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Cold enough for chili. October 6, 2014

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Brrr, is it ever cold outside! Silence Dogood here. Temps dropped to the 30s here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, last night. Our friend Ben and I managed to keep all our plants alive, but yowie kazowie, that is cold for early October. We weren’t so cold inside our cottage home, thank goodness, but it certainly made us start craving cold-weather food, like chili.

Chili is one of those forgiving foods that tends to taste good no matter how you make it or how you serve it. (Our friend Ben loves it over rice, my favorite is over buttered spaghetti with shredded Cheddar, which is apparently called Cincinnati chili, and of course, you could always serve up a big bowl plain.) I have lots of chili recipes, including one with pumpkin puree (it really is delicious, trust me), but here’s a basic recipe:

Saute 2 diced sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, in olive oil. Add 6 teaspoons minced garlic, a generous tablespoon each granulated garlic, salt (we like RealSalt), cumin, dried rosemary, thyme, and basil, and hot sauce (we like Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa for this), plus a minced fresh jalapeno pepper. Add a diced bell pepper (any color), a diced fresh tomato, 2 tablespoons chili powder, and a splash of Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce. Stir, adding splashes of vegetable broth or water as needed to keep everything from sticking, until the onion has clarified.

Now, add a large can (28 ounces) of crushed tomatoes and a can of Ro*Tel diced tomatoes with hot peppers or a large can diced tomatoes, and a large can (40.8 ounces) of kidney beans (light red, red, or dark red all work fine). Cook until the tomatoes cook down, stirring as the chili cooks, until it’s the consistency you like. (We like thick chili, like a thick spaghetti sauce.)

Once it’s as thick as you want it, you can turn it down or turn it off while you make the rice or pasta or whatever you’d like to serve it with or over. I think slices of polenta, sauteed or baked until molten with butter and cheese on top, would be delicious floated on chili. If you like yours soupy, adding grated cheese and sour cream to each bowl, then serving it with your favorite soup crackers and passing the hot sauce or salsa sounds good.

Finally, let me remind you that, like spaghetti sauce, chili is very forgiving, so it’s a great way to use up leftovers. If you have an ear or two of corn that’s passing its prime, or half a carton of fresh hot salsa, or a softening avocado or tomato, go ahead and throw them in. Your family will probably wonder why the chili is so much better than usual!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Five must-have hot sauces. July 30, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. It seems like hot sauce has taken over the world. Our friend Ben, Richard Saunders and I see thousands of different hot sauces every September when we attend the annual Bowers Chile Pepper Food Festival in scenic Bowers, PA, where vendors are offering all things chile*, from chile chocolates to salsas to jams and jellies to pickled hot green tomatoes to chile-raspberry soft ice cream. And yes, of course, those hot sauces with the incredibly clever names and packaging (like skull keychains hanging off the bottles), as well as artisanal, small-batch sauces whose creators box and bring them themselves.

Our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders really goes for the hot stuff, bottles with names like Endorphin Rush and Mad Dog 35 Ghost Pepper. Once he and OFB got into a hot sauce-naming contest, coming up with dozens of memorable names for hot sauces. (My favorite was OFB’s Emergency Room Special.)

But OFB and I prefer sauces that don’t numb your tongue, burn your eyes, and send you to the emergency room. We like sauces that add both flavor and moderate heat while letting the flavor of the food you’re putting the sauce on shine through. With that in mind, here are the five hot sauces I reach for again and again:

Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce. From the famed McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana comes my favorite sauce for anything that needs smoky heat. It may sound crazy that the makers of the ubiquitous Tabasco Sauce could make my favorite go-to sauce for refried beans, burritos, tacos, and other Mexican food, but to my taste, Tabasco Chipotle adds so much depth and richness that I can’t imagine making Mexican without it. Or chili, for that matter.

Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce. This may not be the healthiest sauce (it has 70 calories per 2-tablespoon serving, as opposed to 0 calories for Tabasco Chipotle, and it has a lot of sugar, its second ingredient after water), but boy, is it good. The fire is more spicy than mouth-burning, so it’s a great addition to spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and other places where you’d like a little heat and the rich tomato sauce will make sure nobody says “Hey! There’s hot-sweet sauce in here!” But it’s really great with Chinese food. If you’re heating up spring rolls or egg rolls at home, forget the duck sauce: Frank’s RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce adds spiciness and sweetness, and you don’t have to squeeze out those awful packets. And you can pour out as much as you want! If your eggplant with garlic sauce or veggie lo mein or General Tso’s tofu could use a kick, add a splash or two. Make it your secret ingredient mixed with ketchup on burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, chicken wings, sloppy joes, you name it, not to mention as a dip for French fries and sweet potato fries.

Pickapeppa Sauce. This product of Shooters Hill, Jamaica, has so much flavor that it will make you want to burst out singing your favorite Bob Marley tune every time you add a splash to soup, an omelette, a stew or casserole, the filling for stuffed peppers, a frittata, mac’n’cheese, you name it. No wonder: The ingredients list includes cane vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, onions, raisins, sea salt, ginger, peppers, garlic, cloves, black pepper, thyme, mangoes, and orange peel. Mix some with mayo on your next BLT (or veggie TLC) or burger, or slather the mayo/Pickapeppa on grilled veggie kabobs or grilled corn on the cob. And all for just 5 calories a serving!

Pili Pili Hot Sauce and Marinade. Heading to Africa, we love the Pili Pili Sauce produced in small batches by Alando’s Kitchen in nearby Quakertown, PA. It IS hot, but not mouth-scorching hot, and it’s so good on dishes like samosas, the amazing Kenyan fried potato dish bhajia (so try some on French fries!), on polenta, in chili, and in other bean, grain, and egg dishes, not to mention soups and stews. We haven’t tried other pili pili sauces besides Alando’s (order from http://www.alandoskitchen.com), but I know they’re out there, in stores and online, so make sure you try this delicious flavor for yourself.

Sriracha HOT Chili Sauce. For hot (but not too hot), garlicky goodness, it’s hard to beat sriracha. Fans use it on everything from Asian dishes to scrambled eggs to cheese to salads and sandwiches to Mexican to, well, anything. OFB and I have only had the classic Huy Fong (“rooster”) sriracha sauce, but there are other brands filling store shelves now, so find your favorite. If you love garlic and heat, add some to your next pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce or eggplant parm sauce. Drizzle some on kebabs, add some to sloppy joes, slather some on wings. Or splash it in a Bloody Mary. (That poor woman.) Or tomato juice or V8.

That’s it: My five must-have hot sauces. There are plenty of others, many of them are superb, and there are plenty of other ways to use them. But if I had to settle for just five, these would be the “fabulous five.” They’re flavorful, they’re affordable, and they’re available. Not to mention distinctive and adaptable.

‘Til next time,

Silence

* Wondering why some things are called chile, some chili, and some chilli? Chile is the name of the fresh hot pepper in the Americas. Chili is the name of the bean, meat, or meat-and-bean stew made with lots of hot chiles. And chilli is the way the chile (fresh or dried) is referred to in Anglo-Asian cultures. But we’re all talking about the same hot pepper pods.

Chili and pasta. May 24, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, I saw that a fast-food chain I’d never heard of had gained fame by serving chili over spaghetti (the pasta, not the dish with tomato sauce). The article showed a photo of the chili-spaghetti combo, and, I have to admit, it looked luscious. I asked our friend Ben what he thought about the idea and he said, “Sounds good!” So I suggested to our Friday Night Supper Club that I make my own version for this past week’s gathering.

“What?!!” our horrified hostess responded. “But what about cornbread?!” I assured her that if she wanted to make cornbread, that was fine with me. I just wanted to try spaghetti topped with chili. I didn’t mention that I felt that buttered spaghetti with shredded Cheddar mixed in would be the ultimate to-die-for base for yummy hot chili, even better than buttered rice. Being a strong-minded character, I prevailed, and on Friday, I served up chili and spaghetti.

Admittedly, the fast-food chain was serving up meat-based chili that looked pretty much like a barbecue-sauce-free sloppy Joe over spaghetti. (And even then, it looked good, though I think a dollop of Frank’s Hot Sweet Sauce would have been a great flavor boost.) But, as a vegetarian, this was not an option for me. Instead, I made my favorite veggie chili and served it up over the buttered, cheesy, salted spaghetti, and OMG, was it excellent! I enjoy the texture of the beans in chili whole, but feel free to mash them with a fork to make them more ground-beef-like. Add a crunchy salad and you’ll be in heaven.

To make a basic chili, I like to use four cans of beans: light red kidney beans, red kidney beans, dark red kidney beans, and white kidney beans (aka cannelini beans) or black beans. Then I add a large can of diced tomatoes and a chopped fresh tomato or a large can of crushed tomatoes and a can of Ro*Tel diced tomatoes with hot peppers, depending on what I have on hand.

To cook the chili, I start with olive oil in a large, heavy, deep Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens for this). Then I dice two large sweet onions (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla) and add them to the pot. I smash, peel, and mince six plump garlic cloves and add them, along with a tablespoon of granulated garlic. I dice a green or red bell pepper and add it. Next, I slice and dice a jalapeno pepper and add it. If using, I dice the fresh tomato (and/or halved cherry tomatoes or diced paste tomatoes, whatever you have and need to use up) and add it to the pot. If things start drying out, I’ll add some veggie stock or broth to prevent burning and sticking.

At this point, I’ll add the seasonings: 2 tablespoons chili powder; 2 tablespoons Italian herbs (or the equivalent: basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary); 1 tablespoon cumin seeds; 1 tablespoon salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare, or more to taste; and generous splashes of Tabasco Chipotle Sauce or Pickapeppa and Frank’s Hot Sweet Sauce. After a good stir, it’s time to add the diced tomatoes, or the crushed tomatoes and can of Ro*Tel. Finally, it’s time for all the beans, followed by a good stir. And then, half a bag of frozen white corn, again stirred in well.

Maybe the beans and corn are the magic trick, but when I make spaghetti sauce, which after all has many of the same ingredients, if I don’t use a splatter shield I get sauce all over the stovetop, counters, and my clothes. For whatever reason, this never seems to happen when I make chili.

As the chili thickens and “ripens,” heat a big pot of boiling water. When you think the chili’s ready, add the pasta to the water and, when it’s al dente, drain, add butter and shredded cheese (if desired) and serve it up in wide bowls, topped with generous scoops of rich, spicy chili. (Alternatively, you could simply pass grated cheese for the guests to top their chili with if they wished.)

Things turned out well, as our friends rushed back for seconds and thirds. One even announced, “Cincinnati chili! That’s my husband’s favorite!” Apparently chili over pasta is a Cincinnati staple.

Whatever the case, I suggest that you try it. It’s easy to make and oh-so-good!

‘Til next time,

Silence

It’s time for chili. October 7, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I was reading one of my favorite magazines, Backwoods Home, and came upon an article about making great chili. Now, our friend Ben loves chili, and now that it’s cooling down, it’s certainly time to start making it. So of course I plunged into the article to see if I could get some tips. Yikes.

Not to say that the chili in the article would have been bad; the photo of it looked delicious. But it would have taken 3 hours of standing in the kitchen working nonstop and every pot, pan and bowl in the house to make, not to mention a food processor.

To me, one of the beauties of chili is how easy it is to put together. We don’t have a food processor, we wash our dishes by hand, and I’m not good at standing for long stretches. If you’re not up for a marathon, I suggest that you try my quick, delicious chili recipe, below. Pair it with some hot-from-the-oven cornbread, or warm tortillas for dipping, and some crunchy coleslaw and you’re good to go!  

               Silence’s Quick Spicy Chili

1 40.5-ounce can kidney beans (dark red, light red, or plain red are all fine)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 large green (or red) bell pepper, diced

2 large sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla or 1015 type), diced

6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped

extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chili powder

hot sauce (we like the smoky flavor of Tabasco Chipotle in this)

1 tablespoon each dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary

Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) to taste

cracked black pepper to taste

Pour a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven or other capacious pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion clarifies, then add the dried herbs, Trocomare or salt, pepper, chili powder, and a few generous splashes of hot sauce. Next, add the chopped fresh tomato and green or red pepper. When the pepper starts to soften and the tomato liquefies, add the canned diced tomatoes, stirring well, then the kidney beans, again stirring well to mix. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili is very hot. Serve in bowls, topped with shredded white Cheddar cheese and/or sour cream, if desired. This will serve four to six people, depending on how many insist on seconds or even (shriek) thirds.

This chili keeps well and can easily be reheated and eaten as-is, or used as a filling for tacos or burritos or as a layer in a dip for tortilla chips. (You know the one, with layers of guacamole, beans, salsa, sour cream, and cheddar.) If you use it in the dip, mash it first; people tend to be a bit disconcerted if they see a whole kidney bean on their tortilla chip.

However you eat it, enjoy! And think about all those dirty dishes and steps you’ve saved.

            ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Stone soup. December 15, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. I guess between my post yesterday on how to make good soup (“A sorry excuse for soup”), and our friend Ben’s post on preparing for hard times (“Are you ready for the storm?”), I have soup on the brain. Combining the two topics reminds me of that classic story, “Stone Soup.” Do you remember it?

In the story, a starving but ingenious fellow, presumably in Mediaeval times, finds his way into a village. He tries to get the villagers to contribute food for his supper, but, mindful of their own dwindling stores, they refuse. So he fills a pot with water, sets it over a fire, and puts a stone in it.

The villagers, bemused by this unusual cooking style, gather round. “What are you cooking there?” one asks. “Why, I’m making stone soup,” the cheerful man replies. “Stone soup! What on earth is that?” a skeptical villager demands. “Do you think you can make a meal out of a stone?!”

“Of course I can,” the man confidently replies. “Not just a meal, but the most delicious soup you’ve ever tasted. All I need are a few herbs…”

“Here, I have some herbs,” one village woman said, handing the man a few handfuls. “Let’s see this famous soup then.”

“Ah, yes, that smells good,” the man announced, chopping the herbs and adding them to his pot with the stone and water. “But I don’t think the soup is quite done yet. It really needs a couple of onions.”

“All right, I have two onions,” the greengrocer said, handing them over.

“Excellent! But, ah, I see that the soup is still not at its best. It would benefit from a few carrots and potatoes.”

“Here, take these carrots.”

“I have a few spare potatoes.”

“That’s marvelous! But you know, I think this soup might taste a bit flat without a few grains of salt…”

You get the idea, of course. By the time the man was finished, the villagers that previously wouldn’t give him so much as a grain of wheat had provided the makings for a delicious soup, which he then shared with the entire village.

One of the beauties of soup—and also stews and chilis—is that they’re so forgiving. As long as you don’t have your heart set on a specific outcome—say, French onion soup, the perfect consomme, Greek avgolemono (egg-lemon-chicken-rice soup), or cream of tomato—you can play around and still come up with good soup.

Soups, stews, and chilis are the perfect vehicles for using up odds and ends. This is true whether you’re talking about leftover produce (a couple of carrots, half an onion, three new potatoes, a wedge of cabbage, the last few mushrooms), the bottom of the box, bag or jar of lentils, rice, or pasta, leftover cooked veggies of all kinds (a cup of green beans or asparagus, mashed potatoes, corn), or leftovers, period (refried beans, a half-cup of tomato sauce, a dab of pumpkin puree, the last tablespoon of half-and-half). Or, of course, any kind of meat.

I’ve made silky, delicious chili with leftover pumpkin puree and cream. (Really! Use our search bar at upper right to find “Weird, wonderful chili” for the recipe.) Or hearty, spicy chili and black bean soup with leftover spaghetti sauce and the last few tablespoons from a jar of salsa. I’ve added the last spoons of marmalade or preserves and/or the last handful from a box or bag of raisins to give the perfect flavor to dal (a thick, spicy Indian lentil or split-pea stew). If I’m almost through with a jar of some herb or spice, I’ll create a soup that will benefit from adding it. Ditto the grated end of a piece of cheese. (Can you tell I can’t bear wasting shelf or fridge space on something that’s almost empty?!)

Another way to use up those almost-empties is to swirl them into or on top of the soup/stew/chili just before serving. Sour cream, yogurt, salsa, queso dip, even guacamole can work when paired with the right soup. Not to mention  shredded cheese or crumbled hardboiled egg. A little shredded (unsweetened) coconut can enhance a curried soup. For a bit of extra texture, you can always sprinkle pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds), sunflower seeds, or crumbled almonds, pecans, walnuts or what have you on top, but again, make sure the flavors marry well; it’s probably wisest to pass a separate bowl and let diners sprinkle on their own just before eating their soup. (That’s not a bad idea for any topping that you don’t swirl into the soup.)

When concocting a soup, remember that the secret to any great soup is to add a little fat. This can come from oil, from butter or cream, or from, say, bacon, ham, or chicken fat. But a soup without some kind of fat falls flat. If you doubt me, try making two pots of the identical soup sometime, and add fat to one and not the other. When they’re done, taste and see! Fortunately, it won’t be too late to add some to the other pot.

So, next time you think you don’t have a thing in the house to cook, or are stuck with a bunch of leftover odds and ends, consider making your own stone soup. You may not be able to feed a whole village, but your family will love it!

             ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Chili and cornbread: hot food for cold nights. January 16, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben loves chili and is always begging me to make it. I like chili too, but given a choice, would rather make black bean soup or refried beans for Mexican Night. Yum! Still, when I asked OFB what he’d like for supper last night and piteous pleas for chili emerged (sort of like the dog in the Beggin’ Strips commercial we saw yesterday while watching the Purina dog agility trials), I figured it had been a month since the last pot of chili and was about time.

Now, normally, when I make chili, I make my wonderful Pumpkin Chili (you’ll find the recipe by typing “Weird, wonderful chili” in our search bar at upper right). I admit, it sounds horrendous, but it is the richest, most luxurious chili you’ll ever treat yourself to, I promise. However, I was planning to make pumpkin bread today, and, well, enough pumpkin is enough. So I decided to go for a more traditional version, and one that would come together quickly, since certain people were apparently starving, or at least, starving for chili. Here’s what I did:

             Silence’s Quick Spicy Chili

1 40.5-ounce can kidney beans (dark red, light red, or plain red are all fine)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 large green (or red) bell pepper, diced

2 large sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla or 1015 type), diced

6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped

extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chili powder

hot sauce (we like the smoky flavor of Tabasco Chipotle in this)

1 tablespoon each dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary

Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) to taste

cracked black pepper to taste

Pour a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven or other capacious pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion clarifies, then add the dried herbs, Trocomare or salt, pepper, chili powder, and a few generous splashes of hot sauce. Next, add the chopped fresh tomato and green or red pepper. When the pepper starts to soften and the tomato liquefies, add the canned diced tomatoes, stirring well, then the kidney beans, again stirring well to mix. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili is very hot. Serve in bowls, topped with shredded white Cheddar cheese or sour cream, if desired. This will serve four to six people, depending on how many insist on seconds or even (shriek) thirds. 

I wish I could tell you that some secret ingredient or technique had made this chili so good, but it really was as simple as it sounds. Easy and delicious works for me! And it was ready so fast, I had just enough time to make the cornbread. Try it and see what you think.

I’ve always found hot-from-the-oven cornbread to be the perfect accompaniment to chili, black bean soup, and lentil stew. It’s so easy to make and cook while the chili, etc. is maturing, so you’re not trying to be a kitchen Shiva, using all six arms to frantically toss everything around at the same time. Just be prepared for the entire pan to disappear by meal’s end!

Being from the South, I’ve eaten a lot of cornbread in my life, but I’ve never found a better recipe than my own super-easy version. (I plan to make a different kind of cornbread in the bread machine my friend Delilah gave me for Christmas this very afternoon, so stay tuned for a future report. But I’ll always make my standard version to go with soups, stews and chilis.) Here’s the recipe:

                 Silence’s Best Cornbread

1 1/2 cups white cornmeal

3 tablespoons unbleached flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons salted butter

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Melt the butter in an 8- or 9-inch round ovenproof glass pan (such as a Pyrex cake or pie pan), swirling the melted butter around in the pan to coat the sides. Combine the cornmeal, flour, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the milk, egg, sour cream and melted butter to the dry ingredients, and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the hot pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. To serve, cut in pie wedges, split and butter the wedges, and serve very hot.

And there you have it! If you’re looking for a delicious, fast, satisfying meal for a cold night, or a crowd-pleaser for Superbowl Sunday, this combo will definitely do the trick.

            ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Weird, wonderful chili. January 26, 2009

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Silence Dogood here (again). I know I posted a version of this recipe a couple of months ago, but it’s so cold outside, and this is so delicious and warming, that I’m posting it again. I made this version last night and loved it even more than the first version.

Like all chilis, there are endless possible variations, which leaves a lot of room for you to experiment, substituting things you know your family will love for things you don’t especially like. For example, I could easily have added oregano or pinto beans to the mix, or even dumped in some leftover coffee to deepen the flavor. Sometimes I like to use four kinds of kidney beans for a confetti-style chili: dark red, red, pink, and white (aka cannelini beans). But taking the classic kitchen-sink approach, I just tossed in the first four cans that came to hand. The result? Incredible!

Mind you, it doesn’t sound incredible. In fact, it sounds pretty darned disgusting. That’s why I’m urging you to try it and see for yourselves. You really won’t believe how good it is! And vegetarians, there’s nary a piece of meat, but vegans will need to modify the recipe to leave out the half-and-half. (Yes, you read that right, half-and-half in chili, and that’s not the, pardon the pun, half of it!) This is fantastic with hot-from-the-oven cornbread and a big, bold salad, or with a side of rice (my preference) or over rice (our friend Ben’s preference), too, or maybe some luscious grilled polenta.

I couldn’t help but notice the evidence this morning (hmmm, an unwashed bowl that wasn’t there last night… ) that some people who shall remain nameless couldn’t resist getting up in the dead of night to help themselves to even more. So try it, don’t tell anybody what’s in it, and watch how fast it disappears!

         Pumpkin Chili

1 small or 1/2 large can pumpkin puree (not pie filling, 100% pumpkin) 

2 cans kidney beans

1 can black beans

1 can butter beans

4 medium to large onions (can combine pungent and sweet if desired)

4 large cloves garlic

1 large red, yellow or orange bell pepper

1 small (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1/2 to 2/3 cup half-and-half

vegetable stock (all boxed brands are good)

extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon black mustardseeds

2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds

2-4 tablespoons chili powder, to taste

2 tablespoons Trocamare, Herbamare, Real Salt, or salt

2 tablespoons Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle hot sauce, or your favorite

1 tablespoon garam masala (if you don’t have any, try substituting curry powder)

In a large, heavy Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset), heavy pan, or stock pot, heat a generous amount of olive oil. Add all spices and seasonings, stirring constantly until well mixed. Peel and chop onions, peel and mince garlic, core and dice pepper, and add all to olive oil.  Add veggie stock as needed to keep everything from sticking. When onions have clarified, add beans, tomato paste, and pumpkin puree. Stir well to blend, then stir in half-and-half, again stirring well to blend. Cook on low heat while making rice or cornbread to give flavors a chance to ripen, at least 20 minutes. Add more veggie stock as needed to maintain a rich, thick consistency—not soupy, please!—without burning or sticking. Serve with grated cheese and/or a dollop of sour cream on top if desired. 

Serves four amply, unless one of them is our friend Ben. If you’re lucky enough to have any, leftovers keep and reheat beautifully.

So come on, be brave and try it! I promise you’ll like it.

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Silence’s Chili Surprise November 20, 2008

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Silence Dogood here. Sometimes, having friends and having kids doesn’t seem all that different. Last week, as we were all enjoying a rich homemade spaghetti with tomato sauce, luscious salad with homemade dressing, and just-out-of-the-oven home-baked bread at our Friday Night Supper Club, our friend Rudy looked at me and said, “I want you to make me some chili. Not any ordinary chili, either. Make something up!” Well, sheesh.

It’s been getting down in the 20s here all week—I see snowflakes as I’m writing this—and cold weather is good chili weather. So yesterday, I asked our friend Ben how he would feel about having a little chili-fest over at our friends Carolyn and Gary’s, the hosts of our Friday Night Supper Club, even though it was only Wednesday. OFB thought it was a good idea, too, and so did Carolyn, Gary, and Rudy when I broached the idea to them. (See our earlier post, “The Friday Night Supper Club,” for more on this good friends, good food, and good times get-together. You might want to start one of your own!)

Now it was time to start thinking about what to put into the chili. Alert readers may recall that I’d discovered a recipe for Pumpkin Chili a couple of months ago when Ben and I went to James Weaver’s Meadow View Farm. (See my post “Pumpkin chili, glazed carrots, and sweet potato souffle” for the recipe.) This was one of those recipes that made me go “Ewwww!!!” at first, but then, after thinking about it, I could suddenly see it. And of course I had cans of pumpkin puree on hand, as I always do in cold weather, since OFB and I love my warming Curried Pumpkin Soup. (See my post “Of presidents and pumpkins” for the recipe. if you enjoy rich, warming soups, I guarantee that you’ll love it, too!) Hmmm.

I always think of chili as a kitchen sink dish—you can toss in whatever’s on hand and it will taste great, as long as you know how to combine flavors and textures. When I started composing this particular chili, I contemplated the state of my fridge, then proceeded accordingly.

Normally, I’d use chopped green pepper in chili, but as it happened, I had a huge red pepper and no green pepper, so in that went instead. I was planning to use a can of pumpkin puree in the chili, but recalled that I had both a small and a large container of Curried Pumpkin Soup left over from an earlier meal. I realized that our friend Ben and I could make a lovely meal from the large container of soup, and that the small container would add extra richness and complexity to the chili that plain pumpkin couldn’t touch. And we had an almost-full container of fresh hot salsa from the local Redner’s Warehouse Market, combining finely diced green peppers, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and jalapenos. (We love fresh salsa, anyway, but the fresh hot salsa is just right.) I thought the chili would benefit from the extra crunch and a little heat, so in it went.

Let’s just say I’m sure Carolyn, Gary, Rudy, and even our friend Ben would be very surprised if they knew what had gone into last night’s chili. But you never saw any chili disappear so fast! Everyone except me had seconds (I loved it, too, but there’s only so much I can eat), and certain unnamed parties went back for thirds. There was also a certain amount of bickering taking place over who would get to take home the leftovers, but Rudy, as the originator of the idea, ended up with them.

So, unconventional as it is, I recommend Silence’s Chili Surprise to you. What color is it, you ask? (Who could blame you?!) I was pleased and delighted to see that it’s a rich, brilliant habanero orange with ripe tomato undertones. Total eye appeal. Add a salad rich in veggies, hot cornbread or rolls, a full-bodied red wine, and some shredded cheese and sour cream for people to put on top of the chili if they wish, and you have a memorable meal that will warm your hearts and stick to your ribs on a cold winter night. Try it and see!

          ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

 

Silence’s Chili Surprise

Saute 2 large onions, diced, 2 minced garlic cloves, and one very large or 2 smaller red bell peppers, diced, in a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens). Add a tablespoon or more of oregano, 2 tablespoons of chili powder, a tablespoon of salt (we like Real Salt), a tablespoon of whole cumin seeds, and a teaspoon or more of habanero hot sauce, stirring to blend. Add vegetable stock (I’ve used every boxed brand I’ve come upon and have loved them all so far) to keep veggies from sticking. Add 1 large can of crushed tomatoes, 2 cans of red kidney beans, 1 can of pinto beans, and 1 can of pumpkin puree (not pie filling!) or 1-2 cups of Curried Pumpkin Soup. Cook chili down until it starts to thicken, then add 1 container of hot fresh salsa (or, if you can’t find hot fresh salsa, of fresh salsa and an extra splash of hot sauce), available from the salad area of your grocery. Allow chili to continue to cook down until thick and rich, then serve (over rice, if desired) with grated cheese and sour cream to taste.

Pumpkin chili, glazed carrots, and sweet potato souffle. October 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. With the leaves falling and autumn’s chill in the air, everybody’s thinking orange—usually the black and orange of Hallowe’en. But cold weather makes me think of a trio of hearty orange vegetables: pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and carrots. This is a great time of year to get your vitamin A while enjoying some rich, warming dishes, and I have three doozies for you here.

Let’s start with the carrots. The easiest way to enjoy a side of carrots is to slice them, boil them in a heavy lidded pan, drain off the water, add butter and salt, put the top back on, give the pan a really good shake to distribute and melt the butter, wait a few minutes, and serve. Yum! But we also enjoy carrots in our vegetable curries. I guess eventually I must have put two and two together, because a couple of winters ago, it occurred to me to make an almost-as-simple side dish that I call Glazed Carrots Indian-Style. Trust me, this easy dish turns plain old carrots into a whole new critter!

         Glazed Carrots Indian-Style

Slice and boil the carrots in a heavy pan. (I love my LeCreuset enamelled cast iron.) Our carrots are organic, so we wash but don’t peel them before cooking. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, melt enough salted butter to thoroughly coat the amount of carrots you’re cooking (at least half a stick). Once the butter has melted, add your spices. I like to use whole cumin, garam masala, curry powder, and Trocamare. Other options are turmeric, a little cinnamon, Thai curry powder, ground cumin, ground fenugreek, and black mustardseed. Frankly, I’ve tried all of these in pretty much every imaginable combination, and they’re all good. If you want, you can dice a little sweet onion (‘Vidalia’, ‘WallaWalla’ or ‘Candy’ type) in as well; saute until clarified. Minced mushrooms are good in it, too. But mushrooms and onions are optional! This dish can definitely stand on its own.

How much of each spice should you add? Well, that depends. First of all, it depends on the amount of carrots you’re cooking, and second, on the amount of spicing you like. If you’ve made enough carrots to use a whole stick of melted butter, I myself would use at least a tablespoon of whole cumin, a teaspoon of garam masala, at least a teaspoon (or two) of curry powder, and a teaspoon of Trocamare, and/or at least a half-teaspoon of the other spices (more Thai curry and ground cumin, less cinnamon). But I’m a big fan of spicing. If you start small and taste, you can always add more, while taking away is not an option. Proceed with caution until you find a combination and quantity you like.

Once you’ve added your spices (and diced onions and/or minced mushrooms, if you’re adding those), you’ll find that you quickly need to add a little water or veggie stock (bless those boxes of veggie stock in the grocery soup aisle, they’re all good) to keep it all from sticking to the pan. Once you’ve stirred that in—not too much, now, you’re not making soup!—check your carrots and make sure they’re not turning to mush; as soon as they’re almost completely tender, turn them off (they’ll finish cooking in your heavy covered pan while you finish the glaze). Now, your job is to reduce the butter/spice (onion/mushroom) mixture over low heat to a thick, luscious glaze. When it’s there, drain the carrots, pour the glaze over them, stir to mix thoroughly, and serve.

Note: You’ll know if you cooked the carrots too long if they start to break up when you stir in the glaze. Never mind! They’ll still taste good, and next time you’ll know to cook them for a shorter time. If they’re underdone, you can always pop them into the microwave, glaze and all, until they’re cooked through (assuming that, unlike us, you actually own a microwave). If you don’t have a microwave, the easiest thing to do is to taste a slice before you drain off the water and add the glaze, then cook longer as needed.

A warming fall and winter carrot side dish, hooray! But let’s move on to sweet potatoes. Folks, I realize that lots of you grew up eating sickeningly sweetened sweet potatoes covered in marshmallow goo. Eeewww!!! There’s a reason this delicious veggie is called a “sweet potato”: It’s already sweet enough. My favorite way to eat a sweet potato is to bake it at 350 degrees until the flesh is literally coming away from the paper-thin peel (the flesh will naturally caramelize where it peels away), and then eating that luscious sweet potato with lots of butter and salt. OMG! This is heaven on earth! Our golden retriever, Molly, and parrots, Plutarch the Parrot and Marcus Hookbill, also think they’ve died and gone to heaven when they get the leftover (cooled) peels.

There are two tricks to perfect baked sweet potatoes (three tricks, if you count cooking them long enough to make sure they’ve peeled away from the skin and are silky-soft through and through). The first is choosing sweet potatoes that are long and comparatively thin. Not sausage-thin, of course, but you don’t want short, fat sweet potatoes, or those monstrously huge ones that sometimes turn up in grocery bins, either. Go for the ones that are as thick as your wrist and about an inch (or two, if you’re tall) shorter than the distance from your wrist to your elbow, and you’ll do just fine. The second trick is making sure your sweet potatoes don’t explode in the oven while you’re baking them. (Trust me, you do not want this to happen!!!) To avoid explosions, first wash your sweet potatoes, and then, without drying them off, stab a fork’s tines into them (to a depth of a quarter to a half the width of the sweet potato) all the way down each sweet potato. Set them pricked-side-up on aluminum foil on a baking sheet, and those babies are ready to go. Mmm-mmm!

However, as you may have deduced from this post’s title, I have another sweet potato recipe in mind. In fact, this whole post happened because my friend Amy said yesterday that she wished she had a good recipe for sweet potato souffle. Praying that she wasn’t in fact referring to the horrid, marshmallow-laden sweet potato casserole mentioned earlier, I assured her that I had a fabulous recipe for sweet potato souffle and would e-mail it to her immediately. It’s a specialty of my very favorite restaurant, the Landis Store Hotel.

“Landis Store Hotel” may not strike you as an especially promising name for a restaurant (for some reason). People often ask me where the restaurant is located. “Why, in Landis Store!” I reply. Say what?!! I’ll be the first to admit that the Landis Store Hotel is located, like us, in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, or in their case, the tiny crossroads of Landis Store (named, in fact, for the hotel). The Landis Store Hotel is no longer either a store or a hotel. But it is the best restaurant I know of, and the fact that people regularly make the trek down from New York City into the dark, backroads country of Pennsylvania to find it (not to mention that it was featured in Gourmet magazine) is testament to the fact that I’m not the only one who thinks so.

I had to memorize the rather tortuous route from our home, Hawk’s Haven, to Landis Store, which fortunately lies on the road to our friends Rudy and Carolyn and Gary’s homes. (Carolyn and Gary are hosts of our famous Friday Night Supper Club, so we take this road often.) But if you live in a more civilized place, you can find directions on their website, www.landis-store.com. They’re only open for dinner from Thursday through Saturday, and they don’t take reservations. But even if you have to wait to be seated, they have a beautiful old bar in their exquisite old stone hotel, and you can relax with seasonal artisanal beer, a selection of local wines, fabulous spiked ciders, or your drink or wine of choice while exploring the local art quilts, art glass, and artworks that adorn the walls and are for sale.

Go to their website and you’ll find a whole selection of favorite recipes, including longtime favorites of ours like corn fritters, corncakes with red pepper sauce and chevre, coconut creme brulee, and apple tart. (Now, if only they’d list the recipe for their amazing house salad dressing, a mustard vinaigrette, and my favorite dessert of all time, fresh blueberry tart in a shortbread crust. But I’m not begging. Well, maybe. Yes. Definitely.) And there they have a recipe for another of our favorite sides, their luscious sweet potato souffle. Incredible, and incredibly easy! Here it is:

         Landis Store Hotel’s Sweet Potato Souffle

2 lbs. sweet potatoes

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks butter

1/2 cup cream

1 egg     

Peel and cook sweet potatoes until soft. Drain sweet potatoes and put them in a food processor, adding salt, butter, egg, and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake in six buttered ramekin or souffle dishes at 350 until light brown. Serve hot in the ramekins. Serves six.

Darlin’s, this is good stuff. With a Landis Store salad with beets and walnut-encrusted chevre, their famous corncakes, and one of their extraordinary mushroom pastas, it’s a rare treat (I have to take most of the pasta home and order a slice of the fabulous blueberry tart—with tons of whipped cream on top—to take home for breakfast). Our dear friends Huma, Edith, and Cole visit us so often just so they can eat there, we swear. And each of them has a favorite dish: Huma loves the filet mignon; Edith always orders the rack of lamb; and Cole can’t keep away from the calamari and soft-shell crabs. Even our friend Rudy, who seldom splurges on food, could never resist Landis Store’s amazing duck in port wine and cherry sauce. You may not have the opportunity to visit Landis Store in person and soak up the old country inn atmosphere, but at least you can enjoy their sweet potato souffle next time you make pork loin, pork or lamb chops, baked chicken, or even the Thanksgiving turkey.

Finally, let’s move on to that strangest of recipes, Pumpkin Chili. I picked up a card for this recipe at Jim Weaver’s Meadow View Farm outside Bowers, PA last weekend. I stared at it for several minutes before taking it, since “pumpkin” and “chili” had never occurred to me as going together in the same recipe, but suddenly, I could see it. Autumnal, warming, all right! The pumpkin puree would add a rich undertone and thick, silky texture to the chili. Truth in advertising: I have not yet had a chance to customize this recipe a la Silence and try it out. But I’m going to go ahead and give it to you, so all you chiliheads and pumpkin fanatics can get a jump-start on what could be an amazing dish. If you try it first, I want to know what you did to make it your own, and what you thought of the results. Originated by Bonnie Mortimer of Mount Pleasant, PA, it was a finalist in the 2006 Pennsylvania “Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious” Vegetable Recipe Contest. Being a vegetarian, I would leave out the sausage and add more spices, but I’ll give it to you all as written, since the sausage would definitely enhance the recipe. (Vegetarians, add extra oil and maybe some diced zucchini to compensate!) Note that it serves 10.

        Pumpkin Chili

2 lb. sausage (without casing)

1 c. onions, grated

1 c. green peppers, diced

1 tsp. garlic, minced

29 oz. chili-style diced tomatoes, canned

15 oz. extra thick and zesty tomato sauce, canned

4.5 oz. green chiles, chopped

2 c. pumpkin, cooked, pureed, or 15 oz. canned pure pumpkin puree

1 T. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

 1 1/2 c. corn, fresh, cut off the cob

31 oz. kidney beans, canned, drained

32 oz. pinto beans, canned, drained

2 c. Cheddar cheese, shredded

Cook sausage until it is no longer pink. Add next 11 ingredients. Stir in corn, kidney beans and pinto beans. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Serve with Cheddar cheese.

I’d of course serve this with hot-from-the-oven cornbread, liberally buttered, and a really robust salad that could stand up to the competition. Search this site for cornbread and salad and you’ll find plenty of suggestions. For less unconventional ways to use pumpkin, search for “Curried Pumpkin Soup” and my earlier post, “Time for pumpkin bread.” Go for it! It’s definitely the time of the season.

         ‘Til next time,

                   Silence