Mom’s Crazy Chili

Nothing sounds better on a freezing cold night than a big bowl of chili. It’s warm, hearty, delicious comfort food – but it can be healthy comfort food! The best thing about chili is that you can pretty much add whatever ingredients you want as long as you have the basics: meat, beans, beer, and the right spices (that’s right: beer).

I may be biased, but I believe my mom makes the best chili. When I called her to ask her for the recipe (for about the 15th time), she replied, “Well, I just add a little of this and a little of that.” I asked, “Well do you know how much chili powder or cumin you add?” She answered, “I add enough to make it taste good.” So I improvised. That’s why I call it my mom’s crazy chili recipe – there really isn’t any set recipe. But those basics I mentioned are in there, and that’s the key. I also truly believe that beer is the secret ingredient to setting this one over the top.

I’m going to break down necessary ingredients and optional ingredients. I’ll also give you healthy and indulgent options. Lastly, you can make this either on the stove or in the crock pot, so I’ll give you both options there, too. However, there is one area where you don’t have an option: you cannot make just a little bit of chili. You have to make a giant pot. But that’s a good problem to have because chili makes the best leftovers!

This one was hard to tag because you can make it as healthy as you want! As long as you have the basics, it's delicious.

This one was hard to tag because you can make it as healthy as you want! As long as you have the basics, it’s delicious.

What you’ll need:

Necessary ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1.25 pounds ground meat – use ground turkey for a healthier option, but I love the taste of ground beef.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic – not necessary to have fresh garlic, but garlic in general is necessary. Use more garlic powder if you don’t use fresh garlic.
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder – garlic powder is necessary, even if you use fresh garlic. If you don’t use fresh garlic, too, then triple the garlic powder.
  • 4 tablespoons cumin
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can or bottle of dark beer – ales, nut browns, stouts, or porters are the best. In a pinch, you can use a light beer, but stay away from IPAs.
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, rinsed

Optional ingredients:

  • Bell peppers, chopped – I like green because it adds color; I use 2 bell peppers
  • Cayenne pepper – adjust the amount to make it more or less spicy; I use 1/2 teaspoon
  • Celery, chopped – it adds a nice crunch to the chili, just use however much you have in the fridge
  • Carrots, chopped – it adds a little sweetness to the chili, again, use however much you have in the fridge
  • Bacon, crumbled – either turkey bacon or regular bacon is delicious, turkey bacon is healthier
  • Rice – it’s traditional in my family to serve chili over rice
  • Cheddar cheese – I love topping my chili with cheese!

What you’ll need to do:

Brown your meat in the two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat on the stove for about 5-7 minutes. If you’re going to use a crock pot, use a large pan. If you’re going to make the chili in a pot on the stove, just brown the meat in the pot. As the meat is browning, constantly break it apart with a wooden spoon. You want the meat to be smaller crumbles instead of large chunks.

Or, as an alternative, cook the bacon in the pan first. Cut or tear the bacon into smaller pieces and put them in the pan so that they cook faster and so you don’t have to crumble it later. If you’re cooking turkey bacon, cook the turkey bacon in the olive oil. If you’re cooking regular bacon, don’t put any oil in the pan. Then brown your meat in the same pan with the bacon drippings.

When the meat has browned, turn the heat down to medium and add the onion. If you’re using fresh garlic or bell peppers, add those at this time, too. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the onion has turned translucent. Add all your dry spices, except the bay leaves, and stir with the spoon until the spices thoroughly coat the meat and veggies.

I used turkey chili here, but the spices added the darker color.

I used turkey chili here, but the spices added the darker color.

If you’re cooking in a crock pot, transfer the meat and veggies into the crock pot. Add the can of crushed tomatoes, beer, and bay leaves, either in the crock pot or big pot on the stove. Stir to mix.

Cover and let cook for many hours. If you’re using the crock pot, set on low heat for at least 6 hours – you can let this cook all day if you’re making it on a work day. If you’re cooking on the stove, turn the heat to low and let simmer for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally. The chili generally tastes better the longer you let it cook.

This will make your house smell wonderful all day!

This will make your house smell wonderful all day!

In the last hour of cooking, add your kidney beans. You can also add celery or carrots at this time if you’re using them. Stir and cover.

I love serving my chili over rice and topping it with cheddar cheese. In my family, we’ve also been known to put chili over tamales, but that may be a Southern California thing. Of course, chili is also delicious on hot dogs, fries, or other ballpark food. I’ve also heard of people putting chili over noodles. If you want to make it healthier, chili would also be good over quinoa. But you don’t have to pair it with anything at all – this chili is also delicious all by itself.

Enjoy!

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Healthy Bacon Mac ‘n Cheese

A good friend (and regular reader) recently challenged me to make a healthy version of mac ‘n cheese. Since this good friend was also my college roommate, I know how much she loves this delectable comfort food. I admit, it’s one of my guilty pleasures, too. I love the rich, gooey, creaminess of mac ‘n cheese. One of my favorite tricks is throwing in some smokey, crispy bacon (yum!). However, since neither of us have the metabolism of an 18-year-old anymore, we can’t eat mac ‘n cheese nearly as often as we’d like and still fit into our jeans. So, challenge accepted.

Keep in mind, I don’t think there’s anything that can truly replace the fake, bright orange Kraft mac ‘n cheese with whole milk and real butter. But this dish gets pretty darn close. I swapped out the milk, butter, and cheese with low fat cheese and Greek yogurt. I love the Greek yogurt because it adds in that creaminess that you might be missing, plus it’s loaded with protein for added health benefits. I also added in some onion and garlic to add taste and fill you up on virtually-no-calorie veggies. I also used turkey bacon instead of real bacon, and I used whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. While it’s not the healthiest dish in the world, it’s certainly a great substitute for the much-less-waistline-friendly version. Plus, it only took about 20 minutes to make and it makes great leftovers!

Make this dish the next time you have a comfort food craving.

What you’ll need:
1 box (about 13.5 ounces) whole wheat elbow pasta
1 medium yellow onion
9 tbsp minced garlic (yes that much)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 cup low fat sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup low fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
4 strips turkey bacon (but feel free to add more!)

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to package directions. Drain when it’s done, and then add it back to the pot.

Whole wheat pasta keeps you satisfied longer.

While the pasta cooks, chop your onion as finely as you can. Set a medium-sized pot over medium heat and coat with the olive oil. Add your chopped onion, minced garlic, and dry mustard. Stir often and cook until the onion is transparent (this should take just a couple minutes).

Chop those veggies very finely so they mix in with the cheese sauce. Honestly, you barely notice they’re in there. The onions and garlic are slightly sweet and add tons of flavor.

After the onion-garlic mixture is done, add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Turn off the heat, then add the Greek yogurt and stir.

Creamy, gooey, and delicious. It’s not that same fake bright orange, but it’s very tasty!

Add the cheese sauce to the cooked macaroni noodles and stir until combined. Add to the 9×13 inch baking dish, and then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the Parmesan is melted and the macaroni is hot throughout.

You could certainly eat this as-is, but let’s top this with a little turkey bacon…

While your mac ‘n cheese bakes, put a pan over medium-high heat on the stove to cook your turkey bacon. Spray the pan with cooking spray, and cook the turkey bacon for 5 minutes on each side. Your turkey bacon should be done at about the same time as the baked mac ‘n cheese. The reason I cook the turkey bacon separately and add it to the dish at the end is so that it stays crispy.

Lastly, tear the turkey bacon into small pieces and sprinkle over the mac ‘n cheese.

The bacon adds some smokey, crispy, saltiness that puts this dish over the edge. You’ll hardly notice it’s healthy!

Scoop into a bowl and enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts with Turkey Bacon

I like making Brussels sprouts often because they require very little effort, yet they’re extremely healthy.  They’re low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol. They are also a good source of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper,  and – let me catch my breath – a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese. Wow. And if you don’t think you’re the hugest fan of the taste, throw in a little turkey bacon and you’ll barely notice. For all that awesomeness and basically no downside, sign me up.

I came up with this dish when I had a few ingredients left in my fridge that I needed to use up because I was going on vacation. Because Brussels sprouts are so awesome, as you can see, it’s not uncommon for me to pick them up at the market to keep in my fridge if I don’t feel like a frozen steamable veggie. And although I didn’t include turkey bacon in my kitchen staples list, you’ll almost always find some in my fridge because it’s a great low-cal breakfast protein (you can see that I use it in many of my recipes).

But both the Brussels sprouts and turkey bacon needed to be eaten before I went on a 10-day trip, and I was starting at the almost-empty fridge thinking, okay what do I do now? I didn’t have eggs or other veggies to make an omlette or frittata. And the thought of my Brussels Sprouts with a Kick didn’t sound awesome with a side of turkey bacon. So I thought, why not combine them? I still had my jar ‘o chopped garlic, and luckily I had some chicken broth in my pantry. 20 minutes later and my oddball dinner was done.

Super healthy and totally delicious.

What you’ll need:
2-4 slices of turkey bacon (your preference)
1-1.5 pounds of Brussels sprouts
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

**Tip: If you have it, a shallot would be awesome in this dish. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that in my extremely limited fridge when I made this. Chop the shallot and add it to the pan at the same time as the garlic.

What you’ll need to do:

Put a medium pot over medium-high heat on your stove and spray with cooking spray. Use kitchen scissors to cut the turkey bacon horizontally into strips and put them in the pot.

**Tip: Cutting turkey bacon with scissors is way easier than using a knife. I do this for regular bacon, too.

You want to cut the bacon thinly enough that you get a little bit in every bite, but not so big that you can’t taste it with the Brussels sprouts.

Continually stir the turkey bacon for about 6 to 8 minutes until it is cooked on all sides.

While your turkey bacon cooks, prep your Brussels sprouts. Cut off the stem and cut them in half (see my Brussels Sprouts with a Kick for a visual). Set aside.

After your turkey bacon is done, turn the heat down to medium and add the olive oil and garlic. Cook for about 1 minute, and then add your Brussels sprouts. Cook the Brussels sprouts for about 2 to 3 minutes to soften, then add the chicken broth. Bring the broth to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat.

Enjoy!

Egg White Omlette Loaded with Turkey Bacon and Veggies

Happy weekend! As you saw in my pancake post, weekends are my favorite for making killer breakfasts. So if you’re in the mood for something more savory but still super healthy, this egg white omlette is for you. In under 20 minutes, you’ll have a hearty, protein-packed, garlicky, smokey, delicious breakfast. And most of the ingredients are already in your fridge.

With all the flavor packed in this dish, you won’t miss the less healthy breakfasts at all. You’ll still get the creaminess with the bits of Parmesan, you’ll still get the texture of the eggs, and you’ll still get the smokiness and saltiness with the turkey bacon. Eat up and enjoy this guilt-free breakfast.

What you’ll need (makes 2 servings):

  • 1 cup egg whites
  • 4 slices turkey bacon
  • 1 package frozen spinach
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 4 pinches of shredded Parmesan cheese (about 4 tablespoons)
  • As many veggies as you can pack in, such as:
    • Tomato
    • Bell pepper
    • Mushrooms
    • Broccoli
    • Zucchini

**Tip: Use the steamable veggies you already have in your freezer, or toss in any veggies you need to use up in your fridge. The more you pack in, the more full and satiated you’ll feel after eating tons of “free” foods. Spinach is necessary, but all others are optional.

What you’ll need to do:

Pop your frozen spinach in the microwave to defrost because it takes about 5 minutes to cook. Drain out any excess water after it’s done.

Put a large pan over medium-high heat, and spray with cooking spray. Once it’s hot, put in your turkey bacon. You’ll want to brown it on both sides, so cook for a few minutes on one side and then flip and cook a few minutes on the other. After it’s done, remove from the pan and slice into thin strips.

This is what your turkey bacon will look like. Just make sure it’s browned on both sides.

While your turkey bacon cooks, prep your veggies. Chop any fresh veggies you have, or continue defrosting any frozen veggies after your spinach is done. It’s important that all veggies are ready to throw in before you even put eggs in the pan because they cook so quickly.

After your turkey bacon is done and all your veggies are prepped, turn down the heat in your pan to medium heat – you’ll be using the same pan for the omlette that you cooked your turkey bacon in. Put half of your eggs in the pan (about 1/2 cup) so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan.

Throw half of the spinach right on top of the eggs, spreading over the entire surface area. Then, sprinkle half the garlic and Parmesan over the entire pan. Add the rest of your veggies and turkey bacon (half, of course).

YUM, right?!

Because the egg whites cook so quickly, there’s no crazy omlette flipping necessary (a skill I haven’t quite mastered). Use a spatula to fold half the omelette. Don’t worry if it’s messy, you can just call it a scramble instead 🙂 Either way, it’ll still taste just as good.

Rinse and repeat for omlette #2. And enjoy!

**Note: You’ll notice I don’t add any salt. The turkey bacon and Parmesan have enough that you shouldn’t add any more. But you can add a little pepper if you’d like.

Turkey Bacon and Lentil Soup

The best part about soup is that you always end up with leftovers. So, dinner? Done. Lunch tomorrow and the next day? Done and done. And you end up getting an extra 7 minutes of sleep in the morning because you don’t have to make a sandwich. Oh, and did I mention that soup can be really yummy, easy, healthy, and inexpensive too? This recipe is a quintuple whammy!

Yummy, easy, healthy, inexpensive, and makes leftovers? I'm in!

Let’s start with yummy. The turkey bacon is rich and smokey; the onions and garlic add a big kick of flavor; and the lentils, carrots, and celery make this super hearty. The smell that permeates the house when you cook this makes your mouth water, and you can’t help but eat cup after cup of this dish.

Okay now easy. This one’s another crock pot wonder. So after the 15 minutes it takes to chop all your veggies and throw them into your crock pot, you just set it and forget it in the morning, go to work, and come home to an already cooked meal.

This dish is as healthy as it is yummy. It makes about 6 servings, and it’s only about 194 calories per serving. But you’d never guess it. Guilt-free seconds, please!

It’s always great when a dish is inexpensive, too. Carrots and celery are about 99 cents each (and you have leftovers for a bomb salad or snacks later). A pound of dry lentils is about $1.30, and the leftovers keep in your cupboard until you want to make this again. One onion is about 45 cents. A couple cans of chicken broth are about a dollar each. And a package of turkey bacon is about $4, conservatively. So the entire meal is less than $10! And you’ve made two lunches and have some leftover veggies for later. Not bad, right? Okay let’s get down to business…

What you’ll need:
1 medium onion
2 medium carrots
2 ribs of celery
3 cloves of garlic (or 3 teaspoons of chopped garlic from your kitchen staples)
1 1/2 cups dry lentils
12 ounce package of turkey bacon
6 cups low sodium chicken broth

What you’ll need to do:

Chop your onion, carrots, and celery and throw them right into your crock pot.

Keep your vegges about the same size so they all cook evenly.

Add your garlic and lentils. Then slice your turkey bacon into bite-sized slices and add to the pot.

Your turkey bacon should be about the same size as your veggies. Just slice across the whole package and then break apart with your fingers.

Lastly, add your chicken broth and stir.

Just stir and you're ready to go!

Cook for 9-11 hours on low heat (or however long it takes you to get home from work).

I made this on a cold, rainy Saturday and could barely stand it while I smelled it cooking all day.

And you’re done! This dish is really delicious with sourdough bread (perhaps leftover from your pulled pork sandwiches!).