When there’s a special family occasion that requires a meal, my brother-in-law is the one we call.
Count on Jim Burk to turn a simple salad into a dazzling dish worthy of main course status, or to step up to prepare an entire Thanksgiving meal and deliver it to the door in a pandemic.
Burk is sharing his Turkey Chili Mac recipe, which is perfect for a winter meal and can be served in a couple of different ways.
The key to making the mac is patience and stirring, he said.
“The longer you let it simmer, the more the flavors mix,” Burk said. “When I put in the onions in the butter, I let them cook until they’re translucent and starting to brown.”
This adds to the cooking process, which is about 30 minutes total — but it’s worth it, he said.
“You could stand there and let them go completely caramelized. I don’t,” Burk said. “That takes 10 minutes or so.”
As you add the turkey in, get ready for more stirring.
“This is the secret to a good chili,” he said. “You keep cooking the turkey and the onion together so the onion’s getting softer and caramelizing. You keep cooking that turkey until it actually browns.”
Don’t be afraid to cook the turkey through, or even overcook it.
“Some of it’s a little burnt — get it nice and brown,” Burk said. “One time we made this recipe and didn’t brown it, and it was very bland. If you just cook it, where the turkey’s cooked, but not browned at all, it’s such a mild meat it doesn’t get much taste.
“By really browning it and keep stirring it — really getting it brown on all sides — that creates that real hearty, smoky flavor.”
The cumin and chili powder add taste, not heat.
“It’s not spicy at all. We’re not big on spicy,” Burk said, adding that the seasonings “give it a nice depth, but none of it’s overwhelming.”
The original recipe that he based his chili mac on had an artificial smoke seasoning, but the browning process replaces that ingredient.
While a chili can be made with pretty much anything in the pantry, Burk recommended using the different types of tomatoes.
“I purposely put in one diced and one stewed, because the stewed brings in a little bit of different flavoring,” he said. “That stewed brings in some green-pepperish flavor.”
Burk prefers the Kroger brand when he cooks.
“Occasionally, especially during the pandemic, they might be out. I have bought other brands. It won’t say Italian style, it might say basil and garlic. That would work fine, too. I just like to have that additional flavoring in there.”
Some add-ons could be cheddar cheese or sour cream.
He also makes the dish even heartier by ladling it over pasta.
The chili mac freezes well, too.
Burk and his wife, Amy, were vegetarians for years, but have become pescatarians, to add more protein including fish and poultry, into their diet.
He finds most of his recipes on Pinterest, including this one titled “Bob’s Little-Known, Less Cared-About Chili.” But the finished product — including this one — rarely resembles what he initially found. He said he likes to experiment — that’s what makes him a great cook, and a bad baker.
“The other reason why I enjoy cooking is you might leave out an ingredient or maybe your measurement’s not exact. … Baking is exact. You have to get it exactly right.”
Burk is known for his snazzy salads, which usually have egg, cheese and sometimes scallops and shrimp, and his spectacular spaghetti sauce. This past Thanksgiving, he made almost the entire dinner, including the turkey and sweet and mashed potatoes, which was delivered to the family.
He and wife, Amy — who does the baking in the family — have two grown children, Bailey and Jacob. They enjoy swimming and crafting.
Burk is global environmental health and safety director for Libbey Inc. in Toledo. He has a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Toledo and a Master of Science in Occupational Safety and Health from the former Medical College of Ohio in Toledo.