It’s official: all this cold, dark weather has put me on a comfort food kick. If the forecast is to be trusted, sunset hits Berlin at about 4:30pm. Honestly, I haven’t seen the sun make an appearance on any recent afternoon. It’s just been gray, gray, gray. Then pitch dark.
As close to a sunny day as you get in Berlin.
So how does a SAD girl beat the blues? With vitamin D supplements, the occasional jog, and frequent carby, cheesy, meaty homecooked meals. If I make it through winter without having to buy new jeans (or more Spanx), it will be strictly by the graces of my under-30 metabolism.
I was very pleased with myself for inventing the following recipe until a friend pointed out that it’s quite close to the Midwestern classic, tamale pie. Whether you see this as Tex-Mex-Italian fusion or classic comfort food, see that it makes it onto your dinner table—stat!
Chili con Carne:
-1/2 lb. ground beef
-2 Tbsp. chili powder (or to taste)
-1 small onion, finely chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 Tbsp. tomato paste
-dash of sugar, preferably brown
-1/2 c. red wine (optional), beer, or water
-3/4 c. tomato juice
-1 tsp. beef bullion base (optional)
-1 regular can kidney beans, drained (14.5 oz.)
-1 regular can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz.)
-2 tsp. cumin
-1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa
-cayenne pepper, to taste
-salt and pepper to taste
1. Brown the ground beef on high heat in a medium pot, breaking up into small pieces and seasoning with half the chili powder, salt, and pepper.
2. Turn the heat down a bit and push the beef to the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Fry the chopped onions in the remaining oil, sprinkling with a little sugar to aid browning.
3. Mix together the beef and onions and stir in the garlic and tomato paste. Deglaze with red wine, scraping up the brown bits into the sauce. Let the wine cook off.
4. Reduce the heat and pour in the tomato juice, bullion (if using), beans, diced tomatoes, cumin, cocoa, and remaining chili powder.
5. Simmer uncovered for 1-1.5 hrs. Add water or more tomato juice if it begins to look dry. Taste for seasoning, adjusting chili powder, sugar, salt, and pepper to your preference.
-1 c. polenta or coarse-ground corn meal
-3 c. water
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. garlic powder
-olive oil, for frying
1. Bring water and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil.
2. Carefully and slowly whisk in cornmeal. Reduce heat to a bare simmer.
3. Continue whisking cornmeal over low heat until it thickens to the consistency of thick-cooked oatmeal. You may want to take the pot off the heat occasionally if scalding cornmeal lava gives you the willies.
4. Cover a cutting board with foil, leaving about 1 inch of overhang on the edges. Lightly butter or oil the foil. Fold the edges up, creating a square foil “dish” to hold the polenta. (Alternately, line an 8×8 square dish with foil and grease.)
5. Using a spatula, spread the polenta onto the foil to an even 3/4-in. thickness using a spatula. Try to keep it in a square shape.
6. Chill the polenta until set.
7. Cut the cornmeal into 12 squares.
8. In a nonstick skillet with 2-3 Tbsp. of olive oil, fry the polenta in batches, turning to color and crisp each side slightly. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Place two or three polenta squares on each plate. Spoon over some hot chili and top with your choice of cheese. Serve with a crisp green salad.
A crunchy romaine salad with pears, bleu cheese,and balsamic vinaigrette was a nice accompaniment.