Chili my way

We broke a record low overnight last night in Hampton Roads – 58 degrees. That is COLD for August in southeastern Virginia and when I woke up this morning and stepped out on the back porch, the instant the sub-60 degree temperate hit me, I knew we had to have chili for dinner. Does anyone else have these instantaneous food triggers? Jeremy will vouch for the fact that I CANNOT listen to mariachi music without immediately needing a taco. Like, if I hear it on TV or out in public I will literally stick my fingers in my ears and go “lalalalalala” if I think there’s any chance I can’t immediately acquire a taco. This is how I am with chili. I can go months and months without thinking about it and then a cool breeze will come out of somewhere or maybe someone is burning yard debris or ANYTHING that seems like fall and I cannot rest until there is chili.

As we all know there are about a billion ways to make and eat chili and everyone from every part of the country will swear that their way is the right/legitimate/original/best way to make it. Fine, sure. It is. But the truth is, MY WAY IS THE BEST WAY SO SHUT UP.

Rachel’s Chili

(eat it or get out)

chili bowl - rlb

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of ground turkey
  • olive oil
  • one onion
  • two cloves of garlic, minced
  • one 15oz can of kidney beans, drained
  • one 15 oz can of chili beans, drained
  • one 14 oz can of tomato sauce (or home made)
  • one 14oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • one can of beer (minus two swigs for yourself)(actually, take three swigs)(just put in whatever is left)
  • 1/8 cup of chili powder
  • 1/2 tbs cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne or hot sauce or more if you like it spicy

Optional Toppings:

  • diced onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • shredded cheese
  • lime wedges
  • sour cream or plan Greek yogurt
  • avocado slices
  • crushed tortilla chips
  • crushed saltines

Method:

  1. In a large skillet heat the oil, sautee the onion and the garlic until soft
  2. Add the turkey and cook until browned. Drain any excess fat.
  3. Put the turkey mixture and remaining ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours OR put all ingredients into a Dutch oven and cook over low heat on the stovetop for 3 hours.

I prefer using a slow cooker with chili because chili is just one of those things that gets better the longer it sits. I would even recommend making this the day before you’re going to serve it (The Saturday before game day, maybe?) but for me it’s too hard to make it and not eat it the same day, but do whatever your internal fortitude allows you to do. You can see by my beer recommendations, that mine is incredibly low.

chili toppings

And of course there are the chili toppings! I like to lay them all out and let everyone decide what they want. My must haves are plain Greek yogurt and shredded cheese with a squeeze of lime. This is the one part I’ll let you decide for yourself what is best.

 

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Virginia is for Wine Lovers

Let me just say here that although I grew up in North Carolina, and will always consider it home, I have been a legal resident and part-time physical resident of Virginia since I was 15, and a full-time resident since I was 18, and I will admit that I love this “Commonwealth” (it’s not a state, they are real picky about that  . . . ). And Virginia’s wine growing region is not the least of the reasons why.

I should also mention that I love wine. A lot. Like, almost as much, and on some days more than food. Jeremy and I have been visiting Virginia wineries for the past five years or so, and this past year we took our dream trip to Napa Valley. We are winos, plain and simple.

Finally, I should mention that October is Virginia Wine Month which is really fortunate, because as the saying goes – grapes don’t grow in ugly places. And Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in October is the opposite of ugly. So we took advantage of several situations this past weekend: the peak of the fall foliage season in Shenandoah, the fact that my cousin and her husband just moved to Staunton, VA, and Virginia Wine Month = wine-tasting weekend!!

Virginia wine is pretty amazing, and I can say this even more confidently now, having been to Napa and having tasted some of the best wine the USA makes (I’ll post about that trip later, but I’ll just note here that we tasted and toured Opus One in Napa, which might be one of, if not the, most exclusive wine in the region and while MOST impressive, it still does not outshine the beauty, character and body of Virginia Vino). I fully believe that in the next 10-20 years, Shenandoah Valley will be the East Coast equivalent of Napa Valley. According to VirginiaWine.org “By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, 107. At 192 wineries and counting today, only California, New York, Oregon and Washington have more wineries than Virginia. The persistence of generations of winemakers is paying off. And the vision of one of Virginia’s most renowned native sons, Thomas Jefferson, is now coming true.”

I could write, and several people have, a book about the influence Thomas Jefferson had on Virginia’s agricultural economy, and specifically wine growing, but we won’t get in to that here. The bottom line is, it’s a historical industry that is finally getting its due, and will continue to flourish in years to come as the wines become more well known and the industry continues to improve.

Here was our wine itinerary for the weekend:

Stop 1: Barren Ridge Vineyards

This very small, but well designed winery with amazing views was a great way to start the day. More low-key than some other wineries we visited, we did not feel rushed and tasted several great wines, the highlight of which was their Traminette and Vidal Blanc. Then we took some cheesy pictures:

We were going for a “Saved by the Bell” pose here.

Stop 2: Afton Mountain Vineyards

Afton has a great selection of wines and offers a classic and reserve tasting. I splurged for the reserve tasting (seriously it’s only $3 more, so just do it), and was really impressed with their reds, particularly their Festa di Bacco, a Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and their Cabernet Franc, which is a grape that grows particularly well in Virginia – you’ll find a bottle of this at almost every winery in the state. Jeremy, Sara and Bryan (my cousin and her husband) did the classic tasting and all agreed the Riesling, which was semi-dry and not too sweet (less than 2% residual sugar – a number very important to those of us who detest wines that taste like grape flavored corn syrup) was a winner. So we shared a glass of the Riesling on their beautiful patio. Did I mention the weather was perfect? It was perfect.

It was impossible not to take advantage of this photo opp.

Stop 3: Veritas Vineyard & Winery

Veritas blew us all away. It was shocking to me and Jeremy because it was busier and crazier than anything we’d seen in Napa. The inside of the farmhouse style building was decorated beautifully, tastings are done in groups throughout the house – either at the bar, or in big, overstuffed leather couches, and they have a fantastic yard with a beautiful view where you can picnic or just hang out or nosh on a house cheese tray like we did. There was a line out the door to taste that never disappeared while we were there – although people were being moved through and seated pretty quickly. Far and away the star of the show here is their Saddleback Chardonnay (2011). This is an “old-world” style Chardonnay that starts in stainless steel and is matured in neutral French oak barrels for 4 months. The results is a smooth wine that is not “oakey” or buttery the way many barrel fermented Chards are. It’s light and smooth but still has a lot of body. We bought a bottle, grabbed a cheese tray and set up camp for a while. And wouldn’t you know it, I found the only pug visiting wineries that day in Shenandoah?

Their decor was pretty awesome. Also, I have enough wine corks to do this in my own house.

I found the pug!

I never miss an opportunity for pug play.

It’s just too pretty everywhere up there.

 

Stop 4: Pollak Vineyards

Our intention had been to stop after Veritas, but at the tasting bar a gentlemen informed Sara that Pollak was very close and a must-taste, so we hit the road again and headed to this fairly new, but well done vineyard that grows enough grapes that they actually sell some of their crop to other local wineries. The owners here originally owned a winery in California’s Carneros region of Napa Valley. The tasting bar was PACKED, so this man must have been really spreading the word, but we waited patiently for our taste, and decided to spend some time on the property here as well, so we all headed outside with a bottle of their Pinot Gris and a glass (for me) of their Cabernet Sauvignon (a hard wine to make in VA, but this one was worthy). Sara took a pretty awesome panoramic picture of the winery and our table, and then we took some photo opps down by their little pond . . . at this point we may have tasted a bit too much wine to be standing that close to a body of water, but we took our chances.

packed!

A pretty sweet panoramic. Thanks, iPhone.

You are seeing bad decisions in action.

Best to make bad decisions with people you love.

Or stay a safe distance. Probably better.

I took a much more hysterical picture of these two, but Sara is insistent that it is not flattering. Pish posh.

 

The whole day was awesome and I remain amazed and impressed with the wine grown in my “commonwealth” and as much as I love Napa, this is MY wine growing region, and I will continue to support it, no matter what month it is.

Have you been to a Virginia Winery or tasted a Virginia Wine? If you live outside of Virginia – have you tasted any wines produced in your state? What did you think?

How do you like them apples?

Apples are the iconic suggestion of autumn, there is no doubt. On a teacher’s desk on the first day of school, in an orchard, just waiting to be picked while leaves wisp around in the background, or baked into a warm brownie, topped with ice cream and homemade caramel…yeah, they’re pretty good.

As I’ve said 6,903 times, I hate to bake. But recently, my sister and her boyfriend Bryan (with a Y!) got engaged (!!), and so to celebrate, I invited them over for dinner, and of course – dessert. There is one thing in the world that will get me in the kitchen baking, and that is celebration. Cakes, brownies, pies – they all seem celebratory. Certainly nothing I would eat on an average Wednesday, anyways.

A quick trip to the farmers market yesterday morning left me with three pounds of apples, and a few ideas. But first off, let’s talk about this:

Eastern Apples: crispier, juicier, tastier

I mean, I love a local apple as much as the next Virginian, but dagg on, if this bag isn’t just trying to slap Washington in the face . . .

Anyways, I had been reading my November issue of Martha Stewart Living that morning, and had noticed in the back, without much regale, a little recipe for apple brownies. And brownies are like baking for idiots. Perfect. I had everything I needed on hand, now that I had apple poundage, so I got started. Here’s the recipe, taken directly and without edit, from the MSL website.

Apple Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 stick salted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for dish
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 large firm-sweet apples (about 1 pound total), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (2 3/4 cups)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center position. Generously butter an 8-by-11-inch baking dish.
  2. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and egg with a mixer until pale, about 2 minutes. Add walnuts and apples, and stir by hand until combined. Add flour mixture, and stir until combined, about 30 seconds more.
  3. Spread batter in pan, and bake until golden brown and slightly firm, about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 30 minutes, then cut into 12 bars.

Cook’s Note

Bars can be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.

I used one Gala apple and one Johnagold, just to mix it up. I also used half stevia and half raw, organic sugar to reduce some calories, as if it mattered at that point. And if you’re not into eating brownies (because you’re an inhuman, soul-less, communist serial killer? I mean, really, who doesn’t like brownies?) then make this recipe purely for the way it makes your house smell for several hours.

You have to wait until they cool to cut them up. You can do it.

I served them with homemade caramel sauce (also super easy to make), and vanilla ice cream, or frozen yogurt – we’re not sure. The labeling on the carton was very confusing. I also whipped up some spiked hot apple ciders with a splash of the caramel sauce to go with the brownies. Home run.

The one thing I will note, if you make this recipe, the batter looks like nothing but apples, and if you’re a baking amateur, like me, then you may freak out that they are going to be no brownie and all apple, but somehow it works itself out.

How DO you like them apples??

What are your favorite fall-inspired apple recipes? Do you go apple picking? What’s your favorite kind of apple (mine’s the sun!)?