Sunday, February 25, 2007

Smoky Chili

This recipe is inspired by the chili that my Dad would make growing up. As far as I know, there was never an official recipe, so each batch would end up slightly different. This particular version uses chipotle and smoked paprika in lieu of chili powder to give an extra smokiness to the flavor.

Smoky Chili


1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 15 oz. can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
12 oz. dark beer

1 bay leaf
½ tsp. ground chipotle chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground oregano

salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste


Heat a large dutch over over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook until browned. Add the remainder of the ingredients and stir until the tomato paste is incorporated. Bring the chili to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cover. Simmer for at least an hour before serving.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve with one or more of the following:

  • Corn Muffins
  • Sour Cream
  • Sharp Cheddar Cheese (cut into 1 cm cubes)

Easy Party Planning

Since we like to cook often Matt & I plan too big for parties & end up spending the whole day of the party making numerous dips. I remember one whole afternoon spend making bite size puff pastry shells & then filling them with 6 different stuffings. We end up with no time to relax before the party, though everyone always seems to love the food. For the wedding shower we through last night we decided to give ourselves a little break. Since the party was a game night we decided to create trays of finger food that we could get from the deli & salad bar of the local grocery store, giving people things they could snack on all evening.

Party tray
This tray contained a nice sharp cheddar from Vermont, pickled asparagus, Italian salami, marinated mozzarella with fresh cherry tomatoes, and an olive mix.

Party tray
This one had fennel sausage sliced by the deli, balsamic onions, sweet picante peppers, marinated artichoke hearts & herb de provence sausage.

Party tray
The final try had a Hayley Farms' goat cheese with apricots, Spanish Serrano ham, wine and black pepper biscuits, wensleydale cheese with cranberries, chicken & pork pate with port, and a slice of Brillat-Savarin.

We just sliced a couple baguettes & everything was ready to go. I actually think this food went over better than all the dips we'd done in the past plus putting it all together was super easy.

The cookies we'd made the night before along with small tangerines were the perfect sweet.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Party Baking

Tonight we are hosting a couple shower for our friends Susi & Rob. They wanted something really laid back so we decided on a game night. For us this means lots of nice finger foods including a charcuterie tray, some nice cheeses, homemade pizza squares, olives and such. For sweets we made two different cookies.
The first is an almond bark cookie my mom served over Christmas that I loved. It is so easy to make.
almond bark cookies & tangerines

Almond Bark Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 c sugar
1 box graham crackers
slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 375. Melt the butter & sugar together in a saucepan. Lay graham crackers out in a single layer on cookie sheets with sides. Sprinkle slivered almonds over the crackers. Drizzle the melted butter & sugar mixture over all the crackers. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes. Let cool on wax paper.

We didn't grease the pans or anything & some of our cookies stuck because of the caramelized sugar & butter, next time we'll put the silicone mat down.

The other cookie is a Chocolate & Sea Salt Cookie recipe we found on The Culinary Muse. We are currently addicted to chocolates with salt in them so this appealed to us immediately.
chocolate & sea salt cookies
I took a chocolate tasting class from The Culinary Muse herself & she knows her chocolate! This recipe calls for 3 cups of dark chocolate so you know a chocolate lover wrote it. We couldn't find the Maldon salt the recipe called for anywhere in town (though it is available on Amazon & igourmet)
fleur de selso we substituted this salt we found at Whole Foods & I think it worked just fine. I think maybe next time I'd cut back on the amount of walnuts as I found their flavor a little too strong but that's just me. Matt liked the texture they add.
chocolate & sea salt cookies in pig bowl
We'll be serving the cookies in my favorite bowl, the pig bowl from Napa Style. Who could resist anything this little guy is offering?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Favorite things - indoor grilling

Last night's dinner made me think about how I always thought living in an apartment with no outdoor space limited your opportunities to grill until Matt introduced me to the joy of the grill pan. Yes, this doesn't give you the same flavor as grilling over charcoal or wood but it still has a lot of the healthy advantages of grilling & the flavor can be great. We have a big cast iron grill pan but its so heavy & so hard to clean I was never happy using it. Then we got our Calphalon Grill Pan which is non-stick & cleans up so much easier (it still takes a little scrubbing but nothing like the cast iron which we'll keep for camping).
We find it perfect for steak, chicken, burgers & vegetables. I can't imagine not having one now. At only $39.99 this pan has been worth a lot more than its price to us.

A good indoor grilled steak is even better with a great marinade & we love this one from Viansa Winery.
Its best when the steak has marinaded in it all day & takes on its rich red wine flavor. Plus when we run out we have to make a trip to Sonoma to get more, bummer.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Perfecting the Pizza

After many so-so tries & recently resorting to Pillsbury crust in the tube, Matt was inspired by pizza articles in both Food & Wine and Bon Appetite. Here's my little photo diary of the process. It takes some planning since the dough needs to rise overnight (and it makes enough for 4 pizzas) but this was probably one of the best pizzas we've ever made. Loved the raw tomato sauce too. Perfect pizza recipes from Food & Wine.
the night before
dinner 2/21/07
mix up the dough
dinner 2/21/07
into the fridge overnight
dinner 2/21/07
the day of
dinner 2/21/07
one pizza's worth resting for an hour
dinner 2/21/07
on to the sauce

add the topping & ready for the oven
dinner 2/21/07
the yummy results
dinner 2/21/07

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Quick Cassoulet Stuffed Bread Melts

Last nights dinner was a recipe from Rachel Ray's 365 No Repeats, yes Rachel Ray. I know a lot of people can't stand her especially my friend who is a chef but I work & don't have all day to cook & let things like cassoulet simmer. So, before Matt got home I prepared the mise en place.
dinner 2/20/07
Pretty simple just chopped onions, carrots, garlic, thyme & sausage, add a bay leaf & rinse a can of white beans & I'm ready to go. When Matt got home I just sauteed up the sausage then added the veggies, cooked those for 5 minutes then added the beans & a little broth (ok, she says to deglaze the pan with the broth but she's told you to use a non-stick pan...there is nothing to deglaze). It was supposed to thicken up & be a little starchy at this point but was pretty watery so I crushed some of the beans with my spoon & voila. That is something we've noticed about a lot of Rachel's recipes, they are a lot more watery than they should be & take more time then she says to cook down (think she's trying too hard to stay in that 30 minute thing). The filling then just got scooped into two halves of a hallowed out baguette, topped with some Gruyere & toasted in the broiler for a few minutes.
dinner 2/20/07
It was so good! Is it really cassoulet? No, of course not (I don't have duck confit laying around) but it was certainly a great weeknight meal with a fabulous rich flavor. The fresh thyme & garlic sausage were probably a big factor in the flavor & we will make this again (actually we have half a batch left so we'll have it again this weekend).

off to make pizza sauce.....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chicken Saltimbocca with Lemon Sauce and Carrot Orzo

The new food magazines have arrived so its time to start trying out the recipes. Last night's menu was from the March 2007 issue of Bon Appetit. The article was From Drab to Fab & the idea was how to make weekday standards like chicken breasts a little more exciting. This menu sounded fancy but the two of us had it on the table in less than 30 minutes (oh no, I sound like Rachel Ray). The chicken was fabulous! The saltiness of the prosciutto with the tartness of the lemon sauce were amazing together & the sage under the prosciutto added a nice dimension. Pounding the chcken thin made it a super quick cook. I was afraid the prosciutto & sage would jsut come off during cooking but the created a lovely crust.
dinner 2/19/07
The orzo was cooked with chopped carrot in broth, water & garlic with Parmesan & green onions added at the end (the recipe also called for rosemary but since Matt can't taste it he left it out). I thought it was a nice color but rather bland. I tried adding more salt but it still didn't stand up to the chicken, maybe the rosemary would have helped.
Not This Pigato
We used 2004 Not This Pigato from Bonny Dune in the sauce and drank it with the meal. I have loved the other Pigato we received in the wine club & this one didn't disappoint either.

We will definitely make Chicken Saltimbocca again but look for a different side dish. On a side note, both Bon Appetit & Food & Wine features a saltimbocca recipe this month so we'll have to try Food & Wine's to compare.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Country Sky Chinese Cuisine

With Chinese New Year being this weekend I mentioned to Matt that I'd like to go for dim sum. We've never gone out for it together before & have talked about the fact we needed to. Matt remembered he had seen a new dim sum place list in the SF Weekly list of new restaurants right in our neighborhood so we decided to try it for lunch today.
Country Sky
Country Sky is a small restaurant with maybe 8 tables decorated in your typical, though not over the top, Chinese restaurant style. There were 3 other tables of diners while we were there on this holiday Monday. The menu has full Chinese dinners & lunches specials but we came to taste the dim sum. At Country Sky you order the dim sum from the menu and it is cooked fresh for you instead of choosing from a cart like in some bigger restaurants. We ordered 4 items each ranging in price from $3.50 to $4.95. All can 3 to an order. We were first given a bowl of egg flower soup. We were told that this was because dim sum takes a little longer to cook than other things on the menu. First to arrive were shrimp dumplings and bbq pork buns both steaming hot.
Shrimp Dumpling
I thought the quality of the shrimp was very good here.
bbq pork buns
I love pork buns & these had a lovely fluffy bun. The pork filling was fabulous too with nice tender pork. I could have eaten two more of these at least.
Then came the pan fried chive dumplings something I've never had before.
pan fried chive dumplings
These were great! The filling tasted so fresh & included nice big pieces of shrimp which we didn't expect.
Finally the pork siu mai
pork siu mai
I also really enjoyed the filling on this dish. I've had dim sum before where I felt maybe the meat wasn't the best in texture but this was nicely done.

This was a great light lunch for us & at only $14.40 we'll definitely go back & try more things on the menu that are new to us. Plus they have free delivery & we've been looking for a good one so we'll give them a try.

Country Sky is on Steiner Street in San Francisco between Chestnut and Lombard in the Marina.

The Waffle Tests

A couple weeks ago on a whim we bought a Belgian Waffle Maker with a gift card from Crate & Barrel. We bought the Villaware Belgian Waffler Round. The compact size is really great for those of us with a small apartment kitchen & a lot of kitchen gadgets. The non-stick surface has proved easy to clean & get waffles out of. Then it came time to try recipes.

1. The Plain Belgian Waffle recipe from VillaWare - This is the recipe that came with the machine. Eggs, sugar, butter, milk, vanilla, flour, baking powder & salt were the ingredients. The recipe is a little fussy since you have to separate the eggs beating the yolks with the sugar before adding the rest of the wet goods & the dry goods. Then you have to beat the egg whites until the are stiff & fold them in. (Ok, ok I decided to beat the eggs by hand which took forever before resorting to the Kitchen Aid). This recipe made a nice waffle though we ended up substituting a little bread flour for the all purpose & they probably were a little heavier than should have been. The waffles were beautiful.
But this was no way to whip up a quick waffle breakfast.

2. Bisquick - This time we went the really quick route & used the recipe for waffles in the Bisquick box. They waffles were not crispy at all on the outside & might as well have just been pancakes. Quick but not the waffles we were looking for.

3. Bellegem Waffle Mix from William-Sonoma
Bellegem Waffle Mix
We picked this up the next weekend to see if a Belgian Waffle Mix would make any difference. All you need to add to this mix is warm water & melted butter. You are then supposed to let it sit for 15 minutes. (A long wait when you are hungry for a hot waffle). The 15 minutes didn't seem to do anything, we thought the mix might rise a little but nothing. I also added some frozen blueberries before pouring the mix into the waffle maker because we had them. The waffles came out pretty flat. Even though we filled the maker as high as usual they didn't seem to rise at all to fill the top so the didn't really brown properly. I also felt like the taste was pretty bland. We have enough of this left for 1.5 more batches so we'll probably try them again & see if we can add something to give them a little more umph.

Next time I think we will try the Alton Brown Belgian Waffle recipe...stay tuned.
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