The freshman 15 is a series of 15 "classes" designed specifically for one of my twitter followers, @jontilton.  Starting his junior year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan he was challenged with learning to cook for himself and asked me for some advice.  So I decided that college kids everywhere could use probably use a few cooking tips... and thus the freshman 15 was born.  Feel free to join along in the "lessons", even if you're not a college student!

« week 2: crock-pot chicken casablanca

week 1: chicken chili

When you first move in to a new place the last thing you want to do is take a long time to cook.  So I came up with this recipe for a really quick & easy chicken chili for @jontilton on his first night at college.

This recipe serves 1-2.... depending on how hungry you are and how much you want to share.  Also, mine's got some kick to it, but if you don't like things too spicy go light on the cayenne & leave out the jalapeno.

You will need....

  • a pot with a lid (something you'd cook pasta in)
  • a wooden spoon
  • a cutting board
  • a big knife
  • an appetite


  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 big boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded & diced
  • 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes with jalapenos (if you can't find them, just get diced tomatoes)
  • 1 fresh ear of corn (you can use canned, but fresh is in season and usually cheap)
  • 1 14 oz can black soy beans, drained (no, this isn't black beans... black soy beans are usually in the healthy section.  If you can't find 'em, use black beans)
  • cumin, cayenne & paprika

(cheap tip for buying spices: look for a grocery store that has a bulk foods section.  that way you can buy a little bit of the spice in a bag and not pay the price of a jar.  alternately if you're near an ethnic food market, like an Indian market, they usually have cheap spices too)

Okay... so provided you've hit up your local store and bought all of those things the rest is really easy.

Before you turn the burner on, things will go a lot more smoothly if you prep your ingredients.  Otherwise you end up burning the onions while trying to handle your chicken without infecting everything with salmonella.

So, chop the ends off your sweet onion & peel off the skin, try not to cry too much.  If one of your roommates has contacts try and convince them to be the onion cutter, for some reason when you're wearing contacts they don't make you cry. (walla walla, spanish or vidalia is good... if you can't find those, just use yellow).  Dice the onion until it's small enough for you to be okay with it when you eat it.

Next mince your garlic.  The easiest way to do this is to peel the garlic, lay it on the chopping board, put the blade of your chef's knife flat on top of it... then make a fist and smash on the chef's knife.  The flat blade acts as a good crusher and will smush the garlic underneath it.  Then run your knife through it a couple of times until it's small.  This is much faster than dealing with a garlic press, plus then you don't have extra stuff to wash after.

You'll also want to dice your jalapeno.  Now... be prepared... once you start touching the jalapeno, don't touch your face at all.  The other day I was cooking and even after I washed my hands I rubbed my eye and it burned so bad!  The easiest way I've found to do the jalapeno is to cut the end off, then slice it in half.  Scoop out the seeds & any white parts.  Then dice up the jalapeno into little tiny pieces.  When you're done immediately wash your hands.  Because trust me, you'll touch your face 15 minutes down the road and wonder why it burns.

To get the corn off the cob, stand the cob up, take a serrated knife (if you have one), and run it down the cob.  This will make a mess most likely, so do it slowly, and aim away from yourself & the floor.  Work your way around the cob until it's all off.

As for the chicken keep it far away from everything else.  Rinse the breast under cold water and then wrap it in paper towel to dry it.  Put it on another chopping board, or a plate, or something you can stick in the very hot & sterile dishwasher afterwards. Cut the chicken into 1-inch sized pieces.  If you have another knife to do this with, use it.  I'm really paranoid about getting raw chicken on anything, so I tend to keep anything I use with chicken separate, and wash my hands before I touch anything else.

With those things prepped you're ready to get started!

Put your burner on medium-high, wait a little bit until it gets warm and then add about 1 tbsp olive oil.  Swish the olive oil around so it coats the bottom and toss in your onions.  Be careful or you'll get olive oil splashed back on you (I do it every time).

Stir the onions around for a couple of minutes until they start to get shiny and a bit translucent then add in the garlic.  (never add them at the same time because the garlic will burn).  Give that a toss for a minute or so and then add in your chicken pieces.

You don't need to totally cook the chicken through, but you should make it so that it's brown on the outside and starting to go opaque.  Be really careful because the chicken will start to stick to the pot at this point.  When the chicken is brown/white turn the heat down to medium-low.

Toss in the jalapeno, can of tomatoes, corn, black soy beans & 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cayenne & 1/2 tsp paprika.  Give everything a good stir, put the lid on and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Make sure you check on it once or twice so nothing sticks or boils over.

You can leave it on the stove on low for longer if you want/need to, but it'll be ready to eat in 20 minutes.



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Reader Comments (1)

I plan to make this Tuesday! When I cut jalapenos, I actually put the hand I'll touch the pepper with in a baggie. It works great and keeps me from crying in pain when I take my contacts out later.

December 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill Shaner

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