September 29, 2011
Chili is one of my favorite things to make. I love the way it smells while it’s simmering on the stove, and it’s the perfect cozy food for cool fall evenings. My mom’s wonderful version is probably responsible for my enduring love of cumin. (I really love cumin.) I rarely make the same version of chili twice, because I like to vary the beans I use, sometimes add barley or bulgur, and occasionally throw in chicken or turkey sausage for extra protein. The use of beans in chili is apparently quite a touchy issue with different chili factions, but I always make mine with beans (I really like beans, too).
I had planned to use some leftover heirloom Colorado River Beans for this chili. But then when I was walking through the bulk section at Whole Foods, I came across some heirloom beans that I’m pretty sure weren’t there the last time I checked. They looked like little tiny Shamus (not very good swimmers though, it turns out). How could I possibly pass these up? I promptly filled a bag.
The beans were labelled as Black Calypso, but later research turned up the fact that they are also referred to as Yin Yang, and some references do indeed call them Orca beans. Like a lot of colorful beans, they paled a bit after soaking, and more after cooking, but they did still have a two-tone color after they were done, albeit more of a pale purple contrasted with white at the end. Of course, using dried beans means that you have to soak them overnight, or at the least 4-8 hours, and they take a while to cook, but they have so much more substance than canned beans. Beans really should give some resistance when you bite into them, but I used canned beans for so long, I was pretty much trained to expect them to be slightly mushy. I also find that heirloom beans are more flavorful than your standard black or kidney beans, even if you use the dried versions of those. The contrast between dried heirloom beans and dried black or kidney beans is much less drastic to me than the one between heirloom and mass-grown tomatoes, but there is definitely a perceptible difference.
I had a Hot Portugal pepper from the Farmers’ Market, but hadn’t used that kind before, so did a little pre-testing by touching a bit to my tongue, decided it was mildy hot, and ended up using about 2 tsp of it, since I wasn’t going for super-hot. The resulting chili had a slight bit of heat, but not a lot. Other additions included both an orange bell pepper and a small sweet purple pepper (yes, I bought it just because it was purple), as well as a single chicken sausage left over from a previous dinner. I opted for canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones, since I figured with the spices I would be adding, the flavor of the tomatoes wasn’t as critical as in other dishes.
Black Calypso Bean Chili
1 cup Black Calypso Beans, soaked overnight
2 cups vegetable broth
1-28 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 white onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
your desired amount of hot pepper, minced (I used 2 tsp Hot Portugal)
4-8 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 chicken sausages, cut into very small pieces
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp salt
In a large soup pot or dutch oven, combine the broth and beans, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook on low until the beans are tender, between 1 and 1+1/2 hours according to the directions (But check them earlier! They took much less time to cook for me.) It’s fine if you end up setting them aside while preparing the rest of the items.
While the beans are cooking, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the garlic for about a minute, and then add the onion and peppers, and sauté until slightly tender. Once the beans are cooked, drain them, and then return them to the soup pot. Add the tomatoes, onion, pepper, garlic, sausage, and spices. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, and add additional spices as desired.
September 26, 2011
My husband and I always feel a bit like we’ve squandered the summer when fall rolls around. But it’s so nice to have cooler temperatures, and I absolutely love fall leaves. In autumn, every time I’m outside, I’m constantly gawking at gorgeous trees – anything that’s red or orange. Even though summer is over, the local produce keeps coming in early fall as well. According to the Colorado crop calendar, the first half of October will still bring apples, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chile peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs, lettuce, and onions, among others. But the most exciting thing for me is that winter squash become abundant (although wouldn’t fall squash be a more appropriate moniker?). While I love zucchini, crookneck and pattypan squash, in the past couple of years, I have discovered how much I adore winter squash. Delicata squash is pretty close to the ultimate in my opinion. It doesn’t have an overwhelming taste or smell, like acorn squash (which I love, too – but it took a while before I appreciated it). Instead it’s got a really smooth taste – rich but not heavy. And you can even eat the skin, unlike with most winter squash. I generally just cut delicata up and steam it. No fancier preparation needed. I think I was buying one of them a week last year. But there are other great winter squash as well – sweet dumpling, butternut, spaghetti squash, and quite a few that I haven’t tried, but look forward to.
There are an endless number of ways to use winter squash. A couple of weekends ago, I bought seven ears of corn from Munson Farms at the Farmers’ Market, so I had quite a few corn dishes to make. I have a recipe I’ve made for years from Cooking Light which uses potatoes, black beans, corn, celery and onion with chipotle pepper and lime. I’ve been substituting sweet potatoes in for years, so in keeping with the fallish theme, I decided to use a butternut squash instead of potatoes, just for something different. And instead of using a chipotle in adobo sauce and a jalepeno, I used several different dried spices. (It was a busy week, so I opted not to grind fresh spices for this dish. I also used canned beans instead of dried beans). Two of the spices I used are from Savory Spice Shop in Boulder – Hot Smoked Spanish Paprika, and Lodo Red Adobo chile powder. You can use whatever chile powder or paprika you’d like if you don’t have these two. I also used up the last bit of my precious Miguel and Valentino smoked olive oil (placed an order for more, so it’s on the way), but you can use regular olive oil.
It takes some moxie to peel and chop a butternut squash. And the one that I bought was a beast of colossal proportions. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it is tough to peel a butternut squash, and it’s a very dense squash, so you need to be careful when cutting it. The one I got really was huge, so I ended up using only about 2/3 of it for this dish, and ate the rest for lunch the next two days.
I was very pleased with how this turned out. The texture of butternut squash is really reminiscent of potatoes, so as long as the dish you are making can handle a bit of sweetness, I think you can substitute it for potatoes with great success.
Southwestern Butternut Squash, Black Beans, Corn, Onion and Peppers
Adapted from Southwestern Potato Salad, Cooking Light
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into ~ 1/3″ cubes
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 ears sweet corn
6 garlic cloves, minced
1-14.5 oz can black beans
2 tsp smoked olive oil
1-2 tsp vegetable broth, as needed
1/2 to 1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp ground lobo red adobo
1/2 to 1 tsp ground hot smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 tsp ground chipotle pepper
15 shakes liquid smoke
1/2 to 1 tsp salt
Cook the corn by boiling in water either on the stove or in the microwave, about 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool, and then cut the kernels off and set aside. Steam the butternut squash until tender, drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil on medium heat, then saute the garlic, onions, and red pepper until the onions start to become translucent. Add the celery and cook for several more minutes. (If the dish seems too dry at any time, add a tsp or so of broth). Add the squash, corn, beans, spices, liquid smoke and salt and cook until heated through. Adjust spices to taste and top with chopped cilantro.
September 23, 2011
Okay. I admit it. I have a disturbing affinity for competitive cooking shows. I know that the dramatic music, drawn out pauses, and convoluted challenges are somewhat absurd. But I’m addicted. The thing that initially roped me in was a sauce tasting challenge in which two chefs went head to head with the goal of naming more ingredients than their opponent in a mystery sauce they tasted. Sort of like the old ‘Name that Tune’ game show – Instead of ‘I can name that tune in 3 notes’ it was ‘I can name 9 ingredients in that sauce’. It was astounding to me how some of them were able to pick out fairly obscure ingredients (to me, anyway). That was on Top Chef, my initial obsession. I’ve watched an awful lot of different food shows – all varieties of Top Chef (Regular, All-Stars and Masters), Chopped, Dinner Impossible, Master Chef, 24 Hour Restaurant, and even The Next Food Network Star. I had a shorter run of obsession with pastry-based programming, because some of those cakes they make are astoundingly decorated, and it’s amazing how cupcakes have evolved from when I was a kid and you took them to grade-school on your birthday.
What is it that fascinates me so much about these food shows? I’ve thought about this, and I think it comes down to how blown away I am by the skill these people have at improvising and creating things. I love watching someone open a basket with giant squid, gummy bears, durian and artichokes, and making an entree out of it in 30 minutes (okay, that combination might be too mean even for Chopped). I’m enthralled by the amazingly experienced and tremendously creative chefs on Top Chef Masters. One of my favorite finales required the chefs to make a quartet of dishes: one based on their earliest food memory, one that got them interested in food as a career, one showcasing their present point of view, and the last representing where they were going in the future. The dishes and stories were fascinating. The food memories were all very personal, and mostly related to a parent or grandparent who made a favorite dish when the chef was a child, and involved them in the preparation, resulting in the blossoming of a great and enduring love for food. I love hearing those kinds of stories.
Another thing I like about these shows is that most of the contestants, no matter how experienced and talented they are, seem to get rattled at times. And there are plenty of things that don’t turn out well, but the best competitors just go to Plan B and don’t look back. Knowing that even these gastronomists worry about how things are going to turn out makes me feel a little better about the times when I mess something up in the kitchen. And watching people alter their plans on the fly in order to make the best of it has prodded me to attempt to do the same when what I’m making doesn’t seem to be turning out. And you know, it actually works most of the time!
As a result of these shows, I’ve also learned about foods and techniques that I probably wouldn’t have run across otherwise. Lately I’ve been watching Anthony Bourdain’s show ‘No Reservations’, which is a fascinating tour of food in a plethora of different cultures. It’s so interesting to see the authentic dishes of different countries and people. There are some dishes I’ve heard of or had, but which have been Americanized in the form I have experience with, so to see the original versus the interpretation is always fascinating. (Although sometimes interpretations can be great. We ate at a Czech-Mex restaurant in Prague that was a surprisingly wonderful Czech interpretation of Mexican food with a Caribbean bent.)
I suppose there are worse secret habits to have, and I do learn something from all of these shows I watch. Plus, it’s really quite entertaining.
September 20, 2011
Over the past two weeks I’ve made a few fairly simple, yet really flavorful pasta dishes. I give most of the credit to Pappardelle’s Pasta, available both at the Boulder Farmers’ Market and in the Boulder Whole Foods. Most of the Pappardelle’s flavors we’ve tried are so bold tasting that they require very little in addition. They do have simpler flavors like Cracked Pepper, Santa Fe Corn, Yellow Bell Pepper and Whole Wheat, so there are some types you can use with your bolder sauces.
A couple of weeks ago at the farmers market I saw cannellini beans in the shell, and since I enjoy fresh fava beans so much, I decided it would be fun to try another kind of fresh bean. As I was pondering what to make for the week, trying to think of something to use with the Pappardelle’s Italian Pesto Pasta I bought, I thought that cannellini beans might be good. I planned to just use olive oil, garlic, and basil in addition.
Lulled by a false sense of competency from my experiences with shelling fava beans, I jumped in and started working on the cannellini beans. Well, fava beans kind of have a built-in zipper (if you grab the part on the non-stem end, you can rip it down the side of the bean). This is definitely not the case with cannellini beans. The shells of cannellini beans are much thicker than that of fava beans, and to be honest, if I didn’t have usable fingernails I’m not sure how long it would have taken me. I did finally arrive at a somewhat time-saving technique of sort of breaking the bean right on the bean bulge itself – that seemed to liberate the little guys better than any other technique.
Once shelled, I boiled the beans for about 25-30 minutes. I started checking at about 15 minutes, just because I had never used them raw before, so wasn’t quite sure how long they would take. I swear after around 20 minutes, the vapor coming from the saucepan smelled like gingerbread. Really. That didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever, but I love gingerbread, so I really do know what it smells like. Unfortunately, all of the combinations of search terms I could think of to try turned up nothing on the internet, so…I’m not getting a lot of concurrence with my apparent gingerbread delusion.
Pappardelle’s Italian Pesto Pasta has four different flavors (and shapes) mixed together: Basil, Cracked Pepper, Garlic Parsley and Sun-Dried Tomato. It really did invoke pesto as you were eating it. Aside from shelling the cannellini beans, this was an extremely quick and easy dish to make, but it was really quite great tasting.
Italian Pesto Pasta with Cannellini Beans
1 lb cannellini beans in the pod
5 oz Pappardelle’s Italian Pesto Pasta
3 tsp olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 basil leaves, finely chopped
Shaved pecorino romano
Salt and pepper to taste
Shell the beans, then boil in water until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside. Cook the pasta. With a few minutes left on the pasta, sauté garlic in 1 tsp of olive oil for a minute, then turn off the heat. Drain the pasta, and then toss it with another 2 tsp of olive oil, the garlic, the beans, and several minced basil leaves. Add a little shaved pecorino romano and salt and pepper to taste.
I had been eyeing the sweet potato pappardelle at the Papperdelle’s Pasta stall all summer, but was waiting for fall to try it. So now that it is feeling cooler and the leaves are starting to turn, I finally bought some. This pasta pretty much begs for a butter sauce, so I planned to do browned butter, brown sugar and sage. I had also acquired a red kuri squash (or ambercup – I’m really not sure, I’ve GOT to start taking notes when I buy things), and thought that might be good in addition. I was a little worried it would taste too similar to the pasta, because in the past I’ve made a couple of things with sweet potatoes and squash that were too one-note, but it actually worked really well.
Sauce-wise, I attempted to make brown butter, but that didn’t really end up as anything you could remotely called a success. I’ve tried making brown butter a couple of times in the past and really not had good luck (burned milk solids), so after two failed attempts, I bailed and decided to just finish the pasta off with uncooked butter, letting it melt over the pasta. Two tablespoons of butter was a big splurge for us, but given the rest of the dish was nearly fat free, I just went for it. (We also use Land O Lakes light butter, which has about half the fat of regular butter. Is that shameful for a foodie to use? Possibly. But it helps keep the fat intake down. As my husband pointed out, the decreased fat is no doubt the bulk of why my attempts at brown butter fail, but I’m just not willing to use that much full-fat butter at home.)
I had never tried red kuri (or ambercup – whichever) squash before, so as I was cleaning it I was kind of surprised to find greenish/orange…guts? (I’m not really sure what you call the stuff inside a squash, technically speaking). And there was a lot of it, so that the flesh of the squash was actually pretty thin. I guess that’s why people like to use them for shells for stuffing of some sort. It was a very nice, mellow tasting squash, that I will definitely get again in the future.
Sweet Potato Pappardelle with Red Kuri Squash, Garlic, Onions, Butter and Brown Sugar
1 small winter squash
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
a sprinkle of cinnamon and/or clove, to taste
salt to taste
Hollow out and peel the squash, steam it, then chop it into small pieces. Start the pasta. Sauté the onions and garlic in 1 tsp of olive oil until the onions are translucent, then set aside. Once the pasta is done, drain it, then put it back in the saucepan over low heat with the butter, 1 tsp olive oil, the onions and garlic, and about a tablespoon of brown sugar, stirring until the butter is melted. Add salt to taste. Add cinnamon and/or clove to taste, if desired.
One of my favorite Pappardelle’s Pasta flavors is the Gluten-Free Chipotle Lime. I’m not gluten-intolerant, but I think their gluten-free pastas taste really good, so I haven’t hesitated to buy them. It’s true the texture isn’t exactly the same as regular pasta, but personally I feel the flavor makes up for any differences. Previously I’ve made this pasta with black beans, tomatoes, and guacamole, but I bought A LOT of sweet corn at the Farmers’ Market, so I decided that this would be a perfect use for the first ear. I just did a simple sauce with tomato, garlic, onion, cilantro and chili powder, and was very pleased with how it came out.
Chipotle Lime Pasta with Sweet Corn, Black Beans and Tomato
4 oz Pappardelle’s Chipotle Lime Pasta
1 ear sweet corn
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 tsp olive oil (smoked, preferably)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
chili powder to taste (I used adobo and chipotle)
freshly ground pepper to taste
Boil the ear of corn in water either on the stovetop or in the microwave, about 8-10 minutes. Once the corn is done, drain and set aside to cool. Start the pasta (this gluten-free type needs 14-16 minutes to cook). Meanwhile, sauté the garlic and onion in a teaspoon of smoked olive oil until the onions are translucent. Then add the tomatoes, salt, and sugar, and cook for several minutes until the tomatoes are softened. Then add the adobo and chipotle chili powders (about three shakes each), ground pepper, and cilantro. Stir well to blend, salt to taste, then turn off the heat until the pasta is done. Cut the kernels off of the corn cobs. When the pasta is done, drain it, then combine everything in the saucepan over low heat to ensure it is well-mixed and heated through.
September 17, 2011
Last weekend we attended a farm dinner at Aspen Moon Farm, an awesome little farm in Hygiene, CO owned by Jason and Erin Griffith. Several members of my book club belong to the Aspen Moon Farm CSA (Community Shared Agriculture), so we had inside knowledge about how great their produce is. (I’ve also bought things from them at the Farmers’ Market, and been very happy with it). All of my book club and their significant others attended the dinner, as well as some of the farm workers, other CSA members, neighbors of the farm, and other food aficionados.
Before we sat down to eat, Jason took us on a tour. The farm is only 5 acres, but they get an incredible amount and variety of produce out of it. They use sustainable, pesticide-free farming methods, and have a great respect for the land. They are working on achieving their organic certification, and are considering going even further to get biodynamic certification. One of the tenets of biodynamic agriculture is the creation of a largely self-sustainable ecosystem in which as few external resources are used as possible. There are a couple of practices that Jason and Erin discussed that struck me as perfect examples of this type of closed-loop, sustainable system. The first deals with water supply. Aspen Moon sold their water rights to Left Hand Water so that they could dig a well on their property, and therefore obtain all of their water from the farm itself. The second is the use of their farm-foraging, egg-laying chickens to provide fertilizer. They haven’t yet attained the level of biodynamic, self-sustaining farming that they would like, but are always progressing toward that goal.
The orchestration of the meal was done by Terroir, a very popular Farm to Table restaurant in Longmont, which gets a large portion of its produce form Aspen Moon Farm. Terroir owners Tim Payne and Melissa Newell (Tim is also the executive chef) provided a wonderful four course dinner, cooked in the farm field with portable equipment. Paired with each course were some very impressive biodynamic wines provided by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.
Other people at the dinner took lovely pictures of the farm, the sunset and the full moon. I got pictures of the chickens. That’s pretty typical for me. I headed over to the large pen they were in between courses to take a picture, and they all came trotting over to me. I soon found myself trying to apologize to them and explain that I was just there for a picture, not with food. At that point I remembered I was in public, snapped a couple of pictures, and returned to the table.
I did, however take pictures of the food (aside from the passed appetizers). So without further ado:
The first sit-down course was a potato, poblano and sweet corn chowder with crispy bacon and grilled sea scallop.
The second course was a gorgeous spicy green salad with carrots, Japanese cucumbers, shallots, peanuts, soy beans, and cilantro with a ginger citrus vinaigrette.
The main course was a very lovely roasted cornish game hen served with Procencal ratatouille and pistou.
We ended the meal with a grilled Palisade peach with rosemary infused brown sugar syrup and almond nougatine. By the time dessert rolled around, it was fairly dark, so the picture does not do the food justice.