A Giant Kinda Night

One of the (10,000 bazillion) reasons Chris and I work so well together is that we play to each other’s strengths, we complement one another. For example, when we plan vacations, I like to hop around to tons of places, he likes visit 1-2 spots and really hone in on them. We usually compromise at 2-3. When we painted our kitchen together a few weeks ago (notice the teal in the back?), I agreed to do the tedious taping of the trim and mind-numbingly boring detail work, as long as he promised to do the big areas of rolling and lots of the cleanup. When I make dinner, he (usually) does the dishes. I drive, he navigates.

You get the point, right?

And when major holidays or events roll around, he likes to stick to tradition, and keep things as they usually are. I’m fine with that, as long as there’s good food involved, which there always is. For July 4th, we always make burgers. These are still one of my favorites. For Thanksgiving, we don’t do anything crazy with the turkey, and we can’t change the stuffing, but I have free reign over most of the other dishes (which even I, Miss I-Hate-To-Make-Things-More-Than-Once, usually only rotate out the green veggie dish and keep the rest the same, too). There is usually a time of the year that we find a reason to make pulled pork (like watching a season of The Walking Dead. Get it – pulled pork?! shredded meat?! bwa ha ha), and there’s always another holiday, like Memorial Day perhaps, where we just plain ol’ grill.

Let there be no doubt in your mind that Super Bowl Sunday is its’ own holiday, too. And when Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, it’s chili time – 20 degree weather outside or not.

Mind you, a move West hasn’t changed a single one of these traditions – somehow we manage to really gravitate towards the same type of people no matter where we live – the ones that like to eat, drink, and have a shit-load of fun together. And as per usual, we have no issue with hosting, again playing to the “as long as we get to make good food” mantra.

This time around, instead of making 1 chili for everyone to eat, we made 2 different chili recipes – watch out! The recipe below is adapted from a Texas-style all-beef chili. For you Texans-to-the-core out there, don’t hate, but I put beans in it, too (!). I won’t be caught walking an alley of Texas alone (does Texas have alleys?), that’s for sure, because I’m about to let ya’ll know that this girl LOVES beans in chili. Plus, even though we doubled mostly everything in the original recipe, I couldn’t quite bring myself to dump 8 lbs of beef into a pot, but by all means, if you prefer beef to the beans, go for it. I liked the additional texture of pinto beans, and clearly I need just a little more ammo in my nightly “Dutch ovens“, so there you have it ;).

The other recipe satisfied the gluten-free and white-meat-only eaters out there, and was another tasty concoction – a white bean and chicken chili, with loads of chili powder. Maybe I’ll share that one a little later on.

And of course, there’s no such thing as chili without some cornbread, and we all know how much I love cornbread, right?! No pics of it, and no leftovers either. Sad faces.

But when it came to the chili, we were happy to eat it for another couple of nights. Happy faces!

Oh, and GO, Bears! 49-ers? Ok, ok, YAY GIANTS!

 

Beef & Pinto Bean Chili with Ancho, Mole, and Cumin
Adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2009 via Epicurious; serves 12-16

I should add here, that the serving sizes are NOT generous (maybe 1 cup each). They’re based on the fact that this chili was eaten after tons of other snacks were consumed, so ginormous bowls of chili were not had. If you’re making this chili for dinner, I’d guess that this exact recipe yields closer to 10-12 servings. But it’s hearty, so consider yourself forewarned!

printable version

time commitment: at least 4 1/2 hours, most of which is inactive

ingredients
chili
2 T cumin seeds
8 bacon slices, chopped
1 4-pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes
2 large onions, chopped (about 4 c)
8 large garlic cloves, chopped
7 c beef broth, divided, possibly more
1/4 c pure ancho chile powder
1/4 c chili powder
2 T mole paste
1 T salt
4 t apple cider vinegar
1 T dried oregano
1 bottle of stout beer
4 15-oz cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 c masa (corn tortilla mix)
1/4 t cayenne pepper

garnishes
Chopped green onions
Queso fresco
Sliced fresh  jalapeño chiles
Tortilla chips

instructions
Toast cumin seeds in heavy small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, stirring often, 4 to 5 minutes. Cool; grind finely in spice mill or in mortar with pestle.

Meanwhile, sauté bacon in large pot over medium-high heat until brown and crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to large bowl. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Working in 3 batches, sauté beef in drippings in pot until browned, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer beef and most drippings to bowl with bacon. Add onion and garlic to pot. Sauté until onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1 c broth to pot. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Return beef, bacon, and any accumulated juices to pot. Mix in ancho chile powder, chili powder, mole paste, salt, vinegar, oregano, and cumin. Add 6 cups broth, stout, and pinto beans; bring to boil. Reduce heat to very low and simmer gently uncovered until beef is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls if chili is dry, about 2 1/2 hours. Mix in masa by teaspoonfuls to thicken chili or add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls to thin. Season chili with salt, pepper, and cayenne, if desired.

Chili can be made up to 3 days ahead (and making it ahead does give flavors time to meld, so try to make it at least a day in advance). Let cool at stovetop for an hour, then refrigerate. Rewarm over low heat before serving.

Set out garnishes as desired. Ladle chili into bowls and serve.

Big Star at Home

Long weekends are such a tease. Just long enough to relax just a little bit, but they’re over right when you really start getting used to it. Long or not really though, I’ll take what I can get, and will only complain a little along the way.

As it turns out, these “long weekends” are just long enough to get a few things accomplished. They’re long enough to get your hands on a really cheap starter bike that you broke in immediately by riding it 8 miles home (meanwhile, breaking in the tailbone as well). They’re just long enough to eat a good (ultra-cheap) dinner with friends, and to make it to Ribfest to sweat a bit in the sweltering hot sun and watch the Hubs regretfully inhale a deep-fried Milky Way.

This particular long weekend was just long enough to squeeze in a trip to Grant Park for fireworks, which included seeing lots of unpleasant “mom cleavage”, a kid getting swacked upside the head, lackluster fireworks, and Chicago’s finest texting and facebooking instead of fighting crime. The time with friends was unbeatable, though, and entirely worth all the other oddities.

Hubs’ weekend was more than complete, even though he had to work some (on a Holiday weekend! a Holiday weekend!), because he got to see his favorite band of all time for the millionth time, which for him is entirely priceless. It’s priceless for me too, but not because of the music, but instead because I see him with a permanent smile, carefree and as happy as a kid building a sandcastle. Maybe happier.

The only thing we didn’t get to squeeze into the past long weekend was a trip to Big Star, our neighborhood’s popular new-ish bar that requires you to either be on a permanent vacation, and/or have the determination to make it there by noon on the weekends with plans to camp out all day, as the patio fills up within moments if you aren’t there on the weekday by three. For those of us who work, that’s a little hairy.

Fortunately, a recent read of Food & Wine led me to an easy-on-the-eye picture of tacos al pastor from none other than the Bucktown spot itself, as part of a feature of the country’s top taco joints. It seems these delicacies weren’t as difficult to come by as I might had previously imagined, after all.

And after making them, Hubs and I agreed that, aside from the waiting time of grilling and resting the pork shoulder and taco assembly, the wait for these at home is much more bearable. Just like their own in-house tacos, these are perfectly juicy and heavily flavored with the dried chile marinade that the pork soaked in overnight. Finished off with a grilled pineapple salsa, I could have easily been sitting at a picnic table outdoors rather than in my own house.

The only difference? I was missing a Bakersfield Buck. But next time these get made, I plan to procure some ginger beer and bourbon as well, and then I’ll truly have my very own Big Star at Home. Without the agony of waiting.

Tacos al Pastor
Adapted from Big Star via Food & Wine, May 2010; serves 6

printable version

timing: 45 minutes of work, but allow a day for overnight marinating

ingredients
4 dried guajillo chiles (about 1 ounce)
1 dried ancho chile
2 dried chipotle chiles
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Coca-Cola
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon annatto seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 whole clove
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 corn tortillas, warmed
cotija cheese
Grilled pineapple, chopped red onion and cilantro, for serving
1/2 lime’s worth of juice

instructions
Stem and seed all of the dried chiles and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave at high power until softened, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drain and transfer to a blender. Add the orange juice, lime juice, soda and vinegar. In a spice grinder, grind the annatto with the oregano, cumin, clove, sugar and garlic powder until fine. Add the spice mixture to the blender and blend until smooth.

Transfer the marinade to a saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until very thick, about 5 minutes; let cool. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork and onion and seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.

Light a grill. Remove the pork and onion from the marinade and scrape most of it off. Brush the pork and onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning, until the meat is cooked through, 15 minutes. Transfer the pork and onion to a work surface, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the pineapple, red onion, and cilantro with lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

Cut the pork into strips. Serve the pork and onion with the warmed tortillas and salsa. Top with cotija cheese.