Monthly Archives: March 2010

Laura’s Quick and Easy Flexitarian Chili

Now I know that this is probably not great timing for a chili recipe, maybe I should have posted it closer to the Super Bowl, whenever that was….but hey, I write about things when I am inspired about them, when I discover them, when Laura finally sends me the damn chili recipe I had been asking for for three months! (Ok, ok, she sent it to me, last month, but I got caught up writing about other stuff and just finally made it last weekend. I confess.) I was afraid that it wasn’t going to be as wonderful as I remembered it. Maybe it was just Laura, not the recipe that worked. Oh, I better insert right here, that Greg helped make the chili the night I had it at Laura and Greg’s house, because I KNOW that if I didn’t mention it, that would end up in the comments, with the author being Greg!

And let’s face it….it’s not summer yet, so I am going to write about chili, darn it.

First of all, I love the title of Laura’s chili and as you will see, when you read the recipe, you can make it almost any way you like. I did not change the way the recipe was written as that is part of what I love about it. Laura is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s pretty laid back when it comes to cooking. One of those people that I admire, who will substitute this is she doesn’t have that, or that if she doesn’t have this. I strive to be more like that in everything I do, to improvise more. I’ve started reading a blog called The Improvised Life to try to help me along. Speaking of texture….

I have never liked veggie chili, always felt like it was missing something. Now that is not a slam to “vegematarians”, as I like to call them. Veggie chili never had veggies in it, just beans, minus the meat. What it was missing, was not meat, it was texture. Laura’s chili has all three, the requisite beans, veggies and texture, brought on by ground beef, ground turkey, or bulgur wheat. Genius. Bulgur wheat, I would have never thought of that.  Bell peppers and corn add to the texture and of course qualify as veggies. I must have been channeling Laura when I threw in a can of hominy as a replacement for one of the cans of beans. Woohoo! I was living on the edge! It was a success also, as it added a whole other layer of texture. I love my texture.

Laura’s chili has beer in it, also, how can that be bad?  Although, Laurent stole the one I had open on the counter waiting to “deglaze” the pan with. Good thing we has more in the fridge. I used a Lagunitas IPA, my favorite beer, and Laurent’s too.

Laura’s chili calls for hot sauce and bbq sauce.  I had just bought a bottle of Co-op Hot Sauce at The Empty Bottle Farmers Market which I added to the chili. More like a few dashes, as opposed to 3 tablespoons, which was the range that Laura suggests. I was playing it on the safe side. It actually could have used more. I love this hot sauce. It has big flavor, along with the heat. It always helps to use good ingredients when you cook; it adds complexity, freshness and flavor. This was also a chance to check out Smoke Daddy’s BBQ Sauce, another local product. Can’t wait to use it on BBQ ribs in the summer. Remember it’s not summer yet, sorry to remind you. It snowed last weekend, remember? I’m just rubbing that in to justify blogging about chili at the end of March, when it would have probably been more appropriate in February!

Well, I guess I should stop rambling and get on with posting Laura’s Quick and Easy Flexatarian Chili Recipe. So here it is. It truly IS quick and easy and flexatarian along with being very tasty and my new favorite chili recipe in the world! Thanks Laura!

Laura’s Easy, Quick Flexitarian Chili

2 Tbls. olive or veg oil

1 large onion (any kind), chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 chopped bell peppers (a mix of red, yellow, and/or green is good)

1 bottle beer

2 cups broth (beef, chicken, or veggie)

2 – 15 oz. cans drained beans (any kind)

1 – 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes–don’t drain (or equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes or, if really desperate, 1 6 oz. can tomato paste)

1 1/2 Tbls. chili powder

1 Tbls. ground cumin

2 oz. (2 squirts) barbecue sauce

Hot sauce (somewhere between a dash and 3 Tbls.)

A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce (optional–particularly good in the veg version–although I think that Worcestershire has anchovies in it, making it not vegetarian…hmm, maybe that’s why it’s so good.)

1 cup frozen corn

1 lb. ground beef

OR

1 lb. ground turkey

OR

1/2 cup bulgur

Sauté onions and garlic (and ground beef or turkey, if using) until golden in a chili/stock/soup pot.  Remove onions/garlic/ (and beef/turkey, if using) from pan, but do not wash pan.  Add peppers to pan and sauté very briefly at high heat (I like to get them to brown a little while still staying crunchy).  Pour in beer and scrape bottom of pan to loosen any brown bits.  Add onions/garlic/ (and beef/turkey, if using) back to pan.  Add everything else (including bulgur if using) except corn and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add in corn and let chili simmer until corn is done.

Serve with sour cream, grated cheese, and chopped cilantro.  Enjoy!

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Ay Ay Picante…is ay ay delicioso….

I was very excited when my friend, Mark Gonzalez, said he wanted to take me to his favorite Peruvian Restaurant; unfortunately “life” got in the way for a good two months. I swear he though I was blowing him off as I cancelled, rescheduled, and then cancelled again. I am glad he caught me this week, as the next two weeks of my life are going to be crazy busy and he probably would have just given up on me and then I would have never gotten to enjoy Ay Ay Picante’s fabulous food.

Ay Ay Picante is in Mayfair, on a stretch of Elston just South of Montrose. I never knew the neighborhood named Mayfair existed until a few weeks ago when I finally made it to Zebda. (That will have to be a blog post soon, as I loved it.)

I basically wanted to try everything on the menu at Ay Ay Picante.  It all sounded very unfamiliar and exotic to me, but Mark warned me that portions were quite large.  We couldn’t even finish what we did order. Next time I think my plan of attack will be the appetizer menu so I can try the tamales, humitas, and rellanas. We ordered all of Mark’s favorites, ceviche mixto, aji de gallina and lomo saltado. They know him here as he orders the aji de gallina so often.

So, you are asking, what are these crazy dishes that I have never heard of? Well, you’ve probably heard of or had ceviche before. It is seafood that is “cooked” by the lime juice that it marinates in. The acid literally cooks it. The mixto ceviche we had consisted of shrimp, calamari, tilapia, octopus and thinly sliced red onions, lime juice and rocoto chiles. The juice that is created by the seafood, lime & chiles is called “leche de tigre”, tiger’s milk, and is often drunk after all the seafood is eaten or even served in shot glasses. It is said to cure hangovers. I did not have a hangover and I didn’t drink the leche de tigre, but I sure did eat all the seafood. The ceviche was tart and tangy without being sour. It was refreshing and light and reminded me of the summer to come. It is on it’s way, no? I loved the texture of the octopus, nice and meaty, pure, perfect texture, not rubbery at all, which happens way too often. Actually all the different textures of the seafood helped make this dish so successful. The delicateness of the tilapia, contrasted the meatiness of the octopus, the sturdiness of the calamari that had a slight chew, a good chew, was contrasted by the tenderness of the shrimp. All the textures were complimented by the slivers of thinly sliced red onion that added great flavor, but did not intrude or overwhelm.  When I see that many red onions, I would usually pick around most of them, as they do have a tendency to overwhelm a dish. In the ceviche, though, I was seeking red onions out, to add a crunch and a burst of flavor that totally complimented the seafood, lime and chiles.

One thing Mark said was that the ceviche wasn’t as spicy as it usually was and it was probably because I was white! I can see that. He was blunt about it. He can be. We’re friends! That is what happens when I dine out with my husband, who is Chinese; he has to explain that we want it spicy, that I can handle it. (Sadly, I no longer can, so I was happy with the “white” version of ceviche!)

Aji de gallina, chile pepper chicken, was the next dish we conquered, or conquered us, I should say. I think this dish may have been toned down a bit, too, as it was not spicy at all, but it was quite flavorful. As you can see, the dish is nothing pretty. It looks pretty bland, chicken in a yellow sauce that consists of peanuts, milk and cheese, served with white rice, hard boiled eggs and a few olives. But boy did the aji de gallina pack in the flavor. It was not peanuty like a Thai dish, but there was a backbone of peanut flavor. The cheese and milk added body and richness…and boy was it rich! At first I didn’t think much of the few black olives on the plate, thinking that “wow, good thing these are here, otherwise this dish would be a study in beige”, but those powerful little black olives added a saltiness & acidity that the dish needed to break up the richness. They knew what they were doing, although I would have liked a few more of those powerful richness breaker uppers!

Lomo saltado was what we were digging into next, not like we had room in our stomach, but I am a trooper! Mark said it was basically a stir fry of beef marinated in soy sauce, stir-fried with garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, onions and French fries, yes, French fries, served with rice. I didn’t know that there were so many Chinese influences in Peruvian food. Soy sauce is known as sillau, a Cantonese word, in Peru, not salsa de soya, which would be Spanish.  In fact, Peru has the largest Chinese population in all of Latin America. A million people of Chinese origin live in Peru and there are over 2000 “chifas”, Chinese restaurants in Peru. Cool. Back to the subject at hand, though, lomo saltado. What could be wrong with beef stir-fried with French fries and served with rice? Nothing. Exactly. Ok, end of that story, I guess. Next time I want to try the chaufa, which is Chinese style fried rice. I have a feeling every time I come here, I am going to eat too much. Oh well, such is life.

I would say bring lots of people when you visit Ay Ay Picante as the dishes are quite large. While I think it is a bargain at dinner, as it is also BYOB, lunch can be a stretch on the pocket book. I say this because the menu is the same for lunch or dinner. $14 for a dinner entrée is a steal to me, but spending $30 on lunch, each, as Mark and I did, was a bit of a surprise. That said, I did not need to eat anything else that day. Seriously. I kept looking at my watch, waiting to get hungry. It was 7:00, then 8:00, then 10:00 and nope, I still wasn’t hungry. So I quit worrying about it and went to bed!

Ay Ay Picante     4569 N. Elston   773-427-4239

Actually I did go to bed, but did not fall asleep because I drank this "bubble gum" flavored neon yellow soda!

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Instant Soup…(aka crock-pot stock)….

Wait, don’t worry, this is good, healthy, nourishing instant soup. Really. Nothing fake about it, no weird powdered spice packets to add, no freeze dried tofu. I could eat this soup everyday. It takes about seven minutes to make and is the most satisfying, quick and easy lunch or dinner ever. There is a little upfront work to do, but once that is done, depending on how much you do, that part could be over for weeks. I would tell you what’s in it, but it changes every time. It actually changed from the pictures I took, as I was making it.

How to describe my favorite soup…it is basically whatever you have in the fridge that you want to use up, so it doesn’t go bad, because you really shouldn’t have bought broccoli, kale, asparagus and cauliflower, even though you swore you were going to use it all up in a week, but ended up going to lunch instead of eating broccoli at home, and then ordered pizza one night and ok, I’ll meet you for brunch on Sunday. I also usually add miscellaneous goodies in the freezer that I keep on hand just for this soup in case I was good and used up all the veggies in the fridge but am still craving this soup.

It all starts with home made chicken stock (or veggie if you must). I would stop reading right here if you are not willing to make home made stock. I don’t think there is anything more disgusting than canned or boxed chicken stock. How does it get that thick? Why is it so “flavorful”? How come it is dark yellow and not clear? I will admit that I keep a box in my pantry for emergency use, but would never EVER dream of using it in this soup, because this soup is great and healthy and light and nourishing because of the home made stock. Ok, tangent/tantrum over.

Stop groaning about making your own stock, this is accomplished much easier that you think. It is super easy if you have a crock pot. If you don’t have one, go to Target, they start at $20 or the thrift store and get one (if Martha from Soup n’ Bread hasn’t snagged them all!)  Or I bet your mom has one you can steal borrow. So crock pot stock is great because you don’t have to find two to three hours you are going to be at home so you can put the stove on. We have a six quart Rival crock-pot we got as a wedding gift ten years ago that stayed in the box for the first five years! Anyways… those damn tangents….put an onion, a few carrots, a few stalks of celery, all cut up, some parsley, if you’ve got it, some whole black peppercorns, about a tablespoon, a bay leaf, if you have one, and chicken bones in your crock pot, fill it with water and press six hours and walk away. When you come home, wah-lah, it’s chicken stock. Ok, details, details. I know you must have them…. Chicken bones, we get ours at Paulina Meat Market for .79 a pound, sold in five pound bags. We use about half the bones for one batch of crock-pot stock. It’s very convenient. The bones come frozen, so just put the rest back in your freezer.  Or if you are ambitious you can start another batch right away. We usually make back to back batches of stock.

We get about a three quart yield from our six quart crock-pot. We buy quart containers at the Asian grocery store. They come in sleeves and are great for freezing stock, leftover soup, sauce, etc. So, strain your stock and don’t worry about skimming the fat. When you freeze the stock it will separate and when you microwave it to thaw it, you can just spoon it off before it is totally thawed. Tip: Don’t fill the quarts all the way to the top; leave a little room for it to expand when it freezes. Ok, food safety issues here. You have to cool your stock down to 40 degrees in four hours. We use a quart of frozen stock and use it as a giant stock ice cube and mix it into the very hot steaming stock. It does the trick! You just have to run a little hot water over the quart container and the frozen stock should slide right out.

See that wasn’t that hard, was it? Now you have these quarts of delicious, nutritious chicken stock in your freezer, ready to be made into instant soup. Boy, wasn’t that a long tangent to get to the title of this blog, wasn’t it?  Maybe I should just change the title!

So, when we are starving or sick or lazy, most often lazy, we defrost a quart of chicken stock in the microwave, put it in a pot with some of the usual suspects, if you have been reading my blog, you know what those are from the Mapo Tofu post (sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine and rice wine vinegar), and some ginger. That is to season it. Then we add in all the goodies from the fridge and freezer.  Today we added tofu, roasted corn and edamame (both frozen from Trader Joes, kept on hand for occasions like this), asparagus, and kale, that I was keeping alive in the fridge in a bowl of water. We didn’t end up using the smoked chicken we had in the freezer because I am rationing it. We are almost out. Laurent has to fire up the smoker and make some more of this delicious crack. This is our Asian version of instant soup, but we also make a Mexican version and alter the flavorings by adding lime juice, canned diced tomatoes, cilantro, leftover rice, and avocado.  The beauty of it is you can make it how ever you want, with whatever you have on hand, whenever you want….IF you have those magic quarts of home made chicken stock in your freezer!

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