Slow Cooker Chili: American History in a Bowl

Chili is a classic example of a dish created by poor people out of necessity that evolves into a beloved national dish. This one originates from Texas– there are some theories that it originated in Mexico, but they are widely regarded to have been disproved. According to What’s Cooking America’s wonderful account, chili origin legends in the Americas date back to at least 1618, when

it is said that the first recipe for chili con carne was put on paper in the 17th century by a beautiful nun, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain. She was mysteriously known to the Indians of the Southwest United States as “La Dama de Azul,” the lady in blue.

Mind you, Sister Mary was supposedly projecting herself spiritually to this unnamed tribe from her abbey in Spain. Good story, but probably not it.

Another theory is that the recipe evolved from pre-Colombian ingredients and migrated north. Another holds that it was invented in Mexico specifically to cater to American visitors– tourist food, in other words, which is an interesting theory. The prevalent belief, however, is that chili con carne evolved as a simple peasant dish in San Antonio in the 19th century. We know that

During the 1880s, brightly-dressed Hispanic women known as “Chili Queens” began to operate around Military Plaza and other public gathering places in downtown San Antonio. They would appear at dusk, building charcoal or wood fires to reheat cauldrons of pre-cooked chili, selling it by the bowl to passers-by. The aroma was a potent sales pitch, aided by Mariachi street musicians, who joined in to serenade the eaters. Some Chili Queens later built semi-permanent stalls in the mercado, or local Mexican marketplace. (Link)

Everything traceable seems to bring chili back to Texan street food– the perfect spot for Native American, Mexican, Spanish and Anglo cultures to be drawn together into regional specialties.

So what is chili? Read the rest of this entry »

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Eggs Moghlai

This is a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking, the cookbook that inspired me to start this blog. The recipe is a fancy, rich dish- most Moghul dishes we in the US are exposed to are ‘royal’ recipes. There are two versions in this cookbook, one with chicken as the protein and one with hard-boiled eggs. Since eggs don’t need to be browned first and then simmered until they’re tender, the egg version is a whole lot quicker.

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Pound Cake with Lemon Curd

pound cake

Oh, pound cake, you buttery temptress.  So satisfying, yet so versatile.  You’re dessert, breakfast, a coffee break snack.  You’re so easy to make, yet so often you’re served dry and crumbly.  Can I do you justice? 

The good news is that Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, that venerable friend of vegetarians, has a beautiful pound cake recipe.  And my favorite cooking guru Alton Brown has a wonderful recipe for lemon curd that goes with it beautifully.  Lemon curd, if you’re not familiar with it, is a tart, lemony custard that has many, many applications, my favorite of which is as a topping for pound cake. 

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Heirloom Tomato Pizza

Heirloom Tomato Pizza

This was our first attempt at homemade pizza in years, and we were very pleased with the results.  I should admit up front that, since it was a work night, we didn’t attempt to make the dough from scratch– that’s more of a Sunday project.  We bought a blob of pizza dough from Trader Joe’s instead.  But we had some beautiful fresh orange and red heirloom tomatoes straight from the farm, fresh mozzarella, local raw-milk gruyere, a monster of a shallot and some fresh garlic, all from the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.  The fresh ingredients really made a difference!

Joe stretched the dough out to about a foot in diameter– it was quite springy so that wasn’t an easy task, even for someone who used to work at a pizza shop.   We started with a gentle drizzle of olive oil and some chopped shallots and garlic.  Not too much,  you don’t want to overwhelm the flavors of the tomatoes and cheese.  Next, a layer of grated fresh mozzarella, then a quick grate of a much smaller amount of gruyere.  Finally, sliced orange and red tomatoes arranged on top of the pie and drizzled with a hint of olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  We don’t have a pizza stone (although, ahem, my birthday is November 15), so we baked the pizza on a cookie sheet.  It worked out fine, although a pizza stone would have crisped the bottom of the crust a bit more.  The directions on the dough said to bake it for 8-9 minutes, but the tomatoes and mozzarella release so much water that we ended up baking it for about 12 minutes to get some nice browning going.

When it had about 3 minutes to go, Joe sprinkled some chopped fresh basil on top of the pizza. 

The result was one of the better pizzas I’ve had in a long time.  The tomatoes were bursting with flavor, the basil was delicious, and the garlic and shallots gave it just enough of a kick.  The crust wasn’t massively flavorful– when we do it from scratch we’ll salt and season it a bit– but it was perfectly serviceable and had a nice texture to it.  I’d prefer homemade, but for an after-work meal on a Wednesday night the packaged dough made this an easy, quick meal.  Not bad for a first attempt!  I’ll post a picture tonight if our crappy Earthlink internet access is up to it.

Also:  The Real Potato received our 5,000th hit today!  Woohoo!  Cookies for everyone!

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Chex Muddy Buddies, also known as Puppy Chow

This isn’t slow food by any stretch of the imagination– it’s actually from the Chex brand website.  But it’s been around for many years– I was making this in the sixth grade for parties.  It’s easy and fun to make this with kids, and they will love it.  It’s great for parties, especially if you expect people to have the munchies…  hee.

Ingredients:

9 cups Chex® cereal (any variety)

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation Directions:

1. Into large bowl, measure cereal; set aside.

2. In 1-quart microwavable bowl, stir together chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter. Microwave uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag.

3. Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

By the way, as far as I can tell, corn Chex seem to be wheat-free but not gluten-free: they contain barley malt extract.

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Baba Ganoush

This classic Lebanese eggplant dip (more here) is surprisingly easy to make.  The key is to buy small, skinny eggplants.  You’re roasting these over an open flame and the big, fat, genetically modified monsters you get at the supermarket are too thick to allow the heat to penetrate through the eggplant and cook all of the flesh.  We got ours at Livengood Farms at the Reading Terminal Market– local, organic and totally delicious.  Consider this our first entry in the Philadelphia Local Food Challenge!

Baba Ganoush:

3 eggplants, small and skinny

juice of 1 lemon

4 tbsp tahini

2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 clove chopped garlic (optional)

2 generous pinches of salt

1 small pinch pepper

I’m sorry, but this recipe only works on a gas stove (or a grill).  Put the flame on medium or medium low (you want to do this slowly).  Hold your eggplant with tongs and turn it very slowly over the flame.  Do this until the skins are charred completely black and starting to split.

Once your eggplants are cooked, put them in a shallow dish and cover it with saran wrap. You want to seal this so that the heat left in the eggplants steams up the dish as it escapes and helps to steam the charred skins right off.  You can leave this overnight if you want to.

When you bring out your eggplants, peel off the charred skins.  It’s fine if a few bits get into the baba (it’ll have a nice smoky flavor) but you want to try to peel it as much as you can.  If they’re really charred well, they should peel right off, but if you have any problem try peeling them under cold running water or submerged in cold water.

Mash the eggplant in a bowl with all ingredients.  Serve with pita bread, matzoh or gluten-free crackers (if that’s how you roll).  Healthy, smoky, tangy and snackable.  Makes a great appetizer for Sukkot dinner!

If you keep this in the fridge, cover it with saran wrap and push the wrap all the way down onto the surface of the baba, to keep it from oxidizing.

Thanks to Joe and Leftyprof for these instructions!

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Easy Peach Cobbler

I love peach cobbler. I have made many versions in my life, from ones with pie-like crusts to ones with a simple crumble on top. This one is interesting because you put the peaches in last and the crust expands around them. It turned out quite good. This recipe is wheat-free (it uses spelt flour) and it is fairly Crohn’s-friendly. The peaches are peeled and cooked, and I left most of the dairy out of it.

Easy Peach Cobbler

1/2 cup (one stick) of butter, melted

1 cup of flour (I used spelt flour to cut down on the wheat)

2 cups of sugar

3 teaspoons of baking powder

pinch of salt

1 cup of milk or soy milk

4-5 large peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced

juice of one lemon

candied ginger

Heat oven to 375.

First, take the melted butter and pour it into a 9x13x2 pan.

Combine flour, one cup of sugar, baking powder and salt. Add milk until the batter comes together. Pour into the pan over the melted butter but do not mix together. Take the peaches, lemon juice, one cup of sugar and the ginger and cook over high heat, stirring constantly. Let it come to a boil and allow a syrup to form. The peaches should be softened slightly but still should be firm. Pour the peaches into the pan over the batter and butter. Again, do not mix up the ingredients in the pan. Put in the oven for about 35-45 minutes. The crust should rise and envelope the peaches and turn a golden brown. Remove from oven. Can be served hot or cold.

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