The Best Basic Chili… and my Top 20 things you should know how to make by the time you’re 30!

by Food Hound on December 20, 2013

in Main Dishes, Meat, Soups and Stews

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One of my favorite fans asked me to respond to the Huffington Post’s article entitled ’30 Recipes You Should Know How to Cook By the Time You’re 30.’  And it just so happens that I was planning to write about this chili in honor of my 19-year-old brother, who asked me to put together a book of recipes I think he should be able to make in his college-student-apelike-dwelling and be forgiving enough to be whisked with a leftover Chinese takeout fork taped to an empty toilet paper roll and still turn out ok.

Challenge(s) accepted!!!

One of my favorite food expressions comes from a local Knoxville restaurant, The Tomato Head, and it says the following: ‘Food gotta cook; don’t come out of a can.’  Can’t get any simpler, folks.  Cooking food is a basic human skill, and while you don’t have to aspire to be Julia Child, you gotta know how to make (at least some of) it.

{Or meet and marry one of these Julia Child-wannabes at a Penn State tailgate and never have to prepare another meal in your life… but you know, even Julia wanted Paul to cook for her every once in a while, and yes, I’m looking at you, Booze Hound.}

My list bears some resemblance to the Huffy Post list, but leaves off a few things (um, polenta?  A necessity?  Really?) and replaces them with WAY more important items, like a layer cake- because someday you’ll want to impress your spouse with a homemade birthday cake, and if all you have up your sleeve is a boxed mix with funfetti in a can or the number to the nearest grocery store bakery, that’s not cool.  Know your way around a cake pan, my friend.

So without further ado, here is my list.  Chili starts us off because, well, it’s the feature recipe of this post, and it is the answer to so many of life’s food questions.

The Food Hound’s Top 20 Things You Should Know How To Make By the Time You’re 30

#1 Chili: This list is in no particular order, but this is meant to be #1.  Chili is the stuff.  It will feed you for days, it’s easy, it’s packed with all kinds of good-for-you-ness, and it’s completely party-worthy.  We are chili freaks in this house, including the babe, and although I love love love my Ultimate Beef Chili and my Cincinnati Chili, this is the one I make most often.  As the title suggests, it’s basic.  There are no hints of cocoa.  No tedious browning of cubed beef.  No texture amplifier, like masa harina.  No crazy meat combos like chorizo and ground duck confit. What you see- onions, beef, beans, tomatoes- is what you get.  And what you get is a bowl of 100%, all-American, red-blooded, God-fearin’ chili at its finest.  This is the chili to make when you want leftovers for things like nachos or chili cheese fries (OMG).  Keep this one.

#2 Grown-up salad: I love junking up my salads with all kinds of stuff like cheese, bacon, avocado, candied pecans… but if we’re getting real about things you should be able to make, it doesn’t have to be complicated- it just has to be delicious.  My Spinach, Apple, Onion Salad with Creamy Maple-Mustard Dressing is that salad.

You no longer have a good excuse not to eat spinach.

#3 Meal you can make in no time: Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute-Which-Are-Actually-60-Minute Meals are too complex for a weeknight when you are standing in your kitchen at 6:30 and need to have dinner ready by 7.  Skillet-Baked Eggs with Goat Cheese and Grape Tomatoes is not only fancy-pants, but quick as lightening and so so so so good.  I make this all the time.  No one will judge when you want it to be a roast-beef sandwich night, which is arguably faster because there is no oven time, but if you want a warm, comforting meal with minimal effort, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Sorry, these were iPhone photo days.  Don't judge a book by its cover- make this!

Sorry, these were iPhone photo days. Don’t judge a book by its cover- make this!

#4 Roast Chicken: There are many, many recipes for roast chicken out there, and 99% of them result in some part of the bird being bland.  I don’t hang with bland chicken (see my other food motto: ‘Life is too short to eat bad food’), so for years I tried to find a recipe that would not only warm my heart and make my house smell divine, but be good to the last wing, and Brined Roast Chicken with Olive Bread Croutons is IT.  The brining is a little daunting, but they sell brining bags in the grocery store, and that’s a basic cooking skill, in and of itself, that I think everyone should know how to do.  The crispy-chewy (God bless chicken fat!) croutons underneath are just icing on the cake.

brined roast chicken

Croutons made crispy by savory chicken juices. Chicken with flavor in every bite. Sign me up.

#5 A Good vegetarian meal: I’m a carnivore, but I understand that there are vegetarians in the world, and at the risk of losing some die-hard meat eating fans, I do enjoy good meatless meals (emphasis on GOOD).  So often, insufficient attention is given to the meatless meal, so I’m naming my favorite one (Ultimate Black Bean Burgers + Cilantro-Lime Mayo) and giving you FOUR MORE that totally rock my world: Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower, Falafel with Tahini Sauce, The Ultimate Panzanella, and Chilaquiles Verdes.

bean burger big

Fun fact: this is the most popular recipe on the Food Hound! Totally makes sense- they are amazing.

#6 Yeast bread: I’m bad about this because I only actually have ONE recipe featured on the blog that involves a yeast dough, but we try to keep our bread consumption in check, and I have been burned by yeast recipes not turning out well.  Let’s fight the fear together!  I will add a few more yeast bread recipes over the course of the next year, and YOU make the only one I have featured, which is for my Cinnamon Rolls, which are the bomb/the beezneez/the best of the best.

Cinnamon roll

Size matters. Jumbo cinnamon rolls comin’ atcha.

#7 Frosted layer cake: Read above for why you need to know how to make a layer cake!  Here are two to try: my favorite, and an annual staple at my holiday party, Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake with Brown Butter Frosting; and the Booze Hound’s favorite, Killer Chocolate Cake.  I am perfecting my basic yellow-cake-with-chocolate-frosting combo, and while the cake needs some tweaking, THIS FROSTING is my favorite frosting ever ever ever.  Swiss buttercream, how have I lived without thee for so long?  A little more complex to make, so if you just master the chocolate buttercream in the killer cake above, you’ll be well on your way to being a well-rounded culinary adult.

Killer cake is on the left. Your life will never be the same.

Killer cake is on the left. Your life will never be the same.

#8 Killer margarita: Do I even need to say why this needs to be in your arsenal?  Because once you graduate from college, the pre-made stuff with Cuervo is off-limits.  The Best Classic Margarita.  Do it.  And take your friends’ keys.

Classic margarita

So tasty and potent that it will make your negs lumb.

#9 Something to pack for lunch I am constantly shocked by how many people say they hate eating (or worse, refuse to eat) leftovers.  Then I’m shocked they are married because a dislike of leftovers would surely mean the demise of my marriage.  We don’t eat the same thing all week, but what we eat for dinner is lunch the next day.  Most people I know who hate leftovers end up buying lunch or eating at a restaurant every day, which is rough on the budget and pant seams.  Still, I totally get that some meals don’t heat up well in an office microwave- steak, pizza, fish- so my advice is to mix it up and make some foods that are the same, if not better, the next day.  Mustard Chicken Salad, Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon and Almonds, Buffalo Chicken Salad, and Butternut Salad with Farro and Walnuts are all these types of meals.  Although they require heating, any kind of chili (see above) or soup (like Pumpkin Chipotle Soup with Chicken and Barley) also make great packed lunches.  Moral of the story: if you’re 30 you’re either saving for a house, paying for a house, and realizing that fitting into your wardrobe every year requires effort, so start packing some of those lunches!!

Sweet potatoes + bacon + almonds.  Come to mama.

Sweet potatoes + bacon + almonds. Come to mama.

#10 A Fish dish Don’t be scared to cook with fish.  It’s healthy, it’s easy, and it can be really, really delicious.  I mostly cook with salmon, and here are FOUR for you to choose from: Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Indian Spices, Pecan-Crusted Grilled Salmon, Roasted Salmon with Lemon-Dill Butter, and Five-Spice Glazed Salmon.

Five-spice salmon.  You will love it.

Five-spice salmon. You will love it.

#11 A Party Food You can’t bring Wavy Lays and Helluva Good to a party and call yourself an adult.  If someone asks you to bring an appetizer, wow their pants off with BBQ Chicken Dip.  If you are entertaining at home, REALLY wow their pants off with Broiled Feta with Caramelized Cinnamon Pears.  Need something to put out for cocktails?  Cocoa-Espresso Roasted Nuts.  No Lays.  Just right.

Cocoa espresso roasted nuts

You can’t eat just one.

#12 BIG MEAT A big piece of meat can be really intimidating, but it’s usually not complicated to prepare.  You’re going to need a main dish for a holiday table someday, and Porchetta or Provencal Roasted Lamb would fit the bill nicely.  I have also made (but never blogged about) this Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Basil-Parm Mayo from Barefoot Contessa.  TO DIE FOR.


Porchetta is so good it will make a grown man cry.

#13 Hash Hash is one of the healthiest, most filling, most versatile meals you can make.  It’s meat + veg + some sort of potato, all pressed down in a hot skillet till it gets nice and crispy, mmmmm.  It’s a great way to use up any leftover veg in your fridge, too.  My faves: Jerk Pork and Sweet Potato Hash, Bacon-Corn-Sweet Potato Hash, and Italian Home Fries (which I have yet to blog about but I make all de time).

Jerk pork sweet potato hash

Jerk Pork Sweet Potato Hash. OMG.

#14 A casserole that doesn’t involve canned soup Someday you are going to want comfort food, or be called upon to make comfort food for someone else.  Don’t go down the Campell’s Condensed Soup aisle.  Casseroles are retro, but that doesn’t mean old-school.  My fave is my Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Leeks and Sausage (easily made into a casserole instead of re-stuffed into potato skins).  And although technically not a casserole, I can’t help but throw in Baked Eggs with Creamy Chard.  The creaminess factor is off the charts, and in keeping with the need to know how to cook greens in the Huffy Post article, I’m saying you should try it.

Make it into a casserole for instant comfort food.

Make it into a casserole for instant comfort food.

#15 A great basic salad dressing Making your own salad dressing is easy and WAY WAY WAY better than store-bought.  My Herb Vinaigrette pretty much goes on anything (and goes particularly nicely with my BLT Salad- OMG, so fabulous).  Feeling slightly more adventurous?  Make my Pecan Vinaigrette.  SO rich and delish.

Pecan Vinaigrette.  SO fab.

Pecan Vinaigrette. SO fab.

#16 Basic meat marinade Marinated and grilled meat is a staple in life.  Make a veggie or two to go with it and you’re done.  Or even better, put it in a main dish salad.  Can’t go wrong.  Get marinating with Three-Mustard Bistro Marinade, Thai Steak Marinade, or Garlic-Herb Marinade.

Three-Mustard Bistro Marinade at work. Marinating meat sure ain't the prettiest thing, but OH MY does it turn into something tasty!!

Three-Mustard Bistro Marinade at work. Marinating meat sure ain’t the prettiest thing, but OH MY does it turn into something tasty!!

#17 A brownie that doesn’t come from a box As a lover and baker of homemade brownies, I am mortified I don’t have any blog posts about them.  Looks like I need to do some baking!  My go-to brownie is this one, and another one I frequently make is Cabernet-Ganache Swirled Brownies (yeah, you read that right!).  They are both SO easy (and the one that requires a little extra work involves WINE… YES.) and luscious that I promise you’ll never go back to boxed again.  Or… you can try my Brownie Pudding, which is like a brownie that oozes onto your plate.  That might suffice.

Is this heaven, or is this heaven?

Is this heaven, or is this heaven?

#18 Vegetables that taste AWESOME  Yeah, it’s official, vegetables are good for you and you need to eat them.  PS- liking vegetables is cool.  Boiling them is not.  I’m never one to choke down something horrific just to satisfy my daily requirement for all things green and leafy, so I’ve made it my mission to make vegetables that would make your mouth water.  My faves: Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Tomatoes and Goat Cheese, Mashed Root Vegetables with Bacon Vinaigrette, Bacon-Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Garlic-Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Squash with Manchego and Pimentón, and Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes, Mint, and Ricotta Salata.  (Note the trend of roasting…).  I also make kale chips and steamed broccoli with browned butter each once a week or more.  Veggies are king.  Eat ’em.

Eggplant bruschetta

Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes, Mint and Ricotta Salata. I can barely wait till eggplant season rolls around again.

#19 A favorite dish you have always relied on a restaurant to make OK, this is mostly for people who enjoy cooking, but I will say, without a doubt, one of the coolest feelings is to make a meal that was previously restaurant-only in your life.  For me?  Thai Curry with Eggplant, Falafel with Tahini Sauce, Chilaquiles Verdes, Tzatziki SaucePork Banh Mi, Cinnamon Rolls, Steak Teriyaki, Blueberry-Pear Baked OatmealCincinnati Chili, Ultimate Nachos, Tomato-Basil Gazpacho, and Plaid Apron House Granola were all restaurant-to-home victories.  Ohhhhh, and Oven-Fried Chicken.  Not technically a sub for fried chicken at my fave joint, but so so so so so good, and I had to squeeze it in here somewhere.

Better than a restaurant, and WAY easier than you think.

Thai Curry. Better than a restaurant, and WAY easier than you think.

#20 Stuff you haven’t made before  Sounds cheesy, but while I can build this list and pontificate about what I think a 30-year-old should be able to make, there are PLENTY of things I feel I should improve in my own repertoire.  As I mentioned earlier, I need to do more with yeast breads- specifically, Belgian waffles and (gulp) croissants.  I need to get better at cocktail-making (three cheers from the Booze Hound).  I need to explore more seafood species.  I want to make more ice cream (don’t we all?).  I want to make a Lamb Rogan Josh good enough that I stop begging all my friends to go to Indian restaurants with me (I’m reeeeally close to this one).  I want to make Gyros (just found a new recipe to try).  I would love to explore the idea of smoking meat (and maybe one of these years Santa will bring me a smoker!!).  I want to conquer my fear of pie crust (yes, fear of pie crust).  

So there you have it.  I don’t judge you if you’re 30 and can’t boil and egg (I’m married to one just like you), but maybe this gives you some inspiration to learn and do more in the kitchen.  Or at least I have given you ammunition for a Top 20 Ways the Food Hound Should Improve Her Photography Skills post, in which case I say, touché.

I have SO SO SO many fabulous recipes to make and post over these next few months.  But for now I shall enjoy the holiday with the Booze Hound and our sweet baby girl.  Back in action soon.  Promise 🙂  Merry Christmas!

The Best Basic Chili
From America's Test Kitchen
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 (16-oz) cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (14.5-oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1½ lbs ground beef (recommended: ground sirloin, or about 85% lean ground beef)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 T chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ c chopped cilantro
  1. Process half of beans and half of tomatoes in food processor to a coarse paste; set aside.
  2. Cook beef and onions in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder, cumin, sugar, ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in pureed bean-tomato mixture and remaining beans and tomatoes.
  3. Bring chili to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Off heat, stir in cilantro and season to taste with salt (about ½ tsp, more to taste) and pepper (about ¼ tsp, more to taste).


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jordan December 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Feeling accomplished…I have made all these things at least once. Probably not with the Food Hound’s flair but giving myself credit none the less!


Jessica @ Floptimism December 23, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Love the list!


Jessica @ Floptimism December 28, 2013 at 2:54 pm

PS I featured it on my blog’s Wrap-Up, cause it’s so excellent:


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