Welcome to Naomi Kooker's blog.

At age 6 my mother let me into the kitchen, alone. By seventh grade I was feigning sick to stay home from school, "miraculously" feeling good enough to make baked-stuffed pork chops for dinner. My passion for cooking led me to a job as a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant and, later, to stand quietly in the corner of (and eventually do one thing in) Restaurant Guy Savoy's kitchen in Paris. I overcame the ultimate cooking challenge when I made butter cream icing over a Bunsen burner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It was for a friend's wedding cake, the centerpiece at the reception the next day. It was midnight. With just hours to go, I managed to whip up the icing, then carefully place the last few candied violets onto the cake before the reception. Oh, how grateful I was for that Bunsen burner and the corner bodega that was open 24 hours.

It all worked out in the end. It always does.

Food, cooking and eating are inextricably linked to life. Life is better when good food is involved, and even better when good company is part of the eating.

Thank you for stopping in and being part of a growing dinner party of readers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Turning the heat on chili

Omi's Jalapeno Chili

One snowy Sunday I promised my boyfriend, Chris, I'd make chili for dinner. But when dinner time came around, no chili. I still needed to shop for the ingredients. Tired and cranky, yet wanting to keep my promise (and eat), I set out for the supermarket, windshield wipers clearing away the snow; I was determined to keep it simple. The chili turned out to be so easy I made it four more times -- not in a row. It became such a staple my oldest nephew, David, a burgeoning foodie in college, wrote me in an email that he’d rather be eating my jalapeno chili than studying. Stick to the books, I said, and chili will be your reward. One day David will make it himself.

Serves 8
Preparation time: ½ hour
Cooking time: at least ½ hour to 2 hours
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil (not extra virgin) or canola oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
½ jalapeño pepper, seeds taken out and finely chopped (wear rubber gloves if your skin is sensitive to the heat of the chili pepper)
2-3 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 pound lean ground beef
1 small can (15.5 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small can kidney beans (15.5 oz.) or small red beans, rinsed and drained
1 large can (28-oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 large can (28-oz.) whole plum tomatoes
½ cup frozen corn (optional)
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste

Sour cream
Cheddar cheese, grated
Corn chips or corn bread

In a large pot with thick bottom – ideally Creuset cookware – put in the oil. Add garlic and onion. Stir and cook over medium-low heat until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Make sure the heat is medium low so the garlic does not brown or burn. Add the green pepper and jalapeño, and 2 Tbsp. of the chili powder and cumin. Stir and cook until tender, about another 5 minutes.

Push mixture aside and add ground beef to the same pot, breaking it up with a wooden spoon so it cooks over medium-high heat. Once the meat is mostly cooked, blend together with garlic, onion and pepper mixture. Add the beans. Stir in the crushed tomato; add the whole plum tomatoes and liquid, breaking the tomatoes up with a spoon or your fingers. Add the corn. Stir in an additional tablespoon of chili powder, add the bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste. Adjust by adding more chili powder or more salt and pepper.

Cover and cook over low heat for one half hour or longer, stirring often. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream. Add corn chips or corn bread for accompaniment and you have a meal. Perfect for Sunday football.

This also freezes well. Cool and freeze in airtight plastic containers for up to one month. Reheat in microwave per instructions or slowly heat over stove in saucepan.