chiliBy Samantha Gianulis – Christmas Chili – Apron Strings

Hearty Alaskan Chili

2.5 lbs. round beef (80%-20% beef to fat is preferable)

3 cups diced tomatoes

3 cups dark red kidney beans, drained

¾ cup Ancho chili or Chipotle chili powder (or combination of both)

¼ cup chili seasoning/powder

3 (heaping) tbsp. fresh minced garlic

1 qt. beef stock, may add up to one more depending on desired consistency of chili

½- ¾ cup brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Roux – equal parts flour and butter cooked to become a roux, to thicken chili.  Slurry – cornstarch and water mixed together for form a pasty liquid as an alternative thickening agent. Up to 1/2 cup of roux or slurry will suffice.

Brown beef, drain off water and grease.

Add tomatoes, kidney beans, chili blends, garlic and stock.

3) Cook on a simmer until beef is tender (25-30 minutes).

4) Thicken with roux or cornstarch slurry.

5) Add brown sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

6) Serve with garnishes; sharp shredded cheddar, diced onions, sour cream.


Marinated Flank Steak with Roasted Tomatoes & Scallions

1 lean flank steak

1 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp. fresh minced garlic

Garnish: Green onions (scallions), washed, dried and cut on the bias.

1) Combine all ingredients and marinate in fridge for no longer than 25 min.

2) Let Flank rest at room temperature for up to one hour before grilling

3) Grill on high heat on both sides for about 6-8 min for a doneness of medium rare.

4) Slice thinly AGAINST grain and garnish with scallion diagonals and roasted tomatoes (recipe follows).

1 Roma tomato

1 tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

2 tsp. granulated garlic


I was sitting under the lights of a football stadium on a Saturday night in the fall, worried about late hits or broken bones when I got the text from my cousin.

My Aunt was in the hospital with lungs full of fluid and my Uncle was on a trip doing his pilot thing. I walked the down the stadium ramp with trepidation to a quiet place under the bleachers and from that point on, became only more aware of how one minute you’re screaming with verve at the gain of a first down conversion, and the next moment you’re welling with tears in a point of no return situation. Sometimes, both at the same time.

The family plan of action was to get together as soon as possible — which happened to be around Thanksgiving — and join forces around one of our own. My Aunt, Uncle and cousins live in Alaska, a six hour plane ride up the coast from me in Southern California. Our extended clan has, like many other families, scattered all over the country, but we maintain those invisible, inter-connected lines that buzz with familiarity as well as necessity. And love.



That thing that moves you to buy tickets, take kids out of school, and get on a plane despite your worst anxiety of flying to ensure no one leaves without a kiss good-bye.

I have decades of memories of and with my aunt squeezed into my heart like mittens and scarves into the suitcases I checked, one by one to the polite airline counter man, on our way to the Winter Wonderland of Alaska. The last frontier awaiting, I embraced the metaphor silently, cupped my kids hands in mine, and offered to start our vacation with a hot chocolate to keep with the moment, the joyful moment. We were on our way from a snow-less beach city to a place where snow isn’t just a song lyric or something you imagine. I ordered extra marshmallows for them, envisioning snow-capped mountains.

My heart heavy, scared, and excited all at once in the hip airport terminal coffee place, I asked my kids what they were most looking forward to about our trip to Alaska. “Sledding!”, “Seeing animals!”, “Snowball fights!” and then after a moment of letting their minds run away with thoughts of sibling surface-to-snowball torment, “Being with everyone!” Which, for the first time I can remember, made me feel somber. Holiday gatherings in my familial memory have been poignant, but not sad. I wondered how everyone else in my family would handle their emotions, the explanations to their kids, and balance their family vacation to the Winter Wonderland with the reality of why we had to get there in such a hurry. Time runs out.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening…

Not acclimated to cold temperatures and two of my kids never having seen snow in their lives, we prepared as best as we could. At my Aunt’s home, spruce trees lined the front yard, as well as powdery, soft, dry-ish snow that crunched under my feet, to my pleasant, audible surprise. That is the good snow, I was told, because sometimes snow can be wet, hard, slushy, and uninviting. We got the good kind.

We’ll have lots of fun with Mr. Snowman…

I played the lyrics of Winter Wonderland over and over again in my mind many times; while listening to the kids giggle outside as their noses turned red, while watching snow fall for the first time in my life and feeling flakes flutter my cheeks gently, remembering that no snowflake is same as the other, while looking at my Aunt who, despite the fact that she felt horrible, looked at every one of us and smiled because….because.

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight.

On Thanksgiving, my Aunt’s son, a chef and caterer, made us a meal we will never forget, and I say never because I have decided memory is so powerful it must be an energy, and energy just changes form, it does not cease to exist. I will remember, which is the same thing as love indefinitely, my cousin’s food that kept us, a hungry and affectionate group, fed and upbeat during our time together. In my family, we love to eat, love to cook, but one of us took it to a professional level and during our time together most recently, his offerings kept us as warm as the brick and stone fireplaces I found in the homes of my family in Alaska, where we did indeed, dream by the fire.

Winter comes. It’s there, the last season of the year, waiting. It gets dark so early in the 49th state, that when the wind whips, with the mountains seemingly so giant in the background, and the snow builds up faster than you expect, it can be frightening.

Or it can be a Wonderland. Snow does glisten (ain’t it thrilling?). Catching air on little snow-hills while sledding can take your breath away! And that tingling sensation you get when you’re cold, I have come to believe, if you wrap yourself in the right things, you will be okay.

We face unafraid, the plans that we made. Walking in a Winter Wonderland.


Smantha Gianulis

Samantha recently released my her family food memoir, Little Grapes on the Vine…Mommy's Musings on Food & Family .

Samantha is a self-taught chef. She worked in the Catering and Special Events industry for seven years before becoming a stay at home, now a work at home, Mom.
She appeared on NBC's ivillage Live.

Smantha Gianulis

Latest posts by Smantha Gianulis (see all) GianulisApron Strings Cooking ColumnChristmas Family Fun,Cooking and Recipes,Families Online Magazine,Family Finance - Ways to Save Money,Family Fun,HolidaysBy Samantha Gianulis - Christmas Chili - Apron Strings Hearty Alaskan Chili 2.5 lbs. round beef (80%-20% beef to fat is preferable) 3 cups diced tomatoes 3 cups dark red kidney beans, drained ¾ cup Ancho chili or Chipotle chili powder (or combination of both) ¼ cup chili seasoning/powder 3 (heaping) tbsp. fresh minced garlic 1 qt....Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids