Really Good Chili

I have two weeks left of my first semester of grad school! I am feeling the pressure, let me tell you. Papers and projects plus work and work. Aaah. Somehow I will get it all done. Somehow.

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As the cooler weather starts coming on, I always start thinking of soup. And chili. I love chili. I decided to get a bit complicated with it this time and make Lisa Fain’s Seven Chile Chili (by the way, does anyone else get bothered when people interchange chile, chili, and chilly? Chile=pepper, chili=stew, chilly=cold) as featured on the Amateur Gourmet, a blog that I’m increasingly pulling really good recipes from. This chili cooks a long time, but the prep time isn’t so bad, so just find something to do for five hours or so in the meantime. The recipe below is written as I made it – who cares what Texans think because I love beans in my chili – but for the original, see here.

Really Good Chili

adapted from Lisa Fain’s recipe, as posted on Amateur Gourmet

4 dried ancho chiles
2 dried pasilla chiles
2 dried guajillo chiles
4 dried chiles de arbol
4 pieces of bacon
1 pounds chuck roast
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle of beer (I used Goose Island Harvest Ale)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 15-oz can black beans
1 28-oz can diced or whole tomatoes (if whole, you will need to break them down a bit after they’re cooked)
1 28-oz can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons masa harina
Grated cheddar and chopped onions, for serving

Start by toasting the dried chiles. Rip the stems off the top and dump out most of the seeds – I left a few in to add some heat to the chili. Put them in a dry pan and toast them over medium heat for a few minutes, until they’re sort of fragrant. Pour water over the chiles, bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let the chiles soak while you prepare the other ingredients.

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Prepare your meat by removing the gristle from the chuck and then cutting it into 1-inch cubes. In a large pot or dutch oven, fry the bacon until pretty crispy. Remove and place on paper towel, leaving the bacon fat in the pot. Add the chuck and cook in the bacon fat until browned on all sides.

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Remove the beef and place on a separate plate. Add more oil if needed, and cook the onions and garlic until translucent. Then add back the beef plus the beer, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and salt. Crumble in the crispy bacon. Stir for a few more minutes to combine all the flavors, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil.

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Meanwhile, drain the chiles (save the water!) and place in a blender with one cup of the chile water. Blend until you have a smooth paste. Add the paste the the chile.

Turn the heat to low once the chile boils and let simmer uncovered for 5 hours. At this point, you can taste for seasoning and add a little more salt and/or pepper if needed. I also added just a touch more cumin and a smidge of granulated garlic.

In a separate bowl, mix 1/4 cup water with the masa harina (you can also use corn flour or corn meal here, like I did). After 5 hours, pour the masa harina mixture in the pot and stir.

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Simmer for another 30 minutes or so. Top with fresh-grated sharp cheddar cheese and onions.

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Pho Bo – aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Eric and I tend to travel like we eat out – rarely, if ever, duplicating the places we go. When we first moved to Chicago, we instituted The Restaurant Rule: one new restaurant every weekend. While we don’t follow this rule so religiously anymore (I could eat Urban Belly every weekend if Eric would let me), it gives you an idea of our philosophy on travel. That is, there are so many places to visit, we’d like to see them all before doubling back.

But, just as we have started doubling back on some of our favorite restaurants, I imagine it is almost time to start doubling back on our favorite destinations. Almost. And the first place I want to go back to? Vietnam. Between the amazing food and a culture so far from our own, I’ve never been so mesmerized.

These girls started taking pictures of us walking down the street, so we took a few photos in return.

cheap fabric abounds

I tried to take a cooking class while we were there. I thought I registered for a class, but as can be commonplace in Vietnam – or anywhere you don’t speak the language – we had a bit of a miscommunication. I woke up early and took a taxi to class, only to find that the kitchen was closed. Nonetheless, I found a fantastic Vietnamese cookbook when I got home. Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen makes Vietnamese food accessible without dumbing it down or “Westernizing” so it is unrecognizable. I’ve already made a number of dishes from this book, and they’ve all been delicious.

the iconic tiny plastic kid stools at every restaurant

gotta add in the super hot peppers

market

Perhaps one of the most recognized Vietnamese dishes is the classic soup, Pho. It generally comes in two varieties – Pho Bo, with Bo being the word for beef, and Pho Ga – ga = chicken. Pronounced fuh, Pho is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can eat it in between meals, on the street corner, sitting on child-size plastic stools. Anytime, anywhere, this soup is the shit. I was also happy to find out that some of the Pho I’ve had in Chicago tastes very similar to the versions we had on the street in Hanoi – authentic, indeed.

I made my beef stock before I decided I was going to make Pho, so I had to improvise a bit. There really is not much to Pho, so the broth is very important. To make mine a little more authentic, I simmered my stock with star anise and cinnamon and tossed in some fish sauce at the end. If you can, though, definitely make a fresh stock with Pho in mind.

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Pho Bo (aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen, recipe written as I made it

8 cups beef broth or stock
1  1/2-2 pounds dried banh pho noodles (at an Asian market, they’ll be labeled this way; at other markets, they’ll probably be called rice noodles)
1/2 pound flank steak, sliced into thin strips against the grain
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
salt and black pepper

Garlic chives or scallions
Bean sprouts
Thai chiles
Lime wedges

Warm the broth in a large pot. If you are not making the stock yourself, simmer chopped ginger, cinnamon, and star anise in it. Slice your onion and let is soak in cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. In a large pot, boil some water. When it is boiling, turn off the burner and submerge the rice noodles. Let them sit for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are soft. Drain immediately and rinse the noodles in cold water.

Meanwhile, heat some neutral oil in a pan and sear the steak. You want to keep it pretty rare because it will continue to cook in the broth when the soup is served. Prepare all the garnishes – chop the chives, wash the sprouts, thinly slice the Thai chiles – and BE CAREFUL – these guys are hot!

When you’re ready to serve, layer the ingredients in a bowl – rice noodles on the bottom, then the steak, then the onions. Then ladle the broth over the top, and garnish with herbs, bean sprouts, limes, and chiles.

Beef Stock

My mom gave me a dutch oven for my birthday, which is perhaps a little odd considering my birthday is in July and I received the gift in December. Someone was excited, I guess, to get me cooking soup. So with a dutch oven taking up space in my cabinets, and a new artisanal butcher right down the street, the stars were aligning – it was time to try my hand at a beef stock.

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I was really excited to go to The Butcher & Larder for the first time. I knew they sourced whole animals from reputable, sustainable farms – organic, pasture-plentiful, humane farms. I also knew they offered up daily sausages and pâtés in addition to the fresh cuts of meat. It’s no surprise, then, that I walked in looking for beef bones and walked out with a bag full of sausages (and bones, of course).

They took the liberty of roasting the bones, so that was one less step for me. Most recipes recommend roasting the bones first to bring out a deeper flavor in the stock. I started with a basic recipe from Simply Recipes, but added in a few extra ingredients at the last minute. This week – hopefully – I’ll share the soup that I made using the stock.

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Beef Stock
adapted from Simply Recipes

5 pounds beef bones (ask your butcher, and let them know you’re making a stock)
Olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
5 stems fresh thyme
1 large chunk of ginger, chopped roughly
1/2 cup dry red wine
handful of peppercorns
water

If your bones are raw, start by roasting them in a 400° oven for 45 minutes to an hour. You can also roast the veggies, if you prefer – just coat them in olive oil.

Since my bones were already roasted, I started by sauteing my veggies – the carrots, onion, garlic, ginger, and celery. Pour some olive oil in the bottom of a dutch oven, then toss in all the chopped veggies. Saute on medium-high heat until onions are translucent. Pour in the red wine and let it reduce to at least half.

There are endless variations on this – some people add mushrooms, or tomatoes, or tomato paste. Other herbs would be great, or you could toss in discarded veg parts like the stems of kale. You could up the Asian flavor by removing the carrots and celery and adding a dash or two of fish sauce or soy sauce.

When the wine is reduced, add the beef bones, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns to the pot. Fill the pot with water so that all the ingredients are covered. Let simmer on low heat, covered, for 6-8 hours. I let mine sit overnight.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the veggies and bones and discard them. Let the stock cool in the refrigerator. A layer of fat will rise to the top and solidify in the fridge, which makes it easy to remove. Just scoop it off the top and save it for later – you can use it in place of other oils for cooking in the future.

Strain the broth through a fine sieve and/or cheese cloth. From here, you can freeze the stock or keep it in the fridge for about a week or so. I froze half of mine in plastic tupperware.