Archive for January, 2012

FEBRUARY SOUP OF THE MONTH

Yes, that is a heavy wooden spoon standing straight up in a batch of chili.  That’s the kind of “stick to your ribs” consistency I like in a bowl of hearty beef chili.  I guess it is not technically a “soup” but it is my Fenbruary entry in the series of SOUPS OF THE MONTH.  Last night was the first real winter storm of this relatively mild year.  Every tastebud in my mouth was screaming, “CHILI,” as the roads got covered with snow and I anticiapted a long weekend of couch sitting.

Now usually I would put chili in the category of improvisational cooking.  I can’t say that I have ever made the same batch of chili twice in exactly the same way.  But this one turned out so well that I have put down the ingredients and proportions so that it may be replicated in the future.  If you’re going to try this one at home I suggest that you prepare it as listed and then chanage it up in the future to make it your own.  So many chilis I have tasted at competitions are ruined by the addition of strange ingredients added in the name of individuality.  So be careful.  Let it be chili first.  Then if you just can’t help yourself you can start to add pineapple, ham, maple syrup, cinnamon, chocolate, bourbon, champagne, beer, wine, cardomom, sweet potato, zucchini, kale, carrots and marshmallows (all these things, and more, have been ingredients in chili I’ve tasted at contests.)  With a batch of this bubbling away in the crock pot it doesn’t seem like winter can last long enough.

CHILI

1 pound dried red kidney beans

1 package onion soup mix

2 cups beef broth

4 cups water

1 each dried guajiaa, New Mexico, Ancho and Pasilla Negro peppers

Rinse and sort through the dry beans to remove any dirt or small pebbles.  Put in the crockpot with the whole dried peppers and cover with the water and brotgh.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Remove the peppers from the pot and discard the stem and seeds.  Add the chilies along with a cup of the liquid and 1/2 cup of the beans to a food processor.  Process to a smooth paste and return to the pot.  Add:

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon medium chili claro (pure chili powder)

1 tablespoon chhipotle chili powder

2 tablespoons corn meal

In a large skillet, brown 3 pounds of beef that has been coarsely ground.  Really cook this well until it is browned.  This adds a tremendous amount of flavor to the chili.  Add the meat to the beans.  Coarsely chop on onion and cook slowly in the same skillet until the pieces are very soft and caramelized.  Add these to the pot.  Cook on low for another 4-6 hours.  Season with salt to taste.

Stick a spoon in the middle and if it stands straight up, the chili is done.

SUNDAY SAUCE

 

This kitchen tool is as much a part of my childhood as Coney Island and Davy Crockett. The Foley Food Mill was put to use every Sunday morning to grind the plum tomatoes for Gram’s Sunday Sauce. It breaks down the tomatoes and removes the seeds so that the resulting sauce is smooth and sweet. When each of her children were ready to fly from the nest, my mom made sure we had one of these and an …8″ Faberware fry pan so we could make proper manicotti shells. I guess she figured that with these two tools we could find our way in the big world and still stay true to our roots. It’s hard to make a small batch of this sauce but here’s a recipe that uses just one can of tomatoes.

Sunday Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 can (28 ounces) San Marzano Peeled Plum Tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
few red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
meat: meatballs, sausage and/or spare ribs

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook gently until they are wilted and translucent. Grind the tomatoes into the pan over the cooked onions. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the garlic and spices and simmer for an hour. Stir in the tomato paste. If using meat, it should be browned before adding to the sauce. Bring back to a boil then reduce again and partially cover. Cook another 2 hours at a very low simmer. Add more salt if necessary. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

SOUP CLUB – JANUARY

“Whatta we do now boss?” “First, we wash our hands!”  So goes the running gag in the Marx Brothers movie, “A Day at the Races.”  Every time Chico asks the question, Groucho gives him the same answer.  And every time you want to make soup, the answer is “First you make stock.”  Sure, you can use boxed or canned stocks, and some of them are pretty good.  I like the richness of Kitchen Basics.  But there is nothing as good as home made chicken stock.  I keep a freezer full of 1 quart bags of concentrated stock that are just enough for a single batch of soup.  So, here’s the primer.

CHICKEN STOCK

Place a whole chicken or four pounds of chicken parts in a large dutch oven or stock pot.  Cover it with six quarts of water.  Add one onion, unpeeled, two stalks of celery, with leaves, two carrots, roughly chopped, a dozen peppercorns and two bay leaves.  Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours.  Remove the chicken and let stand until cool enough to handle.  Remove the meat and save for another purpose.  Return the skin and bones to the pot and continue to simmer for another two to three hours.  Strain the stock through a double layer of cheesecloth.  Allow to cool and then refrigerate overnight.  Remove all the fat which will have hardened on the top of the bowl.  The cooled stock will be like jello.  Ladle into four one quart zip lock freezer bags.  Each bag will make one batch of soup.

ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP (double batch)

Meatballs:

1 pound ground beef

1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1 cup grated romano cheese

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

salt and pepper

1/2 pound acini di pepe pasta

1 bag baby spinach

1 cup shredded cooked chicken

1 small onion, chopped

1 carrot, sliced fine

1 stalk celery, sliced fine

1 tablespoon butter

Assembly:

Melt the butter over medium heat in a soup pot.  Add the onions, carrot and celery and sweat until the vegetables are soft.  Add 8 cups of chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Mix the meatball ingredients well and form into 1/2 inch round meatballs.  Drop into the simmering liquid.  Cook for 15-20 minutes.  Add the shredded chicken, spinach and acini di pepe pasta.  Bring back to a boil and then let simmer until pasta is tender – 8-10 minutes.  Serve with crusty bread.

You can make the soup ahead of time.  Just don’t add the pasta and spinach until 10 minutes before serving.