Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is Cincinnati in Greece?

     I was born in Cincinnati. Skyline Chili is famous there. It is not your typical American-Tex-Mex Chili. It is more delicate, aromatic, sublime. It is a mix between what we think of as chili and perhaps spaghetti. There are various names for it...Empress Chili, Greek Chili, Skyline Chili, Cincinnati Chili...I was raised on it. My Dad was the Master of this meal. Mom had the night off when we ate "Greek Chili." It was usually on the weekend because Dad would make almost a production out of it, simmering it in the pot for hours. It would drive us kids crazy. We couldn't wait until it was finished.

     When Bruce and I married, and I served it to Emily and Sharon, they weren't sold on it at first. There are different spices in it, including cinnamon and allspice. Do not let that throw you. This stuff is, well, as Dad described it, "Beautiful!" Emily and Sharon didn't think so, but dutifully ate dinner whenever it was served. About two years into our marriage Emily took a High School trip to Greece. What a wonderful experience for a young person! I did not expect one of her comments when she returned home, "They served your Chili there!" She was hooked; Sharon, too. It was true, the street-side vendors doled out bowls of pasta ladelled with my chili! Well, it was their chili...somehow Cincinnati got a hold of the recipe (I'm sure from Greek imigrants) and a tradition was borne.

We found a Skyline Chili in Columbus

Yes, it promotes peace...or nirvana

Even babies love it

Teenagers love it

Just crazy for it

     Don't think of it like American Chili. Don't think of it like Italian Spaghetti. This is a unique recipe and experience! It does take a little time, but it is well worth it. Leftovers are even better the next day! There are individual recipes and I have heard that many include chocolate--my Dad's never did and so I don't know the difference. Dad wrote his recipe down long ago. I still have the old, stained index card:

 "Empress Chili"

2 lbs ground beef (I find 80-85% lean the best)
1 toe garlic (that's what Dad called them, otherwise "clove"), chopped fine
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 tsp ground Cinnamon (start with that, but I use 2)
1 tsp ground Allspice
2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
1 quart water
4 medium onions, chopped fine
1 Tb white vinegar
3 Tbs good quality Chili Powder; I use McCormick's, from Baltimore
1/2 tsp red pepper
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
2 bay leaves

Put the ground beef into the pot with the water. Chop it and mash the meat to break up any clumps. This chili has a smooth texture. Add all of the rest of the ingredients and simmer for two to three hours. Be careful not to let it burn; stir regularly. Most of the water will evaporate but the final product will be decidedly waterier than spaghetti sauce.
I love the Pampered Chef meat chopper tool for this
After cooking a few hours

Serve over spaghetti noodles (called two-way), topped with shredded cheddar (three-way), and chopped onions (four-way). I think five-way is with hot peppers? Cincinnatians chime in here, please. Dad always served saltines as well, and we'd crush them on top. We just had some for dinner again tonight. Oh, served on a hotdog it makes the absolute best chili-dog.

Jim loves onions in his

The Greeks must have created this with the mythical gods in mind. It is heavenly!

Kali Orexi!
(Bon Appetit in Greek)

The Abbey Farm Cooks

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Eating Together

     More families are trying to increase the number of times per week they eat meals together. Studies that have shown that those families who frequently eat meals together have stronger relationships wth each other, and the children have better success in school (one such study is commented on in an NPR article:  The truth is, it is increasingly difficult to do it. When I was in school in the seventies our sports were right after school. On weekends there might be an evening football or basketball game, but for the most part, sports were over by 6 or 7 pm. Nowadays no time is sacrosanct. Our local High School has end of summer football practices that start at 2 am! Is that supposed to be macho?

     My sister-in-law's family has barely been able to get away on any family vacations because of children's practice and tryout schedules. How can families spend time together? My good friend with two girls has to split time with her husband and one of her daughters as she travels with the other daughter for sports. It's not just sports. There are many activities the children can participate in. I have more and more friends who have had it and are limiting activities and making sure leaders and coaches know what they will and won't do. It is especially harder for larger families in which multiple children are active, and families whose children have potential professional-level talent (would love to hear comments from any of you as to how you make it work!).

     The activity is not, in and of itself, wrong. Sports and organized activities have many benefits: exercise, excellence, group skills, team skills, confidence, character strength, are but a few. Parents are called to balance these with the overall health of the child and of the family.

     Meal planning seems to help a lot in our house. I try to plan meals a month ahead. It takes about an hour or less per month, I don't necessarily stick to the menu at all times, but it helps me track activities on the calendar and it has significantly cut down on those times when I just can't come up with a meal, or find myself with a half hour to throw something together with nothing on hand. It helps with the food budget and shopping lists. I plan a leftover night here and there, and try to be flexible.

     About twenty years ago, my friend, Sandy, shared this recipe. It was both a favorite of her family and a quick throw-together. It has many variations, which I'll list at the end. The ingredients are easy to keep on hand. So try this easy recipe for Cheesey Chicken! I think everyone will like it. My family does!

Cheesey Chicken

Makes about eight servings

2 to 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (thawed, if frozen)
one large can Cream of Mushroom Soup (or Cream of Chicken or Celery)
6 to 8 slices swiss cheese (could also use provolone)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of the soup mix on the bottom of a 13'X9' baking dish. Arrange the chicken breasts evenly in the pan. Cover each with a slice of cheese. Spread remaining soup over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the soup is bubbly and the chicken breasts have plumped. I usually check one of the biggest breasts to be sure there is no pink left. If there is, pop back in the oven for a few minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees at the center of the meat.

     My children love this dish with rice. I make it on the side, but you could put uncooked minute rice under the chicken before baking. I sometimes put more than a large can of soup in because Max loves Cream of Mushroom Soup. Our family likes mushrooms, so a few handfuls of sliced mushrooms thrown in is welcome. A green vegetable like broccoli, and a glass of milk completes the meal (Bruce prefers white wine). My Dad made a Chicken Divan casserole by first layering a stuffing mix in the pan, then frozen broccoli spears, then the chicken and finally the soup over top. There are many foolproof things you could do with this recipe.

Enjoy your family time!

The Abbey Farm