Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or Treat

I don’t get into Halloween
The way that some folks do
With vampires, ghouls and witches
And other beings that “boo.”

I put up decorations:
Jack o’lanterns and such,
Spider webs or black cats,
But really not so much.

I don’t go trick-or-treating
Or playing nasty jokes.
I don’t go around scaring
Law-abiding folks.

I couldn’t say how long it’s been
Since I dressed in costume,
Or danced nude with sister witches
By the ghostly light of the moon.

There’s just one thing that I must have.
It will be my downfall.
There’s just one thing that makes it worth
Having Halloween at all.

There’s nothing else I care about,
Only one thing under the stars
That makes me excited for All Hallow’s Eve:
Fun-size candy bars!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Still Learning to Love the Beet

Perhaps I still don’t like beets, but I am making progress, and you can’t say I’m not trying. Usually if there is a food one does not care for, one may just ignore it, but the beets will go on as long as I subscribe to this CSA. I really like these Beet and Carrot Burgers, and I’ll roast beets with other vegetables, so I decided I was ready to try something a little more bold. I still could only tolerate "safety" beet recipes, but I was getting braver.

Well, when one considers this dish, which is based on a variation of a recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, unique may be a better word than bold. It combines black beans, oranges and beets in a slightly sweet, somewhat fruity, but still earthy concoction that probably could be categorized as a stew. I figured it was worth a shot. If I didn’t like beets anyway, I really couldn’t ruin them by trying this dish.

I tried it a few times last year, and decided it needed more orange and some spice and that the beets needed to cook longer than in the original recipe. I tried partially cooking the beets a couple different ways, and I think a combination of pre-cooking them in the microwave and sautéing them with the aromatics and peppers before simmering is probably the best way to go. The recipe below includes instructions for that.

This dish has kind of a funky color to it from the beets and the red wine. Perhaps it would be welcome on a slightly spooky Halloween table. It’s good served over rice or with cornbread or corn muffins. Sure, I can taste the beets in the dish, but I can handle it once again. Gosh, I seem to be becoming less of a beetroot hater with each dish I try. Who knows? Maybe next I can tackle my dislike of pineapple on pizza….don’t count on it.

Black Beans with Beets and Oranges Recipe
Based on a recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

I like to cook dried beans for dishes like this, but canned beans are just fine. You may have to adjust the amount of salt in the recipe depending on the style of beans you use.

1 cup peeled and diced (1/2-inch) beets
2 oranges
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, preferably red, yellow or orange (green is fine), chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small chile pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced
½ cup dry red wine
3 cups black beans with 1 cup cooking liquid, or canned black beans, undrained
2 teaspoons ground cumin
chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

1. Place the diced beets in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 2 minutes.

2. Peel one orange. Set the peel aside. Section and chop the orange and set aside. Juice the second orange and set the juice aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, partially cooked beets, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook 8 minutes, or until onion and pepper are softened and beginning to brown, stirring often. Add the garlic and chile pepper and cook 1 minute more.

4. Add the red wine and cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the beans and their liquid, the orange peel, cumin and remaining salt. (If you are using canned beans, you may want to taste the dish before adding all of the salt.) Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and cook about 30 minutes, or until beets are tender.

5. Remove the orange peel. Stir in the orange juice and chopped orange sections. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Serve with rice or cornbread or corn muffins.

Makes 5 or 6 servings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Roasted Veggies

Starting with the October issues of food magazines (which begin to show up in early September), certain kinds of recipes are almost guaranteed to be repeated each year and in every periodical. You can’t swing a dead squash vine without hitting a recipe for roasted turkey, butternut squash soup, or roasted vegetables.

If you take the time to compare several recipes for, say roasted vegetables, (this is the kind of thing I do for fun) you can see that they are variations on a theme. You could quite simply start with one basic recipe and add to it according to your taste or the availability of ingredients. I start with the roots, tubers and winter squashes that begin to pile up around here this time of year. I particularly like carrots, potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, butternut squash (it is easier to peel than other squashes), radishes (trust me on this one; they’re fantastic!), and even beets. Yes, I said it. Beets. I’m coming to like them in my roasted vegetable medleys, but don’t tell anyone. It’ll ruin my reputation as a life-long beetroot-hater.

Most of these vegetables have quite a bit of sweetness to them that rises to the surface and caramelizes in a hot oven. They have their own brilliant flavors that need little or no enhancement. I simply sprinkle them with plenty of salt and pepper, drizzle them liberally with olive oil and subject them to a hot oven until they have been sufficiently bent to my will. I like when they are quite tender all the way through, but especially crispy and brown on the outside with that tangy, slightly bitter flavor of almost burnt sugar about them.

Roasting vegetables is really easy (the most difficult part is cutting and peeling hard veggies like squash), and largely hands-off. I don’t even really use a recipe, so, what I’ve written below is really just a guideline and a method. You could also roast broccoli and cauliflower or add onions and garlic cloves to your medley. If you do roast broccoli or cauliflower, expect it to take less time than harder root vegetables and squash. You could also add herbs or spices to your roasted vegetables, but they tend to burn quickly and lose their flavor or develop unpleasant flavors. I would recommend adding such seasonings after or near the end of roasting.

If you make roasted vegetables for company, especially for folks who haven’t had them much before, expect them to become the star of the show. I’ve served these for dinner to family members, and I’m not sure most of them would remember what else we had to eat. They couldn’t, however, stop talking about the roasted vegetables.

Roasted Vegetables Recipe
The measurements and time listed here are approximate. If you roast red beetroot with other vegetables, give them their own pan or their own corner of the communal pan, otherwise they will turn everything pink.

4-6 cups vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, beets, winter squash), peeled and cut into uniform cubes, 1-2 inches
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 heavy pinches coarse (kosher) salt, or to taste
a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, combine the vegetables with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir together to coat the vegetables well with the oil.

2. Place the vegetables in a large roasting pan or a sheet pan. Bake at 400 F for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or more depending on the size of the cut vegetables. Stir occasionally with a spatula to prevent sticking. Vegetables are finished when tender and caramelized to your liking.

Makes 4-6 servings

Friday, October 23, 2009

Regular Saturday Night Thing

It started out as a Friday night thing. Harry and I would pick up a frozen pizza while grocery shopping together and eat it for a late-ish dinner when we got home. Eventually a bag of Doritos became the traditional first course, since we were usually starving by the time we got home. Those days of grocery shopping together are long gone and other events have claimed Friday nights, so pizza is now our Regular Saturday Night Thing. Unless we aren’t going to be home at all on Saturday night, which is (possibly pathetically) rare, we’re having pizza.

Now, however, the pizza is always homemade. It has been for at least eight (probably closer to nine) years, and over those years, I learned to make the crust dough in a bread machine, wore out the bread machine and began using a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook, learned a few more tricks, developed a consistently good sauce recipe, and learned to properly (more or less) use a pizza stone in the oven and a wooden peel for transferring the dough to the stone. I have even made fresh mozzarella for my pizzas (I recommend getting your information, ingredients and other products for making cheese at New England Cheesemaking Supply.) I figure I have made and eaten my share of nearly 400 pizzas.

I have the best success with the pizza dough if I let it rise in the refrigerator at least eight hours (overnight), then let it come to room temperature for a few hours before baking time. I usually stretch it out by hand, but if it’s a bit stubborn, I’ve been known to roll it into submission with a rolling pin. I prefer the rustic sort of lumpiness that results from hand-stretching, however, and this results in a crust of a sort of medium thickness (although it is also good as a deep-dish crust, especially in a cast-iron skillet.) And, no, I can’t toss it and twirl it or do any other fancy tricks like the guy in the Visa Debit commercial.

I bake my crust twice, for a little while before topping, then when the whole pizza is assembled. It gets nice and crisp on the outside, but is still a little chewy in the middle. Sliding a pizza crust off a peel and onto a stone in the oven was a skill I had to develop, but I can’t even remember when it was difficult. The key seems to be having plenty of cornmeal on the peel so the dough doesn’t stick. If you are sans stone and/or peel, you cold press the crust into a pan instead. Some of my best pizza memories are of square slices cut from the big pizzas my mom made in sheet pans.

I wouldn’t dare tell you how to top your pizza, but I’m particularly partial to pepperoni (I use turkey pepperoni, which is significantly less greasy), crumbled Italian sausage and black olives with Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese shaved on top of it all after baking. I also like bell peppers, spinach and feta cheese, caramelized onions and kalamata olives, and Mexican-style ingredients like salsa, refried beans, seasoned ground beef, and Monterey Jack cheese. Harry insists that if God had meant for anchovies to be on pizzas, he would have made them round and flat. And for those of you (and there are a few people I love to whom this applies) who like pineapple on your pizza, I only hope I can find it in my heart to forgive you.

Pizza Any Way You Like It

1 recipe Pizza Crust Dough, at room temperature
1 recipe Pizza Sauce
any cheese and pizza toppings you love (even if it must be pineapple)

1. Punch down the dough and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Stretch or roll the dough into a 10-12-inch (approximately) circle (approximately), and place it on a wooden peel (or a pan) dusted with cornmeal. (If the dough really resists stretching, let it stand, covered for another 5 minutes or so and try again.) Cover with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes.

2. About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, place a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F. (If you do not have a pizza stone, simply preheat the oven. You will probably bake the pizza on a pan.)

3. When the oven is preheated, carefully slide the unbaked crust from the peel onto the stone. Bake at 450 F for 5-8 minutes, or until the crust begins to puff up and no longer appears doughy. It may even be beginning to brown in places.

4. Remove the partially baked crust from the oven and spread the prepared Pizza Sauce on the top. Top the sauce “as desired.” (I like to put on a thin layer of cheese, then toppings such as meat and vegetables, then another thin layer of cheese that doesn’t completely cover the toppings.)

5. Return the pizza to the oven and bake about 8-10 minutes or until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted. (I like to leave it in long enough to brown the cheese a little.)

6. Remove the pizza from the oven and place it onto a cutting surface. Let it stand at least 3 minutes, or the cheese will ooze everywhere when you cut it. Slice and serve.

I cut my pizza into 8 triangles, which is about 4 servings. Really, most Americans will probably eat more pizza than that. You be the judge.

Wrap up leftover pizza in aluminum foil and refrigerate. The best way to reheat it is in the oven or toaster oven, where it can get crisp again.

Pizza Crust Dough Recipe
I use a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook. You could probably mix and knead this dough by hand, but it would take much longer than your average loaf of bread. You could exchange some whole wheat flour for the all-purpose, or add some dried herbs to the dough.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup warm water (about 100 F, it should feel warm, but not scalding to the touch)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

1. Combine the yeast, sugar and water in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add 2 cups flour, olive oil and salt and mix with the dough hook on low speed. When a wet dough forms, add a little more flour. Increase the mixing speed (just one notch) and knead the dough until it is firm and stretchy, about 10 minutes, adding as much of the remaining flour as you need to keep the dough from being wet and sticky.

3. Grease a medium-sized bowl or spray it with cooking spray. Form the finished dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Spray or grease the top of the dough ball and place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover the bowl with a towel and place it in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to slowly rise in the refrigerator at least 12 hours. (If you don’t have that kind of time, you could let the dough rise at room temperature at least an hour before using. It will probably be less easy to handle, and have a less complex flavor)

Makes enough for one 10-12-inch pizza

Pizza Sauce Recipe
The red wine adds a nice depth of flavor to this sauce. I usually only use it if I happen to have and opened bottle in the refrigerator. You could use fresh herbs in place of the dried ones if they are available.

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon coarse (Kosher) salt, divided
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons red wine (optional)
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed (a mortar and pestle works well for this. That’s Harry’s job)

1. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute for about 3 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds more.

2. Add the red wine if using, and cook 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients, including the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. (The sauce is thick, so it may spatter.). Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes enough for one 10-12 inch pizza. You could make the sauce ahead of time. Just cool and refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Apples and Cranberries

It’s mid-October and I’m still excited about apples. Just holding a fresh, locally-grown McIntosh or Cortland up to my nose and inhaling deeply can send me into a little Caddy Shack gopher dance. Then another regional specialty showed up in the stores: fresh cranberries, also grown not far away. I’ll get to fresh cranberry sauces another day. Around here, right about now, we love these beautiful little red gems in apple crisp. They give both fruity compliment and puckery tart contrast to the sweet, cinnamony baked apples.

Since cranberries are super-tart (downright sour, even), I gave the apple-cranberry filling in this crisp quite a bit of sugar. I also put in a relatively hefty dose of cornstarch (1 ½ tablespoon), because I’d been experiencing fruit crisps (like this one) that were a little weepy and runny for my taste. This time the filling was plenty thick. Some of the thickened juices even bubbled up to mingle with the sugary topping to create a few gooey, chewy caramel-like bites. Yummmmmm!

I really like the sort of rustic heartiness of the whole wheat flour in the crisp topping, but all-purpose flour would work as well. I highly recommend using walnut oil here, too. I just adds a little more nutty flavor, and, of course, compliments the walnuts in the topping as well. You could use canola oil or melted butter instead.

I’d like to say that I’ve been delaying my apple crisp gratification because I was waiting for the fresh local cranberries, but the truth is that I was waiting until there was space in the freezer for the vanilla ice cream. I’ve come to expect that cold, creamy contrast with the slightly tart baked fruit and crunchy sweet and nutty topping. Finally, there was a spot for the freezing canister for my ice cream maker and a little extra time available to make a custard base. I could have my Apple and Cranberry Crisp.

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t do this. Don’t force your baked-apple pleasure to wait on fickle ice cream. You may, like me, rush the process just enough to make it flop. My vanilla ice cream tasted great, but didn’t freeze properly. It was fine as a crisp topping, but was definitely not ready for its close-up. (That’s why it appears in none of the photos in this post. Let this be a lesson to us all.) Let the apple crisp be the star of its own show. It really does deserve to be, especially with those cranberry sidekicks.

Apple and Cranberry Crisp
I used Cortland apples, which become quite soft when baked. I also used fresh cranberries, but frozen cranberries will work just as well. No need to thaw.

For the filling:
5 cups peeled and chopped apple
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

For the topping:
½ cup old fashioned rolled oats
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup walnut oil

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine all of the filling ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together until the fruit is well-coated. Pour or spoon the filling into an 8”x 8” baking dish.

2. Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and walnuts in a small bowl. Add the walnut oil and toss with a fork or work with your fingers until the entire mixture is moistened with the oil.

3. Top the filling in the baking dish with the topping.

4. Bake at 375 F 50 minutes or until the filling is thick and bubbly and the topping is browned. Check the crisp part way through baking and cover with aluminum foil if the top seems to be browning too much. You want a browned topping, but not a burned one.

Makes 6 servings. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (or nothing, if you must.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Take this Squash and Stuff it

If you don’t hear from me for a while, you might want to come by and make sure I haven’t been buried by a pile of winter squash. In my efforts to increase the WFQ* of my diet, procure food from more local sources, and eat more seasonally, I get the bigger of the two boxes the CSA** offers. About now, it becomes clear to me that it is difficult for two people to eat one or two squash a week.

Luckily, since squash is so prolific, ingenious cooks have been coming up with different ways to serve it for generations. Luckily also, winter squash keeps well for weeks (sometimes even months if stored properly), so I don’t have to try all those recipes in an insane 10-day squash marathon. I’ve got some time.

After a yummy success with some little stuffed squash last year, I couldn’t wait to try this recipe when the squash rolled in this year. These carnival squash are great for stuffing, since each half is one generous serving. I can roast the squash halves and stuff them, and it’s dinner for two (the usual format around here), and I can eat the leftover stuffing for lunch the next day. Since the quinoa in the stuffing is a complete protein, and all that vegetable matter is quite filling, the stuffed squash is a real meal, at least as far as I’m concerned. (In fact, it’s a rather large meal, which you might want to take into account if you’re a light eater.)

There are all kinds of great foods with which one could stuff a squash, I suppose, but I get a kick out of using “New World” (ie, native to this hemisphere) grain with the New World winter squash. If you haven’t tried quinoa, what are you waiting for? I like the way it keeps a little bit of pop in the bite when cooked (not to be confused with the crunch of an undercooked grain). It has a mild, nutty flavor, and this stuffing, with its savory leeks, sweet-tart dried cranberries, and crunchy walnuts seems a natural accompaniment to the sweet, almost creamy roasted squash.

I’m thinking that if you’re serving a large fall celebration meal (such as, oh, Thanksgiving in a little over a month) with a roasted turkey, chicken, ham or whatever, and you’ve invited a vegetarian, rather than saying, “Oh, s/he can just eat the side dishes,” why not give them just a bit more of your time and serve him/her a little stuffed squash. The squash can be roasted ahead of time, and you can also make the stuffing in advance. Just stuff the squash and warm everything through after you take the meat out of the oven to rest and be carved for everyone else.

This quinoa stuffing is great on its own, just eaten with a fork, although I’d recommend tasting it for salt before adding all the salt called for in the recipe. The squash itself isn’t seasoned much and benefits from the extra punch in the stuffing, but the stuffing might be a little salty by itself. (It will probably depend on the saltiness of the broth you use to cook the quinoa.) So, stuff that squash or just eat the stuffing. Or do both. The stuffing recipe is easily doubled.

*WFQ = Whole Food Quotient
**CSA = Community Supported Agriculture. This one is ours.

Quinoa Stuffed Squash Recipe

To Roast the Squash
Two small squash (four halves) will generously serve four people, and can be stuffed with one recipe of Quinoa Stuffing. You can use this method for roasting most varieties of winter squash, although cooking times will vary.

2 small winter squash

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut the squash in half from stem to base. Scoop out the seeds and seed fibers. Sprinkle the squash cavity with salt.

2. Place the squash halves cut side down in a baking dish. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. Begin testing squash for doneness at 40-45 minutes. It is done when a fork easily pierces the flesh all the way through.

Quinoa Stuffing Recipe
This recipe makes enough stuffing for 4 small squash cavities. You could use chicken broth in place of the vegetable broth. With the vegetable broth it is vegetarian. Use oil for the butter and this dish is vegan.

This recipe is inspired by a recipe in Cooking Light magazine.

1 cup vegetable broth
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ cup uncooked quinoa***
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup thinly sliced, well-washed leek
½ cup finely chopped celery
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped toasted walnuts

1. Bring the vegetable broth and ¼ teaspoon salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes, or until the quinoa is cooked and most of the broth is absorbed. (Just taste the quinoa to see if it is done.) Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet (preferably nonstick, or you may need more butter) over medium heat. Add the leek, celery and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute about 8 minutes, or until the leek is beginning to brown, stirring often.

3. Stir in the black pepper, sage and garlic, and cook 1 minute more. Stir in the quinoa, dried cranberries and walnuts, and cook 1 more minute, or until warmed through. Set aside to cool slightly (or cool completely and refrigerate for later use).

For the Stuffed Squash

Oven: 350 F
1. Spoon about ½ cup of completed stuffing into each roasted squash cavity. Place the stuffed squash in a baking dish and bake at 350 F 15-20 minutes or until the squash is very soft and the stuffing is slightly browned on top. If the squash and stuffing were prepared ahead of time, it may take longer to bake the stuffed squash. Increase the baking time until heated through.
Makes 4 generous servings.

***Most quinoa sold in the U.S. has been processed to remove saponin, a bitter, soapy, naturally-occurring substance on quinoa grains. If you have reason to believe your quinoa has not been so processed, you can rinse the grains before cooking.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chili Weather

It’s prime season for tailgating (even if it’s in a cozy living room). Football is going strong, the Twins are in the playoffs (sorry, Tiger fans), and the National Hockey League has just begun its season. I don’t really know if hockey fans actually tailgate. I always intend to follow hockey, and, well, never actually do. The point is, the grills are fired up for brats and burgers, but it suddenly got cold outside. A good chunk of autumn has been skipped over, and there’s snow in the forecast. (Seriously!) Diehards will still get out the grill, but why not cozy up with a pot of chili instead?

There seem to be more ways to make chili than there are people to eat it. Cook up a well-seasoned stew of meat and/or veggies and/or beans and you have chili. There must have been a line drawn somewhere, but I’m darned if I know where the heck it is. Beef, chicken, pork, sausage, tomatoes, tomatillos, black beans, red beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, vegetarian, multiple meats, this must be in it, that is taboo, noodles, rice…need I go on…really? And the passion involved! Forget soap operas. Let’s film some chili operas! If you’re serious about chili, only your way is right. I, however, am willing to give peace a chance when it comes to chili, and try them all. Can’t we all be right just this once?

My brother makes a mean chili. It’s based on the chili my mom always made, but he’s cranked it up several notches on the Scoville scale. (We’re more demanding when it comes to spice than my staunchly Midwestern parents.) I could make that chili, I suppose, but being a part of chili culture seems to mean coming up with your own chili recipe. My problem is that I can never decide what style I like best, and would be happy trying one after the other until the end of the chili universe. I did try a great chili recipe with chorizo sausage from Cooking Light magazine many years ago, however, and my modified version seems to have caught on as “my” chili, as far as Harry is concerned. At least it is the one he always requests, and, for him, football season is the best time to eat it. My Chorizo and Chipotle Chili is chunky and meaty and spicy (its also alliterative), and there’s just a bit of chocolate thrown in at the end that gives it that something. You know, that something (aside from continuing the alliteration).

I have used both fresh (Mexican) and cured (Spanish) chorizo in this recipe, and both work well. The fresh chorizo, which I used when I took the photos in this post, is quite soft, and sort of melts into the chili, giving it a unique thickness. Using the Spanish chorizo results in a chunkier chili. The diced cured sausage keeps its firm, chewy texture. I think that if you wanted to make this vegetarian, you could replace the chorizo with another can of beans. Perhaps mashing some of them would help to thicken the chili like the fresh chorizo does. (Hmmmm…I might just have to try that!)

Even if you don’t like to watch sports, consider warming up with a bowl of hot chili this weekend. You can try this recipe, but I’m betting that, as part of honorable chili tradition, you just might have one that’s all your own!

Chorizo and Chipotle Chili Recipe
The sour cream garnish, to me, is reqiuired rather than optional because it somehow brings out the chocolate flavor in the chili. If you cannot find fire-roasted tomatoes, use regular tomatoes.

8 ounces Mexican or Spanish chorizo sausage, diced if using Spanish
1 chipotle chile canned in adobo sauce, minced
2 cups chopped onion
3 bell peppers, preferably of different colors (one can even be a poblano chile), chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 (14-ounce) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen brand. Do not drain.
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 ½ ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
sour cream and crumbled tortilla chips for serving

1. Heat a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook (breaking it up if using Mexican-style) until browned, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the onions, peppers and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often 7 minutes, or until the onions are beginning to brown, stirring often. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano and cinnamon and cook 1 minute more.

3. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, corn and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the lime juice. Taste the chili and add a little more salt if necessary. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Serve garnished with sour cream and tortilla chips.

Makes 6-8 servings. I like to serve chili with a side of fresh-baked cornbread.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Saturday Morning Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

I was never all that fired up about apples until I moved to southeastern Minnesota, where they are grown in both quantity and quality. The Red Delicious apples, which were pretty much the only kind we ever had at home when I was a kid, weren’t going to do it for me, especially once I had tasted the apples that grew in my the yards of both of my pairs of grandparents. (Why didn’t we have more of these at home? My grandparents didn’t live far away.) Those were “real” apples, what apples were supposed to taste like. In comparison, the Red Delicious (and sometimes Golden Delicious) that my dad would eat every day, core and all, just weren’t so delicious to me.

I ate very few apples once I was on my own, but these days I can hardly wait for this time of year when the markets here are stuffed with locally-grown apples. I don’t even have to go out of my way to get them. There are local markets and fruit stands where I can pick up bags of lovely apples grown in the same zip code (or close to it), while I’m picking up my regular supplies of garlic, celery, oatmeal and quinoa. It’s just too easy.

I’ve spent some time so far this autumn tasting apples in hopes of being able to detect the differences between the varieties and picking a favorite. Everybody in Minnesota seems to love the Honeycrisp apple, a firm, sweet local-variety-does-good. This year, I’ve also bought (and eaten nearly all of already) Zestars and McIntosh that were really good. My mom even bought some huge, locally-grown Golden Delicious when she was visiting, and they, for once, lived up to their name (the best Golden Delicious I’ve ever had.) But my favorites right now are the Cortland apples grown so near by. They’re tart and juicy and have an elusive, floral-fruity taste that I just can’t quite put words to, although it makes me think of candy. It’s these Cortlands that I’ve been buying by the bagful for a few weeks, and what I used to make my most recent Saturday morning pancakes.

I have to say, I’m in love with these pancakes. From Harry, I just got, “Yeah, they’re good,” but I was savoring and “Yummmm”-ing over every bite. They are perky from the cider and lots of cinnamon in the batter. The grated apple melted into the pancake, giving it flavor and body, but not making it heavy, soggy or fibrous. Of course, the maple syrup I served these with is no slouch, but I can truly say that the pancakes weren’t just a vehicle (or excuse) for the syrup as plain pancakes too often can be. You could also top these with a syrup made of reduced apple cider (just boil it until it reaches a syrupy consistency), stewed apples, or just cinnamon and sugar.

I recommend using a good-quality apple cider to make these pancakes. I’m lucky enough to have that available locally, too. (It’s another thing I never really cared for until I moved here where they just do it right.) You could peel the apple(s) before grating them if you want to. I liked the idea of leaving the peel on, just for improved WFQ* (along with the added whole wheat flour), but my box grater wasn’t quite up to the task of tearing through apple peels. A sharper grater might do better. And a sharper cook probably doesn’t need me to tell him/her how to jazz up a batch of pancakes, but I liked these so much, I wanted to share them as they happened. Enjoy!

*WFQ = Whole Food Quotient

Apple Cinnamon Pancake Recipe
Modified from Midwest Living Magazine

1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¾ cup apple cider
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup grated apple
Cooking spray, oil or butter to grease the pan or griddle

1. Preheat a large skillet or griddle on the stove over medium heat, or an electric frying pan (what I use) or griddle to 350 F. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until well-combined.

2. In a separate medium-size bowl, beat the eggs with the cooled melted butter. Add the brown sugar, apple cider and vanilla and whisk together until well-blended. Stir in the grated apple.

3. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredient mixture and stir until just combined. Try not to over-mix the batter. Just stir until the dry ingredients are moistened through. The batter will be quite thick.

4. Spray the heated pan with cooking spray or brush it with oil or butter. Spoon (it should be too thick to pour) about ¼ cup of the pancake batter for each (4-inch) pancake, placing as many on the pan as will fit with room to spread and flip. Cook the pancakes until they are brown on the pan side, and bubbles break through the batter on the top side, about 2-3 minutes.

5. Flip the pancakes and cook another 2-3 minutes, until brown and cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter, keeping cooked pancakes warm in a 200 F oven. Serve hot with syrup, or your favorite pancake accompaniment.

Makes about 10 4-inch pancakes