Turn Up the Heat, It’s Chili Season!

Chili is the perfect fall dish. Think about it. Few foods are more satisfying on a cool, crisp evening than a hearty bowl of chili. Serve this savory stew on game day and you’re sure to score a lot of points with hungry football fans. And, because it’s so versatile (have you seen all the different chili recipes online?), it appeals to any appetite.

Some like their chili muy caliente (very hot) with loads of sweat-inducing peppers that set our tongues ablaze, while others prefer a milder version, with just a dash of cumin and cayenne. In Texas they leave out the beans (it’s called “Bowl ’o Red”), and in Ohio they serve it over pasta (aka Cincinnati Chili). So, how you make and take your chili seems to be a matter of taste, tradition, and location.

Every October we have a Chili Cook-Off at work. Resident “chefs” bring in slow cookers filled with their homemade creations, and by noon people are lined up with bowls in hand, eager to treat their palates to a range of flavorful and fiery concoctions.  My taste buds are tingling already!

Since we tend to consume a lot of chili this time of year – at football parties, potlucks, everyday meals, AND cook-offs – I thought I’d share a few recipes, including some award winners! Note: if you can’t take the heat, just tweak the recipe a bit or go with one that’s a little less zingy.

white-chicken-chili

The 1st place winner in our last chili cook-off. One taste and you’ll know why!

Southwest White Chicken Chili   
This is my absolute favorite chicken chili recipe and it’s gluten-free!
Ingredients:
3-4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 (14.5 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed
2 (14.5 oz.) cans sweet corn, one drained & one with liquid
2 cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
2 pkgs. dry ranch dressing mix
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. cumin
1(14.5 oz.) can of chicken broth (optional)

Directions:
1) Place cooked, shredded chicken in the bottom of a slow cooker.
2) Pour the beans, corn, and tomatoes over the chicken. Mix in the ranch mix and spices. NOTE: This is a thick chili. If you are concerned with the thickness, you can add chicken broth to thin it down some. It won’t change the flavor much, just the consistency.
3) Lay the cream cheese on top of the chicken, beans, and corn.
4) Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
5) When done cooking, stir in the cream cheese.
Serves 6-8. Recipe courtesy of glutenfreemakeover.wordpress.com. Photo: dennyssupervalu.com

Chili Corn Carne - traditional mexican food, in wooden bowl,

This recipe is loaded with extra-hot peppers, so it definitely has some kick to it!

Matschina’s Ghost Chili
If you like it hot, I mean really hot, this one’s for you!
Tip: Keep dairy products (e.g., ice cream or milk) on hand to tone down the heat from the peppers. Wear gloves when cutting chili peppers.
Ingredients:
7 ghost peppers, julienned
5 habanero peppers, julienned
5 jalapeño peppers, julienned
1 yellow bell pepper, julienned
2 medium white onions, chopped
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage
3/4 lb. applewood smoked bacon
3-4 (28 oz.) cans of San Marzano tomatoes
Vegetable oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt & pepper, to taste
All-purpose flour (optional)

Directions:
1. Using a sauté pan, heat oil to medium heat and add garlic. Simmer garlic for one minute; add peppers and onions and sauté until onions are translucent and peppers are heated yet crisp (not soggy). Place in cooking pot (without heat).
2. In another pan, brown sausage, adding salt and pepper to both. Drain grease.  Add to cooking pot.
3. Cook bacon. Drain grease. Chop. Add to cooking pot.
4. Add tomatoes straight from the can to cooking pot. Break up tomatoes with cooking spoon into bite-size pieces, but not so much that you have created a sauce.  Add up to all 4 cans to cooking pot, depending on your desired consistency.
5. Add all spices to taste, using a smaller amount of oregano than the first three on the list and then salt and pepper to taste.
6. Simmer everything in cooking pot on low-medium heat for 3-4 hours to allow flavors to come together.
7. Serve with flour tortillas, cheese, onions, sour cream, and chives.

debdoozles-chili

Simple to make and full of flavor – no wonder it got 5 stars on allrecipes.com!

Debdoozie’s Blue Ribbon Chili
This is one of the easiest and tastiest chili recipes out there!
Ingredients:
2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) jar salsa (mild, medium. or hot, depending on your taste)
1 pkg. chili seasoning mix
1 (15 oz.) can light red kidney beans
1 (15 oz.) can dark red kidney beans

Directions: In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, combine ground beef and onion; sauté for 10 minutes or until meat is browned and onion is tender. Drain grease. Add black pepper, garlic salt, tomato sauce, salsa, chili seasoning mix, and kidney beans. Mix well, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least one hour. Serves 8.
Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com.

For True Texas Chili, try this recipe from epicurious.com.

Skyline Chili 3-way
Wondering how chili tastes with spaghetti? Here’s a recipe for Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili from americanfoodroots.com.

Go meatless with this Contest-Winning Vegetarian Chili from Taste of Home.

Now that I’ve enticed you with all these amazing recipes, it’s time to indulge your chili cravings!

Find more great comfort food recipes on our Smart Perks Pinterest Board!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. likes to get out and enjoy the fall weather, but when winter comes she’d rather hibernate.

Go-To Recipes for End of Summer Get-Togethers

Summer may be winding down (can you believe we’re closing in on August already? Dang!), but chances are you still have a family reunion, picnic, backyard barbecue, or town celebration coming up, and then of course there’s Labor Day weekend. Whatever it is, you’ll probably be providing some kind of side or dessert to round out the meal and share with the group. You could go with the usual macaroni salad or bars from a box, but why not shake things up and impress your relatives or friends with something totally unexpected?

If you’re looking for something different and delicious to bring to the table, I’ve got some recipes you should definitely try!

calico beans

Calico Beans beats basic baked beans any day! Photo courtesy of crockpotladies.com

Calico Beans 
Ingredients:
1/2 lb. bacon, in pieces
2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 (16 oz.) can baked beans in tomato sauce
1 (15-1/2 oz.) can kidney beans
1 (16 oz.) can butter beans
1 cup ketchup
3 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
Directions: Fry bacon pieces; remove from grease. Brown ground beef. Add onions and celery at end of browning. In baking dish, combine remaining ingredients; add bacon and ground beef mixture. Bake covered at 350° F for 45 minutes or for 6-8 hours on low in a slow cooker.

coleslaw

More zesty and colorful than classic coleslaw! 

Sweet-and-Sour Coleslaw 
Ingredients:
4 cups chopped or shredded cabbage (I buy the kind in a bag)
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp. jalapeño pepper, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 small can cooked corn kernels, cooled
Dressing:
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
Salt to taste
Directions: Place cabbage, peppers, onions, cilantro, and corn in a large bowl. Mix vinegar, sweetener, and salt in a small bowl, add to cabbage mixture and toss well. Chill before serving.   Recipe and photo from allrecipes.com

cowboy caviar 3

Why settle for regular salsa when you can dip your chips in Cowboy Caviar? Photo courtesy of culinaryhill.com

Cowboy Caviar  
Ingredients:
1 can garbanzo beans – drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans – drained and rinsed
1 can black beans – drained and rinsed
1 can white corn – drained
4 stalks celery
1 green, 1 yellow & 1 red pepper – chopped
1 small red onion – chopped
Dressing
1 cup canola oil
½ cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
Directions: Boil dressing ingredients together. Mix dressing with bean/veggie ingredients and refrigerate overnight.

caprese salad

A light, refreshing Italian salad that’s easy to make and simply delish! 

Caprese Salad 
Ingredients:
2 lbs. assorted fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 lb. cubed mozzarella
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (I use balsamic vinegar)
Salt & pepper to taste
Directions: Toss ingredients together and chill before serving.
Photo and recipe from Foodnetwork.com

snow cone cupcakes

These snow cone treats are actually cupcakes, which means they won’t melt! Photo courtesy of lovefromtheoven.com

Snow Cone Cupcakes
You’ll find all kinds of recipes for these and other clever summer-theme cupcakes on Pinterest!

Deviled Eggs are always a hit at summer parties, but instead of going with the same old mayo and mustard recipe, try one of these Unique Deviled Egg Toppings!

Looking for handy ways to store, serve and carry your food & beverages?  Check these out:

snap and stack 2Snapware® Snap ‘N Stack Food Storage Eggtainer
Ideal for picnics and potlucks, this multi-use tote has two removable egg holders for deviled eggs and stackable containers for bars or cookies. Buy it now at boscovs.com

 

crock potCrock-Pot Oval 7 Quart Red Slow Cooker with Travel Bag
Perfect for hot appetizers, entrees, and side dishes (like Calico Beans!). Comes with a travel bag for easy toting to summer parties. Buy it now at shopko.com

cooler
Rubbermaid 60-Quart Wheeled Cooler

Keep beverages cold on the go with this roomy, easy-to-maneuver cooler. It holds up to 62 cans with ice, plus has built-in cup holders. Buy it now at homedepot.com

Enjoy!

Smark Perks Blogger Catherine B. loves summer. She just wishes it lasted longer (if only she could say the same for winter!).

 

NewYear

“Cheers to a New Year and another chance to get it right.”
– Oprah Winfrey

It’s time to uncork the champagne and bid adieu to 2015! We all know New Year’s Eve is a big deal and people all over the globe will be celebrating in a big way. You’ll find everything from extravagant, black-tie galas at high-class hotels to Karaoke contests in small town bars. If you’re not out carousing with friends you’re probably glued to your TV watching millions of spirited revelers take over Times Square.

Back in my single days, my friends and I would get all decked out and pay a month’s worth of wages to attend some lavish soiree, hoping to meet a rich bachelor (a girl’s gotta dream, right?).

Other years we’d go bar hopping and spend half the night fending off inebriated admirers and the other half waiting in line for drinks. Of course, we could always count on a few brawls and plenty of PDA to keep us entertained. Ah, good times.

If you’ve ever been out on New Year’s Eve you know how crazy (and expensive) it can be. So, if you want to take a break from the outlandish parties and crowded bars, I have some ideas for a fun evening with friends or family at (or close to) home.

Neighborhood Block Party. My sister-in-law and her husband live in Florida and every New Year’s Eve they get together with their neighbors for a barbecue. They’re on a cul-de-sac so they’re able to set up grills and tables right on the street and roam around with drinks in hand. At midnight they shoot off fireworks. The best part is everyone can walk home afterwards.

Progressive Dinner. Another great way to celebrate the New Year with your neighbors is to have a progressive dinner – appetizers at one house, the main course at another and dessert at a third. Everyone contributes something for each course.

big glasses times square

Theme Party/Potluck. Get the gang together at someone’s house and have everyone bring a snack or appetizers and their beverage of choice. To add a fun twist to your gathering, have it revolve around a specific theme. We do this every year and so far we’ve had pirates, hippies, the Old West, famous TV characters, a Hawaiian Luau, and a Mexican Fiesta. Often times the food, decorations and party favors are tied to the theme.

For entertainment, you could play games, watch movies and tune into one of those New Year’s Eve extravaganzas on TV. Don’t forget the party hats, foil horns and champagne!

Dollarphotoclub_73383225.jpg

Girls’ Night In. Watch romantic comedies or episodes of TV shows like Sex and the City, Downton Abbey and Desperate Housewives, maybe play some board games or even a little Truth or Dare! Forget the diet for one night (it’s the holidays after all) and indulge in your favorite comfort foods. For beverages, how ‘bout mixing up some delicious “girly” drinks, like cosmos, sparkling sangrias, or lemon drop martinis. Check out mygirlishwhims.com for easy and tasty drink recipes.

Dinner for Two. No reservations, no problem! You can always have a romantic dinner at home. Some menu ideas: Filet Mignon with baked potatoes & tossed salad, a pasta dish like Fettucine Alfredo or Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Caesar salad & French bread, or seafood with steamed asparagus and rice pilaf. Not sure what kind of wine to serve with your meal? Click here for a wine & food pairing chart  Create a romantic mood with lighted candles and soft music. Or, make it more casual and have pizza and beer. Hey, whatever floats your boat!

Happy new year card on table set for party

Family Movie/Game Night. When our kids were young, we’d rent movies or watch them on VHS tapes (remember those?). Now that there’s Blu-ray the picture and sound is so much better. Or, make it easy and stream movies directly to your TV. Enjoy a few “concessions” like popcorn, candy and beverages while you’re at it. As for games, you can play board games, cards, or build a puzzle together.

Click here for a list of the top 100 movies for kids & families from Rotten Tomatoes.

Click here for a list of the best board games for families.

Click here for fun New Year’s Eve games for kids and adults.
Of course, every New Year’s celebration needs some good eats. So, I’ve included a few of my favorite appetizer recipes:

med102917_0507_artichokedip_vert

Artichoke Dip from marthastewartliving.com

Buffalo Chicken Dip
Sweet ‘n Tangy Meatballs
Bacon-Wrapped Smokies
Artichoke Dip
Fiesta Pinwheels

Here’s to a happy, safe and healthy new year!

Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, enjoys celebrating the New Year with good friends, good food and good wine (in this case a sparkling Asti Spumante).

May your troubles be less,
And your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness come through your door.
– Irish Toast

Iconic Slow Cookers: The Audrey Hepburn of Kitchen Appliances

food-network_crockpot-sausage-bean-stew

Sausage, Bean & Pasta Stew. Click for the recipe. Photo Courtesy of Food Network.

Thinking deep philosophical thoughts this morning.

Like, “Do people in southern California love the Crock-Pot® as much as the rest of the country?” Because right now, in addition to sweater weather, changing leaves and football, people are going nuts over the start of Crock-Pot season!

Seriously…is there a more universally beloved counter-top appliance than the slow cooker?

Sorry toaster. Not even close.

The mere thought of walking in the front door after a day at work and that rush of delicious aroma, from a hearty satisfying soup or stew, enveloping you like a warm bath sheet or downy comforter, is pure bliss.

CrockPots

Clockwise from left to right: Cheetah Print from QVC ($39.99), Bella Diamonds from Kohl’s ($29.99), NFL Crock-Pot from WalMart ($39.42) and Purple Polished Stainless from Kohl’s ($29.99).

The slow cooker is unmatched in versatility. From pot roasts, soups and stews, to desserts and warm beverages, the Crock-Pot is the go-to appliance for any occasion.  People are even baking bread in a Crock-Pot these days. Is there nothing this little wonder cannot do? My new must-have is the darling little Crock-Pot Lunch Cooker. In pink! When I see a product this cute, and something every office worker MUST HAVE, I have to buy one. Christmas gift for the hard-to-buy-for? HELLO. What else are you going to get that is so adorable, functional and will last forever for $20?

Crock-Pot Lunch Cooker $19.99 @ Target

A good Crock-Pot is timeless. It never goes out of style. It’s the Audrey Hepburn or James Dean of the cooking world. However, like shoes, you can never have too many crock pots.

Crock-Pot_SCRMTD307-DK_16-Ounce_Little_Triple_Dipper,_Silver_and_Black_Free_Shipping_-_2015-10-07_14.31.25

The Crock-Pot Little Triple Dipper Food Warmer $34.97 at casa.com

I own 5 slow-cookers. Two mini-dip warmers, which only have one setting, a round 5-quart and oval 7-quart Crock-pot, for potlucks and smaller Sunday meals, and then the granddaddy of them all, the 6 1/2-quart All-Clad Programmable Slowcooker, the Mercedes of slow cookers with the weight of a Mack truck.

At one point I became convinced I couldn’t live without the three-crocks-in-one heating unit buffet server, until my mother bought it for me. The box was the size of a small car. Where is one supposed to store that thing? It was ginormous.

Diamond_Black_Rose_6_Quart_Manual_Slow_Cooker_Nordstrom_Rack_-_2015-10-08_13.22.59

Black rose Bella 6-qt. slow cooker $39.97 at Nordstrom Rack online.

However, if I had a bigger house, a larger family, or did more entertaining, that beast would be mine.

Even though I do own an All-Clad Programmable that cost over $150, another Christmas gift from Mom (thanks, mom), I’ve found that the smaller 5-6 quart manual slow cookers are every bit as good, despite having fewer settings. Plus, they cost a lot less.

The best thing about Crock-Pot cooking is how simple it is. When is the last time you made an appetizer in 5 minutes? AND got rave reviews for it? Trust me. This recipe for Sweet & Spicy Meatballs is a perennial favorite at holiday potlucks.

Sweet & Spicy Cocktail MeatballsUltimate_Party_Meatballs_Ocean_Spray_-_2015-10-07_15.27.08

1 14 oz. can Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce

1 12 oz. bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce

1 2-lb bag frozen, pre-cooked, cocktail meatballs

Directions: Place meatballs in the slow cooker. Combine sauces and pour over meatballs. Cover and cook 4 hours. Prep time 5 minutes. 30 appetizer servings.

Another of my fall favorites, perfect for a Sunday afternoon of leaf-raking or couch-surfing, this slow cooker French Dip from the Let’s Dish Recipes blog. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tiny pink Crock-pot to buy.

slow-cooker-french-dip-sand

Hello Gorgeous!

Blogger Mel B,  a Smart Perks employee, never met a counter-top appliance she didn’t like.