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Getting back in the groove

I haven’t just been neglecting this blog; I’ve also been neglecting the kitchen. I’ve been out of the habit of regular cooking for a really ridiculous amount of 2012 so far, and it’s a little embarrassing.

There are reasons, of course. Work is a big one. In mid-February I was out of town for several days on a trip to another of our offices — no cooking in the hotel room, oddly enough — and in the course of the trip I took on a big project that’s been dominating my work ever since. It’s a good project, though I really can’t say much about it so will not dribble out information, but it’s meant a lot of late departures from the office and some extra busy weekends, plus two additional business trips, all of which cut into cooking time.

My “Jeopardy!” success is another one, oddly enough. My winnings arrived at the beginning of April, and while the bulk of the funds are in savings, went to Kiva.org (you can join our lending team, Friends of Bob Harris), or were used to pay off credit cards and replace our failing home computers, I did indulge in a little bit of restaurant exploration. (We highly recommend neighborhood restaurant Salt & Fat, by the way.) It’s been fun to try a few places we hadn’t been able to afford before, or to treat guests on a few occasions. But in the bigger picture, having some extra money on hand has made it a little too easy to take the lazy option when work ran late again or I got home tired from a day running errands.

This weekend was my first real respite in some time. Recent travel and deadlines had left me exhausted and a bit out of sorts, and I realized that part of the problem was that I haven’t really cooked in weeks and it was driving me crazy. So tonight I hopped back on the bike, as it were, and made a batch of what I’ve come to call my “sneaky zucchini” chili.

ChiliPot

It’s a recipe I’ve come to love. After browning some onions I add a couple of shredded zucchinis to the pot along with a generous pinch of salt, and let them cook for a while, stirring frequently, until zucchini has given up a lot of its moisture and cooked down significantly. Then I add a little more olive oil if necessary, and start to work in whatever other ingredients I’m working with: sausage, garlic, mushrooms, green peppers, spices, anything else I’m playing with, and finishing up with kidney beans, canned crushed tomatoes, and canned whole tomatoes that I’ve cut into quarters. One other key thing I’ve been doing is soaking a few dried chiles in boiling water for about 10 minutes, then chopping them (discarding the stems and as many of the seeds as I see fit to) and adding the chiles and a bit of the soaking water to the pot. That adds a beautiful smoky flavor, and helps ensure that what little zucchini flavor might still be detectable is pushed far into the background. The zucchini adds fiber and a bit of body but is essentially undetectable. Though I don’t consider it deceptive because I’ve never tried to pass it off as chili without zucchini in it.

ChiliBowl

My work project continues, but I am hoping to get back into more of a cooking habit. I do have some vacation time coming up, which should give me a chance to try new things, and the neighborhood Greenmarket opens in about a month. If nothing else I can get back into the habit of making salad and pasta; tomatoes can’t come in soon enough for me.

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