January 31, 2009

frugality, simplicity... and chili

Those of you who know us are familiar with our tradition of making January our annual "month of frugality," during which we significantly limit the things we can purchase. We do this as a way of taking a break from the excesses of the holidays, and to start the new year out with a fresh perspective on what it looks like to live more simply. And we then try to figure out something positive to do with the money we save. So during January, our expenses end up boiling down to just two categories: groceries and gas.

And I give up alcohol for a month. That's right. My last adult beverage was a glass of cava, which I finished 2 seconds before midnight on December 31st with S+K. And in about 5 hours, I'm going to welcome in the month of February with either a Manhattan or a Negroni at Cafe Presse with those same friends. Perfect.

This year's month of frugality has been a good one. As in past years, I managed to shed a couple of pounds (who knew alcohol had so many calories?), and we saved a good chunk of change to donate to Habitat for Humanity and Three Cups of Tea. I was a little surprised, though, at how obsessed I became with making certain things. First, it was meatballs... then bread... then chocolate chip cookies... pancakes... roast chicken... back to cookies... and bread. All such simple things, but precisely the kind of soul-satisfying comfort food I've been craving all month. I'm pretty certain I would have gotten into better shape if it hadn't been for those cookies.

So today is the last day of this fantastic month. When the sun rises tomorrow, I'll be able to go out and have an americano and a pain au chocolat from Besalu, ease back into the spellbinding grasp of Spinasse, or indulge in phenomenal sushi at Miyabi. But before that could happen, I needed to make one more simple, satisfying meal.


This was born of necessity more than anything else. Lav was heading back home from the gym and I was looking for a simple, fulfilling (and filling) meal we could make with what we had in stock. In our fridge: leftover roast chicken breast, celery, baby bell peppers, an onion, celery and tomatoes. In the pantry: a can of butter beans. 45 minutes later, Lav came home and declared this one a keeper.

White Bean Chili with Chicken

1 medium onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 celery rib, diced
1 cup diced baby bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1 lime or meyer lemon
1 can butter beans (or other white beans), drained
2 cups leftover chicken, torn into large chunks
2 cups water (adjust more or less to desired consistency)
1 teaspoon flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
a few pinches of paprika

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the onion with a generous pinch of kosher salt until lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Add the diced celery, bell peppers and garlic and continue cooking for 3 minutes. Making a well in the center of the saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour to make a quick roux. Once the flour is lightly toasted, add the cumin and paprika and stir the roux
until it is well incorporated with the vegetables. Deglaze with the white wine and stir until nearly dry. Add beans, tomatoes and water, stir thorough, cover and simmer until thickened--about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and turn the heat to low. When chicken is heated through, squeeze in the juice of 1 lime, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Garnish with shredded cheddar, cilantro and a few good shakes of Tabasco.