Friday, October 30, 2015

Beef and 3 Bean Chili: Husband Collaboration

I probably don't mention this enough, but my husband is my photographer. By which I mean he takes all of the photos for this blog. And he does a great job! He also cleans the lion's share of the dishes and is my official taste tester (every single plate photographed is implicitly promised to him, for his many contributions; I think that extra bit of motivation keeps him hungry and helps him to take photographs from the perspective of one who wants to eat what's on the plate).

Now he has an even larger job: cooking for the two of us. Or should I say three? Baby G will be coming along any week now; I'm just about 9 months along and I certainly feel ready to pop! Not only is it difficult to get around these days, my doctor put me on bed rest and I'm not supposed to be on my feet for more than 25 minutes per day. As you can imagine, this has made cooking impossible. This in turn makes blogging next to impossible as well. That is why I'm so pleased to be bringing you a new recipe, courtesy of my husband, who was my feet, hands, eyes, ears and tongue in the kitchen. A hearty, warming beef and bean stew with an irresistible flavor: beef and three bean chili.

Chili is such a basic dish, but it means something different in different places. A thoroughly American stew that nevertheless owes a debt of gratitude in its concept and flavor profile to Mexican food, chili is incredibly adaptable to different dietary choices (vegetarian/vegan; gluten free; paleo). It is also made entirely with beef (completely bean-less) in some parts of the country. Our version contains all of my favorite chili ingredients: beef, beans, Mexican spices, chilies and tomatoes. Feel free to tweak the recipe to your liking, but try it this way at least once, if you eat beef; it is the perfect blend of flavorful and zesty. Garnish with sharp cheese (I used extra sharp New York State cheddar), Yogurt or Sour Cream and serve alongside corn bread, corn tortillas or tortilla chips.

Beef & Three Bean Chili

Makes 10 -12 servings

1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
1 (26 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (26 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (26 oz) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 (26 oz) can chopped tomatoes
6 ounces grape tomatoes, halved (optional)
2 dried chilies, seeds removed, chopped roughly
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 bay leaf
fresh pepper, to taste
sea salt, to taste
2 teaspoons caldo de res*
2 Tablespoons olive oil

1. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and add olive oil, then onions. Saute onions until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
2. Add garlic, cumin, cayenne, paprika, ginger, bay leaf and a generous helping of fresh pepper. Cook for one minute.
3. Add ground chuck and break up into small pieces. Add salt, to taste. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until beef is browned and some fat has been rendered.
4. Add canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, dried chilies, beans, caldo de res or beef stock and up to 6 cups water.
5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Taste for salt and add more, if needed. Simmer for about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the liquid reduces use a big serving spoon to gently mash the beans to help thicken the chili.
Fish out bay leaf and serve, garnished with cheese and sour cream and alongside a bread or starch (preferably corn based).

*Concentrated bouillon powder; this can be found in a Latin food market. If you are unable to obtain it substitute 2 of the 6 cups of water with beef stock

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Caramelized Pear Sauce with Vanilla

Ok, confession time: I don't love raw pears. I mean, I like them okay, particularly bosc, and especially when ripe enough to squish if you handle them too roughly. However, it is the start of pear season in my part of the world and one thing I do love is seasonal produce. Another thing I can easily get behind is spiced poached pears and roasted pears. In fact, vanilla and a touch of cinnamon have such a natural affinity for this fruit that I was thinking it might make a perfect gateway puree to condition my baby to eat the more off the wall combinations that will likely come out of my kitchen when he is older.
I just couldn't resist finishing the pears in the oven to caramelize the sugars. As our son has yet to make his appearance we will be taste testing all of his homemade baby food ourselves and if I had the energy to make it I would recommend serving it with pan seared lamb chops smothered with berry jam (I have some fabulous jam from a Tacoma farmer's market) and warm pearl barley with sliced button mushrooms. Yum. I'm making myself hungry. Too bad the third trimester has robbed me of energy and made getting around difficult, or I know what I'd be having for dinner tonight, even if the hubs isn't exactly sold on barley. I think this combination would make him a convert.

Caramelized Pear Sauce with Vanilla

Yield: 6 ounces (3 servings of baby food)

2 pears, halved with seeds and stems removed
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. In a medium saucepan combine vanilla paste, cinnamon, pears and water to cover (I used about 4 cups filtered water).
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove pears from poaching liquid and turn the heat up under the poaching liquid to reduce it. This process should take 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Lay pears in a single layer on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until you can smell the sugars caramelizing.
5. Remove baking tray from oven and allow pears to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
6. When pear are cool enough to handle, puree them in a blender or pass them through a food mill.
7. Add up to 1/4 cup of the reduced poaching liquid, passing it through a strainer.
Serve to baby or enjoy yourself.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Vegetable Egg Foo Yung

The dish I'm posting about is one of the most versatile recipes and is enjoyed by many cultures. The name for the Chinese version-- the only version known widely in America-- is derived from Cantonese and named for a mainland Chinese dish popularized in Shanghai. In America it typically includes the usual canned ingredients, such as sliced bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and what are here called straw mushrooms; in the traditional Chinese version it is more often made with fresh vegetables. In either case the vegetables and--if desired--meat are embedded in a fluffy egg omelette which is fried in oil. I'm exceptionally curious, so I'll put the question to my international friends: is the local version served topped with brown gravy in your country, as it is here?

Why am I cooking this up for the Joyous Kitchen? Several reasons, actually. For one, it is near and dear to my heart, having been the first dish I ever learned how to make on my own after leaving home to go to college. Another reason is to hopefully win some converts; despite its appearance on just about every Chinese food menu, I think the majority of Americans have yet to try it which is a shame. Not only is it practically endlessly customizable but the rich brown gravy is delicious and soul-satisfying. The main reason for including it here is that it fits in perfectly with the event I'm hosting at Foodies+ on Google+: a baby food and kid friendly recipe event during the month of October. Not only can this simple recipe be tailored to appeal to the pickiest of palates, it is also a fun and easy thing for the kids to help prepare, with lots of mixing to be done.

I am keeping my version of the dish simple and vegetarian to appeal to the picky eaters and the children going through vegetarian face. Some variations I suggest are: chopped roast pork with the strained, diluted roasting juices forming the base of the brown gravy, or sauteed shrimps with the vegetable stock version of the gravy I have laid out here.

Egg Foo Yung

Serves 2 adults and one child of small appetite.

5 eggs
1/3 cup bean sprouts
1/2 medium yellow onion, julienned
2 small carrots, washed and diced
2 ounces green cabbage, shredded
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1/4 cup shelled raw peas
soy sauce, to taste
Pepper to taste
Oil, for cooking ( up to 3 tablespoons)

1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 inch piece of ginger peeled and grated
1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock*
3 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Pepper, to taste

1. Parboil peas and carrots for 2 or so minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
2. Beat eggs in a bowl until fluffy and filled with air. Have the kiddo help with this step.
3. In 1 ½ Tablespoons oil, saute onions for 3 minutes or until starting to be translucent. Add cabbage, peas and carrots and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes. As each vegetable is added, also add a small dash of soy sauce.
4. Add bean sprouts and water chestnuts and a dash of soy sauce and then heap veggies into a pile in the center of the pan.
5. Turn the heat up slightly and pour eggs over the vegetable mixture, starting in the center and working your way out.** Try to saturate vegetables with egg mixture so it does not spread beyond veggies and thin out. You can have a child help with this step, as well. Add remaining oil in the space around your pile of vegetables
6. Cook egg mixture without flipping until it is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Flip (you may need to very carefully turn it out onto a plate to flip it successfully--there will be an excess of hot oil surrounding the omelette) and cook for another 5 minutes, or until both sides are golden brown.
7. Set egg and vegetable Patty aside. Cover to keep warm. In a small saucepan over medium heat add 1/2 Tablespoon cooking oil, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, garlic, ginger and pepper to taste and the sesame oil. Cook for 2 or so minutes, stirring frequently, until you begin to smell the flavors. Add all but 3 teaspoons of the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
8. In a small dish whisk together remaining cold vegetable stock and cornstarch to form a slurry. Your little helper can also assist with this.
9. Add slurry to saucepan, whisking constantly, and reduce heat to low. Allow gravy to thicken slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve egg and vegetable patty, topped with gravy, or with the gravy along the side.

* or stock of choice

**for aesthetic reasons many chefs prefer to divide the veggies and egg batter into two equal portions to form two separate egg/veggie patties. This step is optional, but it does have its advantages in that two omelettes are less unwieldy than one.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sweet Potato Baby Food: A First Foray

The more I read about making baby food and the more I listen to the advice of mothers who have come before, I have been advised by multiple sources that baby food should be bland and smooth. Babies, many of my sources say, have very strong taste buds and will not appreciate any type of seasoning. Do not add any salt to their food and absolutely no sugar of any kind. In reading up on the subject I have learned it is advised to start your infant on solid foods no earlier than 4 months and no later than 6 months. At this early stage it is important to keep the food as simple as possible, as they will eat (or not eat) whatever you set in front of them. You can therefore expect them to enjoy such maligned foods as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and many other vegetables. What happens when they get older? How to entice them to continue to eat healthy with such bland presentations, particularly if they’ve inherited your foodie palate? Well, I have started to read a magical book about a stay at home foodie dad’s experience with cooking for an adventurous eater* and I have (hopefully) come up with a simple solution, at least in the case of sweet potatoes. If you’re planning to make this for an infant younger than 6 months, skip my seasoning. I your child is older than 8 months these ingredients, particularly in such small amounts, should be fine. If you decide your baby isn’t ready for seasoning, this makes a fabulous fall side, particularly for the holidays. I've used a food mill to make it smooth, which we received as a wedding gift from my awesome foodie boss.

Sweet Potato Puree with Brown Sugar and Cinnamon

Makes approximately 6 servings

2 sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Teaspoon maple syrup
¼ Teaspoon cinnamon
1 tiny pinch salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush skins with melted butter and place on baking tray.
2. Bake for 40 -45 minutes, until you can easily pierce with a fork at the thickest point.
3. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
4. When potatoes are cool enough to handle. peel potatoes and pass the flesh through a food mill. If you are making this for a baby under 6 months old, you are ready to serve.
5. To spice it up, add sugar, maple syrup, and cinnamon to melted butter in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar has melted.
6. Mix sugar/syrup mixture into potato puree and stir until smooth. Add salt, a tiny bit at a time, to taste. Remember to salt it less than you would for your own tastes. It is now ready to serve.

*If you’re interested in checking it out, the book is called Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton