ze best chili ever

yesterday at work we had the annual chili cookoff at the office.  like a good sport, i offered to bring some in.  however, i don’t really have a go-to-chili recipe on hand.  lucky me, my family out in california is all about a good chili competition, so i went to the experts for a little help.

my cousin ali was quick to supply a recipe that put her in first place at a local competition in southern los angeles.  well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!  i pulled up the recipe and was slightly intimidated by the required prep work and number of ingredients, but i figured if i was going to make some chili i may as well go all out for it.

to make things easy on myself, i chopped all the vegetables earlier in the week so that the actual cooking would be a quick process.  now, after having made the chili and also eaten more bowls than i care to admit, i think it goes a long way if you chop the vegetables up as tiny as you can.  i mean, i’m not sure a big ‘ole hunk of green pepper is really what you want, but if that’s how you like your chili, go for it!

also, whatever you do, do not leave out the italian sausage.  in my opinion, the sausage is what makes the chili, so please, please, make sure you have it in there.

finally, i think i could have used a bit more heat.  now, the recipe calls for four tablespoons of chili powder which, honestly, terrified me.  as such (and not wanting the chili to be inedible because it was too spicy), i used only a single tablespoon of chili powder.  however, this recipe makes so much that i think i easily could have done at least two if not three, and i am a spice wimp.

so!  the chili cooked overnight as i dreamed happy dreams, and when i awoke in the morning, my nose was warmly greeted with the delectable scent of a cozy, home-cooked meal in the crockpot.  after freshening up, i loaded up the car and headed to the office, where i counted down the minutes until noon so that i could eat.  it’s hard to not be hungry when there are crockpots full of chili in the office!

once the hour was upon us, our moderators meghan and greg explained that we could try all three and then vote for our favorite chili, for the most unique chili, and then for the hottest chili.  the votes would be cast and collected and then the winners would be decided.

my coworkers and i gabbed and relaxed between bites of chili and cheese and bread, but i was secretly (and anxiously) awaiting the results of the competition.  now, i wouldn’t say i am much of  a competitor, but i wanted to make ali proud!

so, after all bowls were emptied and the tally sheets were in, the results were……that i won the most unique chili!  people liked the seasonings and sausage (duh!) and thought the flavor profile was unexpected (in a good way).  greg won the award for the hottest chili and then our other coworker tabri won the award for the favorite chili.  i think the potatoes in tabri’s chili is what won over everyone, even i admit it!

it was such a pleasure to become part of this company tradition, and even though the chili was a bit of work, i’d say it was worth every minute spent.  this chili is hearty without being heavy and is so delicious that i had a hard time putting my spoon down.  if you’re looking for a warm meal as the winter weather sweeps in, give this recipe a try.  i bet it’d be a hard thing to be disappointed with it.

tabri, greg, & me.

tabri, greg, & me.

vegan week day 2 – nachos for everyone!

day 2 of vegan week was much like day 1 for phillip and me:  still exciting and interesting!  our breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (it’s basically the same thing as untoasted toast…right?  plus, it makes you feel like a kid again :)) and then plenty of fresh fruit throughout the day.  our lunches were leftovers of the night before with the hummus (which i’d say is actually better after sitting for a night) and the quinoa (which i loved much more when i took out the olives; just can’t get a taste for those little things quite yet).

as for dinner i wanted to spice things up a bit and make some nachos.  nomsies!  one of my friendly readers renard was quick to suggest i check out the i love vegan blog by canadian writers brittany and william.  their site is just absolutely adorable and chock-full of all sorts of good stuff.  among their entries i found a recipe for a grilled veggie taco bowl, which we easily converted into nachos.  now, i didn’t have the chance to snap a picture of this dish because it was just so dang tasty and, honestly, we were very hungry (phillip had two servings himself!).  i modified the recipe a little bit to my liking by omitting the tomato (just wasn’t feeling it tonight), going for yellow and orange peppers instead of red and green, and also by adding tofu sausage.  i can’t remember the brand (my apologies), but it came packaged like a tube of jimmy dean’s sausage might.  i should have opted for the pre-crumbled tofu sausage, which probably would have been easier to brown up in the skillet, but phillip made do by using a spatula to break that stuff up perfectly.  thanks, honey!

i definitely recommend making sure you get the taco sauce.  this stuff makes a big difference!  i prefer the chi-chi’s brand – i mean, it’s just so much fun to say!  chi-chi’s!  it really brings a good taco flavor to the dish and brings a little liquid into the equation.  without sour cream or melty cheese to douse the other ingredients (which i didn’t miss as sorely as i thought i would), you’ve got to have something like the taco sauce as a good substitute.  the brown rice was nice and chewy and the sausage was seasoned nicely.  i’d gladly make this recipe again, especially with all the grilled veggies that are just mm-mm good.

so, as i sit here consuming a few more tortilla chips before bed, i’d say phillip and i are in good shape for tomorrow.  with plenty of food in the fridge, we’re sitting pretty for day three.  also, tomorrow’s hump day, so there’s that to celebrate, too!

san francisco – day 1

folks, it’s time this hard-working lady treated herself to a few days off from work.  where to, you ask?  well, if the title of this post isn’t a hint, i’m headed to san francisco.  yep!  a four and half hour delta flight brought me to this city on the bay for a long weekend to visit my cousin brian.  i know, how exciting!  he’s been living in this fair city for a little while now, and considering i’ve never spent time here, i figured a trip westward was in order.

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do i have much planned for my days in san fran?  not much besides a wine tour on saturday.  well, i take that back.  i plan to practically eat my way through the city.  i’ve promised myself i’ll do enough walking to justify the obscene amount of calories i’ll probably be consuming.  that order shouldn’t be too tall to keep since the weather in northern california is forecasted to be pretty gorgeous during my stay.  ah, thank you, mother nature, for your kindness!

but first, where does each cross-country journey begin?  an exhilarating flight across the nation, of course!  i hustled down to the airport this afternoon with my brand spankin’ new luggage (thanks to kari for helping me pick it out at tj maxx), left it at the baggage drop, and then patiently waited my turn in the security line.  i was a bit surprised by the number of fellow travelers this time in the middle of the week.  oh well, i was in no real rush, so i shuffled along and through like a good little guest.

after hitting the ladies’ room and filling my water bottle, i leisurely strolled on over to gate a24.  the gate attendants were getting ready to board first class, so i popped a squat and waited my turn.  i am a lazy boarder, so i usually just hop on at the end.  i mean, what’s the rush to squeeze yourself into a cramped airplane seat?  i always check my luggage since it’s free, so i don’t mind the later boarding.  plus, if you stick around the gate, you can be super touristy and take pictures of relatively boring and typical scenes.

isn’t this well-framed photo of my plane and jetway super interesting?

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and how about this one of the gate and all my fellow flyers?  we’ll be best friends long before touchdown in san fran!  oh, except for this lady on the right of the picture.  i’m sure she’d kill me if she knew i’d gotten this sweet shot of her white-washed jean backside.  hehe.

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oh, and here’s my personal favorite.  isn’t this delta sign just so picturesque with the fire hose totally photo bombing the entire thing?

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you didn’t think the simple act of boarding a plan could be this interesting, did you?  ah, just you wait!  i am a woman of many talents, one of them being the gift to make normally routine and bland life events highly entertaining.  i like to think i get it from my parents.  thanks, mom!  thanks, dad!

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greensboro, nc – day 3

well, my final day in greensboro arrived early sunday morning.  i thought all the crazy fun had already passed, but what little did i know!  we had planned to go out for brunch, but seeing as how there was freezing rain steadily building up all around the house and our cars, we went nowhere fast.  good thing mary had stocked up on bread and eggs, because a homemade breakfast is just what the doctor ordered.

first things first on a lazy and relaxing sunday?  mimosas!  well, i take that back.  we didn’t have any orange juice, so we made ourselves some berry bellinis.  step one was to make a little berry puree to complement the champagne.  mary whipped out her blender and got a little raspberry-strawberry concoction going.  it’s silly how simple it was!

step two is to over pour the champagne so that it goes all over the cutting board and chopping block, wasting about a fourth of the bottle.  whatever!  we never said we were perfect, just a few friends trying to have a good time, and that isn’t too hard with champs and sweets.

i think at about eleven o’clock we finally started cooking actual food.  first up, sausages!  mary had a moment of inspiration and let me in on her sausage-cooking secret:  use a panini skillet of some kind, the ones with the ridges.  you can place those little sausage links right in between so they don’t roll all over the place.  your links will be perfectly browned and juicy, a great side to any breakfast dish.

wait, though.  what was our breakfast dish of choice that sunday?  eggs benedict!  this mary lady just does it all – homemade strawberry puree, eggs benedict.  man, was i spoiled this weekend or what?  mary got out her pioneer woman cookbook and turned to page 16 to find the eggs benedict recipe.  this particular recipe, to quote mary, is not particularly “figure friendly.”  i mean, there are two sticks of butter in the sauce alone.  good thing i’m not on a diet!  before we get there, though, let’s take a look at the adventure that was poaching the eggs.

i’m sure there’s some exact science to poaching an egg, but we kind of just went on memory and instinct for ours.  after the water came to a slight bubble, mike used a wooden spoon to get some good circulation going.  mary plopped that first egg into the water and, oh!  look at that!  that’s not what a poached egg should look like!  it looked like some weird mess caught up in an f5 tornado!

sooooooo, with that disaster, we dumped the water and started from scratch.  this time we brought the water to a very low boil, didn’t stir as quickly, and gently slipped the egg right into the water without causing too much of a commotion.  the white of the egg delicately fell in on itself, creating a little envelope for that yolk to cook perfectly.  ah, quite the success!

mary served them up on soft toast with generous spoonfuls of the hollandaise.  the sweetest breakfast ever served!  the egg was rich and helped cut out the overly sour lemon in the sauce.  now, the hollandaise calls for the juice of two lemons, but the lemons we were using were a bit larger, so i think we probably didn’t account for that.  i also thought the sauce was a touch too runny, but that’s just my opinion.  regardless, i sopped up all the yolk and sauce with my toast and didn’t leave a morsel on the plate.  a great adventure with a great result!

just when we thought all the handiwork was done for the weekend, another surprise came our way.  we couldn’t get a truck to tow the mazda to the dealership for its bum tire, so mike, the hero that he is, put the spare on my little hatchback.  you never know what life will throw at you, but when you’re given lemons, you’ve got to make lemonade!  never stop learning, folks.  never stop learning.  🙂

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we pretty much spent the entire day in the kitchen, drinking and eating our way through the afternoon.  we had a hoot of a time reliving the weekend’s already wild happenings as the radio played.  all of a sudden, “king of wishful thinking” by go west came on and mary squealed, nearly scaring mike and i off our chairs.  “i love this song!  i just cannot control my body when i hear it!”  after listening and dancing to it, we pulled up the video online.  i think we love it now even more, but i’ll let you be the judge!

aaahhh, the early evening was suddenly upon us, so mary and i switched to wine for the rest of the night.  she’s a white wine lover and i’ve come to love red.  good thing she had plenty bottles of both!

more vino!

more vino!

even though we’d had a late brunch, our stomachs were starting to growl.  well, just what would we have for dinner?  mary had started a pork tenderloin in the slow cooker that morning, so after some serious thinking, we decided pulled pork sandwiches, mac’n’cheese, and brussel sprouts would be a great idea.  am i, right?  yep!

since the pork was already cooking, the brussel sprouts were up next.  i’m warning you now.  i took many unnecessary photos of pretty much the same thing over and over again.  i mean, i had enjoyed almost that whole bottle of red by myself at that point.  give a girl a break!  😉

mary had some red onion she needed to use up, so we figured we’d throw ’em in with the sprouts.  mary armed herself with her onion glasses, looking like a regular pro.  just check out those perfectly chopped chunks!

next we got the pan sizzling and browned the bacon (because bacon makes everything better) and softened the onions.  the kitchen started to smell divine, as i am sure you can imagine.

mary gave the brussel sprouts a rough chop and tossed ’em in with the bacon and onions.  it’s such a shame brussel sprouts get such a bad rap.  they just needed to be served with fatty bacon all this time!

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here is what brussel sprouts look like after you add salt…

after salt

…and here is how they look when you throw in some pepper…

after pepper

…and then after you add garlic powder…

after garlic powder

…and then when they’re all ready!

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we finally had everything ready, so we dug in and spent the rest of the night watching old home videos that mary’s dad mark had filmed at the 1996 olympics in atlanta.  ah, we were so young!

om nom nom.

om nom nom.

eventually we rinsed our plates, filled the dishwasher, and headed to our beds.  i cannot express enough thanks to mary and mike for a fantastic weekend, and my heart swells just thinking about how much i love these dear friends of mine.  without any plans written down, we let the days take us where they would, which was, as i had hoped it would be, a lot of fun.

phyllis’ breakfast strada

a chilly saturday morning in greensboro calls for a tried-and-true family recipe.  enter phyllis’ breakfast strada.  it’s all kinds of easy to make, so here’s the recipe for your cooking pleasure.  shine on, phyllis!

ingredients

2 lbs. breakfast sausage (like jimmy dean’s), crumbled, browned, & drained

8 slices of bread, ripped up into bite-size chunks

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

4 eggs

2 1/2 cups milk

3/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1 cup cream of mushroom soup (be sure to measure it)

1/2 cup water

directions

line 9 x 13 glass pan (no metal!) with bread chunks and sausage.

mix cheese, eggs, milk, and mustard and pour over bread mixture.  to quote mary willa, “make sure you use your hands to smoosh the liquid mixture down in the bread so it gets nice and soaked.”

cover pan with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

add cream of mushroom soup to the water and mix together.  pour on top of casserole.

bake uncovered at 300 degrees fahrenheit for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  remove from oven and let stand and set for 5 minutes.

sausages with sauerkraut & potatoes

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since my tofu stir fry was a bit of a flop last week, i decided i’d go with something a little more familiar this time, something that would be more of a “sure bet” for my taste buds and preferences.  i was flipping through my notebook and came upon this slow cooker recipe for sausages, sauerkraut, and potatoes.  anything in a slow cooker is a great idea, and since it was a recipe from a torn-out page of real simple magazine, i knew it’d be a success.  as i was unlocking the door to the condo, i could smell the delicious wafts seeping through the poorly insulated frame right to my nose.  the meal is as scrumptious as it sounds and looks.  the potatoes are perfectly cooked, not overdone.  the bratwursts are almost crumbly, and the sauerkraut is to die for.  personally, i only needed a little bit of the whole grain mustard, but it does give a nice little bite to each forkful.  if you’re a german food-lover, this recipe is for you.  enjoy!

red beans and rice

after my fair share of turkey and dressing over the thanksgiving weekend, i needed a recipe that was a little different and a lot simple upon my return to atlanta.  as my mom and i were in the kitchen, i asked “mom, if i were your red beans and rice recipe, where would i be?  i think i want to make it for dinner and lunch leftovers this week.”

in classic tori fashion, she pointed to her noggin, which meant it was going to be fun listening to her dictate it to me.

“okay, wait just a second.”  i grabbed a notepad and pen from the kitchen desk, right where they’ve always been for the past nearly 20 years, and prepared myself to take note.

i present, here, tori’s secret red beans and rice recipe in all its glory!

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the measurements and preparation here made enough to feed clark and i nearly all week.  his portions tend to be a bit larger than mine, but regardless, you’ll have plenty to share, or not; it’s up to you!

ingredients

smoked sausage (i used a standard hillshire sausage, the stuff that comes in the horseshoe shape)

3 small cans of dark red kidney beans, not drained (or 1 large can, if you can find it in your local grocer)

*if you cannot find dark red kidney beans, light red kidney beans will do just fine

28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, not drained

one medium-sized yellow onion

salt & pepper

garlic

cayenne pepper

white rice (or brown rice, if you’re healthy, unlike me)

directions

cook up some rice according to the package directions, as much as you think you need.  i found that about 8 cups of cooked rice was the right ratio for the final product.

get out a big ‘ole pot and first dump in the kidney beans and tomatoes.  put the heat on medium/medium-high, depending on how quickly you need it warmed.

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slice the sausage into coins and then halve the coins so that you have quarters.  coins?  quarters?  ha, weak money humor.

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dice up that onion and then pat yourself on the back, because you’ve gotten better at dicing onions, as opposed to when you first started being an adult and half the onion went to waste because you didn’t know what to do with it.

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add everything to the mix and let it get nice and hot, and then!  almost drop your phone right in the pot because Lord knows you’re made of money and can afford a new phone at the drop of a hat, right?  heh, that’s quite a sense of humor you have, my dear!

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as you heat it up, add in salt, pepper, minced garlic, and cayenne pepper.  let the flavors simmer and meld, give it a taste, and then decide if it needs more.  i bet some tobasco sauce would be a pretty good choice, too.

scoop that rice into a bowl and plop a bunch of the red beans and sausage on top.  finally, take it into to the office and show off to your coworkers.  they’ll be jealous because this homemade meal took you all of about 20 minutes and i’ll be damned if it doesn’t look amazing!

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