30 January 2011

Chili Isn't 'Like Water for Chocolate'

Turkey chili for the masses

My craving for turkey chili this weekend and my desire to view "Like Water for Chocolate" for the 38th or so time since it was released in the 1990s really don't have much to do with each other — other than the fact that I'm going to subject you to them both. And the fact that I plan to scarf down a bowl or two of the long-simmered goodness while I watch the best movie ever, nestled on the sofa in my orange flannel pajama pants.

If you haven't seen "Like Water for Chocolate," get thee to your favorite purveyor of films and prepare yourself to be wooed by a story of forbidden love, lust, sensual cooking, a naked horseback ride with a rebel leader, bitter sisterly rivalry (one's overly flatulent, one's all sugar and spice), a demonic mama and the dramatic consequences when one goes without satisfying a heart's desire for far too long! (one of few exclamation points you will ever see me use)

I can't wait to watch it. Again. Each time is like the first time. If you don't believe me, listen to Playboy; the mag called it "erotic and delectable."

Now on to the feasting portion of this evening's entertainment. I made my go-to turkey and bean chili this afternoon (adapted from a recipe in the November 1999 issue of Bon Appetit) — it's simmering on the stove as I write this —and corn muffins to help sop up the meat, the beans, the tomatoes swimming in their spicy — but not too spicy — bath.

This recipe is flexible. I try to balance my weekly intake of fat-laden baked goods by preparing dinners that are hearty but healthy and low-fat. If you prefer ground beef in your chili, make that substitution. If you like more heat, go for it. This recipe provides a good baseline.

I think these red bell peppers deserve a close-up, seeing as I paid $2.90 for two at the local grocer. 
Seems excessive, no?

Hearty Turkey Chili with Beans

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced (I like garlic; use less if you prefer)
2 pounds ground turkey (or other ground protein)
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
3 15-ounce cans kidney beans (or mix of kidney and black beans; I've also thrown in chickpeas on occasion), rinsed and drained
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice
3 cups chicken stock (I use homemade but low-sodium store-bought is fine)
1 smallish handful of chocolate chunks (I use bittersweet)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Heat dutch oven or other large heavy-bottom pot over medium-high flame. Saute onions, peppers and garlic in olive oil until soft. 

Turn heat to high and add ground turkey, breaking it up as it cooks; season with salt and cracked pepper. When browned, add cumin, chili powder and oregano; mix well. 

Cumin, chili powder and oregano at the ready

Add kidney beans, tomatoes, chicken stock and chocolate; stir to combine. Bring chili to a boil. Reduce heat and let chili simmer uncovered for 1 1/4 hours, stirring occasionally. Season to taste and serve with warm corn muffins.

(Recipe yields about 6 dinner-portion servings for robust eaters. Freezes well.)

Bringing it down to a simmer ...

23 January 2011

Crazy for Cardamom

Voluptuous cardamom-y goodness.

Once upon a time, in a world far less perfect than the one I currently inhabit, I baked this bread only around the holidays. I've changed my ways. There's no wrong time for cardamom bread. I made three loaves last week, and we (all two of us) have demolished them. 

Cardamom bread is a good idea anytime: as a snack with or without butter; for breakfast as is or made into French toast; in the middle of the night, hunkered over a loaf in the dark. And remember, coffee loves cardamom bread. And cardamom bread loves coffee.

It's a simple braided bread. Ingredients are below. I'll be back later to add my method.

Cardamom Bread (1 loaf)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 large egg
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur's)
3-4 teaspoons ground cardamom (this is a matter of personal preference; if you have whole cardamom pods, use 4 or 5 pods — remove seeds from pods and crush with a rolling pin)
2 teaspoons yeast
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
a sprinkling of granulated sugar

It is now later.

(Truth time: I used instant dry yeast for this recipe. I had never used it before, so bear with me, but somehow the stuff ended up in our cart at a nearby wholesale warehouse establishment that will remain nameless. "Somehow" meaning that in my free-food-sample-induced craze while roaming the aisles, I blindly threw the jumbo pack into our otherwise well-thought-out mix of goods. And as it looks like instant dry yeast will be in my pantry for months, if not years, into the future, here's to using it with a smile on my face.)

Combine butter cubes with milk and microwave for a minute (if no microwave, melt butter into milk in a saucepan over low heat). 

Add milk/butter combo to bowl of stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment along with 1 egg, sugar, salt, cardamom and 1 cup flour. Mix until combined.

In separate bowl, mix instant dry yeast with remaining 2 cups flour (for 30 seconds, according to the Fleischmann's package).

With mixer running, gradually scoop flour/yeast mixture into other ingredients to combine.

Switch to the dough hook and knead on low for about 4-5 minutes (or knead by hand —much more rewarding).

Place dough in a greased bowl (a deep one) and cover with plastic. Leave to rise at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (My house averages about 55 degrees, so I cheated and left my dough to rise in a warm oven.)

Divide dough into 3 parts and roll into ropes. Place on a baking sheet, cover with a cloth and let rest for about 10 minutes.

Braid the dough, then let rise (covered) for another 45 minutes.

Whisk 1 egg with 1 tablespoon milk to make glaze; brush over braid. Sprinkle sugar over top. (You will have leftover glaze; go glaze something else.)

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or so. (Tap the bread with your finger; it is done when it sounds hollow.) 

Let cool completely on wire rack before slicing. 

(Gluttonous on occasion, never meaning any real harm, I sometimes convince myself that the bread is cool enough to have a go with me and my knife a wee bit prematurely. Nothing bad happens. We all enjoy ourselves.)

13 January 2011

Residing at the Apex of the Muffin World

Bodacious beauties.

I need to stop making promises I can't keep (or, at least, keep in a timely manner). The Little House project has to wait a few days, sadly, as I don't have some key ingredients in my pantry. Namely lard, but give me a week or so.

What I did bake yesterday was my cardamom bread and today ... Banana Pecan Muffins (adapted from a recipe by Beth Hensperger in "The Bread Bible"). I ate one muffin pre-shoveling duties, another one post-shoveling duties. Then I started to worry about further adding to the jelly belly. Anyway, I can't get enough of these muffins with their crumbly tops. I had to freeze some just so I'd stop eating them, at least for the moment.

Banana Pecan Muffins

Crumble topping
1/2 cup sugar (I used granulated but brown would be lovely, too)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (salted would be fine, really)

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
3 super-ripe bananas
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup pecans, chopped finely (read, to within an inch of their lives — my cohorts and I don't like chunky nuts in our muffins; I pretty much ground mine in the food processor; do what you will)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease, or line with papers, 12-cup standard muffin tin (I used paper liners as my pre-World War II muffin tin does not behave when it comes to releasing baked goods).

Mash your bananas, then mash them some more. Don't worry about chunks, though; you want it chunky. Set bananas aside.

Prepare streusel topping: use a pastry blender, a fork or two knives to cut the cold butter into flour/sugar combo until you have a pebbly mixture. Set streusel topping aside.

Whisk sugar with oil until frothy. Add eggs; whisk till well combined. Set aside.

Whisk together dry ingredients (flour through cinnamon). GENTLY FOLD (yes, all caps is obnoxious and I don't mean to yell, but it's important to go easy; you don't want to overwork your batter) your wet mixture, mashed bananas and ground pecans into your dry ingredients. Use as few strokes as possible to combine everything. It will be lumpy. This is good. Lumps are lovely.

Scoop batter into muffin tray, filling each cup to just about its top.

Place 1 tablespoon-ish of streusel topping on top of each.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. They are done when your cake tester / toothpick comes out clean when delicately plunged into center of one of the muffins.

Leave in pan to cool for five minutes before releasing muffins onto wire rack to cool some more. Eat as soon as your hands can handle the heat. So good. As much as I love a slathering of butter, these really don't need it, but, again, do what you will.

10 January 2011

Perfect Marriage: Cooking & Little House

The Little House Cookbook, in all its bright orange glory.

I have long been a fan of the "Little House On The Prairie" series (the books, not the show so much, but, despite that, I've probably seen every episode). Anyway, as a child I read them and reread them, then read them again. I wanted to be Laura. I wanted to stand where she stood. It was my dream to visit all of the Little House sites, Laura's former homesteads with her family, and I finally visited some of them as an adult. You may laugh, but these trips were just about the only vacations I have ever taken. Forget island paradise. I went to Missouri.

I have no shame. This was, is, and will always be the level of my obsession.

So, you can imagine my glee when I came across "The Little House Cookbook." Researched and written by Barbara M. Walker, it features more than "100 authentic recipes of classic pioneer food — the food that Laura Ingalls and her family ate as they traveled from the woods of Wisconsin to the Dakota Territory." ... And let's not forget "Farmer Boy," Laura's future husband. That boy had it made in his mother's New York state kitchen.

Some of the recipes are from a bygone era but well worth trying out today; others are similar to what I sometimes make in my own kitchen. I'll tackle one soon and let you know how I make out.

08 January 2011


If you're looking for culinary extravagance, Glop is not for you. It is a simple, comforting down-home medley of flavors, baked in the oven. I refuse to call it a 'casserole.' It is Glop, and I love it. 
I've been eating Glop for years. The recipe came to me from my friend Bonnie, a wonderful home cook who seriously underestimates the beauty and goodness of Glop. It's just rice, chicken, sour cream, mushrooms, white wine, onions, oh-so-many good things baked together in the oven, but you'll want to curl up to a dish of it again and again and again. The Glop is that good.

2 whole chicken breasts
bay leaf, parsley, garlic, any other delights you'd like to taste with your chicken
1 large onion, sliced thin and sauteed in butter
8 mushrooms (baby portobello, button, whatever kind you want; I usually use a lot more than 8, though), sliced and sauteed in butter
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup white wine (that you would be happy to drink)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (the most glamourous of ingredients)
1 cup long grain rice (uncooked)
salt and pepper (to taste)

Cook chicken with herbs and garlic (boil, roast, whatever you want); let it cool, then debone and shred chicken into bite-size pieces. Combine chicken with all of the other ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Put in greased baking dish and bake covered at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. 

(P.S. I usually double the recipe so that I have a bunch to freeze.)

So. ... I tried.

Don't mind the glare. Or the flour dust on the shelf.

We were surrounded. For weeks. By cookies. Crisp and buttery. Rich and fudge-y. Crumbly and chewy. Gloriously fattening. They were all there, for a long time. After New Year's I thought I wouldn't want to see, let alone bake, another cookie for a while. Six whole days went by before I decided I needed one of them (really, I thought I could go longer). That's when I made these chubbers: Bittersweet Chocolate Chunk Cookies.