Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Best Chili

When I was growing up, we spent a lot of Christmas and summer vacations making long treks cross-country in a minivan. We lived in northern Michigan. Bajee, my mom's mom, lives in southern Colorado, about a 24-hour drive away. My dad's parents, Grandmom and Pop, lived in Memphis, about 14 hours. Many of my parents's friends lived in New York. My sister and I got comfortable in the backseat, hauling great bulging backpacks full of books, crayons, travel games, and later, magazines, journals and portable CD players. We knew how to do a road trip.

Every time we arrived in Memphis, Grandmom would dish out bowls of the spiciest soup I had ever tasted, and we would eat every last bite, not wanting to suffer the shame of being labeled sissy Yanks by our cool older cousins. When I went to college, my mom started making chili for me when I'd come home. Spicy chili with shredded cheddar, warm corn bread with lots of butter and honey. We'd sit at the same dining room table we always had, just my family, sinking right back into our old ways of being together.

This time of year, I crave this kind of food. Hearty, packed with flavor, tasting like home. When friends and family arrive at your house this winter, road-weary and sick of fast food, give them some chili. It makes everyone feel better. Beer doesn't hurt either, but chili is a great place to start.



NOTE: This is not turkey chili, or chicken chili, or veggie chili. This is not low-fat chili. If you're looking for low-fat chili, I advise you to rethink your life choices look elsewhere. If you're looking for chili that warms you up from the inside out, makes children and grown men alike grin with delight, and tastes like the chili that would win first prize in Heaven's chili cookoff, MAKE THIS NOW.

The Best Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package mild breakfast sausage (like Tennessee Pride)
1.5 pounds 80% lean ground beef
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 15-oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed
2 25-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more or less to taste

Place the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and ground beef and saute, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon as you go, until it is mostly brown. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, and tomato paste, and cook about 2 minutes, stirring until combined. Add the beans, tomatoes and spices, and stir. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 2-3 hours or more (you can also transfer to a crock pot and cook it all day). Taste and adjust seasonings, and serve with whatever condiments and sides you like: corn bread, Saltines, sour cream, shredded cheddar, chopped onions, green onions, Tabasco sauce.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.



Anne and I went to the market together this gorgeous fall morning. I drank coffee and fed her raspberries and bites of a maple-pecan scone. As we sat, I read her some poems by Seamus Heaney. I wanted to share one with you.

Blackberry-Picking

for Philip Hobsbaum

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls swelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pear-Raspberry Pie

Pear-Raspberry Pie | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

There's something about a pie. It's homey. Nostalgic. Comforting. The cozy interior of Hoosier Mama Pie Company is tiny: a couple of tables and chairs, an old sea-foam green dresser serving as a checkout counter, and a display case full of pie. But it's where I want to go when my spirits need lifting. I made my husband take me there after some careless knife handling necessitated a trip to the emergency room a few years ago. I sat there with my mom, sharing buttery pie and hot coffee after I found out I had lost a baby, only 8 weeks into my first pregnancy, almost exactly two years ago.

Paula Haney's new cookbook, The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie, is a veritable encyclopedia of pie knowledge. Step-by-step photos of important, hard-to-describe processes (pie crust, anyone?), funny stories, and page after page of fantastic recipes. Pear-raspberry was the first one to jump out at me, because the window for both fruits at the farmers market is happening right now. I know it won't come as a shock to you that I love to cook, and that time in the kitchen is relaxing and very rewarding for me, but making a pie is a special sort of culinary meditation. Mix the dough. Wait. Roll out the dough and shape it into a crust. Peel and slice the fruit. Toss. Wait. Bake for a long time. Wait. Wait. Slice and eat. It's almost a full day from start to finish, and so worth it. Every step is magic. And then, of course, there's pie for breakfast the next day: one of the highest pleasures in this life.

Pear-Raspberry Pie | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Pear-Raspberry Pie

from The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie



Make sure to use soft, really ripe pears. I didn't, and while the flavor was still amazing, the pears were a little crunchy. This recipe is printed as is from the cookbook. I'm not going to print any other recipes from this book, and I'm not including the crust recipe, because I think you should just go buy it. It's awesome. Go.

1 9-inch double-crust pie dough (preferably from page 24 of the cookbook linked above)
5 cups ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cups raspberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch kosher salt

Place the pears, raspberries, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Do not mix. Place the sugar, cornstarch, ginger, and salt in a small bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the fruit, until most of the mixture is absorbed. Take care not to break up the raspberries. Sprinkle Crust Dust (a mixture of equal parts flour and sugar, designed to absorb some of the fruit juice and ensure a not-soggy bottom crust) into the empty pie shell. Pile the fruit into the shell and smooth the top with a spatula. Finish the pie with a lattice top, and freeze for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the lattice with Pie Wash (equal parts cream and whole milk) - be amazed at how easily you can brush a slightly frozen pie crust without smashing it - and sprinkle liberally with coarse-grained sugar. Bake for 60-80 minutes, rotating 180 degrees every 20 minutes, until the crust is dark golden brown and the juices are bubbling thickly. Cool for at least 2 hours before slicing.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Late Summer Minestrone

Hello?

...Anyone still here?

I accidentally took the summer off from blogging! I trust that you have been eating well, taking advantage of beautiful weather and farmers markets, and hopefully you've been online less this summer as well!

I'm back, because fall energizes me and makes me excited about what I'm cooking again! And I want to share! To kick off your weekend, a simple summer soup. Late summer means you can put whatever you want in it - seriously. Anything that looks good at the market, or that you have too much of in your garden. Yesterday I was reading a novel, in which a soup like this was described: a recipe that's never quite the same, served with whole grain bread and salted butter. Into the kitchen I flew!

Late Summer Minestrone

(not pictured: pile mountain of unfolded clean laundry, several piles of clutter, unvacuumed floors all made possible by aforementioned novel-reading and soup-making.)

Late Summer Minestrone

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, rinsed well and sliced
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup shelled fresh cranberry beans (or cooked cannellini beans)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 large can whole tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper
Asiago cheese, for serving

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leek, carrots, celery and garlic, and cook 3-4 minutes. Add the zucchini, beans, tomato paste, and tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes slightly with your hands as you add them. Fill the can again with water, and add that to the pot. Add the herbs, bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer 20-30 minutes, until the beans and vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with Asiago cheese grated on top.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Garden Update (6.19.13)

Update time!

We were out of town from Thursday morning through Monday afternoon last week, and I watered minutes before we left, but then it (finally) got hot in Chicago, so... the peas suffered a little. They seem to be recovering nicely.

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First tomato sighting!

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Thai chile blossoms and cilantro doing great!

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Lots and lots of baby red bell peppers:

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Green beans, cherry tomatoes, zucchini:

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A little sprouty part inside the green beans; not sure what it will look like in a week, but I suspect this is the part where the beans will come out:

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Raspberries aplenty, and annuals looking as glorious as always!

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BASIL!

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Your turn! What's growing?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fresh and Frugal: Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

Skirt steak with chimichurri | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

My parents were in town last week, and I wanted to treat them to some great food! During my regular market trip, I stopped by the Mint Creek Farm stall to check out their selection and prices. I had ribeye on the brain, but at $29/pound, it was outside my price range for four people on a regular weeknight. Sustainably-raised beef is pricey. So how can a steak-lover answer a craving without bombing their budget? Two ways: choose a cheaper cut, and shrink portion sizes. Scanning the list, I decided on just under a pound of skirt steak.

What's wrong with cheap meat? First of all, meat can be bought so cheaply at your local supermarket because of how it's raised: in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Animals are packed very tightly into these facilities, with barely any room to move, and are fed a diet of mostly grain. These conditions lead the animals to a much higher-than-normal susceptibility to disease and infection, and so farmers routinely mix antibiotics into their feed. Aside from the fact that this is a sad life for animals, these practices are also detrimental both to the environment and to the nutritional quality of the meat. For a deeper look into these issues, I highly recommend In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma, both by Michael Pollan, and Food Matters, by Mark Bittman.

Chimichurri sauce | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Tips for successfully serving smaller portions:

Don't overcook. Always important, but especially so with grass-fed meats, which are leaner and slightly tougher than their conventionally raised counterparts.

Season well. With salt and pepper, of course, but also with herbs, spices, butter, or sauces. Depending on the cut and preparation, adding something extra can really highlight the unique deliciousness of the meat.

Serve great sides, and lots of 'em. Nothing would be worse than getting to the end of your meal and worrying that your guests are still hungry!

Skirt steak with chimichurri | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

I used this recipe for chimichurri from the new Bon Appetit Grilling Book (which would be a GREAT Father's Day gift if you don't already have one!), and since we are without a grill, I arranged the steak on a rack set on a baking sheet, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and broiled it on high for 2 minutes on each side. It was perfect.


Garden Update (6.12.13)

This week, I got an indoor/outdoor rug and a couple of patio chairs for the roof, and I've been taking my morning coffee up there. Anne sits on the rug, and I sip my coffee, and it is completely worth the three flights of stairs I have to climb to get there.

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

This morning I was looking at the tall, tall pea plants, laden with peas and flowers, and thinking about what to do with those pots when the peas succumb to the summer heat in a few weeks. I'm really going to miss those leafy green vines! They're so pretty.

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Gardening is like tandem painting with God. I do a little work, a little planting, watering, thinning, fertilizing. Then I leave for a day or two and come back up to see what my Partner has added to my work. He provides the sunshine, rain, and all of the magic that happens when plants grow and bloom and flourish. The garden never stops changing, and needing to be changed.

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

When your garden is on the roof and there's no hose up there, you have to lug watering cans up the stairs (or hope it rains a lot). I was very excited to see a big rain storm in the forecast for this afternoon and evening, until I noticed another little detail: possible damaging hail. Pretty frustrating, but I'm feeling thankful for meteorologists (and my friend who alerted me of the hail warning!). All the plants are safely in the stairwell until the threat is past. I'm hoping the hail dies down before the rain; I would gladly drag all those babies out in a downpour if I thought they'd get a good soak without my having to bring them water. Plus... playing out in the rain is fun.

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com

Garden 6.12.13 | coppertopkitchen.blogspot.com