red bean chili

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

If I’m going to make a change in my life, I’ll do it when I’m good and ready, and an arbitrary date isn’t going to make one bit of difference.

Not that I’m a headstrong child or anything, but you’re not the boss of me, One January!

That said, I learned back in November that my cholesterol is marginally elevated. With a well-established family history of hypertension, I thought I’d try making a couple substitutions in some of my recipes, and decide if they’re worth it.

For this chili recipe, I drained the beef after browning, and rinsed it in warm water. Then I used heart-healthy canola oil to sauté the onion and garlic, added a teaspoon of beef bouillon to compensate for the lost beefyness, and cut the salt to compensate for the bouillon.

It turned out slightly sweet – almost like BBQ sauce – and spicy but not too spicy. I was a little concerned about rinsing the beef, but the chili ended up delicious. Neither the flavor nor the texture was compromised, so I’ll lather, rinse, repeat from now on.

The timing is entirely coincidental.

Recipe below the fold

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Chicken Wild Rice Soup

Chicken Wild Rice Soup
Wild rice is Minnesota’s state grain, and folks take chicken wild rice soup VERY seriously in these parts.

While I truly adore Minnesota Chicken Wild Rice Soup™, thick and full of cream, this week I wanted to follow up my recent cheesploitation with something a little lighter.

So I began with a recipe from Cooking Light, and made a couple of tiny tweaks.

Next time I prepare this soup, I’ll make one more change: replace the long grain and wild rice mix with plain wild rice. The flavor of the soup was wonderful, but the texture was a bit too soft. I thought it could use a little bite from more wild rice.

I used the seasoning packet that came with the rice mix, and it seemed to be about a tablespoon of seasoning. Next time I’ll use straight wild rice and add a combination of garlic salt, onion powder, and dried parsley instead.

Recipe below the fold

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Italian Wedding Soup

My friends Brian and Benji were married on 10-10-10 in a perfectly sweet ceremony with an adorable Muppets-themed reception, and I made Italian Wedding Soup for lunch that day.

I wish I could say that I made the soup in honor of their union, but really, I just love soup.

This is a perfect fall soup – warm and comforting – and a pretty reasonably priced one-dish meal. Also? Tiny meatballs are adorable.

I substituted parsnips for the more traditional carrots and they were wonderful – creamy, just a little bit sweet, and a perfect complement to the buttery fresh dill.

Recipe below the fold

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spicy chicken, black bean, and grilled corn soup

Handsome Greg and I went to Mexico two years ago, and I came home with the worst cold evah, right about the time we were all just hearing about swine flu.

(I did not have swine flu.)

I was fine for most of our vacation, but two days before we left Mazatlan for home, I woke up in our hotel room with a sore throat, a stuffy nose, and a lingering cough that made me want to gargle in my lungs.

There were a few things that comforted me in those I-can’t-believe-I’m-sick-on-vacation days: travel Scrabble on the balcony with Greg, the wholehearted sun (in March, you guys), the ocean lapping at my feet, and the tortilla soup at the hotel restaurant on the beach.

Until I tried the tortilla soup at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan, I’d never believed in the magical healing power of chicken soup. But this soup. This was the kind of soup that divides your life into Before Tortilla Soup and After Tortilla Soup.

The soup I had at the Hotel Playa Mazatlan started with a bowl of freshly fried tortilla strips, queso fresco, and avocado. A steaming, spicy, smoky chicken broth was poured over the fresh ingredients, melting the cheese and softening the tortillas. Then bright, fresh cilantro was snipped on top.

While I could never dream of recreating the Mexico soup made of fireworks and lullabies and unicorns, I was inspired to make my own spicy chicken soup. The soup I make in my kitchen is cheap and tasty and filling. It’s not going to blow your head off with heat, but my Midwestern palette finds it warming all the way down, like a scotch neat.

Recipe below the fold

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Pasta e Fagioli

Bacon is my favorite color.

pasta e fagioli

If not for the bacon – the heroic bacon – this would be an entirely beige bowl of soup.

Bacon

I made this soup on one of the first cool, crisp days of the fall, and it was just what I needed: a little spicy, comforting, and oh-my-god-is-it-payday-yet cheap. The priciest ingredient used is the bacon, but with only three slices of bacon for 5-6 servings, it’s still a bargain. The bacon (yeah, I’m still talking about bacon) adds a smoky and savory depth to an otherwise plain soup.

Beans

But the hardworking protein source in this hearty soup is the creamy (and cheap!) cannellini beans. I absolutely love cannellini beans. They’re so smooth – they’re like bean-flavored butter.

The ridged macaroni fills out this soup perfectly. I made a big pot of pasta e fagioli on Sunday afternoon for my lunch the following week. I cooked all the pasta right away, but stored it in the fridge tossed with a tiny bit of olive oil separately from the rest of the soup, to keep it firm. Each morning I ladled out some soup into a plastic container and topped it with a handful of pasta. The texture of the soup and the pasta remained perfectly intact.

Recipe below the fold.

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