Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The More the Merrier
What’s cooking? Pork Chili with Beans

I’ve long thought of January as a great month for a party. The whole holiday thing is over, and toward the end of the month, people get that glazed look in their eyes that says they’ve watched too much television and are really starting to tire of their family members for conversation. For most of the country, it’s too cold and snowy to go for a nice walk outside, so tempers get short, the kids get on your nerves, and pretty soon you just want to throw something at someone. I remember going to the grocery store just to get out of the house.

For many years, my husband and I gave a soup party in January, inviting more friends that we could really handle, but that didn’t seem to matter to those who showed up. The level of desperation among our guests was clear – even in snow or ice, they came for the party. One year, we actually had some guests who snowshoed over, and another couple who made runs in their SUV to pick up stranded neighbors.

For me, the best thing about the cold was that I could use our garage as an auxiliary refrigerator. The menu for the party contained three soups, and as I finished one soup after another in the days before the party, I just stored them next to the cars.

That m.o. doesn’t work in Austin, where the temperature is more likely to be 70 than it is to be 17. I know, I shouldn’t complain, but the change in climate pretty much obviates the need for a party to bring folks in from the cold.

Nevertheless, the month fairly screams “Soup!” to me, and now it turns out that someone has decided to make it official: January is Soup Month. So let us celebrate with my best recipe for chili.

I especially like this recipe because it has so many ingredients. I love the lively mix of the spices, the extra depth of flavor from the beer and coffee.

Oops -- use only one can of the tomatoes.

I found the original version on, where it had more than 70 reviews, and more than 90% would make it again. Today, the review count is over 100. Over the years, I’ve tweaked it in line with some of the reviewers’ suggestions; a few changes are mine alone. It was always a winner at the soup parties; make it ahead, as it tastes as good – maybe better – the second day.

Kitchen Goddess note: My former neighbor in NJ will tell you that beans DO NOT go into a good chili. Phooey. The KG likes beans, and thinks they are a real plus in this recipe. If you, like my NJ neighbor, are a purist about beans, leave them out.

Pork Chili with Beans

Inspired by a recipe from Gourmet Magazine, January 2000

Yield: Serves 6-8.

½ pound sliced bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable/canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups beef broth
1 cup brewed coffee
12 ounces flavorful beer (I used Negro Modelo)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with purée
2 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Garnishes – more is always better.
Garnishes (a few ideas – use as many or as few as you like):
– toasted salted pumpkin seeds
– grated cheddar cheese
– chopped fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
– diced avocado
– lime wedges
– sour cream
– crumbled bacon
– tortilla chips.

Cook bacon in a large heavy pot over moderate heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Crumble bacon and reserve for topping.

Using paper towels, pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper. Add the vegetable oil to the bacon fat in the pot and heat at medium high until hot but not smoking. Brown the pork in batches (you’ll need 5-6 batches) and, with a slotted spoon, transfer browned pork to a bowl. Kitchen Goddess note: Do not crowd the pork in the oil; if you do, it will simply steam and not brown. The pieces should not touch each other in the bottom of the pot.

Be sure to get the pork nice and brown.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion to the pot. Sauté 5-6 minutes over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until softened. Add garlic, oregano, chili powder, cumin, Aleppo pepper, brown sugar, and cayenne, and continue stirring 1 minute. Return the pork to the pot with any juices that have accumulated on the plate and add broth, coffee, beer, and tomatoes with purée.

Simmer the chili, uncovered, for about 2 hours, until the pork is very tender. Stir occasionally. Remove the pot from heat and let cool slightly. Using paper towels, blot up as much fat as possible from the surface of the chili. Stir in beans and bring to a simmer. Serve with crumbled bacon and other garnishes.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Foodie Faves: My Kitchen Scale

My Soehnle 65055 Digital Kitchen Scale

You’d think that someone who was trained as a mathematician, and is as crazily careful about measurements as I am when dealing with a new and untried recipe would have been using a kitchen scale since the age of 3. But you would be wrong.

I first got into the concept of weighing on one of my forays into the world of Weight Watchers. Yes, folks, I believe the WW people should at this point have a building named after me. Despite my efforts – notice I didn’t say best efforts, which would be a lie, as I’m sure my best efforts would have been more successful – I am still in that category of renewing the pledge to lose weight every January. In any case, my most successful efforts have always involved the kitchen scale.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Defense of Dessert
What’s Cooking? Candied Grapefruit Peel

It’s the season of the diet. But I love desserts. Yes, the Kitchen Goddess has a well-known sweet tooth. You know that moment at the end of a restaurant meal, that point when the waiter shows up, clasps his hands as if in prayer, and says, “Can I interest you in any dessert?” When that happens, and we are out to dinner with another couple or a group, I find increasingly that everyone turns and looks expectantly at me for the answer. What am I, the mom?

No, I think it’s that they rely on me to say, “Maybe we’ll have one [or two, depending on the number of people at the table] to share.” So they all get that  “little something” they like that punctuates the end of the meal and I get the blame for ordering it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Amusing Yourself on a Long Winter’s Day
What’s cooking? Coq au Vin

Brrrr!! Winter has suddenly descended on Austin. Yes, even here in sunny Texas, we get winter, though we are such wusses that we now think temperatures in the 40s are a hardship. It works out pretty well for kitchen geeks, as it’s a great time to make stews and soups and such without the guilt of missing a great afternoon in the outdoors. Also, January is the month for “cedar fever” [read = pollen attack/sinus overload] here, which for me is another great excuse to stay inside.

So while my husband and friends watched the two football games on Sunday, I tested out a recipe. I love having a whole afternoon when I’m just alone in the kitchen to play. I fired up my little kitchen TV, tuned it to “Law & Order SVU,” and started cooking. After watching Elliot and Olivia and the gang faithfully for many years, I got tired of that franchise at some point, so the re-runs from the most recent seasons are actually fresh for me. What a treat.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Finger Food for Football Fans
What’s cooking? Greek Almond Cookies

January is a month of football parties. And even though I grew up in Texas, I’ve never been much of a fan. So I’m often, um, less than punctual to parties where the main idea is to watch football. Which means I’m more often asked to provide dessert than appetizers.

This week, it was the BCS. A contest between a team I know almost nothing about (Notre Dame) and one that as a loyal Vanderbilt fan, I’ve always rooted against (Alabama). I’m not sure Vandy has ever beat the Crimson Tide.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

And Now We Diet...
What’s cooking? New Year’s Vegetable Soup

In many ways, I’m really sad to see the holidays go. I love the decorated trees and the twinkly lights, and the stars everywhere and the twinkly lights, and the ornaments and the tinsel and...did I mention the twinkly lights? It’s all so festive. Which is one reason I leave our front door wreath and the twinkly lights up through January. In New Jersey, it was a habit that saved me from a bad case of the winter blues; but even in Texas, where the weather is considerably more tolerable, January is climate-wise a fairly grim month, so I need those twinkly lights.

But I won’t be sorry to see the end to the gifts of cookies and fudge (really excellent fudge, by the way) and the family dinners (though I dearly love my family) – all of which include dessert – and the munchie-laden parties. I’ve felt almost overwhelmed in the challenge to keep from piling on the pounds. This year, I discovered a way to fight that’s not only pain-free but delicious: vegetable soup.