Monday, November 14, 2016

A Sweet New Chili For Chilly Days

When people say they love fall, do they include the month of November?  When I think about November, I can't relate it to the basic blather about fall leaves and crunchy air.  November is just a cold, dark, prelude to winter.  Daylight Saving Time is over and every day grows painfully shorter.  The pretty leaves have fallen from the trees.  The weather is cold and sometimes even wintry.  Other than Thanksgiving, November has few redeeming qualities (unless you are one of my friends who was born in November of course).

Food bloggers are eternal optimists though.  Whatever unpleasantness exists outside, a food blogger will always spin it as inspiration to cook.  Is the weather cold and the sky dark?  Well that's all the more reason to cook up comfort food.  If the only fresh vegetable available is a root vegetable, let's find a creative way to cook it.

As a master cynic who tends to shun the cliches of the season, I'm not immune to the need for comfort food on a cold dark day.  I spend my weekends outdoors no matter what the season and I appreciate a warm, heavy, meal at the end of the day. 

Since I am out all day on weekends, my slow cooker has been helpful in allowing me to eat more home-cooked meals.  It used to be when I would come home from a long day with the horses, I wouldn't feel like cooking. That meant putting on decent clothes and going back out into the cold to a restaurant.   My slow cooker makes it possible for me to sit down to a hot meal with no waiting and I can wear what I want and stay warm.  It can be challenging coming up with new recipes for it.  How many times can I make my standard turkey chili?  (Not enough if you're my husband.  My standard turkey chili is one of his favorites.)

Chili is such an easy dish to make and it offers so many variations (unless you're a Texas chili purist and I am cool with that).  I am so picky about how I like my chili that I don't go too far from my standard formula.  When trying to come up with a new chili recipe, I do try to remember what my standards are for chili and how will the recipe follow them.

1.  It must be meaty (unless I'm making a vegetarian chili of course).
2.  It must have a thick, substantial sauce.  I want a stew and not Sloppy Joes.
3.  It must be spicy
4  It can't contain vegetables other than tomatoes, onions, garlic, and hot peppers. Most vegetables turn limp, slimy, and unappetizing after long cooking.

There are many regional variations for chili and I doubt I'll ever really know them all.  I know Texas chili is made from stew meat cooked in hot peppers with no beans.  I know Cincinnati chili is made with ground meat and sweet spices and served over spaghetti.  Until recently I never knew Vermont had its own version of chili.  It was no surprise it featured Vermont's most famous ingredient - maple syrup.

What chili recipe would scream "Fall Comfort Food" more than one made with maple syrup?  (Don't say a chili recipe with pumpkin or butternut squash please.) Even though I say I don't like my chili to be sweet, I became curious about a sweet-spicy chili.

 In order to be more health conscious in recent years, I usually double the amount of beans and cut the meat in half (reversing my classic recipe).  For this recipe I put a little meat back in.   I only used one package of turkey, but I added some sweet sausages. There is a vendor at my local farmers' market who makes the most creative homemade sausages.   I used smoky spices to complement the sweetness and did not add my traditional lethal mix of hot peppers.  Some dried chili powder and a single jalapeno were sufficient.

I added a bit of Jack cheese (leftover from the tortilla frittata night) and served some necessary homemade cornbread on the side. 

I find after I spend time cooking something new, I have a hard time tasting it objectively.  My taste buds grow weary after hovering over the same pot.  I wasn't sure this tasted too different from my regular chili recipe.  I didn't think the sweetness of the maple syrup and the smokiness of the spices came through.  My more objective husband assured me this didn't taste like my regular chili, but that it did taste good.

Spicy Sweet Maple Chili

  • 1 Tbl oil 
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers (according to taste) seeded and chopped
  • 1lb ground turkey meat
  • 4 links sweet sausage (such as apple breakfast sausage) cut up into chunks (fresh or pre-cooked)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbl chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 4 cloves garlic 
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 20 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • Salt to taste
Heat oil in a large pan.  Add onions and cook until they soften.  Add the cinnamon, paprika, and chipotle powder and stir to coat the onions.  Cook until very fragrant.  Add the garlic and jalapeno and continue cooking until the pepper softens a bit.  Add the sausage if you are not using pre-cooked sausage and cook until lightly browned.  Add the turkey, breaking it up as you put it in the pan and cook until browned.

Mix together maple syrup and tomatoes.  Add these to the pan along with the beans.

You can continue to simmer this on the stove top for another hour, or transfer to a slow cooker and let it cook on low for 4 hours.  Serve with shredded cheese and a side of cornbread.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Return of Casual Friday - Tortilla Frittata

I noticed I haven't done a Casual Friday post for a long time.  For those of you unfamiliar with this type of post, Casual Friday is the kind of meal I make on a Friday evening when I have to cook, but don't want to make a huge effort.

Frittata is one of my go-to meals for when I don't feel much like cooking.  There are few things simpler than throwing some eggs and tasty bits of this and that in a pan.  This week I decided to have some fun and use something other than the standard vegetables and cheese.  I went with a Mexican theme and added whole tortillas.

I left the tortillas whole creating a sort of layered dish.  I would almost call this an egg-adilla, but that just sounds too corny.  Besides, unlike breakfast burritos or quesadillas, I had tortillas in the eggs and not eggs in the tortillas.

For my version I used (store-bought) fresh salsa made with tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro along with plenty of Monterrey Jack cheese.  For my husband's  serving, I just used the salsa.  I think you could also do some sauteed peppers, onions, and tomatoes, or beans (whole or refried), or chorizo.  Really just add whatever you want to add.

I suppose if I cut the tortillas into strips this would more closely resemble migas, but I liked the aesthetic of a whole tortilla.  In order to keep the tortillas centered within the egg, I cooked one serving at a time in a small pan.

I'm not going to give an actual recipe because this is a truly free-from dish.   However, I will show how I did it and hope I can provide some inspiration for your future Casual Fridays.

I heated some oil in a small pan over medium heat and added my first tortilla layer in the pan.  Salsa and cheese went on top of the tortilla.  Yes, I know I should have shredded my cheese.  It's Friday and I don't want to be bothered.

I put a second tortilla on top of the salsa layer and repeated the process with more salsa and cheese.  Then I capped it off with one more tortilla and a bit more cheese.

I added 3 eggs to the pan over the top of all the tortillas.  It would look  more charming if the eggs didn't flow around the tortilla stack, but how a food looks is irrelevant on Casual Friday.

I let the eggs sit for a while.  When the edges were set, I would lift the edge up and tilt the pan to allow the uncooked eggs on top to flow to the bottom of the pan and cook.

 Once most of the excess liquid egg was gone from the top I put the frittata under the broiler for 3 minutes until set, puffed, and golden.

Invert on a plate for a pyramid effect and put a bit more salsa on top.

Eggs, gooey, cheese, spicy salsa, and the corn flavor of tortillas.  It's a great and easy combination.