Dumb-ass Chili.

This is one of my weekly go-to meals. It comes together quickly, is perfect when you are feeling lazy, and will feed you leftovers for a day or two. It is called "dumb-ass" because it is difficult to screw up and requires almost no culinary prowess whatsoever.

Dumb-ass chili
Some olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 or 3 peeled and diced carrots (or a sweet potato is good too)
A few smashed and chopped (or pressed) cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of chili powder
1 or 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped up; or a decorticated and diced jalapeno pepper, if you have it and like the hot. I really recommend the chipotle, though; most big grocery stores have it in cans, and you can puree it and keep it in the fridge for ages, and most of all it is delicious and smoky.
A tablespoon or so of cocoa powder (or a handful of chocolate chips, per Melinda's advice)--optional, yet tasty.
Other good spices (go easy until you know what works): coriander, cumin, even a little curry powder, mustard seeds, a pinch of oregano, etc. I used about a teaspoon of cumin seeds in last night's batch and it was fantastic.
2 cans of beans, any old beans you like. Rainbow Foods, our local big chain, now has organic store-brand beans, which I'm a fan of. I used kidney beans and black beans. Look for something without salt so you can adjust to your taste.
A big can of diced tomatoes
A pack of Boca grounds, or a few handfuls of TVP, or bulgur.
A cup of frozen corn, or however much you want.
A wad of fresh spinach

Put the oil, garlic, hot pepper, and spices into a cold soup pot and heat slowly, til you start to smell the garlic and spices. Cook at medium heat for a minute or two and add the onions and carrots. Saute until the onion is wilty and translucent. Add your cocoa powder (if using) and stir. If you're using chocolate chips, throw them in at the end.

Dump in all the tomatoes, beans, and probably the equivalent of a tomato can of water. If you're using a sweet potato, this would be the time to add it. Get it all simmering, check the spices, and make any adjustments. Throw in a handful of grains, if using, and let it all cook until the vegetables are tender, or until your grains are cooked, or until it tastes done. Add Boca grounds and corn if you're using it and give it another 5 minutes or so. Last, throw in a bunch of fresh spinach, stir to wilt, and salt it up according to taste.

Serve topped with avocado slices, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese, tortilla chips, or whatever your pleasure is. It will be even better the next day.

One thing you need to know about me is that I am not a methodical cook, nor am I a particularly organized one. I'm basically just intuitive and improvisatory and that works out fine for me and the people I feed. I tend toward one-pot meals because I am not practiced at coordinating the appearance of several unrelated dishes at once, all appropriately hot and done and ready to eat. I tend to cook things that don't suffer much from my non-optimal kitchen and failure to prep.

With this dish, I didn't really have my wits about me. My evening trajectory changed radically owing to the cancellation of a rehearsal, see, which meant that I stayed at work later than planned and abandoned grocery shopping and came home to practice and had to wedge dinner in there somewhere.

Before I started practicing, I put two cups of brown rice in the rice cooker and started pressing a tub of extra-firm tofu. I love tofu and am always looking for ways to make it more acceptable to the Brit. Pressing the water out makes it easier to handle and gives it a more interesting texture. I sliced the tofu brick through the long way, put it on a tray with a cutting board and some leftovers on top to weight it, and put it in the fridge.

Then I sang for an hour. I have a recital in two weeks and haven't even seen my pianist yet and have a whole lot of Norwegian to memorize. You don't want to bother with brown rice or pressing your tofu if you're really hungry. But if you can dink around on a music or art project for awhile while your rice cooks/tofu presses, by all means do it.

If you have some dried shiitake mushrooms, it would be a good idea to rehydrate them while you are dinking around. I like to simmer them over low heat for 15 or 20 minutes. Even though I am not a big mushroom fan, I love these little buggers. They're cheap at my favorite co-op, they impart a chewy texture and distinctive flavor to all kinds of dishes, the soaking water can and should be used in whatever you're cooking, and the Brit loves them.

When you're ready to get serious, dump the water off your tofu, pat dry with a paper towel (or clean linen/cotton one), and slice into whatever configuration you enjoy. You're going to dry-fry these in a non-stick pan over medium heat. The idea here is to cook as much water as possible out of your tofu, so that it is golden on all sides. You want the heat high enough to evaporate any water you press out of it, but not so high that the tofu starts to stick. As the tofu cooks, press down on gently and frequently with your spatula, to get more of the water out. Dry-frying will take awhile, so you can start it up while you chop your veg. (If you don't have time to dry-fry, cube the tofu and toss in a non-stick pan with oil and soy sauce, heat up to medium high and just plain fry it. Mmm.)

Mince:
An inch of peeled fresh ginger
2 big cloves of garlic
Dice:
A small onion
Some bell pepper, if you have any
The peeled stalk of your broccoli
Slice:
Your broccoli into florets (I used one medium head)
Your rehydrated mushrooms, if you have any. Reserve the water. If you didn't rehydrate any mushrooms, heat some water. You need it for your peanut sauce.


I don't have a wok and I'm pretty sure that's why my stir-fries tend to get a little limp. It's okay. They taste good. Put a few tablespoons of oil (not olive) in your saute pan or wok, and add the ginger and garlic to the cold pan. Crank heat to medium, so as to avoid burning the garlic. I did this after the tofu was done, so I could use the same pan. Here is Tofu Henge:
Tofu Henge.

By this time my rice was cooked, too, and I was just la-di-da-ing around the kitchen.

Add your brocc and mushrooms to the pan and turn the heat up a bit. Cook for a few minutes and then add onions and bell pepper. If it seems like the veg is sticking or burning, it is okay to put a small amount of water in the pan, like a tablespoon or two. It will steam the veg.

Keep your eye on the veg and start multi-tasking in earnest. For the sauce:
1.5 c hot water or mushroom soaking liquid or broth
1/2 c peanut butter, the natural kind
a big plop of miso
balsamic or rice vinegar (I only had balsamic)
Sri Racha sauce, which is mandatory
1 tsp of corn starch dissolved in cold water
Some lime or orange juice
Soy sauce to taste


This sauce-making is an imprecise art. Do it in the mushroom water pan over low heat, so that the peanut butter melts properly. I just whisk everything together, tasting until I like it. Add the corn starch at the end and heat through, then decide that the sauce is too thick, and thin it by squeezing an orange into it, which is all you have on hand. Lime would probably be better.

Keep in mind that you want the sauce salty because when you add the veg, tofu, and rice, it's suddenly going to seem much less salty.

Add the tofu to the saute pan and cover the whole mess with peanut sauce. Serve over brown rice. I also had some leftover edamame, so I stirred those in too. It looked like this:
Broccoli tofu stir fry with peanut sauce.

Today has been one of those wildly productive Sundays where you get a bunch of things done that you maybe weren't planning on or expecting, necessarily. It turned out that most everything was kitchen-related and it has left me with the rosy glow of accomplishment AND a full belly.

First up, I set some pinto beans to soak for dinner and ate my standard breakfast of delicious steel-cut oats and black tea. Then I had to locate the nexus of a refrigerator stench that has been plaguing us. I traced it to some elderly refried beans, which tend to smell more like a diaper the longer they sit, and I cleaned out the entire refrigerator, including removing and scrubbing the shelves. The inside of the fridge is now so lovely and pristine that opening the door to look inside is an aesthetic experience.

Okay, maybe that's not such a good way to introduce you to my culinary prowess, but at least you now know that I am not cleaner or more efficient than you are in the kitchen, though I am working on it.

At some point midday I prepared a delicious lunch for my boyfriend (the Brit), made of the last of the artisan bread from the New French bakery, split and piled with the last of the tuna pasta sauce (a recipe for another time) and feta cheese and zapped under the broiler. I really need to start photographing these things. I also did prep chopping for tonight's soup, which you will only read about if it turns out well. I did the intermediate steps for today's batch of No-Knead Bread. And then I was hungry again and on a roll with the using up of leftovers and here is what I came up with.

Bootleg Aloo Tikki
Typically made with potatoes, onions, peas, and spices, these are delicious little Indian fritters. I had leftover mashed potatoes and like a quarter of a cauliflower head languishing in my crisper drawer, so that's what I used.

3 cups mashed potatoes
A wad of cauliflower, cleaned and diced fine
Olive oil
1 t of garam masala or curry powder
1/2 to 1 t ground coriander
1/4 t turmeric
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
red pepper flakes to taste
2 green onions, white and light green parts and any green part that looks good, chopped up
1/4 c garbanzo bean flour, or bread crumbs, or get creative
Salt to taste

Chuck the cauliflower into a bowl with water to cover and zap in the microwave for a few minutes. In the meantime, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat and add the ginger and spices. Drain the cauliflower and add to the spice mixture with a few shakes of salt, and cook down for a few minutes, until any moisture has evaporated out of the pan. Add green onions and saute for another minute. Scrape every bit of this deliciousness into your mashed potato bowl and stir well to combine.

At this point you'll need to assess whether this mixture is too wet to fry up properly (it probably is). This is when you'll either remember that you have garbanzo flour in the freezer (if you are like me) or you'll think of something else to dry out your mix and make it a bit more like dough. Arrowroot powder would work, or a little straight-up flour, or bread crumbs--I didn't have a speck of bread in the house at this point. Mix your stuff on in and form your dough into little balls.

Heat another 3 T of oil into your frying pan and press the balls into a patty shape. Fry them on both sides at medium-high heat until they are golden and crispy. Pat off the excess oil with a paper towel and don't forget to take a picture.

I'm working on that, too.