Basics

Chili (Basics)

Chili (Basics)

 

Who doesn’t love a “bowl of red”, that infamous hot and spicy earthy red chili stew from Texas and the American Southwest. Chili’s popularity really took hold when local chili joints starting popping up across the country in the early 1900’s. A Chili nation was born and chili has been embraced as real North American food ever since!

But hold on, beans, tomatoes, chile peppers, and cacao are all native to the Americas and cultivated by native central American peoples as staple foods along with maize as cornerstones of their diet. Stews not unlike what we now know as chili were likely being cooked up by the Aztecs long before the Europeans ever set foot in the new world. With the arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese spices like cumin from the eastern Mediterranean and cinnamon from south Asia were introduced into the local native cuisine and influenced the evolving cuisines of Central and South America.

So yes, Chili’s North Americanization and enduring popularity is undeniable, but it is also a testament to the ingenuity of earlier native American cultures as well.

Making an authentic chili is really quite simple. What follows is a very basic recipe to build from. For me, a well made chili hinges on using the very best authentic ingredients. A stellar chili is a stand alone dish that needs little embellishment. Forget the chili season mixes, the cheese, and the sour cream. It is all about savoring the deep the earthy flavors and aromas of chile combined with the earthiness of the beans!

Authentic New Mexico pure ground red chile, ground chipotle chile, Mexican oregano, and chorizo are all available on line if they are not available where you live.

 

Chili:   serves 6

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup cold pressed peanut or olive oil
  • 4 cups diced onions
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 ¼ pounds/570 grams best quality ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons pure ground red chile (New Mexican is ideal)
  • 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile
  • 2 tablespoons toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano (Mexican is ideal)
  • 2 tablespoons pure unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste (imported Italian is best)
  • 1 quart beef stock, hot
  • 2 cans kidney beans or pinto beans (or home cooked), partially drained
  • 1 oz/28 g thinly sliced chorizo, cut into thin strips
  • 4 chopped fire roasted green chilies
  • diced red onions

Place 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat to medium low. Season with a little salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook another couple of minutes.

While the onions are cooking, place a skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot add the ground beef, season with a little salt, and saute until the beef releases its juices and is lightly brown and crumbly, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the beef to the soup pot with the onions and stir to combine. Add the ground chile, ground chipotle chile, cumin seeds, oregano, cocoa, and cinnamon. Season with a little salt and stir until well combined. Then form a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste, smashing it against the bottom of the pan to caramelize the paste for about 2 minutes. Then add about two thirds of the hot stock, stir to combine, and bring the contents back up to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the beans and add the remaining stock. Bring the contents back to a low simmer, add the chorizo, and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chilli has thickened and is a beautiful deep red. Taste and add salt if needed.

I like to serve the chili family style with individual chili bowls set out for each person. Be sure to have small bowls of chopped fire roasted green chilies (see here) and diced red onions for those who want to add some fiery heat to their chili. I love to serve my chili with freshly steamed tamales (see here) as well, but a basket of warm flour tortillas or cornbread will do nicely as well.

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

 

Paella needs no introduction. It is one of Spain’s most celebrated culinary exports. A Spanish rice dish that delights like non other and loved the world over. A paella makes a spectacularly colorful presentation that promises a tantalizing combination of simmering Mediterranean ingredients seasoned with distinctly Spanish herbs and spices that bring this rustic Spanish dish to life.

Imagine a gigantic paella pan filled to the brim with locally sourced ingredients from land and sea simmering over a fragrant wood fire out in the open air, wafting aromas beckoning one and all. The pleasures of Paella are all about savoring the robust flavors of traditional Spanish cookery with friends and family.

Paella is simple in concept and, with a little organization and planning, will come off without a hitch. Over the holidays I managed, along with a friend’s help, to have three paella pans simultaneously bubbling away on the stove top. Miraculously they were all perfectly finished and on the table as planned to everyone’s great delight.

For the recipe that follows I have broken down the cooking sequence and ingredients, including portions of ingredients per person, into steps which should be easy to to follow and apply to any paella you want to make no matter what ingredients you choose to use. A paella is truly a dish for all seasons!

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

 

Paella Mixta:        serves 12

Paella Mixta is very popular, but not a traditional paella in the strictest sense. Liberties have been taken that traditionalists would certainly frown up, but the idea of mixing seafood and meats does make a splendid feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

Following the ingenuity of early Spanish cooks, using a traditional paella pan really makes sense. If you do not happen to have one a cast iron skillet is your best alternative option. That said, for a small investment, a paella pan will serve you very well for years to come and available online (click here).

As appealing as the idea is, cooking a paella over an open fire is not likely. The next best option is a two step cooking method that I have been using in my kitchen  for years that turns out consistently beautiful paellas time and time again. Beginning the cooking on the stove top insures that you have the much desired thin layer of crisp rice in the bottom of the paella pan. The pan is then transferred to a very hot oven to quickly finish the paella with a perfectly colored surface and moist rice in the interior.

Equipment: 1 to 3 paella pans (depending on size)

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups fish or chicken stock (1 cup per person)
  • 48 saffron threads (4 per person)
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • ¾ cup Spanish olive oil (1/3 cup per pan)
  • 6 chicken breasts, skin on (½ breast per person)
  • 6 links paprika sausage (½ link per person)
  • 3 cups diced onions (1/4 cup per person)
  • 12 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced ( 1 per person)
  • 2 large green bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin stripes lengthwise, and halved
  • 3 small fresh hot chiles, seeds removed and minced
  • 4 cups Spanish Bomba rice (1/3 cup per person) or Arborio rice as a substitute
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, grated, skin discarded
  • 6 tablespoons sweet Spanish paprika (1 ½ teaspoon per person)
  • 24 large shrimp, shell removed, deveined (2 per person)
  • 24 mussels, well scrubbed and steamed until opened, top shell removed and discarded
  • 1 large handful green beans, blanched and halved
  • 3 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
  • 3 oz/ 80 g thinly sliced Spanish chorizo, slices halved
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped flat leaf parsley
  • fresh lemon wedges
  • aioli, (recipe below)

Heat the stock and have it ready on the stove top.

Place the saffron threads in a small bowl. Add the wine and set aside.

Heat the paella pan, or pans, and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down and cook until lightly browned. Turn the breast and lightly brown the other side. Transfer the browned breasts to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle cut each breast into quarters and set aside to use later.

Using the same pan, or pans, brown the sausage on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite size rounds and set aside to use later.

Preheat oven to 400 f/ 200 c

At this point if you are cooking more than one pan at a time enlist a friend to help you stir the ingredients in each pan.

Using the same pan, or pans, saute the onions over medium low heat for a couple minutes. Then add the garlic, bell pepper strips, and chiles and saute until softened. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the rice to the pan, or pans, and turn up the heat to medium and cook the rice until it is completely coated with oil and just beginning to

Paella Mixta photo Kevin West

Paella Mixta photo Kevin West

color slightly. Add grated tomato and sweet paprika and most of the smoked paprika and cook until incorporated into the rice.

Add the saffron and the white wine and sir into the rice. Then add enough hot stock to just cover the rice and simmer while continually stirring, being sure to release the rice from the bottom of the pan so it does not stick. Continue to cook until the stock is nearly absorbed into the rice.

Repeat the same quantity of stock to just cover the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until the stock is once again absorbed. Taste the rice to test for texture. Ideally the rice should be cooked until soft, but a little on the al dente side.

With that in mind, you may need to continue with another cycle, adding stock to the rice and cooking until you reach the right consistency for the rice.

Once the rice is the right consistency there is no need for further stirring. You want the rice in the bottom of the pan to develop a crisp base.

Add the browned chicken to the pan and push it into the rice until just the top is visible.

Likewise add the sausage, again pushing it into the rice until just visible. Then add the chorize partially pushed into the rice but leaving half still visible.

At this point add just enough stock to just reach the surface of the rice.

Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes and then add the shrimp gently nestled into the rice with most of the body exposed. Position the mussels over the surface around the shrimp. Tuck in the green beans between the shrimp and mussels. Lightly season the surface with sea salt and light dusting of smoked paprika.

If the rice is looking dry around the edges of the pan add a little more stock until just visible. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and cook about 10 minutes or just until the surface is lightly colored.

Serving:

Remove the paella from the oven. Garnish with a light scattering of parsley and transfer to the table while still piping hot.

Serve with lemon wedges and Aioli.

Delicioso! photo: Paul Milton

Delicioso!

Aioli:  makes 1 ½ cups

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated/ microplaned
  • ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 10 saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water

Place the garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined.

With the motor running very slowly add the olive oil. As the mixture thickens stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then continue adding the remaining olive oil with the machine running. Once the aioli is thick and emulsified slowly add the saffron and hot water until combined.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

An Unforgettable Pumpkin Pie

An Unforgettable Pumpkin Pie

 

Come the Holiday season pumpkin pies are bound to be on many a holiday table. There are those who love pumpkin pie and those who don’t. I have to admit store bought pumpkin pies can often be pretty uninspiring. However, years ago I came upon Nancy Silverton’s pumpkin pie recipe in her Pastries from the La Brea Bakery cookbook and garnered new perspectives on how beguiling a pumpkin pie can actually be. All of Nancy Silverton’s cookbooks, and MOZZA in particular, are my favorite resources for some guidance or inspiration. Her taste is impeccable, her recipes are refined and exacting, and you can be confident that the results will deliver perfection.

Bear with me. This recipe is indeed more complicated than opening a can of pumpkin puree, tossing it together with a few spices and a couple of other ingredients, and popped into the oven in 10 minutes. Just to reassure you, this pumpkin pie really is worth all the extra effort invested. I’ve had rave reviews every time I’ve served it. This is a recipe you will be revisiting for beautiful finishing flourishes for your holiday meals for years to come.

I have adapted Nancy Silverton’s recipe with a few minor adjustments.

 

An Unforgettable Pumpkin Pie     makes 1 10 inch pie

I would suggest roasting the yams and pumpkin, pureeing them both, and making the pastry dough the day before making the pie. Having all the ingredients readily at hand makes assembling the pie a whole lot easier on baking day.

The yams and pumpkin can be baked together. Preheat the oven to 400 f / 200 c. Cut the pumpkin into quarters. Remove the seeds and stringy membranes and place on a baking tray, skin side down, along with the yams. Brush all with olive oil and transfer to the oven. Both the pumpkin and the yams will take about 45 minutes. The pumpkin should be very tender and a deep orange. The yams should be very soft and almost bursting when finished. Remove the skins from both. Mash the yams and pumpkin separately and set aside to cool. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate.

Special item: 10 inch pie pan

For the dough:

  • 4 oz/113 g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco), chilled
  • 2¾ cups unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt (or flaked sea salt)
  • ¼ cup ice water

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the well chilled cubed butter, shortening, and salt and mix on low for 2 to 3 minutes until softened. Turn the mixer up to medium and mix another 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour in 3 batches, mixing on low between each addition, until it is the consistency of a coarse meal. Begin adding small amounts of the ice water just until the dough begins to come together. You will probably will not need to use all the water and by all means do not over mix!

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and kneed a few times to gather it into a ball. Divide the dough in half, flatten each into a disc and wrap in plastic film. Chill one of the discs for at least 2 hours or overnight. Freeze the remaining dough for another use.

When the dough is well chilled, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into an 11 inch circle about ¼ inch thick, flouring the dough as necessary. Fold the dough into quarters and place the counterpoint in the middle of the pie pan. Unfold the dough and arrange it it evenly in the pan, allowing the excess dough to hang over the edges. Trim the dough, leaving ½ inch of the dough hanging over the edge. Fold the ½ inch section of the dough underneath so it is even with the rim of the pan to create a thicker edge. Make a scalloped edge by pushing the thumb of one hand against the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Continue around the entire edge of the dough. Chill until firm, 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c

Lightly brush the entire interior of the pie shell with melted butter. Line the bottom and sides of the pie shell with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or metal pie weights, making sure the beans or weights are pressed tightly into the corners of the dough. Bake for about 25 minutes until the top of the crust is golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes. Then remove the beans or pie weights and carefully peel off the paper lining. If the bottom of the pie shell is not uniformly browned, return it unlined to the oven for 5 or 10 minutes until fully cooked and lightly browned.

While the pie shell is baking you can prepare the filling.

For the filling:

  • 2 cups roasted yam puree
  • ½ cup roasted pumpkin puree
  • 2 oz/ 57 g unsalted butter
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract)
  • 2 extra large organic eggs
  • 1 extra large organic egg yolk
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 tablespoon brandy (or rum)
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (or flaked sea salt)
  • 1 very small pinch of ground cloves
    1 small pinch white pepper

Place the yam and pumpkin purees into a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and process until very smooth.

In a small sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat. Cut open the vanilla bean lengthwise. With the back of a knife scrape out the flesh and seeds and add to the butter along with the pod. Swirl the pan to insure the butter cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes until the butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma. Promptly remove from the heat and set aside. Remove the vanilla pod and reserve it for another use. Once the butter is cooled and the black burned bits have settled to the bottom of the pan carefully pour the butter into the food processor leaving most of the black bits behind in the pan. If you are using Vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean, add it to the food processor along with the butter. Puree the ingredients in the processor until smooth.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, cream, milk, maple syrup, brown sugar, brandy or rum, ginger, allspice, salt, cloves, and pepper. Add the pumpkin yam mixture and whisk until the mixture is completely combined and smooth. Pour the pie filling into the pie shell to about ¼ inch below the top edge. Giggle the pan to level the filling.

For garnishing:

  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 to 5 gratings fresh whole nutmeg

Lightly brush the scalloped rim of the blind baked pastry shell with milk.

Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and sprinkle evenly over the surface of the pie filling.

Place the pie in the center of the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour, checking the pie after 40 minutes. The filling should be just set without quivering. Do not be tempted to over bake as this will cause the surface of the pie to crack while cooling.

Cool the pie on a cooling rack until it is room temperature and ready to serve. If you intend serve the pie later, seal with plastic film and refrigerate. Be sure to ring the pie back to room temperature for serving.

Serving: Serve at room temperature with a lightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with a small dash of vanilla extract.

Clay Pot Cookery; Asian Vegetables with Chinese Sausage

Clay Pot Cookery; Asian Vegetables with Chinese Sausage

 

Clay pot cookery has been practised the world over ever since humans began cooking over open fires and sharing communal meals together. That seminal idea of shared one pot meals is still widely practised over much of the globe, even in our own modern 21st century home kitchens. In Asia particularly, clay pot cookery is still widely used at home as well as in restaurants. Japanese clay pot Shabu shabu and Sukiyaki restaurants are popular the world over, as are Cantonese clay pot chicken restaurants, and Korean Tubaegi Bulgogi shops.

Clay pot cookery in Asia has endured as a traditional way to prepare simple yet warming full bodied one pot meals during the fall and winter months. The donabe is one of Japan’s earliest traditional clay pot cooking vessels that is still used in most Japanese kitchens to this day. Likewise there are traditional clay pots used throughout South and Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The flexibility of clay pot cookery is its appeal. The clay pot can be used directly over an open flame, on the stove top, in the oven, or set atop a portable gas burner placed on the dinning table which is a great way to involve everyone in cooking at the table during the meal, Asian style.

Japanese donabe

Japanese donabe

I acquired my first Japanese donabe nearly 40 years ago and I am still using it today as pictured. If you do not have a clay pot I urge you to go out and find one. Unlike the endless array of quirky unnecessary kitchen gadgets or the latest trending cooking equipment or appliances that you may use a couple of times and then shove to the back of a kitchen cabinet, a clay pot is a kitchen treasure you will use regularly. Clay pots are available in shops in Asian communities and online.

A few tips when purchasing a clay pot. As mentioned I prefer the Japanese donabe above all others. Donabes are heavy, durable, and they retain heat well. They are lightly glazed both inside and out. Some cooks prefer a more rustic unglazed clay pots, claiming they add flavor to what you are cooking. That claim is debatable. Unglazed pots are porous and require pre-soaking in water before each use to avoid cracking. Staining and durability is also continuing issue with unglazed clay pots.

If you are unable to find a retailer where you live you might check out Toiro Kitchen’s selection of Japanese donabes  (click here) They are as beautiful as they are utilitarian.

When cooking with all clay pots, always begin cooking over a low flame at first with a little liquid, or oil if frying, in the bottom of the pot. Once the pot is heated you can then raise the flame gradually to the required temperature for cooking and simmering. To avoid cracking, always cool the pot after cooking and before submerging it in water for cleaning. Best to clean with warm water only, or at least avoid using soap in the interior of the pot.

The recipe that follows is one of my easy interpretations of a simple Chinese clay pot meal that includes cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, and lop cheong (Chinese hard sausage.) This is a basic combination of Asian vegetables infused with a beguiling slightly sweet smoky flavor of the sausage. Rice or noodles are often included in clay pot cooked meals as well. So throw caution to the wind and don’t worry too much about authenticity. There are endless possibilities at the discretion of the creative cook in all of us! 

 

Asian Clay Pot Vegetables with Lop Cheong       serves 4

  • 4 to 6 lop cheong (dry Chinese sausage), casing removed,thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 1 large head Chinese or green cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, core removed, and very thinly sliced
  • 1 large daikon radish, peeled, quartered, and cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced and cut into thin batons
  • 2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and finely diced
  • hot stock to just cover ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons Szechuan pepper corns, lightly toasted and ground
  • ¼ teaspoon five spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure red chile powder or more to taste

As the lop cheong sausage is quite fatty I like to simmer the sliced sausage in a skillet with water for about 15 minutes to release some of the fat which you can spoon off the surface of the water and discard. Reserve the cooking liquid to add to the simmering pot later.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180c (if using the oven)

Place the clay pot on the stove top over low heat. Add the oil and after five minutes raise the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook the onions until softened. Then add the cabbage and cook while tossing until the cabbage is wilted. Then add the daikon , carrots, and ginger. Cook while tossing the ingredients until slightly wilted. Then fold in the precooked sliced sausage until well combined.

Add the honey, 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, ground Szechuan pepper, five spice powder, and red chile powder. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.

Add enough hot stock, including the reserved broth from the precooked  sausage, to the pot to just reach the top of the ingredients. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer on the stove top, or transfer the pot to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes.

Check the level of the stock which should be just visible when a spoon is inserted into the vegetables. Add a little more stock if it is looking dry. Cover and continue to cook on the stove top, or return the pot to the oven, for another 30 minutes

Remove the lid and check the contents. The liquid should be reduced by about two thirds and the vegetables around the edges of the pot may just be beginning to color. If there is still excess liquid cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and season with additional light soy sauce and red chile to taste and cover and set aside until you are ready to serve.

Serving:

Transfer the clay pot to the table and serve with steamed rice.

 

Another lop Cheong recipe you might like to try (click here for recipe)

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