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Chili with ground beef and beans

January 16, 2021

Chili is great food for cold weather–it is January as I write this. There are jillions of recipes, with beans or not, with tomatoes or not, with ground or cubed meat. This has become our regular go-to chili and because it freezes well we make big batches and almost always have some in the freezer. Also it can be made a few days ahead and reheated.

While some chilis are made without beans, I think they are an important part of a good chili. Most important, they taste good, but also are nutritious and low cost. You can use canned but I prefer to cook my own. Pinto beans or red kidney beans are traditional.

The chili flavor is of course the center of the dish. While some recipes go to the trouble of toasting, cleaning, and grinding dried peppers, I have found you can get equally good if not better results with high quality chili powder. This is *not* the chili powder off the rack at the supermarket! I like to mail order it from the southwest, where the best chilis are grown. I can recommend the company Made in New Mexico for really good chili powder and other regional foods.

Cumin is a major spice here. While you can buy ground cumin, you’ll get much better results by toasting and grinding your own.

You’ll note the treatment of the ground beef with salt and baking soda. I learned this technique from a cooking magazine. The baking soda quickens the browning of the meat so you get a decent result before the meat overcooks.

How to serve this? Over plain rice is one idea. I also like to put a piece of cornbread in a bowl and top with the chili. Or cornbread on the side. Homemade tortilla chips are good too. You can top it with various things such as grated cheese, chopped radishes or red onion, chopped cilantro, sour cream, chopped scallions, avocado, etc.

  • 1 lb dry pinto beans or 3-15 oz cans
  • 2 lb ground beef, preferably 85% lean chuck
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 large or 6 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil or bacon drippings
  • 1 to 4 TB chili powder, to taste (mild to spicy!)
  • 2 TB ground cumin
  • 1 TB garlic powder
  • 1 TB paprika, preferably the Spanish smoked kind
  • 1 TB dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1-15 oz can diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 TB sugar
  • 1/2 TB ground black pepper
  • 2 TB balsamic vinegar

For dry beans, wash and put in a large pan covered by about 2″ of water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover. After about an hour, drain and discard the liquid. Add fresh water to cover and bring to a simmer. Start checking after 40 minutes, it might take up to an hour. When they are “al dente” – still a bit firm – remove from heat and drain, reserving the liquid. Set aside.

For canned beans, drain, reserving the liquid, and set aside.

Mix the beef thoroughly with the baking soda and salt, adding 2 TB water. Hands are great for this! Set aside for at least 15 min.

Heat the oil (medium-high heat) in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 min. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring, until the beef is browned. This may take 10-15 min. Don’t break the beef into tiny pieces, leave it in 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks. It will give off some liquid. Add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, and oregano. Stir for a few minutes.

Add the beans, tomatoes, sugar, and black pepper along with 1 c water and enough bean liquid to give the consistency of a really thick soup. Cover and bring to a slow simmer for 1-1/2 hours, stirring every now and then. Add water if needed.

Add vinegar. Taste for salt and add if needed. Stir well before serving.

Cultured butter

August 22, 2020

Butter is surprisingly easy to make at home, and even better–you can make cultured butter with its richer and more interesting taste. This is nothing more than butter made from cream that has been allowed to ferment a bit.

  • 4 c heavy or whipping cream, preferably not ultrapasteurized
  • 1/2 c plain whole milk yogurt.
  • Kosher salt (optional)

Thoroughly mix the cream and yogurt, cover loosely, and let sit on the counter for 24-46 hours. It will thicken a bit and taste a bit tangy. Put in the fridge for an hour or two to chill down to 55-60 degrees.

Put cream mixture in a food processor. Zap it until it “breaks” — this can take as little as 2 minutes or as many as 6. When it breaks it will be very obvious–the mixture will quickly go from looking sort of like whipped cream to a bunch of small yellow globs floating in a pale liquid (that’s the buttermilk). Pour into a strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth and let drain.

Have some ice water ready. Transfer the ball of butter to a bowl and add 1/2 c ice water. Mush the butter around with your fingers to wash out remaining buttermilk. Pour off the liquid and repeat 2-3 times until the liquid runs clear. If you want salted butter, knead in 1/2 tsp salt. That’s it– you have butter. You can use wax paper to roll it into one or more logs, press it into small ramekins, etc. Keeps refrigerated for a couple of weeks and can be frozen.

Note: You can save the buttermilk and use it for all sorts of things. Apparently pigs love it. On a more realistic note, use it in baking, add to cream soups, etc. Be aware that this traditional buttermilk is not the same as the cultured buttermilk sold in markets and the two cannot be used interchangeably.

Tomato galette

August 14, 2020

It’s the peak of tomato season as I write this, and as an avowed tomato lover I am always looking for creative ways to use them. This galette is relatively simple and is a delicious and elegant addition to a summery dinner or alone as a light lunch. I think it’s best served warm–not hot–or at room temperature.

  • Your favorite homemade pie crust. If you make enough for a 2-crust pie, you will use only half and the rest can be frozen. Or, use store-bought.
  • 1-1/2 lb ripe tomatoes (about 3 medium)
  • 1-1/2 c grated or crumbled cheese (cheddar, feta, gouda, asiago, etc.)
  • 1/3 c pesto (see note below)
  • 2 large or 4 small cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 TB snipped chives or thinly slivered basil

Note: If you don’t have pesto, you can finely mince 1/2 c fresh basil leaves and mix with olive oil and a pinch of salt to make a paste.

Make the dough and let sit in the fridge while completing the other steps.

Heat oven to 400 degrees with rack in middle position.

Slice the tomatoes 1/4 inch thick and sprinkle with 1/2 TB salt. Let sit in a colander to drain for at least 20 min. Spread out on a double layer of paper towels and put another double layer on top, pressing down lightly with your hand. Let sit while you roll out the dough. Getting the excess moisture out prevents a soggy galette.

Put the dough on a piece of parchment paper and roll to a 14 inch circle. Trim the edge if needed–it does not have to be perfectly smooth. Trim excess parchment.

Spread the pesto over the dough, leaving 1-1/2 inches clear around the edge. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pesto followed by half the tomatoes, half the garlic, and a grinding of pepper. Repeat.

Fold the bare edges of the dough up and over the filling. Slide the assembly onto a baking sheet and brush the edges with egg. Bake, rotating the baking sheet half a turn at 30 min. Start checking at 50 min. It is done when the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling in places.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with chives or basil, and let cool for about 10 min before transferring to a rack. Remove parchment.


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