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Monday, August 27, 2012

ijj's (Quick) 4-Alarm Chilli

So, I like to make chilli in a slow-cooker, or a large stewing pot, and let the bugger simmer as long as possible.  Well... at least for several hours.  In fact, I believe I've even posted a couple of versions of them (both con- and sin- carne) before.

But, once in a while, I either don't have the time, or I don't plan ahead, and I'll make a quick version.

A few major points of interest here about this 'quick' version:

  1. Less legumes.
    • with a "full" version of ijj's chilli, there will be more varieties of legumes, including at least one type of lentil.  Because these take a relatively longer time to soak and simmer, they're just not feasible in a 'quick' version.
  2. The 'quick' is relative.
    • When I say 'quick', I'm really just comparing it to a >4hr, slow-cooked, chilli.  This chilli still took about an hour to make.  (Lots of veggie chopping, and a good vapour-flash near the end).
  3. The '4-Alarm' is rather misleading, and not really indicative of heat.  
    • I called it '4-Alarm' because there are 4 chilli pods in this recipe, but really I'm not allowed to serve up much more than a "medium" hot dish in my house, so this barely even raises 1 alarm. :(
Anyway, other than that, this is a great tasting, well-rounded, chilli, with an excellent representation from a variety of flavours.  The first, and most dominant, of course, is the peppers.  They give you a good, solid kick to the head right away.  Slowly thereafter, however, comes a hearty hello from cumin (Hey there buddy!), followed by some stately appearances of tomato, garlic, and onion.  Even oregano gives a wave from the wings before all is over.

All in all, a great and not-altogether unhealthy, one-pot meal, that will surprise you with its depth.

So, we've got some fresh tomatoes, green onion, garlic, and chilli peppers.  And a small (this was only about 400g) amount of extra lean ground beef.

First off, we're going to loosely chop the green onion.  This is, of course, a subjective measurement, but this is loose for me, as I tend to chop much finer, to the point of mincing everything usually.  Throw that in a LARGE pan.

If you like, save some of the green stalks for later.

Next, chop the garlic, also loosely, and throw that in as well.

Do not add put the heat on yet, and do not add any oil.

Normally, in my kitchen, chopped onion and garlic shut their eyes and cringe in the corner of the pan at this point, because they know a moderate deluge of olive oil will soon pour over them.

Not today.

Nope, instead, we're going to crumble the beef in there and stir the whole thing up, and only then turn it up to about medium heat.

Even though this is extra lean beef, there is still plenty of fat for the veggies to 'sauté'.  Trust me.

Next, chop up the chillies.  If you're worried about the capsaicin, I'm not going to judge you for wearing some gloves.  Even though I'm way too manly and cool for them.


So, after that's all out of the way, and you've been sure to stick your tongue in one of the juice puddles "just to make sure these particular peppers are indeed spicy", go ahead and throw them into your pan and stir it about.

At this point, use a blender (I prefer immersion blending) to mulch the tomatoes.  I chose 4 medium-sized tomatoes for this recipe, but the important thing to consider is that each tomato added contributes a fair amount of water.  Even these less-watery Roma tomatoes put in a good deal, which needs to be cooked off.  Now, this is fine - water is actually really easy to get rid of in a sauce or stew or anything cooked, because it is so easily vaporized.

So, I added my four pulverized tomatoes, and then turned the heat UP.  To like mark 7.  Really high.

You can see it's pretty liquidy at this point, but that will all change once all the water has evaporated. Trust me.

Because turning this puppy up to 'high' can be really messy and splootchy, make sure to put on your trusty (Culinary Spatterings Approved!) splatter guard thingy.

Now, while that is blipping away furiously on the stove, we can turn our attention to a little bit of clean-up, and some spice grinding.

First off, some salt.  Any salt will do, but I like a good himalayan pink for this kind of thing.  Next, a good handful of dried oregano.  Fresh is of course best, but for this sort of thing, the dried flakes are actually just fine (and will actually soak up a bit of moisture in the process).  Then, a not-small amount of cumin.  Cumin is a must-have flavour in chilli.  Trust me.  :)

Once that is all nicely ground, go ahead and carefully remove your splatter guard and toss in the spices.

Then, it's just a waiting game.  Leave this angry mixture stewing in its own furious juices for some time.  At least 20 minutes from start to finish.  That may seem like a long time, but really, compared to a slow-cook of 5 hours, this really is a 'quick' version of chilli.

You'll be able to tell when it's ready, when the sauce is no longer liquidy, but kind of 'pasty'.  Stirring will leave "unfilled' vacancies in the pan.

This is ready to serve!


You can plate this with a variety of garnishes and sides, ranging from tortillas to corn bread, and with anything from sour cream to hot sauce!

Today, I'm serving this up with some delicious - if generic - toast, and am going to top the chilli with some freshly-grated cheddar, and some of those scallion tips I had saved.

Now, this was absolutely delicious, if I do say so, and very complex, without being overwhelming.  As predicted, the pepper flavour was dominant, but the cumin and oregano were also present, and the onion and garlic, as supportive players, really make the dish what it is.

The heat factor was barely a 'medium'; however, for those with delicate tongues or sensibilities, a nice starchy side (like toast) can help mitigate the heat a bit.

Nothing works quite as well as a nice cold glass of milk, though.  This evening's pairing was a subtle chocolate milk from the south of the province, which exhibited a delicate head, and a cool, smooth finish.


Really, I might have chocolate milk once every three years, but we were at the grocery store yesterday, and it was cheap.  Like borscht.  Like $1 for 1 litre of the stuff.  So we bought it.  And so we had it in the fridge.  And so it seemed like a good pairing with tonight's meal.  And so that was that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Many and Wondrous Applications of Herb Butter

There are few things in this world I cook plain.  As in with no flavour enhancements.  Of course raw fruit and vegetables come to mind... but that's more preparing than cooking.

So, it therefore goes without saying that I cook with a lot of herbs, spices, and miscellaneous flavourings.  In my years I've discovered countless ways of infusing these flavours into food.  Too many ways, in fact, to detail here.

One of these ways, is not really an infusion at all, and more of a superficial addition, or complement.

Once in a rare while, I'll cook some things without any flavouring at all, but plan for there to be an all-encompassing, and super-bad-ass, condiment of some variety.  In such instances, I'll usually take great care and effort in infusing a veritable schwack of palate-whooping tastes into that, as it (obviously) is relied upon solely for all the dish's flavour needs.

This was the case last night, when I prepared a relatively simple meal of salad, steak sandwiches, and roasted potatoes.  Nothing received any flavouring really at all, and were cooked extraordinarily simply.

But then the dark lord learned the art of butter-making, and crafted for himself the one herbed butter.  One butter to rule them all, one butter to find them... one butter to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

And, oh... this butter...

Rosemary and scallion garlic butter, I suppose I'd call it.

And it truly subjugated every dish in this meal, enthralling them each to its evil (but delicious) will.

It has (surprise!!!!!!) Rosemary, garlic, and green onions in it.  Oh yah, and butter.  Some olive oil in there to keep the butter from scalding, but just a titch.  And then some freshly cracked peppercorns, and some rose salt.

Melt your butter (I'd suggest at least 1/2 cup) slowly, over medium-low heat, and then gradually add your onion, garlic, and rosemary.  Let simmer for about 5 or 10 minutes, but before the onion and garlic begin to brown.

Pour this all off into a small bowl or butter dish, and let cool in the fridge (leave it out at room temperature for at least 15 - 20 minutes before shocking its magnificence with the cold, unfeeling, refrigerator).

So, once that's covered and chillin' in el frigo, the hard part of this meal is done.

Whether scared shitless by the terrifying domination to come, or whether they're just calmly and coolly accepting of their doomed fate, the potatoes, steaks, and salad, seem dejected.  Almost sullen.

Oh well, this makes my job easier.

The potatoes just got rinsed and any larger pieces chopped so they're all roughly the same size.

I was dispassionate towards their plaintive mood.


On comes the butter.

Eeeeeeek!  We bow towards the dominance of Herbed Butter!
They complain... but really, they love it.  Shhh, shhh, shhh... yes, you love it.

In any case there was as short a time for the potatoes' anxiety as there was for the herbed butter's exultation; into the oven they all went for over an hour.

So, it was on to mixing the salad.

The meek lettuce - who, let's face it, is kinda used to being other stronger flavours' bitch - was resigned to, almost eager (pitifully!) for, what was about to come.

But, it just got rinsed, and loosely tossed with some tomatoes and some soft creamy cheese.

Again, this preparation was so easy and quick, I was astounded; truly the salad was ready to start its short-lived life of being herbed-butter's thrall.  

In any case, I ignored its sycophantic supplications, and put the salad aside for now. 

Now it was just on to the steak sandwiches.  Drop dead easy this was.  I cut two large pieces of italian loaf, and set them aside, while my cast iron griddle heated up.

Once the griddle was as hot as the fires of Mt. Doom, I threw both the steaks on side-by-side.  Of all the dishes in tonight's ensemble cast, the steaks were definitely the strongest-willed, and they whispered to me gentle claims of righteousness in the calm of the evening.  Fortunately, they were only in the fray for a scant 3 minutes, before being plated.

The next step seems sort of backward, but trust me.

Place your cooked, juice-dripping, steaks on an empty plate.  Then take your bread and smoosh it down onto the still greasy and piping-hot iron griddle.  Toast each side until nice branding marks appear, and the bread absorbs a fair amount of the steak juice.  Now, with one hand, lift the steak from the plate, and with the other hand, place the freshly-grilled toast in the pool of juice that was just left behind.  Put your steak back on top and BOOM - steak sandwich.

Throw some freshly roasted potatoes on your plate, and everything is ready for the almighty bitch-slapping of the master herbed butter.

After any and all life was sucked out of them by roasted slowly in an oven for over an hour, the potatoes were positively passive while being rolled lavishly in the herb butter.

The steak, on the other hand, was wrestled to the earth with the sheer unfathomable awesomeness that is the flavoured Rosemary butter, and became fundamentally, and indelibly, changed thereafter.

The salad received only a small amount of the herb butter, and even that was mixed slightly with some balsamic vinegar, in order to make a vinaigrette.  Compared to the drivel it normally receives, this totally blew the salad's mind.

So, you can see, with the incredibly strong hand of a masterfully crafted herb butter, a few plebeian ingredients from humble origins and with no treatment themselves, can become well and truly beat-down into the submission that is insanely-flavour-packed wonderland.  

In fact, it can happen so fast, and so utterly, that no one even really has the chance to see how it all came to pass.

But when the smoke clears, and the dust settles, everything tastes amazing, and there's this presence which you can't seem to shake... something delicious.  Something constant and uniform amongst everything at the table, seeming to enhance each dish simply by its presence.    

When you put it in your mouth you realize what you're tasting.

It's the taste of subjugation.  

All hail Rosemary Garlic Herb Butter!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Skillet Homefries

I have a weakness for homefries.  Fried potatoes of any kind, really.  If I had even just a smidgeon less willpower than what little I actually do, I'm afraid I'd be morbidly obese and fried potatoes would be the culprit.


However, once in a while, as a treat if I've been really good, I'll mix up a batch of homefries.

This can be done in the oven easily enough, in a large roasting or casserole dish... but today I wanted to use my cast iron skillet.

This method is long and convoluted, but is definitely worth the effort now and then.

First things first.

Get all your veggies ready - washed, trimmed, and chopped.

Today, I'm using garlic, green onion, and some fresh rosemary.

Then, get your potatoes chopped and boiling in some water.  Just for about 10 minutes mind you - just before they're fully cooked.

Then, get your skillet pre-heated, and add a good 100ml of butter and twice that of olive oil.

Then, we're going to saute the onion, garlic and rosemary, each for different amounts, and not for very long.  The onion goes in first, and will cook for about 8 minutes.

After about 3 minutes, add the garlic, and then after another 3 minutes add the rosemary.

In this way, the onions get about 6-8 minutes, the garlic gets 3-4 minutes, and the rosemary only gets a minute or less.

After this, carefully and meticulously separate the oil from the herbs, and then pour that back into the pan, saving your herbs for later.

 Then it's just browning the potatoes, which might seem simple, but is very time-consuming, and slightly arduous.

So, drain the potatoes,

And then place them, in batches, in your hot oil.  I like to crank this heat up to medium-high, or even high, but I'm the kind of cook who will diligently watch what I'm cooking, so if you're even remotely prone to distraction or 'multi-tasking' I strongly suggest you keep this down to medium at most.

Be sure to only place enough in the pan so that they are not 'crowded'.  Oxygen is needed to brown and crisp these puppies, so if they're over-crowded they're just going to get really hot, greasy, and soggy.

After about 5 minutes or so carefully and lovingly turn over each potato piece.  Herein lies the arduousness.  <sigh>  Just pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some music, and relax... it can be rather meditative, really.


They're going to be deliciously golden, and tempting, but try to resist the urge to nab a couple at this point (and the resultant melted flesh from the scalding oil), and just set them aside.

I mixed together my leftover sautéed herb/vegetable mix with a bunch of secret ingredients, and essentially made a 'home-made gourmet rosemary ketchup' out of it.  This can be anything you like really... feel free to go to town, and experiment with sweet, savoury, spicy, etc.  It all works!  

So, I'm just going to add the cooked batches of potatoes in here to rest.

So, after several batches of browning, flipping, and browning, and then coating them in my gourmet ketchup, they're done.

The trick to delicious homefries like this, is to actually NOT worry about the potatoes breaking up when cooked.  That is, after all, how you end up with all those delicious, crispy, gribblies, as visible in the photos above.


So, because I can't rightly just serve up potatoes for a meal, I did whip up a quick batch of green beans to accompany.  But - after blanching them for a short while, I pan-fried them in my deliciously-dirtied skillet, just to get some of that residual goodness infused into the veggies.

The addition of at least one green vegetable made me feel a LITTLE less guilty about eating a whole meal of starchy carbs.  But only slightly.

So, like I said, these potatoes are absolutely delicious.  Crispy, savoury, warm and filling, they make you feel all good inside.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Whetstone and Steel - A Sharp Regimen

Many people have kitchen steels.  While a good one can be quite expensive, for the most part a low-end steel can be quite inexpensive.

However, the unfortunate thing is that many people believe that a steel alone is sufficient in 'sharpening' a knife.  This is not really true.  To truly sharpen a dull blade, metal literally needs to be removed.  This can only be done with a grinder or whetstone.  And not many people keep whetstones in their kitchen.

So, why have a steel at all, you might ask?  The whetstone is very coarse and has a sufficient grit to physically remove metal from the blade, but this action unfortunately leaves the edge very rough, uneven, and full of burrs and such.  This is where the steel comes into play - to refine the sharpened, but roughened, edge of the blade.

So, the process of resurrecting a dull knife is to work both sides of the blade on a whetstone first, and then move on to the steel to hone the edge.  Both are needed.

I'd heard once that you can 'keep a sharp blade sharp' with a steel, but I don't believe it.  I've been sharpening knives ever since I was about 8 years old, in boy scouts (yes, I was a scout... and not for a short time...laugh it up), and used exclusively sharpening stones.

It seems pretty simple to me - you use a stone to grind off the outer edge at such an angle as to create a new edge, and then smooth that edge with a steel, to make it even.

Now, if you happen to have access to a professional or industrial grinder then go to town I say.  But for most of us, a simple whetstone is decent enough.  It's super quick, and really easy, and if you do it regularly, it can keep your knives sharp forever.

So, although I've long wanted a real pretty sharpening stone specifically designed for the kitchen, I can't really justify dropping over $200 bucks for a good one.  Even the low-end kitchen stones are over $50, and I just keep coming back to my old scouting whetstones.

I've a couple of these stones (one of which is quite literally the same one I used when I was 8 years old - and still going strong!) and so a while ago I just pilfered one from my gear, and it now lives in my kitchen.

It's not pretty.

But it works.

So, every time I put my knives away, before I do, I'll give them each a good 2-minute work out on the whetstone.

And then just a quick minute on the steel.

A simple regimen that takes less than 5 minutes every time you use your knives significantly, and you can keep their edges sharp and honed forever.

And - if you're like me and you don't want to spend exorbitant amounts of money on a sharpening stone, just go to your local camping/sporting/scouting outfitters, and pick up a cheap $5 whetstone.