Chili on a Snow Day; revisiting recipes

Something about the quiet hush of snowfall transforms the external world into an ethereal alternative universe, and makes you want to curl up on the couch with a good book. Or in my case, make a big pot of chili.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting old favorite recipes and I thought I would post a medley of thoughts and photographs. Below are some notes on a braised-pork chili, swiss chard and leek gratin, and mac and cheese.

chili snow

Braised Pork Chili
I’ve been playing around with different chili recipes, but have returned to one I posted back in October (link) as my favorite. I have decided that I prefer pork to beef in chili, and meat that has been braised before the chili is made. The texture of the meat is just so much better! This time around, I had braised a 5lb pork shoulder earlier in the week for a different meal, but saved the majority of the meat for the chili.

vaquero beans
The black and white Vaquero beans are like little cows, in bean form that is!

I followed the old recipe fairly closely, but this time did not save any of the braising liquid and just used more of the bean cooking liquid. I used 1/2 lb of Vaquero beans and 1/2 lb of Pebbles beans for this chili (both from Rancho Gordo), and loved the darker coloration that came with this choice. I also threw in a dried chipotle chile to add a touch of smokiness, although probably could have used more than one to make the flavor influence more clear, and instead of fresh jalapenos, I crumbled up two small red hot chile peppers I dried in the summer.

Swiss Chard Gratin
Another favorite recipe from last year was Alice Waters’ Swiss Chard Gratin (link). This time I made it with leeks instead of onions, used more of the chard stems than Waters calls for, and bumped up the quantity of breadcrumbs. I like cooking this in a cast iron frying pan, so there is only one dish to wash.

Lisl and I ate this as a vegetarian meal unto itself earlier in the week, with a small glass of red wine to cut through the richness of the gratin. Delicious! I was so captivated by the color of the chard stems that I decided to get ambitious and take a photo of the stems chopped up for the gratin, and submit it to Click, the photo contest put on be Bee and Jai at Jugalbandi, which has “red” as its theme this month.

red swiss chard

Mac and Cheese
I have been meaning to explore other macaroni and cheese recipes, but when the craving hit one day last week, I went back to the tried and true recipe I adore (link), and which I believe I originally adapted from a Gourmet magazine. This time I bumped up the amount of cheese and breadcrumbs I had on the top. Isn’t the browning on top marvelous? I had to use farfalle since the pantry was pretty bare, but I prefer to make it with penne. So good!

mac and cheese

Now I think I’m off to make Recipe Girl’s roasted mushroom soup and enjoy the snow cascading down outside. Here are a few miscellaneous pictures from the week that I also liked:

chili bowl
Chili, Monterey Jack cheese, and rice

swiss chard leaf
Swiss Chard

Onions are fun to chop with the new Santoku knife Lisl was kind enough to get me for Christmas.

And into 2009 we go; some 2008 favorites

I hope everyone has had a wonderful turn into the new year. We’re holed up in the Catskill mountains, surrounded by snow and enjoying some time in the kitchen. The last few days have been very blogger-inspired, with a chocolate and whisky cake from Orangette, an artichoke pie from Kalofagas, and an olive and ham loaf from Stacey Snacks — all quite good.

chocolate cake
Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake, from Orangette (this is really good, but for full disclosure I’ll note that I’ll be reducing the level of bourbon next time!)

artichoke pie
Artichoke Pie, from Kalofagas (I halved the recipe to fit in a loaf pan, and added bacon)

I also did an experimental dish, which I want to continue to refine, where I butterflied open a pork tenderloin into as thin and wide a piece as I could, sauted a “stuffing” of napa cabbage (market was out of savoy cabbage), onion, chestnuts and thyme, rolled and tied it all up, and broiled it. It was quite good, but I need to hone the recipe before posting. I was actually reminded of this flavor combination by a twitter from Kelly at Sass & Veracity.


My 2008 Favorites

2008 roundup

Constables Larder is a very young effort, only starting last summer, but I am like many in taking stock at this time of year to look backwards and forwards. I find it funny that a lot of people are turning to their blog stats to post their “best of 2008”. A blog is typically a very personal effort, and so I would much rather see a list of the author’s favorites, rather than those of the audience (although both can be interesting). In that spirit of editorial discretion, or egotistical self-indulgence depending on your perspective, here are a few of my favorites from the year:

1. From Provence to the Catskills: this was a huge feast we threw, including a marvelous Alice Waters pork braise, as part of the inaugural Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 blog event, which is now a monthly series. (Foodbuzz has enabled me to get to know so many interesting food bloggers, and I look forward to watching the site’s evolution)

2. Chard leaves stuffed with risotto: this is a recipe from Mark Bittman in the NY Times that is ever so simple, but had to have been one of my most satisfying meals of the year

3. Moqueca de Peixe: a Brazillian recipe for cooking fish that I discovered via Saveur – it is now my favorite recipe for fish (I also did a nice riff on this for chicken)

4. Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel: this is a dish I constantly order in Greek restaurants, and thanks to Peter at Kalofagas (who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting when he visited New York City), I was finally given a reference point to make a version of the dish myself

5. Shepherd’s Pie: this is an old staple dish of mine (and one of the most popular posts on this blog), but what really made this fun was the dynamic of blogosphere mutual inspiration and idea sharing. After seeing the post, Kali Orexi made this Greek-inspired version, which inspired me to go in a middle eastern direction.

6. Summer bean salad: just looking at that picture (middle right, above) makes me miss summer, with the produce so fresh and everything light and delicious! This salad, inspired by Susan’s salad series at Food Blogga, was a perfect meal unto itself on a hot day.

7. Peasant bean stew: Stacey teases me mercilessly about the number of bean dishes on this blog, but it is true that in 2008 I really took to cooking legumes in a big way. I’ve always loved them at restaurants, but rarely found recipes in cookbooks that really worked for me. In 2008, I set out on my own exploration of this ingredient, enjoying the discovery of Rancho Gordo among other things, and had a number of successes, such as this cassoulet-inspired dish.

8. Eggplant, zucchini and basil gratin: it was probably hard for this dish not to be successful, since it had fresh vegetables and gobs of cheese and olive oil, but the richness didn’t overwhelm. It was great, satisfying comfort food and vegetarian at that — and while Lisl and I remain carnivores, we continue to try to limit the amount of meat we are consuming (less quantity, higher quality)

9. Lentil soup with tarragon and pesto: 2008 was a year for improving my knowledge in certain categories, including beans, braises, and soups, and I made good progress. I was very happy with this soup and the use of pesto, part of a Hay Hay Donna Day theme, as a pistou.

10. Corn fritters with jalapeno dipping sauce: this was another non-fancy dish that just absolutely hit the spot, and which I discovered via the Wednesday Chef. The dipping sauce, a combination of jalapenos, rice vinegar, garlic and sugar, was killer. Truly happiness food.

Here’s to a great 2009. Come March, when Munchkin #2 is expected to make his arrival, things should get interesting. 🙂

Holiday Greetings, Egg Nog, and Oyster Stew

2008 holiday card

What a magnificant time of year it is. Winter has set in like the unfurling of a crystal flower. Snow is still exciting, not troublesome, and we have not yet reached the tired, bitter bite of February and March. The house smells like a frasier fir, and the world is lit up all around by fairy lights. My musical tastes switch almost entirely to classical music this time of year.

I happen to be the worst person in the world at sending Christmas Cards, as my acquaintances will readily admit, but here is my little homemade holiday card to you — friends old and new. Happy holidays to you all!

For those who are eggnog fans, I might recommend Grandma House’s eggnog recipe (link). Grandma House, you might ask? Well, my father was one of seven children, who all had children, and every year our massive clan would descend upon her house in the middle of the Maryland countryside. The house was originally built in 1747 (I remember my cousins discovering civil war era swords in one of the ancient barns), so had a memorable quality. Somehow, when we were all very little, she became known as “grandma house”. She is long gone now, but I do miss her. Quite a lady.

I warn you, even though I have reduced the alcohol level from what *she* used to do, the recipe still can have a real kick. I might advise adding the alcohol in batches, then tasting, rather than all at once.

The other dish that I always think of this time of year, which also came from Grandma House, is oyster stew (link), which is really a soup. While we vary our Christmas dinners from year to year, this soup is always a mainstay by popular demand.

All the best to you, and may you have a safe and happy holiday season.

Thanksgiving planning

The clock is ticking. So far here’s what we’re thinking (subject to inspiration when I get to the market tomorrow morning):

Amuse: 3 crostinis: mixed sauted mushrooms; goat cheese with figs and honey; homemade hummus with slices of roasted red pepper; all on slices of Lisl’s sourdough bread

Starter: butternut squash soup with leeks and ginger

Main: Turkey and stuffing (using our usual recipe; the one year I tried a brine I wasn’t happy)

Side: potato and fennel gratin

Side: most likely a green bean dish, haven’t decided how simple vs complex
(I also think Lisl is making something with cranberries and something with sweet potatoes, but I have an aversion to both so do not have insight into her schemes! With the exception of middle-eastern tagines, I am just not one for mixing sweet fruit and meat.)

Dessert: I’m guessing Lisl will make an apple or pumpkin pie, and I believe that family coming to visit might be importing some dessert as well

Wine: plenty!

What am I thankful for? A lot:


Congrats Foodbuzz!

foodbuzz apron

We have enjoyed participating in the Foodbuzz community, and we’ve met some great people doing so. Congrats on your launch Foodbuzz crew! We were very sorry to miss meeting Ryan, Devon and others at the dinner here in New York last weekend, but hope everyone had a good time (we had a previous engagement).

Foodbuzz was generous enough to send us some swag as part of their launch, which Lisl is modeling above. And since you can’t miss it in the photo, it seems like as good a time as any to share that munchkin is expecting a sibling in March. Kiddo is going to have to deal with… yes… a baby brother. So when, next April, this blog has nothing more than half-incoherent statements and out-of-focus photos, you will understand!

I can’t say thank you to Foodbuzz without a slightly more serious message as well. I’m sure they are a little disappointed in not generating more PR with their launch announcement, but it has obviously been a tough time to get media attention. Since history, consensus and logic all point to the recession causing a pullback in advertising, long-tail plays like Foodbuzz will be a little challenging. Luckily foodies are a relatively attractive and focused group for advertisers, but times will no doubt be tight. I wonder if it will put more pressure on them to grow the main Foodbuzz website rather than overall network growth through the aggregation play, in order to give advertisers a focused location. If so, that might require making some shifts that make the site more mainstream friendly rather than as blogger-focused as it has been. In any case, from one entrepreneur to another, I’m rooting for you. So no more swag! We don’t need it; save those pennies! And I hope we all weather this downturn and make our way to brighter days.

Low and Slow roundup

low and slow graphicThank you to everyone who participated in the first Low and Slow blog event. As noted in the original post, we purposefully let the definition of “low and slow” remain broad, just asking that each submission be “a dish that requires long cooking (at least an hour) at relatively low temperatures where flavors mix together in delightful ways.

This was tough to judge, as there were many interesting submissions and different styles, but someone did have to take the cookbook prize, and that would be Kelly of Sass and Veracity. We met Kelly several months ago via Foodbuzz, and quickly became fans of her blog. Her submission was a brined pork roast, served with mushroom-sage polenta and collard greens.

Sass and Veracity

(Bee and Jai) created “tempeh chili con frijoles”, a vegan version of chili con carne. Love that photograph!

Stacey Snacks
(Stacey) made a delicious-sounding pork shoulder ragu which she served on a bed of penne pasta.

Columbus Foodie
(Becke) submitted an intriguing recipe: Transylvanian Goulash, which combines saurkraut, pork shoulder, and lots of spices.

Passionate About Baking
(Deeba) made a chicken curry with fenungreek (Methi Murgh).

Family, Friends and Food
(Patsy) braised beef short ribs with a mix of broth, tomatoes, rosemary, worcestershire, etc.

(Ivy) cooked a Greek sofrito, a veal steak slowly cooked in a white wine, garlic and herb sauce, from the Greek island of Corfu.

What Smells So Good
(Sarah) created a vegan version of pulled BBQ pork, using unripe jackfruit.

North Fork Foodie (Lisa) made a pulled pork sandwich with tangy apples and onions.

For the Love of Cooking
(Pam) dropped a link in the comments section of the original post to this wonderful recipe for a Mexican-flavored beef stew, as well as a more traditional French-style beef stew.

Priya’s Easy N Tasty Recipes (Priya) created a spicy baked chicken with a Tandoori flavor.

Some recipes submitted didn’t *exactly* fit the parameters, but were quite interesting:

Fun and Food Cafe
(Mansi) submitted an Indian-style Chana Masala (chickpea curry).

Dil Se
submitted a finger millet porridge (ragi koozh).

Bengali Cuisine
(Sudeshna) created a caramel pudding of bread crumbs, milk, eggs, and vanilla essence.

Finally, here is our own entry:

The Constables’ Larder
(that’s us) braised a beef brisket with sweet peppers, carnival squash, slab bacon, cumin and paprika.

Thanks again to all the participants!

Drying Chilis

I have not tried canning yet, but my nod towards lengthening the “local” season consisted of drying my own chilis. I had some poblano peppers (which are renamed ancho chilis), cayenne peppers, and small, red hot peppers.

To dry them, heat oven to 170F. Place the peppers on a stone or tray in the oven. The small peppers dried out overnight, but the poblanos took all night and all the next day. I flipped the poblanos halfway through.

chili drying 1
Washed and dried before oven

chili drying 2
Partially dried

chili drying 3
Smaller peppers done; gave the poblanos more time

dried ancho

colored chilis

Do you say chili or chilli or chile? Ah the mysteries of the universe…

O Foods roundup for Ovarian Cancer

We were sadly unable to participate in the “O” Foods blog event for Ovarian Cancer, but I did want to do a shout out to Jenn at The Left Over Queen, Michelle at Bleeding Expresso, and Sara at Ms. Adventures in Italy for organizing the successful event. You can see links to participants and recipes on their blogs. It’s an important cause that has touched our family, so we’re glad to see it highlighted. Well done all!

Low and Slow reminder; potting the pie

low and slow graphic First off I want to remind folks about the Low and Slow blog event between now and October 15th. It’s all about slow cooking at low heat, and we’re giving away a choice of a braise cookbook to the winner (see post for more info). I’m greedy for more slow-cooking recipes so hoping folks have time to participate.

As the weather cools down, I’ve been cooking more and more like this, with low, slow dishes like a pork braise, cuban black beans, a short ribs braise, and even a version of my vegetarian chili for 30 people.

Tonight I went in the comfort food direction again, with a chicken pot pie, although I tried to shortcut the process quite a bit given time limits. I had promised a pot pie to Lisl, but got home from work and realized we barely had any flour or salt! Aren’t emergency market runs a pain?!

For the pot pie mixture, I experimented with combining leeks, carrots, and turnip, as well as reducing the butter and milk and adding a little more white wine. The turnips added an earthiness that was nice, but which I probably won’t repeat. The combination of white wine and thyme also made the dish a little less heavy, but just not as wonderfully “comfort foodish”.

I did not have Lisl to lean on for the pastry, as I usually do, and had be self-sufficient in that department. This might have been the first time I ever used a rolling pin (I’m not completely sure, but we’re talking reasonable odds). Baker, I am not. “You don’t say,” you mutter, “why do I read this blog again?

Amazingly, while I made the noob mistake of too-thick pastry, it tasted right. Granted that there are only so many ways to destroy flour, butter, salt and baking powder, but I was half expecting to walk headfirst into one of those ways.

All things considered, I don’t think I am going to post tonight’s recipe since the dish was rushed and enjoyable but very improvable. Shocker of shockers, perhaps the classic is the classic for a reason. I’ve done it better in past, even while employing short-cuts, so next time I’ll hopefully have a version that is shareable in detail.

chicken pot pie

Notes from the road; 24, 24, 24 links

Wordle after 24, 24, 24 post

I don’t know what it is about Wordle that satisfies my inner geek, but periodically I love popping over there, entering the blog URL, and capturing a snapshot from the main URL at the time. The above wordle is from the 24/24/24 set of posts.

This has been a light blogging week since both of us are tied up with work and/or travel. I happen to be at an offsite with my colleagues (we’re a startup of about 30 people), and for fun I took on the challenge of making dinner one night. I’ve never cooked for more than 8 at one point in time, so it was definitely an interesting experience. Because we have a lot of vegetarians and vegans in this crew (about half!), we decided to make a huge version of the vegetarian chili I blogged many weeks ago, with a ton of different garnishes (it seems to have been a hit). Cooking in bulk really has its own set of lessons and requirements.

Most of my time is spent in meetings here, but there’s the occasional chance to duck into the kitchen (some people like to go for a walk to clear their head, I like to cook). While we were making hummus the other morning, my colleague Nicole taught me that you can better juice lemons by rolling them around under your palm first. I’m not entirely convinced it works wonders, but I suppose I should listen to the spirit of the Italian grandmothers she has known! Since no lemon is alike, it is impossible to do empirical testing, however if nothing else, this will be a fun task for me to give to munchkin to keep her occupied while I cook!

I’ve also been meaning to link to all the other 24, 24, 24 participants from this great event, and I’m hoping Palachinka, who had a fascinating post on medieval Serbian cuisine, doesn’t mind that I pilfered her table of pics and links, since it was so nicely done! (the order is pretty random, and I had to move some things around to fit the narrower format of this blog)

24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs – The Roundup:

Nemanjić Family Tree, fresco from Dečani Monastery Noob Cook: East meets West in A Tropical Garden City Foodwoolf: Farmers' Market Iron Chef: Battle in the Kitchen Spanish Recipes: A Spanish Menu - My gift to the Winners of the Olympic Games
The Constables' Larder: From Provence to the Catskills - a Voyage from David to Bertolli Chateau Petrogasm: Welcome to the Chateau - An evening of Wine, Food, and Art Fig and Cherry: Aussie BBQ Bonanza - Celebrating Diversity Culinary Escapade: Chocoholic Heaven
Hugging the Coast: The Four Corners of Carolina BBQ Road Trip Cakespy: A Sweet Trompe l'oeil Food Junkie Not Junk Food: Hot Weather Lunch Miami Dish: First Annual Farm to Table Dinner
Food Stories: The Very Best of British Red Cook: Mid-Autumn Festival Banquet Food Wishes Video Recipes: The "Found on Foodbuzz" 24-Item Tasting Menu La vida en Buenos Aires y afines: From matambre to empanadas an argentine dinner
No Recipes: No Menus: an underground restaurant affair Wandering Italy: Eating with Tuscan Locavores Passionate About Baking: EAT LIKE A KING; FEAST FOR A MAHARAJA Feeding Maybelle: Eating Art: A Tasting Menu Inspired by Masterworks of Art
Jersey Bites: A Tomato Garden Party ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal: Behind-the-Kitchen with Chef Hu-nam Kim of Star Chef The Accidental Scientist: `Aha`aina - Recapturing the Global Flavors of the Luau The Nourished Kitchen: Criminal Tastes - An Illegal Supper