Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Now, About that Winning Chili Recipe…

So sorry to keep you waiting! I got sidetracked by Life - you know, big stuff like…. getting engaged!!!!

And then my dear old dog Spider suffered a near-death experience and we thought for sure she wasn't going to make it. But judging by how shamelessly she continues to beg and how boundlessly she still runs up & down the stairs, I'm happy to say that she seems to want to stick around for a little while longer, and I'm thrilled and thankful for that!

So the news is good all the way around, yes it is! It's a win-win-win situation. Now let's get to talking about that winning chili recipe, shall we?

First things first - the recipe was inspired by this link: a very detailed recipe and worth reading!

And second things second - I cooked the beans using this method. And of course, it's ok to use canned beans if that's what suits your fancy.

As for the dried chiles, you can find them at your local Mexican market. And also, you can vary them if you desire. I used the ones I had on hand it it happened to turn out perfectly.

You'll see that the recipe calls for fresh habanero chiles, frozen. The reason for freezing them is because it mellows the heat significantly, and that's why you can use so many of them in one recipe without burning your pants off. And you can certainly use less or leave them out if that's how you like it!

And lastly... the recipe calls for Marmite. I've always thought of that as some weird thing my friends from across the pond like to keep in their cupboards. But let me tell you, it really adds something essential and robust to this chile paste, and I would not leave it out! In fact now I'm a little obsessed with finding other recipes in which to sneak a little Marmite!

And now, without further adieu…

Val's Award Winning Chili Recipe

2 dried chile California - with seeds

2 dried chile New Mexico - with seeds

2 dried chile de Arbol, seeds removed

1 1/2 T. cumin seeds

1 1/2 T. coriander seeds

1 t. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 T. coffee beans, very finely ground

1 star anise

2 T. tomato paste

2 medium pasilla chiles, diced

2 medium red bell peppers, diced

4 medium green bell peppers, diced

5 habanero chiles, frozen

2 onions, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 T. oregano

4 cups vegetable stock

2 t. soy sauce

1 t. marmite

2 bay leaves

1 28 ounce can tomato puree

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup tequila

15 cups beans - I used a combo of black, pinto, kidney and white beans. *See notes below.

1-3 T. brown sugar

Seed the New Mexico & Arbol chiles, and then toast them, along with the unseeded California chiles, in a hot skillet for about 1 minute or so on each side, just until they start to brown and smoke a little, and then set aside.

Toast and grind the cumin & coriander seeds and the star anise, and set aside.

Bring 1 cup of the stock to a boil in separate pan and add the toasted chiles and 1 habanero pepper. Simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by about half.

Put this liquid/chile mixture, along with the toasted chiles and ground spices into a food processor or blender and add the ground coffee, cocoa powder, tomato paste, soy sauce and the marmite. Blend into a paste and set aside.

Fire roast the other 4 habaneros and then finely dice them. Easiest way to do this is to put them on a skewer and hold them over the flame on your gas stove, turning occasionally, until they start to blister & blacken.

Next up: saute' the diced onion in a couple tablespoons olive oil for about 8-10 minutes until starting to soften. Then add the fresh diced fresh chiles, oregano and garlic.

Add the diced roasted habaneros and the chile paste to the onions & peppers. Heat at medium high until the paste starts to sizzle & coat the pan. Then add the other 3 cups of stock and 2 bay leaves, plus the beans (see below), 1 28 oz. can tomato puree, 1/4 cup cider vinegar and 1/2 cup tequila. Don't forget the salt - I must have easily added a good tablespoon, but just do it to taste, adding a little at a time and letting it absorb fully into the chili. Cook until it's done! This should take 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, over very low heat. Once it's done, add the brown sugar to your liking. It'll be even better the next day!

* I used all beans that I'd cooked in advance until *just* done - did not cook until terribly tender because the beans cook more in the chili. Here's the combination of beans I used:

6 cups black beans

2 cups pinto beans

4 1/2 cups kidney beans

2 1/2 cups cannellini beans

And that's it! Now that you've made your chili, it's time to enter it in a contest… or just invite 20 or so of your friends to come over & help you eat it! Either way, you can't lose!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Full of Beans!

So as per my last posting, I've been crazily cooking dried beans in an effort to find out just how the hell it is that you really cook dried beans.

For years, I've been cooking beans from scratch but the results have almost always been entirely inconsistent. The same pot might have some beans that are perfectly tender, some that are overcooked to the point of exploding, and a few that are bordering upon raw. I mean, what the hell?!! They all cooked in the same pot! How could this be?

I have always cooked my beans slowly, at a low temperature, and more often than not, I soak them. I have always gone with the recommended standard of not adding salt until the beans are tender. But it never seemed to matter. I longed to be able to turn out the kind of beans in my kitchen that I'd get when I would go to a local Mexican restaurant and order a side of whole pinto or black beans: plump, perfectly tender and full of flavor, and with a velvety skin. Why couldn't I EVER achieve that kind of result in my own kitchen?!

Naturally, I turned to the experts but that only resulted in more frustration. Even Alice Flipping Waters says to just cover the beans with water and cook until they're done! Rick Bayless says that true Mexicans don't soak their beans, and that the key is to just cook the beans in massive quantities. Well, that might work for a restaurant but it's not necessarily practical for the average home cook. I consulted the Dona Tomas cookbook and the Joy of Cooking. Everyone seems to act like it's just natural to easily cook dried beans, as easy as breathing!

What the HELL?! I just couldn't accept that. I started asking around. A couple of my dear friends, Jamie and Kathleen, who happen to be fantastic cooks, admitted that they have the same problem with dried beans. They never cook quite right. I was sad to hear this but it also made me feel validated. Maybe I'm not just a complete bean-cooking idiot.

So I started poking around on the internet, consulting food science writing on the matter, and growing more and more frustrated. Most sources seemed to say it was simple - soak the beans (or don't), cook and don't add salt until the end. In fact, most sources say you'll ruin the beans if you add salt too soon - that it would in fact make the skins rupture before the beans were really done.

But then I stumbled upon a chili recipe which made the outrageous claim that you not only soak the beans with salt, but that you also add the salt when you cook them, right in the beginning. This was contrary to most everything I'd ever read, but I was willing to try anything at this point!

Right around the same time, I also found an article claiming that in order to make fool-proof, perfect beans, without even soaking, that you first boil them on the stove and then finish them in the oven. And I tried this method, both with soaked and un-soaked beans. And the soaked beans definitely had the best texture of any bean I'd ever cooked, but they still tasted a little bland.

So then, I tried first soaking the beans WITH salt, and then boiling and cooking them in the oven WITH salt, and lo and behold, I ended up with the most perfect batch of beans I'd ever cooked in my life. Tender and delicate but by no means mealy. Plump and juicy, salty and smooth, with hardly any beans having split open. Again... What the HELL?! It's contrary to what everyone says, but at this point, I couldn't care less! Because I've made several batches of beans this way now, and they've been by far the best beans I've ever cooked. And people, I have cooked a LOT of beans!

So here's my take on how to cook the most succulent dried beans:

First, soak your dried beans 8 hours or overnight in plenty of salted water. I don't measure much - if I have like a cup or two of dried beans, I add a teaspoon or so of salt. If I've got something closer to a pound, I might add closer to a tablespoon of salt.

After soaking, discard the soaking water and pre-heat your oven to 250. Put the beans in a heavy duty pot that has a fitted lid. Cover with fresh water by about an inch or so. Add more salt and any aromatics. Depending on the type of bean, I usually like to add half an onion, some crushed garlic cloves, a carrot or two, a bay leaf and either a splash of olive oil or a cheese rind - yes, a cheese rind! Adds a nice rich, salty depth.

Bring the beans to a boil on the stove. Once boiling, turn off the stove and put the beans into the pre-heated oven with the lid on the pot. Start checking after 45 minutes or so - depending on how long you've soaked, them, they may be ready that soon or they may take as long as 90 minutes. Recently I cooked black beans that took about 90 minutes - and they were hands down the most perfect pot of black beans I'd ever cooked - as good as the beans I'd get in the local Mexican restaurant, finally!! Cannellini beans using the same method only took 45 minutes until they were meltingly tender. Red kidney beans took about an hour. So you'll need to pay attention, but it's worth the effort, I tell you! I'll never go back to cooking beans the old way.

So that's more than my two cents on beans. Next up, I'm going to post my recipe for chili which features a big damn lot of beans! And yes, it's ok to use canned - I wouldn't blame you a bit if you opted for that - but in case you feel like using beans that you cooked from scratch (and saving a whole lot of money in the process, I might add!), then I urge you to try making them this way. And also, I'd love to hear about your results, too!

Happy bean making, friends! Stay tuned for that chili recipe!

Monday, November 15, 2010

We Are the Champions!

If you've been reading this blog for a couple of years, you may recall that one time, I tied for second place in a chili cook-off.

This event is always a blast, a wonderful good time featuring music and food and drink to benefit the Mother Ann Wright Foundation - a grass roots organization that feeds hundreds of people in need, every single day of the year.

Winning anything at all should have been thrilling, right? But honestly, I take my cooking seriously - a little TOO seriously, some might say, because instead of being excited that I won second place, I was sore that I didn't win first place. I mean, come on! It's a benefit, for crying out loud! A benefit to feed the homeless! What the hell was wrong with me?! Believe me, I asked myself that a lot around that time.

Fast forward to this year. I was excited to make chili just for the fun of making chili. I'd recently been on an insane quest to figure out the perfect method for cooking dried beans, and I think I've finally found it! That's going to require a separate post entirely!

In my quest to find the perfect way to cook beans, I stumbled upon this chili recipe, which looked amazing. But I wanted my chili to be veggie this year, so I decided to adapt it.

More importantly, I decided to make the chili just for the sheer enjoyment of it. I remembered my insane disappointment from not winning previously and knew that I couldn't let myself go to that place, and so I didn't. I just made the chili and served it up with no attachment to winning or even caring about winning.

But, guess what?

I WON!!!

Sure was thrilling to snag that trophy!

And I have to send out serious kudos to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats, for the original recipe was his... and he freely encourages folk to use it as a starting point and adapt as they see fit, and so I did. I'll post my recipe soon, but first I have to do a separate post about cooking dried beans, so stay tuned, friends!