Through the Kitchen Window

As many of you know, I have four kids. The eldest, a daughter, is a whirlwind in the kitchen and has far surpassed me in ways too innumerable to list. The second child, also the first of three boys, is a chef, currently in England working with Bryn Williams in his posh London eatery, Odette’s. His next stop: Australia. Number two son is a budding aerospace engineer, in his second year of university, but, since he’s living with his sister, he’s not your typical starving student.

We’ve always been a family that comes together around the dinner table. Whether it was a school milestone, simple weekend dinners, special holidays, or just bringing a few friends together to share, we tend to punctuate the occasions in life with a celebratory meal. And everyone has their favourite, must have foods for their important day. Still and all, it came as a bit of a surprise when my number three son, Anthony, also known as the baby of the family, handed me a request not long ago. Just before Christmas, he gave me a hard cover journal-type book called “I’m Just here for the Food – Cook’s Notes brought to you by Alton Brown”. Now many of you will know that Brown is a well known, well-respected chef, connoisseur and TV personality.

What surprised me about the book, was not that Anthony had it, since it’s legend in the family that he and his sister both adore Brown and try to never miss his shows. What did surprise me, was that the book was empty. Yes, you read that right, it was empty!!! Let me clarify. It has pages, probably about fifty of them, but they’re blank. Well, they have lines and boxes delineated on them, but, except for the odd bon-mot from the chef himself, there are no recipes, pointers, instructions, or anything else!!!

It is, literally, a cook’s notebook. On the cover, in a starburst pattern, is a selection of ideas for the use of said book. Suggestions such as, “favourite flavours”, “what to eat”, “tools you want to buy”, “techniques to try”, “write it down so you don’t forget”, and so on. What Anthony wants me to do with it, is interesting. He said; “Mom, I’m probably never going to find anyone who cooks like you, so you need to write it down for me.”

After being flattered, I had to laugh, because he is my most picky eater. He himself freely admits that if it wasn’t cooked by Marina (his sister) or me, he really doesn’t want to eat it. Oh, he’ll eat in restaurants, but he’s not an adventurous eater there either, relying mainly on steaks, grilled chicken and the like.

So, he gave me his preliminary list and is now in the process of thinking of other foods he needs to know how to make. So far, it’s a short list, only holds five recipes, Chili (he hates ground meat, but I use diced beef, pork and veal); Veal Parmiggiana, Osso Buco, Braised Chicken and Sugo, aka Spaghetti Sauce. But I’m sure, with time, it’ll expand.

I’m sometimes easily sidetracked by ideas and this was no exception. It got me thinking. What recipes, things you make without even thinking about them, would your kids want to know how to make? If they could, like Anthony did, give you a book in which to write them down, what specific things would they want to know? One thing I do know, a project of this nature isn’t accomplished over night. It’s going to be an ongoing thing, because, everyday will bring a reminder of something they love, something they should know, something you just want them to have.

I thought it would make an interesting undertaking. And, if yours haven’t approached you to do this, why not think about putting a notebook like this together as a gift. For the daughter that’s getting married, the son going off to school, or the “baby” who’s finally spreading his wings, take the time from now till that day comes and “write it down so THEY don’t forget”. That’s what I’ll be doing this winter and spring. Meantime, I’d like to hear from you what recipes your family holds dear. Or, what recipes your gramma made for you that you still make, the exact same way, today. Just follow the feedback link below, and who knows, you may very well be on your way to a family heirloom!!!

Just because Anthony reminded me that I have to get working on this, and because March is a great month for a bowl of hearty goodness, I’m reprinting my chili recipe. Enjoy!!!

Roxie's Chili

This makes a humungous pot and since it’s no old wives’ tale that chili is best the day after, there’ll be no problem dealing with leftovers!!! The Meat (if you prefer, the meats can all be ground, but in our house, we believe in a chili you can sink your teeth into.)
  • 4 lbs chuck steak, cubed in about 1/2" pieces
  • 2 lbs lean pork, cubed
  • 2 lbs veal, cubed
The Vegetables
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 6 jalapeno peppers, chopped seeds and all
  • 2 chipotle peppers, chopped
  • 1 - 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 – 14 oz. can tomato puree
  • 3 – 19 oz. cans pinto (or kidney) beans
The Spices
  • 3 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 3 tsp oregano
  • 3 tsp basil
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp Mexican chili powder
  • 1 tbsp Chinese chili paste (it may not be authentically Mexican, but it’s my “secret” ingredient)
The Secret
  • 2 bottles cerveza (approximately)

In a large heavy pot -- I use an 18 liter cast aluminum stockpot -- brown your meat in small batches until nicely browned and set it aside. Then, in the same pot, sauté the onion, garlic and peppers till softened, add the diced tomatoes and tomato puree and simmer about 20 minutes. Return the meat to the pot and add enough of the beer to just cover everything. Add the spices, bring to a boil and gently simmer for 45 minutes or until the cubes of beef are tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking, add the beans and a bit more beer or water if necessary and simmer for about 30 minutes more. Taste again to adjust for seasoning -- at this point if I find it needs more spiciness, and this is entirely dependant on who I'm making it for, I add more chili paste or use Sambal Oelek and just allow it to heat through.

Serve with cornbread, soft tortillas and lots of sour cream and shredded cheese.

Well, that’s it for another month. I hope I’ve given you some “food for thought” and that you’ll be busily working away on your heirloom family recipe book over the blustery March days. Remember to drop us a line and let us know what favourites you’re memorializing.