Thursday, January 19, 2012

In 'N Out of the Kitchen

January 15, 2012
Simple Beef Chili with Kidney Beans
Cornbread No Chaser
Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen, Vella Merlot

I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday on the road &emdash; about 21 hours in a car. We drove to Arcata, California, and back, returning our daughter to college (we have plans to get her a car of her own to save us some of this travel) and to Clovis, California, for Destination ImagiNation, an educational organization for whom I do a lot of volunteer work. After three days in the car I didn't want to spend all day Sunday in the kitchen. Not only was I tired from the travelling, but I usually use Saturday for meal planning and shopping, and I didn't have that opportunity. Also, the other normal weekend chores and activites were begging for my attention.

I had been thinking of making chili for some time. Since I had received the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook for Christmas I opened it to see what recipes it offered and found several pages of them. This isn't surprising, given the many different ways to make this dish, and the passion that it inspires. I've made it with ground beef and with stew beef, using dried spices, dried chilies, fresh chilies, with beans and without beans. I even experimented for a while, trying to develop my own recipe, but with little success. Reading the first of the several chili recipes in the book, "Simple Beef Chili", I had found what I wanted: a really simple recipe requiring a minimum amount of my time. It called for ground beef; onions; garlic;  red bell pepper; canned beans, tomatoes, and tomato puree; and dried spices: chili powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  Prep time was minimal and cooking time was only a few hours during which I was free to attend to other matters. The recipe called for two pounds of ground beef but to create a dinner for two with a reasonable quantity of leftovers I halved it. I think I even remembered to halve every ingredient. It also said to drain the tomatoes and reserve the liquid, but then didn't say what to do with the liquid. I kept it to add if the chili dried out but it wasn't needed.

My favorite side dish with chili is cornbread. I found a box of corn meal in the cupboard and looked up  my favorite cornbread recipe from Alton Brown's baking book, I'm Just Here for More Food.  The batter is prepared using the "muffin method". The dry ingredients are whisked together in a large bowl. The corn meal is soaked in milk for 15 minutes and the other wet ingredients are added. The wet is then added to the dry and mixed until just incorporated. The batter is then, and this is key, poured into a preheated cast-iron skillet to bake as the hot pan produces a lovely, golden crust. The bread was done sooner than the recipe suggested, which I had anticipated so I was watching it, but it had a higher internal temperature than called for in the recipe. It wasn't burned but perhaps a bit overdone.

The chili and the bread were both very good. The chili had a bit of heat (sometimes your food should bite you back) but not too much; Diane and I are not big fans of spicy foods but the degree of heat was OK. We topped it with some shredded cheese. The cornbread was topped with butter and honey. It was a comforting meal to eat on a winter's evening. I probably spent about an hour, maybe less, in the kitchen, all told. A nice result for a relatively modest investment of time.

Simple Beef Chili with Kidney Beans, Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, America's Test Kitchen, 2011, p. 96.
Cornbread No Chaser, I'm Just Here for More Food, Alton Brown, 2004, p. 118. 

Last week's homemade hot dog buns were frozen. Since they were made we've had hot dogs and baked beans twice. The first time I took two of the buns out of the freezer and thawed them, gently, in the microwave. They came out great, almost as good as the day they were made. We also tried them lightly toasted and that worked well, too. The more I have these the more I like them and the more likely that I will make my own hot dog buns again. I will certainly consider trying the King Arthur recipe next time.

The left over baked beans were fine just warmed up in the microwave, though a little dry. I added some ketchup which, like bacon, improves almost anything. The second time we had these we added some water before microwaving which also helped.

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