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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Video: How to Free Poach an Egg

As the title suggests - here's a video on how to free poach an egg.  "Free" poaching just means putting your egg(s) in the water freely.  Really it's just a euphemistic term to describe 'boiling'.  But boiling an egg just sounds gross... plus it has close association with 'hard' boiling, which is cooking the living bejeebus out of egg while it is still in the shell.

Anyway, free poaching is a very healthy way to eat an egg, not to mention very tasty.  It is my personal favourite way to eat an egg; I just love being able to 'pop' the yolk at my own leisure, and then having it spill over everything.  Even an 'over-easy' egg the yolk is a little too overcooked for my liking.

The thing that a lot of people assume, however, is that poaching in this way is difficult, or even time-consuming.

It's not.

We skipped ahead approximately 1.5 minutes to let the egg cook, and then:

Special thanks to my dutiful and sparkling wife, and her stunningly steady hands, for filming.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cinnamon Buns

So, just like I said I was going to – I made some apple cinnamon/anise buns with those apples from Homemade Apple Sauce with Peel.  So, there was juice, and sauce from this, which I mixed with my 'wet' ingredients for what was otherwise just my regular artisan bread recipe.

This recipe is my own... but it is heavily influenced by Nigella.  The largest thing is the use of potato water.  You wouldn't think it would make such a difference... but damn... it really does.  I imagine it has something to do with the starch?  In any case, it is a big deal.  So much so, that in her book – the one from which this recipe was loosely spawned – she actually uses the phrase: “...plead with you to use old potato water as the liquid.”

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Let's just say that as soon as I tried that... I never went back.  You do have to remember, as she herself cautions, to check saltiness in this case, as we often will salt our potato water... and that salt is obviously going to count in this bread recipe.

Other than that, this is really quite simple.

  • Flour
  • Yeast
  • Salt
  • Water
That's my recipe.

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Although I do believe that, unlike most cooking, baking is slightly more 'science' than 'art', bread is a little... finicky.  It really does matter what your environmental conditions are – pressure, humidity, altitude, etc. - to such a degree that no one recipe can truly hold all the answers to a perfect bread.

So... the best advice I could give is to just learn to get good at judging when your dough is 'supersaturated' with flour.  There is a magic point when your dough has accepted as much flour as it's going to.  Usually this is found through successively adding small amounts of flour while kneading.

Because of this, when it comes to assembling the ingredients, I will just loosely measure.  It's usually around a 3:1 ratio dry to wet.  Usually.  Like I said, there is no certainty to this... sometimes it is as much as 2:1.  So... because YIELD is never rigid, I just mix up some dough, and add either more water or flour, whichever is needed... and if it yields more dough than I wanted... whatever... just a bigger loaf.

The other “tweak” I like to do is NOT to “punch down” the recently risen dough.  Every book I've ever read, states that, after you've kneaded, and let rise, the dough should be “punched down” - essentially, deflated.  The first half a dozen times I made bread I couldn't figure out why my dough would rise nicely, but the bread would not.  I tried everything... including kneading for over a half an hour one time...  Until finally I just said F@*# it and baked it in its risen state.  The result was delightful... A VERY fluffy, well-shaped, golden loaf of bread with a satisfyingly light crumb.

So... let's be clear.  The kneading action is absolutely necessary.  It mixes the ingredients smoothly, and allows for the formation of gluten, which is what allows for the bread to house the carbon dioxide breathed off by the yeast, and therefore rise.  Kneading is awesome.  It's cathartic and engaging... and not a small workout.  If you're not getting a good workout, then you're not doing it properly.
If you don't know how to knead, it's really simple.  Hard to describe, but really easy to do.  Basically (what I do anyway, is) push down on the dough with the heel of your hand(s), partially flattening it.  Then fold it in half, and push down again.  Repeat ad infinitum.

There really is a magic point when the bread has become saturated – the dough will go from being 'moist' or sticky-feeling, to smooth and velvety.

I like to really beat the $#!^ out of the dough.  Sometimes I'll even get my fingers in there and just squish the ever-loving crap out of it.  Like I said... cathartic.  It reminds of that Jayne line: 'I like smackin 'em'.  Heh heh heh heh.  :D

So, kneading is hugely important.

As for anything else... I can't think of anything.  It's just flour, a pinch of salt (literally... I'd say less than a measurable amount) and yeast.  I used to always use 'sachets' or pouches of dry active yeast, in which case it would be one of those to like 2.5 cups of flour roughly.  However, I don't use those anymore, because I started buying yeast in bulk, and storing it myself.  So... I'll just throw in about a tablespoon instead.  That's one tablespoon per 2.5 cups.

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When I make a variant off this white bread, it of course requires the addition/substitution of ingredients, more often than not, in the wet.  Sometimes it's garlic and chive-infused butter, sometimes it's milk, but in this case it was apple-sauce, and apple-juice, with the potato water.

So, this particular batch of dough was:

~6 cups flour
~2 1/4 tablespoons yeast
~2 cups “wet” ingredients (water)
no salt (there was enough in the potato water)
~2 tablespoons sugar (normally not added, but this is going to be a 'sweet' bread)

I imagine that doesn't help anyone who wanted to follow this recipe... but there it is.

Anyway, standard baking procedure ensued:

Mix all dry.
Mix all wet.
Make well in dry; pour in wet.
Mix together.
Then, kneading.  I kneaded this puppy for about 20 mins.  It seems like a long time... and it is.  But this is arguably the most important step in bread-making, and I like to make really sure it's really done well.

After kneading, I judged that I had just a little too much dough for one batch of cinnamon buns.  So I ripped off about a quarter of it, and shaped that into a loaf.  That got put in an oiled baking pan, and cling-filmed, and set aside to rise.  Normally I like to put this in a warm-ish spot, because it really helps, but today I started this early and so had plenty of time to wait for the rise.

As for the other 3/4 of the dough, I ripped off another tiny amount... I'd say about an eighth, and rolled that out thinly.

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This becomes the “base” of the buns.  I've actually forgotten this step before, once, and the buns still turned out OK.  The contents did NOT all just fall out the bottom without it... it was fine.  So, I'm not really sure why it's there, but whatevs.

Greased baking pan, spread base out to corners.

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Then I rolled out the remaining dough.  This took some time... the best advice I can give here is to just keep doing it over again until your rolling tenacity wins out over its natural penchant for elasticity, and the bloody thing stops shrinking back all the time.  Again, this all comes down to attitude.  It's a good idea to just hate the dough.  Not dislike, or mildly tolerate, but actually loathe it.  That way - with thoughts of blowing out its kneecaps - you can persevere.

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Now comes the cinnamon mix.  This simple addition is really all which separates a regular bread from cinnamon buns or bread or rolls.

I took what was left of the apple sauce (I had saved a little bit of it from the dough mix step) which wasn't much... maybe about a 1/2 cup.  Then I mixed in about another 1/2 cup of margarine, about 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (freshly ground would have been better, especially since I could have just milled it with my next two ingredients), fresh cardamom, and star anise.

As I have mentioned many times before, I'm sure, fresh herbs and spices are always better than dried or pre-ground.  If I had to make a flow chart, it would go: fresh herbs > dried leaves of said herb > dried pre-ground "powder" of said herb.  And with spices, it still goes dried whole spice > ground "powder" of said spice.

So, I strongly recommend that your spice cupboard be filled with the whole fruit (read: fruiting body) version of spice, rather than it's pre-ground plebeian cousin.  It takes almost no extra time to mill it yourself, in your trusty mortar and pestle, or if you can't be bothered with that, buy a super cheap coffee grinder (these can be less than $10) and just keep it for milling herbs and spices.

So, I milled some fresh-ish cardamom pods - the insides of which, are what you want... the stuff which looks like a mutant coffee bean:

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And crushed that on up - I'd say about 5 or 6 pods worth (not all of them come out looking whole and pretty like in this picture... in fact the vast majority are already broken up inside.)

Then about the same amount of star anise.  I love this stuff... it is quite like a pine cone in many respects, except a delicious pine cone.  Same thing - buy the whole version and grind it yourself, it make an immense difference.

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Ground these together:

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And then mixed it with the butter/apple sauce mixture.  Normally I'd use one of my gorgeous stainless steel mixing bowls for this, but this ceramic bowl is what held the apple sauce... and I'm nothing if not frugal when it comes to clean-up...  :)

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Spread this as evenly as you can across the rolled-out dough.  You HAD to see that coming, right?

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Then, roll it on up!  Try to keep it pretty tightly rolled.  It's not the end of the world if it isn't - the rising action of the dough will "fill it in" - but it will look nicer in terms of presentation, once you cut into the finished product.

Once the whole thing is rolled, I like to cut it (very delicately - try using a bread knife for this) in halves, and then halved again, and again, so as to ensure I'll end up with an even number of rolls.

Then, placed carefully on top of the base - with LOTS of room in between them, they get cling-filmed and set under my warm lights for several hours.  Just like the bread.

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They don't look like much right now, but look what happens after being allowed to rise for about 5 hours:

Pretty sweet stuff.

So, they go into the oven at 400° for surprisingly less amount of time than a regular bread would.  My normal artisan loaf goes in for over a half an hour... sometimes as long as 45 minutes!  These, however, because they were sweeter, went in for significantly less.

The bread was in for about 20 minutes only.  As always, it's never recommended to keep opening and closing the oven door to dote over your baking, but I find it's better in the long run to quickly grab it out and stick a bamboo skewer in the middle.  If this is for 'company' or you want it to look pretty, you can rap on the bottom of the pan, and if you hear a 'hollow' sound the bread is likely done.  The skewer method is relatively non-invasive however, and provides very clear, visible results (or lack thereof).

It looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.

And it had a delightfully crisp crust.

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As for the apple/cinnamon/cardamom/star anise buns... they took about 25 minutes, and were also delightful to look upon.

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They were even more delightful to eat.  With a small pat of margarine on top... delicious.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Good Little Kitchen Utensil

So... I never would have thought this would come in handy so much.

It was probably only about 3 or 4 dollars, and it isn't the most sturdy of items.

However, it is quite handy.

I use it to clean dry debris from my counter tops, before wiping with a cloth.

It is extremely skinny; its super slim profile gives it a tiny footprint in my already tiny kitchen.  I have a hook on the back side of my fridge upon which it rests when not in use.  And yet it is easily reached when needed.

This little thing has been very useful.

Just thought I'd share that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Liquid Gold

I've always been a fan of flavoured oils and vinegars, and usually always have a few bottles sitting around my kitchen.  I even bought a little 'carrying box' to house them.  I'm sure it was intended for something else (like holding kitchen utensils), but it works perfectly for this, and it looks pretty.  :)

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About six months ago, the wife went to Halifax for work, and happened across this store which specializes in flavoured and imported oils and vinegars.  That's nothing completely novel or unique, but this place does it particularly well.  They have a good mix of regional oils and some interesting flavour combinations.  Anyway, she loved the store, as she also has an appreciation for infused oils and vinegars, and needless to say, came home with close to a hundred dollars worth of products from there.

While I enjoy these ready-made mixes, I actually find (as I do with many ready-made products) that I prefer to make them myself at home.  I've got a couple of decent "drizzlers" with some upgraded self-closing, cork spouts (from Liquid Gold, incidentally), in which I usually keep a mix of either French-based or Italian-based herb-infused olive oil in the one, and a similar blend infused in some balsamic or red wine vinegar in the other.  I have a few other, smaller drizzlers which are for more radical flavours (currently, some blueberry balsamic, and some tarragon olive oil).

So, while I definitely do enjoy browsing (and tasting) a myriad of flavour-infused oils and vinegars, I invariably find it more cost-effective (not to mention fun!) to mix these up myself.  I usually always have a plethora of the necessary ingredients just sitting around, so it's just a matter of mixing them together.

I used to go a little crazy with things like using real garlic and onion, and while it does keep for a surprisingly long time just on the counter, it does start to get a little gross if you don't keep the levels topped up.  It IS delicious, however, and the one I've got on the go presently, is over 5 months old; I've just been topping it up every couple of weeks, and it is still very potent.

I'm not a biochemist, but I imagine that keeping the organic material completely submerged in the oil not only prevents oxidization, but also inhibits bacterial growth.  Doing the same in vinegar is probably even better, because the vinegar itself is slightly antiseptic, isn't it?

Anyway, although there haven't been any issues, I think for simplicity's and ease's sake, I'll just stick to dried herbs.  Fennel, oregano, savory, and bay are some of my favourites.  My normal method of diffusing fresh things (like garlic or onion) in oil - by lightly sauteing on low for a little while - just seems wrong for this application...  I could be wrong, but even though I'd likely strain the oil before bottling, something tells me it would not be a good idea to store previously-heated oil.  I dunno.  In any case, though, the raw onion and garlic actually infuse quite a bit of flavour in there anyway.  The only problem is, like I said, keeping that organic material adequately submerged all the time.

That said, the next time I pick up a pack of HOLY CHILI PEPPERS I'll probably mix up a "hot" oil.  I like the hot and spicy oil as a "finishing" oil.  

Something I don't think we North Americans do a whole lot with olive oils, is use them as a finish - i.e. drizzle over a completed dish just prior to serving - it provides excellent flavour and even adds some flair to plating, or presentation.

Anyway, to conclude this post, let me just say that the wife got sent to Halifax again this weekend, and is planning a dedicated trip to Liquid Gold Tasting Bar & All Things Olive.  This time, however, I planned ahead and picked out some items from their website beforehand.  Like I said before, I like to make my own flavoured oils, but this store does have an intriguing collection of regionally-based oils which I am excited to sample!

It's sad that I get excited about oils and vinegars... but, screw you, it's going to be awesome!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thermal Flasks for the Kitchen

Thermal Flasks.

Let us all bask in the thermal flask's warm glowing warming glow.
highly recommend you go pick up at least a couple of these babies for your kitchen.  You could of course use them for what they were originally intended, to hold beverages like coffee or tea or something... if you wanted to be lame.  Instead, use them for cooked items which you'd like to retain heat for long periods of time.  So... sauces, gravies, etc.  But also - here's the interesting bit - some actual food.  In this case, peas!

I don't like to cook my peas for very long; I can't abide overcooked vegetables, for two reasons:
Firstly, taste/appearance.  They're mushy, sodden, and pale.  I'd say they were flavourless (certainly nutrient-less), but they still retain a funky, fetid, old-Ukranian-household smell to them that I liken to boiled cabbage.  Just thinking about this makes me gag a little bit. 
Secondly, quality/utility.  What's the point of consuming something intended to nutrify, that you've leeched all the nutrients out of beforehand?  I ask you, I tells you.  I prefer most of my vegetables raw, and always have (you can ask my mother.)  So, when I do cook vegetables, I cook them the barest of minimums - the absolute least amount needed.  It suffices to say that I quickly became proficient in such techniques as steaming and blanching.

Anyway... because I don't cook my peas for very long, they get cold pretty fast if served in a bowl or dish.  I learned that quickly.  They're still thoroughly cooked, and actually quite "hot"... initially.  However, I found that by storing them in a thermal flask like this, they not only do not get cold during the meal, but are actually still piping hot for a very long time afterwards.  This works so well, I was delightfully surprised the first time.

It may not look great, so I wouldn't recommend this for entertaining... but someday I hope some cookware manufacturer might design something similar for this purpose.  I envision something shorter, but fatter, and possibly with a porcelain, ceramic, or stoneware exterior (matching whatever larger dishware set it accompanies), but within which temperamental foods can stay hot for the entire duration of a meal by means of a tightly-sealing cap and thermally-lined interior. 

Roasted Pork Loin

So, I decided to make some homemade Apple Sauce.  See my related post, Homemade Organic Apple Sauce With Peel, for that.

I had some Gala apples I had to use up, but mostly I thought I had a couple of things in the fridge which would go well with apple sauce.  I had some leftover German potato cakes in the fridge, and a couple of cheap pork loins in the freezer.  Pork loins which were sold in a two pack for less than $5.00.

So, this post is about the unsung hero, the meal behind the apple sauce.

I thawed one of those pork loins in the fridge overnight, the night before, so it was ready to roast.

I created a real simple rub (which ended up being kind of Provençale*) by grinding together in my mortar and pestle, in order of concentration, the following:
  • oregano
  • savory
  • basil
  • fennel seeds
  • sel gris
  • black peppercorns
*In actuality, a typical 'Herbes de Provence" mix usually does not contain oregano; instead it often has rosemary, thyme, and lavender.

I was a little sick of rosemary, from a very-rosemary-thanksgiving feast, and I've currently run out of lavender, which actually would have worked with this.  However, I was feeling kind of lazy, and I wanted to cook the potato-cakes in with the pork loin, so I picked the common denominators among what would work with BOTH.  Oregano goes with potatoes and pork quite well... plus I like it.  A lot.  It may be overused... but there could be a reason for that.  Fennel and pork go together like... fennel and oregano.  The others are just good complements to such a mix.  

I think I've explained before, my propensity to always segregate flavours in a meal according to a single dominant flavour, and then a couple (or multiple) complementary flavours. If you haven't read that post, please see Dominant vs.Complementary Flavours, for a delightful and irreverent trip across ijj's palate.  

Anyway, that mix got rubbed well into a perforated pork loin.  I like to stab little shallow holes in the meat; it tenderizes, allows for more surface area for flavour-absorption, and it's super fun.  Just affix a grimace, flip the knife handle around in your grip, and go to town.

I quartered my leftover potato cakes, and just placed them in my slightly-greased Le Creuset, loosely situated about the recently-violated pork loin.

I put this into the oven at only 350° as I wanted some time to work on the apple sauce.

For that, please see my dedicated post entitled Homemade Organic Apple Sauce WithPeel.

However, here is a quick pic of the final product.

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The wife was about 45 mins late, and despite turning the oven down to warm, the thoroughly-traumatized pork loin was making its peace with whatever gods it prayed to by the end.  The accompanying potatoes, along for this joyride, just did not know what hit them, and by this time were feeling soundly desecrated themselves.

I say this in jest, because the pork was actually still rather moist, and the potatoes - which had originally suffered from the unfortunate happenstance of having moist interiors - were still rather fluffy.  It was good.  And, considering that there was delicious apple sauce to smother over it all, I wasn't really upset.

Incidentally, if you're wondering about that thermos flask... (and I know you are!) check out this post on my Thermal Flasks for the Kitchen.

Homemade Organic Apple Sauce With Peel

I wanted this apple sauce to be homemade, and delicious, and I wanted to leave the peel on. I admit that I was new to making apple sauce, and so I looked up some recipes.

Most people suggest peeling the apples, and adding sugar and spices, but there were a couple out there who mentioned success with leaving the peel on.

The apples I wanted to use up were some delicious, but older, organic Gala apples.  I find these are naturally pretty sweet, plus they have a beautifully-coloured peel.

So, the peel was staying on.

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I buy these regularly enough from the grocery store, but as Ontario has been harvesting more apples locally this Autumn, we've been picking up farmer's market Gala apples as well.

So, some of these older, store-bought Galas were getting pretty old.  They were still in good shape, but the peel had started to lose its crispness a little bit.

At any rate, I figured they'd be perfect for sauce.

So, I cored and quartered them using just a trusty paring knife.  I still am not convinced a 'corer' would add too much efficiency... but I'd be willing to give it a try someday.
That day was not today.

Into the pot the chopped apples went, peel and all, with a small amount of water.  That's it.  Nothing else.

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I put the lid on and essentially steamed (boiled, but there was only a couple of centimetres of water on the bottom) the apples for a good 15 to 20 minutes.  Until softened, which meant, until I couldn't stir them around with my wooden spoon anymore without them falling apart.

So, after that, I dumped the whole pot into a colander which was carefully on top of a tupperware container, so that I could save the liquid for later (going to make some apple spice bread soon).  The strained apples then went in my Cusinart food processor.  This took a fair bit of time, and required successive pulse-stir-pulse-stir actions.  Eventually I got it to a very nice, silky smooth consistency.  Before I poured it out of the blender, I threw in a very simple mix of ground star anise and the faintest pinch of cinnamon.  This was done very meticulously, because I wanted a very smooth texture and star anise can be a little hard.  So, I ground them in my mortar and pestle, and then used a very fine sieve to tap the resultant powder in.  This required three batches of grinding before all of it could fit through the sieve.  After that was all mixed nicely, I put it back in my pot (which I had rinsed of any large apple bits still remaining).

The result was a very smooth apple sauce. It didn't have any added sugar at all, but was still surprisingly sweet.  The star anise and cinnamon were there, but really well incorporated into the overwhelmingly apple flavour.

It was really, really, good.

To see what we put this on, check out my post on Roasted Pork Loin.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chili Sin Carne (y Tortillas)

Chili sin carne (chili without meat) is typically made with some sort of meaty "alternative" - often in order to placate vegetarianism or veganism.  However, I don't like tofu or textured vegetable protein on a good day, so I try to just incorporate a fair bit of protein via legumes.  This still makes for a vegetarian and vegan chili.

My normal, tried-and-true, recipe for chili sin carne, is essentially a '4-legume-stew'.  In fact, I've referred to it that way before.  I won't detail the construction of it, but basically it is onion, garlic, chili pepper, cumin, tomato, white beans, romano beans, green lentils, and refried (black) beans.  The chili is then put together much in the same way as any other stew, except for a bit of pre-rinsing and pre-soaking for the beans.

I'll make that 4-legume-chili sin carne at least once a month, and it often provides enough for at least three or four meals.  However, it does take a little while to make, plus I like to let it simmer for as long as possible (at least 6-8 hours) in the slow-cooker.

In any case, I decided not to make this, but instead a simpler, quicker, version of it.

So, this is really just a '2-legume chili'.

So, first I washed (rinsed) the lentils.  I used some dry, bulk, black lentils this time.  Then I soaked them in cold water for a couple hours.  After that, I even softened them a little bit by cooking them in some boiling water for about 20 mins.  If I was planning on simmering the chile all afternoon, I'd probably not need to pre-cook them, but it's important to me that this chile has a smooth texture.

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After rinsing them again after being cooked, they were ready to be added to the pot.

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Technically lentils do not have to be this much of a chore, but I find that a little lentil maintenance goes a long way.  Canned lentils still need a good rinse, but I find the dry lentils can get a little grimy and need several washes.  Regardless, it's always a good idea to inspect your lentils thoroughly, and a couple of rinsing stages improves your chances.

Next, I diced up a lot of onion, garlic and one jalapeno.  I would have liked to put two jalapenos in there, but my wife isn't as tolerant of chilis as I am... so I'll just mix up a hot sauce later for dipping.

Because texture is important in this kind of dish, I'm actually going to chop these diced veggies up even more with my food processor.  I have a decent Cusinart blender, but I don't like to use it (and clean it) unless it's for a big job, so I'll use my little (also Cusinart) hand mixer with chopper attachment:

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So, the veggies are essentially puréed, with some vegetable oil for lubrication, which will help ensure a consistent texture to the chili.

As you've come to know, I still need to sauté this a little bit before it's ready to be added (yes, even to something that's going to simmer for a while) = this is less about the texture and more about diffusing the flavours uniformly over a larger surface area.  

I'll explain:

Concentration gradients always work with particles (of any matter) moving from an area of high concentration to one of low concentration.  So, I like to send a good deal of those flavour molecules from the veggies (small surface area) into a larger liquid so that once they are diffused into the liquid (in this case the vegetable oil), they will have a significantly easier time diffusing again into the larger sauce (chili).  Remember that in a liquid, the particles are more spread out than in a solid, so if you have two liquids mingling, then any particles held in solution (suspended in the liquid) will have that much greater chance of spreading out evenly throughout the whole mixture.

Sorry for that... but hopefully it adequately explains why I like to sauté my flavour-packers before adding them to a liquid (sauce, soup, stew, etc.)  I will almost never cook with garlic or onion without doing this.  Adding these ingredients raw will ensure that you have a bland dish with tiny pockets of crunchable flavour.  I'd much rather have the veggies blander but the sauce more flavourful.  There are, of course, exceptions, and certain times when you don't need to do this... more often than not, when not adding them to a liquid (sauce, soup, stew, etc.), so like in a salad or something.  

I will say, as an aside, (and just as one example) that the secret to awesome flavoured breads is to diffuse your herbs or veggies into a liquid (like butter... mmmm...) and add that to the dough rather than their raw counterparts.  This is less of a big deal with dried herbs (like rosemary, fennel, etc.) but with 'wet', i.e. fresh herbs or vegetables, I find this to be general good practice.  Garlic bread absolutely needs to be done in this way... I even simmer the garlic in butter (on low heat) for a very long time and then strain the chunks of diced garlic out before adding.  But, then, I've said before, I'm a very textural eater.


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So, I'm sautéing the veggie purée, and I'm going to add the cumin.  A lot of cumin.  About 1/4 cup of seeds, but then milled finely in a mortar and pestle.  That goes into the sauté mix about 3-4 minutes before being done.

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This purée then goes into the pot.

Next comes the shameful part.

I really do advocate the use of real tomatoes, and real white beans, but in a lot of cases it's just plain easier to use a can.  Some day I'll likely write about how I feel about some canned goods vs. others; in a nutshell, however, my philosophy is really simple: read the ingredients.  The simpler (and fewer) the better, and if you pick up a can of tomato paste and the ingredients just say: "Tomatoes", then I don't see anything wrong with using that... especially since a small can of paste is less than $0.50 and contains close to a couple dollars' worth of tomatoes.

So, I put in a small can of tomato paste, and a regular-sized can of browned beans (white beans).

Mixed it all together, added a good pinch of salt, and it simmered in the slow-cooker for a couple hours only.

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Before taking the chili off the heat, I prepared some homemade corn-flour tortillas.

Ahora las Tortillas Frescas:

I've simplified this recipe, through successive tweakings, over the years, to basically be just flour, salt, and water.

  • Corn flour (yellow), for corn tortillas of course, and not to be confused with corn meal.  About one cup.
  • A pinch (~1/8 tsp) of salt.
  • About a tablespoon of cumin seeds, loosely milled - so... ground, but not as finely.
  • Enough water to make the mixture runny... and frothy when whisked.

Once this is mixed, heat a pan or skillet to medium high.  Keep a whisk handy because this batter contains two very different densities, and the flour will 'settle' on the bottom after only a minute or two.  Test the pan for readiness before adding mixture.  Whisk batter and immediately pour into pan.  You can do this without cooking oil if you use a non-stick pan, but I find even just a little spoonful of vegetable oil before pouring in the batter, adds a very pleasant crispness to the tortillas.

When you add the (very watery) batter to the hot pan, it's going to splatter.  It's going to splatter violently, and loudly.  Don't be afraid.  An apron helps... as does some mariachi music in the background.  If you use oil, expect more splatter (oil and water don't mix... add one to the other, they'll act distant and standoffish... add one to the other with heat in the house, and you've got a Jerry Springer episode).  So, just be careful.

Once the mixture completely dries in the pan, and begins to turn golden on the underside, and around the edges, flip it over gently.  This takes longer than you'd think - even on medium high heat, these suckers will take a good 4-5 minutes per side - and if you're encountering even the slightest resistance or gumminess in trying to get under it with your flipper, then it's likely not ready yet.

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If you're going to make up a big batch of these (I'll eat 3-4 of these in one sitting, and my tiny wife will even do 2 or 3) you can keep the tortillas warming in the oven at around 160° while you fry them in batches.

This can take a while.  Just to do 5 of them took me about 30 mins.  If I'm going to make a larger batch, for multiple people, I'll just bite the bullet and get a couple pans going simultaneously.

That's it.  

Here are some non-vegan vices to which I succumbed:  I made up some condiment ramekins, as I am often wont; in this case it was some 0% greek yogurt (or sour cream if you want... but seriously try the fat-free greek yogurt cause that shit is awesome), some shredded cheddar, and a small thing of hot sauce.  A while back, my mom brought me back some kick-ass habanero sauce from Mexico, and ever since then, it has been my hot sauce of choice.  

A couple splashes of habanero mixed with some cracked peppercorns for texture is a great dip in a pinch.

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I might also chop up some raw chives to go with this... or even shred some fresh lettuce... but I didn't.  This is already a very veggie-laden meal with a ton of fibre and roughage.  If this were a chile con carne, rest assured there'd be a couple more ramekins with chives and lettuce.

Anyway, if you don't want to use the yogurt or the cheese, then this is wholly vegan, otherwise it is simply vegetarian, but in either case it is a relatively quick and easy chili sin carne, and one of my favourite treats.

It is so delicious I can often forget that it's healthy too.