Saturday, December 25, 2010

So This Was Christmas

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas filled with your favorite gifts, your most loved family and friends, and of course, good food.

I was so happy to host Christmas Eve this year. For the first time in my life I had control over the menu. NO FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES! Christmas Eve was never my favorite holiday growing up. After years of dreaming of certain foods at Christmas, I was going to be making the kind of meal I always wanted to make.

The scene was set on a chilly winter's night with my beautiful tree and some good music (Stings CD "If on a Winter's Night" is awesome). Gifts were ready to be unwrapped.

I made sure the beverage table was well set. I specially ordered the pinot gris and pinot noir from Noble Pig. The scotch is for my stepmother.

For pre-dinner nibbles I simply put out a wheel of brie, some fig spread, some store-bought cilantro pesto and some flat breads. I'm learning I don't have to make everything myself.

Dinner officially started with a salad of grilled portobello mushrooms and pears tossed in a lemon-thyme dressing. I forgot to take a photo, but everyone loved it, even Sir Pickypants ate the pears.

My standout was my main course. I bought the most beautiful bone-in pork loin ever from Whole Foods. It was a thing to behold. I didn't know if I should eat it or worship it.

I cooked it with a molasses balsamic glaze and sliced it up into giant chops. Well, not all of them were giant, but the folks who took smaller ones ended up grabbing seconds anyway. It was that good.

My stepmother said she was having her nails done earlier that day and when the manicurist asked her what her plans were she said she started bragging about the meal I would be cooking for her that night. I'm glad I didn't disappoint!

I took a photo of my full meal, although I couldn't resist a few bites of pork first as evidenced here. My sides were spicy gingered green beans and brown butter mashed potatoes, recipe courtesty of More Than Burnt Toast. You can't believe just what magical things browing your butter can do for your potatoes.

I don't know why I forgot to take a photo of dessert. It's one of my most favorite cakes in the world, Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake. I highly recommend this recipe for anyone who wants an incredible and easy cake. It's made with Nutella and mascarpone. How could it be bad?

Then it's on to brunch at Mom's. She keeps it simple, but I made a big batch of cinnamon rolls courtesy of the Pioneer Woman. She uses maple flavoring in hers with no nuts. I filled mine with pecans and just used vanilla to flavor the icing.

I took these out of the oven and told my husband, "Look at these and tell me how much you love me."

I can burn all of this food off with MY NEW KINECT YYYYEEEESSSSSSS.

Tonight I'm heading to Chicago once more so my husband can watch the Jets play the Bears at Soldier Field and freeze his butt off while I stay nice and warm inside a museum. I won't be doing any more food reviews this time. I don't want to insult any more Chicago restaurants or take offensive lamb chop photos again.

Merry Christmas!!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can I Make the Perfect Chili?

I’ve had a very strange relationship with chili my entire life.
I tried chili for the first time when I was about 7 or 8 in the form of a hot dog. I felt I had made one of the world’s greatest discoveries. A food as perfect as a hot dog could actually be made more delicious by the addition of this meaty substance known as chili. I became obsessed with the chili dog, almost forsaking the hot dog itself for the love of chili.
My mother, being the good mother she is, caught onto this and decided to make me some chili for dinner one night. I recall being suitably excited. I’m sure she probably made the version from her old tattered New York Times Cookbook that she still makes for parties as her go-to chili recipe. I must have liked it. I don’t think it tasted like the stuff on my hot dogs, but it wasn’t bad.
Later that night I barfed my brains out.
Looking back on that night, I’m sure it wasn’t the chili that did it. The illness couldn’t have been due to tainted meat since my brother also ate it with no ill effects (and back in those days, there was far less hysteria about ground beef anyway). Still, throwing up after eating chili really ranks up there with some of the most unpleasant experiences of childhood and I wanted it not to be repeated. I wanted something to blame. I was convinced that eating chili would send me into a conversation with Ralph on the porcelain phone.
People were sympathetic, even Mom. There were gentle suggestions that I just can’t tolerate spiciness. That didn’t make sense because I was always eating the red-letter foods off the menu in Chinese restaurants. There were other suggestions that I might have a problem with beans.
I took the bean one to heart. I was never a huge bean fan anyway. For years I avoided both beans and chili, convinced that it would all cause an anti-peristaltic reaction. My love affair with chili and chili dogs had ended.
I’m not sure how I eventually came to eat chili again. It was likely some time in high school when I realized that perhaps I was being a bit extreme in my belief of chili’s devastating effects on my digestive system. Sometimes the stuff really looked good. My brother got really into making chili for a while and I started wanting some. By golly I really wanted to eat it!
So I converted back to being a chili lover, although not as obsessed with it as I was in the chili dog days of my youth. I find it a very comforting and easy meal.
As I grow older and wiser, I find that chili means many things to many people. What one person calls a good chili may be swill to another. Considering the number of chili cook-offs in the country, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the number of ways people can interpret a single dish.
The first thing to consider is the classic Texas chili con carne – chili peppers with meat. Such a concoction is rare in the northeast. I am fascinated by the concept of beef chunks slowly simmered in a strong pepper sauce, unadulterated by beans or even tomatoes. For some there is no other type of chili. For me, it’s as rare as praise from Gordon Ramsey. We just don’t make chili like that around here.
I could try making it myself of course, but I couldn't serve it to the husband. I tried stewing chicken thighs in a hot pepper sauce and simmering it slowly, but it wasn't the same.
So what if you’re making chili the other way with ground meat and beans? Guess what. You’re still going to encounter another hundred recipes. What kind of beans? What kind of meat? Tomatoes or no? How spicy? How sweet? How smoky? Do you even want meat at all?
I have made several attempts at homemade chili, but have never been 100% happy with any of them. Thank goodness my husband, so often dubbed as Sir Pickypants, seems to enjoy every pot of chili I make.
To make my perfect chili, I had to think long and hard about what I like. In every bowl of chili that I have truly enjoyed, what has made me happiest?
Well, first I like beef and pork. Okay. That doesn’t fly in my household. Maybe the Pickypants thing is correctly attributed after all. Let’s just say what’s the ultimate non-red-meat chili?
First, I like chili that’s meaty. When I spoon up a bite of chili, I want to see honest-to-goodness, toothsome meat. I hate it when chili looks like baby food with some beans scattered in it.
Next, that meat has to be suspended in a spicy sauce. I don’t want sloppy joes. I don’t want loose meat. I want something akin to a good stew. Surround that meat with a thick, wondrous red goo.
I like tomatoes in my chili. I’m definitely in the pro-tomato camp. I don’t like ketchup though. I don’t want things too sweet.
I don’t want vegetables in my chili. I have nothing against the veggies, but I don’t think they really add anything to chili. The two tastes and textures cancel each other out. Maybe corn can handle it, but zucchini certainly can’t. I don’t even think bell peppers, a favorite of mine, have a place in chili.
I don’t want my chili underseasoned. I want it spicy. I like it to be a little smoky. A little sweet is fine, but again, not ketchup-y sweet.
Okay. Let’s start on assemblage of my Perfect Chili.
Start with soaking some dried peppers (in this case ancho and habanero) in boiling water. Let them soak a half hour and puree with about half the soaking liquid. The soaking liquid tastes like a hot pepper tea (if you're inclined to taste it).
Saute a big onion and two fresh poblano peppers in a little oil. I like the mix of fresh and dried chilis.
Add turkey (dark meat) and some chopped chicken-turkey andouille sausage.
Add a 28 ounce can of tomatoes, the pepper puree, and a spoonful of chipotle powder along with a cup of chicken stock. I would have liked to have used dried chipotles and soaked them along with the other peppers, but those suckers are expensive. I went with what I had for the smoky taste.
For my beans, I prefer pinto. They're a very neutral bean with a palatable texture.
Now stir it together and simmer it till the husband comes home.
Serve with tortilla chips. Cheddar is a nice idea too. In our house it was one bowl with and one bowl without.

Was it perfect? Was it the ultimate chili? Well, I have to say it was the best turkey chili I have ever made so far. It really makes a difference when you sit down and think about everything you like in a pot of chili and carefully consider ingredients than it does to simply throw stuff in a pot, or simply use a random chili recipe.
I think this recipe could have been a little spicier. I might user more peppers or a bigger variety the next time and would have added more chipotle powder for a bit of a smokier touch. I might have added a little cocoa powder too (I wish I hadn't read this post by Stacey after I made the chili as it might have reminded me that a little cocoa powder would have been nice). That's the nice thing about chili though. Your options for variations are endless. Maybe that's why there is no perfect chili. You can always make it better or at least differently. Chili is about the journey, not the destination.
Almost Perfect Chili
2 dried ancho peppers, stemmed and seeded
  • 2-3 dried habanero peppers, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 Tbl oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1 Tbl cocoa powder
  • 2 fresh poblano peppers, finely diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds Ground turkey thigh meat
  • 4 links of turkey andouille sausage, finely chopped
  • 1 28 oz can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can pinto beans
  • 1 Tbl chipotle powder
  • 2 tsp salt 
  • In a bowl, pour boiling water over the dried peppers. Let sit 30 minutes to reconstitute them. Place in a blender with 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid and puree until smooth.
    In a large pan (I used a big saute pan, but a big saucepan will work nicely too) heat oil and add onion and poblanos. Cook until soft. Add cumin, oregano, ancho chili powder, and cocoa powder.  Stir until onions are well coated and spices are very fragrant.  Add garlic and cook for another minute or two. 
    Add the turkey and sausage to the pot and brown the turkey well.
    Stir in the pepper puree, tomatoes, chipotle powder, and salt. Mix well and then gently stir in the beans.
    Simmer for at least an hour.
    Serve with tortilla chips and plenty of grated cheddar cheese.

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Pork, Port, and Pomegranate

    I am so lazy. I came up with a new recipe earlier this week and keep neglecting to share it.

    This week's inspiration came from my mother's port-ginger cranberry sauce that she makes every Thanksgiving. I love that sauce. I had some fun the last time I made Thanksgiving dinner converting the leftovers into a glaze for pork by thinning it out with red wine.

    I wasn't sure what I was thinking when I saw a bottle of pomegranate juice in the store and decided that I just had to make something with it. I wasn't thinking of Mom's cranberry sauce, but once I decided I wanted to have some pork chops for dinner, something clicked in my brain. I thought of making a variation on Mom's sauce, but with pomegranate instead of cranberry.

    I simmered the POM juice with port, grated fresh ginger, and a piece of cinnamon stick.

    I'm not sure what made me do this, but I pounded a pair of boneless loin chops to half their thickness, coated them with almond flour and sauteed them in butter and olive oil. (Normally I leave my chops thick, brown them on the stove, and finish them in the oven, often with the glaze on top.)

    I drizzled my glaze over them and served with some nice creamed spinach.

    The sauce was a bit too tart. If I make this again, I will definitely add some honey or agave syrup. In fact, the recipe I'm going to give you includes some sweet. I'm going to start with 2 teaspoons. That's what I would start with if I were making this again and work my way up from there if I still felt it wasn't sweet enough.

    Pork with Port-Ginger-Pomegranate Glaze

    2-4 boneless loin chops, about 6 oz each, pounded to about half their original thickness
    Salt and pepper
    Almond flour (or whatever flour you like, but nut flours give a nice flavor dimension) for dredging
    2 Tbl butter
    2 Tbl olive oiil
    1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
    1/2 cup port wine
    2 tsp grated ginger
    1/2 cinnamon stick
    2 tsp honey or agave syrup

    Place juice, port, ginger and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Gently simmer until it becomes thick and syrupy. Do not bring it to a high boil or it will just evaporate away.

    Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a large frying pan. Brown chops well on both sides, about 5 minutes each.

    Serve on a plate, liberally drizzled with pomegranate sauce.

    You know what else I made this week?

    Don't look at the burger. It's just a turkey burger embellished with sauteed mushrooms, shallots and soy sauce atop roasted tomatoes.

    Look at what's next to the burger.

    I have opened Pandora's Box and there was a Fry Daddy inside it. This was my first attempt at homemade French fries. It's too bad the Fry Daddy only fries at one temperature because I always wanted to try the double-fry trick where you fry them a second time at a higher temperature. Regardless, these came out pretty good and my husband was asking for me to make turkey burgers and fries again soon.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Sufganiyot - Because I Must Fry

    You know how I say I never know who is reading my blog? It really is true. I never cease to be surprised when some reference to one of my blogs comes up from someone I had no idea was reading it. Think of the most recent example where my brother-in-law acted upset because I took a photo of his friend’s lamb chops. Who knew?

    Earlier this year I posted about making fried chicken and how I finished it in the oven because I always fear that I can’t keep a consistent cooking temperature when I fry on the stovetop. I said that if you want me to fry a chicken the entire way, you’ll have to buy me a temperature-maintaining Fry Daddy and that my birthday was coming up.

    Lo and behold, look what Kevin’s cool friends gave me for my birthday this year.

    I always thought it would be dangerous to have a Fry Daddy. Owning a Fry Daddy carries the same risk as permanently storing the chamber to my ice cream maker in the freezer. Being able to deep fry something on a moment’s notice is quite the temptation. After all, I once said that my favorite food is, “anything spicy, fried, or chocolate.”

    For a while I was just plain in awe of my Fry Daddy. I just wanted to stare at it all the time. Look at my Fry Daddy. I really have a Fry Daddy. Is it really true I have a Fry Daddy? Imagine everything I can do with my Fry Daddy.

    Then it all became sort of paralyzing. I sat and thought of everything I could do with my Fry Daddy. I thought of homemade French fries and fried chicken, and fish and chips, and fried candy bars and zeppoli and fried polenta and tempura veggies. The possibilities were endless. That’s when it became paralyzing. What, exactly, was I going to do with this wondrous machine? What would I fry? Besides, eating all of that fried food wasn’t going to do much for my health. A recent visited to the doctor earned me some subtle encouragement about needing to to lose some weight. Unable to come up with an answer, I stuck it in a cabinet and didn’t look at for a while. Whenever I saw my Fry Daddy, it just sort of mocked me. It almost seemed like a case of “Be careful what you wish for.”

    Then a few weeks ago Emily made this great post about homemade doughnuts. She had the same wistfulness about deep fryers that I used to have, along with the same misgivings about the dangers of being able to easily fry things. She fried doughnuts the old-fashioned way. I’ve made doughnuts that way too, but wouldn’t it be easier to do them with a Fry Daddy? Don’t I really love doughnuts?

    This week the stars aligned and two lucky events coincided. The fist was Hanukah – a holiday known for Sufganiyot. The other is that I was invited to a party where it was my job to bring dessert. What a perfect situation! I could use my Fry Daddy to make homemade Hanukah doughnuts and I could share them at the party, sparing me the shame of eating them all myself.

    It’s really neither here nor there that I’m a Shiksa who doesn’t actually observe Hanukah in any real meaningful way.

    I used a recipe from Martha Stewart. Doesn't she make you think of Bubbes? No? Oh well.

    I normally use the yeast in packets. My local supermarket always carried those little yellow packets. Not anymore. All they had were these weird blocks. It smelled pretty horrid.

    Roll out dough that is gently spiced with nutmeg and cut with a cookie cutter.

    And FRY!

    Roll in sugar and fill with jelly using a pastry bag.

    A delicious little pile of doughnuts results. They were a big hit at the party.

    Now that I've broken in the Fry Daddy, I'm afraid I really am going to want to use it constantly. How about some more of that gluten-free fried chicken?