Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Go Hot or Go Home Beef Chili

Serendipity. This is what happened when Corey, a new faculty member, happened to mention his past experience starting a BBQ club at school, to Mike, a hardcore Q-er. Mike mentioned it to me, and we hatched the idea of doing a smaller test of the idea at school -- a chili cook off at Homecoming.

I talked to a few other fellow foodies, including Kate, whose Amish friendship bread gets a lot of hits on this site, and Julia who's been featured here several times. Before you knew it, we had a full-fledged cook off planned, including a logo, nicknames, and a lot of smack talk among the six contenders.

The good lookin' chili crew with aprons made with a logo designed by Julia, who has been a guest blogger here. Check out her post on galley cooking. Photo credit: Jeorge Yankura.

For my first cook off, I decided to use my new, favorite toy.

Can you guess?

The Big. Green. Egg.

The Big Green Egg
By cooking my regular multi-chile chili in the Big Green Egg, I added the flavor of mesquite smoke and the memory of many a campfire over which the old cowboys cooked their chili.

I won ... by a mere two votes, and the chilis were all within five votes of each other. Second place went to Corey, who created an intriguing sausage veggie chili with a little maple syrup to act as a counterpoint to the heat of chili powder.

All the chilis were excellent. Kate used TVP to make a vegetarian chili, so that most people didn't know it was meatless. Julia used Mexican cinnamon as her secret ingredient. Desiree created the best texture I've ever noted in chili by browning her meat cubes in flour, like beef stew. Mike, whose cooking mind works very similarly to my own, softened dried chili pods in hot water and then pureed them. He also made use of chilis from Penzey's Spices, of which I'm a big fan.

I like a chili that is deep and flavorful, with layered flavor components. It's taken me years to get my chili where it is now, and I'm sure it will keep evolving. That said, there are certain constants for me in chili:

1) Beef. Maybe I'll get to making other meat chilis, but beef is it for me. Sometimes I cube it. Sometimes I use ground beef. It depends how lazy I'm feeling. Cubed is more authentic but ground beef is definitely more convenient. My friend, Andy Pforzheimer who owns the Barcelona chain (this is a must-try restaurant if you haven't been there), has a friend who uses short ribs as his chili meat.

2) Smoky, deep, rich undertones. I use bacon, Guinness beer, beef broth, coffee, and semisweet chocolate to complement the dried chilis. Sometimes, I don't use all of these, depending on what I have in the pantry, but I believe these ingredients are why people ask for my chili recipe. If this were music, this chili is definitely in the bass section, no question.

3) Tomatoes and acidic components. If I use ingredients to bring out the smoky flavors of the chili, I firmly believe in the importance of the acidic to provide contrast. I know traditionalists don't use tomatoes, but I do, both diced and crushed, and depending on how the chili is going, I've been known to add Ortega's diced green chilies, Frank's red hot sauce, salsa, Trader Joe's salsa verde or even ketchup to brighten up the chili. Acid is what makes chili 3-dimensional and sassy.

4) A combination of fresh and dried chili peppers and spices. I'm still learning about chili peppers, so this is where it gets fun. I like a medium-spicy chili that has a slow, mellow heat and have been experimenting with different peppers to obtain that.

Before I talk about what I'm doing, I want to say that I believe you can make a perfectly decent chili with the 2-Alarm Chili packets or other packets they sell in the grocery store, if you add the bacon, Guinness beer and chocolate. However, I like to use a combination of dried and fresh chili peppers in my chili. If I use chili powder, I like to know that it's as fresh as it can be, which is why I buy Penzey's spices in small lots.

In this chili, my foundation is Penzey's regular chili powder, cumin, and oregano. To that, I add diced fresh chilis like poblano, jalapeno, and serrano peppers, which I saute with the onions and garlic. Fresh chilis add a fresh, grassy flavor to the chili, and they are also a little acidic.

I also like to add some chipotle in adobo. These are definitely smoky and rich, and a little goes a long way.

After that, I pick from a growing collection of dried chili peppers in my cabinet -- arbol (spicy, acidic), New Mexico (earthy), guajillo (fruity, piney), cascabel (nutty, tannic) -- and depending on what I'm doing, I'll either soak them in hot water or coffee, puree them, and add them to the chili, or I'll let them cook in the chili whole and pull them out. I always remove the seeds first, for both fresh and dried peppers, so that the chili is not too spicy for my family.

There are so many peppers that it's interesting to try them out and see what happens. I found a list of dried chili pepper descriptions at the Cook's Thesaurus if you want to get an idea of what's out there.

5) No beans. My husband doesn't eat carbs, so there are no beans in my chili. But if I did put beans, they'd be black beans or red pinto beans. I don't like kidney beans.

6) Thickener. I've never used flour, or the more traditional thickener of masa, in my chili, but after having Desiree's chili, I may have to change my mind. Using a starch to thicken the chili liquid creates a smooth, silky texture, and yet another taste sensation. If you can't find masa, I'm sure that taking two corn tortillas, soaking or simmering them in some chili liquor to soften, blending it in a blender, and then adding it back (some or all of it depending on how thick you want the chili), would do the job.

7) Season with salt at each stage and fry the spices.

Those are my thoughts on making a great chili. I should add my chili is never the same. I wrote down what I did today, which is the recipe below, but depending on my mood and what I have in my kitchen, my chili is always different. That said, it must be layered and flavorful, smoky and tangy, rich and memorable.

Chili with cubed beef instead of ground beef and with the addition of softened and pureed corn tortillas to thicken it up and get a silky texture.

Go Hot or Go Home Beef Chili
2 ½-3 lbs. ground beef or beef chuck hand cut into small 3/8"-1/2" chunks
7 slices of bacon, cut into ¼ inch pieces
2 medium onions or 1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves minced
2 tbs. cumin
1 tbs. oregano
4 tbs. chili powder (ideally one like Penzey’s which is ancho chile and new Mexican chile or you can grind your own in a coffee grinder)
Green chiles in small can (e.g, Ortega brand)
1/2 chipotle chili in adobo sauce (or more if you dare; you can freeze the rest of the can in spoonful-sized portions for future use)
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 poblano chilis, seeded and diced
1-2 serrano chili, seeded and diced
1 dried cascabel chilis (seeded) (optional)
1 dried guajillo pepper (optional)
1 cup coffee (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (put 1/2 a can first and see if it's enough)
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes (preferably Rotel)
1 11.2 fl. oz. bottle of Guinness beer
1 tsp beef concentrate or 1 cup beef broth
1 block of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (Baker’s chocolate comes in blocks)
1 can of kidney, red pinto, or black beans (optional)
1 corn tortilla (optional)

Before you start to cook, combine onions, poblano, jalapeno and serrano together. Also, mix the chili powder, cumin, and oregano together in a bowl. Puree the chipotle in adobo with a little water.

Render bacon until crisp in dutch oven; set bacon aside.

Brown meat cubes in bacon fat in batches, setting aside when browned. Salt and pepper meat to season. If using ground beef, brown meat in bacon fat and then drain. Salt and pepper to season. Set aside.

Add some vegetable oil to the dutch oven, and when hot, add onions, poblanos, jalapeno, and serrano peppers and cook until translucent(5 minutes); add garlic for a minute, being careful not to burn it.

Add chili powder, cumin, and oregano mixture to onions and fry for a couple minutes to release flavors.

Add beef to onions and spices. Mix together and cook for a few minutes.

Add the Guiness beer and pureed chipotle in adobo and bring to a simmer. Let cook for five minutes.

Add tomatoes, and beef concentrate or broth. If you have a cascabel chile, add it; if you don’t, don’t worry about it. Stir everything together.

Bring to a simmer and cook for one hour.

While the chili is simmering, simmer the guajillos in hot water or coffee to cover. When the guajillos are soft, puree in blender.

After one hour, add the piece of chocolate. Add guajillo mixture to taste (you want to taste; if your chili is too spicy for you already, then you don't want to add that much). Simmer another hour or until meat is softened. If you’re adding beans, add them 15 minutes before you finish cooking. Pull out cascabel chili before serving.

Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you feel it needs something to brighten it up, you can add a couple tablespoons of salsa and/or a squirt of ketchup. Serve alone, or with rice, nacho chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, and hot sauce.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hot on the Hilltop 2009


First Annual Chili Cook Off

It's the first Hot on the Hilltop Homecoming Chili Cook Off, featuring six of our own faculty and staff!

The one crowned “Cast Iron Chef” will win the love and adoration of the Homecoming crowd and a gift to be given to the department of his or her choice.

Ninette “Go Hot or Go Home” Enrique
Ninette don’t play when it comes to chili. Sassy and hot-headed just like the cook, her 7-chile chili will tickle your tastebuds and blow your mind. (In to Win for MUSIC)

Julia “Red Hot” Gabriele
Despite her deep New England roots, Julia’s “Cowboy Cred” chili indicates her trail roots from a former life. She thinks chili should be like life: on the spicy side, enjoyed among friends, and best served outdoors on a brisk autumn day. (In to Win for the SENTINEL)

Corey “Hot Stuff” Gamill
While the youngest of the chili cook off’s contenders, Corey is the most veteran of cook off contributors, having already survived three contests. His chili is inspired by his love for Texas and all things Texan. Hook 'em Horns! (In to Win for MATH)

Mike “Mad Scientist” Mitchell
As our resident scientist, Mike is a master mixer of chili compounds as his special formula will leave you clamoring for more. His scientific methods combine vegetable, animal, and mineral - slow cooked to perfection. If you know beans about chili, you know Mike's chili has no beans! (In to Win for SCIENCE)

Kate "Fresh and Hot" Parker-Burgard
Kate offers the healthiest chili around. Vegetarian-friendly and highlighted with vegetables grown in her summer garden, this chili is filled with many different bold flavors all coming together into one delicious dish. (In to Win for COMMUNITY SERVICE)

Desiree “Maui Spice” Smock
If you think of pineapples and coconuts when you think of Hawaii, forget it! Hawaii native Desiree will bring you a taste of paradise in her Paniolo (Hawaiian Cowboy) chili. (In to Win for ART)

Who will be SLS’ FIRST CAST IRON CHEF? It's up to you!
Participate in the chili cook off blind tastings at the Hot on the Hilltop chili stand next to the upper entrance of the Athletic Center! Only $5 per tasting of 6 chilis.

The winner will be announced at halftime of the football game.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chocolate Chip Scones Para Mis Amigas Queridas

My friend and colleague Claudia Alvarez invited me, my kids, and a few of the ladies from the World Language Department, for a tea party at her new house, which is on the water.

Mirna Goldberger, who is also coming, said "Ninette will bring scones!"

She was kidding, but then again, she doesn't know whom she's dealing with.

Or, to the contrary, she knows exactly whom she's dealing with.

I've never made scones. The first time I ever heard of or had scones was many years ago at the parents' house of my friend James McGill. He and his wife were married at the house, and the next morning, they had a lovely buffet spread which included scones, clotted cream, and jams. I never forgot my first bite of those tender, buttery scones.

At James' wedding where I first had scones. Can you tell how long ago this was? Look at my shoulder pads! LOL. Answer: it was 1993.

Since then, I've had an assortment of things parading under the name of scones that were HORRIBLE. Flavorless, dry, and hard as a rock. Ew.

With some trepidation, I went about making this test batch of scones. Would these be a home run or a cratering disappointment?

These scones definitely took first place as the best I've ever had.

Gracias, Mirna!


1) The inspiration for this recipe came from Thibealt's Table.

2) In different recipes I looked at, the butter could be as much as 2 sticks of butter. I liked this recipe as it only used 6 tbs., which did the job.

3) Cold butter is key, because when those little pearls of butter melt in the oven, the steam they generate results in lovely pockets of air and thus tender scones. I grated frozen butter into the flour mixture and then stuck the bowl into the freezer as an extra precaution.

4) Liquids in scone recipes included whipping cream, heavy cream, buttermilk, milk, and sour cream. I decided to use a mixture of half and half and sour cream, and it worked out great.

5) After adding the liquid, the dough seemed so crumbly that it wouldn't hold together, but then a few quick kneads got it to hold together enough so I could shape it and cut it.

6) Scones can include any number of flavorings. I used chocolate chips, but fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, nuts, cheese, etc. are all game. The sky's the limit!

7) I think scones are best when they're freshly baked, although I'm sure they can be heated up later or eaten at room temperature.

8) This time around I grated frozen butter, and I thought it was a bit of a pain. Next time I will use my food processor.

Chocolate Chip Scones

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tbs. cold butter (frozen if you're going to grate it)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Extra cream and sugar (sugar in the raw or turbinado sugar preferred)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking, powder and salt together. Measure sour cream and half and half and put back in the fridge. Measure chocolate chips and put in the fridge too.

Grate frozen butter into the flour mixture and mix together (or you can cut the butter into smaller pieces and mix together with the pastry cutter until the flour resembles coarse meal). If butter is getting soft, stick the whole bowl in the fridge until it hardens up again. If using food processor, pulse the flour mixture and butter which you've cut into smaller pieces together until it resembles coarse meal).

Prepare the place you're going to knead and cut the dough into wedges by lightly flouring it. I usually use a Silpat silicone mat. Have a little extra flour on hand for your hands.

Mix the chocolate chips into the flour mixture and then add all the sour cream/half and half mixture, mixing with a fork as much as you can. If necessary, use your floured hand to press the dough together in the bowl and then dump it out onto your countertop, board, or Silpat. The mixture is pretty crumbly.

Knead the dough a few times until it just holds together and shape it into a circle. Flour your rolling pin and roll it until it's about 7 inches around. Cut in eight triangular pieces and put on your cookie sheet (I usually have a Silpat on my cookie sheets as the baked goods will not stick).

Brush the tops of the scones with a little half and half and top with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly brown.