What’s for Dinner: Turkey Chipotle Chili

Our first local produce delivery came last week. Getting local produce has been on my wish-list for awhile now and I found a Jacksonville service, Hometown Harvest, that delivers to our area, as well as most of Jax. We spent much of last week entertaining my brother and his girlfriend, which meant a lot of eating out…so I’m just cracking into the produce basket. Good thing it’s so fresh, it lasts nearly the entire two weeks between our deliveries.

Hometown Harvest Produce Basket

Tonight Garrett suggested turkey chili, which was a delicious idea. I don’t have a standby chili recipe, tho there are several I pick and choose from to make my own…but today I went sans-recipe and basically just threw in whatever sounded good. The result? A dark, flavorful chipotle turkey chili that I wanted to document so I can copy from it again!

1 pack ground lean turkey
2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
2 peppers^ (green/red), diced
1 small onion, diced
2 sweet potatoes^, diced
2 tbsp EVOO
2 chipotle bouillon cubes (or one ancho-chili in chipotle sauce, diced or whole to remove after cooking)

4 cups (1 quart) beef broth [I use beef bouillon]
1.5 cups veggie (or chicken) broth
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans

1.5 cups cherry tomatoes^, quartered
1 avocado, sliced

Season to taste:
2 tsp chili powder
1tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp seasoning salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried cilantro

^ indicates an item that was fresh in our latest produce delivery! 

1. Brown turkey over medium heat (salt, no EVOO). Drain and set aside.

2. Heat EVOO in stock pot or dutch oven over medium. Add onion, peppers and sweet potato and stir occasionally until veggies soften and onions become translucent (6-10 minutes). Crumble chipotle cubes and add to pot.

3. Add turkey meat, black beans, kidney beans to pot along with beef and veggie broth. Season with chili, garlic & onion powder, salt, cumin and cilantro, to taste.

4. Stir well and simmer on medium low for 10-15 minutes before serving. Dish into bowls and top with sliced avocado and tomato.

Makes 6-8 servings, as main course.
Note: We didn’t include tonight, but corn kernals would be a tasty addition for next time…about a cup or so, frozen or fresh.

What’s for Dinner: Turkey Chipotle Chili

Christmas Cooking

Found my “Susie Homemaker” gear yesterday, as I decided I couldn’t ignore the basil forest that was emerging from my herb pot and threatening to take over Garrett’s desk. Making my own pesto has been on my mind, so I did some Google research on the best methods and ingredient equivalents, then formulated my own strategy.

The “How to Make Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother” link caught my eye…but as I read through the comments, I learned the mortar and pestle was the true way to go. Hey, I have one of those.

The food processor method wasn’t appealing, until I ground and pestled for about 30 minutes to come up with a small ball of pesto base. (2.5 cups basil, three garlic cloves, small handful pine nuts, two handfuls of Parmesan.) After mixing in about 2 tbsp of evoo (olive oil), I figured that would be plenty to pour over a block of brie at a party later on.

Note: this pesto had quite the kick, from the bruised basil an lots of garlic. Adding cheese helped make a more dense ball of pesto paste and helped the texture. Also, I used sea salt in the pestle to help break down the basil leaves.

Brie with home-ground Pesto

Knowing I had to double my pesto output to have enough for the Tortas I was planning to make, I pulled out the Cuisinart stick processor (one of those that has four attachments, the most notable being the stick blender…but I use the processor 95% of the time) and hoped my own Nonna wouldn’t shake her head in heaven.

I began to prune the basil forest, yielding about 3.5-4 cups of fresh leaves and a more healthy herb pot.  I loosely followed a basic Pesto recipe for equivalents, but took the “mix and add’ approach by throwing in bits of everything at a time, mixing for about 10 seconds, and adding more of all ingredients together and finally adding about half cup of evoo at the end (though it called for 1 cup). This produced about 1.25 cups of pesto, but I could’ve made more if I wanted it runnier, with more evoo.

My aunt Sue makes this awesome torta with cheese, pesto and sun dried tomato that I tried to emulate, but had to mash a handful of recipes together to do so. With these steps from Epicurious, Food.com and Green Eats Blog, I came up with this:

1 cup pesto (for homemade, see above)
1 cups sun dried tomato (all recipes called for tomatoes in oil, but I had the dried ones on hand)
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup EVOO (only if using dried tomatoes, not packed in oil)
splash Balsamic Vinegar
8 oz (one pack) low-fat cream cheese, divided in half (softened at room temp)
12 oz goat cheese (softened at room temp)
salt to taste

Make each layer (pesto, tomato & cheese) and set aside in individual bowls.

For tomato: Mix sun dried tomato and tomato paste (plus oil, if necessary) in food processor and blend until nearly smooth. Add a splash of balsamic and 4 oz of cream cheese, blend until mixed well.

For cheese: Mix softened goat cheese with remaining 4 oz of cream cheese in a small bowl. Microwave for 15 seconds first, if you forget to set out the cheese ahead of time, as this will help it blend. Salt to taste.

Layering: If you plan to serve on a plate very nice looking, follow instructions on lining a bowl/dish with parchment paper or plastic wrap, spray with cooking spray, layer, then invert on a platter when serving.  I cheated and used three ceramic mini-loaf pans instead. Cooking spray makes layering a bit harder to do, so you can probably skip it.

Start with the cheese. Halve the bowl, then divide each half in thirds, one for each pan. Spread across the bottom of the pan (thank you mini spatulas) in an even layer. Cheese is the only layer that is added twice.  Add a pesto layer (works best if the pesto is more solid than runny, so reduce the olive oil in the recipe if you can), followed by the tomato spread.

Each layer should set up fairly well. Top with the final layer of cheese. Wrap and refrigerate for a couple hours before serving (can make 1-2 days in advance). Before serving, top with a bit of extra pesto, sundried tomatoes and/or pine nuts for flair. Crackers, crostinis, bread all taste great with this.

Christmas Cooking

Soccer Mom in Training

I could write an entire blog just about learning how to be a soccer mom to nearly 30 grown men…but then I’d stop posting here and eventually would stop posting there as well. (Seems to be the constant in my blogging efforts…except for Teague FC!) In an effort to keep this both fresh and fun, I’ll share with you my latest ‘team mom’ escapades.

Jacksonville University (JU) had two exhibition games last week. I missed the first, opting for a running course instead (good: attending class. bad: not running since) and deciding to save my gas rather than rush up to the JU fields for the second half of the game that Garrett wasn’t even playing in. (Catch up note: Coaches put G on mandatory rest to start the season, as we try to get a diagnosis and treatment plan for his ab strain / stress reaction that has been bothering him all summer. Insurance delayed the process, as does once-a-week doctor availability. Hope to know more tomorrow.)

Fast forward to Friday — learned that I can leave my office in Ponte Vedra at 6:28pm and arrive at the JU soccer field literally right as the 7 pm kickoff happens. (Filing that one away for later in the season…) It was freshman orientation week, so I had to grab a seat in front of about 30 freshman or sophomore university students. Spent the entire game listening to them talk about “Justin Beiber. Taylor Swift. Parties. Quidditch. Movies. Parties. Sorority. Beach.” If 90 minutes of that was my own personal hell, I have much more sympathy for Garrett sitting through classes every day with these kids. Back to soccer: JU tied the exhibition 1-1. The team didn’t look nearly as good as I had hoped, playing a D2 school, but we went through this in the summer too (lost first four, won next eight), so I’ll be more optimistic. (Also, they beat South Florida 2-1 in the first exhibition match.)

Before I left the field, I snagged a homemade “Dolphins soccer” poster that one of the froshie sorority chicks had brought. She didn’t want to hang onto it, and I told her I was having team dinner the next night, so I might as well have team artwork too.

Saturday night was the first JU team dinner that I’ve let Garrett rope me into…and by “rope”, I mean I totally offered because who doesn’t love to cook for 12 hungry grown men in a 1,100 sq ft condo? The menu was fairly basic but the Costco shopping trip was anything but (Garrett sent me all alone, this was his mistake.)

  • Herb-crusted Sirloin tip roast (two x 3.5 pounds each)
  • Summer vegetable ratatouille (two pans)
  • Sweet potato fries (cheated and bought the big bag at Costco!)
  • Fusilloni pasta, lightly sauced, with fresh tomato & basil (big pot)
  • Costco rolls (one bag)
  • Apple pie and vanilla ice cream (Costco sized!)

The dinner was surprisingly easy to pull together, though our oven proved (again) that it doesn’t cook as quick as recipes suggest. I need to start remembering this! (Any tips on oven cleaning or optimizing for power/cook time?) Once the guys showed up, it wasn’t long before the chips and salsa were devoured and dinner was ready (buffet style). Helpful tip: The pack of 30 aluminum buffet pans for $3.50 are worth every penny. From cooking to serving to clean up, they were so easy!

JU Mens Soccer - Defense Team Dinner

After dinner, Garrett pulled out the cribbage boards and started to teach some of the guys how to play. Go figure, the married couple throws a college party and the craziest we can get is playing cards (and Playstation3). Team Europe (Toby from Germany & Henrik from Norway) took the first game (beginners luck!), but I was part of Team America that had two dramatic comeback wins to steal the honors of the night. Pretty sure that there is at least one cribbage board in the team locker room now…

Team dinner part one was a success, including one review “the best meal I’ve had since coming to the States.” (nice!) Part two, with the midfielders and forwards is tentatively planned for Labor Day weekend. 15 new guys…no sweat, right? If you have any menu suggestions that don’t include using an oven, please leave them in comments. I’m likely going to be doing this a few more times!

Soccer Mom in Training

Team Mom

Had a baking urge today…probably because I’ve been hearing daily (via Garrett) requests from the JU soccer team for me to send them goodies.

I’m a sucker, what can I say?

These are the chewy chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies from SkinnyTaste’s food blog. I left out the “low fat” descriptor from the title, because that doesn’t matter to 30 hungry guys in training.  I made a double batch and used a melon baller to scoop the cookie dough, but yielded 65 cookies. Sent about 2/3 with Garrett to the scrimmage tonight, because I couldn’t bear making a big cookie batch and only have a couple left over for us! No guilt here (low-fat, remember) since these are made with oatmeal, applesauce and a Splenda sugar blend.

SkinnyTaste.com is a great blog for food inspiration and guidelines to make your favorite recipes in a very healthy way. Gina, the author, includes nutritional info on each recipe, including Weight Watcher points (if that’s your style). I’ve made a ton of her recipes, and have never been disappointed. Hint: scroll into comments for insights into FAQ and how others have altered the recipe. Click over and pick out a meal for dinner this week…you won’t be sorry! (Let me know below what you chose and if you liked it!)

Team Mom

Soccer Tailgate at the JUFC “Save our Sports” game Saturday

Garrett’s summer soccer team is a NPSL team, or basically a regional semi-pro team made up of current & former collegiate and professional soccer players. Jacksonville United plays in a SouthEast league against teams from Tennessee, Georgia & Alabama throughout, though locally it’s tied in with one of the junior soccer clubs, JUFC.

Tomorrow’s home game is a big one, because it’s a charity game for the “Save Our Sports” campaign in Duval County schools. JV high school soccer is on the chopping block, but there’s a groundswell effort in the soccer community to fund raise private dollars to pay for the upcoming season. (Isn’t it funny that the GOP’s push for keeping tax breaks and no new taxes is actually forcing people like you and me to fund what we deem important to society out of our own pocket, under the guise of charity?? But that’s a post for another time…)

JUFC takes on Knoxville Force at Mandarin HS in Jacksonville at 7pm Saturday, the 25th. I’ve been told if the game sells out the 10,000 seat stadium, it would raise enough $$ to fund the JV soccer season for boys and girls next year. I’m not sure if we’ll get 10K people out, but even to get 1,000 would be awesome. I’ve been tweeting about this all week and sent game invites to all of our local friends in Jacksonville. I also decided I needed to practice my tailgating, since the Jacksonville University soccer season is a couple months away, and so too will hopefully be Jaguars NFL games. I’ve never actually thrown a tailgate party (and drive a Camry, sans an actual tailgate), so I’m researching recipes and penciling together a menu I think I can pull together.

If I hit up Costco when it opens and get to cooking not long after, I’ll have about 5-6 hours for the slow cooker, and a couple hours to pull the rest together around my other plans for the day. Here’s what I’m thinking so far.

Did I miss anything? Not sure if I’m trying too hard for my first attempt. Even if it’s just a few of us out tailgating, I think it will be fun to try out a menu that I can pack up and serve in a parking lot with friends. If you want to come out, here’s the link for tickets (or to make a donation to the cause): http://www.jacksonvilleunited.com/2011/06/help-jufc-save-our-sports/

Soccer Tailgate at the JUFC “Save our Sports” game Saturday

May I have dessert?

After I posted a pic of this strawberry & cream trifle I made for Easter brunch, I had a couple recipe requests. Since it wasn’t the shortest recipe to type out, thought I’d share it here too. Be warned, this is a two-recipe dessert. The pastry cream needs at least 3 hours to chill before layering into the trifle, while the dessert also needs 3 hours to blend flavors and chill before serving. I made my pastry cream the afternoon before Easter, then put it all together later that night. 12 hours later, it was perfect for serving.

Warning: The trifle was huge! My guests were polite and tried to take seconds, but most were too full from the Easter brunch meal. Even with six guys doing their bests, we only ate about 1/3 of this on Easter day. Great for potlucks, crowds and dessert parties where you know it will be eaten (hard to keep after another day).

First Trifle

Beautiful Strawberry and Cream Trifle
…from “Icebox Desserts” by Lauren Chattman

Pastry Cream: Makes 4 cups, Time: 20 minutes + 3 hours chill

4 cups half and half
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
5 large eggs
5 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces (1 stick)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Combine half and half, 3/4 c. sugar & salt in large heavy saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently

2. Meanwhile, in large bowl, whisk together eggs, cornstarch, 1/4 c. sugar until pale yellow and smooth, about 1 minute.

3. When half-and-half mixture simmers, remove from heat and gradually whisk it into egg mixture. Go slowly and whisk constantly so as not to curdle eggs. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat. Whisk constantly, just until a few bubbles break through the surface and mixture has thickened and is shiny, 1-2 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, one piece at a time, and the vanilla. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the hot pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours, up to 2 days.

Strawberry & Cream Trifle:
Serves 12 (empty stomachs!). Time: 25 minutes, plus 3+ hours to chill and 10 minutes before serving.

1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 c. Grand Marnier or orange liqueur (optional)
4 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 c. orange marmalade or strawberry jam
One 10-12 oz store bought pound cake or homemade (err on side of more, not less)
1 recipe (4 cups) Pastry Cream
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
12 small fresh strawberries for garnish

1. Bring the water, 1/4 c. of the sugar and Grand Marnier, if using, to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Let cool

2. In a large bowl, gently toss berries with marmalade or jam to coat

3. Cut pound cake into 12 slices, arrange on baking sheet (cutting board) and brush each lightly with sugar syrup. Cut each slice into 6 cubes.

4. Tightly arrange one-third of cubes in bottom of trifle bowl or large souffle dish. Spread one-third of pastry cream on top of cake cubes, smoothing with rubber spatula. Arrange one-third of berry mixture on top of pastry cream. Repeat twice, finishing with three layers each of cake, cream and berries. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 1 day.

6. When ready to serve, whip the heavy cream in a medium size bowl, using an electric mixer, with 1/4 c. sugar and vanilla until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread over top of trifle and top with whole strawberries and serve immediately.

May I have dessert?

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey & Orzo Soup

After two Thanksgiving dinners and two more days of eating leftovers, I needed to find a different way to eat turkey. Even though I tossed the bird carcass after it was cooked, I still had the wings & drumsticks as leftovers, which worked great in making my own turkey stock. Here’s a quick and easy turkey & orzo soup recipe that I came up with, after a little web research.


Leftover turkey (bones, skin & all)
Fresh herbs (I used thyme)
Bay leaf
Salt & Pepper
Chicken Broth or Chicken Bouillon

Put turkey, herbs, bay leaf into dutch oven or stockpot and cover with water. You can also add chicken broth or chicken bouillon to the water to give it more flavor. Bring to a boil, then turn down to Low (3-4) and simmer for 1-3 hours.


Chopped carrots and/or celery
Frozen peas (optional)
1-2 cups Orzo pasta (or other small pasta)

1. Remove skin, bones, herbs and other big chunks from the broth using a slotted spoon or colander.

2. Shred or chop turkey into smaller pieces and return to broth

3. Flavor broth to taste by adding salt & pepper, spices and/or more chicken broth/bouillon.
(Can also add more water if necessary)

4. Add chopped carrots & celery, peas (optional), and orzo to broth and return to boil.

5. Boil 10 minutes to cook pasta, then turn to low until ready to serve (orzo will continue to cook).

Serve with leftover rolls or bread for an easy & delicious meal!

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey & Orzo Soup

Thanksgiving Dinner Prep: Wed/Thursday

We had an extra day to complete our Thanksgiving dinner, since it was Friday to accommodate Navy schedules. This allowed me to use Thursday to knock out some of the advance prep work and a couple dishes for the main meal a day early. I tackled the Cranberry-Pomegranate Relish and Nonna’s Peas, both of which kept nicely until Friday’s dinner.

Backing up — on Wednesday night in my “get organized” stage, I planned to copy all the recipes I was going to use out of the magazines, so I wouldn’t be flipping through to find my next step. Garrett took it a step forward and suggested I ripped out my recipes and put them into plastic sleeves that I could keep in the kitchen. He knows I have a couple of binders full of printed & ripped recipes that I could add these to after the weekend. Genius! Having the recipes on hand, and protected from spills & food in sheet protectors was a huge help as I worked on two, three or four recipes at once.

Also on Wednesday, I started the Vanilla-Cider Panna Cota that I thought I would take to our hosts for Thursday. My first step Thursday morning was to create the cider reduction that would also be jelled (gelatin) and top the panna cota. (note: I didn’t make the ginger cookies that the recipe also uses.) I felt pretty good about the dessert, but forgot to make myself a small shot glass to test it before I took it to dinner. Reviews were mixed, with negatives about texture (its like gelatin, not a creamy custard) and positives for the flavors, especially the cider reduction. Not sure if I’ll do this one again, but it was fun to try out something new.

Next up was the Cranberry-Pomegranate Relish that I first sampled at a “Pom-Party” at the home of Ashlee from Veggie by Season. She gave a small jar to all her dinner guests to take home, and we were nearly out of our supply so I had extra motivation for making this for Thanksgiving dinner!  Two pounds of cranberries boiled & simmered in cran-pom juice (I couldn’t find Pom Wonderful on the shelves, unfortunately), with lemon zest, cinnamon sticks and lots of sugar. The recipe was quite easy and I had no problems with sugar sticking in my new Calphalon Unison Nonstick Dutch Oven (bonus to our wedding set of Tri-Ply Copper cookware). I may have used a bit too much lemon zest though, because this batch was much more tangy than what Ashlee made. I definitely recommend this recipe, enough that I may have to take a canning class to preserve my next batch!

While the cranberry sauce was cooking, I prepped the onions and other ingredients for Nonna’s Peas. The recipe comes from my Italian great-grandmother and is a family tradition for holiday & family meals. My first Thanksgiving in Jacksonville was also my first with Garrett, and he helped me make the peas for our “Navy family dinner”. We’ve made them together every year since and I think he loves them more than I do now! The recipe is much like the others in the family cookbook — a list of ingredients and simple instructions, with little detail on quantity, temperature & time. But I still can’t post it here, because my mom, Gramma and cousins all read my blog and would ban me from future dinners if I start sharing family secrets.  I do have a picture though…

Nonna's Peas at Thanksgiving


Our Thanksgiving Day dinner (Thursdsay) was hosted by a good friend of Garrett’s, at the Callari household. These two are originally from Philly and their Italian heritage influenced dinner, from the bruschetta & antipasti during the afternoon to the pumpkin ravioli first course. Our peas fit right in with dinner and we had a great night with these two and their friends. Thanks for having us!

Thanksgiving Dinner Prep: Wed/Thursday

Our First Thanksgiving, part 1

Our November plans changed last week when Garrett was hurt in a soccer game. The injury, a deep contusion & large hemotoma to his right thigh, resulted in two nights in the hospital and prevented us from taking our Costa Rica honeymoon as scheduled. The bright side of this (we were both terribly disappointed) is that we’ll be in Jacksonville for Thanksgiving, with our friends.

Thanksgiving is the only holiday that G&I have celebrated together every year since we started dating. The past two years, we’ve done a “family” Thanksgiving dinner with his Navy friends and their girlfriends/wives. This year the families have expanded to include two new babies, so we offered to host the turkey dinner. Secretly I was hoping that one of the guys, who has made turkey the past two years, would do so again this year so I could focus on all the fun stuff (appetizers, sides, etc) instead…but no such luck. He’ll likely help me out if I need, but the entire Thanksgiving dinner will come out of my kitchen for the first time ever. Yikes!

On Sunday I broke out the Food & Wine and Real Simple magazines to start looking for recipes. Tuesday (yesterday), G&I chose the menu and made the shopping list. Today we braved the grocery store to fill the list, on the afternoon before Thanksgiving…novice mistake? I should note that our main supermarket is closed tomorrow, so I wanted to get all/most of my list crossed off a couple days early.

I should have kept better track of the many websites I’ve used this week to research how big of a turkey I need, how to cook a turkey, how to defrost a turkey, how to maximize my kitchen output with one small oven, four gas burners and a crock pot, and easy decorating tips for the house. Lets just say, there were a lot! A couple worth checking out are Butterball.com”s “How To” section, FoodNetwork.com’s Thanksgiving, and Real Simple’s Thanksgiving Prep List (amazing!).

I’m hoping that I’ll remember to take pictures and post updates while cooking, shopping and putting together our first turkey dinner to share…and that the effort will launch me as a semi-regular food & cooking blogger, since I have plenty to write about. I’d love to hear your Thanksgiving & entertaining tips, especially since I have an extra day to put them into action.

Here’s our proposed menu for Friday’s dinner, for 9-10 guests.

Dressed Goat Cheese, served with crackers (from Real Simple, Dec 2010)
Hot Ricotta Dip (RS Dec 2010 recipe calls for endive accompaniment, but my guests are mostly guys so I think crackers here too)
Spinach Dip Bread Bowl  (saw this in a Publix ad, lol)

DINNER:  (set as a buffet, since my table won’t seat 10 people)
Easy Roasted Turkey (12 lbs) with Basic Gravy (adapted from RS Nov 2010)
Sausage & Sage Stuffing (RS Nov 2010)
Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Shallot (Food & Wine, Nov 2009)
Spiced Veggies with Pomegranate Seeds (F&W Nov 2009)
Nonna’s Peas (top secret family recipe is also a G&L tradition, we’ve made it every year)
Pomegranate Cranberry Relish (from Ashlee at Veggie by Season)
Rolls (something has to be store bought!)

to be determined (I’m hoping our guests bring this part!)
**I have vanilla-cider panna cotta in the fridge, via Food & Wine Nov 2009, that I couldn’t resist trying to make, even though it won’t make it to the Thanksgiving menu. G&I will try it ourselves, or I may take it to our T-Day dinner with our fellow foodie couple tomorrow.

Did I miss anything in the menu planning? Next up, prep work and deciding how I want to decorate. Black Friday shopping for me will likely include table linens & decorations for the Friday dinner!

Our First Thanksgiving, part 1