Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brisket Chili with Ancho Peppers and Butternut Squash

For some reason, I thought we were done with the snow. Yes, I know it's still February, but I just felt like we've all endured what we can this winter. CSA's a starting to quietly be talked about, gorgeous spring flowers are appearing at Whole Foods, and there have been some teaser days in the 50s. Alas, I realize we are in New England and it could possibly snow here in April. But I'm not holding my breath.

My husband and I went to brunch with our good friends the other morning and she said she was making some pulled pork for dinner that night. She popped it into her slow cooker and was done! Braising in the cooking method of choice in these winter months and I was quickly reminded that I haven't contributed enough to the art of braising myself this season.

So this week, I will make up for it. Last night, we started with a brisket chili. When you think chili, you might think tomatoes, beans, sour cream, cheese. But there are a million variations out there and in your own little head. I've never loved beans in chili. I pick around them and they would look up at me sad and lonely at the bottom of the dish when I was finished. But we were just never meant to share the same chili bowl.
On the other hand, chili with brisket, instead of ground meat, is an added twist of texture, comfort and delishousness. The dish braised in the oven for about two hours and then I added the diced squash and simmer it for another hour on the stove top.
To start with, I sauteed some bacon and then brown the seasoned meat in the bacon fat. (Note to self: Start storing bacon fat to have on hand). The meat was seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, cardamon, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and cinnamon. Meanwhile, I purreed some ancho chili that were soaking, with some crushed tomatoes. After the meat was browned, I removed it, sauteed some onions, added two bay leaves, and then added the meat back to the dutch oven. After a quick stir to combine everything, I poured in the tomato/ancho mixture, along with an Otter Creek Porter. Into the oven for two hours.
The kitchen soon smells of the sweet cinnamon and cumin, with a slight nose burn that reminded me of the ancho peppers. Two hours later, I transferred my Le Creuset dish to the stove top, added the diced squash, and let it simmer for another hour or so, until the meat and squash was cooked.
Just before served I added some steamed corn and fresh parsley. Taste before you serve. This needed a good dose of salt to bring out all of the flavors.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Comfort in Cayman

After returning from the sun and heat to the clouds and cold, I have vowed to make some Cayman inspired dishes to help prolong our vacation (at least mentally). Cayman cuisine is seafood: wahoo, turtle, grouper, mahi, local lobster, and of course the trigger fish (we caught that and grilled it for dinner one night). Although probably every menu had rack of lamb and steaks. I never knew where the meat was coming from so I ate seafood each night.

While flipping through some menus that I brought home with me, I saw a vegetarian option that reminded me nothing at all about the islands, but our first night, I wanted comfort. After the long schlep home, with the brief stop in Houston, a lightly grilled fish with a mango sauce wasn't watering my taste buds. So I compromised on the first dish. It was on one of the local menus, but isn't Cayman-esque in nature: Penne with Portabellas, Roasted Tomatoes, and Spinach.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Brief Tribute.

I recently returned from the sun and turquoise water of the Cayman Islands. Sadly the end of the week came with the news of the passing of my Aunt Kathy. She had battled breast cancer and an ensuing brain tumor for close to five years. And finally, she lost her battle.
After spending two days with family in Houston, my husband and I returned home. Our dog recognized us but felt distant, perhaps fearing that we would quickly disappear again. I spent a few hours with her this morning at the park, tromping through the woods. Her floppy ears danced in the air and her dark coat quickly covered with snow.
While drifting through the bare trees and evergreens, tracing the tracks of the previous cross country skiers, my mind drifted to memories of my aunt. Her goofy and tender moments filled my head and while tears quietly filled my eyes, I was smiling. Spending winters with her and her family skiing in Aspen, I remember her apres ski routine. She would prance around the house in her underwear and bra, barefooted and grinny ear to ear reflecting on her day on the slopes.
Even though she spent most of her life in Houston, Texas, she was a Jersey girl at heart. And more than that, she was a South Orange girl. And with that comes the sweet taste of Sloppy Joe's from Town Hall Deli. Whenever my family would visit in Texas, we brought some with us and the gleam in Kathy's eye shined ever more so when she saw the rectangular waxed wrapped sandwiches. And who wouldn't when they looked like this inside:
I think because I have such a small family, to lose someone is all that more painful and emotional for me. I felt guilty getting on the plane in Houston to head back to Boston. Part of me still thinks on our next ski trip out West, she will be there at the house, waiting for us to arrive and welcoming us in.
She will not only never be forgotten, but she will be remembered often in my mind.