Chili Un-recipe!

Here at PB&J we have lots of chili recipes, some with ground meat, some with chunks of meat some with no meat at all! Chili is the perfect dish for the fall, great for cooler evening dinners, easy enough to make up for a large group, and it can be made fast enough for any weeknight meal! As much as we here at PB&J love recipes (and, I mean, we have a whole segment of our website devoted to them, so we love them quite a bit) sometimes using a recipe just isn’t quite the right move.

So how do you make chili without a recipe? Well, chili can be broken into a formula with 5 basic parts:

Liquid + Spices + Veggies + Protein (optional) + Beans (optional if you’re from Cincinnati)

Liquid is the most important element in figuring out the math of your chili. As a good starting point, let’s begin with 4 cups of liquid. With 4 cups, you can serve about 6-8 people a good serving of chili. Your liquid can come from anything: stock, canned tomatoes/tomato sauce (unseasoned), and even water. I prefer chili to have tomatoes, so I use 2 cans (fire-roasted when I have them) and about 2 cups of stock.

Spices. For me, classic chili flavor depends a lot on the spices! It’s just not chili unless it has cumin and a little bit of (spicy) heat. A good place to start (with our 4 cups of liquid) is 2 tbsp of cumin and about ½ tsp of chili flakes (a full tsp if you like it hot, ¼ tsp if you can’t take the heat). I also like to add in 1 tbsp of coriander, 1 tbsp of smoked paprika, ½ tsp of dried oregano, and a pinch of cinnamon. I love 6-7 cloves of garlic minced up in my chili, but if you’re not a garlic head, you can use less or skip it all together. A bay leaf or two while it simmers also adds great flavor!

Veggies! I love a thick, rustic chili with lots of veggies. They add a ton of flavor, plus a powerful nutrition punch. For our 4 cups of liquid, I like about 2-3 cups of veggies. I like some onion, some carrot, and of course some peppers (sweet or spicy, or both– chili does get its name from chili peppers, after all). I’ve also tried some recipes that add celery, and a few that add sweet potato, both perfectly delicious.

Protein. There’s a hot debate in chili circles over what type of protein is best, cubed meat or ground meat. To me, the nice thing about chili is that it can easily accommodate any type of protein, even vegetarian options. For our 4 cups of liquid, I like about 1 lb of meat. I like ground turkey and chicken as lean options, ground beef and cubed stew-beef (look for chuck or round), and even ground pork. If you want a meat substitute, I had an amazing seitan chili that made me ask the cook to promise that it contained no meat! Which brings us to…

Beans. Soak up all that good flavor, and add that perfect texture to your chili. Traditionally black beans, pintos, and kidney beans are the “chili beans” but you can get creative: navy beans, black-eyed peas, and chickpeas are all good in chili. Always drain and rinse canned beans, unless you plan on simmering them for a long, long time, as that fluid contains a lot of the protein that makes many folks feel gassy. I usually use 2 cans of beans, if you want to leave out meat, I suggest doubling that.

BONUS! Toppings! Half the fun of eating chili is scooping on your favorite toppings. You’ve got so many good choices: shredded cheddar or jack cheese (get 2% for a leaner option), sour cream (again, you can choose the low-fat option), plain Greek yogurt, avocado with lime, pickled jalapeños, crushed tortilla chips, sliced black olives, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, fresh squeezed lime juice, and even chili flakes or hot sauce if you like that extra kick.

What are your favorite chili combos?

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WARNING: Must like kids.

The PB&J Fund is a great place to work and a fun place to volunteer!  Although we do have some classes for adults and teens, the majority of our participants are elementary students.  Kids are funny. That’s a fact. No two days are ever the same, and we love that! Some students walk through our doors so pumped up that we have to scrape them off the ceiling with one of our spatulas to get their energy back down to an inside level.  We LOVE that kids are excited about working in PB&J kitchens! Another day, one of those same students may walk through our door feeling down and in need of some kind words. Our volunteers work with the same class each week, so they can quickly recognize when a student needs a little extra encouragement.  Our volunteers often share their joy that a child at their work table started with a frown but ended with a smile. Everyone walks away from that experience feeling good.  

Don’t tell the kids, but in addition to the culinary skills and nutritional knowledge built into all of our classes, we are also secretly reinforcing academic skills like reading, math, and science.  Teachers know that is a hands-on, enrichment learning experience. PB&J volunteers help our students work through the recipe together, so that means taking turns and sharing jobs. We are there to help them navigate what it means to work as a team.  Some folks call those “soft skills,” but not us. Social/emotional skills are LIFE SKILLS just like learning to cook and making healthy food choices. If getting to play this role in a child’s life once a week sounds like your jam, please know that culinary skills are not required.  We train all of our volunteers on “the PB&J way” (aka the SAFE way) of doing things. Email us at to get started! The kitchen is calling!!

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No Recipe? No problem!

We can’t always cook with a recipe

Here at PB&J, we love recipes! We love writing them. We love testing them. We love teaching them, and cooking from them, and eating the results! But life is busy, and complex, and sometimes, recipes just aren’t the right way to get a meal on the table. We’ve got a few helpful tricks to help you work without a safety net.

Get mathematic:

We like to think of balanced un-recipe meals as a sort of formula. It breaks down roughly like this:

A protein + A vegetable + A whole grain = A pretty darn good meal

You can add some more veggies (of course, we highly recommend that), maybe a sauce, maybe add a salad, maybe get crazy and add some whole fruit, but the general structure stays the same. That’s it.

Assess the situation:

What do you have around? What’s in the pantry? What’s in the freezer? What do you have that you can eat up?! Have some chicken thighs and potatoes? Great, make a pan bake. Have some shrimp and peppers and onions? Well that’s just begging to be made into fajitas!

Use one heat source:

We like to use the K.I.S.S. method (Keep It Simple, Silly). One way to do that is to use one source of heat for all of your cookery in that meal. If you’re roasting your chicken, go ahead and roast your broccoli too. Sautéing the shrimp? Sear up some summer squash and onions! Grilling that salmon? Grill some skewers of veggies, too! You get the idea.

Use one pot/pan to do the work:

Another K.I.S.S. method we swear by is limiting the number of big, heavy pans you have to clean up after the meal! Why not just use one?! We love a good pan bake (aka a sheet pan dinner). What’s a pan bake? It’s when you spread out all of your ingredients on one sheet pan, and roast it all at the same time! For bonus points, you can also line your sheet pan with foil or parchment to make clean up even easier!

We also love stir-fries and fajitas as fast, flavorful one-pan options. Just add a small amount of oil (1 tbsp or less) to a hot pan and cook the veggies, then add the meat, all in one pan!

What should I use?

Some of our favorite, easy proteins:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken cuts (breast, thighs, tenders): takes marinades, sauces, and seasoning well. Roast or grill them whole, or slice or dice into bite-sized pieces to add to a stir-fry.
  • Canned beans: are delicious when warmed up a bit with some seasonings, or stewed for a bit longer. Chick peas are delicious when roasted, too!
  • Salmon filets: do great in the oven, but also on the grill (if you’re careful!)
  • Shrimp: Are awesome in stir-frys, and cook very quickly! Skewer them together and throw them on the grill!
  • Pork tenderloin: cooks quickly whole or even quicker if cut into large sections
  • Lentils: super-fast cooking and take on flavors extremely well!

Some of our favorite, fast-cooking veggies:

  • Sliced or chopped carrots: Great roasted or stir-fried, we love them in fajitas, too!
  • Sliced or chopped peppers: Adds a pop of sweetness to anything!
  • Sliced or chopped summer squash or zucchini: cooks quickly, if the seeds are too large, simply remove them before cooking!
  • Asparagus: one of our favorite veggies to roast or grill.
  • Broccoli florets: roasted broccoli will change your life! (Maybe, no scientific data available on this).


  • Low-sodium soy sauce: we love it in stir-fries, or in a marinade!
  • Pesto: tastes great when tossed on whole-wheat pastas or roasted veggies, and makes a great sauce for lean proteins!
  • Peanut/satay sauce: you can make your own or buy from the store. Adds a ton of flavor to everything!
  • Vinegar & lemon: just a little goes a long way to brightening up your food. We recommend a little acid at the end of cooking fajitas, stews/soups, and spritzed over grilled meats!
  • Sriracha/hot sauce: adds a little zip without complicating things!
  • Herbs: fresh or dried, they add a ton of flavor without any calories or sodium! Find your favorite, or buy a pre-blended bottle like Italian herbs or Montreal seasoning.
  • Adobo seasoning: we love adobo, but it is high in sodium. Just a few pinches add a lot of flavor to roasted meats or veggies!

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Yippee, CAYIP!

This summer we had some new faces helping in the kitchen! We hosted four amazing interns through CAYIP. Meet Anastasia, Caroline, Destynee and Kieairra! The Community Attention Youth Internship Program, or CAYIP, is a six-week summer internship program for youth ages 14 to 21 in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Through CAYIP, interns learn practical workplace readiness skills through hands-on learning in a variety of career paths, such as government services, culinary arts, child care, elderly care, landscaping, cosmetology, and customer service. They also identify their strengths and connect to other positive adult mentors in the community. Interns complete approximately 20 hours of work per week. 

One of our goals at PB&J is to empower youth through cooking. So this program felt like a natural fit! Our interns had three components to their summer: helping with our summer classes, attending culinary skills training led by Chef Antwon, and working in a local restaurant. The interns gave us an extra set of hands in our classes and helped with tasks like preparing food for the recipes, washing dishes, and folding laundry. Classes with Chef Antwon taught them skills like choosing the right knife for the right task, cooking grains, caramelizing food and even how to de-bone a whole fish! The interns spent the other half of their internship putting their skills to use in local restaurants. Our interns worked at Belle, The Alley Light and Citizen Burger Bar.  

Some of our interns were brand new to PB&J which gave us the opportunity to teach them about our mission and the programs we offer to the community. Others had come for programming as elementary and middle school students, and were now able to experience the behind the scenes work! For most, this was their first job and first real paycheck. At the end of the summer 122 youth completed CAYIP in more than 80 sites. We loved being a part of CAYIP again this summer and hope all of our interns come back to see us. We heard some might even want to intern with us again next summer! 

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The Importance of Eating Breakfast

Everyone has heard the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Now that school is back in session it is important that we send our kids off to class every morning with a belly full of nutritious foods! Studies show kids that eat breakfast regularly have higher attendance, overall higher test scores, improved concentration and more easily maintain a healthy weight. Make sure that your children have a healthy breakfast every day, whether that is at home or through the school breakfast program at their school.  

When planning for breakfast, try to always incorporate a lean protein and whole grains. This is a great opportunity to get in a serving of fruit as well! If your children don’t love the traditional breakfast foods, that’s okay. Try reheating leftovers from the night before.  

Here are a few of my favorites for busy school mornings:  

  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, side of fresh fruit and glass of 1% milk  
  • Whole grain cereal (with no more than 10 grams of sugar, and 2-3 grams of fiber per serving), 1% milk, fresh fruit 
  • Instant oatmeal topped with cut up bananas and a glass of 1% milk 
  • Whole grain frozen waffle, fresh fruit, low fat yogurt 
  • Low fat yogurt, granola, fresh fruit  
  • Whole grain muffin, fresh fruit, glass of 1% milk 
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