Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cooking Company

 I discovered that you never cook with someone else without learning something. In every case, there’s a two-way transfer of knowledge. If they know less than you do, you grow from teaching. If more, of course, you grow from learning.
-Mark Bittman

Over a year ago I wrote a post entitled Kids and Kale , which, it seems, none of you read (guilt intentional) and so I’ll remind you what I said. I wrote that I think most people can easily fall into a cooking rut. No matter how much you enjoy cooking, when pressed you go for the crowd-pleasing recipes you know by heart. I recruited a few friends and chef Jenna Helwig and we dished up some interesting, family-friendly recipes.

I’m happy to report that last time around we each found a recipe or two that made it into our families’ regular rotation but that was 2009. While we now all have improved standby selections we found ourselves, once again, craving new ideas. So the email went out to Jenna and we picked a date after the holidays. That date was last week and we all trudged through the snow, toting our knives and cutting boards, to my friend T’s apartment.
The menu was fantastic. We got started with Jena’s “Crowd-Pleasing Chili.” After a round of “not-it” my friend Z and I were put on onion chopping duty.  The others browned the meat and measured the spices. While some women compare purses, we talked knives. I have a minor obsession with Global stainless steel knives. Jenna and my friend S prefer the knives with a beveled edge and T was enjoying a new Kuhn Rikon ceramic knife in her favorite color purple 

With the chili simmering, next up was meatloaf with sage. We used oats versus breadcrumbs for this recipe.  A great tip of Jenna’s was to make little test patties, the size of a quarter and heat them in a pan to assess the seasoning of the loaf. With the seasonings approved, we moved onto the quinoa salad. 

On the subject of timesaving secrets, T told us that her mother used to make larger batches of seasonings for recipes she cooked often. She would then label them “chili seasoning” or “meatloaf mixture” and not have to measure away each time. If you ask me that’s genius and something that would never have occurred to me.
For our vegetable dish, Jenna jazzed up potentially boring broccoli with lemon zest and garlic. We mixed all the ingredients on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, for easier cleanup. The final recipe was a ginger shrimp dish. For this we prepared a brine which was something I hadn’t done before. My only prior brine association was pickles but I was thrilled to try something new.
 A couple of our friends had to run to school pick up but a few of us lingered and sat down to eat. We learned a lot and everything was delicious.
 Jenna calls this Crowd pleasing Chili but to be it’s Cinnamon Chili, either way it’s a good family recipe and a great Super Bowl option:

This is a great make-ahead meal, and it freezes very well.

Ingredients:  1 Tablespoon canola oil (if using ground turkey)
2 pounds ground beef, ground turkey, or a combo
                        2 small (or 1 large) onions, chopped
                        2 garlic cloves, minced
                        1 Tablespoon chili powder
                        1 tsp. cumin
                        1/4 tsp. cinnamon
                        1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
                        3/4 cup ketchup
                        28 oz. diced tomatoes and their juices
                        1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
                        1 tsp. red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
                        2 plum tomatoes, chopped

  1. If using ground turkey, add the canola oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the ground meat with the onions and garlic. If using ground beef, once the meat is browned, drain. You can generally skip this step if using ground turkey.
  2. Return the mixture to the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Raise heat to high and bring chili to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper if necessary.
  3. If desired, garnish with chopped avocado, shredded cheese, or chopped scallion.
 What are your favorite crowd-pleasing recipes to make? Who do you like to cook with? What knives do you like best? Can you relate to our dinner rut?


  1. I'm pleased with my Wusthof knives, but they need sharpening!!
    I'm stuck in a food rut right now. Thanks for sharing the tips and recipe.

  2. Claire, what every happened to that knife sharpening truck. I've resorted to buying new knives vrs sharpening, a costly habit.

  3. I enjoyed cooking with you ladies! I love the Bittman quote at the top. That's one of the reasons I like teaching so much -- I always learn something too. P.S. for knife sharpening, I take mine to Broadway Panhandler on 8th St. It's out of the way for uptowners but they do a great job.

  4. Thanks so much for sending me the link to your milk post. I went ahead and read it and I'll be honest, I never knew what non-UHP meant!! I feel so dumb (as an RD I should have known that...). So I appreciate your blog and your take on the isue, I learned some things!

    As for this post, chili is one of my favorite winter foods. I've been eating many different kinds as of lately, including a white bean chicken chili the other day at work (very tasty!). Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Gina, that's why we all post (and cook) to share our info, right? I haven't done the white bean chili. Tweet me your recipe link would love to try.

  6. I really enjoyed cooking with this group! Not only did I add some wonderful new recipes to my repetoire, I learned some great tidbits. Did u know they sell onion goggles to prevent those dreaded tears while chopping? Also, I now put an empty bowl in the middle of my counter for trash while cooking. So bending down! Cooking with friends inspired me in general to explore in the kitchen. I am happy we committed to doing this seasonly!

  7. Sue- yes onion goggles (forgot that one) or, in a pinch, ski goggles work too. Look forward to spring recipes and spring in general.

  8. This chili recipe sounds amazing!! Chili is one of the easiest things to make healthy without anyone knowing, so I'm so glad you shared this pre-superbowl sunday - I will definitely try it!

    As far as knives go, I am a huge global fan. I was feeling shakey about my knife skills before being tested on them this summer. My aunt realized I was using a junky knife and got me a global, it was a life-changer!

  9. What a fun afternoon! Great inspiration.

  10. Cooking with friends is always a great time. My best friend and I will alternate apartments and cook dinner together every few months. We pick a recipe neither of us has made and learn from each other along the way. One of the great things about cooking is that learning never stops. There is always a new recipe, new spice or new knife to use. The recipe looks great too. Can't wait to try it!

  11. Jill a lot of fun, I'd rec Rosaberry if you know anyone looking for this type of class. Melissa, it's funny part of this was having a professional shape and guide us but another part was being together and sharing our stories and tips.

  12. The chili sounds absolutely delicious. As does time spent with friends cooking and creating. One of these days, I am going to start that knife collection and start cooking. I promise!

  13. It's so true about learning both as teacher and as student. The crowd-pleasing chili look great. Love the tips on using oats instead of breadcrumbs and making seasoning in big batches.

  14. love cooking with others, don't do it nearly enough. makes me want to invite friends over and have a cooking party.

    on a funny note, my six year old popped over as i was reading and saw pictures of food and women. he says "where are you?" i respond, well this is another blog I'm reading. there are lots of blogs and websites about food, I only write one of them. he follows up with "well, which one is the healthiest?" love that kid. wish i could bottle his little six year old self and visit him in a decade.

  15. Cooking with the group was so much fun and such a great learning experience...very inspiring! I used organic ketchup in my chili for the first time, and it was really delicious! I have already tried two of our recipes and my family loved them both, which was very exciting for me because it is not always easy to get them to try new things. I can't wait for the spring recipes!

  16. It's cold here and this heartwarming chilli dish would make a perfect weekday meal with some steamed rice or pita bread.

  17. The 'Be Sharp' knife sharpening guy never showed last time. There has been a truck in front of Zabars on Saturdays but it's not consistent. I think the Bowery Kitchen Supply in Chelsea Market has knife sharpening Weds. & Sat.

  18. It was an amazing experience to visit this website and read the articles and contents.

    Shredding and granulating knives & Industrial (machine) Knives