Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mango Chili Isn't Life Changing, But It's Tasty

You know how I'm fond of saying that inspiration can come from anywhere - often from the most unexpected places?  Well my most recent inspiration wins the award for the most bizarre yet.  For the first time I was inspired by what I can only consider some kind of hallucination.

I was in Auntie El's farm market last week, wandering aimlessly around while my husband inspected and contemplated the peanut butter display.  I stopped in front of a large display of bean soup kits.  My eye wandered over the endless iterations of soup and chili.  How can there be so many types of bean and seasoning combinations?  Suddenly my eye fell on one soup in particular.  It was some kind of southwestern chili kit and I swore it said "mango chili".  Mango chili?  Now that sounded interesting.  How was the mango flavoring added to the chili?  Was there dried mango in the seasoning packet?  Was the cook supposed to add fresh mango along with the stock or water?  I picked up the bag to see exactly what is was all about.

Once I had the bag of beans in my hand, I made the awful discovery that I am surely going insane.  The label said it was Southwestern Sante Fe Chili and it said nothing at all about mangoes.  I had imagined the whole thing.  I couldn't even figure out where I might have even mistakenly seen the word mango in there.

Maybe I'm not crazy.  Maybe it was some kind of divine intervention because once I had the concept of mango chili in my head, I couldn't get it out.  If it didn't exist, perhaps I should make it exist.  Quite frankly the idea of mango chili sounded too delicious not to try.

Like most of my brilliant ideas that sound so incredibly original at the time (like dulce de leche tiramisu or coconut risotto)  all it takes is two minutes on Google to find out that many other cooks have come up with a recipe before.  My method for developing this recipe was to look at all of them, and then reject them all so I could start with a completely new recipe.  There was no way I would use some of those recipes online.  They used jars of mango salsa.  I don't do jars!

I cooked ground turkey and then cooked some onions, jalapenos, and garlic.  I seasoned the onions with cumin, and chipotle powder (because mango and chipotle go together like ramalamalama ka-dingiddy-ding-da-dong).  I cooked down a large quantity of mango chunks and then added in a can of tomatoes.  I wasn't sure if tomatoes were a good idea or not, but I figured if they didn't work, I would come up with a new recipe in the future.  I used black beans instead of the pinto beans I usually use in my chili.  I just liked the idea of a darker bean against the pale mango.

I expected this chili to be epic and life-changing.  It was good, but not worth the dramatic language.  It's biggest flaw was that the mangoes weren't all that ripe.  I bought them earlier in the week expecting them to be ripe by the time I needed them, but some of them were still a bit hard.  I didn't quite get that sweet-spicy taste I was going for.  That's what I get for shopping on a Sunday night after all the best fruit has been picked over.  I will try this again for sure with sweeter mangoes.

I think this would also be excellent with pork.

Turkey Black Bean Chili with Mango

  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbl chipotle powder
  • 2 jalpeno peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 mangoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
 In a large pan brown turkey meat well over medium-high heat.  Remove turkey from pan and set aside and pour off drippings (ground turkey drippings aren't good for cooking in).  Reduce heat to low and add olive oil.  Add the onions and cook them until they are soft.  Stir in the cumin and chipotle powder.  Add the jalapenos and cook until softened.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the mango chunks and stir in the salt.  Turn heat to medium and continue cooking until mangoes are soft.  Finally stir in the beans, turkey, and tomatoes.  Cook for another hour to allow flavors to meld.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gnocchi! Ramps! Spring!

It happens every year.  The ramps arrive.  I don't see them everywhere, but I see them here and there in the farmer's markets and the fancier class of supermarket.  I have tried unsuccessfully to forage for them.  Once I see them I am sure that I must have them.  I must take advantage of such a rare and precious spring commodity.

Once I buy them, I never know what to do with them.

The two most common ramp recipes I see are pickled ramps and ramp pesto.  I never want to do what's commonly done, so I try to come up with new ideas.  I have placed fish fillets on them, wrapped it all up in parchment, and served the resulting dish to Sir Pickypants who ate he fish and discarded the ramps.  I have wrapped pork medallions in them (which had pretty good results).  Once I purchased this year's bundle of ramps I asked myself, "What else can I do?  Maybe I should just give up and make pesto."

Then it came to me.  Rather than make pesto and put the ramps on the pasta, how about I put the ramps in the pasta?  What would be a better spring dish than ramp-flavored gnocchi tossed with some semi-seasonal vegetables (they tell me at the farmer's market that asparagus is coming soon, but isn't ready yet) and butter?

My gnocchi were simple.  I made ricotta rather than potato gnocchi, which I like for their light texture.  I simply mixed them with some pureed ramps.  It couldn't be easier.  I used an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend, but I'm sure it would work just as well with regular flour.

I served them not just with the asparagus and butter, but also sage and  Italian chicken sausage (that looked a bit like anemic hot dogs.

I know the photo is terrible, but it was late and I was hungry and I just wanted to eat and not fuss with photography.  You are looking at the dish just as I was about to it eat, which I think give this post an air of authenticity, no? (I'll come up with any excuse possible for bad photography!)

I liked the ramp flavor, but I didn't like the GF flour in them.  I used Bob's Red Mill all-purpose and it gave the gnocchi a grainy texture and a bit of a bean-y flavor (aa there are bean flours in the blend).  I will definitely need to make some experiments with different flours if I want to make them gluten free again.

Ramp Ricotta Gnocchi

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • About 10 ramps
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Pinch salt
Place ramps and 1 cup of the ricotta in a blender or food processor.  Blend until the ramps are smoothly incorporated into the cheese.  In a bowl mix the ramp mixture with the remaining ricotta, egg, salt, and Parmesan.  Sprinkle flour over the ricotta mixture.  Gently mix until a workable dough forms.  You may need to add or less flour.  Roll the dough into a snake on a lightly floured surface.  Cut off 1" pieces.  Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and allow to rest in the refrigerator for a few minutes.

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil.  Place the gnocchi in the water and cook until they float to the surface.

Remove with a stainer and serve with melted butter or your favorite sauce.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cooking Off the Prairie

If I say the words, “cinnamon chicken” what comes to mind?

If you’re over 35, I would be willing to bet money that you are thinking of a certain episode of Little House on the Prairie.  You know the one I’m talking about.  A handsome young man, Almanzo Wilder, moves into town.  Predatory villain Nellie Oleson sets her sights on him and offers to cook him dinner at her new restaurant.  She asks him what his favorite dish is and he replies, “Cinnamon chicken.”  The problem is that Nellie can’t cook and is now in a pickle.   The show’s protagonist, and Nellie’s arch-rival, Laura Ingalls offers to cook the meal for Nellie.  Unfortunately for Nellie, Laura has her own agenda.  She has the hots for Almanzo as well.  Before she goes off to cook the meal, she grabs a can of cayenne pepper from her mother’s spice rack and tears off the label so no one knows it’s not cinnamon.  While cooking the chicken she ponders if she has put enough cinnamon on it, and Nellie tells her, “Then put more.”  Laura obeys.  The chicken is served and hilarity ensues.

The best punch line is that years later after Almanzo and Laura are married, Laura serves him a new chicken recipe made with lemons and tarragon.  The dish is just too strange and exotic for him and he just can’t bring himself to eat it.  He mutters under his breath, “I think I like your cinnamon chicken better.”

Little House was a show I loved to hate.  As a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, I hated the way the way the show interpreted them and changed entire chunks of Laura’s life and story.  I watched the show just to rage about how historically and factually inaccurate it was.  I also watched it because like Laura and Nellie, I too had a massive crush on the handsome Almanzo.  I might have been a bit too young for hormones, but if I had any, they would be raging for that handsome blond hunk in his tight pants.  I would gladly cook Dean Butler all the cinnamon chicken he wants and I wouldn’t play any mean jokes.

There are a few obstacles that stop me from doing this.  The first is that Dean Butler lives on the other side of the country, has no idea who I am, and we’re both married.  (Besides, recent photos I have seen of him tell me he hasn’t aged all that well – unlike me who has just become so much hotter over time and my husband is way cuter at this point.)  The other is that I have no idea what cinnamon chicken is. 
I don’t know why after all of these years I suddenly started thinking of cinnamon chicken and what could possibly go in it.  All I know is that once the memory popped back into my head, I realized I had to either find out if there is some kind of vintage recipe out there for cinnamon chicken or invent one myself.
The internet is filled with women who still remember this episode of LHOP and are making their own versions, but as far as I can tell, there is no nineteenth century authentic recipe out there.  I had to make my own.

I'm not sure Laura would approve of my new recipe.  I made a marinade of bourbon (Laura would never use that), cinnamon, honey, garlic, lemon, and…wait for it…cayenne pepper!  I left some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in that overnight.  I cooked them very simply in a pan and boiled the marinade to make a sauce. I would love to make this with whole chicken pieces in the future when I have a little more time.

Chicken came out super tender from the marinade, smelled heavenly while cooking, and had great flavor.  Love that mahogany glaze (a euphamism for "slightly burned"?)

Cinnamon Chicken for the Modern Age

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 Tbl lemon juice
  • 2 Tbl honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 Tbl olive oil, divided
Mix bourbon, lemon juice, honey, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon in reactive bowl.  Whisk in 2 tablesppons of the olive oil.  Place chicken breasts in the marinade and refrigerate several hours or overnight. 

Remove chicken breasts from marinade.  Put marinade in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan.  Place the chicken in the oil and brown well on both sides, about 5-7 minutes per side.  Add marinade to the pan and continue cooking another 20 minutes or until cooked through.