Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Famous Chili

I have to admit that I use the term "famous" loosely, because my chili is different every time I make it.  But people still seem to like it, so I tried to write down an actual recipe this time. You see, I make chili a lot! It's probably my "desert island" food (you know, if you were stranded on a desert island, what food would you want to have...).  I honestly could eat it every day.  So I've definitely developed particular likes and dislikes.  But what I like most about it is chili's seemingly unending variations.  Which brings me back around to why my chili is different every time.  I am constantly switching up the types of seasonings and chiles I use, so it's really never the same  thing twice.  

I realize that chili doesn't seem particularly "Christmasy", but we always had it as part of Christmas day dinner.  I don't know why, exactly.  Maybe it was because Mom was too tired to cook a huge meal, and everyone was tired from getting up early and opening presents?  Anyway, it was part of our holiday tradition, so I thought I would share.  This is not my mom's chili, however.  Hers had celery in it.  As a kid, I didn't know any better, but now I do.  So no celery in my chili, ever. But this recipe is more of a guideline. You can adjust it to your personal heat preferences, meat choice, or even make it vegetarian (add more veggies -- red, orange, yellow bell peppers, portabello mushrooms add an almost meaty texture, more beans, use vegetable broth or water instead of chicken stock). Some purists would say that there shouldn't be any beans in a chili, ever, so there are a lot of views and variations.

Here is what I put in my chili tonight, because, frankly, it's what I had (minus the corn, which was most likely still in the freezer...).  The small container at the bottom of the picture holds my frozen chipotles in adobo, because I never use an entire can at one time (or at least I've never seen a recipe that does it).

So, hopefully, you'll find this as tasty as I do, but feel free to tweak it according to what you and your family like.  I don't mind at all.  :-)

Marna's "Famous" Chicken Chili


1.5 lbs chicken breast, cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp. Penzey's Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning (you can use chili powder as a substitute)
2 dried guajillo chiles
1 dried anaheim chile
2 cups chicken stock (plus additional)
2 medium onions, 1/4 in dice
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tbsp oil (I used olive, but you can use canola, too)
1 tbps chopped chipotle in adobo sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 green pepper
1 14 oz can black beans
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1.5 cups fresh or frozen corn

Heat  a cast iron skillet (or 5 qt dutch oven if you just want to use one pot) over medium-high heat.  Put dried chiles in pan (dry -- no oil or anything) and heat the chiles until fragrant (about 5 minutes or so), using tongs to turn over once.  Meanwhile, heat 2 cups chicken stock. When the chiles are warm and fragrant, pull them off the heat and cut off the stem.  Pull out the seeds (most of them should just shake out, but you might have to rip open the chile to get at the ones still attached to the ribs).  Put the chiles in the warm chicken broth and let soften for 10 minutes. Once softened, put the chiles and the chicken stock in a blender and add the chipotle.  Blend (take out the middle of the cover if the chicken stock is still hot) until smooth.

While the chiles are soaking, in a soup pot or dutch oven (if you didn't use it for the chiles) cook the chicken breast, seasoning with salt and the Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning, over medium heat until cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.  Add the oil, onions and garlic.  Cook until softened, but stir occasionally so the garlic doesn't burn.  Add the tomato paste and cook until carmelized (it will start smelling sweet and turn dark, dark red -- almost brown), then add the green pepper.  Cook for 2 minutes, then add the pureed chiles and chicken stock, chicken (with any accumulated juices), tomatoes, and black beans.  Add more chicken stock if the mixture looks too thick.  Cook for 30 minutes, then add the corn.  Cook until the corn is warmed through (it should only take 2-3 minutes).

Serve with the usual accessories: cheese, sour cream, cilantro, chopped red onion (or spring onions)...or nothing at all.  This chili has layers of flavors that you'll enjoy all by itself.

This recipe makes a generous amount.  Probably enough to serve 8 as a main entree.  Maybe a couple more if you serve it with corn bread or on top of spaghetti (chili mac).

Tips and Hints:

Chipotle chiles in adobe can be found in the international or Latin section of most groceries.  You will usually have a lot left over, so I freeze mine, then scrape off what I need for whatever recipe I'm making.

This makes a medium-spicy chili (it had a kick that builds on your tongue, but it shouldn't make you cry or sweat).  You can adjust the heat of the chili by reducing the amount of dried chiles, or leave out the chipotle, if you like.

I think chili is better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to more thoroughly blend.  Just let cool on the stove top for a while, then put the pot in the fridge overnight.  Re-heat the next day.  A word of caution, though.  The spiciness will also intensify, so adjust for your personal preferences accordingly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fluffernutter Brownies - From Failure to Fantastic!

I had wanted to get this posted days ago, but then the flu happened in our house, and my time has not been my own.  So I apologize for not being able to be a more regular poster.  That will be my New Year's resolution...

Hopefully you're not sick of brownie recipes yet, because I have another one for you.  :-) And, fair warning, I have a couple of recipes you can make using up brownies, so stay tuned.  I had a lot of brownies to use up after that whole brownie experiment thing...

I didn't intend to make brownies, but sometimes things don't go your way and you need to take a different direction.  Such as today.  I had attempted to make peanut butter fudge, a recipe I saw in my latest Penzey's spice catalog (seriously, sign up for their mailing list, even if it's just for the recipes).  I should have known.  I am not very patient, and making candy takes patience. So, after letting it set up for 2 days in the fridge, I wasn't sure what I ended up with, but it wasn't fudge.  What I got was some really delicious, fluffy, peanut buttery goo that was too good to throw away. I actually made myself sick taste-testing the "fudge" to ensure that a) it tasted good, and b) it actually wasn't fudge.

Here's what I had. Clearly too soft to be fudge.

What was I going to do with this stuff?  One of my all time favorite flavor combinations is peanut butter and chocolate, so I thought, "Why not swirl some of this into brownies?" So that's what I did.

You need to make enough brownie batter for a 9x13 inch pan, so I doubled my favorite brownie recipe (nothing healthy about these, despite my previous attempts).  This is a recipe from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook and super simple. You can, however, use a box mix (I won't judge) to keep it simple, since you'll be putting in some time on the the peanut butter fudge.

Here's my go-to brownie recipe. I love it because you make it in one pan and it is incredibly simple.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Brownies

1 cup butter
12 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa (or about 1/2 cup)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

Fluffernutter Filling
(If you want the same consistency that I had, cook for 5 minutes, and don't use a candy thermometer. If you want to actually make the peanut butter fudge, then use a candy thermometer to make sure you get to the soft ball stage.)

Grease a 9x13 inch pan and preheat oven to 325 (F).

Combine butter and cocoa in a 3 qt. saucepan.  Heat over low heat, stirring, until butter is melted and cocoa is completely blended in until smooth.  Set aside to cool (about 5 minutes).

When cocoa is lukewarm, beat in sugar and vanilla. Then beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the flour and salt, beat until combined.

Pour brownie batter into prepared pan, then drop blobs of filling (I only used about half of the recipe) onto brownie batter, then use a knife to swirl the two together.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (when a toothpick is inserted near the center, it should come out with a few bits of crumbs clinging to it).

I hope you enjoy these!  They are delicious!  And, in the spirit of the season, I gave the brownies as thank yous for our trash and recycling guys.  I hope they like them!

I still have to figure out what to do with the other half of that failed peanut butter fudge...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Healthy Brownie: Oxymoron or Attainable Dream?

I've been working on a long-term project to see if it's possible to create a "healthier" brownie.  After several tries and taste tests (yeah, it's a tough job), I actually did come up with a pretty good alternative, which I'll share with you a little later.

But first, a discussion about my brownie preferences and what I mean by "healthier." I fall into the dense and chewy camp of brownie lovers.  I definitely will not say no to a cakey brownie, especially if it has frosting, but I prefer the kind of brownie that is dense, rich, and chewy.  Usually the sugar amount is higher than the flour amount.  If it has a crackled top, that's even better!

What do I mean by "healthier?" Preferably, something that doesn't use refined sugar or wheat flour, with a better oil source (not dairy fat like butter, something with a modicum of health benefits).  I understand that, depending on your nutrition goals, my definition of healthy might not be yours, but there is a lot of room for experimentation.  There are tons of "healthier" brownie recipes on the internet, using black beans, beets, sweet potatoes, zucchini.  I tried them all, or at least a version of them.  And I invited over some friends to help me taste test them.  Here's what we tasted:

I numbered the different brownies so that no one would prejudge a taste before they actually tasted it.

Here are the notes from one of my friends.  I picked his list because he has fanatically neat writing, and his words summed up the general consensus of the group:

Here are the brownies, and a link to the original recipe, if I got it from an internet source:

1. Variation of the Wuollet brownie using almond flour, maple sugar
2. Wuollot brownie recipe (full butter, sugar, etc, for comparison)
3. Paleo brownie (raw, with nuts, dates, cocoa)
4. Red Velvet (with beets) - I love that my friend wrote "with a certain je ne sais quoi" for that one.  He was really surprised when I said they were beets.
5. zucchini brownie
6. Sweet potato brownie
7. Marna's "Healthier" Brownie (recipe below)
8. Black Bean Brownie
9. Brownies with egg whites, no flour (kind of like a flourless chocolate cake, but I made a mistake and added the sugar to the whipped whites before adding it to the flour mixture.  The texture was horrible, so I'm not even sharing the recipe with you on this one).

As you can see, there was a lot of tasting and experimenting.  I personally liked the texture of the zucchini brownie (although it had a kind of "green" smell that hit you just before you bit into it.  The smell went away once you had the brownie in your mouth) and the "Marna's Healthier Brownie" the best.  So, what did I find, given my initial premise?  You can add veggies or fruit to a brownie, which will give it more fiber and maybe some vitamins, but if you still keep the sugar. butter and processed flour in it, it's still going to be unhealthy overall.  In all my experimentation substituting different things, here's what I learned:

1) There's not a good natural substitute for white, granulated sugar. Either it's not sweet enough (honey) or gives it an odd taste (maple sugar) and there is definitely a difference in texture (not as chewy as I like)

2) Flours were also a problem, if you want a pure chocolate taste.  The almond flour was a little gritty (I didn't mind the texture, but my 8 year old did) and definitely added an almond taste to the chocolate (not unpleasant, but may not be what you want). The chickpea flour had an earthy taste, but with the chocolate, it wasn't off-putting.

3) Using half ghee and half coconut oil does make a good substitute for butter, without the dairy in it.  You still get some butter taste, but it's not overwhelming (as it is when you use only ghee), and the coconut oil is a neutral taste that blends well with the ghee. However, if you're trying to avoid saturated fats, this combo might not be for you. Click on the links for some nutritional information about each of them, if you are interested.

4) To make brownies healthier, it's better to just substitute one unhealthy thing, and leave the rest as in the original recipe. I don't think there's ever going to be a "healthy" brownie that will truly compare to the unhealthy original, but you CAN make it healthier, substituting a "healthy" ingredient for one of the unhealthy ones (depending on what your nutrition goals are and what you generally want to avoid).

Now this doesn't have to be the final word on the healthy brownie debate, or course, and I realize the use of chocolate chips (using refined sugar, oils and such) makes any brownie less healthy.  There are a lot of flours that I didn't try (if you're interested in gluten-free options). And I am still intrigued about using a flourless chocolate cake recipe as a starting point.  Where is the one with the applesauce, you may be asking?  Well, that recipe is pretty common, but frankly, I think that comes out a little too cake-y for my taste, so I didn't add it here, but if you have a good one, feel free to share it. I'm always open to new ideas!

For me, what worked best was using blends of things, as you can see from the recipe I came up with, below.

Marna's "Healthier" Brownie

1/4 cup ghee
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup natural honey
2 eggs
1/8 cup maple sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup natural cocoa (I get mine from Penzey's)
1/2 cup almond flour (I use Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/8 cup Chick Pea (Garbanzo Bean) Flour - again Bob's Red Mill
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8x8 inch baking pan.  Melt ghee and oil together, set aside to cool.  Beat together the eggs, honey and maple sugar.  Add oil to the egg and sugar mixture. Blend well.  Add the dry ingredients, stir to combine completely, then add the chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes (a toothpick inserted in the middle of the pan should come out with a few crumbs on it, but not gooey batter).  Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting.  (Trick: to get a clean cut on the brownies, you have to let them cool completely.  No shortcuts -- except I will put them in the fridge after a while to finish cooling...).

Let me know what you think, and if you have any tricks to make brownies healthier, I'd love to hear them.  Personally, I'll probably just make regular brownies (I don't make them very often).  I figure, at least it's better than using a brownie mix, with its additives and such, right?

Happy baking!