Pork and Beans and Greens and Beer

DSCN5358Wow.  It’s been a month since I last posted a recipe.  It’s not that I’ve become a slackass or anything – quite the contrary, actually.  I started running this summer, so have shaved some width off my volumps, plus I’ve seen a marvelous uptick in my evening social life – all of which are delightful developments I never expected to see in my 40’s.  I mean, I have been cooking; in fact, I’ve got several recipes in the queue, so to speak, that I still need to write up.  But I’m skipping those and going for the meal that I’m still licking off my lips.  It was a crispy baked and breaded thick cut pork chop sitting atop smooth spiced beer-braised beans and melted spinach which filled my belly with just what I needed after a lunch-free day, a couple bike rides, and a quick run around the block.  Oh, and Clayton’s out of town, so I needed comfort food because: lonely. And considering the near-freezing temperature already descending upon Boston, the warmth steaming off the plate was pretty damn welcome for more reasons than one.

DSCN5342

Pork and Beans and Greens and Beer

1 center cut, 1″ thick, bone-in pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
8 oz fresh spinach leaves
6-8 cloves garlic
1 medium white onion
1 tbs butter
3-4 tbs EVOO
10 oz beer
1 egg
4 tbs flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
sea salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, parsley flakes, crushed red pepper, Chinese 5-spice
freshly grated parmesan cheese

DSCN5343I start by crushing and peeling my garlic cloves, then dicing my onion.  This I set aside for a few minutes.

DSCN5345I then salt and pepper my chop, then first dipping it in flour…

DSCN5346… then coating it with beaten egg…

DSCN5347… and finally pressing breadcrumbs into the meat, coating it thoroughly.

DSCN5348I heat up an oven-safe skillet and melt my butter and EVOO into it until it foams.

DSCN5349Then I sear my chop on every meat-surface I can.  This means front, back, and the exposed fat “seam” along the narrow edge by holding the chop up by the bone (which I frenched, BTW, to make it a better handle) and sear/rolling it in fat until it crisps to a golden brown.  Then I throw the pan into the oven, which is preheated to 325°, for 15 minutes, flipping once to evenly cook through.

DSCN5350Meanwhile, I’ve sauteed my onions and garlic briefly in another glug of EVOO before dumping the can of beans into the pan.

DSCN5351I had intended to use chicken stock, but alas!  I was out.  So I grabbed one of Clayton’s crappy beers, just to add some depth of flavor.

DSCN5352I add a little more than half the can.  It’s foamy.  I let this simmer on high while the pork chop roasts in the oven, and while I clean and trim my spinach.

DSCN5353Oh, right — and I add spices!  Paprika and parsley and lots of black pepper and a few shakes of crushed red pepper and a dash of sea salt and a smattering of 5-spice.  This all thickens up nicely while the beer boils off.

DSCN5354When I have about 3 minutes left, I press and mix all my spinach leaves into the beanpot.  It overflows at first, but…

DSCN5355… they melt beautifully.

DSCN5359At the last moment, I decide to grate some lovely parmesan cheese off a block onto the whole plate.  My beans and greens are the gravy, and my crispy, crunchy, tender, moist, flavorful, and hearty pork chop is the main course.  I tucked into this plate with complete abandon, savoring every unctuous bite. Frankly, I couldn’t eat it all – but I sure as hell tried.

Rosemary Cream and Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

Winter has officially descended upon New England, which means it’s time for soups and stews and chowders, oh my!  There is nothing like filling your soul and stomach with something warm and oozy when it’s windy and wet and cold outside… especially when you know this is merely the early stages of a looooong season of even worse weather before better weather returns to the region.  I had the vague idea that a chowder was necessary for tonight’s repast, and after Tastespotting for a while, I landed on this post of inspiration.  With a few alterations and Lolitaesque additions, I whipped up a silky creamy chicken chowder richly redolent of rosemary and roasted garlic, puffed with potatoes and studded with white beans, served with hot-buttered cheddar croutons and crispy rounds of spicy baked salami.   How does one define an order of magnitude above and beyond super-satisfaction?  If you figure it out — let me know: I’ll rename this post in your honor…

Rosemary Cream & Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

1 (6-8oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 small baking or russet potato
1 medium white onion
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
4″ sprig of fresh rosemary
1 can white beans (these are Great Northern, but Cannellini would work well, too)
EVOO
1 qt chicken broth
2 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs cornstarch
4 slices salami or pepperoni
4 thick slices of fresh baguette
2 tbs melted butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
garlic powder, sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, snipped chives

I start by searing my chicken breast in hot EVOO, salt, and pepper – flipping often to keep from charring, and to cook through thoroughly.  This takes about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I roast my garlic.  Lacking any fancy terracotta equipment, I go the easy route: I separate some cloves – retaining their papery skins – from a healthy head of garlic, I toss them with EVOO, salt, and pepper and layer them in a ceramic ramekin.  They go into a 400º oven for about 2o minutes, until they’re…

… roasted through to squishy soft.  But alas, I get ahead of myself!

After the chicken has seared mostly through, it’s time to add the aromatics.  I’ve chopped my onion, peeled and diced my potatoes, and harvested some rosemary from the bush still thriving on my roof deck.  Oh, and I fish a bay leaf out of the pantry.

I remove the chicken to a holding platter, and throw into the warm oily pan almost everything I just listed above – holding the potatoes back for a step.

After the onions, bay leaf, and rosemary sprigs have heated through, I reintroduce the chicken to the pan — but only after I’ve chopped it into nice bite-sized bits.  It’s OK if there’s a little pink in the fattest nibbles; I’m going to simmer this soup for some time, so everything will cook through to the optimal point of  “falling apart”.

Now it’s time for the potatoes — and the chicken broth.  Into the pan they go, everything is brought to a boil, before reducing the heat to low to induce a constant simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes soften and the is liquid thoroughly laced with the scent of rosemary and the woodiness of bay leaf.

Since I have such a crap-ass kitchen, I often have to jerry-rig my meager equipment to make happen what I need to happen.  To wit: no microwave means creativity is required to melt butter.  No worries!  Using my metal tongs as a bridge and my smallest metal nesting bowl for my vessel, I suspend my butter over my simmering soup, creating a makeshift double-boiler.  A few minutes later, I’ve got the juice I need to lube up my croutons – but for now I set it aside.

Meanwhile, now that my roasted garlic cloves have cooled, I remove the leathery skins and mash their softened and caramelized insides into a nutty pulp.  This I add to the pan.

The rosemary and bay leaf have done their jobs, so I fish ‘em out and give them the 21 gun salute before composting them.  I cut 2oz of cream cheese off an 8oz block, and pull out my heavy cream.

Along with my beans, I add my two creams – returning the heat to a medium boil so the cheese solids will melt and emulsify with the scented, potatoey broth.

After this has simmered for about 10 minutes, I ladle about 1/2 cup of soup from the pan into a bowl containing a small proportion of corn starch.  Using a fork, I whip this into a thick sludge before scraping the whole mess back into the pan.  This – along with crushing some of my potato pieces, as pictured above – will thicken my soup into the chowder I’m hankering.

While this simmers and thickens for the last 10 minutes or so, I prepare my garnishes.  A few errant slices of Spanish salami, and 4 planks of baguette drenched in my melted butter and scattered with sharp cheddar cheese, all layered on a parchment papered cookie sheet, all chucked into a 350º oven.

Although today was sunny and bright, the breeze was still chilling and clumps of snow still clung to low-hanging tree branches and gutter corners.  But there is something supremely comforting about swallowing steaming spoonfuls of warming white chowder when frigid white frost tints the edges of my living room windows — the kind of comforting this bowl of satisfaction ideally encapsulates.  A thick, rich, deep and creamy  soup base; an amazing aura of rosemary and roasted garlic aroma; fork-tender seared chicken chunks and toothsome legumes; cheese-encrusted buttered toast and peppered discs of crispy cured meat — a medley of flavors, a melody of deliciousness; a symphony of self-gratification.  This isn’t the most sophisticated meal I’ve ever made, nor the fanciest – but the thrill and savor each spoonful engendered was of a level usually only the finest restaurants can boast.   Clayton and I tucked into this meal as if it were our last; if it was, it was worth it.

Homemade Hard Tacos with Popcorn Shrimp and Poblano Queso Cream

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now: I LOVE MEXICAN FOOD.  I guess I should specify it as “Mexican-inspired”, since I’ve never been to Mexico and can’t say with authority that any food identified as South of the Border I’ve ever eaten has been particularly authentic — but my homage still remains.  I just can’t get enough of the warm/cool, meaty/vegetable, cheesy/healthy, crunchy/chewy, soul-satisfying stuff that I think of as Mexican – like tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, guacamole, salsa… the list goes on.  Now I am completely aware of the fact that hard tacos like the ones pictured above are in no way authentic, but one shouldn’t trample on Speedy Gonzales just because he’s a caricature, right?   Or let me put it this way: remember the “You think this has nothing to do with you” monologue Meryl so scathingly purrs in The Devil Wears Prada?  Where she points out to the still frumpy Anne Hathaway that the ‘blue’ sweater she wears is actually a distant low-rent cousin of a cerulean gown Oscar De La Renta debuted years earlier, that had been re-imagined and re-designed and re-marketed so often that it barely resembled its lofty parentage?  So – what has this to do with my tacos?  They’re the Casual Corner clearance bin progeny of the haute cuisine belonging to the same country that produced Freida Kahlo, Carlos Fuentes, and Diego Rivera.  But some of my favorite clothes come from the clearance bin, and I betcha a shiny nickel Freida, Carlos, and Diego would dig these fried popcorn shrimp hard tacos with fresh pico, marinated avocado slices, and homemade queso blanco sauce.  And so would Meryl – just ‘cuz she’s classy that way…

Homemade Hard Tacos with Popcorn Shrimp and Poblano Queso Cream

1 medium poblano pepper
1 ripe avocado
2 ripe roma tomatoes
1 small red onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch scallions
1 lime
3/4 lb small Maine shrimp (about 50 count)
2 eggs
Panko breadcrumbs (about 2 cups)
1/2 lb white american cheese
1 tbs butter
1 cup milk (divided)
1 can black beans
1/2 cup cooked, smoked meat (bacon will work, or some BBQ leftovers like I used)
12 small corn tortillas
oil for frying (about 1 quart )
sea salt, cracked black pepper, onion and garlic powder, paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, ground chili, EVOO
sour cream

I didn’t take a set up shot for this meal because, well, I sort of threw it together at random, so I didn’t know exactly what was going into it until I started making it.  But I did buy this poblano pepper — the least spicy variety of hot pepper usually available on the market — with the vague thought of roasting it for some reason.  To do so, I rolled it in some EVOO, dusted it with some some salt and pepper, and threw it into a 400 degree oven (turning it every so often) until all the skin is blackened, more or less.  If I had a gas stove, I’d just burn it directly with the flames, but alas – I ain’t got nothin’ fancy like that.

See?  It took about 12-15 minutes total.  Now I throw it into a paper bag for a few minutes, which will loosen the tough, papery outer skin, and make it easier to remove.

Like so.  Sometimes I have to scrape off the skin with the dull edge of my chef’s knife, but today my fingers did the trick.  I pull the seeds out, chop up this baby, and set it aside to use it later.  (At this point, I had not yet decided where….)

Oh, and I decide to save the oil it cooked in, too — since it’s so redolent of spicy roasted pepper.  I figure I could use it later — like bacon drippings.

Next up – my avocado.  I have several friends who don’t like this blissful, buttery, bastion of vegetal delight.  You know who you are, people — yes, I’m looking at you.  It’s my mission to change their minds, as I did El Claytonioushusbandman, who initially thought of it only in terms of guacamole, which to him looked like baby sh!t.  Since he didn’t like baby sh!t, he didn’t like avocados.  That sort of free-association has always irked me, so I quashed it like the bug up my a$$ it was by adding avocado so regularly, and so prominently, to so many dinners that he finally had to try it.  Now, he LOVES it.  I aim to convert my other friends, too, so BE. WARE.  Anyway, instead of making a guac today, I merely sliced this perfect specimen of gradated greenness and marinated it in some very fine EVOO, sea salt, black pepper, mined red onion, and leaves of cilantro.  My thought was that I’d add a slice, instead of a dollop, of avo to each taco.

By the way, I got those minced onions and cilantro leaves from the batch of veggies I prepped: they, along with my diced scallion, diced salted and peppered tomatos, and a rolled-till-softer-and-juicier lime would be the rest of the fresh on my plate.

Black beans are my favorite, even though it took a while for me to get back into the bean swing of things.  My grandmother, rest her soul, lived with us while I was growing up, and she made pinto beans ALL THE TIME.  Like, daily.  I kid you not. After eating them dutifully as a child and tween and teenager, I began to fear that that if you peeled back my skin, you’d see mashed brown, sofrito flavored beanstuff instead of human tissue, so I patently rejected them for years and years after I started cooking for myself, in an effort to purge them from my being. Clayton loved beans, so – as it should be in a good marriage – he did for me and beans what I did for him and avocados: he made me try them again.  Of course, I had to cook them myself, but his incessant request for a nice rice and bean dish guilted me into making them for us one night, which I did with black beans and absolutely no sofrito whatsoever.  Since then, I’ve found I do like beans if I prepare them with the flavors I like, which, in this case, means MEAT.  This sexy nub of smoked pork belly hails from Chef Tiffany Faison’s new Boston joint Sweet Cheeks Q, a rocking new BBQ  dive in the Fenway area.  I went several weeks ago with some fantastic friends (you know who you are, you crazy kids!), and after stuffing as much deliciousness into my gullet as possible, I froze the leftover meat for just this reason.  I fished out the bag when I knew I was making beans, defrosted this tidbit in warm water in my sick (it was fully cooked, and I was going to cook it again, so I wasn’t worried about this usually unsafe shortcut), and brought it into play.

And here comes that leftover poblano roasting oil — it served as a flavored EVOO which, along with chunks of the pork belly and some of my chopped onions and scallions, formed the base of this dish.  Once the onions are softened and the fat fragrant…

… in went the beans and about a half bottle of my beer.  I set this on medium, and let it simmer and reduce for about 10-15 minutes.

The special ingredient for this meal are these super-sweet, perfectly pink, quiveringly fresh tender Maine shrimp.  I fear the season for these baby beauties is already over (and it’s so short — only about a month!), but I’m happy to say I’ve enjoyed them a’plenty this year.  I’ve made garlic scampi, shrimp waldorf salad, shrimp chowder, seafood alfredo… well, several things with ma petite crevette since they appeared at Whole Foods’ fish counter, and I am happy.  But I’ve never fried them before, so this would be something new.  I had to peel them first, which was easy peasy – their little heads fall right off, and you can coax their naked bodies out of their shells with barely a come-hither.

In a medium bowl, I whisked together my eggs, half my milk, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and paprika.

Using the same dry spices as the egg batter, I made some seasoned Panko breadcrumbs, too.

At this point, 1/2 of the liquid in my beans has evaporated, so I add about 1/2 cup short grain rice to the pot, stir once well, then cover so the rice can plump in the beery beany juice.

Right before I fry up my shrimp, I make my taco shells.  I’ve found that the coarser, thicker, and subsequently cheaper small corn tortillas work better than some of the more expensive varieties, and that – unlike previous posts – a deep fry pan isn’t really needed.  Instead, I added an inch or so of oil to my deep wok, and heated it until superhot.  Using tongs and a large flat metal fork, I dipped half each tortilla into the oil, holding it submerged with the fork, then folded the other half into the sizzle quickly catching the already fried half in the clutch the the tongs to finish the shell off.  Each only took about a minute or so.

… yielding me 6 taco shells, which I held on a paper plate and sprinkled liberally with salt.  I cut the other six tortillas into 8ths, and fried them into chips.

My tiny tiny shrimp are marinated for a few minutes in the egg wash, and then tossed with the breadcrumbs before I shake off all the excess breading through a colander onto a paper plate.
After all my shells are fried. I cook my shrimp in batches (about 1/3 at a time, so the oil doesn’t bubble over) — it takes about 5 minutes per batch.
And what, pray tell, ever happened to that roasted poblano pepper? Well, it became the star ingredient in my queso blanco sauce – my absolute favorite guilty pleasure.  Down in Georgia, there was no shortage of Mexican(ish) restaurants that all featured this white cheese dip I could drain out of a straight gallon with a straw.  And I can’t find it ANYWHERE here.  The closest thing is Bukowski’s White Trash Cheese Dip, but even that’s not quite right.  I finally broke down and recreated it for myself, finally succeeding in making it once I realized that simpler was better.  It doesn’t need Monterey Jack cheese, or cheddar, or anything fancy pants – it just needs, at its most basic, white american cheese and milk.  Before I figured this out, you would never have found american cheese in my fridge, mostly because it’s not really cheese but rather a processed amalgamation of ingredients a cook like I usually eschew, but one can’t be a snob all the time.  Besides, I’ve already thrown authenticity out the window, so why not add a little processed deliciousness if it works on the plate?  Here’s how it’s done: melt butter in pan, add some milk, whisk until incorporated and milk starts to boil, add shredded cheese, whisk until blended and smooth, and either add more milk if too thick, or more cheese if too thin.  When the texture is just right, I add my diced green chiles, and try not to break out my suck-up-all-that-cheese straw…

A slice of buttery marinated avocado. A handful of hot, crispy, tender, sweet fried popcorn shrimp. A smattering of snappy tomatoes and fresh herbs.  A healthy drizzle of fragrant and milky cheese sauce.  All layered into a crispy taco shell and served alongside a nest of meaty black beans and rice.  It might not be really Mexican, but that doesn’t stop me from facing southwesterly and making a little bow – because these are delicious!  There is very little heat (you can add some jalapenos to make that happen), but the flavors come together as a perfect synthesis of crunchy and tender and chilled and warm, with the cheese acting as the glue holding the whole mouthful together.  The tacos are light and refreshing, and the beans and rice add substance and just the right amount of stick-to-your-ribness.  ¡Gracias, amigos!  This meal was muy delicioso!

Chickenhawk’s Chicken and Beans: An Homage to a Looney Tunes Merry Melody


Anyone who knows me is aware of my aversion to the real world.  I know I live in it, and I’m aware of what happens in it — all too well, I feel sure, given my life experiences, which have not always been rosy — but I prefer to persevere ignorant of the minutia of daily suffering.  Lolita is hardwired to sink into the clinical blues, and often thinks speeding busses and steep cliffside drops look appealing when said blues have taken a hold of her heart — but she’s learned how to cope.  How, you ask, does one cope with depression?  Why – through Cartoon Network, of course!   (And drugs.  Copious amounts of drugs.  And therapy.  Lots and lots of therapy.)  I started watching cartoons instead of the news 15 years ago, and the noble Claytonious has followed suit: both of us are perpetually happier than we ever had been before “Pokemon” and “Teen Titans” took the place of Katie Couric and CNN.  From great cartoons come great inspirations – and the new Looney Tunes show on Cartoon Network has been a treasure trove of food-related delight!  From Speedy Gonzalez’s “Queso Bandido” to Elmer Fudd’s “Grilled Cheese” — this new show showcases cartoon food and merry melodies in side-splitting videos I’ve now started seeking out. Tonight’s inspiration has this little guy to thank:


You remember Chickenhawk, dontcha?  This diminutive bruiser has an unrelenting hankering for Foghorn Leghorn’s succulent chicken flesh, and Barnyard Dog serves as his back-up singer in a video I fear I can’t post, lest Ted Turner hunt me down for copyright infringement.  The song is, of course, all about eatin’ chicken:

Barnyard Dog (falsetto singsong): Chickenhawk’s getting hungry; Chickenhawk’s getting hungry!

Chickenhawk (in rap:): I want some chicken… to eat.  It is my favorite meat.  I like it crispy, or glazed, it puts me in a daze.  I like it fried up, or baked; for my birthday I eat CHICKEN CAKE!

Barnyard Dog (falsetto singsong): Chickenhawk’s not a chicken.  He’s just a hawk, that eats chicken.

And that, dear readers, is just the beginning!  Foghorn Leghorn tries to convince CH to try other things: something from the Chinese restaurant down the street, or a fish taco, or honey buns, or a hot dog, or pork(y Pig), and finally…

Foghorn Leghorn (in kuntry rap):… Try my grandma’s baked beans… they’ve got 10 grams of protein!  They’re duly sweet and piping hot, you’ll want to eat the whole dang pot!

Barnyard Dog (falsetto singing): Chickenhawk’s going to eat them beans; Chickenhawk is enjoying them beans.

Chickenhawk (with hearts in his eyes for the beans): You know what would go good with them beans….?  CHICKEN.

And there you have it: chicken and beans. Barnyard Dog’s final words in the song clearly describe their relationship: “Beans and chicken, what a heavenly combo.” That cartoon, and Little Red, was all I needed to craft a scrumdillyicious dinner of spatchcock chicken and quick baked beans — all in less than an hour, for less than $15.  I’m sorry Foghorn Leghorn – but you were DELICIOUS.

Chickenhawk’s Chicken and Quick Baked Beans

1 4lb whole roasting chicken
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 green pepper
1 small white onion
1 can cannellini beans
1 bottle Guinness
2 tbs concentrated tomato paste (I used San Marzano)
4 tbs brown sugar
paprika, ground cumin, chinese five-spice, sea salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, EVOO
salad greens
goat cheese
white balsamic vinegar


Whole Foods had some perfectly plump Foghorn Leghorns on sale, and I grabbed a nice 4 pounder for our dinner.  I rinsed and patted it dry before breaking out my kitchen shears.


Starting with my chicken breast side down, tail up…


… I start cutting out the backbone, just to the right of the tail (which I want to keep — it’s one of the best tasting parts!), snipping through both the rib-bones and the flesh and skin, until…


…. I’ve cut all the way up to the neck cavity.  Starting now from there, I cut down the other side of the backbone, until I reach the tail (in which there is no bone, just cartilage and sweet sweet meat), which I cut around in order to leave it attached to the body, so I can remove the entire spinal cord.


A raw, naked, flayed, and splayed spatchcocked chicken looks like an Alien face-hugger to me; I assume Geiger thought of that, the cheeky devil.


I flip my bird face side up, and then I use my fingers to separate the skin from the flesh of the breasts, thighs, and legs.  Yes, yes – I am manhandling and mauling this poor bird mercilessly, violating it in every conceivable way — like an evil proctologist with wandering fingers and a vigorous imagination.  But since I’m a cook, and this is a dead chicken – it’s all good.


Figuring that Chickenhawk would probably like his Foghorn Leghorn  flavored with simple farm herbs, I visited ye ol’ rosemary bush and snipped off a few healthy sprigs.


I push rosemary leaves into the pockets I made between the skin and flesh, then I sprinkle paprika, cumin, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and brush some olive oil over the whole plump and perky bird.


My next step is to prep my beans.  I’m trying something new tonight on Little Red; baking beans in a pan right on the grill surface.  I did this the other night with little potatoes, which yielded these perfect little tots of crispy-outside, creamy-inside spuds. Seeing that a cake-pan got so hot, I thought my heavy saucepan might work, too.  I started by grabbing a bottle of Guinness (left over from the other, other night), and dicing 1/2 a green pepper and a small onion.


Since I want to do most of this outside (it is a perfect night), and I don’t want to carry a ton of crap or have to go back in and out, after I drain all the liquid out of my can of beans, I add 1/2 – 1 tsp. of each of my dry spices and 2 tbs tomato paste to the can and bring that out to the deck.  These are approximations, BTW — Lolita is a bit like the Swedish Chef.  My cutting board with diced veg, my can of beans and flavor, and my bottle of beer all head out to the deck with me.


My pan has been sitting over the hot coils for about 15 minutes so far.


This was my first test: I added a few glugs of EVOO, and was thrilled to see it immediately slick and shimmer — my pan was *HOT*.  Yay!


The green pepper and onion went in first, and I enjoyed the gratifying sizzling sound they made when they hit the oil.  I stirred them around, then closed the lid on Little Red for a few moments so that the veg could soften in the heat.


Next, I added the contents of my bean can, and gave that a good stir to mix all the ingredients together.


Then I add about 1/2 of my bottle of beer – just enough to cover everything in delicious brown foam.  This gets a good stir, too.


Finally, Foghorn Leghorn gets nestled, face up, on the hot grate, straddling my bean pan.  Everything is going to cook for a total of 40 minutes, right together.


I close up Little Red, so that he can do his magic.  The slowly setting sun warms his forehead, and Cambridge’s rooftops glow in the background.


I love it up here.


After 25 minutes, my beans have started to thicken and reduce.  I stir the contents of the pan around a few times, smooshing about 1/4 of the beans as I do so, to thicken the sauce.


Then I flip my now-bottom-browned bird onto his breast. I shut the lid and walk away to enjoy the evening for another 15 minutes.


I had 1/2 a package of salad greens, and 1/2 a log of goat cheese in the fridge – this, with EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper became my super-simple salad.  The beans and chicken should be hot and spiced, so would was the perfect creamy cold compliment for those dishes.  Chickenhawk wouldn’t mind.


Oh, and for the last 5 minutes, I chucked a couple of sourdough rolls into Little Red to heat through.  Some bread and butter is always welcome at the table.


My chicken is perfectly cooked through, with clear running juices when pierced with a fork.  My beans are thick and rich; when I drag my spoon through them, it takes a few sumptuous seconds for the sliver bottom to be swallowed out of sight by the deep red stew.


Now that is one beautiful bird!  Feather-white Foghorn Leghorn never had a six-pack when kuntry-stuttering around the farmyard, but after his workout with Little Red he’s cut like Chippendale model, and as tan as George Hamilton.


Dear Chickenhawk,

      Thank you so much for your excellent recommendation inre Lolita’s plat du jour. Your assessment of the symbiotic relationship between chicken and beans was prescient; as they collaborated to nourish me in between my masticating jaws, they accomplished more than I could have asked for.  Mr. Leghorn’s muscular flavor and crispy skin worked perfectly with the sweetly spicy scoop of beans that formed his support staff, and the snappy creamy salad was an excellent aide de camp.  We would be happy to welcome you to our conference or dinner table any time, and do hope that you will continue to inspire people by hunting chickens and singing rap songs well into the future.

Sincerely,

Lolita (and Clayton)

Chickenhawk’s Chicken and Beans: An Homage to a Looney Tunes Merry Melody

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Saturday Night Soup

It’s COLD outside, and there’s another snowstorm looming.  I don’t freak out every time it snows like so many of my neighbors do; I mean, really, there are 5 grocery stores within walking distance of my pad.  And this is BOSTON – it snows here *every* winter.  People panic – I just do my thang.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t like me some heartwarming soup on a day like today, and a jar of my husband’s mother’s black-eyed peas called out my name from the depths of my pantry.  I’d picked up some collard greens at the local Johnny’s Foodmaster, and a pack of sweet Italian sausage.  A box of chicken stock, and some other basics, and I had me some super-easy, super-satisfying, super-yummy-in-the-tummy soup for dinner.

Super-easy Sausage, Collard and Black Eyed Pea Weeknight Soup

1 lb sweet Italian sausage (links cut from their casings, or bulk)
1 lb collard greens
1 qt black eyed peas
1 qt chicken stock
1 lemon
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup EVOO
sea salt, black pepper

… and that’s it.  Really. I said it was super-easy…


Here are my basics: the collards, the peas, and the stock.  But first…

… I split these 6 sausages out of their casings…


… and I crush them up in my hot wok, browning all the delicious bits through, so they’ll release all their inner oily goodness into the pan.  Sizzle and simmer on medium low for 5-8 minutes, until most of the pink is all gone…

…and all the meat has been kissed with crusty brown caramelization.


The collard greens were sinewy and leafy – just like they should be.  I washed ‘em…


… removed their stems (to the worm bin), rolled ‘em into cigars, and cut them into 1″ thick ribbons.  A few cross-cuts later, and I had nice wide chopped leafage.

 


I dump my greens into my wok over my pork, and I give everything a good toss or two.

See?


Then I douse the whole pot with my chicken stock, stirring well to mix and cover.


I lower the heat to medium, cover my pan, and let everything simmer for about 10 minutes.


See how my greens have melted and my broth has broken up my sausage?  Already the soup smells and tastes delicious, but I’m not done yet.

My mother-in-law’s black eyed peas are some of my favorite legumes; they taste like green peanuts, and their texture is firm and smooth, like starched butter.  I add all the contents of one large jar to my pan and mix well with my greens, sausage, and broth.  I cover, and walk away for another 10 minutes at least, set to simmer on medium low.

Meanwhile, I whip together a quick cilantro oil as garnish by first washing then blanching a bunch of cilantro leaves.  I should have removed more of the stem than you see here — there was a wee bit of stemmy string to my finished product I could have avoided.  Anyway, a few moments dunked into salted boiling water, then drained, then whirred in a blender and whisked with EVOO and sea salt — this greener than collard green snappy peppery herb turns into a fragrant flavor to squirt across my soup.

In the last few moments, I squeeze the juice and scrape the zest from half a lemon into my soup, then – using the flat of my wooden spoon – I systematically crush and blend at least half my peas into a thick sauce.  I add a dash of sea salt and a dash of cracked black pepper, just ’til a smuggled spoonful tastes right.  Another 5 minutes of simmering, and I remove from the heat and let sit for a moment before spooning up.


Served with slightly garlicky pumpernickel toast, my mound of greens and beans and spiced sausage sits in the middle of a moat of savory smooth broth.  A squirt of warm cilantro oil adds brightness and zest, picking up the complimentary citrus in the broth, but the flavor is warm and filling and savory homestyle.  Clayton and I dig in to fortify ourselves for the weather to come.  Dinners like this — they make winter something sweet to be enjoyed from indoors by keeping the cold away, and warming one to their very Bones.

 

Black-Eyed Peas

Snow Day Pot o’ Chili

SNOW DAY!!!  SNOW DAY!!! SNOW DAY!!!  Boston’s Blizzard of 2011 slammed us hard, and we got to enjoy a bona-fide free day off because of the state of emergency.  Yay!  Sorry to all you folks without power – but we were toasty and warm within our little garret in Cambridge.  After snuggling inWe trudged our way through the 16″ the 1/4 mile to Whole Foods, very apologetically purchased our ingredients (since, because of people like us enjoying the luxury of NOT working in the service industry (anymore), people like our butchers and cheesemongers and cashiers and baggers were working), and enjoyed every minute of it. Thirty years ago I would have been building igloos; today, I built me some dinner.  Clayton’s had some hankering for chili, which was all I needed to know to get started.

SNOW DAY POT O’ CHILI

1/2 lb ground lamb
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb (1) boneless beef shortrib
EVOO
1/4 cup ketchup
1 carrot
3 medium onions
1 head garlic
cumin seeds
paprika
sea salt and black pepper
chili powder
1 can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1 bottle beer
1 can kidney beans
1/4 cup heavy cream
scallions
sour cream
cheddar cheese
cilantro oil (for garnish)

I like my chilis meaty – and textured.  Sometimes just ground beef can be pebbly, and – just like a good meatloaf or meatballs – a blend of red meats makes the best flavor.  So I gots me 1/2 pound each of ground lamb and veal, and – to add a steak-like chew to the stew – one lovely boneless beef shortrib.  I start with that…

This perfect cut of super-amped flavorful beef has lots of connective tissues which need to be braised away.  I start by dusting each flat with flour, salt, and pepper.

I then drop it into my hot wok (this is a one-pot meal, BTW) onto a sizzling tablespoon of EVOO…

… and I sear each side until nicely golden browned.

Meanwhile, I peel my onions and garlic, then chop them and my carrot very roughly.

Setting my pan-peared steak aside for a sec, I throw my veg into the remaining hot oil in the wok and stir well, softening everything slightly over medium high heat.

I add all my spices: about 1 tablespoon black pepper, and 1/2 tbs each chili powder, cumin seeds, paprika, and sea salt.  Mix well; sauté until the onions are just translucent, stirring regularly.

Pushing all my veg and spice to the side, I drop each ball of ground meat onto the hot surface of the pan, and I poke away at them with the flat of my wooden spatula to break up the rare wads.

After my meats have browned a bit, I nestle my shortrib (and any accumulated juices) into the pan.


I don’t really use tomato puree all that much; I find that ketchup actually works pretty well in its place, especially for an application like this.  The added vinegar and lemon juice impart a zip to the final sauce, while maintaining its tomatoey thickrichness.

Chili needs two things: tomatoes (San Marzano are my favorite) and beans. Oh, for those of you who can actually stomach chilies in your chili, this is where you’d add some of them.  Back in the day (before my guts mutinied,  and I quit being able to eat the heat), I’d add some home roasted jalapeños right about the same time as the tomato, so the flavors could co-mingle unmitigatedly.

My tomatoes.  I dump the contents of the can over my meaty meat goodness, and stir well.

Then I dump a bottle of Sam Adams Boston Lager (chili hearts beer) in, too.

Then I cover my pan, set the heat to low, and walk away for an hour.  The whole snow-covered house fills with the simmering scent of tomato meat stew.

After said hour, my shortrib is easily enough split with the edge of my spatula.

Time to add my beans.  I just dump the whole can, and all its juices, into the chili, and stir well.  Finally, I pour  in 1/4 cup of heavy cream and mix it thoroughly with the stew.  Milk does marvelous things to ground beef, sweetening and softening it, as well as balancing out the acidic tang of my tomatoes. I cover this and walk away for ANOTHER hour.

I’ve toasted off some wedges of baguette slathered in garlic butter.  I’ve shredded some 2 yr old Australian cheddar.  I’ve chopped up several scallions, and I’ve got some sour cream and homemade cilantro oil.  Several healthy scoopfuls of warm, three-meat and kidney bean chili does wonders to defrost the chill inside, due to the waist-high snowdrifts piling up outside.  Topped with cream, cheese, cilantro and scallions, this big bowl of beautiful makes this blizzard no big deal.

Homemade Beef Chili

Great Green Chile Chicken Chili

I never thought I’d say it – but Savenor’s and Whole Foods are beginning to, ahem, bore me.  Or maybe I’m truly stifled in my choices and budget within their high-browed price range.  Or maybe I lack imagination.  Or maybe I’ve worked my way through their most appealing items and am waiting for something truly inspiring and different to propel me in another direction.  Or maybe I need to work on my eat-out budget, so I can sample what the chefs in my fine city have to offer, and take from them the inspiration I need in order to create something new for ourselves.

Whatever the case, today I just headed to Harvest, the sometimes-skeevey-but-getting-better-lately local co-op to which we do not belong, but at which we shop in the winter, since it’s right off the T-stop in Central Square.  They have the basics, and usually, surprisingly, great fresh tuna steaks.  But I digress, because today I didn’t opt for the chicken of the sea, I just opted for chicken.  I had a vague idea of something warm, and something bean-y, and something creamy, and something tangy.  Maybe it was the day’s intermittently darkening and gleaming skies, or my brisk walk back to the office after lunch with a big-drop rain shower pelting me annoyingly [but ineffectually] from above.  Or maybe it’s because the only protein that beckoned me was the gentle clucking of some florid chicken thighs, and a single pink breast packed solo under its cellophane.  I grabbed those, and a can of small white beans, a can of chopped green chiles, a can of whole tomatillos, a tub of sour cream, a hunk of Monterey jack cheese, some Tostito’s (‘cuz, let’s admit it, their uber-lightness and fine sprinkling of powdered salt are just the perfect compliment to a light chili), and some other stuff, and headed home.

I crush several cloves of garlic and chop them roughly, along with a medium red onion.

I add my aromatics to some hot EVOO sizzling over a medium high wok, then add some paprika, chili powder, ground cumin, cumin seeds, sea salt, black pepper [and - if you can handle heat, which I am cursed to be unable to enjoy, some cayenne and tabasco/sriracha sauce].  Stir well, until the onion and garlic are soft and have begun to transluce.

I’ve trimmed my thighs and breast of sinew (like the white veins which run up the tenderloins), and have sliced them 1/2″ thick across the grain into large mouthfuls, and have now tossed them with my sizzling onions and garlic.  I stir well, making sure all the surfaces of my chicken get a nice white sear.

While my chicken cooks and my veggies sweeten, I pop open my can of tomatillos.  I’m not going to use the juice – just the fruits.

I spear about 8 of my 12 fruits, drop them into my pan, and then squish the bejeezus out of them.  All their lovely seedy guts spring out, and I mix them, and their gelatinous juices, all into my chickengarliconionlovepot.

I do the same with my mild chopped green chiles.  There’s a TON of tang going on here now: the acidity of the green gooseberries, the sharp, earthy goodness of the green chiles, and the pungent sweetness of the red onion.  I know my chicken will toughen , unless I let it slowly cook long enough, and on low enough, so that the chemistry between sinew and acid could work its natural way to tender deliciousness.

The last addition are my beans; this time I chose small white navy beans – just ‘cuz.  Yes, I used canned beans (this is a weeknight dinner on the cheap), and I used the broth in the can, too, which thickens my sauce and tempers the sharpness of the tomatillo/chile base.  Another15 minutes, uncovered, on medium low, stirring frequently, will just about do it.

I thin some sour cream with 1/2 & 1/2, which I inject into my spooned-up bowl of tangychickenbeantomatosoup broth, which I’ve layered with chunks of tender chicken and heapfuls of toothsome beans, which I’ve topped with shredded Monterey jack cheese, and chopped green onion relish, and red chili powder.  It’s hot and hearty, creamy and sharp, cheesy and chickeny, brothy and beany.  And downright delicious.  So simple.  So quick. So freakishly satisfying.

Dean Winchester isn’t shocked by much; he’s fought his share of demons and devils, and has never blinked an eye.  But even he can’t believe how good my green chicken chili looks and smells.  And, boy oh boy, does it taste damn good, too.  Clayton and I tuck into this bowl like we do fresh, warm, flannel sheets on a cold windy weekend night with nothing but a snuggly movie in the morning to worry about.  Ahhhhh…. life.  She is good.