Last week someone said to me, “You know, my tastes are more Julia Child but my lifestyle is more 30 Minute Meals,” and I thought–really quite smugly, I’m embarrassed to say–“I’m so glad I have all this free time.”
This week I am more certain than ever of the crack I was smoking. Seriously, does anyone else have such denial over what their schedules are and are not? Let me tell you what actually happens in the Smitten Kitchen most nights of the week: My husband, being management and all (I tease), leaves work at 5 p.m. but first asks me if we need anything from the store. I IM him some goofy aspirational shopping list in segments (“this is for dinner,” “this for a side dish,” “and these are for the frozen yogurt I am making for dessert,” “and this is so I can get a head-start on the cake I am baking this weekend!”) and then actually end up leaving the office at 6:30 p.m., running two errands, coming home dead exhausted and always a bit winded from four flights of stairs to a neat cluster of grocery bags on the kitchen floor and say meekly “Order sushi?” Because if there is anything I am not going to be starting at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night, it’s dinner. And a side dish. And frozen yogurt. And cake.
I know I may have accidentally given the impression that I cook dinner every night, but what I actually meant was “three times” and “on a good week.” Meanwhile, the web is bursting with tools and recipes that aim to find for us working stiffs some happy medium between coq au vin (we ate dinner at 10 p.m. that night. TEN.) and “pierce holes in the plastic and microwave for five to seven minutes”–oh, and Kung Pao Chicken–but most of them are such a mess of unnecessary cop-outs and cutesy (because, you know, if it’s not “cute!”, it won’t appeal to women, duh) titles that its hard to wade through and find the good bits.
Beyond that, our culture’s worship of the “quick-n-easy” over the engaged and rewarding has always deterred me. I want a life bursting with complex activities and entrancing conversation, not shortcuts and quick-fixes. I actually enjoy the process of cooking as much as the outcome; I think if you get in the mindset that your only goal is to get from Place A to Place B, you miss too much. And I like getting my hands dirty.
Just not last night, you know?
Red Bean Chili
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine
This may seem an unseemly amount of chili powder, but it makes the flavor jump right off the plate with a minimum of ingredients. Plus, the mahogany-garnet hue in the photo was exactly what made this recipe call to me. It was even prettier in person, despite the horrible photos above.
2 to 2 1/4 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup canned beef broth
1/3 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa (optional, but I never make chili without it)
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 15 1/2-ounce cans kidney beans, drained
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
To taste: Tabasco, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne or 1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle en adobo puree
Optional toppings and sides: grated Cheddar, sour cream, minced jalapeno, corn bread
Place a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the beef or turkey and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, stirring well, and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Gradually add the broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, cocoa and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the beans, salt, and vinegar, stirring well. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes more. Adjust flavor with your spices of choice. Garnish with the Cheddar, sour cream, and jalapeno, if desired. Serve hot, with corn bread, if desired.