California Chocolate Chili


A few weeks ago I went to visit my family in Illinois and we attended one of our favorite events – a local tradition for 30 years, the Belleville Chili Cook Off. I hadn’t been thinking about fall food much, as it was still 90 degrees plus here in California. The chili that won “people’s choice” was a delicious combination of savory, spicy and sweet – chocolate chili! I had never tasted chili with cocoa powder and as soon as I came home I started researching recipes. I am still refining, but this my best effort so far. This doesn’t taste exactly like the winner – I am still working back channels to see if I can get my hands on that one – but it is really close. Try it and see what you think about adding cocoa powder to chili. We are having our own neighborhood chili cook off later this month and this is what I plan to make. Tip: I use the food processor to chop the onions and peppers – it makes the prep time much shorter.


2 pounds good quality ground beef, 85/15

2 medium white or yellow onions, finely chopped

3 teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons chopped garlic (I use Christoper Ranch, but any jar chopped garlic found in the produce section will work)

4 tablespoons good quality unsweetened cocoa powder ( I use Rodelle)

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

2 15 ounce cans dark red kidney beans

2 15 ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes

4 cups tomato sauce

sour cream and cilantro to garnish, of desired


In a large dutch oven, brown the ground beef over medium high heat. After 5 minutes, add the onion, chili powder and cumin, chopping and stirring continuously until beef is browned and onions are soft. Next, add the cumin, garlic, cocoa powder, sugar and jalapeño. Mix together thoroughly and cook for 3 minutes. it should look like this:


Next, add in the beans, and cayenne, and cook for another minute or so. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce and mix well.


Cook partially covered on low heat  for 30 minutes, then adjust seasonings to your taste. Cook an additional 30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and chopped cilantro, if desired. Makes 10-12 servings.


Amazingly Easy Potato Soup


It has been a great Sunday – a lazy, stay in my pajamas, I dont want to do anything but sit on the sofa on my computer day. Then my daughter comes upstairs and says  “I want soup…. potato soup”.  At that moment, it sounded like the perfect thing to have for dinner.  This soup is so simple and easy to make –  savory and full of flavor – it will be your new go-to soup.  You will be amazed how good it is for so little work!


4 large potatoes

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups half and half or milk

3 – 4  cups chicken or vegetable broth

sea salt and pepper to taste

optional – chopped green onion tops and shredded cheddar, if desired for garnish

Peel and cube potatoes. Place in medium saucepan with celery, carrots and onion.


Add enough broth to not quite cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Using a potato masher, coarsely crush the potatoes, but don’t mash them – you want some chunks left. Add enough half and half to thin soup to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. (about a teaspoon or two of salt – maybe more.) Makes 4 generous servings.

Nutrition info per serving: 345 calories, 2.6 grams of fat, 10 grams protein, 9.2 grams fiber

Slow Cooker Browned Beef Stew


This is a super easy way to have a hot and savory dinner on the table fast. I took another 10 minutes to make some Bisquick biscuits to top it off.  This recipe makes 4-6 hearty servings.


2 1/2 pounds cubed beef stew meat

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 can Campbell’s Golden Mushroom Soup

8 ounces water

2 medium potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/2 pound baby carrots

1 small onion, sliced

1/2 cup red wine

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste


Place cubed beef in ziploc bag, and toss with flour. Place in heated saucepan with olive oil and brown beef evenly on each side – approximately 10 minutes.

Add beef, soup, water, onion, carrots and potatoes to crockpot. Cook on “high” for 5 1/2 hours.  Stir in wine and remaining ingredients and cook an additional 30 minutes.

Notes: Make sure you buy “golden mushroom” soup and not cream of mushroom soup. I found some nice rainbow baby heirloom carrots and they added a colorful touch to the dish. You can use any hearty red wine  – I used Barbera but pretty much any red wine will work. If you have port, that is even better…

mushroom souprainbow carrots

Slow Cooker Ro-Tel Salsa Chicken


Happy January  – or as I like to call it -“rut roh” month. I love baking – I really prefer baking to cooking, truth be told, but after many dozen cookies baked/given/eaten in the last two months, I always feel like taking a break in January. I still love to cook and create recipes, but I am looking at a making little lighter fare for us this month.


Many years ago I was introduced to Ro-Tel chilies and tomatoes by my one of my roommates -a lovely Texan sky goddess named Vickie. Vickie moved to our DC flight attendant bachelorette pad (as we affectionately called it) from Texas and she was a great cook . She had some awesome Tex Mex recipes and one truly amazing concoction which consisted of a giant package of Velveeta mixed with a can of Ro-Tel. This was melted in the microwave into a deliciously addictive queso that was scarfed up immediately by whoever was hanging around the kitchen at the time. I love Ro-Tel chilies and tomatoes and I always have a few cans in the pantry.  This is a variation on a really popular recipe that I saw on Pinterest. I substituted the Ro-Tel for chopped tomatoes and onions, and served it with sliced ripe avocado and a flour tortilla. My husband has eaten this three nights in a row (it makes a big portion that could easily serve 6-8) so I know it is a winner!

BONUS – it has almost no fat and is high in protein. Hope you enjoy it and find it as easy to make as I do…


2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 16 ounce jar medium salsa

1 can Ro-Tel diced chilies and tomatoes

2 tablespoons taco or fajita seasonings

3 tablespoons dried chopped onions

3 tablespoons sour cream

1 ripe avocado, sliced

1 package flour tortillas


Turn the slowcooker on LOW and place chicken breasts inside. Sprinkle taco seasoning over chicken breasts, then pour salsa, onion and Ro-Tel on  top. Cook 6-8 hours or until chicken shreds easily with a large fork. Stir in sour cream, then spoon into individual bowls and serve with avocado slices and warm tortillas.

Easy New Years’ Chicken Stew


Its the first day of the New Year – and everyone is busy tossing out Christmas leftovers and buying workout gear. I actually did a pretty decent job this year of not engaging in seasonal glutttony – I did have a LOT of Christmas cookies, but my Fitbit kept me honest and I did a lot of walking between the cooking and snacking. I am working on eating cleaner and making better choices but it is still winter and warm savory food is what we are craving, not salads and rice cakes!  I made this tonight for dinner and it it is both delicious and healthy. There are two ways to make it – either prepare in a stock pot on on the stove top and it will be ready in an hour or so, or take 20 minutes in the morning to prepare and let it cook in the crock pot all day.  I baked some biscuits to go with this savory stew and it was the perfect way to kick off the new year.



1 pound package fresh chicken breast tenders

1/2 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic (I used one the glass jar fron the produce section of the grocery store)

1 1/2 cups mini peeled carrots

1 10.8 ounce package frozen peas

4 ribs celery, coarsley chopped

1 can cream of chicken soup, plus one can water

1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon sage

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2  bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste

Combine carrots, peas, celery, soup, stock, spices and stock in large stockpot over medium heat. Meanwhile, chop chicken into 1 1/2 inch chunks and toss into large saute pan with olive oil, onions and garlic. Cook over medium heat 15-20 minutes until chicken and onions are browned. Add to stock pot and cook, stirring occassionally for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until vegetables are tender.


Crock Pot make ahead version: Add carrots, peas, celery, soup , stock and spices to crock pot. Cook chicken mixture as directed above and add to crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until vegetables are fork tender.