chili grind

I went into Walmart after work today, to pick up one or two things – and you know how that usually works out.

I was at the meat case and became unreasonably happy to see this:

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Chili grind meat! Which I normally can’t find at all in Shelbyville, and not only did Walmart have it but it was on sale! I snatched it up. I could have made chili from scratch, but I wimped out and bought a Carroll Shelby’s kit, a can of tomato sauce, two cans of Ro-Tel and a little tub of sour cream for garnish. The chili is simmering even as we speak.

What you see in the photo above is two pounds of meat. As you can see, it’s ground much more coarsely – it doesn’t look like yarn but like rope. It’s intended for use in long-simmering chili recipes. It can survive long cooking and still give you nice-sized little chunks of meat in the finished product.

I first learned to make slow-simmered Texas-style chili, without beans, many years ago by using the Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili Kit and the Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit. At the time, they were competitors – the Wick Fowler product came on a cellophane-wrapped cardboard tray, while the Carroll Shelby product came in a little brown paper bag. Now, they are both made by the same company and they come in identical cardboard boxes. They’re both good. The main difference between them is that the Wick Fowler product comes with the various ingredients broken down into separate little packets, so that you can monkey around with them if you like – a little less of this, a little more of that. The Carroll Shelby kit has all of the seasonings except salt and cayenne in one bag.

Since both kits have the cayenne in a separate packet, you can adjust the heat level to your family’s liking – add it all, or some of it, or leave it out.

Both kits come with a separate little packet of masa flour, to be added near the end of cooking as a thickener and for its wonderful corn flavor. I belive the Carroll Shelby kit has a little more masa than the Wick Fowler kit.

When I first started using the Wick Fowler and Carroll Shelby kits, the main package directions called for either coarse ground beef (like what  you see above) or, lacking that, beef cut into little chunks. They also had, as an afterthought, separate directions for a quick chili recipe using regular ground beef. But those directions were in smaller type and were not as prominent.

Now, the quick ground beef directions are the only directions appearing anywhere on either product. The original, long-cooking directions are nowhere to be found. Even so, they’re still good products, and you can still use them slowly with coarsely ground beef or little chunks. Since I can never find chili-grind beef in Shelbyville, I usually buy stew meat and then cut each big chunk into several smaller ones, using a pair of scissors. So I was delighted to see the genuine article in Walmart today, and hope they’ll keep carrying it, even if it’s not always on sale.

Most big supermarkets now carry both the Wick Fowler and Carroll Shelby products, side-by-side in their boxes, but Walmart, at least today, only had the Carroll Shelby product.

It feels like a wonderful night for a bowl of chili. I’m glad I happened to wander over to the meat case.

You scream, I scream, we all scream for bananas

I had to go to United Grocery Outlet for a couple of things, and they had bananas — labeled as “overripe” — on sale for 29 cents a pound. The ones I bought were actually perfectly ripe, with lots of brown specks and splotches, at the peak of sweetness without having turned mushy. I’d been meaning to make banana ice “cream” again, and this is the perfect opportunity.

If you’ve not tried this yet, it’s a must. It’s basically frozen bananas, pulverized into the creamy texture of soft-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt. There’s no added sugar, no cream or milk or dairy of any kind. The only ingredient is bananas. Of course, you can add fruit or chocolate chips or flavor extracts or anything else.

They now make a gadget, called “Yonanas,” especially for this purpose. One of my friends bought one and raved about it on Facebook, and I passed that recommendation along to another friend without trying it myself. Then I discovered that you can do the same thing just as easily with your food processor, and I felt guilty for having steered my friend wrong. (If she minded, she didn’t let on.) Here’s a web site with all the details: http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2014/07/banana-soft-serve/

The bunch of bananas I bought today will make two batches of soft-serve. If you haven’t tried this yet, do it while the temperature is still fairly warm – although I suspect that, like ice cream, it will be good any time of the year.

He who hesitates….

Why did the chicken cross the road?
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The actual question should be why this chicken didn’t cross the road. When I walked out to my car to go to lunch, about 11:15, he was standing right as you see him here, motionless, as cars swerved around him. For my readers from out of town, we have a Tyson processing plant in Shelbyville, and a number of tractor-trailers filled with chickens drive past the T-G every day. This bird probably escaped from one of those somehow.

Just as I was taking this photo with my smartphone, a man in a pickup truck, no doubt thinking to himself “¡Pollo gratis!”, pulled over. He walked over and grabbed the chicken.

Someone, I suspect, will be eating well tonight.

It was easy being green

I had, in my cupboard, the second half of a two-batch box of instant cheesy mashed potatoes from UGO. As much as I love real mashed potatoes, and as much as I try to cook real food when I can, I actually don’t mind instant mashed potatoes – I think of them as something different, and enjoy them on their own terms. This particular product features a foil pouch of cheese sauce to stir into the potates after you make them.

I had enjoyed the first half of the box a few days ago, but today I got to thinking. I had some leftover fresh baby spinach in the fridge which I needed to do something with. So, here’s what I did. The directions for the potatoes called for 1 1/3 cups of hot water. I put water in a big glass measuring cup and then added the spinach to it. Then I heated the water and spinach in the microwave.

Once the water was hot and the spinach was wilted, I took a stick blender to it and pulverized the spinach. Then, I used that water-and-spinach mixture to make the potatoes using the normal directions. So I have cheesy spinach mashed potatoes. They look a little funny, but they taste great, and make a nice Saturday lunch.

not cucumber sandwiches

When I was a young boy, and company was coming over, Mom would sometimes make what she called Benedictine – a spread of cucumber, cream cheese and grated onion, sometimes left au naturel, sometimes colored with a drop of green food coloring. It was served on white bread in little crustless finger sandwiches.

Then, as now, I detested raw cucumber. But I had to admit the sandwiches were elegant and summery.

Originally, I wanted to make ice cream for the ice cream social tonight at church. But between chili cookoffs, auditions, and the like, I wasn’t able to. I did, however, make sandwiches.

On a whim, I put together a mixture sort of like Mom’s old Benedictine sandwiches but without the cucumber. I served it on pumpernickel bread, and I didn’t bother cutting the crusts off – they looked like gigantic Oreos. When I got to the church tonight and saw how many sandwiches had already been brought, much more attractively laid out on trays, I was afraid that my little square plastic tub of weird-looking sandwiches would go uneaten.

However, all of them were eaten – and I didn’t even take one myself, having sampled one at home earlier. I had several people ask me what was in them.

Here, then, is the recipe. This makes a large quantity – I saved some of the spread and will make sandwiches for lunch tomorrow.

John’s Not-Cucumber Sandwiches

1 medium onion

1 green bell pepper

2 bricks lower-fat cream cheese (sometimes called neufchatel cheese), softened

2 Tbsps. chopped pimento-stuffed olives

2 tsp. celery salt (I’m guessing — did not measure. Try 1 tsp. first and adjust as needed)

Peel onion, stem and core bell pepper, and cut each into large chunks. Place into food processor and chop finely. Add cream cheese, olives and celery salt to bowl of food processor and use food processor on low setting to form a spreadable paste. Transfer to airtight container and chill before spreading.

Serve as a spread on your favorite bread (I used thinly-sliced dark pumpernickel).

hot cha cha

I had to pick up a few groceries today, and I went somewhere I rarely go – Piggly Wiggly – because I wanted to see if they had the same Old Bay Seasoning-flavored sunflower seeds that I bought a week ago at Piggly Wiggly in Gruetli-Laager. They didn’t.

Anyway, in the produce department, they had a little plastic-wrapped foam tray of about 10 habanero peppers for $1. I picked it up – I’m a sucker for hot foods – but then, once I got home, I thought, What am I going to do with 10 habanero peppers?

Then, I remembered that I’d seen a recipe for homemade hot sauce a few weeks ago on the Food Network web site. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – and it called for a different type of pepper in the first place – but I used it as a guide to technique. I sauteed the pepper and some onion, along with a few mustard seeds (my idea), then added water and cooked for about 20 minutes until the peppers were soft and the water nearly gone. The mixture was then pureed in the food processor.

At this point, the recipe called for white vinegar, and I added that, but I also dissolved in some brown sugar, thinking it would be a good counterpoint to the heat.

At that point, you strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Now, it’s supposed to age in the fridge for two weeks. Even before aging, the flavor isn’t bad – a little bit of the habanero fruitiness, but a little sweetness from the brown sugar.

I saved the pulp from the strainer, too; I may add a little to the marinade the next time I make beef jerky.

brown sugar cinnamon ice cream

I don’t normally keep milk around the house, but I bought a quart the other day for a couple of things I was cooking. I still had most of the quart left over, and I was afraid it was going to go bad if I didn’t do something with it.

So I threw together some ice cream tonight in my little Donvier countertop ice cream maker (the one I bought for $1 at the T-G yard sale). I had no cream, but I did have one last egg — something else I needed to use up. I used up some brown sugar, and added a little cinnamon and vanilla. I scalded the milk-and-egg mixture around 6 tonight and then put it into the Donvier a little before 10.

It’s now in the freezer hardening. The Donvier only brings things to soft-serve consistency, so you have to transfer them to a container and put them in the freezer to harden the rest of the way if you want scoopable ice cream. I won’t get to have a serving until tomorrow night. But what I licked off the dasher and the spatula was quite good, for something thrown together from leftovers.

the best wings ever

I think I just had the best buffalo wings I’ve ever eaten – and I made them myself. I’m not taking any credit; I think it was luck.

I used to have a small kettle-style grill, the kind sold as a “table top grill” or some such. It rusted out, and I’d been meaning to replace it. I found a pretty-much-identical grill Saturday at Dollar General Market, for $14. I thought about how to break it in. I looked for a steak that was on sale, but didn’t find one, so I got some chicken wings.

With the weather yesterday, I decided not to try to use the grill last night. But as soon as I got home from church this morning, I fired it up.

I’d never cooked chicken wings on the grill before. I looked up a recipe yesterday, but there are so many variables I wasn’t at all sure I’d know how long to cook them.

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This is an in-progress photo; they were a little more golden by the time I pulled them a few minutes later. As I said, I think I got lucky. These turned out to be sensational. They were so tender and juicy that, after the first bite, I was afraid I’d under-cooked them. But, no, they were cooked all the way through, with no pink whatsoever. And the smoke flavor came through the buffalo wing sauce.

Speaking of buffalo wing sauce …

franks_redhot_original_cayenne_pepperfranks_redhot_hot_wing_newNever use any of those pre-mixed buffalo wing sauces. The best wing sauce is made from melted (real) butter mixed with the original  Frank’s Red Hot sauce or one of its equivalents (Louisiana, Texas Pete, etc.). Use the ratio on the Red Hot sauce label, adjusting the amount of hot sauce up or down to meet your desired heat level.

If something is labeled as “buffalo wing sauce” — some of them have the same brand names as the hot sauce they’re made from — it probably uses artificial butter flavor, some sort of oil, and chemicals to keep the oil and vinegar from separating. The real stuff only has two ingredients, takes about two minutes to make (Melt the butter and whisk together with the hot sauce. Done.), and is two times as good.

A berry happy birthday

Well, I have the day off today for my birthday, and I stopped by to see Dad this morning. We visited for a while, then he said he had to go to Valley Home Farm in Wartrace for some strawberries. I tagged along.

When we got there, the blackboard out front said they were out of picked berries (you can also pick your own, but that hadn’t been the plan). When we went inside, though, the nice young woman at the counter said that some more berries had just come in. Dad asked for two gallons and then asked if I’d like a gallon for my birthday.

I politely declined, of course.

Like heck I did. You think I’m going to turn down a gallon of freshly-picked strawberries on my birthday?

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We asked about Nancy Edwards, and it turns out she was feeling well today. The young woman went and got her and she hugged both Dad and me.

I was out of freezer bags, so on the way home from Dad’s I stopped and got some. As soon as I got home, I started capping and halving the berries and tossing them with Fruit Fresh and a little sugar. I parceled them out into freezer bags, leaving a generous amount in the bottom of the bowl for immediate birthday consumption. They were fantastic, sweet and juicy and just perfect. And I’ve got bags of them in the freezer for future use.

A wonderful birthday treat.

The sun rises in the yeast

I spent a lot of last night baking three loaves of artisan bread for today’s Times-Gazette bake sale to benefit the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. I baked one loaf before Holy Thursday services and then the other two after I got home.

Two of the loaves were bought by co-workers, while my fellow Relay booster Judi Burton – who’s becoming a regular customer – bought the third.

All that baking made me want some bread of my own, so I made up another batch of dough just now. It will sit out for the next two hours, then before I go to bed I’ll snap a lid on it and put it in the fridge, where it will yield three loaves over the next week or so. (For my own use, thankfully, I only need to bake one loaf on a given day.) I use a no-knead recipe; it’s a wet dough designed to keep in the refrigerator until you need it, and the yeasty flavor improves over time. The dough starts to smell like beer after a few days.

The dough is based on the basic recipe from Jeff Herzberg and Zoë François of the “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day” cookbooks, but instead of baking on a baking stone with a pan of water to provide steam, as in their recipe, I now use Kenji Lopez-Alt’s method of baking in a cast iron dutch oven. You pre-heat the dutch oven, including the lid, in a hot oven, so it’s good and hot. and after putting the loaf in you bake it for a while with the lid on, which holds in some steam and gives you the same nice crust as that pan of water would. Then, you take the lid off for the last half of cooking to let it brown.

I use the piece of parchment called for in the Herzberg / François recipe, only I cut it sort of like a sling so that I can use it to lower the ball of dough into the blistering-hot dutch oven. I remove the parchment at the same time I take the lid off the dutch oven, so that the bottom of the loaf can make good contact with the cast iron.

I can bake myself a loaf tomorrow – a good Saturday project – and still have enough dough for two more loaves as I need them next week.