My friend Pam often opens her home for massive Mom-and-Kid-Family playdates on Saturday afternoons with our extended group of single mom friends. Think a dozen little maniacs — ages 7 and under — tearing around a big backyard on bikes and scooters and what have you, swinging, arguing, playing…while the moms share stories from the frontlines of parenting solo.
On these occasions I often invite myself and Leandro to stay for dinner after everyone’s gone. These meals tend to be a collaborative effort (as the best sort of friendships tend to be). Our kids — she has two — love each other’s company and she’s got loads of toys so they leave us in relative peace to chew the fat, complain about them, worry about everything, laugh at ourselves…you know the routine.
This time I invited ourselves over again, but I had the meal already in hand. In my cooler tote went a pint of Basic Seasoned Ground Beef that I pulled from the freezer, a 28 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, a 15 oz can of red kidney beans, chili powder, cheddar cheese (secret weapon) and a bag of rice.
I also brought a bottle of Wölffer Estate apple wine, because it’s locally produced, refreshing, tasty, good with food, and –at just 7 percent alcohol — Pam — the Lightweight Champion of the World — can have more than one glass and so can I, even though I have a drive home later. Kim and her two girls also stayed, so we popped the cork and got the party started!
Now, don’t think the kids just tucked right into it. No way. Leandro loves the stuff, but the other moms were skeptical whether their kids would go for something quite so bean-y, quite so meat-y, quite so seasoned, quite so different from what they usually have, ’cause that is how kids are.
They were right; the cute little molded mounds of rice went quickly, and they picked the cheddar cheese off the top of the chili, but they were decidedly unenthusiastic about the main part of the meal. So I told them they were hurting my feelings, offered to mix in rice and cheese to anyone who would just try the food to make me happy, and soon enough, they were eating it up. Score!
Please note: this is easy to assemble in no time at all (20 minutes or so from fridge to table), IF you have pre-made seasoned ground beef stored in pint containers in your freezer. I include the recipe here; it is a pillar of my kitchen strategy and I recommend you make it three pounds at a time!
I also include my recipe for perfect Latin white rice…Pam actually made excellent rice in her pressure cooker this time, but I include the recipe just the same. The parboiled quick stuff is just not acceptable, except in extremis, sorry.
Chili Con Carne (serves four adults)
1 pint Basic Seasoned Ground Beef (see below)
28 oz can tomato puree/whole peeled tomatoes/crushed tomatoes (Italian-style NOT recommended; basil has no place here)
15 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs chili powder
hot sauce, if desired
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Monterey Jack would work too)
In a large pot, add beef, tomatoes, beans and chili powder, bring to a boil and then simmer. Begin preparing rice (see recipe below). When the rice is ready, the chili should be ready too. Just adjust for seasoning and serve rice topped with chili and cheese.
You can build on this dish to make many different meals
BASIC SEASONED GROUND BEEF (this is half of what I usually do to freeze. To do 3 lbs. at a time, double everything – Note: do NOT skip the olives and capers, even if you hate them. I never eat olives — green or black –yuck! but I cook with them. In this dish they give a salty, sharp, savoriness that is crucial and the little bits pretty much disappear in the cooking. Pam and Kim and the kids all ate them without noticing!)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 baseball sized onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced (go for more if you like – I do!)
1.5 lbs. ground beef
(Optional1/4-1/2 C. chopped red pepper fresh or roasted from a jar)
1/2 tsp adobo powder* (if desired – I generally don’t use it, but some people love the extra salt and the umami)
1 heaping Tbs capers, drained
10 manzanilla olives (pitted and stuffed with pimientos), chopped small
(optional 1/2 cup tomatoes from a can – diced, chopped, whatever or a spoonful of tomato paste you need to use up)
Heat oil on high in a large saucepan until thin and fragrant. Add onion and cook, stirring, for two minutes until well coated and getting translucent. Lower heat to fairly low and cook for five minutes, add garlic and cook for another minute. Raise heat to high and crumble in ground beef, stirring and breaking up frequently until fully-browned. Spoon out fat or pour off (don’t make it too dry!) into sink (carefully!).
Return to heat, add red pepper, optional adobo, capers, olives and optional tomato. Mix completely. Lower heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes until fat begins to separate from sauce. Serve or freeze.
*instead of adobo powder, mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1 Tbs mixed chopped fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley) or 1 tsp dried
Perfect White Rice (you can halve this recipe if you are not big into carbs)
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Cups long-grain white rice (Sello Rojo, Goya or other Latin brand preferred)
4 Cups water
½ tsp salt
Place olive oil in a medium pot (with a tight lid). Begin heating to high while adding the rice. Stir to coat, Add water and salt. Stir once, then bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and allow water to evaporate until it goes below the surface of the rice and there are a couple of holes in the surface. Turn rice over once with a big spoon. Cover and cook on low another ten minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.