Sunday, August 25, 2013

Summer Family Fest

There was only one thing I disliked about my 2010 trip to Paris.

It's the fact that while I was gone, my brother and his wife's family held a pig roast and I missed it.  I only was able to experience it secondhand because my brother did a guest post about it.  Lucky for my dear readers, it meant they could share in it as well.

I was thrilled to learn that he was planning to have another one this summer.  As soon as I had the invitation I responded with an enthusiastic, "YES."  There was no way I was going to miss the porcine feast this time.  Even though I'm down nearly 15 pounds, I was willing to throw my diet over for a day for this one.

I am not totally selfish though.  If my brother was going to invite me to his home to partake of his pig, I would make my contribution to the feast.  Family can't live on pig alone after all.

To begin I made my very first baked beans.  Since I have been doing a few experiments with dried beans in the past year, I really wanted to try my hand at baked beans.  I kept hoping I would be invited to a party or barbecue where I could finally make them.

My sauce was tomato paste, cider vinegar, dark brown sugar, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, cinnamon, mustard, soy sauce, onions, garlic and salt pork.  Most cooks like to use bacon, but I always find that bacon in homemade baked beans loses its appeal.  Once it's cooked until crispy and left to sit in the bean pot for hours, it becomes limp, tough, and flavorless.  When you open a can of pork and beans, you don't see limp chewy pieces of bacon, you see big chunks of soft, fatty pork.  I remember how much I loved being the recipient of those pork bits in the bean can as a child.  I wanted the pork in my beans to be more like what you find in the can.  I feel that salt pork or fatback most closely resemble that.

Since I always have to bring dessert to a party, I also made these caramel cashew blondies.  Recipe look familiar?  It should.  I borrowed this one from Emily.  Her recipe post suggested browning the butter, which I thought was a splendid idea.   I adjusted the recipe and added half stick of butter.  I find when I make desserts with brown butter some of the liquid evaporates from the butter and can make the desserts a little drier (a good example of that was my hazelnut pound cake).  I figured a little extra butter would help with that.

It was an evening filled with food an merriment.  We had a Hawaiian theme going with everyone in leis and the kids loving their grass skirts.  Of course when presented with a lei I had to exclaim, "I GOT LEI'D!"

We had all kinds of good stuff to drink like sangria, tres leches liqueur (a new discovery I made), and a nice selection of wine.

We had an amazing assortment of salads along with the beans.  I don't even remember what was in all of them.  I know there were almonds and orange slices in one and avocados in another and Mom did one with watermelon and feta.  There was also one with green beans and tomatoes.

But the pig was the main event.  As the evening went on I was able to see the stages of cooking it.

When I first arrived it looked a little anemic.

 Eventually it was all beautifully browned and crispy and ready to come out of the box.

My bro poses with his creation.

 You can't have a pig without an apple it its mouth!

 Soon it was time to carve it up.  All of the guests were becoming seriously impatient!

 It wasn't easy getting all that good food on one plate!

We had an equally fun time with desserts.  In addition to my blondies (which Emily should know were a big hit) we had my sister-in-laws awesome coconut cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, and a cake for SIL's parents' birthdays.

All in all it was a great party and worth every calorie.  Delicious food and good company all around.  I can't wait until we do this again!

Now for the bean recipe.  Please note I was making beans for 50 people, so this is for 2 pounds of beans.  If you are sane and only doing it with one bag of beans, you might want to adjust the liquid in the recipe and adjust the cooking time.  The best thing you can do is check the beans hourly and make sure they aren't hard and have enough liquid in the pot.

My brother made a tasty improvement to these beans once we were at the party.  They were getting cold by the time it was time to serve them, so he put them on the grill.  That not only warmed them up, but gave them a nice smoky flavor.  Not a bad idea to do for beans at a barbecue in the future.

Homemade Baked Beans Short (dis)Order Cook Style

  • 2 lbs dried Great Northern Beans
  • 1 lb salt pork or fatback, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2-4 cloves (depending on size) garlic, minced
  • 1 18 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbl smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbl soy sauce
  • 2 Tbl grainy Dijon mustard

Place beans in a pot and cover with about 10 cups of water.  Soak 8 hours or overnight.

Drain beans and reserve the liquid.  Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix together the tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, paprika, chipotle, cinnamon, soy sauce and mustard.  Set aside. 

Cook the pork in a large pot with a lid until the bits are crispy and the fat has rendered out.  Pour off two tablespoons of the fat (but leave some of that fat in there because FAT IS FLAVOR, PEOPLE).  Cook the onions in the pot until soft.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two until fragrant.

Add the soaked beans to the pot.  Stir to coat with the fat, onions, and pork.  Stir in the sauce.  Add in two cups of the soaking liquid and three cups of vegetable stock.  Stir well.

Put a lid on the pot and place in the oven.  Cook for 5-6 hours until beans are soft.  Check the beans every hour, giving them a good stir.  Check the consistency and add more of the soaking liquid as necessary.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Italian Chicken Chili

Before I share the recipe, I want to start off and say that I feel sort of guilty making a recipe called, "Italian Chicken Chili."  It just seems wrong.  Chili is a Tex-Mex dish.  How can it be Italian?  Furthermore, how does one define "Italian"?  True Italian cuisine is region-specific.  Hot peppers are most commonly used in Abruzzo.  White beans are the domain of Tuscany.  Meat-and-tomato sauces are eponymously from Bologna.  What gave me the right to call this recipe Italian?

That's one of the issues with foodie culture, isn't it?  After a while a cook might feel wrong if he or she doesn't follow authenticity.  Besides, smushing together the dishes of two cultures often sounds lazy.  It's like saying, "I can't cook proper Italian food, so I'm just going to make chili and flavor it with stereotypical Italian-American seasonings."  It sounds like an easy way out.  It sounds like the back of the box.  It sounds like a Rachael Ray recipe.

The other way of looking at it is to just call it, "Fusion."  It's very foodie to do that.

My chili isn't a simple dump-and-stir chili.  I used all fresh ingredients, including making the tomato base from scratch with farm market tomatoes.  I would have prepared the beans myself from dried, but ended up with no time, so I did have to use canned.  Otherwise this chili is homemade, slow-cooked Heaven.  It's not as spicy as my typical chili, but it's very fresh tasting and summery.  That's very important since most of us associate chili with chilly fall and winter days.

Maybe I should have called it "Summer Chicken Chili."  In any case, this was surprisingly spicy, meaty (like I like it) and still fairly light.  It's a break from the heavy, super-spicy chili you might eat at the Super Bowl party.

I served it as is, but this would be nice over rice or short pasta.

Italian Chicken Chili


  • 6 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • Pinch (or two) of red pepper flakes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 long hot green peppers
  • 2 lbs ground chicken
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 15 oz can cannellini beans
  • 6 basil leaves, torn up a bit
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water.  Score an x in each tomato and drop into boiling water.  Boil for two minutes and then drop the tomatoes into the ice water.  The skins should slip off easily.  Core and halve the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds (I do this over a strainer set over a bowl so that the seeds are strained out, but I still have the juice).  Chop tomatoes (or just squish them into bits) and set aside.

In a large pot or large keep pan, heat olive oil over low heat.  Add onions and begin cooking until soft.  Add pepper flakes and oregano.  Keep cooking until onions are soft.  Add the chopped peppers.  When they begin to soften, add the garlic and cook another minute or two. 

Add the chicken to the pan and cook until no longer pink.

Add the tomatoes, bean, and basil.  Cook for at least another 30 minutes or up to an hour or two.

Serve over rice or pasta if desired.