Learning To Cook For One After The Death Of My Husband

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In the six months since Peter died, I have been eating out much of the time. Ever since I wrote “Demoted to Lunch,” my friends listened and began treating me to dinners nonstop. Now that things have quieted down, I seem to have more time at home in the evenings and my dinners are downright pathetic! Trader Joe’s quinoa and veggies (the best choice of this list), baked potato with butter and cheese, biscuits with butter, scrambled eggs, and even raisin bran! This might seem normal for a new widow, but I am a food writer by trade! I should know better than to eat nothing but carbs. I have penned four cookbooks, had my own cooking show on The Learning Channel, and write for a website about cookbooks and cookware each month!

I knew I had to turn things around. I started to do a few dinner parties to pay people back for their hospitality. This was particularly hard when I set the table for eight and then dissolved in a puddle knowing we were only seven. But my menu inspired me to continue. I served gravlax with mustard dill sauce, my famous recipe for rack of lamb with grainy mustard sauce (thank you Costco for the most fabulous lamb), roasted baby potatoes and cipollini onions with rosemary, a composed salad, and sticky toffee pudding. This particular meal is easy to prepare but I have whipped it up three or four times and have to get my creative juices flowing (forgive the pun).

I may have been able to organize a few dinner parties but my own eating habits in the last few months have been pretty pathetic, and not very healthful — this from a woman who taught “Light and Easy Cooking” on television! A study at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research in 2014 said then people who cook at home, consume fewer calories, fewer carbohydrates, less sugar, and less fat than those who don’t cook. http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/news-room/News-Releases/2014/Study-Suggests-Home-Cooking-Main-Ingredient-in-Healthier-Diet.html

I had to formulate a plan for cooking for one. I had the skills, I had the recipes, my pantry is stocked with all the right foods, but I just didn’t have the motivation. I just didn’t care what I ate. Then one day, I began to crave chili. I have a great turkey chili recipe in my last cookbook and I suddenly had the urge to start cooking. I wrote this recipe for Peter since he hated beans and felt that cilantro was the antichrist. I decided to make it with lots of beans. Now that I sleep alone, I don’t have to worry about the after effects of beans. I can still see Peter laughing at the farting scene from scene from “Blazing Saddles.” I chose to double the recipe, and have enough in my freezer for several meals. Once inspired I decided to also make a vegetable soup I love called Tuscan Ribolita. I went to the farmers’ market and loaded up on lots of veggies, ran to Bristol Farms to get my chili ingredients, and set aside a morning to cook. I turned on the score of Hamilton and started to chop, sauté, and enjoy myself in the kitchen while listening to Lin Manuel Miranda rapping history.

My chili was delicious and I accompanied the dish with a lovely red wine (from Costco of course). I put out sour cream, grated cheese, avocado, and copious amounts of cilantro. It’s not even a silver lining, but it is a change. I enjoyed my dinner although I was watching Maggie Smith’s barbs on “Downton Abbey” at the time. Small steps. At least I cooked my own TV dinner!

Serves: 8-10
Traditionally, chili is prepared with chopped meat and served with beans on the side. My sweet Peter hated beans so I created this recipe for his tastes. This version integrates today’s lighter eating habits by using ground turkey instead of meat and oil instead of butter or lard. I ask the butcher to grind turkey thighs especially for chili, which is a chunkier mixture.

If you prefer chili with beans, add 2 15-ounce cans rinsed and drained beans and bake the cooked chili in a covered pot in a 325 oven for about 30-40 minutes until heated through.

2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
2 large onions, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds lean ground turkey, chopped for chili
¼ cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon cayenne powder or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes packed in puree
1 12-ounce bottle dark beer, preferably Mexican
½ cup defatted chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Accompaniments: warmed corn tortillas, diced avocado, salsa, grated sharp Cheddar cheese, chopped onions, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, and sour cream.

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick Dutch oven, or similar-sized nonstick pan, and when hot, cook the turkey, chopping and separating with a wooden spoon, until it loses its pink color, about 5-6 minutes. Drain the meat into a colander to remove the excess fat and liquid and set aside.
2. Increase the heat to high, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil and sauté the onions, stirring often, for about 5-6 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and stir just to combine, about 30 seconds.
3. Add all the seasonings except the bay leaf, reduce the heat, and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes over moderately high heat to incorporate the spices. Add the drained turkey, tomatoes, beer, broth, and bay leaf; bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover, and continue to cook until thickened. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
4. Serve the chili hot with any or all of the following toppings: warmed corn tortillas, diced avocado, salsa, grated sharp Cheddar cheese, chopped onions, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, and sour cream or yogurt.

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