Right Now, For Breakfast

Kalona eggs, heirloom tomato, Ezekiel bread, sambal

I really wanted eggs and toast this morning.  But then I spied the jar of spicy, pungent sambal and realized I actually only wanted a vehicle for it's salty, sour, and hot flavor.  It turned out pretty well.

My Favorite One-Pan (ish) Meal

You can barely get away with reading any fawning, gushing interview with a contemporarily notable chef without the interviewee mentioning their 'favorite', 'desert-island', or 'when I'm home alone' dish.  It's what they make when they're off for a day, from 14 hour shifts, and it's usually Oedipal-y good.  Very often, it's roast chicken.

Thomas Keller, the king of sous-vide, advocates a simple recipe involving three ingredients: salt, pepper, and a chicken.  Set the oven to 450 degrees, salt and pepper the chicken with a blizzard of seasoning, and roast it, undisturbed, for an hourish.

An uncountable multitude of chicken-roasting opportunities has left me pretty confident in my abilities, and my go-to recipe happens to coincide with Keller's.  But why roast just the chicken in a pan, alone, without a companion?  There is plenty of seasoning, fat, and chicken jus bubbling away in that pan just begging for some vegetable matter to cook, crisp, and corrupt into a delicious chicken-vegetable hybrid.

You just need a heavy pan.  Cast iron is best, stainless with an oven-proof (no rubber or plastic!) handle will do.  All I ever aim for is some potatoes, onions, and sometimes carrots, to slowly roast, be basted by, and caramelize under the chicken.  The high oven temperature will crisp and render the skin's fat, sending a blessed, molten shower of goodness down over whatever vegetables you put under the chicken.  Toss in a few fresh herb sprigs (rosemary, in this case), and they will all tie together nicely.

I goofed, though.  I used a second pan.  My latest obsession with the Asian grocer near me in Iowa City led me to purchase a bottle of pomegranate molasses that I have been searching for a reason to use for a week.  It has a sour, sugary, perfumed aroma that is great in stews and vinaigrettes.  I also stumbled on this recipe that inspired an acidic pomegrante-y sauce the perk up this old workhorse.

One pan, more or less, and I didn't even need the cutting board.  Score.

Soundtrack: Social Distortion - Social Distortion, Babes in Toyland - Fontanelle

Lunch for Blogging

Baby lettuces, applewood smoked bacon lardons, tomato, plumcot, pomegranate molasses vinaigrette, and a fried egg.

Hatching a Plan

Fresh Hatch green chiles from New Mexico

I was pretty surprised to hear from my boss that Hy-Vee had a special display of Hatch green chiles, mostly because I had heard plenty about these peppers and how they are unavailable outside of New Mexico, and how New Mexicans pine for them, endlessly discuss them, like a Frenchman might lament the impossibility of a proper croissant au beurre here in 'Murika.  So I scooted over there and found a huge display set up advertising their short, 6-week availability and scooped up 5 pounds of them.  I knew I had to have them,  if only to encourage the surely bored produce buyers at Hy-Vee to step it up and take more chances like this.  And I could always freeze the roasted, seeded chiles to use in the unbearable dead of winter.

Tomatillos ready to be roasted into smokey goodness

There really was no contest in choosing what I was going to make: chile verde.  I knew something was missing in my life, and it was the tart, smokey, meaty liquid ecstasy that is chunks of pork simmered in a tomatillo and green chile sauce.  The chiles were roasted promptly upon my arrival back at home, along with some tomatillos and garlic, then blended together into a puree with a few fresh jalepenos.  Brown the pork in the pot, saute some onion, add it all together with some salt and pepper and a touch of smoked paprika and I could already tell I would be eating almost all 4 pounds of pork within the next day and a half.

7 roasted Hatch chiles, skinned and seeded
2 pounds of tomatillos, papery skin removed and then roasted
7 cloves of garlic, whole, roasted, then skinned
3 jalepenos, unroasted, minced
1-2 cups chicken stock

4 pounds of boneless pork butt or shoulder, or country-style ribs, cut into chunks
1 large onion, diced

salt, pepper, smoked paprika

Combine the first set of ingredients and blend until pureed.  Brown the chunks of pork in hot oil in a heavy pot, remove, then saute onion in the leftover fat until translucent.  Add everything back to the pot with a good dash of salt and pepper, and two pinches of smoked paprika, then simmer for 3 hours or more, uncovered to thicken and concentrate the chile.  It's done when the meat is starting to fall apart but not over-cooked and stringy.  Adjust the seasoning to your taste, but not before it is done cooking (otherwise the salt may concentrate to unbearable levels).

Green Chile by Jimmy Santiago Baca

I prefer red chile over my eggs
and potatoes for breakfast.
Red chile ristras decorate my door,
dry on my roof, and hang from eaves.
They lend open-air vegetable stands
historical grandeur, and gently swing
with an air of festive welcome.
I can hear them talking in the wind,
haggard, yellowing, crisp, rasping
tongues of old men, licking the breeze.

But grandmother loves green chile.
When I visit her,
she holds the green chile pepper
in her wrinkled hands.
Ah, voluptuous, masculine,
an air of authority and youth simmers
from its swan-neck stem, tapering to a flowery collar,
fermenting resinous spice.
A well-dressed gentleman at the door
my grandmother takes sensuously in her hand,
rubbing its firm glossed sides,
caressing the oily rubbery serpent,
with mouth -watering fulfillment,
fondling its curves with gentle fingers.
Its bearing magnificent and taut
as flanks of a tiger in mid-leap,
she thrusts her blade into
and cuts it open, with lust
on her hot mouth, sweating over the stove,
bandanna round her forehead,
mysterious passion on her face
as she serves me green chile con carne
between soft warm leaves of corn tortillas,
with beans and rice–her sacrifice
to here little prince.
I slurp form my plate
with last bit of tortilla, my mouth burns
and I hiss and drink a tall glass of cold water.

All over New Mexico, sunburned men and women
drive rickety trucks stuffed with gunny sacks
of green chile, from Belen, Beguita, Wllard, Estancia,
San Antonio y Socorro, from fields
to roadside stands, you see them roasting green chile
in screen-sided homemade barrels, and for a dollar a bag,
we relive this old, beautiful ritual again and again.

I wish there was a way to make chili look as good as it tastes...

Me and my prize: a first edition of For Whom The Bell Tolls. Pretty sweet to cook for poets and writers.

Last Thursday was the first of what will hopefully be many Writer's Workshop-centric food nights, this one a chili cook-off. Out of six entrants (and someone who brought spaghetti and meatballs) I somehow, miraculously, managed to be judged Best of Show, just like a Scottish terrier or Pekingese.

I really, genuinely, thought each persons chili had its merits and I would have hated to be in the position to judge. Beans or no beans? Tomato? Accompaniments? So many equally delicious possibilities. My own mother makes a mean turkey chili with brown sugar added (and not much more than a hint of heat) that I think the world of, but I was positive it would not win over the palates of the assembled crowd. I had to do a little research first, to decide where to start. I had to figure out how to seduce their tongues but also give them a good roughing-up.

I think I already knew that it would be Texas-style chili. The requirements, usually, are beef (chunks, not ground), dried chilis, cayenne, cumin, onion, garlic, and NO BEANS OR TOMATO. There is plenty of lee-way for individual spice preferences, though. It's a species that not everyone can appreciate (especially if they appreciate gastrointestinal well-being) but since there was only going to be enough for tasting portions I figured it had to WOW on the first bite.

The recipe:

8 ancho chiles
8 pasilla chiles
8 guajillo chiles
6 chiles de arbol
2 cups chicken stock

6 pieces of thickcut bacon, cut into 1/4 wide lardons
7 lbs of beef chuck roast, cut into 3/4 inch chunks (leave the fat alone!)
2 large white onions, chopped
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 cup of strong brewed coffee
1 can/bottle of your favorite beer
1 tablet of mexican hot chocolate mix (the brand at my store was Abuelitas)

2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
4 tbsp ground cumin
kosher salt

First, make the chili paste: Toast the dried chiles in a hot oven (400 degrees) just until they are fairly fragrant, not burnt! Probably 3-4 minutes. Put them in a mixing bowl and cover with hot water for an hour. Drain the water, tear the stems off, empty out the seeds and remaining water from the chilis, and put in a blender with the chicken stock. You might need to do it in two batches depending on how powerful your blender is. Blend until it's a nice smooth paste. If you are bothered by skin and seed chunks, you can always push it through a wire mesh strainer...but don't be a baby! This is chili! It's not pretty to look at or easy on your digestive system. Set this aside.

Next, cook the bacon, beef, and onions and garlic: In a large, heavy pan (cast iron is the bomb!) cook the bacon over low-ish heat until all the fat is fully rendered and the bacon is nice and crispy. Don't dump the bacon fat! Turn the heat up to medium-high, wait until it starts smoking, and working in batches brown the beef chunks. It took me four batches in my 12-inch pan. Don't crowd the meat or it will steam and release liquid, a process that is the antithesis of browning. Once you are done, turn the heat down and add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and translucent.

Assemble the rest of the chili!:
Add the chili paste, meat, onion mixture, and all of the other ingredients to a large stock pot or dutch oven. Between the coffee and the beer there should be enough liquid to cover the meat by 1/4 inch. If not, add a little bit of chicken stock until it is all covered. Heat high until it just starts to boil, then turn to low and cook for 5 hours uncovered, stirring every once in a while, and tasting for seasoning. Add salt in 1 tsp increments after an hour of cooking, to suit your taste. And skim the funky foam and some of the grease floating at the top. The liquid should reduce during cooking, leaving you with a nice, thick, savory chili.

Antithesis of a Thunderstorm

Quick-rise pizza dough, pureed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and generous quantities of olive oil, salt, and fresh-ground pepper. And the oven as high as it would go. Also, had to disarm the smoke detector.

Let the Chili Cookoff Commence...

I hope I am not giving away too much to my competitors by posting this, but it is the beginning of a long, hot, fragrant day, tomorrow. Still to be determined are the use of tamarind and nopales.