Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Bowl of Red

You know what? Tax season sucks, and so does the weather.

I'd been working so many hours that I was starting to feel like I was becoming nothing but a tax machine, so about a week ago, when V. returned from Paris, we were having dinner out in Bethesda, and I said, "I'm sick of not seeing anyone. I'm going to invite a bunch of guys to dinner next week, and I'll just do something easy, and we'll all eat and drink lots." So I did. Last Sunday, I made a big pot of chili and froze it. Then Tuesday night I set some pinto beans soaking. Wednesday night, I stopped at Trader Joe's and got some desserts from the freezer case, and then when I got home, I cooked the beans and refrigerated them. Thursday night, I stopped at the supermarket and the beer and wine store on the way home and did the rest of the shopping and then when I got home, I made the cole slaw.

And then yesterday afternoon, it started to sleet and snow, and I noticed that the roads were pretty slushy on my way home, and then I got five calls within about ten minutes from guys saying they were afraid to venture out. When I got home, I had another couple of emails saying the same thing.

But, hey, you can't control the weather, right? And, after a fashion, I'd mostly accomplished what I'd set out to do. I'd thrown together a large dinner without driving myself crazy. I'd convinced myself that I didn't need to make everything myself (though, obviously, I wished that I could have) and that simple is fine. And, if not for the utter wimpiness of my friends winter storm, I'd have had a house full of friends.

As it happens, one of my friends lives down the street, so I called and told him that everyone else was cancelling but that I hoped he'd still come, and he did. And another friend, who works way over in Virginia, was coming directly from work, so he didn't get the message I'd left saying that other people were cancelling so that he could stay home if he felt like it but if he didn't get the message, there'd still be food. So there were still four of us, and we still had a terrific time.

We still drank a lot, too. Or at least we did by my standards. I had a small glass of wine while I was reheating and cooking, then I had a strong martini when I made one for my friends, and then I had two beers with dinner. And then I had a small glass of port and a smaller glass of vin de noix with dessert. For me, that's incredible lushiness. My buddy A. had three or perhaps four martinis as well as wine and port and vin de noix and it seemed to affect him not at all, so it's possible that I'm just a lightweight. In this one context.

Anyway. I may have written before about my long and unsavory history with chili. For the longest time, it's just been something I didn't do well, but last night's chili was great. I decided to go Texas style and to make the beans separately, so the chili is pretty much beef, beef, and more beef with a bit of tomato and some spices. It was a bit soupy on reheating, but I had biscuits to sop up the liquid, so it was all good. The chili is not especially spicy, so have hot sauce to serve with it for all those guys who think that the ability to withstand pain is an essential element of masculinity.

Chili

1/2 c. olive oil
1 very large onion, diced
5 lbs. stew beef, cut in 1/2" dice
1 small can tomato sauce
3 T. ground cumin
3 T. ground ancho chile
1 T. sweet smoked paprika
1 t. ground cayenne pepper
1 t. garlic powder
Ground black pepper
1 can beef broth
Salt

Put a heavy stockpot on medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions, stir well, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have browned. This is one of the rare instances where you are neither required to soften the onions without browning them nor caramelize them slowly over several hours. Just let them brown. It should only take five to ten minutes.

Add the beef and cook, stirring, until the outside of the beef is no longer red. In a perfect world, you would brown the outside of the meat well, but unless you want to take all day and use a lot more oil, you're just not going to be able to do that. It won't matter in the long run.

Open the can of tomato sauce and pour it over the beef. Then run some water in the can, swirl it around, and pour that in the beef so that you're not missing any tomato sauce. Add the spices and stir well. Add the can of beef broth. If the beef is not fully covered in liquid, add some more water (or beef broth) to cover. Stir well again.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover. Cook for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and add a little less salt than you think you need. Uncover, and simmer to desired degree of thickness. Correct seasoning.

Serve with whatever fixings you like. I usually have sour cream, grated cheddar, and sliced scallions. And the beans, of course.


I like chili with beans, but some people don't. If you make the chili and the beans separately, everyone should be happy. Especially if you've given them a martini first.

These beans are flavorful without being overly assertive. The spices are very similar to what's in the chili, but they're toned down somewhat.


Beans

1 lb. dried pinto beans
1 t. celery seed
1/8 t. ground cayenne pepper
1/4 t. garlic powder
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. ground ancho chile
2 t. ground cumin
Ground black pepper, to taste
1.5 t. salt
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. dijon mustard
1 t. red wine vinegar


Put the pinto beans in a deep bowl and fill the bowl with water. Remove any beans that float to the top, and pour off the water. Fill the bowl with fresh water, and leave overnight to soak.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Drain and rinse the beans. Put them in a pot that can go on the stove and in the oven. Add the celery seed, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, ancho, cumin, and black pepper. Add water to cover the beans (about a quart). Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over a medium flame. Then move to the oven.

After 90 minutes, remove from the oven and check. They should be fully cooked but not mushy. Add hot water to cover the beans again (about 1.5 cups). Stir in the salt and tomato paste. Return to the oven for another fifteen minutes, uncovered. Stir in the mustard and vinegar. Taste and add more salt if necessary.


I would have liked to have made cornsticks last night, but I wanted something simpler, especially when I was expecting ten or eleven people. So I came up with a cornstick biscuit. They were pretty good. I overhandled the dough a bit, and if I hadn't done that and if I'd added a little more buttermilk, they'd have been even better. Live and learn.

Cornstick Biscuits

1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup stoneground yellow cornmeal
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. baking powder
1 t. ground ancho chili powder
6 T. cold butter, cut into 24 pieces (2x2x6)
1/2 c. grated cheddar cheese
4 dashes hot sauce
Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter. Add the cheese and hot sauce and mix well. Mix in enough buttermilk to make a dough that is soft but that can still be handled. Knead very quickly, then roll out on a floured board or marble. roll the dough out about half an inch thick. Cut into one-inch by three-inch rectangles, and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for twelve to fourteen minutes, or until nicely browned.


For the sake of completeness, let me pass along the coleslaw recipe.

Coleslaw

1. Surf over to google.
2. Put "lindystoast" and "coleslaw" in the search box. Click go or whatever.
3. Click on the link to Lindy's site. Follow her directions.


You would be well advised to follow her recipe precisely. I did not, of course, but only because I didn't have any cider vinegar, and I didn't feel like mincing another onion, so I just grated some instead. Also, by now you should understand that I really can't follow a recipe exactly. I don't feel the least bit bad about that, either. Lindy is exactly the same way, and I'm sure that she wouldn't follow any of my recipes exactly. In fact, I have it on good authority that her panagretto recipe began life as my deviled eggs recipe, her protestations about Jamie Oliver notwithstanding. Obviously, she made a few changes. (For those of you who are rolling your eyes and saying, "Yeah, and was that before or after she turned you into a newt?" let me say, "after," and yes: "I got better.")

4 Comments:

Blogger Rebecca said...

I never thought of making the beans separately but what a good idea. My son hates beans so I usually compromise by using about half as many beans as my husband and I like, that way none of us is really happy.

You could also use hot smoked paprika instead of sweet and cayenne; Leland just replenished my supply of both hot and sweet from Balducci's in NYC. I love the way smoked paprika tastes in chili.

9:51 AM  
Blogger goblinbox said...

Smoked paprika? I've never heard of such a thing, but now that I have I want some.

I wonder if I can toast paprika in a dry pan? Or is it made from ground peppers that were smoked first?

5:16 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

The resemblence of smoked paprika to ground chipotle may go some distance to explaining why it tastes so "just right" in chili.

Re: Following Recipes Precisely
I do agree for the most part, except that:
1) There was a pretty amusing article in the NYTimes wednesday about the notes people leave about their adaptations of recipes on sites like epicurious.com. They make our anapestic look like an obsessive follower of directions-adding tablespoons cajun seasonings and substituting various weird prepared foods, etc.in say, a Caesar salad, etc.
2)Some directions (not so much cooking per se) do require slavish attention to detail. For example, had I not been very careful, someone might still be a newt.

6:53 AM  
Anonymous lindy said...

And that would be so pointless.

6:55 AM  

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