Archive for January, 2009

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Chili for a chilly day – along with some philisophical musings on humanity.

January 21, 2009

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had made beans for the first time. Unfortunately, the project intended for the beans was nowhere near completion, so I neglected to mention how they would be used.

Being the daughter of a good Texan, I could hardly make it through this cold winter without making a good pot of chili. I have my mom’s recipe, the ingredients take up an entire page. There are a some cool ingredients (tequila and chocolate) that add depth of flavor. But there are also I few ingredients I didn’t want to use (spicy V8 and Bush’s chili magic). So I had to rework the recipe from scratch.

I have a theory pertaining to cultural food, which is that it is nearly impossible to escape the culinary styles of your home culture. You can adapt recipes from that culture – but they will always be a little off.  I feel that this is caused by the lack of comfort with the ingredients and methods. Anyone can fallow a recipe, but to be able to cook at an improvisational level takes total immersion, or at least total dedication. This is a problem I’ve run into when attempting curries, or Pad Thai. My cooking style is a blend of tex-mex and euro-american traditions. Which means that I cook the onions first, then the garlic, then whatever else, and add the spices last. As much as I admire other culture’s cuisines, most of my attempts seem to be watered down versions of the real thing.

One example that immediately comes to mind, is my experimentation with curries. Last summer I had an ample supply of fresh produce at my disposal. I wanted to make a big batch of vegetable curry that would last me through the week. So I cooked my onions, garlic and hot peppers, and then added the chopped up veggies, and finally added the tomatoes and spices.

It was awful. It tasted like I had drenched the vegetables in curry-spiced-ketchup. The next day I told my boss about my misadventure with curry, at which point she mentioned that with Indian food you always cook the spices and onions first – soon fallowed by the tomatoes.

Since then, my curries have turned out much better.  I’m still a long way off from mastery – but now at least they are enjoyable.

Back to the chili: I thought it would be interesting to use my lesson in Indian cooking, and re-translate it to my cullinary comfort-zone. The beans had soaked all night, during the day I had stewed them in pureed tomatoes, onions, and spices. Instead of going about my usual chili routine, this time I pureed the onions, garlic, habeneros, and spices (a la curry paste). I sauteed the puree in hot oil and I deglazed the pan a few times with apple cider vinegar  pick up all the browned flavor bits on the bottom of the pan.

I removed the cooked paste from my French oven and seared the beef cubes with bacon fat, salt and pepper. I put it all back in the pot, added some tomato paste, and cooked it down until the tomato paste was brick red and fragrant. I deglazed the hell out of it – just for kicks – and stirred in the beans that had been simmering on the back burner.

No chili would be complete without mom’s key ingredient.

As a final touch, I melted down a bar of 72% cacao chocolate (my mom’s trick for adding a smoky, mole-ish flavor).

While I feel that it is very difficult to cross cultural boundaries in the kitchen… I also feel that learning the cooking methods of cultures other than the one(s) you grew up with can only improve your day-to-day cooking. When it comes down to it, a great pot of chili has a lot in common with a great pot of curry – or for that matter a cassoulet or tagine.

I guess you can tie that in to the bigger picture of you want to get philosophical.

But I’m hungry.

-Sweatergirl.

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I’m a glutton for mountain cheese.

January 17, 2009

I will be helping with my first tasting this Wednesday night at 7pm.  Paul K will be teaching everyone about Mountain Cheeses, 14 varieties from compte to emmentale.  So please come.  You’ll get to see me cut cheese, it should be exciting to say the least.

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Testing 1-2-3

January 15, 2009

Anyone who has been on my website in the last few days has noticed some inconsistent changes. I think that this blog has taken a new direction in the last year, and it was overdue for a new look.

I think the biggest change in my food-nerdom mentality is that I now can acknowledge exactly how little I know about the subject I love. Its an exciting place to be – and I want that excitement to be carried into my blog.

And so, after twiddling around with various themes I settled on this one. The bookshelf is the soul of my kitchen, so it only makes sense that it was featured in the header. All the wisdom of the great cullinarians is at my fingertips when I need learn how to crystallize ginger, or roast a beet. A book of my compiled family recipes reminds me to “always double” my Grambetty’s cornbread dressing. Likewise, if you flip through my Grammy’s copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, you’ll find her notes jotted down on the grease stained pages.

My past, present and future is outlined in this collection. I still have I still have my first cookbook. Its a security blanket of sorts. I bought it at my sixth grade book fair, and from it I learned how to make pesto and shrimp scampi. I would stay up at night reading this book. Its still hanging in there, last year I used it to make tuna-burgers when Nic and I were dangerously low on foodstuffs.

I have the obligitory “Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating,” which I got sophomore year of college after being seriously sick of college dorm food. Sometimes I would read this book when I got sick of studying, reminding myself that life after college would be much… tastier.

Which it has been, and is where I am now. Standing at the forefront of something I think will be huge. A gustatory awakening.

Shortly followed by a gustatory realization, that while I pride myself in being “a good cook”, there are a lot of basic skills I am lacking because I either a) never learned them, or b) was to lazy to use them.

case in point:

Tonight I boiled beans from scratch for the first time. Ever.

Growing up we had beans and cornbread on nights that were too chilly to make anything else.  But I must have been absent during the “how to make dried beans” lesson. Even after the last couple years of making beans and rice on a weekly basis, I never ventured outside the can, because I assumed (wrongly) that cooking dried beans must be a total pain in the ass.

Whoops.

This adventure is just one in many ways that my love of food has forced me to step slightly out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been an advocate of tasting everything (via my mother), but trying to cook everything? That’s an entirely different banana. Cooking is as much about processes as it is about ingredients. And if those processes are foreign to you it will take at lot of fearless cooking, and trial and error, before it becomes second nature. Take it from the girl who took twenty two years to boil a pot of beans.

Consider it my new year’s resolution.

Until next time, Sweatergirl