Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to seed a pomegranate without looking like American Psycho

When I was little, I remember those October days in the vegetable garden of my grandfather, with his German shepherds peacefully laying at our feet, soaking up the dying sun, while my granddad fed me the seeds of a pomegranate. My granddad died when I was very little, and this is one of the couple of memories I have. He didn't pass me on his secret on how to get the seeds out of a pomegranate without making a mess.

I have often tried to eat pomegranate, but I am an impatient asshole, so I ended up getting very annoyed at the mess I made trying to liberate the seeds from that nasty membrane that holds them. So I had given up, and haven't eaten a pomegranate in, like, 20 years, probably more.

But I now, thanks to reddit, I have found these two videos that explain two different methods of getting the seeds out of a pomegranate without making a mess: my favorite is the first method, although the second is more elegant (but if you care about being elegant when getting pomegranates' seeds, then you don't deserve to eat one). Anyway, I guess I will be eating a pomegranate very soon now.

Method 1 (I hate his accent, but I like his style): go to minute 23, second 27, or just click here.


Method 2:

c

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving: the (fake) origin of a unifying American myth

First Thanksgiving, by Brownscombe
The last Thursday of November (this year it will be in exactly one week, on November 25), Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a holiday that Americans feel more than Christmas, or at least this is my perception. I guess this is because it is directly related to an important moment in their recent birth as a nation. Or is it?

The official story says that the First Thanksgiving was held in 1621, when pilgrims who had arrived to Plymouth were saved from starvation by the intervention of sympathetic Native Americans, who fed them with wild game and corn. Thus, every year, the last Thursday of November, Americans reenact that unifying moment with their friends and family, cooking that same meal of that First Thanksgiving of so long ago. Alas, this is a fabricated story, invented by a writer in the XIX century, or so says historian Andrew F. Smith in an article called The First Thanksgiving, published in 2003.

Thanksgivings (i.e. prayers to give thanks for a certain thing, like a good harvest, a providential rain, the end of a plague), were celebrated in many communities of the British colonies in America. They all involved community prayers, but there wasn't a specific annual festivity, nor a specific theme. And most certainly, these celebrations were not done to commemorate a First Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims. The first time such a thing as a First Thanksgiving was mentioned was in a letter from 1841 (i.e. 220 years after the alleged facts): the writer talked about a three-day event which had been held in 1621 to celebrate a very good harvest. According to Mr. Smith, though, this letter was a sort of a commercial to convince more people from England to come and live in the US. A bit like when we see advertisements of troubled, but far away beautiful countries on TV...

By that date, though, the series of events that would have turned a non existing event into THE major American celebration had already been set in motion. In 1827, Sarah J. Hale had published the novel Northwood: a Tale of new England, in which there was a chapter with a detailed description of a Thanksgiving dinner with a roasted turkey, pickles, preserves, pumpkin pie and gravy. Basically, she had created from scratch what would then become the standard reference for the American Thanksgiving dinner.

Ms. Hale's novel was very successful, and as a result, Ms. Hale became the editor of a very influential publication of that time, the Godey's Lady's Book. In that capacity, Ms. Hale actively campaigned to convince the Government to establish a national Thanksgiving holiday for the last Thursday of November. Her efforts were finally crowned with success in 1863, when President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November a national Holiday for Thanksgiving.

What is interesting to notice is that not even Ms. Hale had made the connection between Thanksgiving and an alleged First Thanksgiving in her novel. She only started to talk about it in a 1865 editorial of Godey's Lady's Book, so AFTER the national holiday had been established. In a couple of years though, that connection will be reprinted almost in every magazine, becoming a (wrong) common knowledge. This turned very handy also to assimilate the seemingly never ending influx of immigrants coming from non-English speaking countries: the 1621 Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving gave a simple story to teach in school, while at the same time creating a unifying moment for a new Nation that desperately needed it: the Pilgrims came to identify the ideal of liberty that so many immigrants were looking for in America, and thanksgiving became the moment in which a whole nation declared thanks for all it got.

Freedom from Want, 1943, Rockwell -
The perfect Thanksgiving dinner
But surely at least the tradition of the turkey was not invented from scratch, right? Alas, wrong again. Evan Jones, in the book that I have already mentioned, American Food, says that the first Thanksgiving dinner of 1621 was with "venison, roast duck, roast goose - no turkey has been reported - clams, eels, wheat and corn breads, leeks, watercress, wild plums, homemade wine".

So, is it all fake? Yes and no. Every country has its fake unifying myths (Italy is full of it): that doesn't make the celebrations less intense.. .The feeling and the unifying spirit that unite Americans on this holiday is real, you can feel it in the air, you can hear it in all the discussions of colleagues planning trips back home, or going to choose the turkey two weeks in advance... This is an occasion to meet with your far away family and friends and just be thankful. Or, if you really hate you family, it is the perfect occasion to kill them all in one shot, as a gentleman from Florida proved last year.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rabbit with cherry beer and dried cherries - a Belgian delight

If you are among those that are reading this blog since its very beginning, you will remember that back in March I had talked about how butchers and supermarkets' employees looked at us with disdain and horror when we were asking for rabbits to cook at home. We don't sell bunnies, a Whole Foods' employee said to us, treating us as if we had asked for a child's frozen limb.

Anyway, last weekend we finally got our rabbit, at Paulina's meat market in Chicago. It was ridiculously expensive ($30 for a 3lb frozen little beast!!!), but at least we got it. And I am told you can find it a lot cheaper elsewhere. Good to know. My wife cooked it Belgian style, with cherry beer and dried cherries. And it was PHENOMENAL. I am not a huge fan of rabbit: I eat it when it is there, but I will not go out of my way to find it, and I will rarely order it at a restaurant. But this recipe is really to die for. True, this blog is about my discovery of American food...but I guess that a Belgian recipe cannot do any harm, can it? So you will find it below.

The secret of the sauce - and of the whole recipe - lies in the beer: you must use a Kriek, which is a Belgian cherry lambic, spontaneously fermented, made from wheat, malted barley and fresh black cherries. This is essential, because it is the cherries that give the beer its flavor. The most famous Kriek in Belgium are the Belle-vue and the Lindemans brands, which you can find here in the US in specialty liquor stores, susch as Binny's. Whole foods has another imported Belgian kriek, called St. Louis (this is the one we used last Sunday). If you have the chance to live in Wisconsin, you will be able to buy the New Glarus Belgian Red, which is the Wisconsin's Kriek, made with Wisconsin's cherries. It is delicious, albeit a little sourer than the Belgian Bellevue (which is my favorite). If you live around Chicago, you should consider going to New Glarus just for a day, because the beer and the little village are worth it.

If you do not have a Kriek, you can use a normal Trappiste beer, and follow the same steps, just by adding some dried apricots at the place of the dried cherries. The dish will taste completely different obviously,because you will be making an entirely different recipe, i.e. a Rabbit a' la trappiste. Which is also good. But not as good as the recipe below.


Tuscan Foodie's wife's Rabbit with cherry beer and dried cherries
DOWNLOAD OR PRINT THIS RECIPE

The final product, in my plate, served with red cabbage in apple sauce

SERVES 4
  • 3lb (1.5 kg) of rabbit, cut in 8 pieces  
  • 3 TBS 
  • (50g)
  • butter 
  • 7oz (200g) of pancetta (you can use bacon, but it has a stronger flavor)
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped in quarters
  • 1 large bottle (750cc) of Kriek cherry beer
  • 2 tablespoons of dried cherries (or cranberries)
  • 1 TBS all purpose flour
  • salt and pepper
  1. If you find the rabbit fresh at a butchery, you can ask the butcher to cut it for you...and go to step 2 of this recipe. If, as it was our case, you get the rabbit whole, you need to cut it first. This was actually my contribution to the dinner. If you have never done it, don't worry: it is easy and it is not as disgusting as it may seem. I actually had fun. You will need to lay the rabbit on its back, cut it open, remove the liver, the kidneys, and the heart. Save the kidneys, but throw the heart and the liver (you can also use the liver in the recipe, to add flavor to the dish, but personally I don't like the taste of liver). Google how to cut a rabbit, and you will find plenty of videos, such as this one
  2. Melt the butter in a dutch oven (or in a deep pan that can contain a lot of liquid). Chop the pancetta in strips 1 inch long and 0.5 inch wide (2cms/1cm). When the butter is melted, add the pancetta, stir it, and let it cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the fat melts. When the strips of pancetta are cooked, take them out of the dutch oven. 
  3. Increase the fire and put in the pieces of rabbit in the dutch oven to sear them, 1-max 2 minutes per side. If the dutch oven is too small, you will need to do this in batches. When the rabbit is well browned, throw in the pancetta, the onions, the dried cherries, and pour the entire beer into the pan. The beer should almost cover the rabbit. If it doesn't, that's not a problem: as long as there is a lot of liquid in the pan, you can just turn the pieces of rabbit once every ten minutes. 
  4. Bring to boil, and then reduce the fire to a simmer, and let it cook covered for 45 minutes approximately. You will need to check: you don't want to overcook the rabbit, but you want it to be done. The right moment is when you can easily start to take the meat off the legs of the rabbit with a knife and fork. But you DON"T want it to look like pulled pork. 
  5. If you think that the sauce is too liquid, you can add 1 TBS flour towards the end of the cooking, so that the sauce thickens. 
  6. Once it is ready, plate and serve. We had it with red cabbage in apple sauce, but it is good with a side of mushroom, green beans or potatoes. Note that every piece of rabbit will be of a different consistence and taste, with the legs being the tougher parts, and the belly being the softest and leanest. 
  7. To reheat, DO NOT use a microwave, or the rabbit will taste very bad. Just let it simmer again in the dutch oven. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A hot toddy, please

In my deep dive into American food, I feel that I have so far neglected the beverage aspect of things. Yes, I have dicovered - and appreciated - root beer and cream sodas, and Wisconsin's New Glarus beers. But still, I haven't really explored the spirit(ual) side of things, and so I have decided to take classic American drinks every time I can. Last Sunday it was the Hot Toddy. 

Hot Toddy is a drink served warm, where a spirit (normally brandy, but it can also be bourbon, whiskey or rum) is mixed with hot water or tea, sugar, honey, lemon and a few spices (a stick of cinnamon, cloves, all spices). As mulled wine in Europe, the hot toddy is often served at ski resorts in America to heat you up. But it is stronger than mulled wine, because the alcohol in it is stronger. And it tastes DELICIOUS. 

As with many things related to food, the origin is complicated. There exists a cold Toddy, which apparently was imported into the Southern States of the US from India by the then British rulers. According to this version of the story, the name derives from the Indian word tari. However, most seem to agree that the US version of the Hot Toddy comes from Scotland, where it is still made, using whiskey (the name comes from Tod's well in Edimburgh, where the water came from). Irrespective of the origin, Hot Toddies caught on quickly in America, and commended a specific glassware, a specific stemmed glass with a handle, whose name is also "toddy". 

For a long time, hot toddies were considered to be good for curing colds and flues. Unfortunately, it turns out that alcohol dehydrates you, so in the end it wasn't such a good idea. But still, for those long winter days that are ahead of us, a hot toddy sounds like a good idea. The recipe is very simple: 

Hot Toddy
3/4 of a glass of hot tea (experiment with the flavor you like)
2 shots of brandy (or whiskey or bourbon)
1 stick of cinnamon
1 tbs of honey
A few allspices berries, whole

Mix and be merry. And if you want more recipes of similar beverages, have a look at this.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Get fat and look beautiful

While looking at a book of food advertising, I came across these images from the end of the XIX century. They are a poster and an advertisement for Lorings weight-gain products, called Fat-ten-U.



And then I came across this cartoon from the New York Post.

Notice any difference? At the end of the XIX century, the message - and the underpinning ideal of female beauty - couldn't be more different from what TV and fashion magazine impose on us every day: don't look like the poor unfortunate on the left, who tries to cover her poor thin body.  

The ideal concept of female beauty has changed dramatically over time. If the Venus of Willendorf was identifying beauty with a very full figure, most of the Medieval era paintings depict Saints - women and man - that are starved to the point of anorexia. Being able to resist food, getting extremely emaciated, was considered for a long time a sign of being pious, as opposed to the sinful gluttonous. With Enlightment, the fasting practice was fronwed upon: "fasting girls" started to be considered as affected by a pathology, not as pious women.  And by the end of the XIX century, as the Loring's advertisement suggests, we are back to the ideal of beauty as a full figure woman (albeit different than the original Venus...)

When did it all change back to emaciated=hot? Looking at Marylin Monroe and at Madmen's Christina Hendricks, it seems that up until the '60s of last century, plump was still beautiful. Some point out that the androgynization of the female figure went hand in hand with feminism and the mass entry of women in the workforce: hiding your curves - or better still, NOT having curves - started to be considered the wise thing to do on the workplace. And that's probably how we ended up with the ideas that skeletons are hot.

Irrespective of what is your opinion on this, one point seems for sure: throughout history, society always seems to be dissatisfied with what women look like, suggesting that they should always look like something they are not. As for me, I would take Christina Hendricks or Jessica Simpson over Kate Moss any day.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Pimping a traditional Italian recipe: butternut squash tortelli

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I submitted a recipe (crunchy butternut squash tortelli with brown sage butter - see below) to a contest organized by Food52, a culinary and recipe blog by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Ms Hasser is the author of the recent The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, which currently tops my Christmas wishlist (I hope somebody is reading this...) 

To cut a long story short, there were more than 170 recipes submitted. I didn't win, but my tortelli were included in the "Editors' pick". Among other things, the tester said that my tortelli "are reminiscent of classic Pumpkin Tortelli and Pumpkin Amaretti Gnocchi. The filling, with its roasted squash, cheese and amaretti crumbs, has good flavor, and the substantial amount of breadcrumbs gives it enough body so that it can mound well". You can read the rest here.  

So, here is the recipe. Let me know if you try it and if you like it.

Butternut squash tortelli with brown sage butter (or Tortelli a' la Tuscan Foodie)




Click here to download or print the recipe.

Pumpkin tortelli (pronounced tortayllee) with amaretto cookies are a traditional dish from Emilia Romagna, a Northern Italian region. This version with butternut squash has a smoother and oiler flavor: the amaretto cookies complement perfectly the sweetness of the butternut squash, and the final searing of the tortelli in the pan with the brown sage butter adds a nice texture to it all. Amaretto cookies are a crunchy Northern Italian traditions, made with almonds. They can be found in all major American supermarkets. As for tortelli, they are a Northern Italian type of ravioli, made by dividing your pasta dough in two layers: on the first layer you put the filling in small batches, and you then cover it all with the second layer of dough. You then use a pizza roller or a knife to cut the various tortelli.
SERVES 4
Pasta dough and butternut squash filling:
  • 7 ounces All purpose flour for the pasta dough
  • 2 Eggs for the pasta dough
  • 18-20 ounces butternut squash, peeled and seeded (1 medium squash)
  • 1 cup Bread crumbles
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 eggs for the filling
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 2 pinches pepper
  • 1 pinch nutmeg, grated
  • 4 Amaretto cookies, reduced in crumbles
    Brown sage butter:
    • 3.5 tablespoons butter
    • 20 sage leaves
    • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated, to sprinkle on the plated dish
    1. Peel and seed the butternut squash. Cut it in 4-5 inches pieces and put them in a greased pan. Sprinkle with 2 table spoons of olive oil, cover the pan with aluminium foil an bake at 375F for 1 hour (or until the squash is tender enough to be cut with a fork).
    2. While the squash cooks, prepare your pasta dough. If you have a pasta maker, follow the instructions that came with it. If you don't, put the flouer on a working surface, shaping it like a volcano. Add two eggs, a pinch of salt, and knead for 5-8 minutes. If the dough seems too dry (i.e. there is still loose flour on the working surface) add 1 tablespoon of water. When you are done, create a ball and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes, covered.
    3. When the squash is cooked, let it cool for 5 minutes, then put it in a bowl and smash it with a fork. Add the breadcrumbs and mix. Add half of the amaretto cookies' crumbles, the 7 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese, the nutmeg, 2 eggs, salt and pepper. Mix everything together until you have a uniform mixture.
    4. Take your dough, divide it in two batches and work it either through your pasta maker or with a hand roll. You want to create two very thin layers. If the pasta is too moist, add some flour. If it is too dry, add very small quantities of water.
    5. Once you have rolled the two layers, set one aside. Use a spoon to put small batches of the filling on the first layer of dough, at a 1.5-2 inches distance from each other. Every batch should be roughly the size of a egg yolk. Once you are done, take the second layer and put it on top of the first. Cut the various tortelli in rectangular shape with a pizza roller or a knife, and seal each of them individually, by pressing and twisting the edges.
    6. Boil 4 to 6 quarts of water, and then add a pinch of salt to it. Delicately put your tortelli in the water, and let them cook for 10 minutes, stirring gently from time to time. You need to be careful not to break your tortelli while you put them in the water.
    7. While the tortelli cook, melt your butter, add the sage leaves, and let the butter become brown and the sage leaves become crispy. This should take 4-5 minutes, but you need to pay attention, as you may need more or less time.
    8. Once the tortelli are ready, take them out gently, let them drain, and then add them to the pan with the brown butter and sage, and cook for at least 3 more minutes, on a medium-high fire, stirring occasionally (the more you live them in the pan, the more they will form a crunchy crust on the outside). You want the tortelli to be coated in butter. Before taking the ravioli out, sprinkle the remaining amaretto cookies crumbles on them and give the tortelli a final stir.
    9. Plate the tortelli. Add grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately. 
    Ready to end up where they belong: YOUR stomach
    dd

    This is what the interior looks like once they are ready

    Why the Michelin guide has no place in Chicago

    Everybody seems to be very excited in Chicago about the soon to be published Michelin guide. The guide will hit the stands on November 17, and it will be the first Michelin guide for Chicago. Yesterday, Michelin announced the "bib gourmand" rating: bib gourmands are given to favorite restaurants that have a good price/quality ratio, where you can eat two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less.

    I find some of the picks absolutely laughable: the Mexican restaurant De Cero? Really, Michelin? In a city where Mexican cuisine is so vibrant, you pick de Cero? But this is not what I want to talk about here. My point is that a guide such as Michelin has no reason to be in Chicago. Full stop.

    Michelin guides and their star rating have a reason to be in countries - or cities - with a very cohesive and almost uniform type of cuisine: in cities such as Paris, Brussels, Rome, Madrid, Tokyo, a Michelin guide makes sense, because you are comparing apples to apples and pears to pears. The cuisine in these cities is 95% French, 95% Italian, 95% Spanish, 99% Japanese. When you see that a restaurant has one, two or three stars, you know that it compares to other restaurants that "belong" to the same group, to the same cuisine. You know that the rating will make sense: you will still be allowed to disagree of course, but at least there should be a logic.

    But the big virtue of a city such as Chicago (or New York) is its diverse cuisine: hundreds of different restaurants, all belonging to different culinary traditions: Mexican, French, Italian, classic American, new American, Japanese, steakhouses. How can you allot your stars when comparing restaurants so different, in the same guide? I just don't get it. If a Mexican restaurant gets one star, who have you compared it to? It doesn't make any sense.

    And don't get me started on some of these names here...(I have put the link to the few places I had reviewed. I have eaten in more, but I think reviewing restaurants is boring...).

    2011 Michelin Guide Chicago Bib Gourmand Winners
    Ann Sather
    Belly Shack
    Bistro 110
    The Bristol
    Browntrout
    Ceres’ Table
    Cumin
    deca
    De Cero
    DeCOLORES
    Frances’ Deli
    Frontera Grill
    Gilt Bar
    Girl & The Goat
    Green Zebra
    Han 202
    Hopleaf
    Jaipur
    Kith & Kin
    La Creperie
    La Petite Folie
    Los Nopales
    Lula Café
    Mado
    Mexique
    M. Henry
    Mixteco Grill
    Nana
    Nightwood
    Opart Thai House
    Otom
    Paramount Room
    Perennial
    The Publican
    The Purple Pig
    Raj Darbar
    Riccardo Trattoria
    Smak-Tak
    Smoque
    Spacca Napoli
    Taste of Peru
    Thai Village
    Twin Anchors
    UrbanBelly
    Veerasway
    West Town Tavern
    c

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Experimenting with chili con carne

    Chili con carne is a stew made with ground meat (mostly beef, but in some recipes also venison and pork and turkey, if you want to be a healthy kill-joy), cumin, chili powder, garlic, onions and chili peppers. Beans, bacon, tomatoes are options (that I all use in my recipe - see below). Although a lot of uncertainty exists on who was the inventor of this dish, one thing seems for sure: the chile con carne is not Mexican. To the point that a 1959 Mexican dictionary defined it as a "despicable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the US from Texas to New York". (Although Mexicans friends tell me they have carne con chili, which sounds indeed VERY different).

    The dish was born in Texas, most probably in San Antonio. (I wish I had a bowl last year when I was there...). It was something that cowboys could cook or heat up while marauding on their horses. From the end of the XIX century, Latino women called chili queens sold chili con carne at the San Antonio open market, until 1937, when a health ordinance put them out of business (health nazis existed at the time as well, apparently).

    I love chili con carne. This is a simple fact. My first contact with it was when I was 25, living on my own in Brussels. My girlfriend of that time had left me for some loser, and a half British half Italian friend thought that the best way to get over it was to drink my own weight in alcohol, and chat up some Scandinavian girls. Which we did, not necessarily in this order. The morning after I couldn't open my eyes, and I was in a mystical state known as "hung over". But my friend - who had slept at my house - had the solution: he took out of his bag a can marked chili con carne, he warmed it up in the microwave, and he served it to me over rice at 10am. (I never inquired why he was traveling Europe with cans of chile con carne in his bag: at the time it seemed like an entirely reasonable thing to do).

    After two bowls of this spicy, heavy concoction, my hangover subdued, and my appreciation for this stew raised enormously. And I kept on buying those cans for a few years, until my future wife repeatedly told me that it was the most disgusting thing she had ever eaten in her life, and kind of killed the joy.

    Fast forward to Chicago, 2009. I am watching the Food network, and there is this African American couple (at the time I didn't know the Neelys) cooking something that catches my eyes: it is chili con carne! They are using fresh chiles, a lot of spices and tomato, and it looks AMAZING. My love is rekindled, and I start experimenting with chili con carne, this time using all fresh ingredients, and doing the whole thing from scratch.

    The more I kept digging into several recipes, the more I understood that apparently the real chili con carne doesn't have beans. This is a big blow for me. Because - as I said here - I LOVE beans. And my first chili con carne had beans in it...and the Neelys' version had beans...But apparently there is even a song in Texas:  "if you know beans about chili, you know that chili has no beans". 

    This caused me a lot of troubles. As I said many times, it doesn't matter to me if a given dish is not exactly the real deal, provided that it is good (the Chicago pizza, for instance). But I do hate people that cook stuff that is not traditional, claiming it is traditional (carbonara with cream, for instance...). After serious consideration, I decided to continue experimenting with the bean version though, because if it now seems clear enough that the original chile con carne originated without beans, it is also clear that at some point, in San Antonio, beans were introduced in the stew, probably by people extremely poor (for a history of chili, read this). I won't claim mine is the real deal: but what I can claim though is that it is smashing good.

    Before starting to cook it, I had wrongly assumed that the backbone of chili con carne were the chiles. Not so. The real backbone is the chili powder: some recipes do not even have fresh chiles. Again, there are a lot of discussions around who invented the chili powder: a German, an English immigrant, a Mexican...who knows? But the thing is that by the end of the XIX century, this powder started to appear in Texas, and allowed the birth of a legend. And by 1977, the Texas assembly declared chili con carne the official Texas plate.

    Since I moved here, I have made chili con carne numerous times. It never comes out the same. Never. I think it is because of the fresh chiles I use: their heat varies enormously, depending on the soil they were grown on, and the time of the year. Sometimes a jalapeno will be so hot that it will be impossible to eat. Some other times, I can eat it raw, no issue. But this is my final recipe for the moment. I am very happy with this, although I am still looking for more heat. If, while experimenting, I develop an even better recipe, I will let you know. And if you have advice for me, just drop me a line.

    The Tuscan Foodie Chili con Carne recipe
    A word of caution about the chiles I use in this recipe: remember that by taking out the seeds and the veins of the chiles, you are reducing their heat by 70%... it is up to you: if you want your chile to be VERY hot, leave the veins and the seeds. If not, you can take them all out or do a mix of both. And be mindful of what I said about handling habaneros...

    Click here to download this recipe.

    Ingredients (serves 10-12): 

    - 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
    - 2 small onions, chopped
    - 4 thick bacon slices, chopped finely (optional)
    - 3 poblano (*) peppers, chopped
    - 4 jalapenos (*) peppers, chopped
    - 4 serrano (*) peppers, chopped
    - 1 habanero (*) pepper, chopped
    - 3 tablespoon chili powder (I use medium hot)
    - 1 tablespoon cumin
    - 1 tablespoon paprika
    - salt and ground pepper
    - 2 pounds (1 kilos) ground beef (I use 80/20, with 20% fat)
    - 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
    - 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    - 1 large can of tomato sauce (you can use diced tomatoes, it will be chunkier)
    - Sour cream, for garnish
    - Shredded cheddar, for garnish
    - 1 can of beer, optional

    Directions (have a look at the photos below)
    1. In a large pan (I use a Dutch oven), cook the bacon until it becomes crisp, stirring. You do not have to add any vegetable oil or butter, because the bacon will release a lot of grease. However, if you decide NOT to use bacon, you need to melt some butter. 
    2. Add all the chopped vegetables and spices: the garlic, the onions, the peppers, the chili powder, the cumin, the paprika and stir so that everything gets coated in the fat of the bacon. Add salt and pepper: don't worry at this stage, you can always add salt and pepper also at a later stage in the process. 
    3. After 10 minutes, when the vegetables are softer, stir in the meat, small batches at a time. You need to break the meat up with a wooden spoon, so that there are no large patches. It is a tedious process, but it will go relatively quickly. Cook the beef, stirring it, for 10 minutes, so that it is all broken up and it is not pink anymore. 
    4. Add the beer, if you are using it, and let it reduce (5 minutes), while stirring. Add the tomato sauce and the beans, and stir.  If you think the concoction is too dry, add some water, one table spoon at the time. Lower the heat so that the chili is simmering, and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  
    5. To serve, transfer chili to bowls and garnish sour cream and the cheddar. Remember: the chili con carne will get better (and hotter) the next day... 

    The different phases of the process...

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