Sopapillas (with Apple Syrup)

Special occasions call for special meals.  When I make a special Mexican dish, I like to make homemade flour tortillas.  When I make homemade tortillas, I sometimes make sopapillas, because sopapillas are made from the same tortilla dough.

Sopapillas are Mexican pastries that are quickly fried in hot oil and served warm, with honey. 

Once in a while wires get switched and everything gets thrown into reverse. 

Several days ago, I made an apple crumble and I challenged myself to use 100% of the apples during the process.  One of the results was an unexpectedly delicious apple syrup.  The aroma, taste and color of the syrup was reminiscent of floral honey.  I couldn’t wait to try the syrup in a recipe where honey is normally used.

It didn’t take long to find a way to highlight the apple syrup.  That’s when my usual thought process switched into reverse. 

Sopapillas are made from tortilla dough and, since I was going to need to make tortilla dough, why not make make some homemade tortillas?  And, since I was going to have homemade tortillas on hand, why not make some Mexican food?

If you want to see my recipes for apple syrup and homemade tortillas click on these links:

Apple Syrup

Homemade Tortillas

Ingredients:

1 lb. prepared flour tortilla dough

2 cups cooking oil

¼ cup powdered sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon powder

½ cup apple syrup (or honey)

Directions for making sopapillas:

Add oil to a large, deep skillet.  Set heat to medium.

Mix the powdered sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Pinch off a golf ball sized piece of dough, roll it into a ball and place it on a floured work surface.

Using your hand, press down on the dough to form a disc. 

With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a larger, thinner disc.  I suggest rolling it out to ¼” thick, or thinner.  I like to roll out the dough very thin. 

Using a pastry cutter, slice the disc into quarters.   

Carefully transfer the cut pieces of dough to the hot skillet, one at a time.  Avoid crowding the pan.  I usually make 3 sopapillas at a time. 

With a large cooking spoon, ladle hot oil over the sopapillas while the fry in the oil.  The sopapillas should begin to puff up quickly.  After about 30 seconds, turn the sopapillas over and cook for another 30 seconds. 

Carefully remove the sopapillas to a paper towel lined plate. 

Transfer the sopapillas to a serving platter and dust them lightly with powdered sugar.

Serve warm with copious amounts of apple syrup!

Drizzle the syrup over the sopapillas or tear off the corners of the sopapillas and drizzle some syrup directly into the sopapilla.  It’s okay, I won’t tell.

Creamy Potato and Celery Soup with Ham

Ingredients:

8 small russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 Tbs olive oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

6 stalks celery, chopped

1 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

4 cups vegetable broth

2 cups chicken broth

½ cup half-and-half (whole milk and cream)

1 cup smoked ham, chopped into ½” cubes

5 oz white cheddar cheese, grated

4 green onions, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the diced potatoes.   Boil the potatoes until cooked through and softened.  Strain the potatoes in a colander.

In a large pot over high heat, add olive oil, garlic and onions.  Cook and for a minute or two, until the onions are translucent.

Add the chopped celery stalks and cook for another 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of butter to 2 tablespoons of flour. Mix and mash together with a fork. Add a splash of broth and mix a little more. Add the mixture to the pan. Stir to combine.

Add the vegetable broth and chicken broth.  Stir and bring to boil.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

Pour the soup into the blender and add the potatoes.  Puree until smooth.  This may need to be done in batches, depending on the capacity of the blender. Return the soup to the pot.

Add the half and half and the ham.  Heat at low temperature for a few minutes while stirring occasionally.

Turn the heat off and add the shredded cheese.  Slowly stir the soup once or twice.  Do not over-stir.  Allow the cheese to melt without much interference.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Top with diced scallions.

Apple Crumble

I bought a large bag of Gala apples about two weeks ago and promptly put them in the crisper drawer in my refrigerator.   Every time I open the refrigerator I see them and I am reminded that I need to do something with them. 

Today seems like the perfect day to use them.  Even though they have been kept cool and they still feel crisp, they won’t last forever.  On top of that, I want something to do at home, so that I am not tempted to join the frenzied mob who are in panic mode as they rush to the store to empty the shelves of toilet paper and sanitizer. 

Toilet paper, really?!  If I was preparing for an emergency quarantine, toilet paper might make my it on my list of “100 things I need” but it would be pretty far down on the list.  People are weird.  I should know…I’m people, too. 

I don’t want to make light of the situation surrounding the virus that has recently been declared a pandemic event.  It’s serious business.  People want to stay healthy and invisible threats, like viruses, play on our fears. 

So, with that in mind, I want something to keep me occupied in the safe, confines of my home.  I also want to stretch my resources to their fullest potential, which means that I don’t want to waste anything.  If I wind up being confined to my home for a while, I want to be prepared and I want to be frugal.

Today is the day I will use those apples and I will use every part of them.  I will save the peels to make apple chips and I will save the cores to make apple syrup.  I will use the stems…ok, I won’t be using the stems but I definitely could.  I could glue the stems together to make little stick-figure people and animals.   Maybe next time.

Apple Filling Ingredients:

2 lb apples

1 Tbs white flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbs lemon juice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Topping

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 cup butter, melted

¼ tsp salt

Directions:

Set oven to 350°

Peel apples and cut into ½” pieces.

Place apple pieces in a bowl. Sprinkle with the flour, sugar and cinnamon.  Mix briefly with a spatula.  Add the lemon juice and toss. Spread the apple mixture across the bottom of a 2 quart baking dish.

Add all of the topping ingredients, except the melted butter, to a bowl.  Mix with a spatula. 

Add the melted butter and mix until all of the dry ingredients have absorbed the butter. Spread the mixture over the apples.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  This allows the apple filling to congeal. 

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or a glass of cold milk.

Apple Peel Chips

Ingredients:

Apple peels from 7 or 8 apples

1 tsp lemon juice

2 Tbs sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp cardamom

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl.  Toss to coat the apple peels.

Spread the apple peels on a parchment paper lined baking tray.

Bake at 300° for about 15 minutes.  Turn the peels over and continue backing for another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow the peels to cool.

Apple Syrup

The syrup produced by this recipe is very close to the color, consistency and flavor of honey.  I will definitely use it as a substitution for honey in some future recipes.

Ingredients:

Apple cores from 7 to 8 apples

½ lemon, juice and peel

1 small star anise (or 1/8 tsp anise seed)

White sugar (amount needed is described in the directions)

Directions:

Add apple cores, lemon juice and lemon peel to a small saucepan.  Cover with water and simmer at low heat for 1 hour. 

Strain the solids and reserve the liquid.  Return the liquid to the saucepan and turn heat to medium.  Reduce by one half.

Carefully pour the hot liquid into a heat resistant measuring cup.  Take note of how much liquid you have.   You will be adding twice that amount of sugar to the pan.  Return the liquid to the saucepan and add then add the sugar.  I wound up with 3/4 cups of liquid so I added 1 1/2 cups of sugar.

Simmer for about 5 minutes at medium heat while whisking.  When the liquid begins to bubble and froth forms, turn the heat off and remove from the pan from the heat.  Test the syrup with a spoon.  If the syrup clings to the back of the spoon, the syrup is done.  If the syrup seems too runny, return it to the heat for another minute or two.  Be careful not to overheat, unless you want to make hard candy!

Remove syrup and allow to completely cool before placing it in a storage container.  The syrup will continue to thicken as it cools.  The syrup should last for a few weeks in a refrigerator. 

Carnitas (Slow Roasted Pork)

Sometimes I get a grandiose idea and I get all fired up and I spend hours and hours focusing on my goal until the plan reaches fruition.  And then there’s all those other days, when the grandiose idea fizzles like a flat soda. 

Welcome to Flat Soda Day.

My idea was inspired by a craving for gorditas.  Gorditas, which translates to “little chubbies”, are puffy corn tortillas stuffed with meats and sauces, or whatever else you might want to put in them.  When made properly, gorditas are wonderfully crispy, warm, corn flavored pockets full of savory bliss.  Like so many Mexican dishes, they instantly make me feel at home when I eat them, regardless of where I eat them.

Step number one for gorditas:  prepare carnitas.  Carnitas, which translates to “little meats”, is typically made with pork shoulder and is slowly roasted and then shredded.  I tend to think of carnitas as the little brother of barbacoa.  Carnitas are more gentle in flavor than bold, beefy barbacoa but, carnitas are probably more versatile. 

In fact, carnitas are so versatile that I completely abandoned the notion of making gorditas and I decided to use them in burritos.  That’s ok.  I had some carnitas left over and made gorditas a few days later.

I usually roast a pork shoulder when making carnitas.  The fat ratio in a pork shoulder is precisely what is needed for good carnitas.  This time, I had a pork loin, which is very lean.  I also had a few small pieces of leftover beef ribeye in the refrigerator.  The fat content of the ribeye was just what the lean pork needed.  I added a little lard, to further bump the fat content up, and then I roasted the meat for about 6 hours at low temperature. 

Ingredients:

1 Tbs cumin

1 Tbs oregano

2 tsp paprika

2 lbs pork loin

1 cup orange juice

1/4 cup cooking oil

1 onion, chopped

1 jalapeño, sliced

1 ½ Tbs lard

¾ lb beef ribeye (cooked to medium rare)

Directions:

Combine the cumin, oregano, paprika and oil in a small bowl. Mix together.

Coat the pork loin with the spices and oil.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large Dutch oven.  Add the pork loin to the Dutch oven. Cover and cook at 250° for 6 hours.  Remove from oven.  Shred the meat with two forks. 

Heat a cast iron skillet.  Add shredded meat to the skillet and sear for a few minutes, or until the meat begins to char.  Turn the meat and sear for another minute.  Remove meat.

Serve in any number of dishes.  Burritos, enchiladas, gorditas, flautas, chalupas, tacos…

Crawfish Season!

Hooray! The crawfish are here, the crawfish are here!

Every year, around this time, crawfish and shrimp vendors start popping up at local gas station parking lots. They set up shop on the weekends, with pick up trucks and trailers for about 6 weeks and then they vanish, as quickly and as quietly as they arrived, returning to the bayous. But, while they are here, I have access to the biggest, freshest and most succulent gulf shrimp and wonderful, spicy, hot Cajun crawfish .

Most of these vendors only take cash. I rarely carry cash but, when these guys roll into town I don’t mind making a trip to the nearest ATM and withdrawing money from my bank account. I drive back to the seafood guys waving cash in my hand. Yes, it’s really that good.

I remember a time, just a few years ago, when I saw the crawfish guys boiling their shrimp and cawfish and I panicked, realizing that I was nearing the end of their short season. It was Saturday, around 5:00 pm. I drove the 3 miles to the bank teller machine and withdrew some cash. By the time I returned, they had already packed up and were gone. Gone! Gone for good, at least until the next year.

Never again. Lesson learned. I will not let the moment escape me. Even if all I get is a tiny sample of some briny shrimp or a few scrawny crawfish, I won’t pass up the opportunity to savor some of the finest food this world has to offer.

I am not a creole chef and I wasn’t raised on the bayou. I’m not Cajun…I’m Texan true and true, but I am forever mesmerized and enamored by the lure of fresh gulf seafood and funky, backwater fare.

Something good happens when the shrimp are set to boil. The world is a happier place when hot, red crawfish are pulled from the pot. Mystery and wonder fills the air. Friends are made instantly. Smiles become contagious. Romance is at hand. No struggles, no strife.

Grab a drink. Find a seat. Tell us a story.

Tacos de Pescado con Papas Caseras

Fish Tacos with Home Fries

Tilapia. 

I wanted to jump right into this fish taco recipe but I couldn’t resist the urge to discuss the phenomena that is Tilapia. 

Tilapia is a freshwater fish that describes dozens of types of fish.  If I was an ichthyologist I might be able to go into greater detail about the different types of fish that fall under the umbrella of “tilapia” but my interest lies elsewhere.

What intrigues me is the fact that tilapia have become a predominant food source in a very short period of time.  Tilapia have rapidly become one of the most consumed fish in the United States.  It is also popular across the globe, due to low production cost. 

Tilapia are easily farmed.  They are not carnivorous, which make them less expensive to raise than salmon or trout.  They mature quickly, which leads to quick harvesting and, they can endure living in close proximity to each other.  All of these qualities make them desirable for aquaculture.

I don’t know where I’m going with all of this except to say that I was really curious about the sudden popularity of tilapia and I thought others might be, too.  So, before I totally kill the mood and start making allusions to Soylent Green, let’s make some fish tacos…

Ingredients:

2 carrots, peeled and shredded

1 large, or 2 medium sized jalapeños, thinly sliced or shredded

3 scallions (green onions), green portion diced and white portion thinly sliced

½ cup vinegar

2 tsp lemon juice

1 Tbs sugar

1 avocado, sliced

1 tsp lemon juice

Pinch of garlic salt

6 to 8 small russet potatoes

¾ lb fresh tilapia filets

¼ cup flour

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp garlic powder

3 Tbs cornstarch

12 corn tortillas

1 egg

Directions:

In a large skillet, add 1 cup cooking oil.  Set heat to low.

Add the shredded carrot, sliced jalapeño and the sliced scallion root to a mixing bowl.  Stir to mix.  Add the vinegar, lemon juice and sugar.  Set aside for 20 minutes.

Peel and slice the avocado.  Squirt some lemon juice over the sliced avocado and sprinkle with a little garlic salt.

Scrub the potatoes under cool running water.  Dry the potatoes with a paper towel.  Cut potatoes into 1 inch pieces.  Add potatoes to the skillet and adjust the heat to medium/high.  Stir the potatoes after 1 minute and adjust the heat to medium.  Leave the potatoes alone for 15 minutes.

Arrange the fish filets on a paper towel-lined plate. 

Spread ¼ cup flour over a large plate.  Scatter the cumin, chili powder and garlic powder over the flour.

Dust each side of the fish with a scant amount of cornstarch.

Strain the pickled vegetables and discard the vinegar mixture.  Put the shredded vegetables in a bowl and keep handy.

Stir the potatoes a few times and strain the oil, once the potatoes have crisped.  Store the potatoes in a bowl, in a warm place.

Return the oil to the pan and set the heat to medium.  Soften the corn tortillas in the hot oil.  Remove the tortillas and store in a warm place. 

Crack an egg over a large plate.  Lightly whisk with a fork.

Create a dredging station with the fish, egg and flour.  Take a piece of fish and dip both sides in the egg.  Lay the fish in the flour mixture and shake off any loose flour.  Lay the fish in the hot skillet.

Fry the fish for about two minutes and then turn the fish over, with a large spatula.  Fry for another two minutes and turn the fish again.  Fry for another minute and remove the fish to a paper towel-lined plate.

Slice the fish in bite sized pieces.

Assemble the tacos.  I like to use two tortillas per taco but one is perfectly fine, too.  Add avocado slices, pickled vegetables and fish.

Top with cilantro and green onion and serve with home fries.

Orange Glazed Lemon Chicken

You know this is going to be good…there’s so many adjectives in the name!

Some recipes produce shy and gentle things and others, like this one, are boisterous and bold.  I wanted something that was full of citrus flavors and exotic spices and this definitely fit the bill.  This chicken dish is nothing short of a runaway flavor train!  I intended on marinating the chicken for a few hours but plans changed and it marinated for about 30 hours.  The result was bright, very tangy, lemony chicken.  The thick orange glaze had a distinctly Asian taste which complemented the citrus flavor in the chicken.  The only thing shy and gentle about this dish was the white rice!

For the marinade:

1 ½ lbs chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces

2 lemons (quartered)

1 orange (quartered)

2 Tbs sliced ginger

½ onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

¼ cup olive oil

For the Glaze:

1 cup orange juice (or juice of 3-4 oranges)

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

¼ cup soy sauce

1 Tbs Sriracha sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 Tbs fresh ginger, grated

4 cloves garlic, smashed

Orange zest, about ¼ cup

1 tsp black peppercorns

3 star anise

1 cinnamon stick, split and broken

2 Tbs cornstarch

For the stir-fry:

1 cup cooking oil

1 ½ lbs marinated chicken, cut into 1” pieces

¼ cup cornstarch

1 Tbs cooking oil

½ yellow bell pepper, chopped

½ orange bell pepper, chopped

3 Tbs toasted sesame seeds

1 green onion, chopped

¼ cup cilantro

Directions:

Prepare the marinade by cutting the lemons, orange and onion.  Slice the ginger.  Peeling the ginger is optional, since the ginger will only be used in the marinade. 

In a large plastic storage bag, add all of the marinade ingredients, including the chicken.  Squeeze the juice from the lemons and orange pieces as you toss them into the bag.  Refrigerate for at least two hours.

To prepare the glaze, add all of the ingredients for the glaze, except the cornstarch to a sauce pan.  Turn heat to low/medium stir to combine.  Simmer and stir occasionally for 20 minutes. 

Strain the solids from the sauce and return the sauce to the wok.

Remove a few tablespoons of the sauce and add to a small bowl. Add the cornstarch to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the cornstarch mixture back to the sauce and whisk to incorporate. Simmer for another 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens to a sticky glaze. Remove the glaze to a bowl and keep warm.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.  Add the chicken to a mixing bowl.  Cover with 1/4 cup cornstarch.  Mix thoroughly, to coat the chicken.  Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before frying in a wok.

Add a cup of cooking oil to a wok and set the heat to high.  Once the oil is hot, add the chicken and fry the chicken, stirring only occasionally, until the chicken is cooked and golden brown.  Remove the chicken to a warm place. 

Remove all but about 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok.  Add the chopped bell pepper and stir for a few minutes. 

Return the chicken to the wok and stir again.

Add the prepared glaze and stir. Finally, add the green onion and stir briefly.

Turn out to a serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and cilantro.

Serve with warm jasmine rice.

Chi-Fri (chī – frī)

There’s really only one thing a good Texas boy can do after committing a sin, like adding beans to chili.  Seek redemption!  This is a Texas classic:  chicken fried steak and gravy with mashed potatoes, turnip greens and Texas toast.  As you might recall, I used Shiner Bock beer in that chili and although this recipe doesn’t call for beer, Shiner Bock is the common thread that ties these two posts together.

Any decent diner or restaurant in Texas will serve up a good chicken fried steak.  One such restaurant, in Shiner, Texas, was noteworthy.  My family and I had just finished taking a guided tour through the Spoetzl brewery, where they make Shiner Bock, and we stopped off at local restaurant for lunch.  Any time we go back to Texas to visit we look for good smoked beef brisket and chicken fried steak.  As it happened, the restaurant served chicken fried steak.  My wife opted for what the menu referred to as the “ladies portion”.  It was half the cost of the “regular” chicken fried steak.  The server came out with a 14 inch oval platter with mashed potatoes and green beans and a monstrous portion of chicken fried steak that was so large that it hung over the sides of the platter.  We all had a good laugh.  I asked the waitress what the regular chicken fried steak looked like and she pointed to one that was being made for someone else.  It was twice the size of the ladies portion.  Insane!  But that’s Texas for you.  We all shared the chicken fried steak, since the portion was large enough to feed a small army.  It was superb…one of the best I’ve ever had. 

Chicken Fried Steak

I have to say, the chi-fri I made this time around was really good.  The cubed steak was tender and the breading had a good crunch and it clung to steak like a champion!  I’ve included some photos, along with some recipes, but I have to admit that I stopped snapping pictures along the way.  Sometimes it’s best to cherish the simple, beautiful moments in life.

Ingredients:

2 lbs cubed beef steaks (1/4” thick):

This can be 4 steaks at ½ lb each or 8 steaks at ¼ lb each

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 egg

1 Tbs Tabasco sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups cooking oil

For the gravy:

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Set up a 3-stage dredging station:  steak, flour and buttermilk.

Place the cubed steaks on a plate.

For the dry dredge, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pepper, and salt.  Place the mixture in a large, shallow bowl.

For the wet dip, add buttermilk, egg, Tabasco sauce, and garlic to a large shallow bowl.  Stir to mix.

Dredge each steak in the flour and pat the steaks, to make sure they are completely covered.  Shake off excess flour and dip the steaks in the buttermilk mixture and transfer back to the flour for another coating.  Shake off excess flour.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to medium/hot (325°).  Gently lay the steaks in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.  Do not crowd the skillet.  Place the finished steaks on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  

Once all of the steaks are done, drain the oil from the skillet, reserving 1/4 cup of the oil and some of the crunchy bits.

Gravy

Return the skillet to stove at medium/low heat and add the reserved oil. Whisk the ¼ cup flour into the oil.  Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to break the solids and mix into the gravy.  Stir in the milk and raise the heat to medium.  Whisk the gravy while it simmers and thickens.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Season the gravy with a little salt and pepper.   Pour the finished gravy into a serving bowl and yes, you may lick the spoon!

Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are simply the leafy green tops and stems of turnips.  They are extremely rich in vitamins and minerals.  Giving them a quick sauté will remove much of their bitterness.  Once cooked, they are similar to cooked spinach in texture and taste.  Many people add salt to greens but it’s really not necessary since they are high in sodium.

Ingredients:

1 Tbs olive oil

½ cup onion, julienne cut

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup chicken stock (I used ½ cup ham stock and ½ cup water)

1 Tbs sugar

½ tsp Cajun seasoning

2 slices of thin cut bacon

1 bunch of turnip greens

Directions:

Soak the turnip greens in lots of cold water.  Swish the greens around to remove any sand or dirt.  Rinse the greens and set aside.

Fry the bacon just long enough to produce a little bacon fat.  Don’t overcook the bacon.  Remove the bacon and set aside to cool.  Leave the bacon fat in the pan.

Add the olive oil, onions and garlic to the pan and sauté over medium heat, in a large skillet.  Sauté until the onions are soft.

Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the skillet

Add the chicken stock, sugar and Cajun seasoning.  Stir for minute to dissolve the sugar.

Rough-chop the greens and add them to the hot skillet.

Stir and cook for a minute or two.  The greens will wilt quickly.   Turn the greens out to a serving bowl.

Serve with hot pepper sauce (green Tabasco peppers in vinegar)

Texas Toast

Texas toast means thick, sliced white bread.  Yes, white bread; none of that healthy whole-grain stuff!  If you want the real Texas chicken fried steak experience you have to do it right!  If you’re particularly health-conscious, eat a bunch of salads and fruit during the week after your Chi Fri and you’ll be OK.

Ingredients:

10 slices of thick-cut white bread

1/2 cup butter, melted

Garlic salt, about 2 Tbs

Directions:

Melt the butter in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Butter melts very quickly in a microwave so be careful! 

Lay the slices of bread on a work surface, such as a cutting board.

Liberally brush the melted butter on both sides of the bread.  Sprinkle garlic salt on one side of each slice.

Grill the bread in a hot skillet.  After about one minute, rotate the bread in the skillet to brown the bread evenly.  Turn the bread over and grill the other side.  Remove and serve warm.

All-Day-Long Texas Chili (with sincere apologies to my fellow Texans)

I know that if I go to heaven I’ll have to answer for my sins.  I’m just hoping that the good Lord will forgive me for occasionally putting beans in my chili. 

I hope that adding this excellent Texas beer to the mix will tip the scale in my favor. 

But, if I’m not accepted in heaven, I’m sure I’ll fit in just fine with the fiery fiends of hell.  I’ve spent years and years eating spicy chiles and I’m confident that I can take the heat!

It seems like every time I make chili I make it a little bit differently than the last time I made it.  If you know me, that’s to be expected.  I rarely replicate a recipe.  I like the unexpected twists and turns of the path, unexplored.  This time around, I added some dark chocolate and cinnamon.  I’ve added cocoa powder in past recipes but I wasn’t impressed.  This time I used an actual piece of good dark chocolate and the result was amazing!  The flavor was deep and rich and not too spicy.  I have to confess, the beans added a heartwarming earthiness to the overall dish.  This ranks near the top of my chili making experiences.

Chili doesn’t take very long to prepare, unless you plan on adding uncooked beans to it.  I soaked kidney beans and simmered them in a large pot for 4 or 5 hours, until they were fully cooked and soft.  Once the beans were cooked the rest of the process only took about one hour.

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked kidney beans

6 or 7 guajillo chiles

2 Tbs sugar

½ cup water (water from the steamed chiles works)

1 oz dark chocolate bar

2 or 3 cinnamon sticks

2 lbs ground beef

15 oz stewed tomatoes

8 oz tomato paste (1 and ½ cans)

8 oz tomato sauce

2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 Tbs dried oregano

1 ½ Tbs cumin powder

1 ½ Tbs garlic powder

¼ cup cilantro

2 cups water

1 beer (12 oz)

¼ cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Saltine crackers

Directions:

Steam the chiles.  Remove the stems from the chilies and slice them open.  Remove the pith and seeds. Steam the chilies in a little water in a large, covered skillet for 20 to 30 minutes.

Drain the chilies and add them to the blender with a little water.  Pulse until the chilies form a sauce.

Add the chili sauce to a large skillet and simmer at low heat.  Add the sugar and allow the sauce to reduce by one half. 

Grate the chocolate and add it to the sauce. Stir the sauce as the chocolate melts.

Add the cinnamon sticks to the sauce and continue simmering.  Simmer the sauce until it reduces by one third. 

Remove the cinnamon sticks and reserve the thickened sauce in a bowl.

Brown the beef in a skillet.  Keep warm.

In a large pot, add the stewed tomatoes. 

Break the tomatoes into bite sized chunks with a spatula and add the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Simmer for a few minutes, while stirring.

Add the onion and jalapeño. Simmer for another 10 minutes and the add the oregano, cumin powder and garlic powder. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cilantro.

Add the browned beef and cooked beans.

Add 2 cups of water and the beer.  Simmer and stir occasionally for 45 minutes at low heat.

Serve in bowls, topped with shredded cheese and saltine crackers, on the side.

Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce and Spicy Shrimp Noodles

I have to admit, I sometimes feel like Marco Polo when I visit an international food market.  I imagine that I am a gallant adventurer, in search of spices and treasures from distant lands.  There are so many strange and wonderful things to see, most of which I know little or nothing about.  Fortunately, I almost always find a friendly proprietor that is happy to answer my questions and will guide me through the store, politely pointing out interesting things. 

“Tell me about ghee,” I might ask.  “Is it like clarified butter?”  And then I might ask about the several different varieties of rice on a shelf and ask what properties they have that make them appropriate for some dishes but not suitable for others.  Invariably, during my visit, I will reach a point where I run out of intelligent questions or the proprietor will begin to fidget and will look for a way to carry on with whatever they were doing before I captivated so much of their time. 

It’s usually around that moment that I feel a sudden desire to return to my homeland, to share my stories and show my new treasures.  I gather a few exotic wonders and pack them away in my sack, bid a fond farewell to my congenial friend, clasp my cloak about my neck and prepare for the arduous journey back home. 

Ok, it’s really just a fifteen minute drive through a light drizzle that dampens the city streets but I like to believe that I am hoisting the sails of my sea bound schooner and that I am preparing to batten down the hatches, at a moment’s notice, in case the stormy seas start to surge.

I know the trade routes like the back of my hand and, in due time, I return to the happy harbor of my home.  And that’s when the fun really begins…

Coconut Chicken Curry with Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

1 ½ tsp salt

1 Japanese eggplant

1 Tbs olive oil

5 garlic cloves

1 lb chicken tenders (tendons removed)

¼ cup basil pesto sauce

juice of 3 limes

juice of 1 lemon

1 ½ Tbs fresh ginger, sliced

1 Thai chili, sliced lengthwise

1 ½ Tbs chili powder

1 carrot

1 Roma tomato, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

2 tsp Garam Masala

13.5 oz Thai coconut milk

3 green onions

Directions:

Using a sharp kitchen knife, remove the white tendon that runs down the length of the chicken tender.

Cut the chicken into 1” pieces and place them in a bowl.

Add the pesto sauce, lime and lemon juice, sliced ginger, Thai chili and chili powder to the bowl and mix by hand.  Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Cut the eggplant into 1” pieces and add them to a mixing bowl.  Mince one clove of garlic and add it to the bowl, along with a tablespoon of olive oil. 

Spread the eggplant out on a parchment lined baking tray and roast in the oven at 400° for 20 minutes, or until the eggplant has browned a little. Remove and set aside in a bowl.

In a large skillet, sauté the onion and the remaining garlic for one minute, over low heat. 

Add the marinated chicken and turn the heat up to medium.  Stir the chicken while it cooks. 

Once the chicken has firmed and turned white, add the sliced jalapeños and carrots.  Stir frequently.

When the carrots begin to soften, add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan.

Add the Garam Masala, ginger, lime and lemon zest, lime and lemon juice.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato and eggplant and stir.

Cover the skillet and simmer at low heat for 15 minutes. 

At this point, I tasted the broth and determined that the jalapeños were spicier than I had expected.  I removed them and used them as a side dish, for anyone that wanted a little extra heat.

Add the coconut milk and mix with a spatula.  Simmer uncovered for another 5 minutes.

Remove to a serving bowl and keep warm until serving time. Serve in bowls, over basmati rice.

Spicy Shrimp Noodles

Ingredients:

1 lb shrimp (I used frozen shrimp, in the shell, de-veined)

2 Tbs basil pesto sauce

1 Tbs chili powder

2 Tbs fresh ginger, minced

1 lime

1 Tbs cooking oil

12 Thai chiles

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup Asian stir fry sauce (I used General Tso sauce, but any kind will do)

1 Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 ½ Tbs oyster sauce

1 Tbs soy sauce

1 Tbs Vietnamese fish sauce

1 tsp Sriracha (or more, if you want it to be spicier!)

½ lb Vietnamese rice sticks

Directions:

Put the shrimp in a large bowl.  Add just enough water to cover the shrimp.  Add the pesto sauce, chili powder and minced ginger.  Quarter the lime and squeeze the juice over the bowl.  Add the rest of the lime to the bowl.   Marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Since I started with frozen shrimp, I marinated for one hour.

The rice sticks will need to soak in warm water for about 30 minutes, to soften.  Vietnamese rice sticks tend to be very long so I broke them in half before soaking. 

Heat a wok at high heat.  Add the cooking oil and the chilies.  Sear the chilies for about one minute, or until the outer skins begin to blister.  Remove the chiles and set aside.  I put them in a small dish to serve at the table. 

Add the whole, unpeeled shrimp to the wok and stir-fry for one to two minutes.  Remove the shrimp and allow them to cool before removing the shells and tails. 

Set the shrimp aside and return the shells and tails to the wok. Stir the shells over high heat for about one minute, to extract their juices. Remove the shells and tails and discard.

Add the garlic to the wok and stir for about 30 seconds. 

Add the Asian sauce, Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and Sriracha.  Turn the heat to low and stir to mix.

Drain the rice sticks in a colander and add the rice sticks to the wok.  Stir to coat the rice sticks.  Return the shrimp and mix briefly.  Turn out to a serving bowl.