Loaded Chili.

Garnishes. Goodies. Fixins’. At least half the reason I love chili is the toppings you get to put on it. Oh, my, the toppings. This recipe is about making an amazing chili that will eventually become an Ode to Toppings, and I want you to use them all: avocado, cheese, cilantro, tomato—whatever your heart desires. And you know what? You are a great cook and a wonderful person, and you deserve a beautiful meal. So thank yourself for making this by plating it up like a work of art and garnishing the heck out of it. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks is the master at this. Here are some of her most gorgeously garnished soups: Split Pea, Broccoli Cheddar, Yellow Split Pea, and Posole in broth. Let life imitate art and load up this chili!

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INGREDIENTS

for the chili:
olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb ground meat (I used pork)
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups stock (I used beef stock)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 16oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz can corn, drained and rinsed

all the fixins’:
avocado, sliced
fresh cilantro, chopped
cheese, shredded
fresh tomato, chopped
onion or green onion, thinly sliced or minced
squeeze of lime

Just the Recipe link: Loaded Chili

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil in a pan and add onion and red pepper. Cook about 8 minutes, until softened.

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Add the garlic and the cayenne pepper, oregano, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook 1-2 minutes, until fragrant and yummy-smelling.

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Add the ground pork and use your spoon to break it up. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally.

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Once the meat is browned, pour in the canned tomatoes and the stock. Toss in a bay leaf for good measure. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes.

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After 45 minutes have gone by, add the cilantro, corn, and beans, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

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Taste for seasoning and your chili is good to go! Now dress it up. And make it look beautiful, for heaven’s sake! You’re worth it.

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Bean and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas.

If I ever had to sit down and make a master list of favorite foods, quesadillas would definitely make the top ten, if not the top 5. I just love how versatile they are – any kind of meat, any and all kinds of veggies, and of course, beautiful wonderful cheese. While a good quesadilla can be made with any number of cheeses, my money is on chihuahua cheese for spot numero uno. It’s perfectly melty, and its flavor isn’t overpowering but instead makes an awesome background flavor to whatever the “meat” of the quesadilla is. I say “meat” with quotes around it because this recipe actually doesn’t have any meat in it! Instead, it has flavor-packed sweet caramelized onions and pinto beans, with just a bit of cilantro. So simple, but so good. And some avocado on the side, to do what it does best: make everything better.

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INGREDIENTS

1/2 white onion, sliced thin
olive oil
butter
salt
tortillas (I use flour, but use corn or other gluten-free tortillas if you like)
chihuahua cheese, grated (this is my favorite, but any good melting cheese will work)
1/2 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
cilantro, chopped
sliced avocado

Just the Recipe link: Bean and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas

DIRECTIONS

First, heat a drizzle of olive oil and a pat of butter over high heat. Add the sliced onions and a bit of salt to help them release some moisture, and stir to coat.

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Once they’ve started to soften, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes. You can let them caramelize as log as you like – anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour.

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Once the onions are done to your liking, start assembling the quesadillas. I like to make my quesadillas with one tortilla folded in half, rather than with two tortillas one on top of the other. So I fill just half – first a layer of cheese, and then the onions.

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Next come the beans, and a sprinkle of cilantro. I only had dried so you can barely see it –  but it’s there!

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Now fold the tortillas over so that they form a little envelope, and cook them in a hot pan or quesadilla maker, if you’re lucky enough to have one of these awesome machines. When one side is browned, turn them over and brown the other side. You want the fillings hot and the cheese good and melty.

When they’re done, that’s it! Enjoy with avocado, sour cream, salsa – whatever you like.

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I wish I hadn’t eaten these earlier, so I could eat them right now.

Summer Carrot Salad.

While wandering around the farmers market on Saturday morning, I encountered a little boy standing in front of a big pile of purple carrots. He was trying so hard to make sense of these strangely-colored vegetables, and both his mother and the man behind the table were indulging his curious questions. I love to see little ones engaged in farmers market culture, so I decided to play along, too. “I think I have to get some of those,” I said to the boy. “Would you pick me out a nice bunch?” He looked back at me with wide eyes and then started to dig through the purple carrots, handing me a bunch that he seemed to have chosen for no reason in particular. I thanked him, smiled at his mother, paid the $3, and went home to make this salad for my family. Goes great with flank steak. A good day.

INGREDIENTS

1 small onion, diced
2 bunches orange carrots, grated to thin, long strips
1 bunch purple carrots, grated to thin, long strips
2 cloves garlic, minced almost to a paste
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for sauteing the onions
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
parsley for garnish
handful of raw almonds, crushed with the back of a knife

DIRECTIONS

Heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat and add onions and a pinch of salt. Saute until soft and translucent. Set aside to cool.

Combine garlic, the rest of the olive oil, vinegar, cayenne pepper, coriander, sugar, and salt and pepper. Mix well with a fork.

Combine carrots, onion, dressing, and almonds, and toss. Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving. Garnish with parsley and enjoy with steak or burgers as a healthier replacement for cole slaw.

Coq au Vin.

Coq au vin, unlike revenge, is a dish best served hot. It’s a classic in French cuisine, with tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken in a rich, savory wine sauce with a hint of tomato, speckled with mushrooms and shallots and bacon. These flavors are just amazing! It’s a perfect dish for dinner parties, but this time, I’ve made it to have for lunch at work during the week. Lucky me. Totally impressive but actually very simple to execute, this recipe is definitely one worth mastering.

INGREDIENTS

3 lb chicken (I used 4 legs and 2 breasts)
salt and pepper to taste
1 pad butter
olive oil
4 strips bacon, cut into small strips or lardons
3 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz. mushrooms, rough chop
1 cup stock, plush a splash (I used homemade chicken stock)
1 cup white wine (I used Chardonnay)
1/2 cup canned crushed tomato
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp flour (thicken with potato flour for a gluten-free sauce)
chopped parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Rinse and pat dry chicken, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat butter and olive oil in Dutch oven or other large soup pot. Working in batches, brown chicken on all sides and then transfer to a plate.

In the same pot, cook the bacon. When the bacon is crisp, add shallots and garlic and cook until soft.

In a separate pan, saute mushrooms in olive oil until soft. Set aside.

Deglaze the chicken pot with a splash or two of stock and stir.

Then place chicken back in the pot. Pour wine and the rest of the stock over the chicken and add mushrooms, crushed tomato, and bay leaves. Cover pot with lid and simmer for half an hour.

When chicken is fork-tender, remove from pot. Remove the bay leaves at this point, too. Place half a cup of the sauce into a small bowl and stir flour into it with a fork. Bring the pot of sauce/gravy to a low boil and whisk the flour-thickened portion into it. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Spoon sauce over chicken and serve with rice or potatoes, and garnish with parsley. Makes for luscious leftovers too!

Upside-Down French Onion Soup.

Named for its backwards assembly, this dreamy dish is similar to your standard French onion soup, except you serve it upside-down! The “croutons” go on the bottom, the soup sits on top, and the cheese goes everywhere. Drool. And if you hate wasting things as much as I do, this is the perfect way to use up the stale leftovers of easy French bread or any other baguette-type bread. With butter, cheese, chicken broth, garlic, and fresh herbs, it’s is the ultimate comfort food. A word of warning, though: while the onion-shallot-garlic trio makes for awesome rich flavor, I discourage anyone from eating this potent soup prior to a date or a job interview, unless the date (or the job) is a garlic farmer. If your date is a garlic farmer, you’re in luck! Because this recipe serves 2.

INGREDIENTS

1 pad butter
olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
3 cups stock (I used homemade chicken stock)
salt and pepper to taste
2 slices stale French bread (I used easy French bread), cut in halves
chopped parsley and grated gruyere cheese for serving

DIRECTIONS

Over medium flame, heat butter and olive oil in a pot and add onion.

Cook until softened and add garlic and shallot. Cook 2 minutes.

Add thyme and bay leaf and pour in chicken stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After 30 minutes, season with salt and pepper. To serve, place bread in a bowl, spoon soup over it, then garnish with parsley and gruyere. Best served piping hot!

Sausage and Onion Tart.

I struggle with making my own pastries. It’s so much easier to just buy a pre-made pastry, but I’m one of those people who gets weirded out by any product whose ingredients include things I wouldn’t add if I were making it myself. For example, “distilled monoglycerides” and “soybean oils colored with beta carotene” would never make it into my homemade pastry crust, but they are ingredients in Pepperidge Farm’s frozen puff pastry sheets. Just yuck. So I’ve been on a little journey to learn to make a decent pastry. The added bonus, of course, is that after I make the pastry, I get to use it in a recipe! Here’s one of my favorites so far: an easy pastry crust with simple toppings that makes a great little French lunch tart. Inspired by Laura Calder.

INGREDIENTS:

for pastry crust:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick (8 tbsp) cold butter, cubed
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt
splash of water

for tart:
about 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 small onion, sliced thin
4-5 uncooked breakfast sausages, sliced small (or  use bacon instead)
salt, pepper, and chopped parsley to taste

DIRECTIONS

First, the pastry crust. In a food processor, blitz flours and butter until well-combined.

Then add egg yolks, salt, and a small splash of water to help it hold together, and pulse lightly until just combined. Turn out onto wax paper, mold into a ball, wrap tightly in paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Remove chilled dough from fridge and let it warm up for about 5 minutes. On a floured surface, roll it out into a sort of free-form oval shape. Now it gets a bit tricky: carefully transfer to a baking sheet. It’s okay if it falls apart a little bit; I always have to put it back together a bit once it’s onto the pan. No need to be fancy! Just let it be. Par-bake your pastry crust for about 5 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Then remove from oven.

Let the crust cool for 5 minutes. Scoop the yogurt or sour cream onto the crust and carefully spread it out, right to the edges. I like to use my fingers to do this because the crust is so tender, it can fall apart easily. Then strew the onions, sausage, and seasonings over the crust and put it back in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until onions are browning at the edges and sausage is cooked. Let is cool a bit before serving and enjoy!