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.

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Holy Mole!

I’ve walked through my gramma’s house at least a thousand times. I could tell you about the newspaper clippings that were on her fridge, and the pictures of all her grandkids that sat atop the desk in the living room with the gold shaggy carpet. Of course, I remembered those pictures because there was one of every grandkid, but me – there were two! I could tell you, years ago, about every hair product in her bathroom, because as she used to say, I liked to “plunder”, and plunder I did, every time I visited. I loved gramma’s house, every corner of it.

Without fail, there was a pound cake on the edge of the counter every Sunday, unsliced, guarded by a heavy glass dome that I couldn’t reach without assistance, or a chair. There were oatmeal cakes in the cupboard, and there was a trashcan made of egg cartons in my dad’s old room. I can still see it all – as if looking at a snow globe, those details never changed. And while the sights were always so clear in my head, I also remember a distinct smell, a smell that emanated from the kitchen, for sure, but one that I could never identify. Until this weekend.

It was lard. That’s probably weird to at least some of you, right? Okay, most of you. And not just regular lard from a container, but hot, almost smoking lard. I’d be willing to bet that most people who cook with lard don’t enjoy that smell, but for me, it took me back like no other. Strangely enough, it was the first time I’d ever cooked with it, and I’m not quite sure why, really. But as is customary for a Sunday around here, I awoke with an idea in my head of what I wanted to make for dinner that night, with expectations of spending a decent amount of time in the kitchen.

I decided that I wanted to make a mole sauce.

So that’s what I did. And so, I consulted the first person that comes to mind when I think of authentic, time-consuming Mexican food, and that’s Rick. Rick Bayless, that is. Now, most authentic moles take days to make, I know that, but Rick said this one is a good start for only a few hours work. There are oodles of iterations of moles, but this one is loaded with chiles, and as a result is a mole rojo. Moles use a ton of ingredients, including lots of dried but rehydrated chiles, chocolate, nuts, and even raisins. Moles are complexity at its best – spicy, rich, chocolatey, vibrant – flavors that most certainly take some time to develop. The better your ingredients, the better your mole. And in that respect, I finally broke down and bought lard, because Rick said to.

The lard got hot, and immediately I recognized the smell as something that was really prevalent in my life, but this time I couldn’t remember right away where it was coming from. A couple of whiffs later, it was crystal clear. Yeah, you could say the Southern ladies in my family don’t mess around in the kitchen, and if the taste of their food has anything to do with the fact that they use lard in their cooking, well, now I’m sold. I can’t believe it took a cookbook from a Mexican-influenced chef to do the trick, but hey, you take it where you will, I reckon.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that, even though I cut this recipe in half (the book I used is for fiestas, not two-person dining, you see), there is plenty left over after generously using the other half to sop up some mole-painted chicken. I tweeted Rick and he said he’d make enchiladas with the leftovers, and I think he might be on to something. For now, there’s a container in the freezer, just waiting for enchilada inspiration. And hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long to get around to that as it did to use lard. I doubt it will.

Lacquered Chicken in Classic Red Mole
adapted from Fiesta at Rick’s; serves 4 with leftover mole

time commitment: long. 4 hours, most of which requires active attention, minus 30 minutes or so. but don’t let that deter you!

printable version

ingredients
mole
5 oz tomatillos, husked and rinsed (2 large)
3/4 c roasted sesame seeds
1/2 c pork lard (or vegetable oil)
5 medium dried mulato chiles (~3 oz)
3 medium dried ancho chiles (1.5 oz)
4 medium dried pasilla chiles (1.5 oz)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 c almonds
1/2 c raisins
1/2 t ground Mexican cinnamon (canela)
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 t ground anise
pinch of g cloves
1 slice toasted white bread, torn into pieces
1 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1.5 quarts lo-sodium chicken broth
salt
1/3 c sugar

chicken
1/4 c agave nectar
4 pieces of chicken (I used leg quarters)
cilantro, for garnish

instructions
turn broiler to high. broil tomatillos about 4 inches from flame until black and soft, about 5 minutes per side. put in a large bowl and set aside. add half of sesame seeds to bowl with tomatillos, and save the other half for garnishing at the end.

turn on your exhaust fan; it’s about to get smoky in here! using a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the lard over medium heat. meanwhile, seed and stem the chiles, and break into large pieces. once the lard is hot, fry the chiles in 3-4 batches, flipping them constantly until aromatic and the insides are lightened (20-30 seconds for each batch). be careful not to over-toast. put them in a large bowl and cover with hot water; seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure all parts become submerged.

meanwhile, remove any chile seeds from the pot. add garlic and almonds to pot and fry, stirring regularly, until browned, about 5 minutes. remove and add to tomatillo bowl. add raisins to hot pot and fry until puffed and browned; add to tomatillos. set pan aside, away from heat.

to the tomatillo mixture, add spices, bread, and chocolate. add 1 cup of water and stir to combine.

pour the chiles, 2 cups of water from the bowl, and 1 cup of tap water into a blender, and blend to a smooth puree (you may want to do this in 2 batches, depending on the size of your blender). pour out the rest of the chile water. press puree through a medium sieve into the same large bowl and discard pieces that don’t make it through.

reheat the lard in the pot over medium heat. add more lard if there isn’t much in the pot. once the lard is very hot, pour the chile puree into the pot. the pot should simmer loudly, then die down some, but should continue to keep a low boil. continue to boil, stirring every couple of minutes until reduced to tomato paste consistency (~15-20 minutes). (If you have a splatter screen, use it, or you’ll be cleaning up a lot, like I did.)

meanwhile, puree the tomatillo mixture as smoothly as possible, adding a little water if needed. Strain back into the bowl. Once the chile puree has reduced, add tomatillo mixture and cook, stirring every few minutes until darker and thicker, about 10-15 minutes.

add broth to pot and simmer over medium to medium-low for about 1.5 hours. if the mole becomes thick (Rick says thicker than a cream soup), add some water. season with salt and the sugar.

heat oven to 350 F. place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. baked chicken for 25 minutes. meanwhile, mix together 1/2 c of mole and the agave nectar into a small saucepan, and heat until glossy and reduced to 1/2 c, about 15 minutes. once chicken is baked, remove from oven and increase oven temp to 400 F. brush chicken with mole/agave mixture and sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds. bake for 10 minutes. removed from oven and let sit ~7 minutes. serve each portion with extra mole and garnish with cilantro.

Converting to Chili

It’s safe to say it – I’m a chili snob. I mean, it’s not just chili; there are other things I’m snobby about too. I have, possibly after drinking too much of it in college, grown to severely dislike watered-down beer and will only drink ales, aka beers with substance, or soul. I have very slowly started to like whiskey, but only from small-batch distilleries and so far, only when combined with ginger. I think my cat is the prettiest and loveliest of them all, because she is, and that’s all I need to say about that. And when it comes to toothpaste, I prefer Crest Pro Health, in cinnamon, if available.

So yeah, it’s not just chili. But until I met Hubs, I was never a chili-likin’-girl. Past chilies have been too bean-laden (specifically of the way-too-large kidney bean variety), or conversely, too watery. Both prompt some level of embarrassment after my consuming them, either in foul smell or by the appearance of chili-stained shirts. Sometimes both, I suppose.

But shortly after the Hubs and I started courting, I met his sister’s fiancee (now husband), a fellow Southerner, and frequent wearer of Carhartts. He had me hooked after making his biscuits n’ gravy, but after a couple bowls of his chili I knew I had to find a way to stay in that family, at least long enough to procure his recipe.

And no, this isn’t that chili. But that’s the chili that converted me; it was thick (but no so thick I felt like I was spooning ground meat alone into my mouth), it was spicy, it wasn’t runny in the least, and it warmed my heart, filled my belly, and made me wonder what was the matter with all those other chili-makin’ wannabees.

This chili here, this chili gave me that same feeling. And then some. This one is all of the above, but it is also full of complexity and layered with flavor upon flavor. It’s spicy, that’s no lie. But it’s spicy in only the best way possible. It’s healthy, with a generous amount of beef but rivaled by just the perfect amount of beans, black beans to be specific. It’s exactly what you want when the winter won’t quit.

And at least in these parts, I don’t see myself making any summer salads just yet. The good news is that, at least for the few minutes I’m eating this chili (and perhaps the time before when the smell is wafting around every corner in our house), I don’t care for all that warm weather. Give me chili, good music, a magazine, and my electric throw and I’ll watch the snow all day long, smiling all the while.

Cold weather concoctions, previously:
Moroccan Beef Meatball Tagine
Ancho Pork & Hominy Stew
Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Chili con Carne
Loosely adapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 8 (leftovers freeze well, too!)

printable version

ingredients
fajita seasoning
2 t g cumin
1 t smoked paprika
1 t onion powder
1 t dried oregano
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t g coriander
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t g cinnamon
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t g ginger

chili
2 T evoo, divided
2 lb beef stew meat, cubed
1/4 c tequila
2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes (fire-roasted, preferably)
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 white onion, diced
2 T garlic, minced
1 sm can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, pureed
1 T tomato paste
1 T mole sauce
1 1/2 c beef broth
2 T all purpose flour
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 lime’s worth of juice
sour cream
avocado

instructions
stir together all seasoning ingredients; set aside.

heat 1 T oil in Dutch oven. brown meat in two batches, adding 1 T oil again for the second batch. transfer to slow cooker. Deglaze pot with tequila, scraping up bits from bottom, and add to slow cooker. (if using a Dutch oven instead of slow cooker, just leave steak in pot and deglaze as instructed)

add tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, fajita seasoning, chipotle puree, tomato paste, mole to slow cooker. stir in beef broth and flour. cover and cook on high for 4 hours. (Dutch oven – bring to boil, partially cover, simmer over med-lo for 1 hour)

stir in beans and lime juice before serving, garnish with sour cream, avocado.