Friday, October 29, 2010

CHILI: And the Next Cast Iron Chef is ... Chris Thompson

Last year some of my colleagues and I started the first chili cookoff at our school.  I took top honors at the first Cast Iron Chef by a mere two votes!  My award-winning recipe is featured here.  I think what won it for me was smoking the chili on the Big Green Egg.

This year a whole new batch of competitors entered the contest and wowed us with their meat chilis and their secret ingredients, which ranged from heart healthy turkey, smoky chipotles, fresh and grassy cilantro, textured sirloin and bison, rich sausage, and the bass tones of chocolate.

3 of the 7 Chili cookoff contestants Jenny, Becky, and Sally.

There was a clear winner this time around, and it was Chris Thompson, pictured below with me.

Chris Thompson, 2010 Cast Iron Chef, and me, 2009 Cast Iron Chef, before the cookoff (Chris doesn't know yet that he will win!)

What's interesting to me about Chris' recipe is that he marinates the meat overnight with fresh peppers, onions and garlic, and lots of worcestershire sauce and salt -- a similar technique that my friend Coleen uses to make her Jamaican curry chicken  to deepen the flavor. He also doesn't use that much chili powder or cumin, relying on fresh peppers.  I use a good tablespoon of chili powder per pound of meat and at least a tsp. of cumin per pound, along with fresh peppers like poblano and jalapeno. As such, Chris' chili should appeal to those who like flavor but not lots of heat.

Give Chris' recipe a try at your next tailgate or football viewing party as his recipe is party size.

This Award-Winning Chili Recipe Will Make You a Hero
by Guest Blogger Chris Thompson

It is officially cold outside (at least if you just moved up North from Palm Beach, Florida), and one of the best cold weather dishes I can think of is a big pot of homemade chili. There are at least two things that make chili such a great thing, aside from tasting great: it’s cheap to make, and you can easily feed a lot of people, or create multiple meals for your family with just one pot.

What if I told you that you could feed a dozen people, or supply your family of four with multiple meals for three days all for under $25? Well you can, and you can do so even using steak! Vegetarians, you may want to look away now, because we’re going to be putting together a really hearty and meaty chili. If you don’t eat meat, I’m sure you could find something to substitute, and probably even save a good deal of money.

Anyway, I want to share with you a relatively inexpensive chili recipe, but not just any recipe. This recipe has even won awards at chili cook-offs. No, we’re not talking any national competitions you’d see on the Food Network, but this recipe and slight variations has won some top honors at a number of local events over the past 15 or so years including, amazingly enough, the 2nd annual chili cook-off I just entered! The original inspiration for this recipe came from the internet.


1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 poblano peppers, chopped
12 cloves garlic, minced
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 lb. hot sausage, removed from casing and broken up into pieces
3 lb. top sirloin steak, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
4 tbs. worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. kosher salt and 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs. Liquid Smoke
2 x 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes

1 28 oz. can of premium small red beans
2 tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cumin
5 dashes Tabasco sauce
Ground cayenne pepper to taste

Preparing the Chili

Go ahead and chop the peppers into relatively small pieces,  The same goes for the onions. Sweet onions are good if you prefer milder flavor. Of course, go ahead and use whatever kind you have on hand or prefer. In this case, I used two large onions (about 4 cups when chopped).  Once you have your onions and pepper chopped, go ahead and mince up about 12 (or more) cloves of garlic. Then, throw everything into a big bowl. I have to stress the fact that it needs to be a big bowl, because not only are you putting all the veggies in here, but you’ll also be adding all of the meat and mixing it together for marinating a bit later.

Chop the steak into about half inch cubes. As seen above, that is only about 1 pound of the 3 pounds total that go into the mix.  Once you add the chopped steak to the big mixing bowl full of onions and pepper, you’ll want to take the sausage and break it up into pieces. At this point you’re not looking to do anything special with the sausage other than make it easy enough to work with.

Now comes the fun part! To your meat, onion, and pepper mixture, it’s time to add the seasoning for the marinade. To the bowl, add a few tablespoons of salt. I prefer kosher salt myself, but whatever you have is fine. Then, add a teaspoon or so of black pepper. For me, that’s about 20 turns on my pepper grinder. Now it’s time for the liquid components. We’ll be using both the liquid smoke and the Worcestershire sauce. No exact measurements here, but I’d guess about 4 or 5 tablespoons of Worcestershire and maybe 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke to start (err on the side of too little than too much). Then, dig in with your hands! You need to thoroughly mix everything together. After you get things pretty mixed, you can determine if you need to add any more liquid. You don’t want a soup, but you want it to be moist and have everything covered. You can see from the image how mine turned out after mixing everything together.

Now, we wait. Cover the bowl, and throw it in the refrigerator overnight if possible. You really want the flavors to get into the meat since that is the heart and soul of this recipe, but if overnight won’t work, you can probably get by with 4 hours. The longer you’re able to let it sit, the better it will be. I know, the smell that this mixture has created will fill your house with some of the most amazing aromas ever, but you’re just going to have to wait.

Cooking the Chili

After the mixture has had time to marinate, it’s time to begin the actual cooking. You’ll want the largest skillet you have to make this process go as quickly as possible. Remember, we’re working with 4 pounds of meat and about 6-7 cups of vegetables. Even with a large skillet, it is impossible to brown everything in one batch. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t even try it. If you cram everything into the pan, you’re not going to speed anything up. It will take even longer to cook, and you’ll end up basically steaming the meat. So, work in batches. I have a 12-inch skillet that I used here and it took 3 batches. Each batch took about 7-10 minutes on medium-high heat. We’re not too concerned if the meat is 100% fully cooked since it is going to go into a pot and simmer for a few hours.

As your meat begins to brown, you’ll find yourself with something that looks like the picture above. Notice the liquid that’s coming out of the meat and veggie mixture. This is good! The last thing you want to do is to cook it so long that you boil this all away. You do want to have it reduce a little bit as to make sure you don’t end up with soup instead of chili, but this liquid that’s been extracted from the onions, peppers, meat and marinade is flavor that you can’t get anywhere else. So, it goes right into the chili pot (slow-cooker).

Once all of the browned meat is dumped into a big pot (or slow cooker), you can add the entire can of chili beans. Then, add almost one entire can of crushed tomatoes. I ended up using close to the entire two cans of tomatoes, but you want to be careful and go slow with adding them, because it can turn from chili to soup very quickly. Remember, you can always add, but it’s impossible to subtract. So start with that, and give it all a good stir to check the consistency.

This is the consistency you’re looking for, although if you like your chili more chunky or more soupy, go for it. Once you get the right consistency, it’s time for the seasoning. There is no exact science here, and you can really experiment with what works best for you. But you’ll want to start with about 2 tablespoons of chili powder, about 5 dashes of Tabasco sauce, and a teaspoon of both cumin and coriander. Top it off with a light sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Give it a good stir and see how it tastes. It will probably be pretty bland, and that’s fine. Again, it’s easier to add flavor, but impossible to take it out once it’s in. So, slow and steady is the key here. After adding the first round of spices, add a little more of each, with the chili powder being the primary ingredient, and add just small amounts of the others. Keep doing this until the taste and amount of heat is right for you.

All you have to do now is let it cook. I put all of this in a slow-cooker and let it cook on “low” for 10 hours. This long and slow cooking process really gives the meat a chance to become very tender, and all of the flavors and spices to come together.

Eating the Chili

And now it’s time to serve and eat!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Leftover Maven: Filipino Pork Adobo

I love leftovers, but my husband won't eat them.

Lucky for me that I have a particular knack for reinventing leftovers, so they are leftovers no more.

Tonight I had some leftover pork roast with linguisa that my mother-in-law made.  I cut the pork into chunks, threw it into a pressure cooker with some chicken broth, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and ginger ... voila!  Filipino pork adobo.  I even mixed in the leftover gravy into the sauce. Delicious!

What did I do with the leftover linguisa? Made fried rice of course.

Leftover Maven Pork Adobo

Leftover pork roast, cut into cubes (you can use uncooked pork too)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice or white vinegar
1 can chicken broth and water enough to cover meat
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 coins ginger (take ginger and cut 2 slices, making "coins")
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper

Add everything in a pot except ketchup and bring to simmer.  Cover and cook until pork is tender.

Remove pork from liquid and pat dry with paper towels.  Bring remaining liquid to a boil and let it reduce by 1/2.  Brush pork lightly with ketchup.

Heat a skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add a little oil.  Pan fry pork until it's browned and a little crispy. The ketchup will help the browning process.

Add pork back to the liquid and serve with white rice.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Carrots in Apple Cider Glaze

My mother-in-law was here and was making her signature roast pork and linguisa for dinner.  Don't you just love relatives who show up and cook?

I was rooting around the fridge to see what I could add as a side.  There were those baby carrots that my daughter Lizzy likes and some leftover apple cider from a football tailgate.  Pork. Carrots. Cider.  Sounded like a good match to me!

I simmered the carrots in water until they were just tender.  In another saute pan, I put a little butter, apple cider, a shot of agave nectar, dried thyme, and salt and pepper and simmered it down until it was a glaze.  Then I mixed the carrots in the glaze.  That's it!

I don't have a recipe, but I wrote approximations below.  The recipe is scaleable. If you cook more carrots, just simmer down more apple cider.

Carrots in Apple Cider Glaze

1 1/2 cups baby carrots
2 tsp. butter
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tbs. agave nectar (or maple syrup or brown sugar)
Pinch of dried thyme
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Fill a small pot with cold water and add carrots.  Bring to a simmer and cook until almost tender, about 8 minutes.  You'll know it's almost tender, when you stick a fork in a carrot and it gives way but doesn't break in 1/2.  Drain.

While the carrots are simmering, add rest of ingredients in a small saute pan and bring to a boil.  Simmer down until it's syrupy but still liquidy enough to coat the carrots.

Add drained carrots to the glaze and mix, cooking the carrots a minute in the glaze over medium heat.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Roast Pork Loin with Linguisa

Trust me.  This roast is so easy and so good.  My mother-in-law learned this dish from her good friend Brian, who grew up in Fall River, MA.  Fall River is well known for its Portuguese population, and of course, Emeril Lagasse.

Linguisa is Portuguese smoked sausage.  Like chorizo and kielbasa, it's packed with flavor.  It takes a bland roast and makes it taste fantastic, with no work.  And the gravy? To die for.

This is a great dinner party dish.  No fuss and you'll still look like a rock star.

Roast Pork Loin with Linguisa

1 pork loin, 3 to 3 1/2 lbs.
1 16 oz. package of linguisa, cut into 3 links of the same size.
Salt and pepper

Flour to make gravy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butterfly pork loin. My mother-in-law does this by making a T-cut.  She make 1 cut 2/3rds through the roast and then make the smaller cuts horizontally on each side.

Put linguisa in the center of the T and roll the pork around it.  Secure with twine or over proof silicone rubber bands.

Salt and pepper the roast.

Put pork on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in the oven until the pork reached 150 degrees, about 1 hour.  Ideally, your roasting pan is the kind that can be put on direct heat over the stove, so you can make gravy afterwards.

Let rest for 15 minutes.  While the pork is resting, make gravy from the drippings.

Take roasting pan and put it over medium heat.  Scrape the drippings from the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle flour and mix it into the drippings to make a paste. You'll sprinkle about the same amount of flour as there are drippings -- you'll just have to eyeball it.  Cook together for a few minutes to cook out any floury taste.  Slowly add water, whisking into the flour paste.  Add the water little by little so your gravy doesn't get lumpy.  Add enough water to make a gravy with the consistency you like.  Salt and pepper to season.  Strain and serve with the pork.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted cauliflower rocks.

Nutty, a little crispy, garlicky and salty, these nuggets of flavor are just as addictive as potato chips.  Except they are good for you.  And they are diet-friendly to anyone avoiding carbs, gluten, and sugar.

Everyone who tries this recipe loves it. 

I make roasted cauliflower in the simplest of ways: slice florets, toss with olive oil and minced garlic, generously salt with kosher salt (don't be shy -- think potato chip salty), and add a little ground pepper.  The spices and flavors you could use are as endless as your imagination, however, as cauliflower is a good foil for just about anything.

I usually cook the cauliflower around 450 degrees for 20 minutes or more, flipping them so they brown on both sides.  You can cook them longer so they get really browned and crispy -- they're really yummy when they're almost charred and cooked until most of the moisture is out of the cauliflower.  The ones pictured here haven't been cooked to that point.  You can cook them at a lower heat and then brown them under the broiler.  You can cook them until they're well-browned, but if they're not tender and you can't stick a fork through them, turn down the heat and let them finish.  This is what I love about cooking vs. baking.

If you've never tried roasted cauliflower, give 'em a whirl.  You'll be pleasantly surprised, particularly if you're not a big fan of cauliflower like myself.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower
A few tbs. olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Separate the head into florets and cut the florets into thinner pieces.  You can cut them as thick or thin as you like -- you'll just have to adjust the cooking time as the thicker they are, the longer they will take to brown and vice versa.

I like to put the cut florets into a big bowl, so I can toss the cauliflower well with olive, garlic, kosher salt, and pepper.  I use my hands to toss the cauliflower, so I know everything is well-coated and the garlic is distributed.  Then I put the cauliflower onto a Silpat-covered baking sheet.  The other way to do it is to to put the cauliflower onto the baking sheet, generously drizzle with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, and garlic, and mix it around directly on the baking sheet. Your choice.

Put the baking sheet into the oven and after 10 minutes, flip the cauliflower over, turning occasionally from there on in.  If after 20 minutes, the cauliflower is browned to your liking, take it out.  If you want to cook the cauliflower longer, go ahead.  They're really yummy when they're browned and almost charred.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pork Carnitas

When I got married a long time ago, I got three, yes count 'em three, crock pots. You would think I would have used them multiple times over the near two decades that I've had them, amassing a formidable repertoire of slow-cook recipes that warmed our bellies and filled our hearts with fond memories.


I can count on one hand the times I have used these crockpots -- mostly to keep something warm during parties.

Since I recently lent a crockpot to a friend to use for a chili cookoff, I had it on the counter after I cleaned it out. Hmm, I thought, should I actually cook something in it?

A query on Facebook revealed that many of my friends were crock pot fans and loved coming home to a cooked meal. Honestly, I didn't get the appeal, being a pressure cooker fan myself.

Would slow win out over fast?

I decided to give pork carnitas in the slow cooker a try. Braised in a diluted orange juice mixture, a fatty piece of pork such as pork shoulder (aka Boston Butt) or country-style ribs is cooked until tender and the sauce cooks down and becomes syrupy. You can then shred the pork or cut it into chunks and fry it up in the rendered oil and sauce, either in a pan or under the broiler. Put the crisped meat in a tortilla with some fixings and you've gone straight to heaven.

In this cooking foray, I learned one crock pot lesson: don't start the crock pot at 4:30 pm if you want to eat at a decent time. At 6 pm, the liquid hadn't even reached a simmer.

I did what any enterprising cook would do. I bailed. Into the pressure cooker went the pork where it finished cooking in 30 minutes.

Pork after it's come out of the braising liquid.  I like it in big chunks like this.  When you pan fry the pork, the chunks will partially shred, giving you a variety of textures.

Braising liquid reducing down until it becomes a sauce that's got body and coats a spoon.  When it's done, the sauce gets poured back over the pork and then used to help crisp it up, either under the broiler or in a sauce pan.

Pork carnitas with all the fixings.  Delicious!

Pork Carnitas al Enrique

3-4 lbs. Boston Butt or country-style pork ribs, cut in big chunks (around 2 inches); do not trim any of the fat
1 cup orange juice or 1 large orange, cut in 1/2 and juiced (keep orange)
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Coke, Pepsi, Sprite or 7-Up
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, cut in 1/2 and cut in thin slices
4 cloves garlic, cut in thin slices
1 guajillo pepper or dried red chili pepper (optional)

Fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Shredded cabbage
Diced tomatoes
Pico de gallo
Salda verde
Sliced avocado

Put pork in a big bowl or baking sheet and sprinkle with soy sauce, chili powder, and salt and pepper.  Mix together.

In a dutch oven, slow cooker, or pressure cooker, add pork mixture, onions, garlic, bay leaves, dried guajillo chili pepper, orange juice (and orange if you used a real one), red wine vinegar, soda, and water to cover.  In the dutch oven, cook at a low simmer until pork is tender -- about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.  In the crock pot, set in the morning and cook on low all day until you get home.  In the pressure cooker, cook for about 45 minutes.

When the pork is tender, remove it from the braising liquid, along with the onions, and set it on a platter.  Reduce liquid in the pan about 75% or until it's a sauce. Remove bay leaves, and if you used a real orange and/or the dried guajillo pepper, remove that from the pot before reducing.

Turn on the broiler.  Pour some of sauce onto the pork.  If cooking under the broiler, put the pork in a cookie sheet and under the broiler, turning occasionally until the meat is browned and crispy on the edges.  Or brown and crisp in a hot sauce pan.

Serve pork on flour or corn tortillas with fixings.


Food for Thought (1)

When you focus on problems, you will have more problems. When you focus on possibilities, you will have more opportunities.  

What are your possibilities today?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This cake is so good that even the non-living want it ...


My colleague Corey gave a wonderful talk at school about the idea of balance as the key to success.  It's a message we all need to hear as we over-engage in some aspect of our lives.  For me, this is work.

Corey counseled that we need a third piece to round off our work and family, a piece that we look forward to, rejuvenates us, and makes us better at work and family.  For him, it's coaching, and during the summers, fishing.

For me, it's cooking and writing about food.

Corey reminded me that in the craziness that has characterized my life in the last five months, I have given up what makes me very happy.  He reminded me that I need to make time for my passion.

So I am back to blogging.

A few days ago, I saw a pumpkin cake at How to: Simplify.  I love the look and feel of this blog, as well as the name.

As the cake baked, it filled the kitchen with the smells of pumpkin and cinnamon -- the smell of fall.

I love the fall, don't you?

The cake was absolutely moist and delicious.  These would be great as cupcakes too.

And the good news about my passion is that nourishes my family and work life, both figuratively and literally.  Pretty good, right?

Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
from How to: Simplify Blog


  • 4 eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar (I used 1 cup sugar)
  • 1 cup canola oil (I used 1/2 cup oil)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 3-4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 baking dish.
  2. Mix the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin with a mixer until light and fluffy.
  3. Pour flour, powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda into another bowl and mix.
  4. Pour flour mixture into pumpkin mixture and mix until incorporated and smooth.
  5. Pour the batter into the baking dish and level out the batter.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before removing from the dish or frosting.
  8. Frost the bars when they have cooled -- To make the frosting: Combine cream cheese and butter in a bowl and mix until smooth. Add the sugar slowly until you reach the desired consistency. Stir in the vanilla.

* Recipe slightly adapted from Paula Deen

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    REWIND: Chocolate Drizzled Caramel Rice Krispy Squares

    It's true ... I disappeared again and haven't posted for awhile. Just as we got through moving -- the cause of my first 3-month hiatus -- work heated up and it's been non-stop. I also had the small problem of not being able to find my blog camera battery charger, so anything I cooked went undocumented. I just bought a new camera -- a Canon Rebel T2i -- and will fire it up shortly, but until then, let's do a rewind of these excellent fall treats my daughter made. If you're motivated, you could make them in cute pumpkin shapes!


    My daughter Christina and I were in the cashier line at the grocery store. You would think a kid would be tempted by the rows of candy and gum, but not Christina. Her hand went straight for a woman's magazine picturing well-designed pumpkins and claiming to have 178 new ideas for Halloween.
    What inspired Christina was not the 178 new ideas that the magazine's editors and writers worked on, but the M&M advertisement section at the end of the magazine. The insert featured recipes using, you got it, M&Ms, and other brand products. She saw this picture of crispy pumpkin treats and wanted to make them.

    We picked up the ingredients -- Rice Krispies cereal, marshmallows, caramel chews, butter, and chocolate -- and Christina went to work.
    She measured out her ingredients and unwrapped dozens of caramel chews. Then she melted the marshmallows, butter, and caramels together and mixed that sticky, gooey mixture with the cereal. She spread the mixture out on a foil-lined jelly roll pan.

    Faced with the choice of making rice crispy squares which could be eaten in minutes and pretty, chocolate-coated and orange-piped pumpkins on sticks, Christina punted.

    She melted one cup of chocolate chips in the microwave, dipped a fork into the melted chocolate, and drizzled the chocolate onto the squares.

    Then she cut off two pieces and went on her way.

    Now that's good thinking!

    For the recipe, click here.