Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mole Chili

My chili plans nearly came to a grinding halt over the hurricane holiday when I saw that my chile powder stash was dismayingly low, but then my thoughts trailed to the cache of dried peppers I had hanging around for whenever I make mole, and I started to wonder what the chili would taste like with a base of chile pepper puree instead of the usual dumptruck-size load of powder. Well, turns out adding chile pepper puree made for a delicious chili, with a truly vibrant flavor and a deep sweet-smoky-piquant complexity that I haven't gotten with powder alone before. I guess the Texans are on to something, even though I'll never understand the anti-tomato-and-bean sentiment. Still, I don't think I'll be chucking my master chili recipe into the waste basket just yet - its the comforting long-term relationship to the mole chili's torrid international affair. Like mole, this new, exciting chili kinda warrants the "special occasion" dish status....but let's just say I'm really looking forward to the next special occasion.

Mole Chili
Makes 4 servings

*Beef chuck, about a pound, cut into small cubes
*2 dried arbols
*2 dried anchos
*2 dried pasillas
*1 yellow onion, diced
*4 cloves garlic, minced
*1 fresh habanero, minced (wear gloves)
*2 teaspoons smoked paprika
*2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
*2 teaspoons cumin
*1 tablespoon chili powder
*Pinches of allspice, coriander & cinnamon
*1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
*2 chipotles in adobo, seeded
*1 cup stout beer (or, Theobroma, which really would be the perfect beer to use here)
*1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
*1 15 oz can of black beans, drained

Remove the seeds and stems from the dried chilies, and then toast them in a dry cast iron pan over medium-high until they start to blister and char. Transfer the chilies to a bowl and cover them with a couple cups of boiling water until they are well-submerged; let them sit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, brown the beef in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven in a bit of fat (bacon fat is what I used, highly recommended) and then remove.  Saute the onion, garlic and habanero in the drippings, salting them and adding a little more oil or fat if necessary, for about 10 minutes over medium-medium low. Add the spices and stir the mixture around for a few minutes before adding the stout, beans and tomatoes. Take the reconstituted chilies and puree them with a little of the soaking liquid and the chipotles and then add the chili puree to the chili. Keep the rest of the soaking liquid on hand in case you want to add an extra tablespoon or so to slightly thin out the chili, which does get quite thick over time..although you could also use beer for any liquid addition. Add the chuck back to the pot, and cook on low heat for at least two-three hours. Check for seasoning along the way and add anything you wish to up the ante. Garnish with cheddar, pepitas, sour cream, whatever you so desire.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dark 'N' Stormy

We and the rest of the Eastern seaboard are currently being scrubbed by Sandy so I thought it would be good timing to post a pertinent cocktail, but unfortunately the requisite "Hurricane" proved to be beyond my grasp - I keep a well-stocked bar, but regrettably didn't have any passionfruit pulp on hand.  Imagine that. Instead, I went with one of my all-time favorites, a drink introduced to me a while back by my friend Jessica: the delicious Dark 'N' Stormy. Its a warm, tingly, frolicsome tipple, sure to keep you in good spirits while the rain and winds rail against your shutters. Plus, with power hanging on by a thread, you should really be making use of all that extra ice you bought. Enjoy, and to all my fellow East Coasters in the hurricane's path, stay safe.

Dark 'N' Stormy
Makes one drink

*2 oz dark rum (I like Kraken, or more traditionally, Goslings Black Seal)
*4 oz ginger beer (I prefer Fever Tree)
*Juice of 1/2 lime
*Spangle of allspice

Combine the rum, ginger beer and lime juice in a glass over ice, and sprinkle with a smidge of allspice.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

At the risk of inundating the blog with pumpkin posts, no matter how seasonally apropos they might be, I'm going ahead with this entry for one of my favorite personal recipes, one for pumpkin mac & cheese. A couple years back, I came across a tasty pumpkin mac & cheese dish at The Institute in Philadelphia which inspired me to create my own version, as it saved me oh, a good 50 minute drive and parking woes whenever a craving would come up. After numerous tweaks, I finally achieved a dish that I'm proud to say trumps other pumpkin macs I have had since, which unfortunately seem to be widely overspiced and sweet - a problem that plagues other savory gourd-based dishes I've had whilst eating out in autumn. Open note to all area chefs: easy on the nutmeg...!

(The Institutes's remains absolutely delicious, though - I go pay homage to the source every autumn).

This version made with habanero cheddar & gouda, with Parm-reg and  manchego on top

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
Makes 8-9 servings

*1 lb of any short ‘n stubby pasta shape. I like cavatappi or shells.
*6-7 slices of bacon (optional)
*A couple tablespoons of butter (4, to be precise, if you’re not using bacon fat)
*3 tablespoons flour
*3/4 cup pumpkin beer at room temperature. I recommend Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout or Schlafly's Pumpkin ale. Alternately, a roasty porter would work nicely. If you want to nix beer altogether, chicken stock’s your sub
*2 cups milk (whatever % you have on hand, but whole is best)
*A couple of shakes a'piece of: allspice, curry powder, cayenne. I go heavier on the curry, about 1/2 teaspoon's worth
*Salt and pepper
*12 oz of pure pumpkin purée, or MOST of a 15 oz can. (I like to have a bit of leftover pumpkin to stir into yogurt or oatmeal the next day, or to make the Pumpkin French toast I posted about earlier)
*2 3/4 cups grated cheese(s) of your choice plus extra cheese for topping. I usually use about 1 cup of extra sharp yellow cheddar, 1 cup of smoked gouda, and 3/4ths cup of a delicious habanero cheddar from the local Shadyside Farm, Parm-Reg and manchego for the topping. But feel free to use any combo of good melting cheeses you like
*Sprigs of thyme (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350 and set a large pot of water on to boil. Cook pasta until al dente and set aside. Fry the bacon in a pot over medium until crisp and then set pieces to drain on a paper towel, reserving the rendered fat. Supplement the drippings with butter to have 4 tablespoons of fat sizzling away in the pot (I usually render about a tablespoon, so I add 3 tablespoons of butter). When the added butter froths and begins to brown, sprinkle in the flour and cook for a couple minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually pour the pumpkin beer into the roux and continue to whisk very frequently for 4 to 5 more minutes before gradually adding in the milk, stirring all the while. Speckle the mixture with shakes of allspice, curry, cayenne, salt & pepper. Adjust seasoning as you see fit. Mix thoroughly and continue to cook a couple more minutes or until the sauce leaves a luxurious coat the back of a wooden spoon. Whisk in the pumpkin purée and then stir in the cheese until everything is melty, orangy goodness. Mix the pasta into sauce, crumble the bacon in, and dump it all in a large casserole dish. Add a good carpeting of the extra cheese and dot the top with small nubbins of butter. Throw in the oven uncovered for 15 minutes or so and then flick on the broiler for 1-2 minutes, keeping careful watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Garnish each serving with tiny green flecks of thyme leaves, if you so desire.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fennel, Cabbage & Grapefruit Salad

There are some evenings where my teeth just yearn for the sensational experience of the raw, vegetal crunch. Usually carrots are sacrificed for the cause, but today I decided to make use of the giant head of red cabbage which has been loitering in my fridge and taking up valuable space for a week or so now. I ate this undressed (the salad, that is) but you could dress it with a simple emulsion of lemon and good olive oil. A yogurt-based dressing might not be too bad, either (...she muses to herself). I liked this combination of flavors and crunches a lot, and will be toying with its components in the future. As it stands now though, I find it a great, filling salad entree - I'll be taking the other portion for lunch tomorrow. My teeth can't wait to get their next crunch fix. 

Fennel, Cabbage & Grapefruit Salad
Makes two entree size portions

*1 bulb fennel, inner core removed + some of the threadlike fennel leaves reserved
*1/4 head red cabbage (depending on how large your head is!)
*1 bunch tarragon
*1/2 grapefruit, skin and pith peeled with a knife, cut into sections
*Roasted pepitas
*Golden raisins (not pictured on salad - I sprinkled them on after my camera had died)

Slice the cabbage and fennel thinly and toss in a bowl with chopped tarragon leaves and bits of the gossamer fennel threads. Divide onto plates and garnish with the grapefruit sections, pepitas and raisins. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pumpkin French Toast

The crush of busyness to which I alluded in my last post? It didn't stop. In fact, it got worse; October has been nothing but a maelstrom of activity. However, on this rainstreaked Friday morn, I was actually able to rub a few minutes together and somnambulate into the kitchen to rustle up a good gourdy breakfast.  Even if I can't remember the last time I went to the store, canned pumpkin always seems to be readily available at a moment's notice in my kitchen during the month of October, and all that's needed for this tasty breakfast recipe is a healthy dollop, which leaves you free to use the rest for other pumpkin-based needs (I'll be making a pumpkin-black bean soup tomorrow, for example). If you happen to have some day-old French, brioche, or challah, those would be ideal bread vehicles for French toast. Pepperidge Hearty Farmhouse White straight out of the double-wrapped bag is usually what I reach for, though. You could be outrageously decadent and try this with pumpkin bread as well, but I just am too meek for that. Maybe on the next lazy rainstreaked Friday....

Pumpkin French Toast
Makes two slices

*2 slices of bread, on the thicker side
*2 eggs
*1/4 cup milk
*1 teaspoon sugar
*A healthy pinch of cinnamon
*A smidge each of ground cloves, allspice, and nutmeg
*1/8-1/4 cup of pure pumpkin puree
*A splash of bourbon or dark spiced rum (about a teaspoon)
*1 1/2 tablespoons butter, plus a little bit of vegetable oil

Whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, spices, bourbon and puree together in a wide, shallow dish and set the bread slices in to soak for a few minutes. You may need to flip them to coat both sides. While bread is bathing in the stuff, throw a tablespoonish lump of butter in a wide nonstick skillet over medium to melt, and drizzle just a touch of the oil over it as it slides across the pan to prevent burning. When the butter has completely melted and sizzles, drape the dribbling slices in the pan and let them develop a nice crust before flipping and browning on the other side. Drizzle with maple syrup and enjoy!