Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Beef chili

I’ve made my own recipe for pork chili for a number of years for our annual New Years “Toy and Game Day.” This being the 27th (and in 3 days Peter’s and my 28th annuiversary), I hauled out my recipe again and immediately decided to reinvent it.

One reason is we had stew beef in the freezer already. Ordinarily I would add a fair amount of chicken or beef broth. However, I wanted a smaller quantity of product and I wanted it to be thick and meaty.

I cheated a little by using jarred salsa verde, but it was just too much labor to make my own. Also, this was a way to add spice. The tortillas add thickness and depth of flavor. I like beans, so there’s beans.

I learned something by watching “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef,” featuring Anne Burrell, on Sunday morning. She was making a Bolognese sauce and strongly emphasized the importance of the browning process. I took her at her word and extended the browning well beyond anything I had previously done. It paid off.

She did one thing I did not emulate: over-salted. I tried a meat rub for steak that I saw her make a while back. The meat was nearly inedible due to the amount of salt. She salted the onion and celery while browning, the beef while browning, and then salted more as broth and water were added later.

I did salt and pepper as things went along, but very judiciously. I think this is my best chili ever. Jack up the heat if you want to, but we were serving this to guests, and took them into consideration.

Chili con carne y frijoles
3 ½ lbs stew beef
1 lge onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
2 16 oz jars salsa verde
2 lge cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
3 corn tortillas, torn into 1” pieces
salt and pepper
Olive oil for browning
Chopped cilantro and sharp cheddar cheese for garnish

Cut the beef into ½” pieces.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large pot with a heavy bottom. Brown the onion and celery very well over medium-high heat, stirring often. Salt it when you start browning.

Add the beef to the pan, add salt and pepper, and brown until steam stops rising from it. That will mean all the water is gone. Add the garlic and stir it in. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the chili powder, salsa, tortillas, beans and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, and cover. Maintain a bare simmer and let it go for 2-3 hours until the tortillas have melted and the beef is falling-apart tender.

Check seasonings and adjust. The chili will be relatively mild, depending on the heat in the salsa and the amount of red pepper flakes.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Lobster Mac and Cheese

The chef, Frank Bonanno, won a “Top Chef” contest on Food Network by trotting out his signature dish at Mizuna, his restaurant here in Denver. I found two versions of his recipe on-line, neither of which quite did the trick. So I did what I do best, I fixed it.

Lobsters are currently very cheap, $7.89 per pound at our favorite Chinese supermarket, Pacific Ocean Market in the Alameda Square shopping center.

We’re going to indulge and have steamed lobsters for New Years Eve and another lobster dish on our 28th anniversary, Jan. 3, 2009.

Just for the record, the diminutive portion you get at Mizuna goes for $18. Our home portions were about 3 times larger and, while not exactly the same, very, very good.

Lobster Mac and Cheese
1 lobster, about 1 ½ lbs.
7 oz. whole wheat rotini or other pasta
3/4 cup mascarpone
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 large shallots, sliced thin
1 bay leaf
¼ cup white wine
1 stick butter, 8 oz.
1tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste

Steam the lobster for 10 minutes which will nearly, but not quite, cook it through. Drop it into a sinkful of cold water until cool enough to handle. Remove the claw and tail meat. Boil the lobster shells and the body of the lobster in enough water to cover for about an hour. Remove the shells, strain the liquid, and reduce it by 1/3. Refrigerate and save for shrimp risotto (coming to this space very soon).

Heat a pot of water and a generous bit of salt and cook the pasta according to package directions, stopping just short of its being completely cooked al dente.

Heat the oil in a big sauté pan and melt the butter into it. Add the shallots and the bay leaf and cook over medium heat until softened but not colored. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, mix the mascarpone, cream, and white wine in a bowl. Add to the sauté pan. Bring to a simmer a cook until it begins to thicken slightly.

Remove the bay leaf and add in the lobster. When the lobster is heated through, add the pasta and toss. Continue heating for 2-4 minutes.

Serve in hot bowls.

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Creamed spinach

Yesterday’s Christmas dinner was a real treat. 2 of the 3 dishes that comprised the meal were prepared a day ahead, freeing us up to spend the afternoon house-hopping with our dear friends Lew and Leslie. The advance prep was for a whole roast duck and a pear and parsnip puree.

We had our first bloody Mary in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel at 12:30 pm. Subsequent bloodies were tail-gated as we arrived at our various destinations. Yep, I had a cooler with vodka and tomato juice/clamato/hot sauce all ready to go. So we dropped in on friends with our own libations in hand.

We did have the good sense to limit our snacking to the point where we didn’t spoil our appetites for a sumptuous dinner.

There was plenty of time for me to assemble the final dish, creamed spinach. I haven’t been overwhelmed by my previous attempts at this, but this time I got it right. You certainly can use fresh baby spinach. I think next time I will. But for now we had frozen spinach on hand.

Creamed spinach
2 10 oz. bags individually quick-frozen spinach
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, pressed
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
¼ cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in the oil and add the spinach. Heat until thawed, then add in the garlic. Saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add salt and pepper.

In a bowl, mix together the mascarpone and cream. Add to the spinach and bring it all to a simmer. Top with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, taste for seasonings, and serve in hot bowls.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Dill pickle slices

On September 25, 2008, I posted my recipe for dill pickles. The good news was that we could get pickling cukes at that time at our favorite farmers market. The bad news is that we can’t get them in the winter.

More good news: I have found that one can make quite delicious dills using the so-called seedless or English cucumber.

I’ve tried this twice, the first time using the basic recipe from September. I think because the English cuke is sliced it absorbed too much salt. They were surprisingly ready to eat in just hours instead of days. I had to exchange the pickling liquid with a mix of white wine vinegar and water to tame the sodium.

The second batch is much milder. What I will post here is a third batch which should be just about perfect. The pickles will be quite mild. If you try this, post a comment and let me know what you think.
If you don't have, or don't want to have, pickling spice, just add a couple of pinches of any or all of the following that you do have: cinnamon, peppercorns, mustard seed, powdered ginger, coriander seed, dill seed, mace, allspice, juniper berries, cloves and bay leaf.

Dill pickle slices
1 English cucumber, sliced in ½” rounds
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 2/3 cups water
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp pickling spice (such as McCormack's)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp dill seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix all the brine ingredients together, making sure to dissolve the salt and sugar. Place the pickle slices in a jar. I have a commercial dill pickle jar that holds 32 fluid oz. which is the perfect size. If necessary use two smaller jars.
Bring the brine to a boil over medium high heat. Remove from the heat and allow to stand until it's just cool enough that you can stick a finger in it. For whole cucumbers you would pour the boiling brine over them. I think, because these are slices of cuke, that you'll avoid mushiness by letting the brine cool slightly first.

Pour the brine over the pickles and refrigerate for 2-3 days.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tilapia filets

This is not the most creative thing I’ve done of late. However, it was startlingly good. I mentioned using bisquick in place of flour the other day, I think. It brings something lovely to the party – extra crispness and good texture to the coating. These tilapia filets are just like the best fish sticks you ever had.

Tilapia is inexpensive and universally available (particularly in Mexican restaurants where they deep-fry it whole without mercy). I’ll offer two ways to prepare it. One is pan-fried, the other is oven-fried.

Tilapia filets
2 5-6 oz. tilapia filets (substitutes: cod, catfish)
1 egg
panko breadcrumbs (or regular, un-flavored crumbs)
salt, pepper and paprika
vegetable oil

Rinse the filets under cold water and dry them well with paper towels.

Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper and paprika. Use your hands to press the spices into the fish so that they stick.

Put some bisquick in a fine-mesh strainer and shake it over the fish, coating it with a fine layer on both sides.

Lightly beat the egg with 1 tbsp water or milk.

Dip the filets, one by one, into the egg, coating them completely. Let the excess drip off and coat the filets with breadcrumbs, pressing them onto the surface.

Place the filets on a wire rack over a plate and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes. Remove them from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking. This is crucial to getting the coating firmly setup enough that it will not separate from the fish while frying. If you are using method 2 below, this step is not necessary.

Method 1: Coat a sauté pan, large enough to accommodate both filets in one layer, with 1/8” vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium high heat until a spatter of water pops instantly when flicked in. Carefully lay the fish into the pan. Fry undisturbed for 4 minutes. Use 2 large spatulas, one on top and one underneath, and great care to turn the filets over. Fry on the second side for 3 minutes. Remove the filets to the wire rack which you’ve cover with a layer of paper towels. Sprinkle a bit of fine salt on them and let them rest for just a minute. Serve on hot plates and dig in immediately while the fish is still hot and very crispy.

Method 2: Spray the wire rack with cooking spray and place it over a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the filets for 20 minutes or until the coating is firm and lightly browned. No resting time required, but do sprinkle a bit more fine salt on them.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boneless pork ribs

Country-style ribs are hugely meaty as compared with spare ribs. For some reason our Safeway sells the country-style without the bones. I wouldn't have bought them except for the fact that they were in the specials bin and cost only $3.
They are extremely lean and I was concerned about them coming out dry. So I brined them. I also made a sauce with which I basted them every 30 minutes after the first hour of cooking.
The picture to the left ("borrowed") from someone's web site is of ribs with bones. However, despite that, the similiarity to the look of mine is quite remarkable.
Boneless pork ribs
4 boneless country-style pork ribs (about 1 3/4 pounds)
2 cups water
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar
10 peppercorns
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
3/4 cup catsup
1/8 cup pomegranate juice
1/8 cup pomegranate molasses (regular molasses)
black pepper
Stir the salt and sugar into the water until dissolved. Place the liquid, the peppercorns, and the ribs into a gallon-size freezer bag, squeeze out the air, seal, and refrigerate for an hour (2 hours if you can).
Remove the ribs from the fridge and dry them with paper towels. Don't rinse them.
Mix the cumin, paprika and cayenne together and liberally dust the ribs with the mix. Use all of it. Again refrigerate the ribs uncovered on a plate for at least an hour (or more) if you have the time. Remove from the fridge 1 hour before you begin cooking.
Preheat the oven to 275°.
Place the ribs on a rack on a shallow roasting pan. Add 1 cup chicken or beef stock to the pan, cover tightly with foil, and roast for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, mix together the catsup, pomegranate juice and molasses. Reduce the oven to 250° and start generously basting the ribs every 30 minutes. Turning them each time you do so. Keep them covered.
Total roasting time will be 2 1/2-3 hours. Let the ribs rest, still covered, for 10 minutes before serving.
For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, December 22, 2008

A light and delightful soup

Soup, wonderful soup. That’s today’s topic.

Here’s the simplest soup to make you’ll ever find.

Egg flower soup with pork
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 quart low sodium chicken broth
2 scallions, chopped
2 sausages (Italian, bratwurst, whatever)*
¾ snow peas
¼ cup Chinese cooking wine
salt, to taste
white pepper (or black), to taste
pinch of Sichuan pepper
juice of ½ lemon

Cut the sausages into ½” pieces. Put them and the broth on the stove and bring to a simmer. They should cook through in about 6-7 minutes. Remove them to a small pan along with about ½ cup of the broth. Place the pan over low heat, add the snow peas and cover.

Bring the broth back to a strong simmer. Season it with salt, pepper, and Sichuan pepper if you have it. With a wooden spoon stir it vigorously in a circle to create a sort of whirlpool effect. Slowly drizzle in the egg, pouring it through the tines of a fork.

Add the pork and snow peas and the liquid they are in. Add the lemon juice and scallions. Taste to check for seasonings. Serve in heated bowls.

*You can use some ground pork, chicken or turkey if you wish. You'll need to season the soup differently if you're not using a flavorful sausage.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chicken pot NOT

I’ve been thinking about chicken pot pie for a while. I downloaded a recipe mostly because it was a two crust version, whereas, most of the time, there’s just a crust on the top.

Yesterday, having been CFTBD (cook for the boys day), was the perfect opportunity. I’ve been cooking a chicken in the pressure cooker for the “boys” (read “dogs”) for the better part of two years. I save either the breast portion or the legs and thighs for Peter and me. While pressure cooking is time-efficient, it is a bit unpredictable in terms of the outcome.

Depending on how much of the chicken is frozen (yes, even though the bird is in the refrigerator case, the store keeps the temperature so low that much of it is hard as a carp), one has to determine the proper cooking time. Generally speaking 12-15 minutes with the rocker rocking does the trick and you just run cold water over the cooker to drop the pressure.

However, breast meat done in the pressure cooker is hard to get ‘just right.’

So…I’ve started poaching the chicken after disassembling it into its component parts. There are two upsides to this: you can get wonderfully delicate breast meat; you get a larger amount of stock.

So…back to the pot pie. I decided I wanted to make it. Then I realized we had just had two consecutive meals with bisquick involved and the starch of a two-crust chicken pie was a turn-off. Hence the recipe below; no crust – just what you would expect to be in a chicken pot pie. I call it:

Chicken pot NOT
1 whole chicken breast
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup celery, diced
½ onion, sliced
¾ cup mixed bell pepper strips
1 large carrot, cut into 1/8” rounds
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried tarragon
½ tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup baby spinach leaves

Cut two slices into the chicken breast, one in the middle and the other near the neck end. Cut all the way down to the bone.

Place the breast into a pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer and reduce the heat to a gently bubble and poach for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken to a cutting board to cool.

When it’s cool, remove the skin and pull the breast meat off the bone and shred it with your hands. Set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter and oil. When the butter is melted, add
Onion, garlic, pepper strips, carrot, celery, and mushrooms. Cook until the onions are softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are softened but still retain some texture, 8-10 minutes.

Add the herbs and the flour and the chicken. Bring back to a strong simmer and cook until thickened to a gravy-like texture.

Serve over perfectly cooked (as Peter will do) basmati rice which you have topped with baby spinach leaves.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ham and egg cake

I have a wacky idea for something to do with ham and eggs. I think it will go something like this: get a ham slice from market; grind it using the fine blade; lightly beat some egg; mix the egg and ham together, adding, perhaps, a bit of flour as a binder. Pipe the mixture into simmering broth or perhaps into hot oil. Will it hold together?

Next generation of this idea: put the mixture into well-greased muffing tin, first lining the cups with baby spinach; should come out like a quiche; the jury’s still out (in my mind) about the flour idea.

Third generation: bingo, I’ve got it! Looked in the cupboard and, sure enough, there was a box of Bisquick in there…been there for probably a couple of years. AND, on the back of the box was a recipe for an Italian “bake” which included ground beef, frozen peas, and some grated cheese. Now we’re talkin’.

I still want to try my idea in paragraph 1 above, but that will keep until another day.

Bear in mind that this recipe uses exactly what I already had on hand. The only thing I didn’t alter was the wet-dry proportions for the Bisquick itself.

Ham and egg cake
1 ham steak, about 1 lb.
1 cup frozen bell pepper strips, thawed and chopped
1 scallion, green and white, chopped
black pepper
3/4 tsp dried tarragon
2 cups Bisquick
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I used 2% along with a bit of half and half)
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 cup grated cheese (in our case some goat mozzarella and some romano)
1 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Trim the ham of all gristle, most of the fat, and the bone that’s probably in it. Grind it fine, or chop with some pulses of a food processor.

Spray a medium sized casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread the spinach leaves over the bottoms and sides of the dish.

Add the ham, peppers, pepper, scallion, and tarragon. Salt isn’t necessary because the ham is salty, as is the romano.

Mix together the Bisquick, milk and eggs. Pour over the ham mixture. Dot with little pieces of the butter. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Top with the cheese and return to the oven for 4-5 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dirty Rice


Okay, the disclaimer's out of the way.

I got to thinking about dirty rice a couple of months ago and began saving the livers from the chickens I was cooking for the boys (that's Scooper and Pupkiss, our King Charles Spaniels (for them'uns among you who don't already know that)). The chickens seem to lack livers more often than not, but I did manage to accumulate 3 of them.

I am proud of how I have been able to clean house as concerns the freezer compartment of our fridge. Today's lunch used up: a container of cooked duck liver, the 3 chicken livers, and a package of cooked turkey gizzards. From the fridge came leftover cooked basmati rice. From the pantry came dried shiitake mushrooms, two skinny dried red peppers, and a tiny bit of dried sun-dried tomatoes (isn't that somehow redundant?).

Don't try to copy this recipe. Rather, inventory your own stockpile of goodies you've waited far too long to use up. What follows is merely a roadmap. Find your own rest stops and choose your own tourist attractions along the way. Oh my god, was that a metaphor?

Dirty Rice
3 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers, any color
1 cup chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
4 oz. cooked turkey gizzards, trimmed of gristle
3 chicken livers, finely chopped
1 duck liver, already cooked and chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and sliced, liquid reserved
2 Mexican red chiles, reconstituted, seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

Heat the oil in a sauté pan. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, mushrooms, scallions and some salt and pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, about 6-7 minutes.

Move the vegetation to the side of the pan and add the chicken livers, cooking just until no longer pink. Add the gizzards, duck liver, and the liquid from reconstituting the u-know-whats.

Add the rice. Stir to combine, bring to a simmer, and watch until all the liquid is absorbed.

Add the butter and toss until melted.

Serve in heated bowls, adding salt and pepper to taste.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tandoori chicken

There’s something I just have to share with you. Back on Nov. 5, I posted a recipe for broiled chicken parts. It’s a superb recipe. Several days ago we got our winter copy of “Cooks Illustrated” magazine. They put forth a plan for tandoori-style chicken done in the oven and finished under the broiler. We love Indian food flavors and I decided to try it last night.

Now, I know that this blog is supposed to be about my creativity. However, most of you probably don’t have a subscription to the mag and can only know about this if I share it with you. Let me just say this: the results were phenomenal; so much so that for 2 hours after dinner I reveled in the lingering glow in my mid-section.

Christopher Kimball, editor of the magazine and host of the tv show “America’s Test Kitchen,” constantly reminds us that he doesn’t care for spicy food. With that in mind, I deduced that the spices in this recipe needed boosting. I accomplished it by simply using the amounts called for for 3 pounds of chicken parts even though I was cooking only 2 pounds (4 chicken legs and 4 thighs, bone in and skin on).

Other than that I followed the recipe slavishly. If I ever offer something I think is a must-try, this is it.

Oops, I nearly forgot to tell you about the perfectly cooked basmati rice Peter prepared. It was cooked in some homemade chicken stock and tossed with a bit of butter. I asked Peter over dinner what makes basmati so unique and special. He wasn’t sure. I’ll do some research and get back to you.

Tandoori chicken
2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk or reduced fat)
4 tbsp lime juice (probably 2 limes)
2 tsp salt
2 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken parts

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add garam masala, cumin and chili powder; continue to cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds longer. Transfer half of the mix to a medium bowl; stir in yogurt and 2 tbsp lime juice and set aside.

In large bowl, combine remaining garlic-spice mix, 2 tbsp lime juice, and salt. Using a sharp knife, lightly score skin side of each piece of chicken, making 2 or 3 shallow cuts about 1 inch apart and about 1/8 inch deep; transfer to bowl. Gently massage salt-spice mix into chicken until all pieces are evenly coated; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat oven to 325°. Pour yogurt mixture over chicken and toss to coat evenly. Arrange chicken pieces, skin side down, on wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Bake chicken until instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of chicken registers 125°.

After removing chicken from oven, turn oven to broil and heat 5 minutes. Be sure to leave the oven door ajar throughout the broiling process to avoid the heating element from cycling off. Turn the chicken pieces over (skin side up now) and broil until chicken is lightly charred in spots and instant-read thermometer registers 165° for breasts and 170° for thighs and legs. Remove from the oven, tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

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