Chili Pie Delight

Frito Pie (with green onions substituted for diced white)

Frito Pie (with green onions substituted for diced white)

I don’t know if this is a regional dish, but from what I’ve read chili pie —or Frito Pie as it was called when I was a kid —is not universally known. This is a classic festival food, a staple of festivals, flea markets and food trucks. In the festival version I ate as a kid, a small bag of Fritos was slit down the side, then a scoop of chili was ladled on top, then grated cheddar cheese and finely diced white or yellow onions were sprinkled on top. Traditionally the proportion of Fritos to chili was about even and the portions were small so that it could be eaten quickly before the chips got soggy. I tend to overload the homemade version with chili which results in having to add more chips to get that characteristic crunch. When I was a kid we’d sometime make this at home using canned chili without beans. You can use chili with beans if that’s what you’ve got on hand, but it’s better and if you omit the beans. I have already written about the bean-no bean controversy and posted my chili recipe which is made with beans. I alter that recipe slightly when I make chili without beans, taking down the seasonings a notch because without the beans the amount of chili is less.

A note about nomenclature: This was always known to me and everyone I knew as “Frito Pie” for most of my life. Then at some point I started noticing “Chili Pie” instead of “Frito Pie” turning up on menu boards at festivals. I don’t know why the name was changed unless it’s some copyright or trademark issue about selling food with the Frito brand name attached to it. Fritos are unique and you really can’t make anything like Frito Pie unless you have that crispy corn crunch of original Fritos. Anything else is just chili with chips. 😉

Vegetarian Chili without beans

My Crockpot is a 6 qt: adjust recipe accordingly for the volume of your slow-cooker.

3 med (14.5 oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 cups water
2 pkgs. Smart Ground
2 med onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, run through garlic press (or finely minced)
3 Tbls chili powder or crushed dried chile petine
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp habanero powder
1 tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp cumin
salt to taste
1/4 cup cornmeal

First a few notes about seasoning. If you use 3-4 Tbls of regular store-bought chili powder you will get a mildly seasoned chili. If you’re unsure about the heat, this is a good place to start, adjusting amounts to suit your own taste. I like to either supplement store-bought chili powder (I use Mexene) with small amounts of additional ground dried chilis (such as ancho and/or habanero listed above) or when I have enough of them I just use ground dried chile petines which grow wild in Texas (and my garden). They make a good chili seasoning. Again, if you’re not familiar with them, use sparingly. The heat and general seasoning of chili is very much a personal choice and I encourage you to experiment.

Put all the ingredients—except the cornmeal—into Crockpot and stir well. The whole tomatoes should be smashed with a wooden spoon or otherwise broken up into smaller pieces. (Note: If you use canned diced rather than whole tomatoes the flavor and consistency of the chili will be substantially different.) Cover and set the Crockpot to High, which is 4-6 hours on most Crockpots. (You could cook it on Low for longer, but I never do.)

About an hour before the chili is finished cooking, gently sprinkle in 1/4 cup cornmeal, a little at a time, stirring as you do to prevent lumps. (This is a thickener.) This final step may be considered optional, depending on how you like your chili. More than 1/4 cup cornmeal can be used, depending on your preferences. Thicker chili seems to me to work better for things like Frito Pie and chili dogs.

My Crockpot is programmable and rolls over to “warming” after the cooking time is finished. If yours isn’t automatic and you’re not quite ready to eat, turn the Crockpot from High down to Low (or off) after 6 hours, maximum.

For Frito Pie, serve over a generous amount of Fritos with grated cheddar cheese and diced white or yellow onion on top (some people consider this optional because it’s just too onion-y). If you have green onions on hand, they can be used instead of the diced onion. It’s not traditional, but heck, we’re not using meat in the chili, so I think we can further bend tradition if you want to use green onion. 😉 For further thoughts on the whole chili tradition — and why I think invoking tradition is pointless — see The Chili Controversy. 😀

Toad In A Hole

Toad In A Hole

Toad In A Hole

I started not to post this recipe, because everyone knows how to make it, right? Uh, well, no, I didn’t even know how to make it until several years ago! It’s fast and super simple. I usually make it as a fast breakfast or lunch for one. (Though, of course, you can make two; just use a much bigger pan.) If the name doesn’t sound familiar, you may know it by a different name: there are dozens of names for it. “Iggy in a blanket”, “Moses in a boat” and the list is seeming endless. The language podcast, A Way With Words, even did a segment on the myriad names, which got so many responses they did a follow-up segment. (Both links are short excerpts.) I like amphibians, so Toad In A Hole, is what it is to me. 🙂 I’d read mentions of it in books, but until several years ago when I was browsing a cookbook, none of the (fiction) books said how to make it.

I don’t do it quite like the cookbook said and there are probably many minute variations on how to do this, but the recipe is, essentially, egg and toast, so really, there’s a limit on how fussy you can be about technique and instructions. Here’s how I do it.

I put a generous amount of margarine in a non-stick pan. Turn the burner on medium-medium high. Then I cut, or tear, a hole in a slice of bread, approximately 2.5 inches in diameter. (I’ve got a 2.5 inch biscuit cutter, which I use to make rounds of anything I want round. LOL) What most people say to do is to spread both sides of the bread with margarine or butter, either before or after you cut the hole in it. I just lay the bread in the margarine and rub it in a bit and when the side is “buttered” I flip the bread over. (If it’s soaked up too much margarine you can always add more before the egg goes in.)

The egg has set.

The egg has set.

Then I crack an egg (I use Eggland’s Best) and gently drop it into the hole in the bread. The yolk may end up off center. (I’m not sure if this is a tendency of eggs or if my stove isn’t quite level.) If this bothers you, and you are really fast and patient, you can immediately (but gently) push the yolk toward the center with a finger and hold it there until the white has set just enough to hold it in place. I did this in order to get a good-looking picture for the post, but this is the only time my Toad In A Hole has ever not been lop-sided. 😉

Flipped it once.

Flipped it once.

Cook on one side until the egg is about half-cooked, according to how you like your eggs, then gently turn it over and cook the other side until it’s as done as you want. I can’t give you a time for this because there are too many variables: how hot your burner is, how firm or runny you want your eggs. It doesn’t take too long to cook. Traditionally, I think, the eggs are supposed to be runny. When you cut up the egg and toast into bites you can then sop up the yolk with the toasted bread. If you like your eggs cooked all the way through, no problem. Just cook them longer. You may have to turn them more than once and cook them longer on a slightly lower setting. It may take a few times before you get the timing down for your stove and heat. The main thing is that the bread should be toasted, but not burned. Salt and pepper as desired.

Toad In A Hole

Toad In A Hole

This is a very simple plain dish and rapidly became one of my go-to comfort foods. I usually cook the egg to the point where it isn’t runny. If you want to fancy it up a bit, you can sprinkle (or grate) parmesan or cheddar cheese over it. When I’m not using a my smallest skillet I also butter the little round of bread I’ve cut out, and toast it beside the egg, then put a small dollop of jam on it for a sweet finish to the light meal. And I typically have a pot of hot tea, too. 😀 I can’t explain why I find Toad In The Hole such a satisfying meal. Perhaps it’s the simplicity. Perhaps because it’s something that I do for myself, a small, single pleasure, rather than cooking for family or friends which is a different sort of pleasure. I only know that I wish someone had told me how to make it years before I finally stumbled onto a recipe. That’s why I wrote this post. Enjoy. 🙂

Go Retro with Meetloaf!

Meet (adjective)
1. suitable; fitting; proper.

(Via, which surprisingly — and gratifyingly — did not note this as an archaic usage.)

Meatloaf when I was growing up was made with a jar of Ragu and saltine crackers (not to mention meat). I’m not sure what was used prior to the advent and discovery of prepared Ragu sauce. You could probably make the recipe below using a store-bought sauce, but I hit on the idea of making this meatless loaf (or “meetloaf” as it is “fitting, suitable, and proper” for vegetarians) after one time when I had some filling left from making stuffed bell peppers. I made it into a sandwich the next day, thinking that it reminded me of a cold leftover meatloaf sandwich.

So, if I want to have meetloaf (as I call this soy version) sandwiches, then I had to come up with a meatless loaf. I had used Smart Ground (from LightLife) for the stuffed bell pepper. Lightlife makes another soy meat substitute called Gimme Lean. I decided to try it because it comes in a tube, indicating that its texture is less crumbly than the Smart Ground and might hold together better. It’s very sticky. It comes in at least two versions: I use “Sausage Style” Gimme Lean for this recipe.

For the meetloaf I sauted a chopped onion in a small amount of olive oil, then added 1 15oz can of tomato sauce and a small amount of water (so the sauce doesn’t cook down and thicken too much). I then added 1 tsp marjoram, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp paprika,  and a pinch of hungarian hot paprika, and black pepper. If you want, you can run fresh garlic through a garlic press and saute it along with the onions. I simmered for at least 10 mins, maybe 15.

Combine the sauce with the Sausage Style Gimme Lean in a bowl. Stir and break up the soy thoroughly before added the 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs and 1 Tbls olive oil. Grease loaf pan with 1 Tbls olive oil. Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan and bake 350 for 1 hour. Let sit for 5-10 minutes after taking it out of the oven.

Meetloaf, cooling (slightly) on the counter before serving.

Meetloaf, cooling (slightly) on the counter before serving.

It’s good hot from the oven, but leftovers also make good cold sandwiches. Stuffed into pita pockets, it’s perfect picnic food for hot summer days. 🙂 If you want something warmer and spicier for those picnic pitas, try next week’s recipe for Spicy Meetball Pitas!

Bean and Cabbage Stew

bean and cabbage stewI know what you’re thinking, I really do.  You don’t like cabbage, do you?  I don’t either.  However, this stew is a staple in my comfort food cupboard.  Trust me, the blend of spices and other ingredients makes this cabbage supper quite nice.  And let’s not forget the health benefits:  cabbage is high in fibre, boosts brain function, provides cancer protection, and lowers cholesterol.  Barley is another healthy ingredient; it is high in fibre and helps lower cholesterol, but it also aids in decreasing blood glucose levels.  How can you go wrong?  Let’s get started!

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 head cabbage, chopped
  • 4 carrots, sliced (I often use baby carrots – one less thing to chop!)
  • 1 lb potatoes (if using large potatoes dice them large, or just add baby potatoes – again, one less thing to chop!)
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 ml (1 tsp.) thyme
  • 2.5ml (1/2 tsp.) caraway seeds
  • 2.5ml (1/2 tsp.) rosemary
  • Herbamare and black pepper to taste
  • 6-8 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cans of beans (any white bean will do)
  • 1 large can of diced tomatoes

In a large stockpot, combine vegetables, seasonings, barley, and broth.  Cover and simmer about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.  Add the cans of beans and tomatoes and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.  Don’t forget to remove the nasty-if-chewed bay leaf.  To get all the dipping goodness this stew offers, serve with chunky pieces of sprouted grain bread.

Homemade Microwave Hot Chocolate

Why make hot chocolate from scratch when you can use little store-bought packets?

  1. You may not always have packets of mix on hand, but the ingredients for hot chocolate are staples most people always have in the cupboard or pantry.
  2. No additives or preservatives. Just fresh natural ingredients.
  3. You can tweak the recipe to suit your taste.
  4. It’s not any more difficult than using a packet. In fact, you can premix the cocoa and sugar in bulk, then scoop right from that into your mug. Just use the same number of total cocoa plus sugar measures per mug.

I’ve been working on the perfect homemade microwave hot chocolate and I think I’ve got it now. I don’t normally measure when I make it, but I have recently made mugs of hot cocoa in which I measured carefully based on many mugs of just “eyeballing” amounts. Once you make it a few times using your favorite mug(s) you’ll probably be able to just guestimate the liquid and use regular spoons for measuring, too. 😉

The main thing is the ingredient ratios. Once you get a feel for that you’ll be able to whip up hot cocoa in any size mug. People’s taste in hot chocolate varies quite a bit. Some people want very creamy cocoa, some like vending machine style hot cocoa, some want it sweet, some want more of a semi-sweet chocolate taste. Start with what’s below, then tweak the proportions to suit your own taste.

Here’s the main proportions:

1 part water to 3 parts milk
1 part cocoa to 2 parts sugar

To this is added a small amount of vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Amount of vanilla extract. For 10-12oz I wouldn’t use more than 1/8 tsp — a bit less would be better (to my taste). When making 8 oz. I’d shoot for something approximating 1/16 tsp. (I have a 1/8 tsp measure and there are even smaller measuring spoons. Most of the time I just pour a tiny amount into the cap of the vanilla extract bottle.) If you can taste vanilla, it’s too much; anything below the point where you distinctly taste vanilla is okay. If you think that vanishingly small amount of vanilla isn’t enough to matter, you will certainly taste the difference if you leave it out!

Pinch of salt (This is optional. Theoretically it makes the flavor stronger, but — unlike vanilla — it won’t hurt the flavor to leave it out.)

A Note About Cocoa: I usually use just plain ol’ Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa — the same thing I use for making brownies, but you can also get cocoa that’s been “dutched”; it’s sometimes sold as “European” style cocoa. So what’s the difference in flavor? The best way I can tell you is to think about the difference in flavor between hollow chocolate Easter bunnys and regular Hershey bars. Hollow Easter bunnys usually taste different: they taste like Dutch chocolate. You can use any kind of unsweetened cocoa powder: regular, Dutched, European, “gourmet”, etc. So if you have some kind of special cocoa powder that’s the secret ingredient in your chocolate cake or brownies, it can be the secret ingredient in your hot chocolate, too. 😀 It just needs to be unsweetened cocoa powder.

Do you know how much your favorite microwaveable mug holds? Get a liquid measure and find out. Do this once and you can probably fake it with your other mugs. The amount you need to know isn’t the total volume of the mug all the way up to the top, but about how high you usually fill it. My favorite mugs tend to be about 10 oz, which hold about 8 oz if they’re not over-filled. My regular travel mugs hold slightly over 12 oz and I usually fill them with about 11 oz. Your mileage may vary.

Below are the amounts for making up both 1 1/3 cups (slightly less than 11 oz) and 1 cup (8 oz). Both of these measures break down neatly for milk to water proportions.

For 11 oz in a 12oz (or larger) mug: Use 1/3 cup water to 1 cup milk. 1 Tbls unsweetened cocoa to 2 Tbls sugar. Add 1/8 tsp vanilla (maximum, slightly less may be better) and a pinch of salt.

For 8 ozs in a 10 oz mug: Use 1/4 cup water to 3/4 cups milk. 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa to 4 tsp sugar. Add 1/16 tsp vanilla (or anything less than 1/8 tsp). Pinch of salt.

Most regular spoons are actually close to 1 Tbls though we call them “teaspoons”, so you may be able to use the same spoon for measuring as for stirring when making the larger amount.

  1. Heat water in mug in microwave. I do this for 30-45 secs, depending on the amount of water, but it may be less or more depending on your microwave. It doesn’t need to be boiling, just good and hot.
  2. Add cocoa, sugar, vanilla and salt, stir well until it’s dissolved.
  3. Top off with milk. Stir. Heat in microwave 1 min (or to the temperature you want to drink it).

For a more semi-sweet drink, use less sugar. For a creamier drink, use more milk — or use milk with a higher fat content. This recipe was developed using 2% milk. Whole milk would give you a creamier drink (as would substituting a dollop of cream for part of the milk). For vending machine type hot chocolate, increase the amount of water in the water-to-milk ratio or use non-fat milk.

I haven’t yet tried the part-cream, whole milk, or non-fat milk variations, but it makes sense that a higher fat content would make the hot chocolate richer and creamier and since vending machine chocolate tends to be thin and water-based, using more water or lowering the fat content would probably approximate that. If you try these variations, let me know if I’m right. 🙂

Marshmallows, peppermint sticks or cinnamon sticks are embellishment serving options.

Enjoy this on cold winter days! 😀 I’d appreciate your comments here on the blog as this recipe is one of my originals. It’s not a very flashy recipe, but I consider it a necessity. I drink this year ’round! 😀