Open thread on favorite food shortcuts

It’s been too long since I posted a food diary. A while back I wrote about my favorite food substitutions. Now I would like your input on favorite shortcuts in the kitchen.

I’m not talking about picking up take-out or eating a peanut-butter sandwich instead of a hot meal. For the purposes of this thread, I am seeking ideas that save preparation time or cooking time when you are making the meal.

After the jump I’ve posted my chili recipe, which incorporates three shortcuts. This won’t win you a prize at the chili cookoff, but it is tasty and highly adaptable to your own preferences or what you have in your kitchen. I’m all for cooking with what you have rather than slavishly following recipes.

The three shortcuts in this dish are 1) using canned beans, 2) using frozen corn kernels, and 3) adding a cup of your favorite salsa. I got the last idea from the Moosewood’s Low-Fat Favorites cookbook, which said the salsa gives the dish a “finished” flavor even if you don’t have time to simmer it for hours.

Note: When I used to make the vegetarian version of this chili, I used either two cans of black beans, drained and rinsed, or one can of black beans and one can of black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed. Of course it is better and cheaper to cook your own beans, but this thread is about shortcuts! Anyway, canned beans are not too expensive.

Now I usually make this dish with meat, and I use one pound of organic, grass-fed ground beef, one can of drained black beans, and one can of drained black-eyed peas.

With or without the meat, this makes a one-pot meal that is high in protein, iron and selenium (if you use black-eyed peas). Use whatever beans you like. I don’t care for pinto beans, but if it ain’t chili to you without pinto beans, don’t let any recipe stand in your way.

Chili for cheaters by desmoinesdem

(adapted from various recipes, including the black bean chili in Moosewood’s Low-Fat Favorites)

With meat, this dish takes at most an hour from start to finish. Without meat, you can have it ready to eat faster than that. As I said, the prepared salsa helps give it more depth of flavor than you would expect.

1 large onion or 2 medium onions, chopped

garlic to taste (I use a few cloves, chopped or pressed)

1 Tbsp ground cumin

1 Tbsp ground coriander

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp paprika

1-2 tsp chili powder (how much depends on your spice tolerance and the kind of chili powder you are using)

cayenne pepper to taste (if you’re using mild chili powder)

salt to taste

1 tsp sugar or honey to counteract bitterness in tomatoes

1 cup salsa (any kind you like; chipotle, roasted tomato, even green tomatillo salsa works)

tomatoes to taste (I have used 1 7 oz jar tomato paste, 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 24 oz jar strained tomatoes, or half of a 24 oz jar of strained tomatoes. Really anything goes here.)

1 pound ground meat (optional)

2 cans beans of your choice, drained and rinsed

chopped vegetables of your choice (I have used green peppers, carrots or zucchini)

fresh or frozen corn kernels to taste (I like one to two cups of these)

Chop onion and saute in a little oil. You can get the dry spices ready while the onion is cooking. When the onion is soft, add the garlic and saute. After a minute or two, add the salsa, stir, and add the dry spices. Stir a few times.

If you’re using meat, add it now and brown, breaking up the pieces as you cook. If you use lean meat, such as grass-fed ground beef, there won’t be a lot of extra fat to drain from the pan.

If you’re not using meat, add tomatoes in whatever form you are using soon after the dry spices go in. If you’re using tomato paste you’ll also want to add a little water to thin it out. Add salt and sugar, bring to simmer, and add drained beans.

At this point you can chop whatever vegetables you are using and add them to the pot. Sometimes I don’t use any chopped vegetables, and that’s fine too.

If you are using meat, you’ll want it to simmer for a half-hour or so. If you are cooking vegetarian chili, you can get away with less cooking time–maybe 10 to 20 minutes after you add the beans.

I stir in the corn kernels only 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Frozen works fine for this dish, but of course you can use kernels fresh from the cob if you’re not trying to take shortcuts.

I used to eat chili on rice or toasted bread, but since I started trying to cut back on carbs I usually eat this chili by itself. In our household this recipe gets us two dinners–not bad for one hour prep and cooking time!

  • Frozen whole tomatoes and chopped onions

    A few years ago I ended up with way too much chopped onion for the recipe I was making, so I put it in the freezer to use later.  It was a great a-ha! moment, and ever since I’ve purchased onions on the cheap (especially at farmers’ markets in late summer), chopped them in the food processor, and frozen them in 1 cup portions.  My eyes are uber-sensitive to chopping, so there’s an added benefit besides the convenience.

    Also, last fall we found ourselves with a plethora of beautiful roma tomatoes from our garden at the end of the summer.  I took out the stems, froze them on cookie sheets, and dumped them in large freezer bags.  I haven’t purchased a can of tomatoes all winter.  I just grab as many frozen ones as I need, run them under tap water to loosen the skins, and throw them in whole or chop, depending on the recipe.  It only takes them a minute to thaw and simmer into the dish in question.  Maybe not technically a shortcut, but a convenient, low-labor way to use home-grown produce all year.

    • I didn't know you could freeze

      tomatoes without cooking them first. Thanks for that tip!

      It’s always good to put seasonal local food aside to enjoy later, when the only fresh tomatoes you’ll find in stores would have been trucked 1,000 miles or more.

      • It doesn't work well with slicing tomatoes

        since they contain too much liquid and make your recipe watery.  But romas are nice and meaty and compact.  You get similar results to adding canned whole or diced tomatoes, but I think they give a fresher taste.  And knowing they came from your own garden makes it all that much better.

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