Thursday, December 31, 2009

Austin 63-Way Chili: Part Chili, Part Mole, Entirely Delicious

It's been chilly here in Yankee Land. JG and I decided to combat the weather (and our raging colds) with our very own Austin 63-Way Chili. It's a hybrid of the Cincinnati chili favored by his Missouri relatives [where the number refers to how you order it and we usually made it 3-Way, with cheese, over pasta] and Mexican mole. It's a smokey, earthy, wholesome, stick-to-your-ribs treat that gets even better as it ages.

I get positively giddy about leftovers.
Why 63? Well, I don't remember exactly. We came up with a list of toppings and foundations [which has since been expanded] and JG somehow came up with variations totaling 63 to the 3rd power... but that was too long for a name, obviously. We also opt for condiment bowls so everyone tops their own; numbers other than 63 have no meaning in this context so don't ask me what 52-way is -- it's just its name.
If you're leery about chili over pasta, think of it as really thick spaghetti sauce. If you're leery about chocolate powder and spices in your spaghetti sauce, remember this is not actually spaghetti sauce; it's a chili-mole hybrid.

See? Nothing to be afraid of here.

Recipe: Austin 63-Way Chili
Part Chili, Part Mole, Entirely Delicious
Can you tell I just use a couple measuring spoons when I'm making up a recipe? I highly recommend combining all the spices in a small bowl and the wet ingredients in a larger one before you begin browning the meat or soy substitute. You can prep the condiments while the chili is cooking.
I've done this in the pressure cooker, reducing the broth to 1/2 cup and cooking at pressure for 12 minutes. I think you can do this in a slow cooker, but, again, you'd probably need to reduce the broth to ~1/2 cup since the lid stays on and less evaporates off.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey (or other ground meat-type product)
2 onions, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons Ancho chile powder*
2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican, 2 tablespoons if fresh)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons masa harina** (or fine ground cornmeal)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder (optional, you can also add hot sauce to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)
1 30 oz can diced or whole tomatoes, au jus
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon peanut butter (crunchy or creamy) or tahini
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

Serving Options:
1 lb. cooked whole-wheat pasta
2 lbs. oven-roasted yucca or potatoes
8 oz shredded cheese (we mostly do cotija or crumbled goat cheese, but cheddar works, too)
16 oz can black beans, drained, rinsed and warmed
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 white onion, minced
hot pepper sauce, like Cholula or Tabasco

Over medium, heat oil, add onions and meat (or faux meat), and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and meat is browned, ~6-7 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, ~1 minute. Add spices, stirring until the spices are fragrant and toasted, ~30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients, scraping the pan bottom to loosen any stuck browned bits.

Increase heat to high. As soon as liquid boils, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chili is a deep reddish-brown and somewhat thickened, ~1 hour. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve over cooked pasta or roasted tubers. Top as desired.

*Ancho chile is dried poblano. It has a much smokier flavor than the New Mexican chile powder made from dried green chiles. It's worth seeking out and since McCormick's markets it, I don't think it's too hard to find.

**Masa harina is ground corn flour treated with mineral lime, typically used for making corn tortillas. Tortillas are pureed into moles to give them body and I used the masa harina here in the same vein. Alternatively, you may omit the thickener entirely and just cook the chili
a little longer.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Roasted Kabocha, an easy side dish

Kabocha is a Japanese pumpkin [hard winter squash] with a nutty flavor and natural sweetness. It's like a more intense butternut squash with a texture almost as dense as a sweet potato. I recently saw them in the grocery store labeled "buttercup squash" and if you find them, you should definitely take a couple home. You can dice it and roast it with the skin on, and it can cook in the oven [or toaster oven] while any big piece of meat (roast, whole bird, etc] is resting before carving... it's a great side dish for a holiday meal with very little effort.
If I'm only cooking for two, [and I usually am] I'll cook just a half at a time as a super simple side dish in my toaster oven while I'm working on the stove. I'm highlighting it as a holiday side, but goes with pasta or rice dishes just as well.

Recipe: Roasted Kabocha, "Buttercup Squash"
You can add a sprinkle of whatever spice might tie it in to your main dish, maybe a little thyme or fennel seeds or crushed garlic or red pepper flakes... but it's pretty great with simple salt and pepper.
If you're doing this while a roast or bird is resting, it's better to prep the squash while your meat is still cooking so you can slide it right into the oven after the meat comes out... it won't hurt it if starts cooking before the oven's up to temp.

serves 4

1 kabocha or buttercup squash
cooking spray

Preheat [or increase] oven to 425F.

Using a sturdy knife, cut the squash half, pole to pole, and remove seeds and fibers. Halve each half and remove the stem end. Dice into ~1/4-1/2" cubes.

Cover a shallow roasting or jelly-roll (half-sheet) pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Transfer squash cubes to the pan, spray again with cooking spray, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast until deep brown spots appear ~20 minutes, stirring once halfway through, if you're not busy setting the table.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Spy

Here's a little game:

What do you see in this picture? It's not the most aesthetic picture I've ever taken, but I've been staring at it for a while and there're a _lot_ of things going on here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

La Vista

I snuck back to Texas for a week just as the snow started in Yankee Land. My brother works on a cattle ranch [remember the Beef Cake?] and we spent a little time out there. I really loved this picture of a hornet's nest on a mesquite branch... "Don't Mess with Texas," indeed.

[FYI: Mesquite is not native to Texas but was brought with the Spaniards, probably as seeds in the stomachs of their cows. Those thorns are thick and sharp enough to puncture a car tire.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Grandpa Jack's Toffee... my way.

I was looking to make a non-cookie treat and a trip through my grandmother's old recipe box yielded a card in my grandfather's handwriting for English Toffee. [As far as I can tell, it's an American creation, where "English" means slathered with chocolate.] My grandmother made a lot of sweets, but my grandfather always made the candy, using a scientific thermometer permanently borrowed from his chemistry lab to monitor the temperature of the sugar.
I grew up hearing stories about Grandpa and his chemistry candy thermometer, but I've since learned you don't actually need to take the sugar's temperature if you're making a simple caramel or toffee. It'll be at the hard crack stage once it starts taking color, so you can just pull it off the stove when it's a little lighter than you want the final candy to be and let it sit in the hot pot until it reaches that caramel brown color. It's easy, but it rarely fails to impress.

Another thing about toffee specifically is that the butter will separate out a bit, which then, in English toffee gets combined with the chocolate to make a rich top coating. I was able to reduce the butter from 16 tablespoons to 6 [browning 2 of them for more flavor] without a problem. I mean, it's still a candy made from sugar and butter, but reducing the fat never hurts.
I also have a trick to keep the chocolate from getting too soft in a warm room, but for that, you'll have to follow the recipe...

Recipe: Jack's Granddaughter's English Toffee
Grandpa's recipe calls for pecans, though it seems walnuts would be more "English".

6 Tbs butter [divided use]
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 Tbs amaretto
3 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Place a cookie sheet into the oven and set to 400F.* Oil an 8x8 metal pan close to the stove. In a heavy bottom pot, brown 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Once the butter solids turn the color of almond skins, add remaining butter, sugar, and salt, and stir until the butter melts and sugar liquifies. Boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture is a rich caramel color, just a shade lighter than desired. Stir in amaretto [mixture will sputter] and pour into the prepared pan. Wait 3 minutes for the toffee to set, then sprinkle with chocolate. Wait another ~2 minutes for the chocolate to mostly melt, then spread with an offset spatula or knife. Remove cookie sheet from the oven and place over the toffee pan. Let it sit for 3 minutes, [turn off the oven meanwhile] then remove. Sprinkle with toasted nuts and allow to cool until chocolate is firm to the touch, ~30-45 minutes. Turn toffee out of the pan and cut with a sharp knife or break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

* The pan over the top will heat the chocolate further and help retemper it... without melting your toffee. [FYI: if you're making those cookies with the Hershey's Kiss in the middle, it's also best to pop those bad boys back in the oven for a couple minutes after adding the kisses; they'll actually re-solidify faster and harder.]

Sunday, December 6, 2009


It did that thing they said it would do.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Intrepid Window Screen

Our downstairs neighbor replaced some cracked glass in the hallway window, but since it starts getting dark around 4 here in Yankee Land and he has a day job, working on it meant having a giant screen-less hole when all the interior lights were on. I was sure we were going to have a plague of moths, but the next morning I discovered that a temporary window screen had neatly installed herself from corner to corner.
You might need to click on the picture to get a clearer picture.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Sorghum syrup isn't much used outside the breadbasket states, but it's pretty popular where my parents are from in Iowa, where sorghum [a grain species that includes milo and millet] is mostly grown as livestock feed. Its taste is a little spicier and sweeter than blackstrap molasses and has a much richer flavor than dark corn syrup, though either could be used in this recipe. I've never found anyone who sold sorghum outside the Midwest, but it is available online.I grew up drizzling the syrup over my pumpkin pie -- no matter how good your pumpkin pie is, it's always improved by a little sorghum. My dad's favorite way to consume it is in the form of oatmeal-sorghum cookies, so I recently created a lower-fat, whole-grain version. Both he and my mom said they were the best they'd ever had.
Of course, I'm their only daughter, so I don't imagine they'd ever turn down my cookies.

Recipe: Oatmeal Sorghum Cookies
You can use all purpose flour in lieu of oat flour, but cake flour would be a better substitute.

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sorghum
4 T brown butter
2 T amaretto
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine flours, leaveners, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine sugars, sorghum and butter and beat until combined on medium-low speed. Add vanilla and amaretto and beat on medium speed until incorporated, then add egg and repeat. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until mostly combined. Scrape down bowl, then add oatmeal and beat until dough is evenly moist.

Drop from teaspoon onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or use a #40 scoop). Bake 12-14 minutes or until the tops look dry and the cracks look moist. They will fall as they cool.