Thursday, January 25, 2018

Three-Alarm Texas-Style Chili


Here's a disclaimer: I am not an authority on Texas-style chili, or any kind of chili, for that matter. The only way in which I might be considered an authority on chili is because I'm from the Southwest and we eat a lot of it there. In Arizona, we have chili as a staple meal in just about every household. The great American chili debate can be summed up with beans vs no beans. It's a highly regional dish that's taken over our country, and I am all for the Arizona-style chili with the beans.

I like pinto beans in my chili, mostly because that's what I've grown up with, but I've seen it done with white beans, kidney beans, and black beans. We do ground beef as our main protein instead of large chunks of chuck. We also tend to do our chili on the spicy, tangy side instead of the sweet-hot side that I've noticed in most Texas-style chilis. (Seriously, though, if someone who has actual knowledge in this endeavor wants to fill me in in the comments section, please do so.) Here's the thing, though... B likes Texas-style chili, and he has certain G.I. issues that keep him from eating certain things, and *gasp* beans are one of them.

RIP me. My funeral will be held this Thursday at 6 pm.
So, of course, when B announced that there was a chili cook-off at his work, I was intrigued. Since he can't do beans, he was going to make a Texas-style chili. When I realized that this meant he was going to be cooking in my kitchen without me in the house while I was gone to have dinner with a friend, I told him to just buy the ingredients for me and that I'd make it myself. He told me that I didn't have to, of course, but I was insistent. Nobody cooks in my kitchen; it's my sacred space.

Three-Alarm Texas-Style Chili
yields enough for 6 people, or, like, 4 really hungry people
  • 1 lb beef chuck, 1/2" cubes
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 1 white onion
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 5 cayenetta chili peppers, dried
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp dark chili powder
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1 small can smoked adobo chilies
  • Scallions & cheddar cheese to serve

Chop the bell peppers and onions into a 1/2" dice and set aside. Grind the garlic, cayenetta peppers, the oregano, and a pinch each of salt and pepper together with mortar and pestle. If you don't have one, chop up the garlic quite fine, pop it into a bowl and mash it together with the other ingredients with the back of a wooden spoon. You can also use a spice grinder to combine this, or a coffee grinder - so long as it creates a sort of chunky paste. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Turn your flame on to high, and grab your favorite dutch oven, or thick-bottomed stew kettle. Chop the bacon into 1/2" chunks and cook. Reduce the flame to a medium heat, and cook until crisp and brown. Drain off the fat and reserve about 2 Tbsp of it. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside. Add in the beef carefully to not splash hot bacon fat everywhere.

Let the meat brown and add in your dry spices. Do not inhale the smoke unless you feel like hacking your face off. Once everything is sort of mixed in together, add the chili-garlic paste you made earlier, the chopped vegetables, and the adobo chilies. Stir well and allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Add in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. 

Once your chili is boiling, turn off the heat, give it a good stir, correct the seasoning, and then put a lid on your pot. Pop your pot in the oven and let bake for about an hour and a half. You're simulating a super-hot campfire while trapping all of that tasty steam on the inside, which will make your beef crazy tender.

After your 90 minutes is up, turn off your oven and evacuate your pot. Open the lid, give it all a good stir, and pop the lid back on for another 10 minutes before serving. You can also let cool completely and serve it the next day(chili always tastes better the next day), but who wants to do that, really? Do yourself a favor, though, and have either water or milk nearby. It's decently hot.

Thanks so much - this blog was my actual first request in a long time. Thank VanessaBiglerArt for that! Happy cooking and happy eating!


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cushaw Pumpkin Soup

I don't even need a filter for this gorgeous-ness
I am not vegan. I just happened to make a lot of vegan recipes because we're quite strictly dairy-free in this house. I feel like I should say that before we go any further, just so no poor, unsuspecting vegan follows my blog or twitter or instagram and then gets freaked out when they see a whole brisket on my feed.

Last summer, I grew my new favorite pumpkin, the noble and wondrous Cushaw pumpkin, to whom all other pumpkins should bow. I mean, come on.



Look at this magnificent thing. Look at the size, the lovely shape. Look at this gorgeous color.

So I had a ton of plans this weekend (some of which I didn't actually get to do) and one of them was to clear out at least a good portion of the #garden. Out of it came this monster. It is by far the biggest pumpkin I have ever grown and I'm kind of dumbstruck at it. It's called the #crookneck #pumpkin, or a #Cushaw pumpkin, and it is excellent for #pie, #soup, and pretty much every other classic pumpkin application you might think of. It's definitely one of the lesser-known varieties, but I don't know why. It's extremely prolific as a plant, and the #fruit itself is really cool-looking. Imagine that I would have had a lot more had the weather not been so weird, and I had not been battling squash beetles the entire season. I managed to get rid of a good portion of them today, so that was good. Anyway. Phew. #homestead #midwestlife #wannabgourmande #cheflife #foodiechats #foodblogger #KansasCity #localvore #gardening #heirloom #bakerseeds
A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on


And just look at the color of the flesh! Let's not forget about the flavor, which is - by the way - out of this world. It's so mild and gentle, like an autumn breeze. If Pumpkin Spice, the flavor, was a person who got up in your face and made you take selfies with them, dragged you out to pumpkin patches and feed you apple cider and made you hold their phone and take a million photos of them playing in the leaves for their Insta, then Cushaw is your actual chill friend that wears flannel because it's warm and plays the guitar for fun, and loves nothing more than to curl up alone at home with a good book while they watch the leaves fall from inside. Pumpkin Spice has her place, but she's so in your face sometimes. Cushaw just wants to have a good time. Pumpkin Spice is Gryffindor, while Cushaw is Hufflepuff. See the difference?



As you can see, I processed it so I could save it. It was too big to use my oven at home, so I used the oven at a wonderful commercial kitchen I know. I roasted it with oil and just a touch of salt at 325 for about an hour and change, until it was fork-tender, almost spreadable, like butter. Once cooled, this made it rather easy to scrape the flesh out of the skin and puree it in a food processor.

Yum.
Cushaw pumpkin's flavor is deliciously mild, and has a fresh and sort of tangy note, almost reminiscent of cheese. It doesn't smell fermented, of course, or especially sweet, but when pureed, it tastes of the most-amazing pumpkin cream cheese you could ever imagine, all smooth and luxurious, like a warm cashmere sweater or socks fresh from the dryer. It honestly tastes to me how velvet feels. That's how much I love cushaw pumpkins, and I didn't even know it.

When the pumpkins were growing in my garden, they were taking over, and growing bigger and bigger every day. I wasn't sure exactly what they were, especially because I hadn't ever seen a pumpkin that size or shape or color before, and was concerned about it. Nearing the end of that summer, I went to a local farmer's market and inquired about it. I showed a picture of the pumpkin to the woman running the squash stall and she sort of laughed.

"Yeah, that's a cushaw," she said. "The farmer's best kept secret."

"'Best kept secret?'" I said, feeling a bit like I'd struck some kind of lottery. I had gotten the Cushaw seeds at a seed exchange that hosts locally, but by the time I had planted them I'd already forgotten what kind they were, only that they were recognisable as pumpkin plants. "I take it they're tasty, then."

Mine was actually quite small as cushaws go, and I'm just a
home gardener! 
"Tasty and prolific," she said. She then went on to explain that the cushaw, in her opinion, had a much better flavor than your typical pie pumpkin did, and was a gem because it was so incredibly versatile. The flavor was sweet and mild, she said, but was gentle enough to be used in both sweet and savory applications. She liked them best because they were extremely prolific, and that it was a shame that nobody sold them. When I asked why, she said simply: "nobody knows."

We ended up talking for a long while about the cushaw pumpkin, and other pumpkins, for that matter, and what would fetch a good price at the market. People do want unusual pumpkins, but seldom for eating and more for decoration. She said that in recent years it'd gone up to 50/50 for decor vs. eating, and that the cushaws weren't a high-dollar pumpkin. Something funny-looking like an Australian Blue would fetch a minimum of $7 at a grocery store, and more at the local farmer's market. The cushaws go won't sell nearly as much, because they're not as visually interesting, and frankly don't look like the American idea of a pumpkin anyway. They often get too big for the regular oven, too, so most don't buy it because they don't want to spend the afternoon processing it.


I asked her how to preserve it best, and she said that I could just let it be. It'll get sweeter as it sits in the pantry anyhow, as the sugars will develop during the steady warmth of your house and produce a much better flavor. It is, she said, better to let a squash sort of 'cure' in the home for a month or two to really ripen up. She even told me that she's harvested cushaws in the fall and kept some until January or February and it was completely fine. That being said, she recommended freezing it, as canning could result in the stuff souring, and there's always the risk of botulism with canning when not done in a professional facility. Simply roasting and pureeing the stuff and saving it in the freezer simply was best. When I asked what she used them for, she simply shrugged and said "anything."

Anything? I thought. Pumpkin butters? Yes. Pies? Yes. Pasta and soup? Yes and yes. This variety is hardy, prolific, and versatile, and that's what made it the best-kept-secret of the Midwestern farmer. I personally think this squash is highly underrated and that we, as a society, need to recognize its superior quality among others. I am having a moment with Cushaw, and I think you should, as well. You can buy the seeds for them right here.

The thing about pumpkin is that it's rather fibrous, and while that's great for a lot of things, it's not 100% the best thing when using it for the kind of applications I'd be using it for, especially in its most raw form, and especially saving it. I passed the pumpkin through a tamis strainer(pronounced like "Tammy"), which looks quite a bit like a tambourine with a very fine wire screen over the drum bit in lieu of goat skin. The tamis is a wonderful tool that a lot of chefs adore, as it's the key to creating fine purees and silky smooth sauces. A chinoix is nice, sure, but you can't pass things through with good pressure like you can with a tamis.

Want a nice and smooth aioli? Tamis. Looking for a silky smooth avocado puree for a splash of color on your toast, perfect for instagram? Tamis. Itching for the smoothest and creamiest mashed potatoes you've ever had in your life? Tamis. I bought mine at the Sur la Table on the Plaza, but you can get yours on Amazon.

Passing the pumpkin puree through the tamis not only smooths it out like crazy, but you catch all of the bits of skin and whatnot that you may not have noticed before. It's an excellent tool and essential, especially, if you're going to be pureeing fruits and vegetables for applications such as baby food. Yes, you can make your own baby food; in fact, people have been doing it for centuries, likely at a much lower cost than buying at the grocery store, and with significant less waste in those glass jars and plastic containers.

I took the puree and froze it in quart-sized freezer Ziploc bags. Out of that one squash, I got about fourteen bags of puree for my freezer, all pretty and orange-yellow, so deliciously tasty. A quart is equivalent to roughly two cans of pumpkin puree, so there you go - ready for making twice as many pies as you normally might make. It really is a winning situation all around; I highly recommend that you make your own pumpkin puree for pies, cakes, muffins, etc. You won't regret it.

On to the soup.

Vegan Cushaw Soup
yields about 3 quarts

  • 1 quart Cushaw puree
  • 1/2 white onion, cut in chunks
  • 3 orange carrots, peeled and cut in coins
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 small cayennetta pepper, crushed(or 1/2 tsp cayenne powder)
  • 2 Tbsp vegan butter substitute(we all know I love Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup almond-coconut milk blend(or soy, if you prefer)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp white miso
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Heat the "butter" in a soup pot to melt, then add the onion, carrot, and garlic along with the crushed dried pepper. I had some dried peppers from my garden, but you can use a pinch of cayenne instead. Sweat it on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper, give it a good stir, and then add the water, milk, and miso paste. Bring to a boil and reduce it to a simmer, then allow to cook for about 15 more minutes, or until the vegetables are quite soft. 

Add in your pumpkin puree. If you're working with fresh, awesome. If you're working with frozen, thaw just a little by sticking your bag under running water, just enough to soften it, which shouldn't take long. If you pop the stuff into the pot while it's par-frozen, it's not the end of the world. The trick is, however, to let it cook quite gently so as not to destroy the mild flavor of the pumpkin and scorch it. 

Once everything is quite smooth and soft, pour your soup mix into the pitcher of a blender and blend for 30 seconds to a full minute, ensuring everything is velvety smooth. Return your pureed soup to the pan, correct the seasoning, and bring up to heat once again, only to about 190 degrees F, stirring constantly to ensure that your soup won't scorch. It's also important to check the consistency of the soup, and if it's a bit too thick to simply add another splash of whichever milk substitute you've been using and gently bring up to heat again.

Serve immediately and garnish with either parsley or some vegan parmesan cheese(I like Follow Your Heart's brand of parmesan). This is also a perfect soup to dip a grilled cheese in. Save whatever leftovers you have in either the fridge or freezer. Oh yes. You can freeze soup in tupperware containers, pop them in the microwave, and BAM instant dinner. See? Meal prepping can be easy. Your freezer is your best friend.

Thanks for reading. Happy cooking and happy eating!


Monday, January 8, 2018

Rustic Country Loaf

If you're a big researcher, like me, check out what Reddit has to say about making bread!
I believe that a simple bread recipe should be in the arsenal of every cook in America, be they home cook, broke student, or professional chef. There's, of course, an art and deep and wonderful science to bread, but this isn't the blog for that.

Bread, in essence, is air. It's far more air than bread; we're eating air that you can make a sandwich out of. A CT scan of bread will show you that it's mostly the skeleton of a gas that's been released during the cooking process, with starches and proteins freezing (or baking) in time with the transformative nature of heat to help it along. It's thanks to bread that we have civilization, and that's not even a hyperbole. Because of fermentation, we found a way to make more food out of less ingredients, and that truly is a magical thing. Here's how to make some magic in your own kitchen.

Simple Country Loaf
yields two small loaves or one big loaf
Adapted from Mother Earth News's Country Loaf recipe
  • 2 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp sugar(honey works, too)
  • 3 Tbsp fat**(we'll get into details down in the recipe)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 c water, body temperature
  • 1 cup liquid levain**

Turn on your oven to 250. Mix your flours, salt, and liquid levain in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook attachment, or just a large bowl if mixing by hand. If using a liquid levain, it is best if it's at least at room temperature before starting. Hmm? Oh, what's a liquid levain? Haha, sorry...

A liquid levain (or poolish, if you prefer) is essentially a sourdough starter. You can start it by mixing equal parts of flour and water and letting hang out for a few days to ferment on its own, or you can start it with a pinch of yeast and sugar, if you're a little desperate. That being said, it should be at least two days old before starting with it. After all, what's a sourdough starter if not a little funky, and funk comes with maturity. A levain should be fed every day with a little bit of water and flour, stirred, and allowed to rest; you can also keep them cool, in the fridge, to let them sleep. They say you can only keep them for a month before they go too dormant, but I've honestly let mine hang out for 2 months in the fridge before and it still comes back to life every time I bring it up to room temperature. Who knows? Since the fermentation comes from wild yeasts, perhaps I caught the kind that's super-resistant to cold? I am, after all, in the midwest. Anyway. A levain is the key to a good, complex bread, and if you're serious about baking breads and other yeasty stuffs, seriously consider starting your own liquid levain. 

And, yes, you too can use your liquid levain/sourdough starter to make delicious misshapen cinnamon rolls!
Once your dry (and not-so-dry) ingredients are hanging out in the bowl, whisk together the yeast with the sugar and water to dissolve. Let it sit near your oven, but not on the stovetop of your oven, just to let it warm up. When I say that the water should be body temperature, I mean that you should stick your fingers in the water and it should feel rather comfortable, maybe just a hair warmer than your body is. I like the cooler temperature for yeasts to ensure it won't be killed, and you'll also get a nicer flavor from a slower rise. You'll also be letting it be in a rather warm place, anyhow, so it'll bubble up nicely anyway, which usually takes five minutes.

While we're waiting, let's talk about fat and its role in bread. It's, in essence, a dough conditioner that will keep it soft and add some flavor. You can use an infused olive oil or coconut oil, but I prefer saturated fats in breads. Why? Because a saturated fat stays solid at room temperature(such as shortening, lard, coconut oil or butter) it has, by nature, a more solid molecular structure, and it ends up improving the end texture of the product, whereas an unsaturated fat(such as a plant oil, like olive oil) would be more for flavor than texture, and they may go drier quicker. And yes, yes, some fats are bad for you - but let's be honest, you need some fat in your diet so your body can process your vitamins. It's just a fact that certain vitamins are only fat-soluble. Besides, we shouldn't fat-shame bread anyway. You wouldn't do it to your friends, so you oughtn't do it to your bread, who is doing their best, by the way. 

When your yeast is bubbly and alive, stir the mixture into the flour using either a wooden spoon or your machine. Begin to knead with the machine or your hands, but for heaven's sake, knead in the bowl by pressing and pulling the dough. Seriously, you can do this, and it'll keep your counter all that much cleaner. About halfway through(2 or 3 minutes in) add in your chosen fat. I chose rendered drippings for my fat, mostly because it's what I had on hand, and also because it's such a great thing to have dripping. Oh, dripping is fat that's leftover from cooking bacon, or perhaps roasting a pork belly in your oven, or even roasting chicken skin for craquelins, all saved in a nice jar either in the fridge or in the pantry. It's a very flavorsome alternative to butter(which can be expensive) and honestly a rather common practice to have on hand anyway. Remember the can of fat that your grandmother had on the counter? Or the coffee cup full of bacon grease your dad kept in the door of the fridge? That's dripping - and you can use it to make bread. 

Once your five minutes are up, transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and let sit for 2 hours. It's at this stage you can clean up, go see a friend for lunch or go to the grocery store, and then come back. No, you shouldn't leave the oven on while you're out of the house, so please do turn it off if you're doing that, but leave the dough on the stove so it'll stay warm.

Oddly, you can pick these up at home improvement warehouses- many of them will sell you
the mis-cuts for a discounted rate, if they have them.
Now that you're back home, turn your oven to 450(not kidding) and put an empty metal pie tin in the bottom of the oven. Shape the loaves as you so desire, but I like the long and simple country loaf shapes for this particular application. I did two different shapes, mostly because I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for. Shape them on a well-dusted counter (or marble slab if you're a privileged jerk like me) of flour and cornmeal to either logs or boules(round loaves) and put on a sheet tray lined with parchment (or a silpat mat, if you have it) and cover with the clean tea towel once again. Let proof on your stovetop in that nice warm space for 45 minutes. 

Time for a nap, loves!
Open up your oven and put your bread onto the middle rack of your oven, and dump 3 or 4 cups of ice into the pie tin in the bottom rack of the oven. This will create steam and give you that wonderfully rustic crust that we associate with baker's bread. Shut that oven door and let cook for 30 - 35 minutes, or until deliciously dark and brown and temps out at 200 degrees. (Yes, bread has a temperature it should be at.)

Evacuate from the oven and immediately pick them up and put them on a cooling rack. This is because you don't want steam to be trapped on the bottom of your bread as it cools, so it's a good idea to let some airflow happen underneath your loaf as it cools. It's likely a safe assumption that you don't like having a soggy bottom, so it's an even safer assumption that your bread won't either - be considerate to your bread. 

I hope this has inspired you. Please don't hesitate to comment on my blog or my instagram on what you'd like to see next. Happy cooking and happy eating!

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Cranberry Nicecream



Last year, we spent the New Year by playing Pathfinder in my friend's basement. This year(or, I guess, last year) we did it at our home and I ran my first-ever campaign! It was just a one-shot, but I got the chance to do some real writing and explore a world I'd been building for the better part of 10 years. It's a wild world full of fun characters.



Anywho, I couldn't host a party without some party foods. I made a dairy-free 'parmesan' dip with crackers, some lovely cassoulet noir(made with black beans instead of white beans), and a delicious homage to a Baked Alaska using my cranberry nicecream. Wait, what is nicecream? Vegan ice cream, of course! Here's how it's done...

Cranberry Nicecream

  • 1 cup vegan coconut milk-based plain yogurt (SO Delicious is my favorite brand)
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp good vanilla extract/vanilla paste
  • 2 tsp vegan gelatin(I love Druid's Grove, certified Kosher/Vegan, excellent 1:1 substitute for animal-based gelatin)

Put your cranberries and yogurt in the pitcher of your blender. I love using fresh cranberries, especially for my Ilvermorny Cranberry Pie, so it's an ingredient that I tend to have around the house during the winter months. You can, of course, use frozen cranberries - but don't thaw them! Put them frozen into the blender; that way, it'll cool faster!

In a medium saucepot, bloom the gelatin in the water for 3 minutes, then pour the sugar on top. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. This will, of course, dissolve the gelatin, but also dissolve the sugar, which is important. 

Pour the hot sugar syrup over the berries into the pitcher of the blender, and blend until completely smooth, about 30 seconds on High in my Vitamix, about 1 minute and 30 seconds for a standard blender, just so long as all of the skin is essentially broken up and pureed.


Process in your ice cream maker according to the factory instructions. Freeze to set in a container. Enjoy with whipped cream and meringue biscuits. Or just by itself! Happy cooking and happy eating!