The Cooking Chronicles: End-of-Summer Chili

Never take ingredients in your fridge for granted, particularly if expiration dates or other people are involved. I learned this lesson recently while making Rachael Ray’s end-of-summer chili.

I was near the end of the recipe – a chili packed with more vegetables than meat – and asked Mack to retrieve a bottle of beer from the fridge in our office to add to the simmering dish. He came back, regretfully empty handed, and said that he had drank the last bottle the night previous. I had sworn we had multiple bottles of beer just a few days back – and we did – but Mack’s hot weather thirst had to be quenched somehow. We resorted to using one of my beer coolers: Alley Kat’s Aprikat, which actually didn’t end up sweetening the dish as much as we thought it might.

I loved the chili, mostly because it was packed with vegetables (our default chili recipe involves the slow cooker, which would have pulverized the zucchini), and had decent flavour considering the quick cooking time. Mack would have preferred something with more meat (as always), but liked it. We did end up straining out some of the liquid, as it didn’t reduce much at all, and next time, would drain the canned tomatoes first.

End-of-Summer Chili

An easy meal to help bridge summer to fall – what could be more seasonal?

The Cooking Chronicles: Autumn Housewarming

While I love hosting parties, they seem to take a lot out of me. Mack (and Kim’s) housewarming party is a good example.

They moved into their new apartment in May. I offered to help Mack with the housewarming preparations (mainly around menu planning), and started thinking about summer-appropriate foods to serve. June soon gave way to July, then August, and finally September, when Mack at last chose a date for the belated celebration.

To befit the cooler weather and seasonal produce, I felt a menu overhaul was in order. As well, I wanted to incorporate dishes that Mack himself would serve, namely, share plates and comfort food. And for my twist (something wholly unnecessary, but really a pleasure for me to work out) – the inclusion of at least one ingredient obtained from a local producer or manufacturer in each dish.

With those parameters in place, the following menu was born:

Housewarming menu (“lamb” should read “turkey” – I had lamb on the brain for some reason)

Every dish could be made or assembled in advance to be heated up just prior to guests arriving. The only tricky item was the turkey sliders, which would be formed that afternoon, but pan-fried while guests were snacking on other things – an entertaining faux-pas, I’m sure, but we were pretty attached to serving the mini burgers.

We spent most of Friday evening (after the debate, of course) in the kitchen, baking up cupcakes, cookies, and pita chips.

The idea for Chocolate Chai Spice Cupcakes were inspired by a similar flavour offered at Whimsical Cupcakes to celebrate the season. I found a recipe online that appealed to me even with the added step of grinding the spice mixture myself. It was a pretty fragrant mix that I wasn’t sure would work with the chocolate, but it turned out to be an interesting combination, great paired with a cup of coffee. The tops of the ‘cakes ended up being much too dry and crumbly, but that could have been a result of leaving them in the oven a few minutes too long. This was also the only item on my menu that lacked a local component, though I was so tempted to head to Kerstin’s to pick up some dark chocolate.

Chocolate Chai Spice Cupcakes

The unusual Coffee Shortbread recipe came to me by way of Flickr, which I followed to a blog. A modified Martha Stewart recipe, we used freshly-ground Transcend-roasted coffee in our cookies. The only instruction we neglected was “properly” chilling the shortbread before baking. I found the shortbread a little on the bland side, unfortunately, though Mack disagreed with me and gobbled up the leftovers once the guests departed.

Coffee Shortbread

We were up early on Saturday morning to head to the City Centre Market and ensure we had the pick of produce and meat. It was a lovely way to start a fall day, as though it was cool enough to remind us that cooler weather was ahead, the sun was bright and full of optimism for the weekend.

Back at the apartment, while Mack cleaned and tidied up, I continued with the food prep. Giada de Laurentiis’ Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables was the easiest to start with. I wasn’t sure the bowl we had on hand was big enough to combine everything, but it turned out all right. Once this dish was assembled, I put it in the fridge, and would start heating it only after the nachos were out of the oven. I think this would be a great recipe to pull out for an autumn potluck – great texture, color, and a cinch to make. Leftovers also heat well in the microwave for a nice lunch the next day.

Colorful vegetables (Kuhmann’s squash made up the local ingredient)

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

By the time I was done with the pasta, the ground bison meat we had picked up from Medicine Man Bison that morning had defrosted. The chili recipe I chose was something between the Medicine Man’s and another I had seen in Food for Thought magazine, primarily because I could not find the “Louisiana dip mix” called for in the former recipe. I had never made chili before, but after this experience, I will definitely make it again – the result was a delicious payoff for something so easy. The ground bison was notable – virtually no fat appeared when I browned it in the skillet, and at $12.50 for 2lbs, it was a decent price to pay for good quality meat. After I incorporated all the ingredients, we transferred the chili into my Mum’s borrowed slow cooker and let it simmer until the party started. It was a great dish to have on hand, as for those dropping by later in the evening, we could guarantee them something hot to eat. 

Hearty Bison Chili

Next were Rachel Ray’s Apple-Cheddar Turkey Burgers, something Mack and I had experimented with two weeks before. This time however, mini versions were on tap, built with Italian Bakery baby buns we picked up at the Italian Centre, and Greenvalley lettuce we bought at the Market. Though the turkey itself turned out to be resilient to over-cooking, done again, I’m not sure I would make them again for a large, informal group gathering. Trying to balance conversation/hosting duties while cooking the slider patties was too difficult a task.

Getting the buns ready (yes, I realized the burgers were missing apple slices…after Mack pointed it out)

Apple-Cheddar Turkey Sliders

Last but not least was assembling Mack’s Slammin’ Cheese Nachos – an item Mack would probably make and serve if he were to host the party on his own. We layered Don Antonio’s tortilla chips with mozzarella and cheddar cheese with diced olives, jalapenos, and roma tomatoes from Gull Valley Greenhouses. Kim suggested that we use glass pie dishes for the nachos which was a great idea – it meant we could bake and serve the nachos in the same container.

Mack’s Slammin’ Cheese Nachos

Once everything was in the fridge and ready to go, we were able to start setting up the table and the apartment itself.


Drink bucket (the only true “relic” from my summer party plans, and one I wasn’t willing to give up)

Though there seemed to be some issues with the door buzzer (and people not being able to find the apartment just behind the fire doors), everyone made it all right. We had suggested that guests eat something prior to arriving, as I didn’t think we would be able to make enough to feed fifteen hungry mouths, but perhaps it was the wrong strategy to take, as many of our friends arrived with full stomachs.

Between nibbling, chatting, fun with fortune cookies and Transformers, it was a good night overall. And with the house broken in, it’s only a matter of time before the apartment will play host to another gathering of friends.

In the living room

Thanks to everyone for coming (and to my Mum for helping us out)! Mack’s photo set is here.

EDIT: I neglected to thank Jane in my post for bringing the hummus to go with the pita chips. Thanks again, Jane!

The Cooking Chronicles: Apple-Cheddar Turkey Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries

My inner control freak always has me conducting a run through of dishes I plan on making for a party prior to the event, in order to catch anything that might make it difficult the day of. For Mack’s upcoming housewarming, this meant trying recipes for Sweet Potato Fries and Apple-Cheddar Turkey Burgers this weekend.

We tweaked the sweet potato fries to include what we had on hand, which resulted in a coating of olive oil, brown sugar, garlic salt and taco seasoning. They turned out quite nice in the end, with a  sweet coating and a nice crunch. We still need to try another batch using the more recognizable orange yam.

Sweet Potato Fries

We halved the recipe for turkey burgers, as it was just the two of us, and substituted something labeled “Montreal Seasoning” in place of the Grill Seasoning, as it was all we could find in the bulk spice section of Save-On Foods. The patties cooked for six minutes on each side, as noted in the instructions, but the tenting didn’t quite work so well. Instead, I stuck the cheese-topped patties in the warm oven for a few minutes. Placed on a kaiser roll with a slice of granny smith apple, it made for a satisfying supper – the Montreal spice, in the words of Guy Fieri, was “money.” We are planning on making mini versions of this burger for the party.

Apple-Cheddar Turkey Burger (with a Bacardi Breezer product placement in the background)

The Cooking Chronicles: Ham, Egg and Cheese Bake

I’m not sure how casseroles became my weeknight dinner standby, especially because I certainly didn’t grow up eating them. At any rate, my plan of turkey burgers dashed, I resorted to a Rachael Ray recipe I had come across in the latest issue of her magazine for a Ham, Egg and Cheese Bake.

It was a simple recipe, but because I was missing half of the eggs it required, it ended up being much more soggy than it should have been, as we added a little more milk to try and compensate for the lack of liquid in the dish. So though the top half of the casserole (comprised of cheese, parsley and tomato) was quite good, I could have done without the layer of soaked bread at the bottom.

Ham, Egg and Cheese Bake

I would make it again, but only with the right ingredients on hand.

The Cooking Chronicles: Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes

Needing a quick, one bowl supper idea, I remembered Rachael Ray’s Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, so after work, Mack and I headed to the nearby Italian Centre to pick up a few ingredients, and met with absolutely no dinner rush line ups, were well on our way to a filling meal.

Mack complained about having to grate the parmesan, but then again, that was probably the most “labour intensive” task in the entire recipe. I thought we were going to set off the smoke alarm with our sizzling tray of olive oil and burst cherry tomatoes, but thankfully, the flat stayed quiet. A handful of fresh basil (or what Mack refers to as “weeds”) some roasted mushrooms, and the parmesan finished the dish.

For a pasta without a heavy dressing of cream or tomato sauce, it was surprisingly good. More vegetables (spinach, zucchini) or meat (shredded chicken) could be tossed in, but in all, this is a great top drawer emergency dinner recipe.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes