Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cooking Website: Yummy Food Blog

This is my favorite food blog. I just love that girl and I hope she and I can laugh over a cup of hot cocoa someday.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cookbook: Wooden Spoon Kitchen--Meat and Potatoes

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Lately I have been thinking about my roots; about the farm I grew up on until I was twelve. I think about that farm all of the time, but lately I wonder why my connection to that land is so strong. Occasionally I ask other people what places they feel connected to, and why. D, for example, feels a strong connection to his grandparents' home, not the place where he was raised. A few weeks ago I dined with a lovely women who still calls Tooele, Utah her home, even though she left over fifty years ago and raised her family on the East Coast. What connects us to different places? What places mean something to you, and why?

I truly loved my childhood. For the past few summers, I have taken my children to this land--to let them walk around it, and offer them a sense of what my childhood was like. Last summer, while visiting this place, old friends offered to take us to my elementary school. I showed my girls all of my classrooms, the cafeteria, the gym. D had just gifted himself a camera and was busy documenting the experience. I lost track of him. Weeks later, he and I were reviewing the trip's photos, and one picture in particular made me gasp. D had taken a picture of the landscape as seen from my elementary schoolyard. His picture captured the view I saw as I rode the school bus home everyday. For Christmas, D presented me with the framed photo. Everyone in the room (my parents included) gasped when they saw it. The random visitor may not think much about the photo now hung in my dining room. But every time I pass it I am reminded of who I am and where I come from.

Why am I writing this? Because I think we are defined by what matters to us. When I think about food, I love it all. But at the end of the day, I am always inextricably drawn to food that is more comfortable than fancy, more meat and potatoes than foie gras and dark chocolate. As much as I love to cook, I want to eat simple things; many of which are in Marilyn M. Moore's book "Wooden Spoon Kitchen: Meat and Potatoes and other Comfort Foods". Moore is most famous for her book about bread, but in this book she reveals her family's basic dishes. You know how I always say I love to curl up with good cookbooks? Well, this is the one I always imagine when I say that. There is nothing fancy about Moore's book, just a lot of straightforward recipes that are yummy and comforting. I love this book. I suggest you find yourself a copy. The only place I could find it was here (mine was given to me several years ago by a very dear Aunt). And if it doesn't speak to you, I hope you find a book that does. If you do find that one special book, tell us what it is and why it is dear.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dinner: Cold Winter Chile Con Carne

Prepare yourself. I am going to brag. I won a contest today. Friends invited us over for a New Year's Day Chili Cook-Off. I entered and I won. But this entry will not be about the contest. It will be about the recipe. A few months ago, I researched and read a lot about chili. I was looking for a recipe to fulfill a lot of requirements: taste, ease, convenient ingredients, kid friendly. I finally settled on a recipe published in Cook's Illustrated book Cover & Bake (a book I like but can not fully recommend). I woke up early one morning to sear the meat and put all ingredients in the pot. D, whose sense of smell is akin to a bloodhound, came into the kitchen and asked about the spice content in the chili. I assured him the stew was not too spicy and that the other families coming over for dinner would have no problem feeding the dish to their little ones. D convinced me to make double sure. I consented. We each got a spoon and sampled the chili. Five minutes later we had finished our glasses of milk (a sure bet to clam down burning tongues) and were finding a way to rescue the meat from the wretchedly hot concoction. I was sad. I was mad that the recipe mentioned nothing about heat. I should have been warned. So, I threw out the recipe and decided to start from scratch, building a chili con carne recipe that I would look forward to eating on a cold winter day. This recipe is a bit labor intensive, but I am convinced that the thirty minutes you spend creating the dish will produce a kid friendly chili with depth as well as yumminess.

Cold Winter Chile Con Carne
(Several elements of this recipe are adapted from the Cook's Illustrated recipe "Chile Con Carne", published in Cover & Bake.)

6 bacon slices, chopped
3 pounds chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
salt and pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
6 (6-inch) fresh corn tortillas, torn into 2-inch pieces
4 cups chicken broth
3 cans (15.5 ounces each) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoon lime juice
fancy bbq sauce*

Optional toppings:
fresh cilantro leaves
sour cream
tortilla chips
corn bread
shredded cheddar cheese
minced white onion
diced avocado

Once you've trimmed and cut the roast, dry it off with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Cook the bacon in a large skillet. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked bacon to the crock pot in waiting. Reserve the skillet with the bacon grease. If you don't own a crock pot (and I know a lot of you pride yourselves on not owning one--but I can assure you--you're missing out), put the bacon in the large pot that will eventually hold all of your chili. Put the skillet with the bacon grease on medium high. Sear the diced meat in the bacon grease. When pieces are browned on all sides, transfer to crock pot. Once all the meat is seared and transfered, use same skillet to sautee onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon (sautee on medium high heat for about ten minutes, or until onions are golden. Transfer this tasty smelling mixture to crock pot. Add crushed tomatoes and two cups of the chicken broth (reserve last two cups of broth).

In a separate bowl, combine corn tortillas pieces and broth. Microwave on high for three minutes. Once heated, blend tortillas and broth either in your blender or using a stick blender (quite possibly my favorite kitchen tool).** Add corn tortilla mush to the pot and mix well. Stew chile in crock pot on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. If using the stove, simmer on low for a good part of the day (6-7 hours). Just before eating, shred the meat a bit so that no one's bowl is overwhelmed with large pieces of beef. Add lime juice and vinegar. Serve with optional toppings.

* Only add a few tablespoons of BBQ sauce if you have the right kind. My sister lives in the South and gifted me some dang good bbq sauce. We're talkin' bbq sauce that is so good that I use it as an ingredient, not as a condiment. The particular kind I use in this chili is from the Whole Hog Cafe and is bbq sauce #6--Rich Mustard and Vinegar. If you don't have a bbq sauce that really speaks to you, do not add any.

**This corn tortilla mush serves as a thickener. It seems a little weird as you are doing it, but the paste adds great texture as well as taste.

One final note about the ingredients--they are not exact. You should adjust the cinnamon, cumin, chili powder, brown sugar, and vinegar to your own tastes. That's the problem with recipes, unless we're talking about leavening products, most things can not and should not be exact. So, play with the recipe and adjust to your liking.