Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cilantro Chicken Chili Cha Cha Slide

Chili has always scared me. Same goes for barbecue. I think it's something to do with fear of the south judging me and southern eating habits I don't really understand. In my wise old age I have grown to adore southerners, their accents, music, and comfort food. While I'm not about to go all Paul Revere and shout of my chili expertise to every hillbilly I come across, I will serve this chili as a proud yankee for the rest of my life. 

I am obsessed with craft beer. Debatably the most significant ingredient of the recipe, I was more than pleased with my purchase of Sam Adam's The Vixen for this recipe. The limited Chocolate Chili Bock out of the Boston Beer Company is full bodied and creamy with layers of spices and dark cherries. A touch of sweetness in the cocoa with the roasted maltiness made for a wonderful balance and umami (savory) qualities. In other words, I was jealous the chili got to enjoy most of the beer and I only got to taste it. 

Picking out the beer among the incredible selection of craft beers available in Chicago was probably the hardest part of the recipe thanks to the wondrous technology of a Crock Pot. Yes, of course you can use a big soup pot. I don't own a soup pot so I settle for the christmas present my grandma gave me 2 years ago that is far too underused.

Saute onions and peppers in a generous drizzle of olive oil until soft and almost caramelized, around 10 minutes on medium heat. Add minced garlic, cumin and chili powder and cook for another 5 minutes or so.

Add sauteed veggies, tomatoes, beans, chipotle pepper, cilantro, heavy sprinkle of salt and beer to pot. Set crock to high and let cook for an hour. In the meantime, boil chicken breast in water until cooked. Let cool and shred using two forks. Add chicken and sweet potatoes to chili. Cook for another 2 hours. Like most slow cooked food, it's better the next day when all of the flavors come together. Be patient my friends. When finished, let chili cool before you stick it in the fridge and try to maintain excitement for tomorrow.

As for the corn bread, I have no shame in a 69 cent box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix in my caste iron skillet. I opted for a sour cream made by a local amish farm. Fresh cilantro as a garnish is a VERY good idea. I repeat, garnishing this chili with fresh cilantro is seriously gonna make a world of difference. Put fresh cilantro on your chili. Do it.


2 bell peppers, diced (different colors) 
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
15 oz can diced tomatoes 
2, 15 oz can black beans
15 oz can pinto beans
chipotle pepper (in adobo sauce), minced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
16 oz dark beer
2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
1.5 lb sweet potato, skinned and diced

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Vanilla

Even though it's mid-50's and rainy -- there is something in the air. At times frustrating, seasons changing are always lovely because you can smell it. Winter is over and the sun is beaming when not hidden behind angry clouds. We all just have to be patient. Ya gotta think glass-half-full people: at least it's not snowing. While crossing my fingers for a warmer and awesome May, I'll be eating spring for breakfast and storing up that good weather energy. 

First of all, vanilla and granola are two wonderful adjectives for something that is boring. But Vanilla Granola is flippin phenomenal. It's also explicitly expensive when you buy it pre-made in any super market or grocery store. But that's why you make it for yourself in ginormous batches.

Mix old school oats, slivered almonds, sweetened coconut, cinnamon, and salt in a pretty bowl. In a saucer on the stovetop bring honey, vegetable oil, and brown sugar to a simmer. Turn the heat off and add vanilla. The syrup will spaz out a little here because of the vanilla, it's kinda fun and spooks ya. Stir it off of the flame and all will be well.

Drizzle syrup over oat concoction and mix well. Spread sweetened oats on a buttered cookie sheet (the butter does wonders for its flavor) and pop in a 325 oven for about 25-30 minutes. Widdle a wooden spoon around three, if not four, times throughout cooking. It's gonna be a lovely brown color and have a gorgeous cinnamon smell. As it cools, run your spoon around it a few more times or the honey will start to bind the oats together into giant clumps.

Hardy oats, mellow yogurt and tartastic blackberries. I personally don't like dried fruit in many things. My dad (as far as i'm concerned) coined one of my favorite phrases when describing food. Bitching about sushi, he called cucumber an uninvited guest (which I don't agree with). Dried fruit is often times an uninvited guest in my humble opinion. The coconut shreds, however, are a fantastic replacement adding the slightest chewy texture and lovely mild tropical flavor. Blackberries were on super awesome sale this week and were totally invited to this granola party. Of course, most any fresh fruit is welcome. I used plane-jane yogurt to bring it all together.

3 cups Old Fashioned Oats
1 cup raw slivered almonds 
1 cup sweetened coconut shreds
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 vegetable oil
1/4 honey
1/4 brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I strive for balance and equilibrium. Combining things that oppose each other make for stability of flavors when cooking. They're like food friends.

Salty ham + sweet pear + buttery brie = campadres

I was about to make a salad out of these three homies but then was like cuss it I wanna sam-ich. Since moving to Chicago I constantly struggle to find a good sandwich, which I simply cannot wrap my head around. Beside the fact that a decent slice of pizza doesn't exist here (hey Chicago, 3-inches of coagulated cheese is NOT pizza), a good deli is hard to find. I grew up with Jewish and Italian deli's on every other block. A good sandwich is a daily convenience that I was apparently spoiled by. Good golly I miss piled high pastrami on rye with grainy mustard or an old-school Italian Combo with Oil and Vinegar. Quality meat, classic combinations and a few off-beat specialties along with a staff of characters. Chicago needs to step up their deli game.

Of the off-beat deli specialties -- I do love some fruit in between my bread. Whether it's a marmalade or slices of produce, fruit tends to add great sweetness and texture that won't overwhelm. I was real happy with the pear against the ham and brie. I used 12-grain bread with mayo and country style mustard along with baby spinach.

The next day I only had the bread ends and made this treat into a panini. If you've never had warm brie you're really missing out. I'll go so far as to say you haven't lived.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tropic Thunder

Ugh, March is such a tease. In like a lion, out like a lamb my ass. This pussy is roarin' and it's only a week till April. Of course there was that one, glorious day -- near 70 and sunny. Since then its been cold and windy and rainy and schmeh. After all the hibernation of winter my biological clock wants to hop, skip and jump around. The depressing weather, however, is putting my energy at an all time low. So how do you brighten up a gloomy day?  Fake a tropical fiesta in your mouth. 

So the fiesta started out pretty tame. And to be honest, I like it's original version best. Avocado, mango, cilantro, black beans, lime juice, and honey. So tropically good. I made a huge bowl of this, and didn't even bother with chips. I loved the buttery, smooth textures all around. The lime juice and mango were so bright and chipper, and the nutty avocado and mellow beans felt like they melted with every bite. 

As for the cilantro, in my opinion it was just necessary. There is something about Avocado and cilantro -- they're like peas and carrots, Forrest Gump and Jenny -- they belong together. Lime juice is like Bubba, equally necessary but in a different way. Lime juice stops the avocado from browning. 

I first prepped the cilantro dressing. Giving the herb a fine chop, stir together with olive oil, honey, salt, pepper, lime juice and zest. The honey gives the dressing amazing texture and smooths out the sharp cilantro-lime tang. 

Cube the avocado, squeeze lime juice all over and give it a delicate toss. You'll wanna stir everything fairly delicately because of the avocado. See, I wanted to keep it chunky so you actually got to enjoy big pieces the unique green fruit. Besides, this ain't guacamole buddy. Cube the Mango just the same. If you've never cut up a mango before, it can be a little frustrating -- blame the enormo seed. 

Hold the mango upright and narrow and cut the narrow sides off. I know, I know, you want to cut the fat sides off. Well you can't, so settle down. The annoyingly oblong seed in this incredibly delicious fruit gives it shape. Unlike the friendly avocado the mango pit does not easily separate from its flesh, so you have to cut around it. When you cut the narrow sides you can usually hear the knife rustle against the seed. Those narrow sides are the most beneficial. Slice horizontally and vertically then invert the skin (as pictured above) and run your knife along the skin making for lovely little mango squares. Slice along the the remaining two sides of the fruit and get as much mango flesh as you can. Then gnaw on the seed and smile.

Rinse off the black beans and add to the salad. Finally, stir in cilantro dressing. Again, this salad was fabulous. After eating a lot of it, I wanted see if other ingredients would be welcomed. I added strawberries, blueberries and basil. The berries added pops of brights fruity flavors and seedy textures while the basil gave its an aromatic freshness. Each bite was different with the added ingredients, making for an uplifting snack that made me hate March a little less.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lime juice
lime zest
(1 tablespoon basil)

2 avocados
2 mangos
15 oz can black beans
1 tablespoon lime juice

(3-5 strawberries)
(1/2 cup blueberries)

Friday, March 4, 2011


My first chicken. She was a wee three-pounder, named Louise.

Louise is a jewish chicken. I was honored to Bat Mitzvah her with a kosher bath. Give your chicken a good rinse, inside and out. Put her in a bowl of water for half hour, then lay her on a isolated surface and douse with salt. Let her sit, salted, for another half hour. Rinse well and pat dry.

Wash your hands often throughout this process, so not to get chicken germs all over the kitchen.

You may not want to go through these steps. Fine, whatever. Don't cry about it, though, when your unfortunate chicken doesn't turn out marvelous. I watched my mama do this to thousands of chickens growing up, and I trust her when it comes to chicken. The woman knows her chicken. Besides, I have nothing against getting rid of poultry bacteria. If you're into that kind of thing, to each his own. I'm glad Louise was so fresh and so clean, though.

Salt and pepper her insides. Then shove 2 sprigs of rosemary up her bottom, along with lemon and orange wedges. It was a blast flapping Louise's wings around and making her dance but those extremities roast a lot better when tied together. The wings and thighs will dry if they're stretched out like a floppy dog sleeping on his back, so tie them up close to the body.

Remember, I told you to pat her dry. Rub a chimichurri all over her. This sauce has an awesome name and accessible ingredients. Extra virgin olive oil, parsley, rosemary, garlic, lemon and orange zest, fresh squeezed juice of lemon and orange, salt, pepper, and paprika.

You don't want your chicken to touch a lot of surface. Why are rotisserie chickens so fantastic? Because every inch of skin is getting hot waves of heat. Louise started out on her belly. Twenty minutes in, she flopped over on her back. I used a roasting rack over a casserole dish full of potatoes and onions (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary). Louise's juices dripped down on the spuds. She was basted and her own sweat and given a squeeze of a lemon and orange 3 or 4 times. A chick becomes a lady at 425 for around 15 minutes per pound. Let Miss Louise sit covered in tin foil for a few minutes before you then turn her into a carcass.

Louise was juicy. Her flesh was bright from lemons, sweet with orange, savory of rosemary, and so incredibly juicy.

half orange, wedged
half lemon, wedged
2 sprigs rosmary

extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
rosemary, 1 tablespoon finely chopped
parsley, 4 tablespoons finely chopped
salt, 1 teaspoon salt
pepper, 1/2 teaspoon pepper
paprika, 1/2 teaspoon
garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped
orange juice and zest, 1/2 orange
lemon juice and zest, 1/2 lemon 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The fookie

Sometimes you want a cookie but don't have any. It's an unfortunate dilemma millions of cookie monsters face every day. Don't fret, stress, or cry, though. When desperate for a cookie but aren't up to baking an entire batch or leaving the comfort of your home, just make a pho-cookie. A fookie.

Buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar. Its like eating a Snickerdoodle. This is one of those treats I grew up eating but forgot existed. It takes 5 minutes to prepare and the ingredients are always in any kitchen.

There's no shame in eating this for breakfast...lunch, dinner, snack, or just because you want to.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Holy Macaroni and Cheese

I needed to be comforted, so I gave my old friend macaroni and cheese a ring. This here is a serious triple threat of yummy. A lovely little restaurant offers these toppings as add ons to their mac and cheese and I aways get it with all three. With a mixture of rain and snow falling from grey skies outside, I was forced to make it myself.

I like roasting my veggies. I think the texture is far superior than boiling and blanching. Put some broccoli tossed in olive oil and salt in a pan with a few strips of bacon. In a pre-heated oven of 425, this should take about 15-20 minutes. If you want the bacon crispy, remove broccoli and cook bacon another 5 or so minutes. Chop into smaller pieces and set aside. While you're chopping, do the same with a few sun-dried tomatoes. You'll wanna get this prep out of the way before you dive into the sauce. 

It all starts with a roux. A roux is basically fat and flour. It's a traditional thickening agent used in many sauces. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and, stirring fairly constantly, add a teaspoon of flour. Then pour in a quarter cup of milk and stir. Let it come to a simmer and good golly watch that roux thicken. Stir, stir, stir. Season with salt and pepper. Add cheese. I used half a cup of cheddar and just a nibble gorgonzola. The first time I tried mac and cheese I definitely over-gorgonzola-ed the crap out of it. Unless you l-o-v-e blue cheese, watch out. So, yea, gorgonzola. Just a nibble. Stir some more. 

Try to time your pasta cooking and cheese sauce concocting the same. I used conchiglie, aka, shells. This pasta is primo for creamy sauces. It will catch all the cheesy goodness inside the shell and outside on the ridges. When the pasta is al dente, add to your cheese sauce and mix in the awesome additions.

This comfort food is so fantastic, especially when its crappy outside. The cheese sauce is just cheesy. Next time I want to try adding some swiss. I've been told a jack is also a welcomed addition. The sun-dried tomatoes add a bright tang, the broccoli brings incredible texture, and the bacon...well, bacon is always a fatty, salty, welcomed guest in my book.