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Meatless Monday: Mapo Tofu

As a lover of food, there’s nothing better than meeting someone with the same kind of affinity for all-things edible. “You like cow tongue?! I like cow tongue!”

I’m a lucky person. My most recent job had me meeting new people everyday and I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in touch with some of those awesome people. The reason they’re so awesome? They’re FFAs (Fellow Food Appreciators… and, since they hail from Ramona, probably also Future Farmers of America).

Remember my good friend D who miraculously paired pomegranate seeds with spinach and bacon? Well, his dad (Dan) made something recently I had never heard of: Mapo Tofu.


The origin of the dish’s name is somewhat unsettling, as it translates to “Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu.” But I’m not a book-cover judger, and it just so happens that Pockmarked-Face Lady makes one delicious tofu dish.


The dish hails from the Sichuan province in China and is extra spicy (read: have extra napkins handy for your nose, which will inevitably run). Dan was kind enough to let me use most of the necessary ingredients, which he had on hand (he’s an FFA, remember), but he also directed me to local Asian markets shall I ever need to purchase the necessities myself — 99 Ranch Market in Clairemont for all you San Diego natives reading this).

I got to check out fermented black beans up close (nope, that is NOT a dead bug), sniff out hot peppercorns (prickly ash) and tantalize my tastebuds with sesame chili oil (I can use this in every dish from here on out, yeah?).

Mapo tofu is usually made with ground pork and large chunks of silken tofu, but, you guys, this is Meatless Monday. Ain’t nobody got time for pork. So I bought a block of extra firm tofu and crumbled it (like I did for curried egg salad) to make it look like ground pork. It’s the kind of “gotcha!” move Sarah Palin would despise. #TopicalJokeCirca2008


I adapted the recipe below from here, so click that linky for the real deal, grab a glass of milk and get cookin’!

Mapo Tofu (vegetarian version)

Serves 4

What you NeedIMG_6991

  • 1 block silken tofu
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled
  • 3 Tbsp. Sichuan spicy bean paste
  • 1 Tbsp. cayenne
  • 2 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 3 Tbsp. chili oil
  • 1 Tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground to powder (Note: look for “prickly ash” and remove the actual peppercorn and just roast and grind the shells of the actual peppercorn)IMG_6989
  • 1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. fermented black beans (rinsed and pounded)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 scallions, chopped for topping
Wok it Up
  1. Cut the silken tofu into small pieces, drain the water from the tofu and set aside.
  2. Heat up a wok and pour in the EVOO and chili oil. Add the chopped garlic, shallots, crumbled firm tofu, spicy bean paste and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add in chili powder, soy sauce, fermented black beans and stir-fry until aromatic.
  4. Add in the silken tofu and water; stir gently to blend the tofu (don’t break them) well with the sauce.
  5. Lower the heat and simmer for about 3-5 mins, or until the sauce thickens.
  6. Add in the roasted Sichuan peppercorn powder and gently stir and blend well.
  7. Dish over jasmine rice, top with chopped scallions and serve hot.IMG_7001

Sweet and Savory Side Dish: Spinach with Bacon and Pomegranate

Tis the season for pomegranates! I used them in a salad a couple weeks ago and was trying to find a way to use up the other pomegranate I had in an equally delicious, but more creative, way.

My good friend (we’ll call him D) told me he made spinach with pomegranate seeds in it, and I deemed him the genius of our time. It adds a nice crunch and sweetness to an otherwise soft and bitter green. And, as we all know, bacon makes everything delicious.


You could try this dish out with mustard greens or kale and pair it with roast chicken. Or use it as a side dish at the Thanksgiving table at the end of the month and breath a sigh of relief that those creamy green beans finally have a replacement. (No one actually likes that green bean casserole, right? Don’t answer this if you lived through the 70s…)

Happy side-dishing! (Hint: Here is my tutorial on how to extract pom seeds)

Sautéed Spinach with Bacon and Pomegranate Seeds

Serves 4 side dish portions

What You Need

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 12 oz. fresh spinach
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • Dash or two of cayenne

Saute It

  1. In a large pan, cook the four slices of bacon until crisp over medium heat. Remove from pan once cooked and let drain on a paper-towel covered plate. Crumble once slightly cooled.
  2. Leave the bacon grease in the pan and turn the heat to medium-low and add the spinach, tossing to fully coat in the grease.IMG_6979
  3. Add salt, pepper and cayenne and toss again. Cook until spinach is just wilted, about two minutes.
  4. Plate the spinach and add the crumbled bacon and pomegranate seeds on top, tossing to evenly distribute.
  5. Serve and be amazed at how delicious poms are in spinach.IMG_6980

Tips and Variations

  • Cut the bacon into one-inch pieces prior to cooking to avoid crumbling afterward.
  • Use mustard greens or kale
  • Not a bacon fan or going meatless? Add smoked paprika to the spinach and sauté in olive oil instead.
  • If you want some more sweetness, add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar at the end.


Free-for-All Friday: Tilapia with Bacon-Edamame Succotash and Pomegranate-Goat Cheese Salad

Fall has finally presented itself in San Diego (high of 66? Brrr!) and pomegranates were a welcome addition to my kitchen this week. Unfortunately, they were just used to make a salad prettier. Bacon and edamame are the ingredients that really shine in this week’s dish.

Fish is a great protein, but it can leave something to be desired, especially if the fish is mild, like tilapia. About a year ago, I wanted to make fish, but wanted to pair bacon with it, to enhance flavor (read: salt factor) and because, really, who can argue with bacon on the plate?

I came up with a succotash that’s super simple: onions, corn, bacon and, for added protein (ahem, and color), edamame. The result was a beautiful thing. It’s my favorite “side dish” with white fish and super easy to throw together. Plus, you can keep most of the ingredients on-hand.


Because the fish and succotash are so salty, I wanted to pair the dish with a bright salad. Enter: pomegranate seeds. They’re almost too pretty to eat. Almost.


I threw in some goat cheese for creaminess and sweet orange pepper for added crunch and color. Forgive the photos… they were taken hastily in artificial light. I blame late-night hunger.

Tilapia with Bacon-Edamame Succotash

Serves 4


  • Four tilapia filets
  • Seafood seasoning, to taste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup frozen, shelled edamame
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 6 strips bacon, sliced into inch pieces
  • 1 small yellow or sweet onion, diced
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Any other seasonings you’d like (I used an all-seasoning and some seasoned salt)

The How-To

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Season the filets with the seafood rub.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the sliced bacon in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and let drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Leave the grease in the pan. (If this is too much for your heart to handle, dump the grease and add in a drizzle of EVOO.)IMG_6952
  3. Add the diced onion and cook for about 5 minutes.IMG_6954
  4. Add the frozen corn and edamame to the pan and give a quick stir. Add your spices, stir again.IMG_6931
  5. Meanwhile, in a baking dish, add the filets and 1/4 cup of water. Cover tightly with tinfoil and add the dish to the heated oven. Let cook for about 20 minutes, or until flaky, but moist.IMG_6951
  6. Continue to stir the succotash mixture as the fish cooks, letting it go the full 20-30 minutes while the fish is in the oven. This will allow for nice caramelization and color to all the ingredients.
  7. Once the fish is done, remove form the oven and plate it, piling up the succotash next to it and sprinkle the cooked bacon on top (Adding the bacon at the end allows it to stay crisp).IMG_6961
  8. Shovel unattractive amounts into your mouth at a time. Everyone will be too busy doing the same thing to notice.

Pomegranate-Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 4

Gather Them Up

  • 5-oz spring mix salad
  • 2-oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 6 small sweet orange peppers, diced
  • 4 Tbps. pomegrate seeds
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. grainy mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Throw Them Together

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the EVOO, balsamic vinegar, grainy mustard and salt and pepper until well-combined
  2. Evenly distribute the spring mix on four plates and top with the goat cheese, peppers and pomegranate seeds
  3. Drizzle with the balsamic dressing and serveIMG_6956

Tips and Variations

  • Don’t know how to de-seed a pomegranate? Check out my how-to here.
  • Substitute two shallots for the onion in the succotash.
  • Try it out with halibut or cod.
  • Pair the meal with some cous-cous or rice.
  • Try out your non-stick pan and fish spatula and fry the fish on the stove-top.
  • Add some roasted pecans to your salad

Free-for-All Friday: Blue-Cheese Crusted Steak with Crispy Smashed Potatoes

It’s rare that I crave meat, but lately, a really good steak with blue cheese has been on my mind — creeping into my thoughts, ruining my productivity. I can only take so much tofu before I need something with built-in flavor.


And the notion that you need to go out to devour a decadent piece of beef is absurd. You can make it in your kitchen in about half an hour. Promise.


Vegans and vegetarians, don’t look away just yet! There’s a side-dish recipe buried in this post just for you!


Happy cooking, friends. Liven up your weekend with this dish. Indulge. Eat and be merry.

Blue Cheese-Crusted Steak

Serves 1, but easily doubled


  • Your favorite cut of steak (I went for the ribeye)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste (or your favorite steak seasoning)
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2-oz blue cheese, crumbled and at room temp
  • 1 Tbsp. bread crumbs or panko
  • 1 tsp. chopped parsley
  • Leaves from 2 stems of fresh thyme

The How-To

  1. Set the oven to broil.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the blue cheese, bread crumbs, parsley and thyme. Set aside for later.IMG_6845
  3. In a cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, or until pan is hot.
  4. Meanwhile, season the steak (and make sure the chill is off the meat. Take it out of the fridge 20 minutes or so before you want to cook it).
  5. Once the pan is hot (sprinkle some water on it if you’re not sure. The water should sizzle), add the steak and cook on one side for two minutes, or until nicely browned. Flip the steak and add the blue cheese crumble mixture on top, slightly pressing down.IMG_6852
  6. Transfer the skillet to the broiler, allowing the cheese on top to get brown and bubbly. This will help finish the steak to a nice medium doneness. It should take about 5 minutes under the broiler.
  7. Let it rest before digging in. It’s hard, I know, but it’s also worth it.IMG_6857

Crispy Smashed Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4 as a side dish


  • 12-15 red, yellow or purple potatoes (about 1-inch in length). Fingerlings work well.
  • 2 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup EVOO

The How-To

  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan (preferable in one layer) and cover with at least one inch of water. Add 2 teaspoons salt to the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook the taters until they are tender, about 30 minutes. Test for doneness with a sharp knife or skewer. They should be cooked through, but not overdone.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, set up a double layer of clean dishtowels on the countertop. As the potatoes finish, remove them individually from the water and let them drain for a minute on the dishtowels.
  4. Fold another dishtowel into quarters and, using it as a cover, gently press down on one potato with the palm of your hand to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/2 an inch. Repeat with all the potatoes. Don’t worry if some break apart a bit; you can still use them.IMG_6841
  5. Cover a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and line with a sheet of parchment paper. Transfer the flattened potatoes carefully to the baking sheet and let them cool completely at room temperature.
  6. Sprinkle the potatoes with 3/4 teaspoon salt and drizzle the olive oil over all of them. Lift the potatoes gently to make sure some of the oil goes underneath them and that they are well-coated on both sides.
  7. Roast potatoes until crispy and deep brown around the edges, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with freshly-chopped parsley. Serve hot and alongside your steak.IMG_6846


Meatless Monday: Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Mini Frittatas

For some reason, things are just cuter when they’re smaller: children, bills, bugs.

Oh, and frittatas.IMG_6828

It’s strange, but whenever I make frittatas in my favorite cast-iron skillet (like this other meatless one), they never get finished. So I decided my hand out mini-versions, because we seem more inclined to go back for seconds (and thirds, and fourths) when the item is smaller. And l get offended at leftovers.

These mini frittatas — or crustless quiches — are satisfying for lunch, dinner or pre-curser to a large meal. With frittatas, you can add anything in and they’d be delicious. I paired goat cheese with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, sautéing the spinach with some garlic first to enhance the umami of the dish. Simple ingredients that don’t require much preparation.


Disclaimer: I made 12 of these with the recipe provided below, but after careful consideration, I think you can make 24 by filling the muffin tins half full instead of two-thirds. Either way, you’re going to end up with something deliciously satisfying.

Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Mini Frittatas

Makes 12

Gather These Up

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 12 oz spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 3 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 oz goat cheese, divided
  • Baking spray, such as Pam
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk Them Together

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray a muffin tin generously with the baking spray of your choice.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Season generously with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin tin cups.
  4. In a large skillet, heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium hear with the olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and cook for three minutes. Add the spinach and toss, cooking until wilted — about 6 minutes. Drain the spinach once it’s wilted, squeezing out any excess moisture.IMG_6811
  5. Divide the cooked spinach among the egg-filled muffin tin. You may have some leftover, which I encourage to snack on while these guys bake.
  6. Divide the chopped sun-dried tomatoes evenly among the cups.
  7. Divide the goat cheese in big crumbles among the cups. IMG_6815
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting around the edges to help release the frittatas.
  9. Serve, savor, sigh.IMG_6839

Tips and Variations

  • As we fall into the new season, add mushrooms for an earthier, comforting flavor.
  • Make this on Tuesday and add crumbled, cooked bacon or sausage to the mix.
  • Add red or yellow raw bell peppers for added crunch and color.
  • Use fresh tomatoes instead of sun-dried.
  • Use feta cheese instead of goat and marinated artichoke hearts instead of spinach for a more Mediterranean flavor.
  • Use caramelized onion and blue cheese for a decadent appetizer.IMG_6835

Meatless Monday: Curried Tofu ‘Egg’ Salad

Listen, the fact that my title says egg salad makes me wince. I get it. It’s a food with a bad rap. But this egg salad is free of sulfur-smelling ingredients and could even be called “elevated,” which is just another way to call food fancy. Much like “deconstructed” dishes somehow make things cost $10 more — you know, cause the chef didn’t have to assemble it.

But I digress.

This dish was another brainstorm of my friend Annie (see Baked Pears). She said she gets a curried version of tofu “egg” salad from Whole Foods that she adores and asked me to recreate.

Without knowing what the Whole Foods version looks, tastes or feels like, I accepted the challenge. And the result is a beautiful thing. Who knew crumbled extra firm tofu had the exact same consistency as eggs? Whole Foods did, friends. Whole Foods did.


I used yellow curry powder, my charismatic condiment, vegan mayonnaise, onions, parsley and sliced almonds for crunch.  And then I stuffed it inside an avocado because it looks prettier than bread and tastes better, too.


While the texture may be reminiscent of egg salad, the flavor is far superior. I could get used to eating vegan.


Curried Tofu “Egg” Salad With Almonds


  • One block of extra firm tofu
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. curry powder
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped onion
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. stoneground mustard
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. sliced almonds


  1. Drain the tofu and wrap it in paper towels, setting a heavy pan on top. Let sit for 20 minutes, changing the paper towels once. This will dry up the excess moisture and allow the tofu to crumble more easily.
  2. In a large bowl, crumble the tofu block with a fork until it reaches an egg-like consistency.IMG_6771
  3. Add the curry, salt, pepper, parsley, onions and cayenne and mix.IMG_6775
  4. Add the mayo and mustard and mix again. If you like your egg salad more creamy, feel free to adjust the vegan mayo and mustard amounts.IMG_6777
  5. Fold in the sliced almonds and refrigerate for an hour before serving.
  6. Serve inside one half peeled avocado halve and enjoy!IMG_6785 IMG_6789 IMG_6800

Tips and Variations

  • Add chopped green olives on top for some acidity.
  • Add golden raisins for a sweet balance to the smoky, spicy curry.
  • Don’t like onions? Add some green onions instead of parsley so you maintain the color but get a more mellow flavor.
  • Pulse the tofu in a food processor to easily chop it up.
  • Serve on top of a toasted pita or whole grain bread (if you aren’t vegan).
  • Serve on a bed of butter lettuce with sliced tomatoes.


Meatless Monday: Pita Patter, Goes My Heart

I needed to use up the rest of my pesto from Friday’s blog. I was also craving hummus.

Enter: Pita.

It’s the perfect vessel for everything but the kitchen sink. Throw in what you got and eat up. It’s the Greek man’s burrito.

This easy meal is perfect for a lunch in the office or a quick throw-together after a busy Monday. It combines fresh produce, protein-packed chickpeas and leftovers.


Who the hell needs meat when you can have that?! And if you’re wondering what that sound is, it’s your heart. Going pita patter.

Tomato-Cucumber Pita with Hummus, Pesto, Feta and Crispy Chickpeas

Serves 2

Gather Them Up

  • 1 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 2 Pitas
  • 2 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 2 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 7.5 ounces (half a can) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • Pesto, to taste (see recipe here)
  • Your favorite hummus, to taste (I used a tomato-basil variety)
  • Feta, crumbled, to taste
  • Tajin, to taste
  • Lemon juice, to taste

Wrap It Up

  1. In a small pan, pour the EVOO and heat over medium heat. Add the chickpeas and season generously with Tajin. Cook for about 20 minutes, tossing often to avoid burning, until crispy. Set aside to cool.IMG_6583
  2. In a toaster oven, toast the pita for about 5 minutes at 450 degrees, or until warmed through. Slice open the pita half way, to reveal the pocket.
  3. Spread the hummus on the lower part of the pita pocket.IMG_6584
  4. Spread the pesto on top of the hummus.IMG_6585
  5. Add, in layers, the cucumber slices and tomato slices. IMG_6587 IMG_6590
  6. Season with Tajin.
  7. Add the feta cheese and crispy chickpeas, squirt on some lemon juice, roll up and enjoy!IMG_6591 IMG_6594 IMG_6597

Tips and Variations

  • Things get messy with pitas. Doesn’t make things less delicious. Have a fork on hand just in case.
  • Add your favorite lettuce or greens
  • Use chili powder instead of Tajin
  • Substitute a regular or English cucumber for the small Persian ones.
  • Make your own hummus (look out for a recipe from me in the future)
  • Roast the chickpeas in the oven in advance the night before in bulk.

Free-for-All Friday: Pesto, Change-O!

Sometimes, you just need a change. So you cut your hair (and subsequently cry about it), or dye it; you take a short road trip; you try out your hand at feng shui (the couch looks great in that corner, by the way); etc.

Well, I needed a change. It took me a while to think about what I wanted and then *pesto!* — it came to me.


Normally, pesto is made with fresh basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. But change was in the air.

Arugula is easily my favorite green (also called rocket) and I had tons in my fridge…. like three packs. It’s not a problem until you have four.

Pine nuts are delicious (I used them in Monday’s meatless recipe), but they’re also expensive. And the little voice in my head said “reach for the walnuts.” So I did.


This pesto takes just 15 minutes to make, from start to finish, including all the prep work (and clean up). You don’t need a food processor, a mini chop will work just fine.

Pesto is something that each chef, cook, mom, kitchen-dominator makes their own. Tweak as necessary, and don’t be scared to stray away from the measurements. Use them as a guideline and make this arugula-walnut pesto yours.

Enjoy summer arugula in a new way. And tell basil not to worry, he’ll make an appearance soon enough.

Arugula-Walnut Pesto


  • 2 handfuls of fresh wild arugula (roughly chopped if using a mini chop)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup raw walnuts, toasted
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • Half a lemon, juiced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
  • EVOO

Assemble It

  1. In a mini chop or food processor, combine garlic, walnuts and arugula. Chop until well combined.IMG_6562 IMG_6564
  2. Add salt and pepper and then slowly add EVOO while mixing until desired consistency. If you’re using a mini chopper, you won’t be able to stream in the EVOO. Just add a tablespoon or two at a time and then chop until desired consistency.IMG_6566
  3. Add parmesan and lemon juice and blend again.
  4. Taste! If it needs salt, or more nuttiness, add ingredients as necessary. Make it your own.
  5. Add to any and everything — especially pasta. Oh, and lick the spoon. This stuff beats brownie batter by a mile.IMG_6571


  • Use toasted almonds
  • Roast your garlic for a more mellow flavor
  • Add red pepper flakes for some heat
  • Use lime juice instead of lemon juice
  • Try it out with different greens, like kale, for a boost of beneficial vitamins
  • Toss in some sun-dried tomatoes


Meatless Monday: Headquarters

I had a great recipe lined up for you guys, but I’ve been a little under the weather and couldn’t stomach food the past couple of days. So my delicious meal went uncooked.

But fear not. It will make a glorious appearance next week.

Instead of a recipe this Meatless Monday, I’m giving you hundreds of recipes.

Did you all know that Meatless Monday has its own dotcom? Mmhmm. It’s that important.

It has plenty of information on the Meatless Monday Movement, articles and enough recipes to keep you busy for a while.

I want to encourage y’all to go check it out and try a recipe from there tonight. If I had to pick one for you (you indecisive little minion), I’d go with the spinach tart, for obvious reasons.

found via

And if those reasons aren’t so obvious, here they are:

  1. it’s ridiculously easy to make
  2. you probably have most if not all ingredients on hand
  3. there’s spinach in it
  4. saying you’re having a “tart” for dinner is just fun

Oh! And some shameless plugging here…my first article on George’s exec chef in La Jolla is up on Patch. Won’t you check it out?

Thanks guys. Happy Monday! May this week be your best.

Free-for-All Friday: Guest Blog: Skyline Chili

You all know Kate by now, right?

I ran the Color Run with her, she introduced me to her aunt who is a former Bon Appetit editor and she braved the homemade Cheez-it journey with me. She’s quite simply the best, if not for her accent alone.

You see, Kate hails from Ohio. Ask her to say any word with a short “o” sound and it will inevitably come out as a short “a” that lingers. You know what I’m sayin?

Kate cooks every night for her man (which happens to be Max’s cousin) and last week she whipped up some “Skyline Chili.” I just stared at her when she told me that because I had no idea what she’s talking about. Have you ever heard of this supposedly infamous Skyline Chili? Well you’re about to…

I’m Kate Sullivan and I’m honored to be contributing to the stellar Melissa’s Love of Food. Melissa and I have become PiYo (pilates, yoga and cardio, OH MY! But that’s for another day) enthusiasts together and before one of our sessions last week, I happened to be throwing together some Cincinnati Chili and mentioned it to her. We got to talking and I realized that there’s a lot to be said about the subject. Coincidentally, on Wednesday, Nicholas Lambrinides, the founder of one of the first “chili parlors,” passed away at the age of 88; and that’s when it was decided that an entry had to be made about this fantastical phenomenon that is Cincinnati Chili.

I was raised in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio and have vivid images of my dad insisting that every family and friend coming to visit eat one thing: Skyline Chili. Most visitors were a little weirded out by the thin, saucy thing that we call chili in Cincinnati.

It is said that this “Cincinnati”-style of chili originated with immigrants attempting to increase their restaurant traffic by branching out from their ethnic styles. The chili began as a sort of stew and was served over hot dogs and spaghetti in the 1920s. Empress Chili Parlor was the first to serve this type of Chili. Not much has changed about the recipe, but in 1949, Nicholas Lambrinides started Skyline Chili. And, I must admit, among the several different chains of chili parlors today, I’m partial to Skyline.

The three top dogs in the Cincinnati-chili franchise business are now Skyline, Gold Star and Dixie. Aside from its catchy radio jingle whenever you’re feeling good and hungry, it’s Skyline time… and friendly staff, it’s the tastiest. Skyline now has franchises throughout Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Indiana as well as a few in Florida, so the craze is spreading.

Skyline Chili is to Cincinnati what In-N-Out is to So Cal. There are some wanna-bes, some restaurants are new and some are incredibly nostalgic, but the style of eating is the same—it’s not just eating, it’s an experience (and they both offer drive-thru).

The recipe has a base of ground beef, water and some tomato but what really makes this chili unique are the spices, including, but not limited to: garlic, Worcestershire sauce, unsweetened coca, cayenne, cumin and cinnamon. Is your mouth watering yet?

Sure, there are “recipes” available on the internet and grocery stores now sell canned product (in local groceries) and even frozen Skyline but there’s just nothing like having it hot out of the pot at the restaurant. And, as the craze spreads, the menu becomes more extensive, including things like burritos and chili cheese fries, but stick to the basics. You’ll thank me later.

As if the chili itself weren’t unique enough, there are several different ways of getting this stuff in your belly, and we natives call them the 3-way, 4-way, 5-way and Coney. All of the ‘ways’ include a bed of spaghetti, a layer of chili and then the 3-way has a heaping pile of finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese, the 4-way has cheese and onions and the 5-way has cheese, onions and kidney beans. The cheese coney begins with a hotdog on a bun and a layer of the yummy stuff itself topped off with cheese and your choice of mustard or onions (neither or both). Ya dig? Now, of course, bowls of the stuff are available, but they’re reserved for the people we call boring.

So now that you have a preliminary education on the experience that is Skyline, you might be closer to understanding what a Cincinnati Native goes through living in Southern California (could you live without your In N Out?!) I hold this stuff in such high regard that I will not attempt to create it from scratch. Instead, during my trips back and forth from Cincy, I load up on packets of the pre-made spice combos.

From there, the job is easy. You simply beat a pound of ground beef with a fork into a couple cups of water and a can of tomato paste and add the packet of spice. Let that beautiful “stew” simmer for a couple hours and while that’s happening, you boil your pasta (following all of Melissa’s PERFECT spaghetti-cooking advice), chop your onions and rinse your kidney beans. It must be said that you’ll NEVER find the gloriously thin-shredded cheese they use in the restaurants, but I’ve gotten close by buying a brick of sharp cheddar and grating it myself using the teensy option on the grater. If you’re into dogs, this would be where you prepare the hotdogs (but I usually go the spaghetti route at home).

And, if you ever find yourself roaming through the Heart of it All, find yourself a parlor and have a four-way. Together, at last, it’s Skyline time.

Don't you dare judge this book by its cover

Are you all itching to try Skyline chili, now? I’ve told Kate she’s gotta make it for me. If just for the fact alone that I can ask her for a three-way. ;)

And a random poll, because it’s Friday:


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