Monday, November 19, 2012

Secret Ingredient Chili

If you haven't figured out by now that I am from Texas, then you haven't been paying attention! There are a few stereotypical foods from Texas that also happen to be 100% accurate. Tex-Mex, barbeque and fried foods are just the tip of the iceberg. Chili, also happens to be something we take very seriously.

My father, in particular, takes chili very seriously. He asks the butcher to grind his own meat and he uses several varieties. He orders his spices in bulk and uses several different kinds of chili powder that most people probably never knew existed. I remember growing up and going to chili cook offs with him. Again, he took this very seriously. These days, he doesn't go to big competitions but he still competes in local competitions and although he tries to hide it, I know he is disappointed if he doesn't win. Like I said, the man takes his chili very seriously since he puts so much hard work and pride into every batch. And he has a right to, his chili is seriously good.

And he never ever ever puts beans in his chili. "Real chili doesn't have beans." That much I learned from my father.

But let me tell you what I learned from my mother. Beans are cheaper than meat and they make the chili go further when you are trying to feed a crowd. And Mom's chili uses more everyday ingredients (none of them having to be specially ordered) and also her chili isn't super hot like my father's. And whenever I make this chili, I get tons of compliments on it. My mom made a huge batch of this for a dozen of my college friends one time and they were in love. I think all the boys loved my mom even more after she made this chili for them. And last year, she won the church chili cook off! As you can tell, neither of my parents are too shabby.

I promise, one day, when I can master my father's recipe and do it justice, I will post it on this blog.

In the meantime, I am posting my mom's recipe (albeit slightly altered to be my own) with her secret ingredient. I have met only a few people who use this same ingredient and only a few people can recognize its taste when tasting this chili. It really melds the flavors together perfectly for a great chili. I hope you agree! (p.s. you can still omit the beans in this chili recipe if you want to be more like my father :)

Secret Ingredient Chili
The Apron Gal

Serves 6-8

2 pounds ground beef or turkey
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic or 4 teaspoons garlic
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 tablespoons chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 jalapenos, halved (depending on your spiciness preference)
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
1 Hershey's chocolate bar (aka the secret ingredient!)


Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add the ground meat, onions and garlic. Cook until meat is almost browned, then add seasonings, until mixed thoroughly.

Add browned meat to crock pot with diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato paste and halved jalapenos.

Cook on high heat for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours. (Honestly, it gets better with time and it's hard to ruin this chili. If it were to dry out at all, simply add some water and let it cook for a little while longer.)

Half way through cooking, or in the last hour, add the chocolate bar and stir, remove jalapeno chunks.

Top with cheese, onions and or crushed tortilla chips or Fritos.


Monday, November 12, 2012

80's Murder Mystery!

For my birthday party, I wanted to throw a murder mystery party!  This was my first time hosting one and I was very excited. We had a blast and I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

I chose an 80's themed High School Reunion and had lots of fun planning the food, decorations and of course, my costume!

Make sure to pick a theme that people can have fun with and that isn't too difficult. I wanted people to be able to come up with costumes from home or thrifting (the 80's) versus having to buy things (flapper outfits). I also like all the fun personalities in this murder mystery kit: cheerleaders, nerds, cool kids, movie stars etc. It made for a really fun and diverse group for the costumes and personalities. Make you do pick a theme your crowd will have fun with it!

For those of you who aren't familiar with hosting a murder mystery, it works like this:

Every person who attends is given a character with a name and told to dress and act their part. They are also given a basic background of the storyline for the evening and told how the murder mystery part of it works.

The host can choose to decide if they know who the murderer and victim are, in my case, I wanted to make sure the murderer and victim would be fine playing dead and I also wanted to make sure one couple didn't have both parts.

Typically, guests arrive and mingle with drinks and appetizers for anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. They also receive their first envelope with objectives (like talking to certain people and getting them to answer questions).

Then, the murder occurs when the lights go out! The lights come on and everyone is shocked! The victim is then removed from the room and given a new character for the evening so they can still participate. 

Next, everyone is given a second envelope with more secrets and some people receive evidence to present to others. Dinner can be served from any point. I served after about 20-30 minutes of mingling during this portion.

I also let guests take a break from their characters while eating since although it is fun, it can be tiring to stay in character for 3 hours! Just feel how your group is doing, if they are loving it, continue the characters, I thought people just needed a little break :)

Then once people feel like they have heard enough evidence and talked to enough people, everyone casts their vote for who they believe the murderer to be, as well as best dressed and best actor.

Finally, after tallying the votes, you reveal the murderer and the winners of the parts. I also served dessert during this time.

The End!

Now for the pictures.....


You can send electronic or physical invitations with all the information the attendees need:

 The information sheet
 The class reunion newsletter (provided in the packet)

 The description sheet with the background and what each person should wear.

 I wrapped them all up with some Pop Rocks and delivered them to my guests. 

I hunted all around town for cute 80's themed trinkets, prizes and decorations.
 I was pretty proud of what I came up with!

Caution tape and the flyer for the mystery on the door. 

 Favor bags
The prizes for best dressed and best actor along with those who guessed the murderer were all different kinds of fun neon candies: Mike and Ikes, gobstoppers, sour patch kids etc. 

 I tried to use neon colors wherever I could!

I found a bunch of bright knick knacks at a teacher's store and though these neon magnifying glasses were perfect for a murder mystery! 

 I had the food on neon platters and plates scattered amongst the pearls, neon toys and paper cutouts. 

 Back to the future, a classic 80's movie, was on in the background.

For the food: 

 Sausage and sweet potato bites. These were a hit! Gone in minutes. I liked that they were a little different than your typical appetizer.
 I also made my own little "Murder High" pennants.

 Texas caviar. My own recipe mixed with some others. Basically black eyed peas, celery, cucumber, bell pepper, cilantro, lime and red wine vinegar. Served with chips. 

 Grape, bleu cheese and walnut bites or "amuse-bouche" a rough translation meaning enjoyment for the mouth. These were different and I think most people liked them. 

Homemade Chex Mex in cute orange popcorn cartons

 Punch with balloons! 


Then for the main course I did a Macaroni and Cheese bar. Not only was this fun but it matched the theme if you think of it as a high school cafeteria food. I was worried about my macaroni and cheese recipe but it was people's favorite thing I made (so I was told). recipe to come!

 For the "bar" part I served bacon, ham, green onions, broccoli and crushed potato chips. 
Top guest picks: 1. bacon 2. potato chips 3. green onions

 I asked friend's to bring salads so people actually got some vegetables with their dinner!

 I made two of these pans for dinner for 16 people and nearly every bite got eaten. If you don't have a ton of appetizers, I would recommend a third one too!

For dessert, each person received a mini S'mores pie and of course, they were so good I didn't get a single picture and they were all eaten up!

 The evidence

I also made a homemade photo booth that provided lots of laughs!

 The hosts: "B.A. Barricade and Pamela Abdul"

My favorite ladies!

Our awesome guests!
The gang-being silly!

I hope everyone had as much fun as I did, because I had a blast!

Have you ever hosted a murder mystery? Any questions for me about the party?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Insta-Yum October

I can't believe it is already November!! Where did October go? October was a great month because of all the family birthdays including my husband's and mine and then Halloween! That means lots of good food!

I found these Lacey's cookies at the grocery store and they were amazing. I ate every last one of them. I love the toffee and the chocolate crunchiness.
 Red Lobster for my husband's birthday. It was good but not great.
We got our fill for the next few years. haha.
We had a recent event at work and it was catered by a catering company called Spirited Food
All the appetizers and desserts were so delicious and cute too!

 These were tangerine pudding with crunchy almonds and it was amazing!

 Apples with goat cheese!
 My plate with the little appetizers! 

 Oreo ice cream cookie from Freddy's. This was good and only $1.00.
 I made this pumpkin bread and it totally failed. Darn you Pinterest, this recipe was no good. 

On my recent trip to Boston here is what I ate!

 Five Guys Cheeseburger with my pregnant best friend :)
 We needed to wash our burger down with something so this Oreo Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory seemed appropriate! haha
 Chicken pesto pizza from The Upper Crust.
 Shrimp and scallops penne pasta in a garlic cream sauce from the famous Giacomo's 
 in the North End of Boston.

Of course, we had to get cannolis in Boston so we hit up the famous Mike's Pastry!!

 I had the Florentine and it was definitely the best one! I loved the crunchy toffee like shell better than the regular shell.
 We had lunch in Cambridge at the Russell House Tavern and I had this awesome pork sandwich with apples and cheese and I can't remember what else but it was good.
 Frozen yogurt with mochi and sno caps from Orange Leaf yogurt!

 These were delicious. M&M's, why do you keep making so many good kinds?

 Awesome garlic naan from Teji's Indian Restaurant in Round Rock.

 Husband made me this delicious pork chop, mashed potato and green bean dinner!

 Diet Coke glass bottles with homemade grilled cheese with apples and onions that my Boston host, Jessica made for dinner. Seriously these sandwiches were to die for, I could have had 5!
 My box from Boston from Elizabeth at On Tap for Today.
 Chicken tenders and a loaded sweet potato from Logan's Roadhouse
Not as great as Texas Roadhouse but pretty good!

 Who knew they still make McGriddles?  A heart attack waiting to happen but delicious. 

 Frito pie at the Texas State Fair!

 Turkey leg at the Texas State Fair!

 Fresh cheese stuffed jalapenos at the fair!
 Fresh dipped ice cream bar at the Fair!

 Carrot cake for my birthday! 
(from the grocery store-I wasn't baking on my own birthday!)

 Garlic shrimp and onion rings from Tierney's Cafe and Tavern in Lewisville.
The onion rings were really good and the shrimp was pretty good. 

 Club sandwich with broccoli cheese soup from the Blue Baker in Austin. This place bakes all their own breads and desserts and I will definitely be going back to try their salads and more breads.
 Barbeque chicken pizza from Newk's in Austin. This was really good, definitely going back to try their soups, salads and sandwiches!
 Meatball sub from Firehouse subs. My first sub from there and it was good! I will have to try a regular sub next time to give my full verdict but my husband really likes theirs. 

 Dark chocolate break and bakes. Tastes more like a brownie but who's complaining?

 I made 34 caramel apples for work. I think I am good for awhile on thinking about caramel apples! 

 Pretzel pub chicken sandwich from Jack in the Box. Actually this was pretty dang good for fast food. I would get it again with no onions.

Finally barbacoa and chicken tacos on Halloween from Chipotle. I wore my costume so they only cost $2.00!

Happy October everyone! 
Did you eat anywhere yummy last month??

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