Catch us on “Top Chef: Whatever”

By Mir
June 29, 2011

I always get a little twitchy when someone asks me for a recipe. I am not one of those “This is my secret recipe and if I tell you then I have to kill you” sorts, not by a long shot. I’m the person who brings a dish somewhere and if someone says, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing!” I’ve barely said “thank you” before I’m telling them how easy it is to make, let me tell you. So it’s not a secrecy thing.

It’s a… slob thing. I am not an exacting person when it comes to cooking. I love to cook; I love to eat; I can follow a recipe with no problem. But the reality is that once I’ve made something two or three times, I’ve internalized the nuts and bolts and then I cook it by feel. So when you wanted the veggie chili recipe, yesterday, it struck terror into my heart. Because… I’m pretty sure I had a recipe for it? Once upon a time? But now it’s just… whatever. I just make it. And it’s good.

But because I love you, I will attempt to give you the recipe, and also explain what food looks like around here. IT WILL BE THRILLING.

So yesterday I made this enormous vat of veggie chili early in the morning. I have a friend who is somewhat laid up at the moment and she’d confided that all the sweet little southern ladies keep bringing them casseroles piled high with cheese, so I’d said NO PROBLEM, I will bring you something healthy.

Bear in mind that chili is very forgiving; you can customize to your taste, halve the recipe, add things and leave things out. But this is what I crammed into my crock pot yesterday morning:
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Vidalia onions, rough-chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 bell peppers, rough-chopped (any color; I had green and red)
3 cups black beans (I cook/freeze my own beans, but that’s roughly equivalent to 2 drained cans)
1.5 cups kidney beans (I had a can handy) (this is one of those “whatever” parts—I’ve made this with garbanzos, pintos, even lentils)
2 cups frozen corn kernels
orange juice (ummm… somewhere between 1/2 and 1 cup?)
chili powder (a lot!)
cumin (a lot!)
coriander (just a little)
oregano (a bunch!) (totally different from “a lot!”)
kosher salt (start with a teaspoon, go up as needed)
black pepper (some!)

Now, if you want to throw it all in your crock and forget it for the day, you can. It’ll work. I was due to deliver this well before dinner time, though, so I put the first four ingredients in on high for a few hours before adding the rest; the sweet potatoes need the most time to cook, and had I put the corn and beans and stuff in there, too, they would’ve ended up mushy. So it had maybe 3 hours on high with just that, then I added everything else and did another 3 hours on low. But I have absolutely just dumped it all in and set it on low and left it all day. Just size the sweet potato pieces accordingly (smaller pieces will cook faster, obviously).

I made cornbread, too, but I used a new recipe and Otto did not approve. (It had sour cream in it! WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE??)

Okay, so. I made that, I delivered half of it to my friend, we had the other half for dinner. After dinner, I pestered my daughter that she should make some fruit salad (this is her thing, now, she makes these gargantuan batches of fruit salad and I don’t know WHY it makes choosing to eat fruit a much easier/yummier experience, but it does), and she said she was tired, and I continued to pester, and finally she agreed if I would help her.

We stationed ourselves next to each other in the kitchen, each with a cutting board, the giant metal bowl between us. She sliced grapefruit while I scooped cantaloupe. She picked grapes off the stem while I scooped watermelon. She whined she was tired as I dumped a pint of blueberries in the bowl and told her to buck up. I watched a video on the proper cutting of mangoes and then sliced them as directed while Chickadee insisted this was child abuse. “Yes,” I agreed. “Making you cut up some fresh fruit while children all over the world starve or have rickets or scurvy is SO VERY MEAN, you are correct.”

Finally, we raced to cut up apples, and no one lost a finger. So that was successful, I think. And again, the recipe? “Cut up fruit and throw it in the bowl until your teen’s whining becomes unbearable and the salad looks good.” Put it all in a giant container in the fridge, and eat it every day. (Don’t forget to share with the dog! Mangoes are her new favorite.)

Later I went out and trimmed my basil and then made basil-lime sorbet (hey, a real recipe!), because the only thing better than a bowl of fruit salad is a bowl of fruit salad with a scoop of basil lime sorbet melting in the center. Yum.

Now, as an added bonus (if you haven’t fallen asleep yet…) I’m going to give you the recipe for what we’re having for dinner tonight. This is actually in recipe format because this is the recipe I submitted for the Zatarains Jambalaya contest they had as part of Mom 2.0, and no, I didn’t win the Williams-Sonoma giftcard I was lusting after. I believe both winning recipes heavily featured meat (*coughvegetariandiscriminationcough*), but this is something I invented hoping to win the contest, yes, but also to feed my vegetarian kid. And we now eat this regularly, because it is delicious. SO THERE.

Here you go, this is Casa Mir’s Moroccan Veggie Jambalaya recipe:

8 oz. Zatarains® Original Jambalaya Mix
1 14 oz. can light coconut milk
3 T canola oil, divided
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp cumin
1.5 T fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces Nasoya Cubed Super Firm Tofu (drained on paper towels)
8 ounces sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 large or 2 small honey mangos, peeled and diced
3/4 pint tricolor sweet mini peppers, cored, cut into thin rings
1.5 cup shelled frozen edamame
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Lime wedges and chopped cilantro (for garnish)

Prepare rice according to package directions, but substituting in the can of coconut milk for an equal amount of water, and using only one tablespoon of oil.

While rice cooks, heat remaining 2 T oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the ginger and garlic and heat until they become fragrant. Add tofu and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms and tofu give up their liquid. Add garam masala, chili powder, cumin, and salt and pepper; toss to coat ingredients. Add edamame and mangos and stir to combine. Once pan is back up to temperature again, add peppers and cook uncovered, stirring, for only a couple of minutes more, until the rice is ready.

Once the rice is done, add to veggie mixture and stir it all up. Serve topped with cilantro and with a lime wedge or two on the side.

Sometimes the heavy-duty carnivores in the house (those with Y chromosomes, natch) have this as a side dish with something else, but I think it stands up pretty well on its own.

Anyway. Now that I’ve totally outed myself as a sloppy chef, I suspect no one will ask me for a recipe again. Heh.


  1. Chuck

    I wish I cooked enough to do it by feel. Although I do make a taco soup recipe that is basically a chili, and very forgiving in what you can add to it/make substitutions for, etc. I probably could even make it vegetarian style although it would taste quite a bit different.

  2. Laura

    Sorry – i cook just like you do, so I’ll still be asking for the recipes. They sound delicious.

  3. Aimee

    Yeah, I’m with Laura. I cook the exact same way and hardly ever look at a recipe. A couple of years ago my aunt was putting together a family cookbook, and I had to really stop and think about amounts and stuff because I just…. don’t, think about stuff like that. Anyway, the chili sounds quite delicious!

  4. diane

    Heh. My jambalaya recipe has chicken, shrimp and andouille sausage. Meatless jambalaya seems…well, delicious, but wrong somehow.

    While I generally follow the recipe, I rarely measure anything except the spices other than the first time I make the dish. That’s why I don’t bake much – all that pesky measuring and need to be exact-ish. Much better to use the “eh, that looks about right” method. Fewer dishes to wash.

  5. Michelle

    HOW DID YOU KNOW I became a vegetarian this week and am frantically searching the web for something to eat? You are a gem.

  6. Renee

    Want something good? Emeril’s Vegetarian Chili–I top mine with cheese and sour cream, not essence. Paired with Blanchard’s Carribbean Cornbread, YUM!!
    Halve both recipes (it makes bunches, but chili freezes well) and cook cornbread in smaller square glass dish or a cast iron skillet for crispier crust.

  7. Frank

    My mom makes cornbread and uses pumpkin as some of the ‘wet’ to both sweeten and flavor it. Can I tell you YUM times like a thousand….

  8. Nicole

    I cook the same way and will certainly be making that chili sometime in the future, it sounds yummy.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Em

    I don’t judge you for being a sloppy chef but I am the exact opposite, possibly because I am not a foodie. I like my food processed, high in fat and sodium and if it can be of a color not found in nature, I will LOVE it (hi there, cheetos, do you need a place to stay tonight?). My husband (who is a foodie. He likes TEXTURES and FLAVORS. Ick) says I am a great cook. I think it is because I leave the inventing to the people who actually eat the food. I read and follow. I don’t substitute and I don’t do any “creating”. I’m a little envious of your method. That said, I cannot make your recipe or any of Rachel Ray’s. A pinch! A dash! A smoot! These are not measurable! But you do have me inspired to find a veggie chili recipe with some universally accepted units of measurement in them :-)

  10. Jan

    My younger brother has a theory (and I agree with him) that the deliciousness of a food is generally increased in direct proportion to its surface-area-to-volume ratio. (And yes, he said it like that to me because we just JUST THAT NERDY.)

    shredded cheese is more delicious than sliced, which is more delicous than chunk
    drop cookies are better than bar
    cut fruit pieces in a bowl are more appealing than whole pieces on the counter

  11. meghann

    You would have gotten along well with my mother. I was trying to have her teach me to make her lasagna once. When I asked her how long to cook it in the oven she answered “Till it’s done?”

  12. Tenessa


  13. Little Bird

    I wrote a cookbook (for friends and family) and I still have measuring problems. As in, I rarely measure anything. I only measure for baking really, and that is because: Baking is a science, cooking is an art. You can throw food together and come up with some great things. But baking? Baking is a fine balance that I still haven’t figured out.

  14. 12tequilas

    Mir–a few years back, I asked if you would kindly share your Thanksgiving crockpot cornbread stuffing recipe, which you did. I made it and loved it but wondered why it didn’t have any celery. Then the next year you blogged about making the stuffing (among other items) and said something about throwing in the celery. That’s when I realized that you just didn’t tell me about the celery because you wanted to leave out an ingredient so when I made it, it would never be as good as yours. Right?

  15. Scottsdale Girl

    This is also the way I cook. It isn’t slob-ey it is creative-genius-ey!

  16. Daisy

    I’ve been thinking about July 4th. I’d like to bake something red, white, and blue, but it may be too hot to use the oven. Darn. I thought strawberry/blueberry muffins would be about perfect.

  17. Mom24@4evermom

    Thank you! My son is a vegetarian, who recently took fish off the table, so to speak. It’s thrown me for a loop trying to figure out things to make. I appreciate the recipes.

    Now, any cooking with tofu tips?

  18. Angela

    I recently tried to get a recipe from my mother for her sweet potato casserole, to give to my sister in law. Mom basically gave me the *gist* of the recipe (a little of this, some of that), which I then had to translate into an actual recipe that my SIL, who’s not as experienced as we are, could follow. It was amusing, and I’m not sure SIL actually made it because she never answered my, “So, how was it?” email. I also take the basics of a recipe and add/subtract/tweak to my own satisfaction. It’s so much fun!

    Also, my poodle LOVES mango! She’ll sit on the couch next to me and look me in the face, very intently, until I share :-)

  19. Reb

    I’ve got a theory about curry spices: any combo tastes good.

    My cooking just involves pouring spice into the pot till it tastes like something I want to eat that night. It’s never the same twice but that bothers me not at all. Cinnamon’s a good addition, by the way.

    One time, I spent ages carefully adding spice to a stew and it ended up tasting exactly like cheap boring store-bought curry powder. I wasn’t too impressed with that one!

  20. Dorothy

    I have always cooked by the “dump and pour” method. If anyone wants a recipe from me, they have to go shopping with me and stand in the kitchen while we BOTH cook. That’s how I managed to teach my kids and grandkids.

  21. Drooling




    thanks :)

  22. sarah

    mmmm. I like that chili recipe. Thanks.

  23. The Mommy Therapy

    These sounds great. I am so impressed with the idea of making sorbet. Yum!

    We eat mass quatities of fruit salad here, but I remake it every day like an idiot. Why do I not make a huge bowl?

    Love the recipes. I do a recipe-ish every Wednesday and call it that because it’s usually something I just make up so there are no clearly defined amounts for, well…anything. I also write them to people like Anthony Weiner or that rapper Pitbull or my best friend, so I think they are rather challenging to follow with all my rambles.

    My point though, is that I love cooking by feeling, measuring by things other than teaspoons and cups (to the rapper I used bra cup size, one time small rodents…it’s possible I need a hobby) but it’s more fun and food is just more enjoyable, especially when cooking can be rough enough with three under 5 at my feet whining about all their tortures…I guess that doesn’t end soon?

    Can’t wait to try your recipes! Thanks for sharing!

  24. PattiH

    That’s exactly how I cook! I’m always “adjusting” recipes to taste, even when baking. I have notes all over my cookbooks with ingredients crossed out, substitutions, and add mores.
    And thanks for the veg recipes, I can always use a new idea for dinners.

  25. Brigitte

    Heh! You just reminded me that I promised to email a recipe to a friend . . a recipe that I heavily modified from the “official” version. Eek!

  26. elz

    Meat tastes good. YUM. You know what’s even better? When you win a contest and can’t crow about it or reprint the recipe because you have NO idea what the exact measurements of anything were. Oh wait, a bunch of venison, some sausage, a bit of shrimp….

  27. Cari Taylor-Earl

    I have to laugh at this post….a couple of years ago I posted a similarly worded “recipe” as a note on FB. Many friends and relatives were asking for the recipe for this pasta dish I make. I’d tried several times to estimate how much of each ingredient I regularly put in and then simply gave up and just used “enough” as a measure!

    I SO relate!

  28. s

    its a fact that fruit salad, regular salad and even sandwiches taste MUCH better when made by someone else! (at least its a fact in MY mind!) :)

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