Garlic Soup and Walnut Bread

Garlic Soup

There are many — oh so many — benefits to working from home, but one serious drawback is that there’s no one to talk to. Sure, there’s the dog, but he only ever wants to talk about one thing:

Are we going for a walk? When are we going for a walk? Remember that walk yesterday? Yeah, that was a great one. But not as great as today’s walk is gonna be. Speaking of which, are we going for a walk?

He’s a darling dog, but the conversation gets a bit stale.

Then there are the cats:

Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?

And the goats:

Feeeeed us! Looooove us! Scraaaatch us behind the ears.

I enjoy that conversation. To a point.

Sometimes, though, it’s rather nice to communicate with human beings, especially human beings who have a sense of humor, like to read good books, enjoy cooking and baking new things, and have a serious relationship with garlic.

I feel lucky to know — virtually — two such beings: Kelly (at Something Shiny) and Daniel (at Ährelich Gesagt). Kelly and Daniel are fellow Bread Baker’s Apprentice challengers, bloggers, and people I’ve just generally enjoyed getting to know via our mutual friend, the Internet.

I don’t remember how the love-of-garlic conversation started between Kelly and Daniel, but at some point I joined in and mentioned that I had a bit of a garlic problem myself (remember the year I planted our entire garden with garlic? Yeah, that kind of problem…).

Garlic Soup - Star of the show

And then Daniel mentioned this garlic soup that he’d been wanting to make for ages. And the next thing you know, all three of us are signed on to make the soup, plus — because we all love to bake bread — the accompanying walnut bread, and then write about it on our blogs.

So here we are.

And let me tell you, if you love garlic, you must make this soup, because it’s beautiful and mellow and full of garlic goodness. You can eat it warm. You can eat it cold. You can probably ladle it on fish as a delicate sauce. You can add vegetables. You will want to eat it when you have a head cold. If you love garlic, you may even want to bathe in it. (Of course, then maybe no one else will want to get near you for awhile, but I tell you it will be worth the sacrifice.)

Garlic Soup - Garlic and herbs added to water

The process of making the soup is fairly straightforward, as long as you take some real care at the end of the recipe to be patient and work slowly to incorporate the egg/cheese/oil mixture into the broth. You can read the full recipe on the fabulous 101 Cookbooks blog, but here’s a brief overview of what you’ll be doing:

  1. Smash and then chop a dozen cloves of garlic.
  2. Add the garlic, plus a bay leaf, a couple sage leaves, about a teaspoon of fresh thyme, and a little salt to four cups of water.
  3. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 40 minutes.
  4. Remove the bay leaf and sage leaves.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together two egg yolks plus one egg, then slowly whisk 1/4 cup olive oil to create an emulsion.
  6. Whisk in 1.5 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese.
  7. SLOWLY whisk about a cup of the garlic broth into the egg mixture.
  8. Then SLOWLY whisk the egg mixture into the rest of the broth, over low heat, until the soup thickens.

Where I wrote “SLOWLY” above, I mean it. The recipe is very simple to make, but the one tricky part is making sure that you don’t curdle the eggs by cooking them too quickly with the hot broth. If you add the broth to the egg mixture in a very slow stream, whisking continuously, and then do the same when you add the egg mixture to the rest of the broth, you’ll be fine. Also, be conservative in the final cooking stage. It only takes a few minutes, so there’s no need to hurry it along. Start with a very low flame and then gradually raise it to medium-low and keep on whisking. It will thicken, and when it gets to a smooth, silky, non-watery consistency, take it off the heat, immediately.

Did I mention that I love this soup? Because I do. And that sort of surprised me because I really don’t like eggs. I mean, I love eggs as objects and what they do in baking, but I can’t stand the taste of egg, and I was a bit worried that this soup would taste like egg soup. It doesn’t. It tastes like full-flavored, smooth garlic, without a single bitter edge.

Walnut Bread - Walnut halves

I see I’ve rambled on quite a bit about the soup without discussing the bread very much. Although the three of us agreed on using the same soup recipe, we were left to our own devices to find a walnut bread recipe. I had a hankering for a garlic ficelle that our local bakery makes, but I couldn’t find a recipe, so I went in search of a walnut baguette instead. I didn’t really find one of those either, but I did land on this Apple Walnut Fondue Bread recipe at the King Arthur Flour web site (which, coincidentally, Kelly did, too!). I omitted the apples, added a few more walnuts than the recipe called for, and used some whole wheat flour in the poolish to give the bread a bit of extra heartiness.

Walnut Bread - Poolish

During kneading, I also added about a 1/4 cup more water than the recipe called for because the dough seemed drier than I wanted. I think I could have added even more water, but the resulting loaf turned out moist and full of nutty flavor. It’s a simple bread to make, requiring you to mix a simple poolish of yeast, water, and flour the night before baking; the next day, all you have to do is chop and toast the walnuts, add the rest of the ingredients to the poolish (flour, salt, yeast), knead it all together, let rise for 90 minutes, shape, proof for an hour, then bake. I followed Mr. Reinhart’s hearth baking method because I’m used to doing bread that way, but the recipe doesn’t require it.

Walnut Bread

The soup recipe calls for tearing up some of the walnut bread and putting it in the bottom of the bowl before pouring in the soup (which Michael did). Anyone who knows me knows that one of the things I truly loathe is wet bread, so I skipped that. I did, however, dunk a piece of bread in the soup just to see. They tasted mighty fine together.

Daniel and Kelly, thank you so much for being out there, for being amazing cooks, and for being garlic fiends. I’m so glad to know you!

We’ve a storm brewing here and the lights just blinked off and on a few times, so I’ll wrap things up here in hopes of posting before we lose power.

When you have a chance, hop on over to Kelly and Daniel’s blogs to see their renditions of garlic soup and walnut bread. I’m positive you won’t be disappointed.

Homemade yogurt

I can hear you wondering to yourselves, “A few months back she mentioned all that milking and plans for cheese making, but she’s written precious little here about the milk and the cheese lately. What gives?”

Not to worry. We are inundated with milk and have been making things with it all winter. And soon — yes, soon — I’ll write about some of that and the interesting ups and downs of home cheese making.

For now, thought, I’ll give you a small sampling by telling you about yogurt.

Yogurt

When we started on this goat-tending, cheese making adventure, yogurt was not on my mind at all. But a month or so ago it finally occurred to me that we could make it. Compared with other cheese projects, yogurt-making is not at all time- or equipment-intensive. In fact, it’s downright easy IF you follow these simple rules, which apply to all cheese making in general:

  • Keep all your equipment clean
  • Pay attention to time and temperature requirements
  • Use the best, freshest milk you can

As far as the milk goes, you can use whatever type of milk you prefer: cow, goat, full-fat, low-fat, even dry milk. I’ve used the following recipe with whole goat milk and with 1% cow milk. If you use goat milk or low-fat milk, the resulting yogurt will probably be thinner than the cow- or full-fat milk version. I like both textures, and the thinner variety is great for making sauces, but you can also thicken thin yogurt by straining it as you would when making yogurt cheese.

Yogurt ingredients

In addition to milk, the key ingredient for making yogurt is the starter culture: the bacteria that converts the milk’s sugars into lactic acid. The culturing process thickens the milk, makes it more digestible, and develops the sour flavor. For starter culture, you have a few choices:

  • Use a few tablespoons of store-bought yogurt that contains live cultures; read the labels on yogurts available at your grocery store, and try to find a brand doesn’t have any additives or extra ingredients; it should just contain milk and live cultures.
  • Use a prepared, dried starter culture available from cheesemaking supply houses like New England Cheesemaking Supply Company or Dairy Connection. You can also find yogurt cultures (and yogurt makers) at many natural/health food stores.
  • Once you’ve made your first batch of yogurt, you can reserve a few tablespoons of that yogurt to start the next batch (much the same as when you’re using a sourdough starter to make bread).

The basic process for making yogurt is to heat the milk (which pasteurizes the milk to kill any harmful bacteria and also changes the milk proteins so that they can form the thick, smooth texture of yogurt), cool the milk to a temperature that the culture bacterias happily thrive in, add the culture, and then incubate the mixture for several hours at a constant temperature so that the bacteria can do its work.

During the incubation period, the goal is to keep the cultured milk at a constant temperature (around 105-110°F). If you live in a warm climate and your home stays at a pretty constant temperature all day or overnight (whenever you’re incubating your yogurt), you could probably get away with covering the pot of cultured milk and maybe wrapping it all in a towel or blanket to keep the heat from escaping.

Constant mild temperatures are not a feature of living in Vermont, but it’s easy enough to fake it. I’ve heard of people putting some warm water in a cooler, then putting the the prepared milk in a mason jar and putting the jar into the warm water bath, then closing the lid. Other people use thermoses, or mason jars or pots sitting on heating pads. If you like electric gadgets, you can buy an electric yogurt maker that keeps the temperature exactly where you set it, with the added benefit of making the yogurt in darling little individual-serving jars. Finally, you can get a yogurt maker like this, which is essentially just a washable plastic insert that sits inside an insulated container. No electricity needed. This is the yogurt maker we opted for.

Yogurt equipment

Okay, enough build-up. Are you ready to make some yogurt?!

Home-made yogurt

What you’ll need

  • 1 quart milk
  • Starter culture; powdered starter culture or 1-2 Tablespoons of yogurt (see above for more information about starter cultures)
  • A reliable thermometer (a good thermometer is critical for cheese making; this is the one I swear by)
  • A spotlessly clean stainless steel pot in which to heat the milk
  • A stainless steel, slotted spoon or flat ladle, also spotlessly clean
  • A yogurt maker or a thermos or some other way to incubate the yogurt (see above)

Method

  1. Collect your equipment and ingredients.
  2. Gently heat the milk to 180-185°F. You can do this directly on the stove, or in a double-boiler.
  3. Yogurt - heating the milk

    I’ve read that if you hold the milk at 180 °F for about 10 minutes the resulting yogurt will be thicker, but I haven’t tried that yet.

  4. After you reach the target temperature, cool the milk back down to about 115°F
  5. Yogurt - Cooling the milk

    Some recipes say to just take the pot off the heat and let the milk cool down over the course of about 20 minutes; others say to cool it rapidly by putting the pot of milk in a cold water bath. (I use the latter process because I’m used to doing that for other cheese making projects.)

    Whichever method you choose, keep an eye on that temperature and don’t let it get too low. You want the temperature to end up in that window where the yogurt culture is happiest (around 105-110°F). If you cool your milk slowly and a skin forms on top, remove the skin before adding the culture.

  6. Add the culture to the milk and stir it in gently, but thoroughly. If you’re using yogurt as your culture, stir in 1-2 Tablespoons of yogurt.
  7. If you’re using prepared, dried starter, follow package directions for the amount to use (I use the ABY-2C culture from Dairy Connection and add 1/8 teaspoon for 1 quart of milk).

    Yogurt - Adding the culture

  8. Pour the cultured milk into your yogurt maker (or cover the pot if you’re incubating in the pot).
  9. If you’re using a non-electric yogurt maker, you can pour hot water into the maker to pre-heat it (empty the hot water before you put the cultured milk into the yogurt maker). I also like to sanitize the inner plastic container by rinsing it with boiling water before I put the cultured milk into it.

  10. Let the yogurt incubate for several hours. The incubation time depends on the texture and flavor you want. Generally, a shorter incubation period (5-6 hours) yields a thinner, sweeter yogurt; a longer incubation period (8-10 hours) results in a thicker yogurt with a tangier, sour flavor.
  11. Yogurt - Finished

  12. Once the incubation is complete, chill the yogurt.
  13. The yogurt is now ready to eat and should last in your refrigerator for at least a week.

Homemade Yogurt on Punk Domestics

Family Recipe ~ Pearl’s Waffles

Today, blogger, writer, and fellow Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge baker Cheryl Tan is celebrating the launch of her new book, A Tiger in the Kitchen, by inviting fellow bloggers and cooks to write about a favorite family recipe.

As those who love to cook know, it’s hard to beat the excitement and challenge of mastering a new, exotic recipe. We scour shops and websites for special ingredients and hard-to-find equipment, get variations on recipes from books and blogs, lurk on forums to see what others have already learned. We test and tweak a recipe, subjecting our families to endless variations on the same theme, trying to get it “right” (some of you may remember my year of trying to make the canelés I craved).

That kind of cooking is great fun. It’s a hobby (and sometimes becomes a career). It takes hours and days and maybe months just to get the one dish figured out. And when you conquer that recipe, you feel a real sense of satisfaction — and probably a little bit tired — and then you wonder:

Okay, well, now, what’s to eat?

Enter the humble family recipe. The one you grew up with. The one you know in your bones. The one you take for granted and take for comfort. The one that, if you do have a printed copy (which is probably hand-written, scribbled quickly on notebook paper while your mother dictated it over the phone), is so splattered and smudged, you can barely read it anyway.

That’s my grandmother Pearl’s waffle recipe.

It’s about as basic as it gets, and yet… Pearl loved to entertain in a high style. A master of gilding the lily, she never did anything simply. As I child, I didn’t much like anything she cooked because she always tinkered with her recipes to add just one more ingredient that would send it over the edge from perfect to overdone and “doilied”. She could ruin a basic, delicious oatmeal cookie by adding dried fruits soaked in brandy. She never seemed to understand why my sister and I, having earlier excitedly announced that we LOVED such-and-such food, would turn our noses up at the kid-unfriendly version she set before us.

But some things she did right, and one of those things was waffles. Her recipe has no exotic ingredients, but, as always, she went the extra mile and made it different by whipping the egg whites and then folding them into the batter. This one extra step makes the crispiest, fluffiest waffles I’ve ever had.

Waffles

When Cheryl posed the idea of posting a family recipe, I knew right away that this was the recipe to choose because it’s not just the recipe that makes this a family recipe, it’s the tools I use to make it — things owned by my family and my husband’s: the special egg (or cream) whipping tool belonged to my husband’s maternal grandmother; the little frying pan I always use to melt the butter belonged to my maternal grandfather’s mother; and the little electric waffle iron that makes only two waffles at a time is one of those things my husband and I bought together years ago.

Waffle Equipment

When I use the whipper and the frying pan, I always think of the women who held them before, and I wonder what they cooked for their families with them, and I imagine them beside me, making breakfast for my little family on a snowy Sunday morning.

And even though my other grandmother, Martha, doesn’t contribute directly to this recipe, I think of her, too. Because she’s the one who taught me about the glory of a waffle-and-ice-cream sandwich, eaten at dusk on a summer evening, while sitting on blue plastic chairs, on the front veranda of her Toronto home.

Pearl’s Waffles

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cups milk
2 eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons butter

  1. Melt butter. Put aside to cool.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine milk and egg yolks.
  4. Quickly stir in flour mixture.
  5. Add melted butter.
  6. Beat egg whites into peaks.
  7. Fold egg whites into batter.
  8. Cook on waffle iron (I cook them at the highest setting to get the deep brown color and crisp texture).
  9. Eat straight from the iron, before anyone else has a chance to get their hands on it. If you must be civilized and sit down to eat, drizzle first with real maple syrup.

Note: These waffles freeze and reheat well. After cooking them, allow them to cool fully, then put in freezer bags and put in the freezer. Warm them in a toaster or toaster oven.

To see Cheryl’s family recipe and see links to other family recipe posts, visit her blog. Congratulations, Cheryl!

Now… what is your favorite family recipe? Post a link in the comments here or on Cheryl’s blog. Share the family recipe love!

Old and new

Eighth Night

This evening, we lit the last of our Hanukkah candles — three menorahs blazing their brightest on this dark, cold, December night.

We actually own six menorahs, but choose just a few to light every year. There’s the tiny brass one my grandfather gave me when I was born, and the small one with inlaid colored tiles from Israel that my Hebrew tutor gave me just before my Bat Mitzvah; there’s the one shaped like a train we bought for Hyla on her first Hanukkah, the traditional one my parents gave us one year, and the modern metal and glass one my mother bought for us on one of her last visits to Vermont, after I’d admired it at the local glass store. And there’s one very old one, from a grandmother or great grandmother on my mother’s side. No one seems to know whose it was; all we know is that Mom thought it was special enough to claim among the very few objects she wanted from her parents’ house after they died.

Old and new.

Latkes - Ready to eat

Aside from lighting menorahs, our favorite Hanukkah tradition is making and eating latkes. For this, we use the old, tried and true recipe. The same one we’ve made for years.

Almost.

For years, since the very first Hanukkah M and I celebrated together, we used the vegetable shredding attachment for our KitchenAid mixer to grate the potatoes and onions for the latkes. The resulting texture was perfect.

Then one day, when Mom and I were shopping at our local baking supply store, I pointed out a powerful looking Viking mixer that I was coveting. A week or so after Mom went home, the mixer arrived, unexpectedly, at our doorstep.

We kept both mixers for a long time, but it seemed greedy to have two, so we donated the KitchenAid with all its wonderful attachments to a good cause.

Now we grate our potatoes and onions with the food processor, and the latkes are really good. But maybe not quite as good.

Old and new.

Sufganiyot

This year, after seeing a sufganiyot recipe on the Salt and Serenity blog, I decided to give it a try. Like latkes, sufganiyot (donuts) are a traditional Hanukkah treat because they are fried in oil, which commemorates the miracle of the Temple oil lasting a full eight days.

The recipe is simple and flawless. The sufganiyot turn out fluffy and delicate and not at all greasy. A couple in the hand make a perfect dessert for a holiday meal.

Something new that will become a tradition, I think.

The candles have burned themselves out now, and the menorahs are dark. Soon it will be time to clean off the dripped wax and pack the menorahs away for next year.

The old year is winding down to a gentle, snow-blanketed close. Let the new year come.

What’s for dinner?

The night before Thanksgiving. It’s past my bed time, but I’ve been cooking since midday and M’s been cooking since he got home from work and I’m a bit buzzy right now and all I can think about is tomorrow’s menu.

Here’s what’ll be weighing down our table tomorrow afternoon:

  • Favorite local cheeses, plus one exotic Spanish blue (Valdeon), and a sampling of olives, pickles, and other little tastes
  • Chestnut soup, made from oven-roasted chestnuts and leeks
  • Turkey, brined in salt water, apple cider, and spices tonight, then cooked on the Big Green Egg with wood charcoal and pecan chips tomorrow
  • Stuffing, baked in the oven rather than in the bird
  • Mashed potatoes, skins off, a little butter, a little milk, a little salt
  • Brussels sprouts, roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt, pepper, maple syrup, and little pieces of bacon
  • Green beans in a sesame sauce
  • Cranberry sauce, made from whole cranberries, cooked in a water and sugar syrup
  • Parker House rolls, made with this amazing buttermilk
  • Apple pie, made from the best pie apples there be: Golden Russets
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Lemon Confit Shortbread tart, which I just found out about today (courtesy of my friend, Cindy) and I just had to make
  • Wine

Even if I only take a small taste of each dish, I won’t be able to move. Until the evening, of course, when it’ll be time to have my favorite Thanksgiving food of all: turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce wrapped in a warm corn tortilla.

What’s on your Thanksgiving menu?

Sunday comfort

We’re one of those Have-Dinner-Together-Every-Night families. Not because of some stated policy or because we think we need to have dinner together to remain close. It’s just what we like to do.

This past week was different though, because I had evening plans for the first three of the five weeknights and Hyla had a recital on Friday, so, as a family, we had one hurried dinner of leftovers on Thursday night, one hurried dinner out on Friday night (we went to the local college cafeteria before the recital and apparently hit the dinner rush, so had a long wait in line), and one hurried dinner out on Saturday night (the waitress forgot to put our order in, and we were trying to get to an 8.00 performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona — well worth seeing, by the way, if you live around here).

Anyway, tonight we were home and wanted to have an old fashioned, sit down, warm-you-up-on-a-cold-November-night dinner: roast beef, steamed peas, cheese, and yorkshire pudding.

Yorkshire pudding

I first made yorkshire pudding when I was a teenager and in love with all things British (in particular, Agatha Christie mysteries, Masterpiece Theatre, and anything to do with fox hunting, except for actually killing a fox). I had no idea what yorkshire pudding really was, having never seen nor tasted it, but I’d read about it as the traditional accompaniment to roast beef and Sunday supper, and when I found a recipe in my mother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking, I knew I had to try it.

On that first attempt, I remember feeling exotic and quite grown up, making a dish from across the ocean. I also felt confused about the recipe and how in the world I would get my hands on the “hot beef drippings” it called for. And I remember having to scrub the dish quite hard to get the burnt parts of the pudding off the pan.

These days, I make my own version (loosely based on Joy’s) and there’s no more mystery involved. It’s a simple recipe that you really could make any old evening (certainly without the roast beef). My version of the recipe is below. I hope it brings you as much warmth and comfort as it brings us.

Yorkshire Pudding

Yield: 12 individual puddings

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (or you can use 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 water)
2 large eggs
3-4 Tablespoons butter

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a muffin tin, place approximately 1 teaspoon of butter in each cup. You can use more or less butter, depending on your taste and dietary restrictions.
  3. Put the muffin tin in the pre-heated oven and let the butter melt and begin to sizzle.
  4. While the muffin tin heats, combine the flour and salt in a bowl.
  5. Make a well in the center of the flour-salt combination and add the milk.
  6. Whisk the liquid and dry ingredients together until they are well combined.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until they are fluffy.
  8. Add the eggs to the flour-salt-milk mixture and then whisk for several minutes, until everything is well combined and the batter is frothy.
  9. Remove the muffin tin from the oven and evenly distribute the batter between the cups. You should have about 1/2 inch of batter in each cup, but if you have a bit more or less in each, don’t worry.
  10. Place the tin back in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. The puddings will puff up out of the tin and begin to turn brown.
  11. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the puddings are golden brown (or darker, if you like them that way) and there is no more liquid in the centers.
  12. Remove the puddings from the muffin tin and serve immediately.

Note: We’ve learned from experience that yorkshire puddings warmed up the next day just aren’t as good. You might as well just polish them off the first night.

Moon Cookies in Vermont

Moon Cookies - Cooling

Today is my grandmother Martha’s birthday. If my dates are correct, she would have been 87.

Grandma wasn’t known as a great cook. In fact, there are a lot of family jokes about her cooking: the shoe leather beef, the salmon patties, and the pressure-cooked spaghetti (I am not kidding). But even she had a few culinary successes, things that only she knew how to make and that we still crave to this day.

One of these was “Moon Cookies”. A simple parve, sugar cookie recipe with the addition of 1/4 cup of poppy seeds.

As a child, I didn’t understand why the cookies were named “Moon,” I just loved the hard, biscuity texture and the nutty, poppy seed flavor. I could eat a plateful of them if Grandma let me.

Now I know that “Moon” is an anglicized version of the Yiddish mon or mun, which means poppy seed. Knowing that, though, doesn’t take any of the magic away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Martha’s Moon Cookies

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stirring to combine fully.
  2. Round up and refrigerate in a plastic bag (or covered bowl) for an hour or so, until the dough has firmed up.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Roll chilled dough out to 1/4″ thickness.
  5. Cut.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes.
  7. Cool on a rack.

Complex but uncomplicated

[MRM guest post]

Chili. Yum.  In high school I’d make a can of Hormel (“hot” – and the hot stuff was the waxy orange grease you had to scrape off the top of the can, after opening it).  Crush some Doritos in there and mix it with chopped iceberg lettuce and some shredded cheese, a wonderful meal.

We still love chili kinda like that — chili from a mix or packet — premeasured chili powder, garlic powder, masa (corn flour) etc– with some ground turkey or beef, beans, and a bottle of generic sweet bbq sauce.  For a quick dinner  you can’t go wrong.

Lately though we’ve been experimenting with real chili.  There are a lot of recipes all claiming to be authentic (I might be willing to bet there are more chili recipes than recipes for anything else, online), and the loudest shouts about authenticity come from the folks who maintain that real “texas red” doesn’t have any tomatoes, or beans, or onions, or anything, really, beyond the five basic ingredients (beef, garlic, cumin, oregano and ancho pepper).

I like simple recipes that complexify in the cooking so I started messing around.

Turns out it’s very easy to make a really good authentic chili; the only difficulty as far as I can see is that the standard batch isn’t big enough.  I’m not kidding when I say that if I took a spoonful every few minutes as I walk around the house I could finish an entire batch in one day, easy.

The only concession I’ve made to innovation was to add some jalapenos, because the anchos don’t have any heat (just glorious smoky depth).

chili ingredients

The anchos are, however, where the magic happens. Rubbery or papery and dark purple-brown, soaked in water and then pureed they make the wonderful smooth but slightly grainy red sauce — and that’s it– the sauce and the beef, and later some masa to thicken. You couldn’t get more simple:

texasred

Hours later that red turns a dark rich brown about the same time whatever tough cut of beef you’ve chosen gives up the game and changes from chewy to melting.  Eat it like that, or dump in some chopped onion, or some cheese, or beans if you like; just leave room for seconds.

An added bonus is the masa qualifies for that oddball category of packaging that shows the item in question happily cannibalizing or at least inviting you to eat its own people (i.e., bbq ads showing pigs in overalls eating ribs, chickens in straw hats serving up hot wings, etc.) — here Mr. Corn is apparently saying “Yum won’t you please try this tremendous taco made in part by the death and grinding up of my brothers and sisters?”

eatme

Then, finally, last night while Rebecca was writing about bread, I dug some old LP’s out of the basement and perhaps as a concession to college days, listened to them by the light of a couple candles.  Hyla listened too but was playing with her Nintendo DS most of the time.  I was just listening.  The shadow cast by the lamp in this corner seemed particularly nice, and constant, after I stared at it for a couple hours:

candle

The window and the umbra made me think of Joseph Wright of Derby’s “Experiment With the Air Pump” though in comparing the two just now the light isn’t that similar — but anyone with the bandwidth should consider clicking the pic in this link, maximizing with the icon in the lower right, then using the slider on the right to enlarge the image rather a lot.

Evidently the UK’s nat’l gallery’s done a great job in giving us access to really high reproductions of their works, and this painting has always been a favorite — complex but uncomplicated, made from a small number of basic brilliant elements (kind of like good chili).

-mrm

Shiny!

My big gift from M for the holidays this year was this gorgeous copper bain-marie:

Bain-marie

The one in this picture arrived dented, so we took some pictures to document the damage, then returned it. The replacement arrived this week. It’s not just shiny, it’s gorgeous. The copper is beautifully dimpled. The porcelain insert is smooth, heavy, and flawless.

Bain-marie - full

The first thing we did with it was melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips so we could dip bananas, strawberries, and cake in it. The second thing we did (last night) was melt unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate to make Julia Child’s Best Ever Brownies, which is, hand’s down, our favorite brownie recipe. (If you don’t own the Baking with Julia book already, you must go get it. The pie dough and berry galette recipes alone are worth the price, though the sticky bun recipe is guaranteed to induce a heart attack.)

The bain-marie melted the chocolate and butter oh so gently and beautifully. And did I mention how beautiful and shiny the pan is? If Oyster-the-magpie had the muscles for it, he would steal it and drag it to his basement lair.

I know we can use the bain-marie to gently melt and cook all sorts of things, including sauces, but, honestly, the only things I have on my mind involve chocolate. What else is new?