Basic Chili Spice & Herb Mix, Substitute Chili Packet

When I first started making Chili, I used to just guess and add a little of this and a little of that – the problem? Well, other than the need for a lot of adjusting was standing there at the stove thinking, “What is it missing?”

Chili Packet Substitute - Suitable for Families
Chili Packet Substitute – Suitable for Families


The other problem? Child: “I don’t like Chili.” Me: “Well, you liked it last time.” Child: “It doesn’t taste the same!” Hard to argue with that!

So here’s a blend I use, suitable, I’d say for most families – a great substitute for a chili packet. This has become my basic “signature” chili. It makes a great flavor base to riff off  of, too, if you’d like to change it up or add additional heat or flavors.

Feel free to use less salt, by all means – I generally make mine with dried beans, unsalted. If you like to use canned beans, you may easily go with half the salt.

Chili Con Carne Mix

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 teaspoons cumin
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8 tablespoons chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons salt

2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons generally works well for a pot of chili using a pound of ground beef. This will make about four to five pots of chili.

A recipe to get you started:

Saute a diced onion and green pepper in a little oil until soft. Brown a pound of ground beef and drain fat. Add in the chili mixture, and stir around until fragrant. Add in the sautéed vegetables and a 15 ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes plus juice. Add a little water or stock until desired consistency. Add a can or two of beans, pinto or kidney; rinse beans first.

Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Cook until flavors are blended and chili is thickened as desired, at least 30 minutes at a simmer.


Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing

Thanksgiving food, here in the US, isn’t really about the turkey – it’s about the sides. To me, it’s not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes, gravy and of course, stuffing! Notice the explanation point. I get excited about stuffing, especially since I usually only have it once a year. Anything else can be as gourmet or as basic as you’d like, but the stuffing? It has to be this one.

Classic Midwestern Stuffing
Classic Midwestern Stuffing – shown here is 1/2 a recipe

This classic Midwestern stuffing came about partly from my Mother and partly from a friend who shared her 99 year old Mother’s recipe – and the addition of sausage and milk. If you think stuffing is an afterthought, something plopped down on the plate only as a nod to tradition, you haven’t had stuffing like this. And by the way, whether pulled from the bird or from a casserole, in the Midwest, we call it stuffing. At least we old people do…

So keep your oysters (we’re Midwestern), corn bread (we’re Northerners) and most fruit, dried or fresh (unless it was something Grandma would use.) In the Midwest, we don’t need no stinking* water chestnuts (not local) or wild rice (different dish.) We don’t want cheese (sacrilege) or leeks (la di da). We really don’t want greens (trust me, nothing will make this healthy) or mushrooms and/or anything else “fancy” or “trendy.”

And bacon? No bacon! I’m taking a stand here – just like cheese, bacon shouldn’t be in everything, and really shouldn’t be in a classic stuffing. You heard it here, first, fellow Americans! Sausage goes in stuffing. And giblets. Ask your Grandma.

Lets talk about the rest of the ingredients here. There are ways to shortcut stuffing, but these common deviations do make a difference. Especially the bread!

For the best stuffing, skip the bagged or boxed already dried bread. Sometimes you’ve gotta do what ya gotta do, but while this shortcut may make a tasty stuffing it will never make a great one. Stuffing isn’t just about taste, it’s about texture. Look for a good sturdy bread or combination of breads, a bakery Italian is ideal. If possible, try to find one without a lot of additives and softeners which inhibit the drying process.

There’s not a lot of broth in here, but trust me here – a gorgeous home-made stock brings true flavor & body to the stuffing that no boxed, canned or powdered product ever will. If you can possibly swing it, go with home-made – whether chicken or turkey. You’ll be able to control the salt and avoid that boxed, “fakey” flavor. Make it a few weeks ahead and freeze until needed to cut down on the last minute Holiday cooking craziness and you’ll probably find yourself using it for other dishes coming to the table, too.

The butter? It’s not a typo, this outrageous amount, about a tablespoon per serving, but this is a huge amount of stuffing. If you’re worried, cut it back some, but I wouldn’t cut it past a 3/4 cup, a stick and a half. And giblets? That’s your call. I often skip them (don’t tell my Mom!)

Classic Midwestern Stuffing
Classic Midwestern Stuffing

Classic Midwestern Stuffing, serves 12 – 16

  • 1 pound breakfast sausage
  • 3 cups diced onion (1 large or two medium)
  • 4 cups diced celery (figure about 2 to 3 stalks per cup)
  • 2 sticks butter (1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt (reduce if using canned broth)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 16 cups dried bread cubes (about the equivalent of two one-pound loaves, a good white bread or a mixture of your choice)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Chicken or Turkey broth (see recipe) about a cup, all of it may not be used.
  • Turkey Giblets, if available

This stuffing will be baked at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Adjustments will need to be made if cooking at a different temperature or if using different sized pans (for instance 1 large pan or two smaller pans.)

Bread Crumbs: Several days ahead (three to four) cut bread into about 1 inch by 1/2 inch cubes. Place on a tray in a safe place to dry. May also be spread out on trays and baked in a 300 degree oven for 30 to 50 minutes, stirring and rotating trays now and then. Cool before using. Premade bread cubes (14 to 16 ounces) may be used but you’ll need to increase the amount of broth and it will affect the quality of the stuffing.

Broth: Chicken or Turkey stock may be used, home-made is best. If time allows, simmer the broth with the Turkey giblets (but not the liver) and neck for 30 minutes. Finely chop giblets and add to stuffing, discarding any bones from the neck. I often save the neck to add to my turkey stock I make after the meal.

Saute celery and onions in butter until softened, cool slightly. In a very large bowl, toss bread cubes with poultry seasoning, sage, salt & pepper. Add the celery/onion mixture and toss with clean hands.

Mix egg and milk and add to stuffing mixture, tossing again. Moisten with chicken broth until desired consistency.

Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or so until golden brown.

 Just for fun: 

* Americans have long laughed at the Mel Brook’s parody Blazing Saddles and the line “We don’t need no stinking badges.” Brooks misquoted this from the questionable classic, The Treasure of Sierra Madre and the quote has appeared in many movies, books and stories over the years.

So for my more far flung friends, if you ever hear an American say, “We don’t need no stinkin’ something or other” they’re not suffering from a lack of language skills, they’re trying to be funny! :)






Compote: Winter Fruits in Spiced Wine

An assortment of your favorite dried fruits, gently macerated overnight in a spiced wine mixture then baked in the oven until plump and flavorful, the wine reduced to a ruby syrup. This is one of my favorite side dishes on a Thanksgiving or Christmas table. When I brought it back home one year, my baby sis gleefully dubbed this “Compost!” Our family has called it so ever since…

Compote: Winter Fruits in Spiced Wine
Compote: Winter Fruits in Spiced Wine

I imagine this dish would work well at many holidays, and the fruit can be varied to any kind you like or whatever will go with the meal. I always make sure there are some dried figs in it, but this can be made with a mixture of just about anything or the flavor profile may be carefully orchestrated to just a few complementary flavors. The cost varies depending on what types of fruit is added and what kind of wine is used.

Since dried fruit is always on sale during the “trifecta” of Winter Holidays, I take the opportunity to replenish my supplies and often just put whatever fruits in this that I may have left from the previous year. The wine/sugar maceration plumps them up beautifully!

Sometimes I serve this instead of the ubiquitous cranberry sauce, sometimes in addition to it. It keeps, tightly covered, in the fridge for a week or two, at least and is also a great make ahead side. Any left over is always good, and I often chop this (a bit messy) and use it to make the old classic Thumbprint cookies. Cranberry sauce works well in those, too.

Compote: Winter Fruits in Spiced Wine, makes about 3 cups

  • 5 cups mixed dried fruits (you may wish to slice larger fruits)
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 lemon peel
  • 1 orange peel

Mix wine and sugar in a bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and chill overnight. Bake at 375 degrees for an hour, basting now and then until fruit is plumped and softened and wine is reduced to a syrup. (Keep in mind the syrup will thicken more if it’s chilled.) Watch carefully in the last 15 minutes.

Serve warm or chilled on a Holiday buffet table. Left overs make an interesting addition to vanilla ice-cream.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Dried Fruit: is not always the cheapest thing to buy (if you make your own, it’s a different story) but the fall/winter holidays is a great time to buy with coupons and sales.
  • Wine:  I really shop the sales and speak to the employees – I find I can find great wines for a pittance. If you have a wine shop you like, I find you can get mailings or emails for their best sales – often in the fall and spring. You’d be surprised at the bargains you can get and how long you can use a bottle for quick little recipes.

If you see this post before November 19th, and if you haven’t voted yet for my Denver Green Chili in the Ranting Chef’s Diced Chili Cook-Off, please visit and so! :) You’ll love his blog, and love seeing all the other contestants, too. Look for the pink box on the right and push the radial button.


Our Favorite Pumpkin Pie – the correct Pam Anderson’s recipe

Years ago, my son & I were in a pretty severe accident – my then 14 year old daughter made a good portion of the Thanksgiving dinner on her own, while I talked her through - from my bed. She’s always had a great talent for cooking. I don’t think she was much more than 10 when she pulled down a cookbook on her own and made home-made pancakes! She was disappointed because they were so light & fluffy and she wasn’t used to that!

Pam Anderson's Pumpkin Pie - here on my Great Grandma's plates
Pam Anderson’s Pumpkin Pie – here on my Great Grandma’s plates

Although she’d made one pumpkin pie before with me, a moment of confusion must have set in…when we sat down to eat the pie, one after another of us discovered a clove – a burst of flavor – as we ate. I told her to put 1/4 teaspoon of clove in the pie – she didn’t realize I meant ground! Of course, my poor daughter has suffered endless jokes about the pie ever since, all with mostly good grace.

So this isn’t that pie, nor even the standard Libby’s that I grew up with – this is a masterpiece of a pie reworked by Pam Anderson (note: there are some recipes out there for this pie on the internet that are incorrect!) that’s become our favorite recipe. Just a bit more work, this is a pie that solves everything that you don’t like about pumpkin pie. A gorgeous flavor, not over spiced, it lets the pumpkin flavor shine through, a beautiful, almost fluffy custard and a method that ensures the crust that stands up to the silky filling.

Here’s the recipe and a few (well a lot) of things to know to make a successful go of it. While I’ve never made the mistake my daughter did, over my many years of pumpkin pie making I’ve fallen into one pitfall or another, many times. You won’t with this pie and these hints! I know this will work well for you and I hope you have the best Holiday, ever!

You’ll want to pour the warm filling into the warm pie crust and put it into the hot oven (which gets turned down just as the crust is removed from its pre-baking), so timing is important. The hotter oven and the warm ingredients give this a bit of an initial boost in the oven. Have the filling ready to go just as crust is removed from the oven. You might recognize this method from the Quiche Lorraine based on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe.

Pam Anderson’s Silky Pumpkin Pie, 1 pie

1 can (15 ounces) 100% pure pumpkin, not “pumpkin pie filling”
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
1 cup canned evaporated milk
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
9-inch pie shell, baked, a deep dish works well
Whipped cream for garnish

Prebake pie crust and remove, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Turn oven down to 300 degrees. While the pie shell is baking, in a saucepan, heat pumpkin, salt and spices to blend flavors, about 5 minutes. Add milks and whisk to combine.

Whisk the eggs and yolks together in a medium bowl to blend, then whisk in the pumpkin mixture, a tablespoon or so at a time at first to gently warm the eggs. After a few tablespoons, continuing to whisk, add the rest of the pumpkin mixture. Whisk well to form a silky texture; use a spatula to make sure all the filling is lifted from the bottom and edges of bowl. (Some versions of this pie state to use a blender which I’ve found creates a rather unattractive top to the pie.)

Pour warm filling into warm prebaked pie shell. Bake until a thin-bladed knife inserted about half way from the center comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

My notes:

  • Instead of measuring out spices and salt, I use a scant 2 1/2 teaspoons of my pumpkin pie spice.
  • I generally bake this in a deep dish pie plate and take care to not build up the crust above the top; if using a standard, it’s a tight fit and I build the crust up over the top; there may still be some left over.
  • I generally use a “pie shield” and place it over the crust at about 17 minutes. If you don’t have one, see instructions, below.
  • If you’re filling or the pie crust is not hot enough or the oven temperature reduces too much from 425 towards 300 when you add the pie, this may take significantly longer to cook.
  • If making two pies, just divide the evaporated milk equally between the two – it will be a little short, but makes little difference in the final product.
  • You can get an idea of when to test by giving the pie a “jiggle.” There should only be a very faint movement in the very center of the pie while the rest appears quite firm. It will continue to cook after it’s removed from the oven.
  • I prefer to cool this on the counter on a rack to room temperature, then put in the refrigerator uncovered until it reaches refrigerator temperature. Then cover. This reduces the chance cracks, pulling or condensation will form, marring the perfect surface.

Notes from Pam Anderson:

  • This recipe calls for a prebaked pie shell. I prefer my own pie crust, of course but use any crust you like, even frozen. Just be sure it’s baked by the time you have the filling prepared.
  • Don’t let an insipid dessert ruin your feast. Your guests will gush over this dense, intense pie.

To make your own pie shield:

With very little measuring skill, and an interest in being frugal,the easiest method I’ve found is to make the pie shield before any baking is attempted. Simply place a sheet of foil over the pie plate – the foil should hang over about two inches on all sides.

Press it down so the markings from the edges of the pie plate show, then fold over triangles of the foil so that there is a double edge and the edge hangs over the outside of the pie plate by about 1/2 inch and overlaps about a half-inch on the inside. If the original demarkation from the pie plate is not clear, repress.

Using a scissors, cut out the center, making sure to leave the 1/2 inch overhang towards the middle. Straighten the shield out and have ready. It won’t be beautiful, but it will work.


  • It’s a good idea to think of a use for the almost 1/2 can of evaporated milk and two egg whites left over so they don’t go to waste. They can be frozen.
  • If you’re not using a deep dish there may be a little left over filling – it can be baked in small custard cups along with the pie. They’ll be done much more quickly; you’ll just have to check them frequently. 30 minutes?

Fabulously Frugal Cooking & Shopping


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