White Chicken Chili = Awesome

Chili is one of my favorite foods in the world.  A year or two ago, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a white chili.  But when I discovered it, I immediately knew I would love it.  I've been wanting to make it for a long time, but didn't get around to it until tonight.  I used a former coworker's recipe, with some alterations.

White Chicken Chili
1 1-lb. package dried white beans, soaked overnight in water, drained
       (I used 1 can white kidney beans and some leftover canned pinto beans I had)
6 cups chicken broth (I used nowhere near this amt, prolly more like 3 cups)
2 cloves garlic minced
2 medium onions, chopped
(I used 1.5 onions and added 3 stalks chopped celery)
2  4oz cans chopped chili (1 can hot, 1 can mild) (I used just one -- I couldn't find hot)
2 tsp. ground cumin (I used a bit more--I love me some cumin)
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
(I didn't have any so used chili powder)
4 c. diced cooked chicken (good ole Costco rotisserie chicken)
3 c. grated Monterey jack cheese (I only had cheddar and gouda, so I used the gouda)

Combine beans, chicken broth, garlic & 1/2 chopped onions in large soup pot & bring to a boil.  Reduce heat & simmer 2 or more hours until beans are very soft.  Add more chicken broth if necessary.  In skillet, sautee remaining onions in oil until tender.  Add chili & seasoning and mix thoroughly.  Add this mix to beans mixture & stir.  Add chicken and continue to simmer one hour.  Add the cheese just before ready to serve.  

I should mention that I didn't really follow this.  What I did was simmer the onions, garlic and celery for a long while, like 20-25 min.  I added the chili and let it simmer a while longer.  Then added the beans, and then the spices.  I added 1 bay leaf.  After letting it all render down for a bit longer, I added the chicken and then the chicken broth.  Let simmer for maybe another 20-30 min.  Ate it with some delicious corn bread.

Pictures from the tea party

Those little sandwiches are surprisingly labor-intensive!  But was great to see everyone in one place and I was delighted to see that some people actually dressed up as encouraged.

On the menu: home-made lemon curd and TJ's crumpets, mini peanut butter cup waffles, homemade Foster's scones, assortment of biscuits and cookies, tea sandwiches (pear & brie, cucumber & cream cheese, braunschweiger & tomato).  

Plus people brought an astounding array of delicious foods to share: strawberry cream puffs, NYC cheesecake, currant loaf, mini-samosas, blackberry cake, devonshire cream, cornbread (?), fruit, orange madeleines, and on and on and on.  Good times.

Mystery Soop

I made the best chicken soup of my life a few days ago, and I don't even know how I did it.

Which really bugs me, because now I don't know how to replicate it.  I didn't use a recipe, but somehow it turned out amazingly flavorful, with this sweet and fragrant aftertaste.  A very far cry from the first chicken soup I tried to make, which was flat and flavorless, with tough little chunks of chicken in it.  

I made it because Garry was sick (second time in 5 months).  I'm going to try to recount the steps I took for future reference:
  1. Chopped up one VERY large onion and put it in the stockpot to fry.  
  2. Meanwhile, chopped up 3 stalks of rather old celery. Added that, then peeled and chopped 2 large carrots.  I added salt and pepper and let the mirepoix render down for a long time, probably 20-25 min., while I gathered the other ingredients.
  3. I had some leftover green parts from two leeks I had used last week.  I washed them and threw them into the pot, whole (planning to fish them out later)
  4. I added a can of regular Swanson chicken broth.  I hated using the stuff because it's practically radioactive, but that's all they had at the Mexican market.  Normally I would have used TJ's chicken broth or chicken bones.
  5. I added water.  Don't ask me how much.  Enough to kind of cover the ingredients, though I added more over the course of cooking as it evaporated.
  6. I washed whatever leftover Italian flat-leaf parsley I had and threw the stalks in, whole.
  7. I added several healthy shakes of oregano and thyme, plus one bay leaf. I really wanted to add some chicken bones so I took the leftover crispy chicken I had from the Chinese restaurant I went to on Friday night and pulled the little bits of bone from it and threw that in too.  I let everything stew for another long while.
  8. Meanwhile I took some leftover Costco rotisserie chicken breast, along with leftover Chinese crispy chicken breast, and cut into cubes, then set aside.
  9. This is where it gets hazy for me.  I can't remember if I added any other herbs.  But when the soup was looking pretty good and smelling very nice, I started fishing out the leek greens, parsley and chicken bones.
  10. I had two leftover frozen Pillsbury Grands biscuits I had been saving for just this purpose.  Tore them up and stuck them in, for dumplings.
  11. Tossed in some orzo.  Not very much.
  12. I tossed in the chicken.
  13. Let it all simmer (it kind of boiled a bit too) for a little while.  I was worried about the chicken getting too tough.  I hate tough chicken in soup.
  14. It was smelling great, and after tasting it I added a bit more salt to taste, but I didn't like how thin it was.  I had some half-and-half and poured a little bit in at a time, until the color looked just a tad creamy.  
  15. After a few min though the cream started scumming across the top.  I was like, oh crap, I need something to keep it evenly distributed.  I had just watched an episode of Alton Brown's stewing techniques, so I knew that cornstarch would not be a good option for this.  
  16. I had no arrowroot on hand, so I decided to go with flour.  From the episode I knew that dumping in flour just like that would make it clump horribly.  So put a tablespoon or two of flour in a small bowl and mixed it with and almost equal amt. of water.  When it was like a glue, I added a bit of the soup broth and kept mixing, and added more, until I had a thick liquid.  THEN I poured the liquid slowly into the stockpot, and mixed until it started thickening and coming together very nicely.
  17. I can't tell you how I knew when it was "done," but at some point I had to stop because I was late meeting a friend up in the city.  So that was that!

Ever tried to drink buttermilk?

With all the leftover buttermilk I have from making pancakes and scones, I thought I'd be all clever and make my own yogurt drink with about two cups of buttermilk, a handful of blueberries, and 2 teaspoons of honey.

Talk about FAIL... it has kind of a refreshing texture but it's way too sour for even me to enjoy.  Anyone have ideas on how to fix it?

These cheddar biscuits seem like a much better use for buttermilk.

Foodie Tuesday: Eggplant is growing on me

I really hated eggplant until recently.  And not because I didn't give it a really good chance.  I tried it grilled, fried, baked, steamed.  I realized that sometimes, it was insufferable (stringy, bitter, flavorless), and sometimes, it was pretty good (mushy, but in a good way).  I started to tell people, "I'm not crazy about eggplant, but it depends how it's prepared."

Then, I "discovered America," as my mom would say.

I realized that it wasn't exactly eggplant I hated unilaterally, but American eggplant.  You know, the huge fat kind, usually found sliced into thick circles and either grilled or baked into chewy eggplant parmesan.  There's something about it that makes it rather noxious.

I realized I really like Chinese eggplant (the long thin kind, sometimes called Japanese eggplant), especially the way, har har, the Chinese cook it.  I'm not being racist, I swear!  I find Chinese eggplant to be more tender somehow, with an uncanny way of soaking up all the flavors you bathe it in, whether it be spicy garlic sauce, or curry, or teriyaki.

Tonight, I decided to branch out a bit and tried Italian eggplant prepared the way my former Iraqi roommate did it (see below): sliced thin lengthwise, then toasted on the pan with a generous drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  It came out delicious, just tender enough on the inside and a bit crispy around the edges, like a slightly roasted, thicker banana chip or something.

Do you know how many kinds of eggplant there are?  At Berkeley Bowl the other weekend, I saw no less than 5 kinds (pictured below). The Italian I bought, and then American, Chinese, Thai, and Indian. Crazy.

Crock-Pot Adventures: The Inaugural Beef Stew

At the risk of branding myself as a shameful homebody, I'm plunging ahead with more posts about food.  My programmable oval 5.5-quart Rival Crock-Pot, which I bought for just $25 at Target several months ago, as been sitting in its box in a corner of my kitchen for a long time.  Until last night, when I opened it, determined to cross another thing off my 2009 List of To-Do's. I have never cooked anything with a slow cooker in my life.

There seem to be schools of thought when it comes to slow-cooker cooking. One sees slow-cookers as time- and labor-saving devices you can just "set and forget" in the morning, so it will cook all day and be ready for you when you get home from work.  Most traditional slow-cooker cookbooks seem to use a lot of packaged/processed foods like canned soups.

The other sees the huge potential of the slow-cooker as a gourmet instrument, adding complexity and flavor as it slow-cooks for hours at a time.  I fall into this category, as I can certainly appreciate what slow-cooking at low temperatures does to pork and beef.  This, in my mind, translates directly into mouth-watering delectable chilis, stews, and braised meats.

I bought the Not Your Mother's Slow-Cooker Cookbook from Costco yesterday.  I read a lot of (negative) reviews about both the cookbook and the slow-cooker, and realized a lot of people simply don't follow established best practices when it comes to slow-cookers, and then complain about the shoddy results of their own ineptitude.  Things like:
  • A slow-cooker should always be filled between 1/2 and 3/4 capacity (so food doesn't burn on the one hand, and has room to "expand" on the other).  So if your pot is bigger, you have to make more food.  Duh--you wouldn't cook a tiny amount of food in a big stockpot either.
  • How you layer things in the pot makes a difference, because of the way heat is distributed.  The recipe I tried said to put potatoes and carrots on the bottom, and meat on top.
  • The idea of "set it and forget it" is limited.  But doesn't it make sense that you should check on it a couple times in the beginning or towards the end, to make sure things are coming together and the flavors are right?  It's okay to open it up and stir things around (I also found that stirring took care of the "wateryness" I found in the morning--anyone who understands thickening agents like potatoes should know that!)
Anyway, the first thing I made was a recipe called Mom's Beef Stew because I had almost all the ingredients on hand and it was the perfect thing for a rainy President's Day weekend.  The recipe called for great nutritious things like Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, peas and beef chuck.  Flavor came from paprika, soy sauce, wine vinegar, salt and pepper.  The only adjustments I made were:
  • Added garlic.  The recipe didn't call for it and I thought that was strange, but went along with it.  In the morning I tasted it and knew it was missing something.  So I threw in about 3-4 cloves' worth of crushed garlic and it fixed the flavor problem.
  • Used fresh green peas ($1.49 at 99 Ranch) instead of frozen.  So much better!
  • Added 3 small diced vine-ripe tomatoes instead of tomato paste
  • Used chicken stock instead of beef, because that's all I had
Things I would do differently next time:
  • Brown the onions instead of the beef before putting into slow cooker.  Either way you get that nice caramelized flavor, but my beef came out less tender than I wanted it, prolly because I cooked it too much on the skillet.
  • Add LOTS of garlic, at the beginning
It was enough for a large meal for 2, plus tons of leftovers for freezing!

Japanese curry over chicken cutlet

This is what Garry and I made for dinner last night.  He was in charge of the cutlet (pounding out the chicken breast, flouring it, egging it, covering it with panko and pan-frying it to perfection).  I was in charge of the curry sauce (started w/ onions and Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, and then adding the curry goodness), and the veggies (sugar snap-peas stir-fried with garlic).

It was a huge success.  The chicken breast from Nob Hill Foods has proven amazingly tender and juicy; Garry's panko crust was perfectly crispity-crunchety, and the sauce was great.  Only thing that could have made it even better would be an over-easy fried egg on top.

Chicken-cauliflower Redux

With the chicken and the roasted cauliflower I made the other day, I re-hashed a new dish: chicken-cauliflower orzo!  I was originally thinking some kind of long pasta, but I realized I love orzo because of the soft way you can just scoop it into your mouth.  So, voila.  This took me to the end of the week.