Friday, October 29, 2010

When we first met...

Friday, October 29, 2010

I can remember the very first time I saw Rachael Ray. It's like it was yesterday. Yes, I'm beginning the post in which I share my first Rachael Ray recipe the same way some people begin their stories of how they met and fell in love.

My first glimpse of Rachael came whilst flipping through the channels one afternoon on what must have been a holiday at home during my first year in New York, 2003 to be exact. I've officially been cooking with RR before I was married! Anyway, good ol' Rach was making a comforting pasta dish, which involved bright green peas and creamy ricotta, stirred into the pasta and sprinkled with a healthy grinding of coarse black pepper. It's not so much that I loved either peas or ricotta that intrigued me, but Rachael's genial nature and the haphazard way which she stirred. What she was doing didn't look complicated or fussy, and I thought to myself, "I'm going to have to try this." My SH (then SB) loved cooking, and I was inspired to get a bit better at it myself, so when I returned to New York, the first thing I did was purchase 30 Minute Meals 2, Rachael's second book. I also ordered a few DVD's of 30 Minute Meals from the Food Network website, and watched them religiously.

It was from that first DVD that I found the recipe for Three-Bean Chili, or as Rachael cutely names it, Chili for Veg-Heads (the name she coined for vegetarians). Like the pea and ricotta pasta dish, the chili seemed straightforward and risk-free. There was only a bit of chopping involved, no major chef skills were involved, and it had the spicy Mexican flare I loved. I decided that this chili would be my first Rachael Ray endeavor.

As has been the case with literally EVERY RECIPE of Rachael's I've tried (only one slightly less than stellar result has occurred, when a recipe called for a bit too much cornbread), the chili was amazing. To this day, more than seven years later, I've never even attempted to make chili with meat, because this recipe is that good. Plus, I have a freakish loyalty to things I love (Coldplay, Jack Bauer and 24, Lindt 70% dark chocolate bars), and have serious trouble abandoning them in any way. Not to say I won't eventually make chili with meat-I am a red meat loving girl!!-I just don't have the need with this recipe in my repertoire.

There are so many huge bonuses to the chili. Most importantly, it's spicy and flavorful, with quite a bit of kick as is, though you can easily increase or decrease the amount of jalepeno you add. My SH and I like it hot! To add to its impressive deliciousness, you'll be glad to know it's actually quite good for you! I use fat free refried beans, and only the tiny bit of oil I need to saute the veggies, which there are a lot of! On top of those qualities, add convenience. Almost all of the ingredients are things you can keep on hand, so if you're exhausted at the end of the day and want something comforting and tasty, you can whip it right up without having to go to the store. Finally, it keeps well-we usually eat it for at least two more days. To mix it up a bit, I'll serve it with chips and guacamole on the first night and with rice and grated cheese on the next.

This was the beginning, but won't be the end. Seven years, sixteen cookbooks, one book signing, and many recipes later, I'm still loving Rachael Ray. She's never let me down :)

Chili for "Veg-Heads", adapted from Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals: The All-Occasion Cookbook, by Rachael Ray

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, red or green, seeded and chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup beer or vegetable broth (I use beer-I think it adds a depth of flavor to the chili)
1 can (32 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin (1/2 palmful)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder (1/2 palmful)
6 dashes cayenne sauce, such as Tabasco (I use Cholula)
A few good pinches coarse salt
1 cup spicy vegetarian refried beans
Shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish (optional)
Chopped scallions, for garnish (optional)
Tortilla chips (optional)

1. Heat oil in a deep pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add onion and peppers and saute, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
2. Add beer or broth and scrape up any good stuff from the bottom of the pan. Cook to reduce the liquid by half, 2 or 3 minutes.
3. Add tomatoes and beans and season with cumin, chili powder, cayenne sauce, and salt. Thicken by stirring in refried beans.
4. Serve in bowls topped with shredded cheese or scallions with plenty of tortilla chips for dipping.

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