Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Perfect Menu for a Crisp Fall Evening

I'm happy when fall rolls around, because as I often say to friends, I'm always at a loss as to what to cook in the summer months. Besides throwing something on the grill, I can never seem to come up with yummy, yet summery, fare. Nope, I'm much more of a fall and winter cook, since some of my favorite dishes to make (and eat!) are soups, stews, and comforting casseroles. I generally make a pot of chili on the first weekend that, temperature wise, I can possibly justify a cold-weather menu.

One of my favorite cool-weather dinner entrees is White Bean Chicken Chili. I first had a white chili that I really liked at a friend's house in a neighboring state, but when she shared her recipe with me, I found out that it used a commercial seasoning mix that isn't available where I live. So I started trying other, similar recipes, and when I found this one, I knew I'd hit the jackpot. My older son insists that this Southwest-inspired chicken chili "tastes like tacos," and it's become one of his favorite dinners. It's an added bonus that the recipe is pretty healthy and very low-fat. Although the recipe itself doesn't call for using a slow cooker, that's how I make mine, and I've included a couple of tips about that at the end of the recipe. And, I pretty much always accompany the white chili with Grandma's Cornbread, hands down the BEST cornbread I've ever eaten. In fact, this recipe turned my husband, who is a confirmed cornbread-hater (he says it's always dry), into a multiple-piece cornbread eater. The cornbread from this recipe comes out moist and delicious, and it's just as good reheated the second day, as well (if the pan lasts that long!).

White Bean Chicken Chili
8 servings

2 T. vegetable oil
2 lbs. diced, cooked chicken
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chicken broth
1 can tomatillos, drained and chopped OR
1 jar salsa verde (such as Archer Farms)
1 (16 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (7 oz.) can diced green chiles
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cans small white beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat oil in a Dutch oven, and cook onion and garlic until soft. Stir in broth, tomatillos or salsa, tomatoes, chiles, and spices (except salt and pepper). Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add corn, chicken and beans; simmer another 10 minutes to half an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish bowls with chopped cilantro. Serve with an assortment of toppings, such as lime wedges, shredded cheese, avocado, sour cream and tortilla chips.

Slow cooker instructions: Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a large slow cooker. Cook on low for 7-8 hours, until flavors have combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve as noted above.

Note: I like to buy big "family packs" of bone-in chicken breast when they are on sale at my local grocery store. Sometimes they are as inexpensive as $1 per pound! I load the breasts into a large stock pot, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of hours. I remove the chicken breasts from the pot and, once the pieces have cooled, I pull the meat from the bones and cut or shred it. I package the cooked meat in meal-sized portions and freeze it. When I'm ready to make this recipe, I just grab a bag of chicken from the freezer and add it to the slow cooker along with all of the other ingredients. Then I skim the wonderful broth that's left in the stock pot, cool it, and put it into 2 cup containers for the freezer. There's NOTHING like homemade chicken stock!

Grandma's Cornbread
Makes 12 pieces

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9" square baking pan. In mixing bown, mix together melted butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until well blended. Combine buttermilk with baking soda and stire into mixture in bowl. Stir in cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Note: I often make this cornbread in a pan that's a little bit larger than the size called for in the recipe, so that the pieces aren't quite as thick. If you decide to do the same, be sure to adjust your cooking time, because cornbread made in a larger, shallower pan won't take quite as long to bake. Oh, and can I just say -- this recipe is worth buying a carton of buttermilk for. You can use sour milk but it just isn't the same. I've found that buttermilk (because of it's very low fat content) will keep quite awhile, and it's a great addition to many kinds of baked goods.

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