort food for a cold winter day

Sauerkraut

Good Stuff Preserved – Sauerkraut

by Celia Hayes

I swear, I had never really eaten sauerkraut in any form when I was growing up. Why Mom never had a go at making it herself is a bit of a mystery, since the basic ingredients are cheap and plentiful, the process pretty simple and the results quite tasty. Likely this was because our own ethnic background is English and Scots-Irish, and it’s just not one of those things. Cabbage being a sturdy green vegetable and well-adapted to the frozen northern hemispheres, it’s a mainstay in peasant cooking from Germany, through Eastern Europe and Russia – and even into Korea, where they make a high-octane variety spiced with garlic and hot red peppers known as kimchi. But the ordinary sauerkraut is the simplest to make at home; basically, it’s thinly-sliced fresh cabbage and Ball pickling salt.

At some point a couple of years ago, we were buying a brand of pickles or marinated artichoke hearts at Sam’s Club which came packaged in massive glass jars, which hold 6-quarts to two gallons. I saved out two of them to store bulk foods in, although they had to go through the dishwasher several times to entirely remove the smell of pickle brine. They’re perfect for fermenting the shredded cabbage in the first step.

Trim of the outer leaves of four heads of cabbage, quarter the heads and cut out the solid core, then either thinly sliver the quarters, or cut into eights and run through a food processor fitted out with a slicing blade, or a mandolin – or even an old-fashioned sauerkraut slicer. It was customary back when to make massive quantities of kraut at a time – a friend of mine in Fredericksburg recently an old-fashioned 5-gallon crock which would ferment enough to feed a small army. I have a huge metal mixing bowl made for restaurant use, so the shreds of cabbage from four heads fill it rather nicely, but you may have to process it one or two heads at a time. Mix the shreds of cabbage with ¾ cup of pickling salt, kneading it gently, as the salt dissolves and the cabbage begins to give up liquid. Let sit for a few minutes and then pack it tightly into the jars until just to within an inch of the top. One of the cabbages I used this week was rather large – so the cabbage shreds filled both big jars and then a quart canning jar. One of the big jars also had two teaspoons of caraway seed added, for extra flavor.

There should be enough brine from the salted cabbage to cover – if not, mix 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt in hot water, allow to cool, and top the jars with the additional brine. The cabbage has to be below the level of the brine. Another recipe I saw for this recommended cutting a cabbage leaf to size, and using it as a topper, to keep the cabbage shreds underneath – or just use a smaller jar filled with weights to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover the tops of the jars with cheesecloth held on with a rubber band, and let sit and ferment in a sheltered cupboard for 3-6 weeks, removing the scum which forms every day or so. When it’s ready, either refrigerate it and eat fresh, or empty the sauerkraut into a big pan and bring to a gentle simmer – not a boil. Pack it into clean hot canning jars, leaving about half an inch of head-space, seal and process in boiling water; 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 for quarts. We have finally finished off the sauerkraut that I did last summer – so time to pickle again!

A Vegetable Medley

Vegetariana

 

by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes … which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash … I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset’s French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn’t do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it’s not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers … cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas’s Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.

 

Making Homemade Broth

Lentil and Brown Rice Compost Broth

This was one of these things that I read so long ago that I don’t remember when, or who, save that it was an interview with a rather clever and creative chef being interviewed, and just about that time I had despaired of finding any broth – canned or as a bouillon cube – at the commissary or local supermarket which wasn’t expensive, unbearably salty, or both. Now HEB, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s all offer a nice variety of flavored and low sodium broths and I have used them for some splendid soups, especially when nothing sits very well on on a fractious stomach except chicken broth with a smidgeon of rice or fideos in it … but nothing beats home-made broth made the way that I did, following the advice of the very clever and penny-pinching chef.

What he advised was to keep a special container in the freezer, and whenever you had vegetable scraps, cut ends or clean peelings, or even whole veggies past their best-by date, to throw them into the container. Onion ends, mushroom stems, ends of celery – in fact, everything but broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower scraps could be used. Omit anything spoiled, rotten or moldy, of course. If you are not a vegan, then bones and trimmings from various meats – chicken necks and ham-bones and the like – can be added as well. When the container is completely full, empty the frozen scraps into a large stockpot, and add a handful of fresh parsley (or any other fresh herbs you have available – thyme would be fantastic), and some whole peppercorns, and fill with bottled or tap-water up almost to the top of the pot. Cover the stockpot, set it on the stove over low heat, and just let it simmer for a good few days, until all the vegetables are cooked to softness and the broth itself is a rich deep brown.

And that’s it: after a couple of days, take it off the heat, let cool, and pour the broth off. I like to run it through a fine mesh strainer, and package it in 2-cup to quart quantities for the freezer out in the garage. Nothing makes a better base for soup – and one of my very favorites to use broth for is a lentil and brown rice soup, from Nava Atlas’s Vegetariana.

Combine in a large pot:
1/2 Cup dried lentils, washed and picked over
1/3-1/2 Cup brown rice
2 TBSp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSp soy sauce
2 Bay leaves
3 Cups water or vegetable broth
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Then add:
2 additional cups water or broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
Handful of finely chopped celery leaves
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with liquid, or Ro-Tel tomatoes with chili peppers.1/2 Cup tomato sauce or tomato juice
1/4 cup dry red wine or sherry
1 Teasp dried basil
1 Teasp paprika
1/2 Teasp dried marjoram
1/2 Teasp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils and rice are done. You can take the onus of being vegetarian off it by adding about half a pound of kielbasa or other smoked sausage sliced into rounds, towards the end of the cooking time, and serving it with a little grated cheddar cheese on top. I made it once with imported green lentils from France, and people almost swooned.

Mac and Cheese

Comfort Food – Mac & Cheese

by Celia Hayes

When my younger brother and sister and I were in elementary school, my father was a grad-student in hot pursuit of a doctorate in zoology, and my mother was – in the tradition of the time – a full-time stay-at-home mom. This was in the late 1950s to early 60s, and it was the commonly accepted practice. As there were three of us (later to be four) it was really the only practical option – and one of the reasons that it worked was that Mom was a fair to middling cook, very much into the traditional D-I-Y household arts (including sewing children’s’ clothes and decorating our home with cast-off and inexpensive furniture. I would hasten to add that it was usually quality stuff; ages later, when Mom and Dad were figuring out the insurance claims after the fire that burned their retirement home in 2003, it turned out that the teak Danish Modern style dining room table and chairs were worth a bomb, although Mom had originally picked them up for next to nothing. I hated that set, by the way – the edge of the chair seat hit the back of your knees like a karate chop – and bore the loss of it cheerfully.

We almost always ate family dinners around that table, when we had guests, and at holidays, since there was an insert which enlarged it substantially – but for everyday, we ate at the table in the kitchen, and when my parents moved to their retirement home, at the table in the sunroom. Then we had plain ordinary comfort food; things like meatloaf – which in my mother’s version only contained about 50 percent actual meat – and the classic stand-by of macaroni and cheese. Mom prided herself on making it from scratch, and although I have tinkered with her basic recipe over time, I still follow many of her precepts, such as undercooking the macaroni just slightly, and making the cheese béchamel sauce slightly runny, so that it all cooks together in one delicious symphony.

Drop into a generous pot of boiling water, one half-pound (8 oz) macaroni shells or elbows, or even cavatappi pasta, and cook until almost but not quite done. Drain and reserve in a covered dish which the mac and cheese will bake. Slice up a quarter to a half-pound length of kielbasa sausage and mix with the cooked pasta. Cover and set aside.

In the pot in which the pasta cooked, melt ¼ cup butter, and blend with ¼ cup flour. Add ½ teasp dry or whole-grain mustard, a dash of pepper and a dash of paprika. If feeling really adventurous, substitute a dash of cayenne pepper for the paprika. Add 2 cups milk and blend with the flour mixture. When slightly thickened, add 2-3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, or a mixture of cheddar, jack or mozzarella, and stir until cheeses are melted. Pour over the pasta/kielbasa mixture, and top with 1/4 cup additional grated cheese (of any kind – Parmesan works really well) mixed with ¼ cup dried bread crumbs and 1 tbsp. butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until bubbly, and topping is browned. My father always liked his mac and cheese with a dash of tomato ketchup. When made with kielbasa, this makes a very satisfactory main dish

Greek Easter Meal

Greek Easter

by Celia Hayes

My daughter and I lived in Greece for nearly three years, in the early 1980s. This meant that we were there for three Greek Easter celebrations, which were wholly unlike an American Easter, although there was a festive meal involved, and colored eggs.

In Greece, the great Easter feast was served on Sunday afternoon. Traditionally it calls for a whole roasted lamb as the main course – and roasted for most of the morning over a grill built outside in the garden. Even in the cities, this was carried out: the cover of one of the English-language magazines featured a line drawing on the cover one year, of a happy little knot of people on the top of a downtown tower block, roasting their lamb over a fire-pit on the roof, and dancing a traditional Greek line dance. One of the Easters we spent there it was miserable and rainy; but our neighbors were all out in the garden, huddled under tarps and umbrellas, grimly turning the lamb over the smoking fire. On another Easter we went to a joint ecumenical Protestant sunrise service, organized by the base chapel, a Scandinavian seaman’s mission and the Church of England congregation. The service itself took place on the Areopagus Hill, where Saint Paul had preached to the Athenians; and the backdrop was of the Acropolis, temple-crowned in light and glory as the sun came up.

As often as not, my daughter and I have had lamb for Easter dinner ever since, although we’ve never, ever been able to afford a whole lamb, or even a leg of one. Usually we settle for chops, served with a cheese pie and a village salad, which is a standard in Greece like breakfast tacos are in San Antonio. A Greek village salad is made of a fresh tomato or two, sliced or cut into pieces, and an equal amount of cucumber, topped with a few rings of fresh onion and green bell pepper, topped with a small slice of feta cheese (or a couple of tablespoons of feta crumbles) and a drizzle of olive oil, two or three olives, dried thyme and oregano. Cheese pie is a little more complicated to make, but nearly impossible to mess up.

Crumble ½ pound feta cheese to the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Make a béchamel sauce of ¼ c. butter, 3 Tbs. flour, and 1-cup milk, and allow to cool slightly. Mix the sauce with the crumbled cheese and add 3 eggs and ½ tsp dill. Allow half a package of filo dough to thaw thoroughly. (They package it with two individual rolls of filo.) Unroll, and cover with a slightly damp towel. Melt ½ cup butter, and use a little to grease the bottom of a small, square baking dish. Layer sheets of filo in the dish; stagger the layers, draping the half of each sheet over the side of the dish. Brush melted butter after every two layers, in the dish. When all the sheets are used, pour the cheese/béchamel sauce into the center, and begin laying the layers over the cheese mixture, buttering every two layers. Sprinkle a little water on the top of the final layer of filo, and bake in a 350 deg. oven for 45 minutes. Food of the gods – and suitable for any other time than Easter. But I can hardly wait until we have our own fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and cucumbers for salad, although I’ll probably have to g on buying feta cheese. Unless I can get a good local source for goat milk…

Excellent Wurst Meal All Prepared in One Pan

One-Pan Wurst Supper

by Celia Hayes

One of my oldest and most favorite cookbooks – and the tattered and spotted condition of my copy certainly proves the age and status – is Barbara Swain’s Cookery for 1 or 2. I may have bought it before I moved out of the women’s barracks as a young Air Force sergeant. I was always cooking my own meals then, since the hours I worked were not compatible with the dining hall, and the barracks did have a primitive but functional kitchen. I definitely possessed this copy by the time I settled into a teeny studio apartment, as I clearly recall cooking many of the entrees and brunch dishes on the propane gas stove there. The marvelous thing about this particular cookbook is that every recipe in it was scaled for exactly one or two servings. The pound-cake recipe made a tiny 3 x 7 inch loaf of butter cake; the carrot cake recipe made exactly half a dozen cupcakes. Everything was perfectly scaled, simply prepared and made from fresh ingredients … and I am fairly sure that when I bought my now-battered copy, it was one of just a few ‘cooking for one or two’ cookbooks on the market. Now it looks as if it is out of print, although Amazon lists a number of used copies available.

Since we been getting involved in so many ethnic German activities throughout the Texas Hill Country, we have begun to have a deep appreciation for excellent sausages, like those from Granzin’s Meat Market in Gruene… and for the many delightful ways to cook cabbage. My English Granny Dodie prepared it by lightly steaming chopped cabbage until it was just barely cooked, then tossing it with melted butter, cracked pepper and bits of crumbled bacon. I don’t know from here she picked up this delicious heresy; the traditional English way of cooking cabbage is to boil it to death for many hours.

But the traditional German way is to make sauerkraut out of it; basically, salted and pickled – the way to make a green vegetable last through the dark months of a northern winter – and so I have come to explore the many faces of red and green cabbage. In Cookery for 1 of 2 there is one recipe for a one-pan wurst and sauerkraut dinner, which I adapted a little, by adding two quartered red potatoes, which essentially cooks your complete dinner in a single covered pan.

Heat 1 Tbsp oil, bacon drippings, or render one thin slice of salt-pork cut in small dice, in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot (or the salt-pork rendered) add ¼ cup minced onion and sauté until tender. Add 1 8-oz. can or 1 cup of well-drained sauerkraut, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/3 cup of dry white wine, beer, water – or (my addition) homemade chicken or vegetable broth, 1/8 teaspoon salt, ¼ caraway seeds and a twist of fresh-ground black pepper. The original recipe says to cover and simmer for half an hour, then add 4 wieners or 2 knackwursts and simmer for another fifteen minutes. For my version, I add two or four smoked brats – it depends on the size of the brats and if they have been frozen – and two red potatoes, cut in quarters, cover and simmer the whole shebang for half and hour to forty minutes. The potatoes should be done, the sausages cooked through and the broth reduced and absorbed into the vegetables. Serve with a bit of whole-grain mustard on the side, and a salad of fresh garden greens. Total Teutonic bliss achieved … and only one cooking pot to wash.

Yep, it doesn’t get much better than this, in my San Antonio home. Until I start to make home-made sauerkraut…

Master Wellness volunteer training for Bexar County

Texas AgriLife Extension Service offers Wellness Training

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County will present its 2012 Master Wellness program volunteer training March 8-April 19 in Suite 208 of its San Antonio offices in the Conroy Square business complex, 3355 Cherry Ridge Dr.

Training will be 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on March 8, March 15, April 5 and April 19. The deadline for registration is March 2.

“Participants in Master Wellness program training receive 40 hours of health and wellness education,” said Dr. Connie Sheppard, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences and Bexar County training coordinator. “Once they graduate, they’re required to give at least 40 hours of volunteer service back to the community.”

Sheppard said the training focuses on basic nutrition and dietary guidelines, food safety, health education, weight management, health and nutrition trends, food preparation, healthy lifestyle choices and children’s health. Instruction is provided by experts from AgriLife Extension, an educational outreach agency of the Texas A&M University System.

“This program provides training for volunteers who will go out in the community to give Bexar County residents objective, science-based information needed to make healthy lifestyle choices,” Sheppard said. “Volunteers are critical to helping us deliver our wellness programming to the community.”

She said some of the reasons people become Master Wellness volunteers include a desire to give back to the community, learn more about nutrition and wellness, and live a healthier lifestyle.

Sheppard noted that while health and wellness professionals are among the county’s current Master Wellness volunteers, the training is open to adults of all professional and non-professional backgrounds.

“Our volunteers also include social workers, homemakers, civic leaders, human resource managers, students and retired people,” Sheppard said. “All volunteers need is the desire to learn about health and wellness, and the ability to share with others in the community what they have learned.”

Master Wellness volunteers provide instruction to adults and youth in small group settings, such as community centers, service or volunteer organization locations, schools, churches and businesses.

The cost is $50, and participants receive a binder with copies of all training presentations, as well as healthy recipes to share with their community.

For more information, go to http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu/ or contact Sheppard at 210-467-6575 or [email protected].

 

Chili and Cornbread Recipes for Texas

Cold-Weather Supper – Chili and Cornbread

On those few days in South Texas when the weather is cold, dank and rainy, our thoughts for what to have for supper turn to something solid and warming: chili, which goes with cornbread like chocolate and peanut butter, like popcorn with the movies, and like salsa and corn chips. Over the years, we’ve experimented with various chili recipes – there was one from the Sunset Favorite Recipe books which called for angostura bitters and beer, another rather good but strictly vegetarian one which featured kidney beans, fresh corn and zucchini squash – but the absolute best chili recipe we have discovered was taken from Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman, which was showcased on the Food Network a few weeks ago, and which we experimented with by adding some of the alternate ingredients. It makes a good, meaty and flavorful chili, without much fuss.

Basic Winter Evening Chili

Brown in a large skillet or Dutch oven: 1-2 lbs ground lean beef and 2 cloves chopped garlic. When the meat is done, drain off any excess fat, and add: 1 tsp dried or ground oregano, 1 Tbsp ground cumin, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, and 1-2 Tbsp chili powder, and an 8 or 14 oz can tomato sauce. Stir together, cover the pot and simmer for an hour or so. If the mixture gets too dry, add ½ cup water – but we used beer instead. While the meat mixture summers, mix in a separate bowl ¼ cup masa (corn flour) with ½ cup water. At the end of the hour, add the masa/water mixture to the chili, along with two cans drained red kidney beans, and a medium-sized can of Rotel diced tomatoes and chilies. Simmer together for ten or fifteen minutes, and serve with grated cheddar cheese and chopped green onions and cornmeal muffins on the side.

Cornmeal Muffins

This recipe comes from my ever-faithful Joy of Cooking 1975 edition, and we used real butter and Lamb’s Stone Ground Yellow Cornmeal, (which is manufactured locally, just up the road in Converse) and baked it in a cast-iron muffin pan.

Pre-heat oven to 425, and lightly brush muffin pan surfaces with oil or melted butter. Put pan into the oven to heat also.

Combine together: 1 cup all-purpose flour, ½ tsp baking soda, 1 ½ baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 1 Tbsp sugar. Yes, I know that hard-core Southerners consider sugar in cornbread to be an apostasy

In another small bowl or glass measuring cup: 1 ½ cups buttermilk or ¾ each cup water and yoghurt, 1 egg, and 3-4 Tbsp melted butter. Combine, and pour into pre-heated, sizzling-hot pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Made with Lamb’s Cornmeal, the muffins came out with a crispy crust and a very tender center, and hardly needed anything else spread on them. The only cornmeal that made better was some stuff that I bought at Wimberley Market Days from a vendor who had a little portable grist-mill and ground corn and wheat flour on the spot – but hasn’t been seen there for a year or so. HEB stores have Lamb’s Corn Meal now; it costs a bit more than the usual, but it’s worth it. Bon Appetite!