Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Boston Winter, Texas Heat

My butt hurts.

An unconventional start to a food blog post, I know, but it hurts! I was shoveling my car out from yet another mountain of compacted snow when I slipped and fell. I don’t know how I managed it, but I fell exactly and precisely on my tail bone. Not on my side, not on my behind… Nope, directly on the tail bone. Ouch. I flailed on the ground in a dramatic fashion hoping someone would come by and help me up, or maybe even shovel my car for me out of the goodness of their heart. Yeah. So that didn’t happen. After a couple more loud groans (ok, curses) I got up and finished the job. My butt still hurts though.

As much as I love winter - sledding, skiing, snowball fights, fur trimmed hoods, and all that - I hate hate shoveling my car and hate falling even more. Boston winters are not for ninnies. Boston winters are, however, for all day stews, chilies, and mugs of hot tea to squeeze while watching the snow wreak havoc on all those unfortunate enough to be caught outside.

My saving grace at the end of a long day of hobbling around with a sore bum and a cranky demeanor, was a bowl of chili that had bubbled happily away all of the previous Sunday. While I realize that the chili wasn’t true, conventional Texas Red (it had beans in it. Three kinds of beans, even. Gasp), I did have a real live Texan assisting and directing the chili-making. Does that count? Do I get some cred back, JC?

Chili, in process

We basically put every manner of chile and spice into the pot that we could find. The Hatch green and red chiles that I brought back from San Antonio eons ago? Toss them in. Chile powder from my masala dabba? Sure. A can of chipotles in adobo sauce? Sounds good. Luckily, the searing heat of the chili mellowed during the cooking to a rather bearable, but still runny nose-inducing spiciness. The smokiness of the chipotles and roasted dried chiles combined with the other spices into a really complex and multi-layered taste. I can say with some certainty that it is the best chili I have ever tried. And it came out of my kitchen! And it made my butt feel better. Or maybe it just helped me forget, as I was happily wiping my nose and drinking cold water.

Dry roasting red Hatch chiles from Mesilla, New Mexico. These gave off the richest, smokiest, most intense smell. Inimitable.

Texan-directed three bean chili

1 red onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
5 roasted chiles, such as Hatch (if you are fortunate enough to have a few stashed in your freezer) or poblanos, seeded, peeled, and chopped. I used a mix of hot and mild Hatch chiles.
2 dried, ripe (red) Hatch chiles or other New Mexican chiles
1 can chipotles in adobo sauce, pureed
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
42 ounces of whole canned tomatoes (that’s one big can and one small can), crushed roughly by hand, liquid reserved
1.5 - 2 lbs beef chuck, 85%, cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes (we actually only used 1 pound but would have liked more. I upped the amount of meat for the recipe)

1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground chile powder
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried epazote (I don’t actually have any idea what this tastes like on its own. Smelled pretty good though – a little minty).
3 sprigs fresh thyme (why thyme, you ask? Because it was in my fridge)

1) Preheat oven to 325F.
2) Roast dried chiles in a dry skillet until slightly darkened and fragrant. Cover in
boiling water to rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Strain liquid and reserve.
2) Salt and pepper the beef aggressively. In a heavy, oven-safe pot, brown meat in batches over high heat for a couple of minutes on each side, until a brown crust develops. Remove meat from pot to be added back later.

3) Lower heat. Add onion to same pot and sauté, scraping up the browned beef bits from the bottom. You may need to add oil at this point if the meat didn’t let out enough fat. Add garlic, dried spices, and thyme. Sautee for a couple more minutes to toast the spices and soften the onion.
4) Add bell pepper, Hatch chiles, rehydrated chiles, and chipotle in adobo puree. Swish around for about 5 more minutes to make sure the chiles are making friends.
5) Add tomatoes and their liquid, beans, reserved liquid from rehydrated chiles, and the browned beef. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Bring to a boil. Remove and throw away the scary, atomic rehydrated red chiles.
6) Transfer giant, heavy and hot pot to the oven and let it be for 4 hours or so, until lots of the liquid has evaporated, the flavors mellowed and beans softened, and most importantly, until the meat is falling apart. It should melt under the slightest touch. OMG.
7) Serve garnished with cheddar cheese, scallions, cilantro, fresh lime, and tortilla chips.

Please consider this recipe as a submission to Leena’s virtual chili cook-off. Hope the Texan presence during the chili making isn’t considered an unfair advantage.


JC said...

Oh man, falling on your coccyx hurts! I saw that you all got tons of snow this past weekend.

I'll allow the chili improvisation. Anything with Hatch chiles in it is A-OK in my book! Texans get all bent out of shape about beans in chili, but actually truth be told I prefer beans in mine. Shh, don't tell anyone around here! I used to work with a guy who said that if it had beans in it it wasn't chili - it was goulash. Whatever. I just downloaded a chili recipe yesterday that I want to try while it's still cold outside.

Now rest up that coccyx!

One Food Guy said...

I'm definitely more of a ground beef versus cubed beef chili kind of guy, but I must say I respect your generous use of chiles. Heat in a chili is imperative in my house!

I hope your butt feels better!

Anna said...

JC - Wow, coccyx is way more mature than saying "my ass hurts." I should remember that. For the future, you know.

I didn't know that goulash had beans in it. I always thought that chili did. Oops. My Texas education is not at the level it should be.

Coccyx is all better, thank you! Until the next snowfall, that is.

One Food Guy - I can see the benefit of ground meat over cubed in chili - you get meat in every bite that way. Maybe I will try it that way next time. There is something to be said for butter tender chunks of meat coming up to surprise you every once in a while though. Each option has its pluses. The use of chiles wasn't generous... it was perilous! Worked out well though.
My butt appreciates your positive thoughts!

aimee said...

Can I just say, I don't think the word 'swish' is used nearly enough in cooking, good job.

Man, I love that melty beef thing! I made steak and ale pie on sunday but I totally failed to get the beef like that. It was good, but it could have been so much better. Will be trying out this recipe at the weekend, though I'll probably wuss out a little on the chile front.

I'm feelin' your ass pain! I fell flat on my tailbone two years ago - while chasing my dog down a hill on wet grass - it frickin' hurts.

Hillary said...

Haha, I almost burst out laughing when i read that first line. Sorry about your butt! I hope you feel better. You should submit your chili recipe to our Soup Contest that ends next week. I loovvve chili!

Anna said...

Aimee - I think you read my mind! I have been craving a beef and Guinness stew forever. When you say pie, do you mean with a top crust and everything? Sorry, not familiar with UK cuisine. Let me know how the chili turns out, if you get to it. I have never prepared one of my own recipes before :) I'll cross my fingers for you. Bet you're all kinds of encouraged now...

Hillary - Butt is much better, thank you. Although I do miss getting to whine about it! Does chili count as a soup? It was pretty thick. I am super happy to enter it in the contest if you think it's ok though!

JC said...

My use of "coccyx" has nothing to do with maturity. I just think it's kind of a cool word. And it sounds funny. How's that for maturity?

And yeah, you're right - goulash doesn't have beans. I think it was that person's attempt at humor. It also reinforces my point that Texans need not always be listened to when it comes to their opinions on chili!

aimee said...

I took up psychic powers for the new year, it's true. Steak and ale pie is a beef stew with a puff pastry top.

I made the chili last night but it wasn't out of the oven until midnight, so aside from a quick spoonful for breakfast, I haven't tried it yet. I think it was a success. I'll do a proper taste test tonight. The guy in the mexican deli told me to use no more that one or two of the chipotles! Wuss! I trusted you instead, god knows why :)

Alicia said...

I'm glad I am the first and only person childish/disgusting enough to comment that after eating all that spicy chili your anus will probably hurt too. LOL. I guess Ben has not checked your blog lately or I know I would not have managed to get to this before him.

michelle said...

Mmm! This chili sounds awesome (and Texas-directed is even better, considering I have fam in Texas so I am very proud of you). I hope your butt heals soon!! I certainly don't miss cold, frozen winters, even when the rain and gloom of NW winters starts to get to me. Thanks for the entertaining post - who knew butts and food could go together?!

Anna said...

Aimee - so how was it, how was it?? I am suffering from performance anxiety. Why was your beef pie just eh?

JC - Coccyx totally sounds funny! Sorry, I hate it when I have to have jokes explained to me. I have very frequent dense moments :) Totally didn't know that barbeque was so nuanced as to have E and W NC versions. Wow. I am in Durham. What's that mean for the BBQ?

Lissa - Ha! I have to say, I have never been prone to the ring of fire. I am pretty good with spice. Or at least my body has yet to punish me for it. To be honest, I was waiting for someone to make that comment. What took y'all so long?

Michelle - I am pretty sure that I can insert butts into any setting and context. Some may consider it a gift :) Yes, the Texan's presence is my only claim to authenticity. Otherwise, Russian Jews don't do so well with the chili.

JC said...

Durham is in the eastern BBQ zone. There are some places there that have western style available I believe, but eastern is more common there.

aimee said...

Oh yeah, mega success. Loved by all, so far! It's a really strange heat, actually - but I expect that has less to do with the recipe, more to do with the chilies I used? And probably more still to do with the lengthy cooking time?

You can really 'taste' the heat and flavour of the chilies but there are no resulting sniffles! None at all! I kept tasting spoonfuls and was convinced it was way too hot for me to stomach a full bowl, but not so. It was like magic. I don't get it.

Anyway, it was delicious, thank you :)

Anna said...

JC - I am getting closer to one day retaining all this BBQ information. I have a BBQ post to write up (from my trip to NC) but am scared of getting it all wrong! You will have to keep me in line.

Aimee - Yay! I am so glad it worked. I was really nervous, to tell you the truth. My recipe didn't suck! And your house didn't burn down from following my directions! Yay. The way you described the chili is exactly the way mine turned out. Super hot but not painful and really flavorful. What kinds of chiles did you use? I didn't know what to recommend as a substitute for the dried red Hatch chiles.

aimee said...

I totally fell asleep in the final cooking hour - You should probably include a warning about that. Otherwise, the recipe was grand!

All my chiles were nameless, from an Indian grocers (because they were waaaaay cheaper than the hip mexican deli). The dried chiles came in a big bag labelled "long red chiles" - so there you have it!

JC said...

But see, here's the thing about BBQ. If you ask 100 different people you will get 100 different opinions. About what meat is the best, what sauce is the best, whether sauce should even be used, whether cooking over wood is better than gas, or even what truly defines the BBQ of a certain region. Likewise one person's favorite BBQ restaurant may be someone else's least favorite. You just have to go with what it was like for you!

paintergirl said...

hey I did that a couple of weeks ago, right in the street. there is no way to pretend you're cool when that happens. aaah life in the northeast.

ok, no beans in chili? what planet am I on? Really, no beans in Texas chili? Really? I love kidney beans and black beans and tofu crumble.

Naveen said...

I feel a little homesick now: Tex-Mex is one of the few cuisines that is nearly impossible to find in Singapore. On the other hand, I don't have to deal with shoveling snow from my driveway.

Anna said...

Aimee - Long red chiles... Nondescript, but sounds about right. Falling asleep while it's cooking is the best part! Then you wake up and have chili. Besides, I think it would be pretty difficult to over cook something like chili.

JC - I am prepared to embark on a long journey which will at the end lead me to my very own tastes and preferences in chili. As things stand now, I am a chili neophyte.

Paintergirl - Ha! I totally checked around to see if there was anyone to laugh at me. Luckily, there was not. There is really no grace in falling on your ass. It's just not good. Texans are weird about their chili, as JC has so eloquently explained. I don't know what their problem with beans is. I like beans and that's just how it's going to be.

Naveen - Hello! Lucky Singapore dweller. It's hard not be homesick without your favorite food around. Sorry. I have noticed that Mexican food is really strictly confined to North and South America. It's pretty tough to find it in other countries. I know there is a Mexican restaurant in Moscow, but frankly, that terrifies me. Hope you find something to substitute for your Tex-Mex craving!

Kathie Truitt said...

Hello? No southern food in Northern Virginia? Have you not eaten at Elsie's Diner?? It's not in the best of part of town, that's for sure, but it's 'bout as southern as you can get.

Route 1 between Alexandria and Lorton.