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Recipes

Red Wine Chili

Red Wine ChiliJacques Pepin got me thinking: how many recipes does one person commit to memory in their lifetime? The question doesn’t suggest a one-size-fits-all answer but maybe you’re already beginning to rattle off recipe names or tick fingers doing a lap on the mental treadmill of memory.

The only time we ever stirred a pot of slow-cooked chili in my childhood home aligned with ominous clouds darkening the sky above as rain lashed the ground outside. It became almost a Pavlovian response: when the rain came, so did my craving for chili. In Texas, one of the important details of the chili-eating experience involves the curlicue corn chip known as the Frito. I can’t recall really ever wanting those chips outside of providing a nuance of crunch to the duet of chili-spiced ground beef and beans with its volcanic rupture of melted cheddar cheese.

Taste memories form us into the eaters we are. We may not pledge allegiance to the flavors of our childhood once we become adults, but their imprint can catapult us quickly back to a place in our past, faster than we might be able to conjure them up without the olfactory and taste bud assistance.

It’s not that we eat chili often now at home at all. I can count only two occurrences we’ve pulled together a pot this year and perhaps not coincidentally they’ve coincided with the arrival of rain. But, there’s something about taking what is known and teasing it out—seeing how far the boundaries extend before it no longer looks or acts or tastes like its initial point of departure. Would it be accurate to suggest we are all adaptations of our former selves, much like the chili recipe of now can be credited back to the flavors that formed in our taste bank many years ago?

For Christmas Eve last year, part of our family congregated around a table in a dimly lit restaurant in the wine country. We would cloister around the massive paella pan the next day preparing and waiting to dig up the crusty bits of rice still clinging and etched into the bottom of the pan of what had become tradition. But, this evening, we huddled in elegant Dry Creek Kitchen, playing the part of happy family, unfettered by a fissure whose full impact is still deeply felt a year later. I ordered the tasting menu and marveled at the soft poached egg melting into the housemade ricotta paired with spiced warm brioche and red currant vinaigrette. This led to second course of spiral cut ham salting roasted butternut squash risotto with a peppery pop of arugula and sweet maple glacage. By the main course of Pop’s Prime Rib Wellington, we had all pretty much pled mercy and requested to-go boxes.

Red Wine Chili

Two days later, we fished out the leftover prime rib steaks, considering how we might present them anew for dinner. A decent bottle of red table wine sat on the counter and one thing led to another. The flavors formed into a Spanish and Sonoma-inspired red wine chili with chunks of steak. We sat around steaming bowls that night as the savory aroma wafted up from our spoons. Through the disparate odds and ends leftover from the grand celebrations, we had created something unexpected and good.

The holidays can be tricky to navigate as they come fraught with expectation as much as ensuing excitement. They can bring to the surface leftover hurts of a misplaced comment or issues that we thought we had resolved and healed. Looking at leftover meat doesn’t usually inspire the kind of admiration of the original plate with its thoughtful garnish and presentation. But leftovers can teach us a lot about ourselves. They give us a second chance to make what was originally someone else’s creation, our own. It’s not easy forgiving small grievances that can compound into one ball of recollection. But the thing with holidays is they too are an attempt at second chances—every year we get an opportunity to try again and learn better how to celebrate life with each other.

What we might not see at first glance is that holding onto leftover hurts allows them to keep us shackled to the past instead of moving gracefully into the future. Forgiveness might seem like an odd gift to give at the holidays, but no wrapping can contain its incredible value. It is in its way a fresh start, a chance to open the to-go box, survey the cold meat inside and say, how can I make this good again?

 

Red Wine Chili

Red Wine Chili

In a different chili recipe I made a while back, I had jotted a note to self to try using chipotle chili in a future iteration. Oh, yes. Look for the small can of chipotles in adobo sauce in the Latin American aisle of your supermarket. My obsession with figs runs deep and I wanted to play around with the idea of letting a hint of their natural sweetness play into a chili-laced paste that’s simmered tomatoes with a bit of red wine, and thyme. This is definitely a game-changer for me. I had never made my chili using a paste before, but as I was thinking about texture and wanting to both concentrate the flavors in the base, I decided to simmer and puree and now I’m not looking back. The figs also act as a thickener in the homemade chili paste. In some circles, cooking with wine might come across as a bad way for the bottle to go down. But, I find a judicious glug of decent dry red makes a well-served sacrifice in this chili. It adds body and depth, and should come from a vintage you would like to drink, since the rest of the bottle will be the cook’s (and company’s) libation. I used Healdsburg Reserve Merlot from Split Creek Farms. When it comes to garnishing chili, we are of two minds in our household. You might find as I did that the chili tastes best on its own or with a dollop of yogurt. Nathan added cheddar to his bowl and between spoonfuls, pronounced this the best chili he has ever eaten, so there might be something to that. However you serve it, make sure to break out the corn chips.

Serves 4 huge bowls to 6 small bowls

 

2 cups plus 1 cup diced tomatoes and juice (1 28-ounce can)

4 ounces dried California mission figs, stemmed (1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons adobo sauce plus 1 chipotle pepper

3 tablespoons plus 1 cup dry red table wine

Fresh thyme leaves from 1 sprig (1/2 teaspoon)

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 large white onion, peeled and medium chopped (2 cups)

1 pound ground beef

1 cooked ribeye steak, cool and cubed

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 carrot, peeled and small grated (1/2 cup)

2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt

Organic corn chips

Whole milk yogurt, optional

Sharp cheddar cheese, optional

 

Simmer 2 cups of tomatoes and juice with the figs, adobo sauce, chipotle pepper, 3 tablespoons of red wine, thyme leaves, and chili powder on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile drizzle and swirl the olive oil into a skillet set over medium-low heat and cook the onions for 15 minutes, until almost translucent, stirring sporadically. Add and brown the ground beef in the skillet with the onions. Turn off the heat under the pot of chili-laced figs and transfer the chili-laced figs to a blender. Remove the cap off the lid and place a towel over the hole. Blend until smooth. Pour the chili-fig puree into a large stockpot. Stir in the remaining cup of red wine, cup of diced tomato and juice, steak, beans, carrot, and salt to the pot. Add the ground beef and onions to the pot. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. Garnish with yogurt and cheddar if desired. Serve with corn chips.

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Recipes

Lentil Turkey Chili

 

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

We eat leftovers. They wheedle their way into the handwritten weekly menu as proof that no matter how busy a week becomes we can find homemade food at the ready to ably feed ourselves. They provide the backbone to a quick lunch with substance. But, leftovers get a bit of a bad rap, don’t they? Just last week over tea with a friend, she recounted that she leaves the leftovers for her husband, something I have done and depending on the dish, will continue to do as I firmly fall into the camp of some foods don’t get better with time.

We rely on leftovers- they fill in the gaps of one of us at band practice and the other taking a class. But, sometimes I just can’t be bothered with having the same meal several times in rote repetition like a record with a scratch that plays the same bit of track that you enjoyed the first time until it becomes annoying. What’s remarkable is that over the span of one night’s digestion, compelling cuisine takes on a second class status as leftovers. I  have discovered, along with other home cooks, the way to make them the prep for tomorrow’s lunch.

Here’s the thing with leftovers and the aversion people bring to the brown bagged remnants, the quart sized-jar in the fridge or casserole dish with stair-stacked holes cut into the food. And, I want to be careful how I word this, the attitude to leftovers is indicative of first world problems. Where else is extra food considered something avoidable? When I worked at a restaurant, while putting myself through school, we wore metal pins on our uniforms, as a sign of our flair. I could have easily donned one that read “world’s worst up-seller” since the portion sizes served at the restaurant already were double what people could actually eat and more often than not, it pained me to scrape perfectly good food into the compost bin because a patron had met their fill.

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

Today, I want to talk about a way we can donate more than just a renewed sense of mindfulness toward our leftovers, instead focusing on an important cause. Nicole of The Giving Table invited people to donate their blog post today to the cause of “The Lunchbox Fund,” an initiative to feed South Africa. Encouraged to blog about lunch, and since my lunches consist of leftovers, here we are.

Did you know 65% of all South African children live in poverty. As evidenced through research by No Kid Hungry in the United States, we know that nourished children will do better in school by helping them stay alert and be able to retain what they are learning. I recently learned that nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS. These kids are left over from dire family circumstances. It makes me profoundly sad tinged with possibility.

Groups like The Lunchbox Fund identify schools or form partnerships with locally based NGOs or community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. They fund distributors to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, implement a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation. In essence, they are helping radically address the food supply system for these children who might otherwise get looked over. Can I encourage you to consider that if you give $10, it will feed a child for a day. Giving overflows from a generous heart, so the amount isn’t as important as the practice and the response to the problem.  Consider giving to The Lunchbox Fund and forgoing lattes for a week- doing good might just be the ultimate morning jumpstart.

It’s almost time for lunch and leftovers are on the menu. Join me for a bowl of Lentil Turkey Chili?

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

LENTIL TURKEY CHILI

This chili is perfect for serving on rainy or cold days (not that I’m complaining – we needed the rain that turned San Francisco into a wet wonderland this past weekend). This chili is a bit of a conglomeration of various leftovers. Taco Tuesdays makes extra ground meat than we can eat that night, so that gets added to the pot. The extra brown rice we make at the beginning of the week gets warmed and doled out into the bowls so the chili gets ladled over it. Leftover chicken or veggie stock gets used here too and unlike many recipes that only call for 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, this is a terrific recipe to use a whole jar of it or any tomato paste leftovers you might have lurking in the fridge. For garnishes, use what you have on hand. I give a few ideas of what’s in our fridge, but chili is open to creativity (ever try pulsing a chipotle from adobo sauce or adding some of the sauce to chili? Smoky goodness, right there.) These repurposed ingredients will feed you for lunch all week with enough to go in the freezer or to get repurposed another way.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

1 teaspoon grapeseed oil plus 1 tablespoon
1 red bell pepper
2 cups green lentils
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
tomato paste
1 cup water
32 ounce jar chopped tomatoes
1 cup cooked ground turkey
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Rub a red bell pepper with oil and roast it in the oven for 20 minutes or until you see the skin char slightly. Cool the red bell pepper. Once cooled, remove the stem and seeds inside. Place the bell pepper in a container with high sides and a deep well. Blend with an immersion blender until pureed.

While the bell pepper is roasting, pick through the lentils, discarding any small rocks. In a large heavy pot, cover the lentils with about 3-4 inches of water and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to simmer. Cover and cook them for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of grape seed oil and swirl the pan until the bottom is coated. Add the onions to the pan and brown them for about 4 minutes. Add in the garlic, 3 minutes in.

Drain the lentils from their cooking liquid. Transfer the lentils back to their pot along with the onion, garlic and vegetable stock. Place the pot over medium low heat. Whisk together 3 tablespoons of water with the tomato paste until smooth, adding the rest of the water until you’ve reached one cup. Pour it into the pot once you’ve got a thick red sauce. Open your jar of canned chopped tomatoes and break apart the tomatoes with your fingers over the pot, pouring in the jarred liquid too. Add the cooked ground meat to the pot, carefully breaking up any initial clumps with a large wooden spoon.  Stir in the chili powder, cayenne and salt. Cover the pot and let the chili simmer so the liquid reduces and it thickens up. Add the bell pepper puree to the chili.

Serve with brown rice. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream (or labneh or creme fraiche or Greek yogurt or…), grated leftover nubs of cheese (sharp cheddar works wonderfully) and minced scallions.

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Recipes

Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew

The meal after the Meal- I have been contemplating Black Friday in a new way this year. None of the scheming and planning for wee morning hour wake-up calls to shop. Oh, no. As home cooks across the country are putting into action this week’s game plan for Thanksgiving, I’ve set my eyes on Friday.

Thanksgiving should require its own lexicon. It starts on Sunday when the candies get made. Tuesday might as well be dedicated to pie day as pie crusts get filled with gooey pecans and syrup or with spiced pumpkin puree. Wednesday becomes the day for making any side dishes that can sit overnight to let the flavors meld. And we all know what Thursday means, or at least our belts know what it means.

This year I wanted to take a different approach to the day after Thanksgiving, usually a repeat of leftover favorites refashioned into day-after delivery or served up in the array most beloved by each participant. This year, while in Texas, I wanted to bring a bit of California to the table or at least, the way we usually eat chez nous. It saddens me to think that while my Dad was alive I didn’t really get a chance or make the effort to cook for him. I know that one Thanksgiving I had a chance to contribute a salad, done my way and he, the antagonist of “rabbit food” ate it and enjoyed it. And cooking is after all one of my love languages I can imagine many of us speak to the people we love.

So, in the spirit of bringing California to Texas, I’ve decided to make the meal vegetarian. It’s not some sort of political statement, as I can put down smoked brisket with the best of them, but it reminds me of the home and style of living and eating we have cultivated in California. This opportunity arrives for me to make a succulent feast of fresh foods bursting with seasonal flavor. After all of the tryptophan and Red Rooster imbibing of Thursday, Friday is a chance to turn a corner in a different direction.

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B L A C K   F R I D A Y   M E N U

Appetizer
Sweet Potato Crostini with Celery Parsley Salad, Lemony Yogurt and Pomegranate Seeds

Salad
Massaged Kale Salad with Persimmons, Cranberries, Chevre & Toasted Almonds

Main
Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew
Grilled Organic Polenta

Dessert
Yogurt Pudding with Spiced Pear Compote

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I kept my tastebuds open and exploring the past few months, testing recipes and ideas of foods that would work for this Black Friday Feast  and be family-approved. This Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew below by Michael Natkin completely bowled me over. The sherry vinegar and paprika give a heartiness to the mushrooms and lentils. Below, the stew is served with sliced Early Girl tomatoes and basil. Since they are not quite in season right now, we will be foregoing them and I might opt to offer some quick-pickled onions or some such notion. Who knows, maybe this is a family tradition in the making?

Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew

 

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SPANISH LENTIL MUSHROOM STEW
From “Herbivoracious” by Michael Natkin. Reprinted with permission.

YIELD: 4-6 servings

5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small white onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

kosher salt

2 cups French green lentils, rinsed and picked over

4 cups water

1 pound Crimini mushrooms, quartered lengthwise

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

12 big basil leaves, rolled into a bundle and cut into thin strips (chiffonade)

freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Drain.

2. While the lentils are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in your largest skillet over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the mushrooms in a single layer and sauté, turning occasionally, until well browned, about 5 minutes. If your skillet isn’t big enough to hold the mushrooms in one layer, work in batches. Season the mushrooms with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Put the lentils in a mixing bowl and add the smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon of the sherry vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Toss the cherry tomatoes and basil with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, remaining 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

5. To serve, divide the lentils among bowls. Top with the mushrooms, and top the mushrooms with the tomato salad. Give the whole thing a grind of black pepper and another dusting of paprika if you like.

 

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Recipes

Butternut Squash Chili

SOUP RECIPES- Butternut Squash Chili

Firsts carry a certain lightness where potential and possibility lead the way.

I knew and Nathan knew after the first date that we’d found something rare and good in each other. Over Senegalese food, we bantered and talked for hours. Here was a guy whose eyes did not glaze over as I lightly rebuffed the inane, seemingly mandatory chit chat of first dates. No, instead we talked about homelessness and the difference between managing it and ending it. We talked of dreams and goals both short term and the ones that required time and tenacity to cajole them into being.

Our first Christmas together was so unlike what I would have expected: where I envisioned Nathan and my dad commiserating over a blind taste test of sipping small glasses of port, instead there was my dad´s absence and a desire that they might have had more time with each other. Lest you think it was all dour and no flecks of snowflake, we had bits and bobs of delight woven into our day.

It started with a butternut squash and an idea to build a new tradition. I had a feeling he might be hungry and it was rainy outside. A chili felt right amid the sweet pastry ideas clamoring at the edges of my mind. This also reminded me of eating hoppin johns and cornbread New Years’ past, so it passed with muster. I wanted to make something spice-wise that would be reminiscent of those firsts in the very beginning. toasted cinnamon, Ginger, toasted ground coriander, toasted ground cumin and mortar and pestle sea salt. We garnished ours with crumbled fresh cornbread, a dollop of plain yogurt and some chevre.

Et voilà. We opened our gifts. Him a mobile stainless steel French press and me a book by Dan Simmons. Between spoonfuls of chili and lots of cuddling, this first Christmas was just right. Just enough ritual for our rather unorthodox selves.


We made the trek up to his parents’ house for what definirely equated to a more traditional Christmas: a tree with gifts as roots spreading out. Nathan’s sister tackling the family puzzle and conquering secured corners with her daughter. Her son playing video games. Nathan’s mom stirring and simmering the peas as the holiday ham warmed in the oven. An incident with Texas mixed nuts merited the implementation of the dust buster. Nathan’s brother practicing kicks in the upstairs loft. This clan evoked a cozy side of this first Christmas as one of their own.

And the chili? It tastes better the day after, much like marriage, like the investment of relationships.

 

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Butternut Squash Chili

YIELD: 4-6 servings

1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons butter & 1 tablespoon canola oil
2 strips applewood bacon
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon toasted Saigon cinnamon
1 teaspoon toasted cumin
1 tablespoon toasted ground coriander
1/2 roasted butternut Squash, chopped
1 large can pureed San Marzano tomatoes
1 can black beans, drained
1 can chili beans
Pinch of salt

Sauté the onions and garlic in a pan. When they’ve caramelized, place them in your stockpot over to the side to cool.

Cook the bacon in the pan for 8 minutes, flipping often. When cooked through, set on a plate with paper towel to cool. Drain bacon fat from pan.

Brown ground turkey with spices and salt in pan.

Once cooked through, add the ground turkey to the caramelized onion mixture in the stockpot. Add your chunks of butternut squash, along with the pureed tomatoes and beans.

Keep on low-medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring to ensure chili is well blended.

We served it with a dollop of plain yogurt, some chevre crumbled on top and a piece of cornbread. Delish.

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Recipes

Cassoulet

SOUP RECIPES- CassouletFresh back from the honeymoon, I would love to say we filled the kitchen with cinnamon and butter and sugar emanating from a hot oven. Our lives were as they had been a la honeymoon equal parts tense and excited at the possibilities ahead. No, I’m not referring to the early days of marriage but instead whether or not our San Francisco Giants would win the National League pennant. We meandered into neighborhood pubs and pizza joints yukking it up with other fans. On a particular rainy Saturday evening, we shared a booth facing a flat screen TV, watching pitchers get swapped out and batters foul. Over tapas and organic beer, we cheered and cowered, the digestive juices roiling in a perpetual state of uncertainty. But it was made less bitter and more sweet with slivers of flatbread festooned with shaved jamon Serrano and black mission figs with manchego cheese. That night, victory tasted sweet.

So our first “official” dinner looks something like this. I enter the apartment with its cheery smells of caramelized onions and a big smile spread wide across Nathan’s face. He’s begun chopping celery and carrots for a cassoulet I’ve been jonesing to make except it’s not the cassoulet and so no big surprise, it takes on a life of its own. We chop on different counters yet somehow at one point, all of his knives are on my cutting board as I’m paring the garlic. Hmm. The stew that resulted from our kitchen antics cut the chill of this October San Francisco evening. Think of it as South meets North or France meets a bit of Spain. Thus, this tasty concoction is a bit of a hot mess, but a tasty one nonetheless.

 

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Cassoulet

YIELD: 4-6 servings

  • 3 celery ribs, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 leeks, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 carrots, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 T fines herbes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • 1 8 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 8 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 pieces smoked bacon, split down the middle & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 dried Black Mission figs, quartered
  • toasted bread crumbs of Country Levain* (see below)

Pour oil, veggies and spices in a heavy stockpot over medium high heat for 12 minutes. Stir occasionally. Heat up the bacon on the stovetop while the veggies are cooking also for about 10-12 minutes. Add the bacon and a little bit of the bacon grease to your veggies along with the diced tomatoes, white beans and chicken stock. Also add the figs. Let simmer covered for 30 minutes. While the stew is simmering, cut up two hefty slices of Country Levain bread into large chunks. Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until the bread is decimated into crumbs. Toss the breadcrumbs in a large pan over medium-low heat and make sure to turn them or stir them frequently until they are toasted. (You could also put them in the oven, but we did it on the stovetop). Et voila. You have made yourself a bowl of a hot mess- garnish it with the breadcrumbs before serving. Enjoy with a cabernet sauvignon. If you’re Nathan, you might also be inclined to sneak in some shaved white cheese like a manchego. Nathan can never get enough of his cheese, but I digress.

 

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