Thursday, January 30, 2014

Oatmeal Currant Cookies

I go through periods where I like to eat the same foods several days a row and sometimes up to a week. This creature of habit of mine most likely goes back to my elementary school days. Kids who lived close enough to school weren't allowed to stay for lunch unless they brought a note with an explanation as to why they couldn't go home for lunch (those were the days when mothers who 'didn't work' were expected to be home to make their children lunches). But on those rare days when I was lucky enough to have lunch with my school friends my lunch sack always contained the same thing, a bologna sandwich on white bread (was there any other kind back then?) with a smear of yellow mustard. From elementary to high school, this remained my favorite, my only eat at school lunch with one exception. Once I discovered mayonnaise I no longer made these bologna sandwiches with mustard. This story from my past might help to explain in part my latest obsession with currants.

Everyone seems to have a preference about the taste and texture of oatmeal raisin cookies. Some like them crunchy and others like them soft. And still others like the combination of the two textures. I was beside myself with excitement when I came across a recipe that I thought would result in a cookie that was both crunchy and soft. And it was. The fact that it had currants in it made it all the more appealing. Because if given a choice between an oatmeal raisin and oatmeal currant cookie, I will always, always, no exceptions, choose the one with currants (remember I have some creature of habit tendencies). There is just something about the taste of these tiny morsels that I love, particularly in an oatmeal cookie. 

As much as I love the rustic look of a cookie, I also love when a cookie made at home looks as if it came from a bakery. This is one of those bakery perfect looking cookies. And I don't think I will ever try another oatmeal raisin, oatmeal currant cookie recipe as I have finally found cookie perfection. If only I could have had this cookie in my lunches back in elementary school I would have figured out a way to eat lunch at school every day.

The ingredients for the cookie included light brown sugar, however, I like a cookie having a bit of a molasses flavor, so I decided to used all dark brown sugar instead. I would definitely make these cookies using all dark brown sugar again, but they can easily be made with light brown sugar or a combination of the two sugars. While you too may have strong preferences for your oatmeal cookies, I encourage you to give the all dark brown sugar version a try.

And oh, there are three tablespoons of Saigon cinnamon in these cookies, this is not a typing error. Trust me it is not too much, it is just the right amount.

The protein in flours is related to how much gluten is formed which in turns creates the texture in baked goods. Less protein creates a more light and airy structure, more protein creates a denser, chewy structure. Pastry flour has a lower percentage of protein compared to other flours. So when I saw this cookie called for the use of pastry flour I immediately knew it was going to have that bakery like texture. The good news is that pastry flour is so much more accessible in grocery stores these days (my favorite brand is Bob's Red Mill) and not one requiring a trip to Whole Foods or a gourmet food store.

The process for making this oatmeal raisin cookie is the same as most other cookies. The pastry flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder are sifted and set aside. The unsalted butter, dark brown and granulated sugars are beat in a standing mixer using a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, a process taking about five minutes. Don't rush this stage, set a timer on the stove if you need to but the butter and sugars will go through a few transformations until it gets to the light and fluffy stage.

The eggs are beat in one at a time until thoroughly mixed in before the vanilla gets mixed in. The sifted flour is added in batches versus all at once. I had cut the recipe in half so I added the flour in in four batches. If I had made the full recipe, I would have added the flour in in eight batches. 

Once the flour is mixed in, the oatmeal and currants are stirred in by hand. This is a very dense batter so use a wooden spoon. If you need to, you can finish up the mixing in the mixer, but start by working it in with a wooden spoon.

On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, the equivalent of two tablespoons of dough are formed. I like using an ice cream scoop to ensure that all of the cookies will be even. You will be able to get nine dough balls on a cookie sheet. Before putting into a preheated 350 degree oven, gently press down on the dough balls to very slightly flatten (just enough so the top is flattened).

The baking time on the cookies is 18 to 20 minutes. My baking time was 18 minutes and I might reduce it down to 17 minutes the next time. Halfway through the baking process rotate the baking sheet to ensure even baking.

If you want a crunchier cookie, allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet. If you want your cookies to be crunchy on the outside and softer on the inside, transfer to a cooling rack. To keep the cookies fresh, store in a covered container. For those of you who have creature of habit tendencies, this could be the just cookie to cause a shift in your cookie eating preferences.

Oatmeal Currant Cookies (adaptation to Corner Bakery's Oatmeal Currant Cookie recipe)
Yield: 4 dozen large cookies

Ingredients (Recipe can be halved)
3 1/2 cups pastry flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
3 Tablespoons Saigon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 1/3 cups dark brown sugar (can use light brown sugar or combination of the two sugars)
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
Scant 4 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 heaping cup currants (or raisins)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon and Kosher salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. Using a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars in a standing mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes (don't rush this step).
4. Add eggs one at a time and beat in until fully incorporated. 
5. Beat in vanilla.
6. Add sifted flour mixture in 8 batches until just incorporated.
7. Fold in the oats and currants.
8. Using an ice cream scoop (about a 2 tablespoon equivalent), form balls and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Flatten the dough balls slightly. About 9 cookies to a sheet.
9. Bake 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through to ensure even baking.
10. Remove cookies from oven when golden and set.
11. For a crunchier cookie, allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet. For a softer cookie, transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
12. Store cooled cookies in a covered container.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Currant Scones

We braved the wicked cold weather and drove into the city on Saturday to experience Eataly, a feast for the senses food emporium. My reluctance to leave the comfort of a warm house to expose my face to face slicing winds (for as long as it took to walk from the parking garage to Eataly) was all but forgotten once I walked into this food mecca. From the fresh produce, to the full array of almost every cheese ever made, to the Italian wines, to the breads made in wood burning ovens, to the selection of pastas, to the fresh seafood and meats, to the gelato, to the multiple restaurants, it was like nothing I had ever encountered.  A virtual day trip to Italy. There is so much to take in you could spend hours there (and we did) eating, drinking, tasting and shopping. You would have to have incredible self restraint to not walk out of there without bringing something home. Of course, I could not leave without taking home some wines, cheeses, pastas, an olive oil, bread, and honey. I have less restraint than most.

With the exception of the bread (which was consumed almost immediately), I had plans for everything I had purchased. First up was the Acacia honey, which I thought might be perfect drizzled over fresh baked currant scones. Some like butter, freshly whipped cream or jam on their scones but I prefer honey on mine. An Italian honey drizzled over a warm currant scone, could there any better way to begin a cold winter morning? Just try to get the image of Beyonce performing on the Grammy's out of your mind, or you will never eat another carbohydrate, let alone another scone again.

No planning ahead necessary when making scones. Meaning, the eggs, milk and margarine need to be cold, not room temperature. This is a recipe that calls for the use of margarine instead of butter. While this may be a slight departure from most scone recipes, these scones have such a great flavor, you might not even detect the butter's absence. I love currants but you could easily substitute dried cranberries or raisins.

All of the dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder) are mixed together in a medium sized bowl until blended. The margarine is blended in with a pastry blender, fork or your hands. I started with a pastry blender and quickly moved to using my fingers. The margarine is blended in until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in the currants. After the milk and egg are blended, they are added to the dry ingredients. Stir in until the dry and wet ingredients are combined (the dough will be very crumbly, be careful not to overwork).

Transfer mixture to a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until the dough comes together (it will not be smooth like a pie crust or pizza dough). Using a rolling pin, roll into a 10-12 inch circle (the dough should be at least 1/2 inch and up to 3/4 thick).

Scones can be triangular or round in shape. If you want triangular scones, cut the dough into 8 wedges. Or using a round biscuit or cookie cutter, cut into 9 to 12 circles (about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter). The number of scones you will get will be dependent on the thickness of the dough.

The scones are transferred to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. The tops are brushed with an egg yolk and milk wash. Granulated, turbinado, or sanding sugar is lightly sprinkled over the egg wash.

In a preheated 425 degree oven the scones are baked for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are light brown on both the top and bottom. The scones will be firm to the touch. This batch of scones took 11 minutes.  Remove from the oven, transfer to a platter and serve. Don't forget to have some butter, whipped cream, jams or honey to go with the currant scones.
Currant Scones

2 cups all purpose flour plus additional for rolling out dough
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 Tablespoons margarine (cold), cut into 1/4 inch cubes
7 Tablespoons whole milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup currants (or raisins or dried cranberries)

1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon milk
1-2 Tablespoons granulated sugar (can also use sanding or turbinado sugar)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt  and sugar in a medium-large bowl.
3. Cut in margarine until crumbly.
4. Stir in currants.
5. Beat together 1 egg and the milk. Add to flour mixture and mix to just to combine (mixture will be crumbly).
6. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead very lightly with hands until mixture has enough of a consistency enabling it to be rolled out or to be shaped into a circle.
7. Roll out dough. Using a round biscuit cutter, cut 9 to 12 scones. Or cut into 8 wedges.
8. Mix egg yolk and milk to make glaze. Lightly brush on top of scones with egg wash. Sprinkle tops of scones with sugar.
9. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the tops are browned and insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch and bottoms will be light to medium brown.
10. Serve with butter, jam, whipped cream or honey.

There were vegetables, beautiful vegetables, at Eataly that I had never seen before. I am certain it looked a little odd me taking photos in the produce section, but I had my sunglasses on so I felt I was incognito and unrecognizable. Actually I was so mesmerized by these gorgeous vegetables that I was in my own little world for awhile and slightly oblivious to the significant number of people around me who also braved the elements that day.

Beauty can be found in the most unusual and ordinary of places. It can be in your backyard. One need not travel to exotic places to find beauty. Sometimes all it takes is taking a step back to be able see how ordinary things can look so extraordinary. And oh, it also takes having the ability to ignore the reactions of those around you when you are taking photos in places like a market or grocery store. Next time (and there will definitely be a next time) I go to Eataly I am bringing my 'real' camera and a list of the ingredients for recipes I have longed to make. I can think of no better escape from this winter reality we are experiencing, especially because this escape is only thirty minutes from home.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

French Margarita

What better temporary relief to the Siberian like weather here than a cocktail. Hot Toddies and Mulled Wine may be cold weather beverages, but margaritas are definitely all-weather ones. Many of us think of margaritas as a Mexican in origin cocktail, particularly since the tequila in them comes from, where else, but Mexico. But what if two thirds of the alcohol in a margarita were French in origin (Grand Marnier and Chambord)? Well maybe we could call it a French Margarita and simultaneously pay homage to both cultures for their contributions to the world of spirits.

I can't believe I am sharing this but I just recently became aware of the ounce to tablespoon conversion. Specifically one fluid ounce equals two tablespoons. Just knowing this conversion suddenly makes mixing cocktails including this French Margarita so much easier. This frame of reference now gives me a way to visualize what an ounce looks like.

If you have a well stocked bar, you have everything you need to make this. Just don't forget to pick up a few fresh limes and some orange juice at the grocery store (I have an aversion to the bottled lime juice they sell). All of the ingredients are poured into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. After shaking, pour into a glass (with or without ice). A garnish of raspberries and/or blackberries is optional. 

Just one sip of the French Margarita and suddenly the weather is the furthest thing from my mind. This cocktail is definitely a most welcome reprieve from the arctic temperatures (although I think it might actually be warmer in the arctic this year).

French Margarita

2 ounces tequila (silver)
1 ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce Chambord
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce orange juice
1/2 ounce sweet and sour mix
Optional: raspberries and/or blackberries as garnish

1. Fill a shaker with ice.
2. Add all ingredients and shake vigorously.
3. Pour into a glass filled with ice.
4. Garnish with raspberries and/or blackberries.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pineapple Guacamole

Seems there is actually going to be a sequel to the polar vortex. There are sequels and then there are sequels. Some of them never really compare to the original and then some are actually better (or much worse depending on your perspective). I certainly thought it was possible this winter could become even more wicked, but hoped we would get a reprieve. It is been hard enough getting up early in the morning to head out to the gym to get a work out in. Bitter cold mornings and my snow covered car are making it even harder to get out from under the pile of blankets and duvets. Even I am beginning to grow tired of my own incessant early morning whining. However, today happened to be one of those unexpected days where there was actually an added benefit to braving the the morning elements and spending an hour on the treadmill. My creative juices started flowing.

I had to stop at the grocery store on my way from the gym to pick up a few things. The table of avocados caught my eye while I was walking through the produce section. My first thought was 'wow, those look ripe enough to make guacamole'. My second thought was actually a recollection of the pineapple guacamole I had eaten at Bien Trucha (my favorite Mexican restaurant located in Geneva, Illinois). My final thought was 'I think I can, no, I really need to recreate this guacamole today'. While this internal monologue went on a little longer, I could hardly wait to get home to begin making my version of Pineapple Guacamole.

If you have never had Pineapple Guacamole before you might be thinking it doesn't exactly sound like a guacamole you would choose to eat or make. While I understand you could actually think that, I do think you will change your initial (maybe a little too quick) reaction once you taste it. The combination of avocados, red onions, mild green chiles, minced garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice and fresh pineapple is crazy, crazy good. It is also an incredibly refreshing alternative to a traditional guacamole. 

I absolutely love when the grocery store has ripe avocados available, particularly when I have a taste for guacamole. There is something to be said for instant gratification. When you can buy four ripe avocados, it is a lucky day.

Avocados are one of those fruits that can turn brown relatively quickly. The juice of one lemon or three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice are immediately added to the avocados. Using either a pastry blender or a fork (or your hands if you are so inclined), the lemon juice and avocado are mixed until the avocado is broken up into chunks yet has a bit of a creaminess to it.

I prefer red onions over white onions in my guacamole. A finely chopped red onion (1/2 cup equivalent) and a large minced garlic clove add great flavor to both the traditional and pineapple versions of guacamole.

To compliment the flavor of the pineapple, I thought a four ounce can of chopped green chiles would be preferable to hot sauce (and they were). In addition, the green chiles provide a little extra texture. One half cup of freshly minced pineapple is all this guacamole needs, nothing more, nothing less.

Once the green chiles and pineapple are mixed in, season with one teaspoon of Kosher salt. You can always add more if it isn't salty enough for you. The pineapple guacamole is ready to serve immediately or you can cover, refrigerate, and serve chilled.

Choose your favorite tortilla chips (think more on the lines of traditional tortilla chips versus the highly seasoned designer ones) and enjoy.

Pineapple Guacamole 

4 ripe avocados
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or juice of one lemon)
1/2 cup small-diced red onion
1 large garlic clove minced
1 can (4 ounce) mild green chiles diced (drained)
1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1. Cut avocados in half, remove pits and scoop into a large bowl. Immediately add lemon juice.
2. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut through avocado until the mixture smashed but remains chunky.
3. Add in diced red onion, mild green chiles, fresh pineapple, and Kosher salt. Mix until well blended.
4. Serve immediately or place one of the pits in the mixture, cover and chill until ready to serve.

I recently read that the number of people using Facebook is declining (particularly those much, much younger than I am), but I am not bailing yet (I was slow to jump on to this social networking trend and will probably be even slower opting out). For me Facebook is more than just a way to keep up with my small group of friends, share my random thoughts of the day or shamelessly promote the blog. It is another food for thought or inspirational link resource. Today someone posted a Kurt Vonnegut quote that spoke to me. "Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.'

While Mr. Vonnegut didn't include cooking as an example of one of the arts (his book 'Breakfast of Champions' was definitely not about food), I would like to think the creation of 'food' is its' own kind of art. Today turned out to be one of those rewarding, soul growing kind of days (especially because I am one more likely to tweak or alter a recipe more often than I create them). Whether my version of Pineapple Guacamole turned out badly (it didn't) or not, didn't really matter. The reward and growth came solely from engaging in the practice of an 'art'.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Texas Style Chili

Moving out of the east coast farmhouse this past fall meant selling off much of the new and antique furniture I had purchased to furnish it. As the midwest home I was returning to was already fully furnished, I didn't have any room for all of these treasures. Fortunately I had friends and neighbors who bought up all of the furniture I was selling and parting with (although I just had to keep a couple of the antique pieces that I found in New Hampshire and Maine). To thank everyone for making these purchases I decided would make a Sunday lunch on 'furniture pick-up day' and we would all eat as a 'family' on the front porch, one last time before I left.

Now making lunch for everyone (which turned out to be about a dozen people) wouldn't have been such a big deal except that 'furniture pick-up day' was less than two days before I had to have everything packed up and loaded onto the rental truck. Packing up the things I had accumulated over the course of two years turned out to be significantly more work than I thought it would be. Yet, deconstructing and packing up the kitchen (the room with the most accumulations) was going to have to wait after the lunch (no one said I ever made anything easy on myself). Besides I needed to use the All-Clad slow cooker to make BBQ pulled pork and then there is something about eating on 'real' versus paper plates that makes food just taste better.

Lunch turned out to be great and ultimately everything in the kitchen was packed up, including the dishes and the slow cooker. For the past three months the slow cooker had remained in its' box. It wasn't until I was deliberating over whether I should make a BBQ brisket or Texas style chili that the slow cooker again saw the light of day. Tipping the scales in favor of making the chili was a craving for corn muffins (for some reason corn muffins and chili go together perfectly, more perfectly than corn muffins and brisket). The brisket could wait, however, I am pretty certain it won't be another three months before the slow cooker is used again.

There are probably many different versions of Texas style chili so it may be a little presumptive of me to even use those words to name this recipe (particularly because I am not from Texas and the handful of trips I have made there over the past 8 eight years would not qualify me as a Texas chili expert). I thought about calling it a Chuck Roast Chili (didn't sound right), a One Bean Chili (still didn't sound right), a Two Spice Chili (sounded a little better) and yes, I even considered calling it a Pretty Gosh Darn Good Chili. But rather than use my creative energies to come up with a name for this chili I decided to settle on Texas Style Chili. The inspiration for the recipe came from the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking Cookbook. I thought if they could use the words Texas Style to describe this chili, well who I am to argue otherwise. But if anyone (especially if you are from Texas) takes any offense to the name of this recipe, it might be best if you directed any of your objections to them. I am merely a messenger of sorts and am not looking to mess with anyone from Texas.

There are several ingredients that contribute to the deliciousness of this chili and the choice of meat used (a chuck roast) is one of them. As delicious as a chuck roast is, a chili slow roasted for eight hours transforms this not so tender meat into melt in your mouth meat. A three pound chuck roast is first sliced, trimmed of fat and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Although the cubes were actually cut somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.

Before browning the cubes of meat, a large yellow onion chopped and three cloves of garlic are sautéed in two tablespoons of olive oil (use a large saucepan). Once the onions are softened (about three minutes) and the garlic is allowed to release its' flavor (another minute), the cubes of meat are added in batches until all sides are browned. I sautéed first batch of meat with the onions and garlic, however, before adding the second batch I transferred everything to a bowl. Each time I browned a batch of the chopped meat, I transferred it to the bowl. When the last batch of meat was browned, I emptied the bowl back into the pan.

Three tablespoons of chili powder and one teaspoon of ground cumin are added to the meat, onion and garlic mixture. The mixture is cooked for another two minutes to allow the spices to release their flavor. the entire mixture is then transferred to the slow cooker.

In addition to the onion and garlic, this chili uses fresh tomatoes and a fresh jalapeño. Both are seeded and chopped before added to the meat base mixture. Seeding the tomatoes is important. Your chili could end up being too thin if you don't. The heat for this chili comes from two chopped chipotle chiles in adobo. The seeds from the chipotle chiles were not removed. If you want a little less heat in your chili, remove the seeds or some of the seeds before chopping. In addition to the three tomatoes, one tablespoon of tomato paste is added to the chili mixture.

Two cans (15 ounce size) or red kidney beans are drained and rinsed before being added to the mixture in the slow cooker. The Williams-Sonoma recipe called for only one can but I wanted there to be a better ratio of beans to meat. Once the chili was finished cooking, I was glad I made the decision to double the amount of beans early on in the cooking process.

There are two sources of liquid in this chili: one cup of beef broth and one cup of dark beer. Just as you would never use a wine in a recipe you wouldn't drink, the same holds true with beer. I decided to use Left Hand Brewing Company's Fade to Black beer because it is a dark beer I like. It's also a beer brewed in Longmont, Colorado and I just happen to be a little partial to beers crafted in my favorite Rocky Mountain state. But if Fade to Black isn't available, feel free to use any of your favorite dark beers. 

Once all of the ingredients are added to the slow cooker, stir in two teaspoons of Kosher salt and one teaspoon of black pepper (you can always add more salt and pepper later). Set the slow cooker on low, cover, and cook the chili for 8 hours. At the end of 8 hours you will have a pretty gosh darn good Texas Style Chili. And if amongst your friends you have an annual chili cook-off contest or chili throw downs, well this is definitely competition worthy chili. Yes, it's that good.

At the end of eight (8) hours my chili had a great consistency and no additional cooking time was needed. However, if for any reason your chili seems a little thin to you, remove the cover, turn the heat up to high and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. 

You can serve the chili immediately or you can refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day. Allowing the chili to chill overnight further develops the flavors. 

This chili is delicious plain, however, I like to garnish my chili with a few toppings. Grated Vermont Cheddar cheese, avocado, sliced green onions and sour cream are my favorites. There are an endless number of chili toppings and topping combinations. Prepare as many of them as you as well as your friends and family might like. I would recommend at least having some sour cream or crema as one of the topping options. While I would not label this chili as 'hot', it does have a little bit of heat. The creaminess of the sour cream will help to balance it out for those who don't appreciate (or can't handle) a little heat in their chili.

And oh, don't forget to serve with corn muffins or cornbread. When thinking of beverages to serve with this Texas Style Chili, cold beer and margaritas should be two of the options. But don't let me limit your choices.

If you have a slow cooker that hasn't seen much use in awhile, this chili recipe would be a reason to dust it off. Hey, it is also reason enough to go out and buy one.
Texas Style Chili (slight adaptations to the Texas-Style Beef Chili recipe shared in the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking Cookbook)

2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 Tablespoons Chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped (can remove some or all seeds if you want to reduce the heat)
1 jalapeño chili, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
1 cup dark beer (recommend Fade to Black, Left Hand Brewing Company)
2 cans (15 ounce size) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (recommend Goya brand)
Toppings: Grated cheddar cheese, sour cream or creme, minced green onions, chopped avocado, and/or finely chopped red onion.

1. In a large saucepan, heat two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until onion is softened (approximately three minutes. Add the minced garlic and continue to sauté for an additional minute.
2. Turn the heat up to medium. In four or five batches, add the chopped beef cubes. Cook until the beef cubes are browned on all sides. After the first batch, remove the sautéed onions and garlic with the browned beef. Place in a bowl. Transfer each successive batch to the bowl. Return all of the beef, onions and garlic to the saucepan when the last batch has been browned.
3. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin to the beef mixture. Continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.
4. Add all remaining ingredients to the slow cooker, stirring to evenly distribute them.
5. Set slow cooker on low, cover, and cook for 8 hours. If sauce is too thin, uncover and cook on high for 30 minutes.
6. Serve chili with assorted toppings.