Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Heloise Moment: Chili Edition

In The South, there are two seasons:  Summer and Christmas.

Three if you count College Football.

Right now, we in Memphis are enjoying wonderfully cool weather.  The AC is off, windows are open, and I have even considered donning a summer sweater.  Shocking, I know.  And, when that little crispy bite permeates the air, I want one thing:  chili.

My Kick ASS Chili

Chili is the ultimate "play around" food because you can create so many different versions.  Not to toot my own horn, but I have been told on more than one occasion that I make the best damned chili folks have ever tasted.  And, I am completely embarrassed to put my recipe for chili on the interweb.  Basically it's opening a bunch of cans and dumping them into a pot.  BUT, thanks to a big sense of play in the kitchen, I do have a couple of tricks to elevate the flavor of canned beans and tomatoes to a level of chili excellence.

* Brown your meat first!  Whatever type of ground meat you are using (turkey, beef, chicken), brown that deliciousness in your chili pot and remove it before you start cooking the rest.  That way all of the flavors will stay in the pan and help season the pot.  And don't forget to give that meat some flavor love, which brings me too...

*Avoid the package seasoning!  Sure grab that bottle of chili powder, but don't shy away from adding additional seasonings.  Cumin, coriander, white pepper, cayenne, and even a pinch of cinnamon can wake up your chili.  Throw in some fresh cilantro at the end for a great bright flavor.

* Play with yo' peppers!  Different peppers add a different quality of heat:  chipotles are smokey, jalapeños are a bright blast, habaneros are...suicidal. You get the idea.  Play around to find which one best suits your palate.

* Season as you go!  Start by sauteing onions, garlic, and peppers with your spices.  Try throwing in some adobo sauce.  Keep adding spice as you add more ingredients.

* De glaze that pan!  You know there is a whole bunch of flavor lingering at the bottom of that pot.  Take advantage of it by adding wine, beer, or even coffee to add depth to your chili.

*Think outside the box.  Try adding black beans, corn, green chiles,  or sun-dried tomatoes. Mix it up!

*Make a ton!  Chili is always better with a crowd.  Invite folks over for the game (or the latest episode of Project Runway) and set up a chili bar with all the fixin's: diced onion, avocado, cilantro, cheese, jalapeños, tortilla chips.  And if no one shows, the stuff freezes like a dream!

Play on, Food Improvisers!

Note:  I love me some vegetarian cooking, but, in my humble opinion, you just need meat for chili.  And for those of you who like that beanless "chili" may as well open up a jar of spaghetti sauce cuz that ain't chili.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Requiem for a Grocery Store

When I was 16, I shot my first commercial.

It was for a St. Louis based grocery store chain called Schnucks.  I know...unfortunate family name, no?  The spot was one of those "how many happy people can we show eating fruit in a minute" type situations.  It was spring time, and they were getting ready for the summer fruit push.

I had stumbled into the gig; a mother of a friend of mine was a food stylist on the shoot and they needed a few fresh faced teens to stage a car wash and laugh and eat peaches.  A lot of peaches.  I think I ate about 27 in an hour, while being squirted with a garden hose in a parking lot on a beautiful (and chilly) spring day.  We tossed peaches to one another, taking a bite and making smiley faces to the camera. 

It took me a while to muster up the strength to eat another peach.  Like Prufrock.  Only younger.

When I moved to Memphis, several years later, I was happy to find the comforting sight of Schnucks just down the street from my home.  Something familiar in a strange town, and the point of inspiration for deliciousness.

Recently, Schnucks was sold. Yesterday, it was a ghost town in there as they attempt to clear their inventory to make way for the new owners. Bare shelves, nothing green, and crazy people stocking up on canned beans and bottled barbecue sauce.  All while Sarah McLachlan was piped in from above singing, "In the arms of the angel..."  It was the culinary version of a humane society commercial.

I left saddened and empty handed.  But mama still needs to eat. 

So, in homage to happy fruit eaters out there, I raided what was in my fridge to come up with a lovely lunch with strawberries, onions, and goat cheese.

Farewell, Schnucks.

I would have dared eat a peach (had there been one in the store).

Perfect for a brunch buffet or a light lunch!
Strawberry and Goat Cheese Flatbread Pizza

Take a little help from your store *shed tear* and use packaged flatbread wraps for your crust.  It's important to allow the bread to cool slightly before putting on your toppings.  This makes for a crispy crust.

1 spinach flatbread wrap
1/2 cup onion, sliced and caramelized
6 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cup spinach leaves
Some Goat Cheese
Some Bleu Chesse (gorgonzola verde is the best)
Balsamic Reduction

Preheat oven to 400.  Lay wrap on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Flip wrap over and smear it around to spread out oil, then flip back over and season with salt.  Bake in oven for about 5 minutes, until it begins to brown.  Flip seasoned side down and allow to cool slightly.

Once cooled, layer spinach leaves, onions, strawberries and cheese and pop back into the oven until cheese melts slightly.  Garnish with basil leaves and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.

To caramelize onions:
In a small sauce pot, heat 2 Tbl butter and 1 Tbl oil over low flame until butter melts.  Add onions and toss to coat.  Season with salt and cook slowly for about 25 minutes, allowing the natural sugars to come out.  I sometimes de glaze the onions with a shot of balsamic just to brighten things up.

Balasmic reduction:
In a small sauce pot, bring 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Reduce until you have about 2 Tbl spoons of syrupy goodness.