Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chili and Cornbread

For the last six years, we've been having both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities at Casa Minx. I'd prefer to have one big party on Christmas Day, but because the holiday is no longer All About Me, I have to make concessions for the other families involved. This has meant that Dad and his SO visit us on the 24th. Because they are so busy on that day, they can't stay very long, so in 2006 I decided we should have a party and invite other folks to celebrate with us. This way, there's merrymaking before Dad's arrival and it still goes on after they leave for their next stop of the evening.

Casual party food should be both fun and easy (to make and eat). Last year, we had pulled pork sandwiches. This year, chili was on the menu. What's easier than tossing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and letting it simmer all morning? And what's more fun than having to taste it every hour or so to make sure the seasonings are just right?

I love chili and prefer a hearty no-bean Texas-style preparation with chunks rather than ground meat. I am quite the shiterein cook, tossing things in until the dish tastes good, so there's no formal recipe. But I can give you a rough idea of what it entails.

Minx Chili
4 lbs beef stew meat, cut in uniform pieces (if you find big chunks, make them smaller with your handy-dandy knife)
1 32-oz can whole tomatoes
1 15- or 16-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
2 - 3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
regular commercial chile powder
ancho chile powder
ground cumin
1 or 2 whole jalapenos
1 or 2 small cans chopped green chiles
beef stock
1 oz or so unsweetened chocolate or 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Brown the meat in a large Dutch oven. Remove from pan; add onion and allow to sweat. Add garlic and cook a few minutes. Hand crush the whole tomatoes and add them and their juice plus the small can of tomatoes, the green chiles, and a good tablespoon or so each of the chile powders, plus almost as much cumin.

Return the beef to the pot and add about 2 cups of beef stock (a Knorr bouillon cube plus 2 cups of water works too) and the whole jalapeños. (I like to cut a slit in them first. If you like heat, hell, chop them up instead. Add 3 or 10. Personally though, I like to taste my food.)

Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Give it a stir every 30 minutes or so. After about an hour, give it a taste. Remember there's no salt at this point, but don't add that yet because the sauce is going to reduce and the end result may be too salty. If you think it needs more chile powder or cumin, add it. At this point I'd probably put in a bit of chocolate, maybe a drizzle of honey, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Non-traditional, but hey, it's all about the flavor! I like my food to be rich and complex.

After another hour or so, taste it again. More garlic? Sure! More chocolate? Of course! How about a sprinkle of cinnamon? Why not? Taste and add, taste and add. Repeat every hour or so.

Christmas Eve's chile got a good 4 1/2 hours of cooking at very low heat. At that point, the meat was falling apart, and the sauce was fairly rich and dark. The 1 1/2 oz of unsweetened chocolate and small handful of Hershey's kisses guaranteed that! (And no, it wasn't sweet and the chocolate wasn't obvious in the least. I remember watching an episode of "Calling All Cooks" on the Food Network some years ago in which a home cook's secret recipe for chili included ONE Hershey's kiss. Mr Minx and I still laugh at the absurdity of that.) At the last minute, I added more chile powder and cumin and finally the salt. You may find that it doesn't need much salt at all, especially if you used a bouillon cube or non reduced-sodium stock.

Serve with garnishes of chopped onion or scallion, shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, chopped jalapeños, tortilla chips - whatever turns you on. I like to make cornbread.

We had the best cornbread at the Molly Stark Inn in Bennington, Vermont. The recipe, we were told, was based on one found on a bag of cornmeal. It's now my go-to recipe if I make cornbread from scratch (rather than cheating with Jiffy.) I gave it a twist by baking it in my neglected non-stick Madeleine pan - they are easy to remove and their small size makes them even easier to eat.

Mexican Cornbread
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups white flour
1 t salt
6 t baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup half & half
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, softened
pinch of sugar (optional)

Optional ingredients
6 spring onions, coarsely chopped
2 small jalapeños, seeded and chopped
6 strips of cooked bacon, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can chopped green chiles
1/2 corn kernels, fresh or thawed frozen

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Sift together dry ingredients. Add egg, milk, and butter. Beat until smooth. Stir in any or all of the optional ingredients.

Lightly butter a Madeleine pan. Drop about a tablespoon of batter into each well. Bake for about 12 minutes.

Makes approximately 48 Madeleine-shaped muffins. Oh, and the chili feeds...not as many as you may think....heh.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

i love the corn bread madelines!!