Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cowboy Beans

Anyone who knows me knows I like my chili Texas style, and that means no beans.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t like beans.  I love 'em.  Just not in my chili.  But beans, on their own, are wonderful things, and lend themselves to a myriad of dishes.  They have some nice flavor on their own, but also hold up well to spices and other flavor additions.  And that’s where this recipe comes in. 

Like chili, beans were a staple in a cowboy’s diet while on the range, and this dish is prepared with many of the same spices that one would find in a proper chili dish.  This recipe is similar to the commercial product called ‘Ranch Style Beans,’ but with the flavor kicked up a few notches more. 

This is also a recipe that lends itself to camp fire cooking in that most ubiquitous of all camp cooking items, the Dutch oven. 

If you don’t have one, any pot will work, but the even heating properties of a cast iron Dutch oven work well for the long, low and slow cooking times required to make these beans shine. 

Cowboy Beans

1 lb Pinto Beans
1 small onion, chopped
5 cloves Garlic, peeled
½ oz dried Ancho chilies, rehydrated and pureed
7 oz Ground tomatoes
1.5 oz Tomato paste
1 tblsp apple cider vinegar
6.5 oz Beef stock
¼ cup chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried mustard
1 1/3 oz Better than Bullion base paste
1 tsp salt
2 oz Jalapeno sauce (optional)
Water, enough to top up and cover beans by ½ inch
1 tsp vegetable or olive oil

(note, in the pictures that follow, I’m making a quadruple batch, so I’ll have lots left over for freezing)

Sort beans and discard any weirdos.  Soak beans overnight.  

Drain beans in colander and rinse.  Add to your pot or Dutch oven and set aside.   (note, discard the soaking water and use fresh water for cooking the beans)

Chop onion and sauté until soft, clear and slightly browned.  

Add onion to beans when they’re done.

While onions are simmering, remove the stems and seeds from the dried Ancho chiles. 

Boil a pint or two of water and add the Ancho chilies.  Let them boil for 5 to 10 minutes until soft.  Remove them from the water and place in food processor with peeled garlic cloves.  

Add a bit of the reserved Ancho chile liquid.  Process until smooth paste forms.  

If necessary, add a more of the Ancho chile liquid, a little at a time, until all the bits of garlic and chile are smoothly processed into a paste.  Add this paste to the beans. 

Next add the ground tomatoes and tomato paste to the beans, as well as the apple cider vinegar and beef stock.  

Top up the remaining Ancho chile water with enough additional water to make about a quart of liquid.  To this add the chili powder, paprika, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, mustard, salt and bullion base paste.  Stir until spices are evenly suspended in the liquid and the paste is dissolved.  Add this to the beans.  If using, add jalapeno sauce.  Top up with enough water to cover beans by about a half inch.

If cooking in oven, set it for 275F and cook beans for 6-8 hours, until tender and flavorful.  Stir every couple hours. 

When I cook a 4 lb batch in my large Dutch oven, I can’t fit it in my stove, so I do things ‘cowboy style,’ as if I were camping out or on the trail.  I fire up about a half chimney of charcoal, place half of it in the base of my Weber kettle, place the Dutch oven on top...

 ...and then place the remaining coals on the lid of the Dutch oven.  

I then open the dampers fully on the Weber, and place the lid loosely on top.  I let cook for 3 hours, add more charcoal, then cook for another three hours, for six hours total.   

Carefully remove the lid of the Dutch oven, so as not to get any ashes in your beans, and taste the beans.  If there is still some firmness to them, let them cook another hour or two.  If they are soft enough for you and the flavor seems right, serve away. 

 Here we've served the beans with some simple grilled Flat Iron steak.

And so, there you have it.  A great way for a Texan (or anyone else) to enjoy their beans.  (We'll discuss that chili on another day) 

Until next time, 

Happy trails, pardner!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cloverleaf Rolls

Thanksgiving approaches, that greatest of all cooking and baking holidays, so I thought I’d make this month’s update relevant to this, my favorite of holidays.

With all the food that Thanksgiving entails—turkey, dressing, gravy, veggies, salads, desserts, etc, it’s easy for things like bread to become an afterthought.  To help manage a busy kitchen, frozen or canned rolls or biscuits are often pressed into service to simplify matters.  Baking fresh bread for the holidays just seems so time consuming in an already time-crunched day.  Well, it shouldn’t, ‘cause there’s nothing that puts an accent on your majestic meal like fresh-baked bread.  It fills the house with a savory, mouth-watering scent, it warms to the touch, and, slathered with creamy melted butter, the taste is out of this world. 

So this year, why not take a little extra time (and with this recipe, a little is all you’ll need) and wow ‘em with these wonderful and easy-to-make Cloverleaf Rolls.   Because even though adding fresh-baked bread to your Thanksgiving table can seem time consuming, mainly because of the hours between start to finish, the actual hands-on time is slight (most of the time is allowing the dough to rise), so you can work the prep into your cooking schedule quite easily. 

Cloverleaf Rolls

3 Cups Bread Flour
1 Cup + 1 Ounce Warm Water
1 Tablespoon (or one packet) Active Dry Yeast
1 Large Egg
3 Tablespoons + 1 Tablespoon Melted Butter
3 Tablespoons Powdered Milk
2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Teaspoons Salt

Add the flour, powdered milk, salt and sugar to mixing bowl and give a few stirs to incorporate.  Add your dry yeast to the cup of warm water and let sit for a few minutes for the yeast to start working.  Then add the yeast water mixture, egg and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter to the flour mixture and mix, preferably in a mixer with a dough hook, until all is incorporated into a cohesive dough ball.  If necessary, use the extra ounce of water, adding it a little at a time to the mixture if there is not enough moisture to moisten the dough properly.  Only add this if necessary, you don’t want the dough to be too should have some firmness to it. 

Once the dough ball is incorporated, continue to run the mixer on setting 2 for about seven minutes, moderately developing the glutens in the dough. 

Next, place the dough in an oiled container, cover, and let sit for one and a half hours to rise. 

At this time, you’re ready to make the rolls.  Divide off a piece of dough of about 20 grams and roll it into a ball.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, the amount of dough you need should be enough to make about a 1 inch ball.  

Make two more balls, then place the three into the greased cup of a muffin tin.  

Repeat the process until you’ve used up all your dough. 

This recipe should make about 18 rolls.  Doubling it will give you enough dough to fill three 12-cup muffin tins, just about perfect for a grand holiday gathering. 

Let the unbaked rolls rise again in the muffin tins for at least an hour and a half, but preferably three hours or so.  The longer you go, the better rise you will get, and more flavor with develop.  

After the rise, brush the rolls with melted butter, then bake in a 400F oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and, if desired, brush with additional butter.  Serve immediately. 

These rolls are best served hot (with lots of softened butter, of course!), so I usually don’t bake them until right before I’m serving my holiday dinner.  But they bake fast, and can be turned out into a bread basket quickly, so this is never a problem.  I use the convection setting on my oven, which bakes them even faster, usually in around 10 minutes at 350F (Convection Bake)

Until next time,

Bake some bread!


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

This wonderful soup was introduced to me by my friends Jeff and Christy many years ago.  Christy graciously shared her recipe, and I’ve been making the soup ever since.  Over the years, I’ve tasted many tortilla soups in many places, including all over Texas and even in Mexico, but this recipe still makes the best I’ve ever tasted.

Just for giggles, I’ve researched other tortilla soup recipes, and they are as varied as the coral on a Cozumel reef.  All sorts of things, such as black beans, bell peppers, corn, and others that I don’t use show up in some of these recipes, as well as various techniques in cooking the chicken, achieving the broth, etc.  I’ve tried some of those versions, and I will emphatically state that this exact recipe is the best that I have tasted.  While normally I’m a fan of flexibility in cooking, in this instance I feel one should stick to the recipe as exactly as possible.  I’ll try to emphasize some of the reasons for this along the way. 

As to the history of the soup, as near as I can figure, it is a pretty recent addition to the Tex-Mex oeuvre, showing up some time in the seventies or early eighties, when someone, somewhere got the bright idea to top a hearty Mexican chicken soup with crispy tortilla strips and call it ‘tortilla soup.’  Then things went viral.  Tortilla soup is now ubiquitous all over Texas and the Southwest. 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 Onion, chopped
2-3 small Jalapenos, seeded and chopped
3 cloves of Garlic, minced
Vegetable or Olive Oil
2 Chicken Breasts, with bones and skin
1 16 oz can Stewed Tomatoes, chopped
1 10 oz can Tomatoes and Green Chiles (Rotel)
2 14 oz cans Beef Broth
2 14 oz cans Chicken Broth
1 10 oz can Tomato Soup
2-3 cups Water
2 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 bunch Fresh Cilantro
6 Corn Tortillas, cut into strips
Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Sauté onion and jalapenos until soft, about 10-12 minutes with medium heat.  Add garlic and continue to cook for another 3 minutes or so. 

Add the cumin, chili powder and salt, stir, and continue to cook for a minute or so. 

Add chicken breasts. 

Add the broths and then top up with water, adding just enough water until the chicken is covered.  Bring to a boil. 

Make sure you use skin on, bone-in breasts.  This is one of those ‘stick-to-the-recipe” points I’ll be emphasizing.  There is a lot of flavor in the skin and bones of the chicken that will be extracted into the soup, turning those broths you used into much richer ‘stock.’  Don’t worry, you’ll discard the skin and bones later. 

Cook the chicken at a boil for 30 minutes, then remove the breasts and let them cool for a minute or two.  Slip the skin off of ‘em and discard.  Then, shred the meat from the bones and add it back into the soup.  Discard the bones. 

Try to achieve bite-sized pieces with the chicken as you shred.  The chicken meat will still be quite hot, so I usually use a knife and disposable food service gloves when I shred to make it easier and keep from burning my fingertips. 

Add the tomatoes & green chiles, tomato soup and stewed tomatoes (note, these usually come whole in the can, so I chop them before I add them), and cook another 30 minutes. 

While soup is cooking, slice the corn tortillas in strips...

...and bake them at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.  Try to get the best quality tortillas you can get, preferably from an authentic Mexican tortillaria.  And make sure to use corn tortillas, and not flour.  I know, the picture above looks like flour tortillas, but those are actually corn tortillas, made with white corn.  

Chop the cilantro...

...and add about half of it to the soup and turn off the heat.  

Don’t do it any earlier, or you’ll boil away all the delicate flavor and aroma elements of the fresh cilantro.  Also, note, using dried cilantro (or coriander, as it is sometimes called) won’t give you the full range of flavors that you get with fresh, so make sure you track down the fresh cilantro.  Reserve the rest that you chopped for garnishing individual bowls of the soup. 

Garnish the soup with the crispy tortilla strips and serve immediately.

Serve plenty of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and additional cilantro for your guests to garnish.  In my opinion, this is all that is needed, but I have seen tortilla soup garnished additionally with avocado, diced red onion, sour cream, etc, but I urge you to try it simply, as prepared, with only additional cilantro and the cheese, first, so you can appreciate this delicious soup in its most perfect, unadulterated form. 

Until next time,

¡Buen apetito!


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

I recently made a sojourn to Chicago, where I made a point to sample several examples of the famed ‘Deep Dish’ variety of pizza that the city is known for.  Now, I’ve always been more of a New York style pizza guy, but after sampling some pies at places like Giordanos and Lou Malnati’s, I have to say the Chicagoans have something wonderful and tasty going on.  It is very different from New York style, particularly in the sauce and even more so in the crust, and at this point, I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite between NY and Chicago.  But hey, why choose?  Enjoy both styles.    Choosing one is like choosing between apples and oranges...they just ain’t the same thing.

Anyway, back home in Texas, I couldn’t help but try to make an attempt to clone this wonderful style of pizza here in my own kitchen.   After doing some research over at the extremely informative Pizza Forum, I was ready to attempt to master this baby.

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza


4 Cups All Purpose Flour
3 oz Semolina Flour
4 tablespoons Butter
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Active Dry Yeast
8 oz Water

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the fats.  In a small bowl, warm a little bit of your water (about an ounce or two) to around 105F and stir in the yeast.  Let this sit for about five minutes, then add it, along with the rest of the water, to the flour mixture and knead, either by hand or with a mixer with a dough hook, until all the ingredients are incorporated, then continue to knead for just under a minute.  Place the dough in a covered bowl and place that in the refrigerator overnight, or for up to 24 hours. 

A few hours before you are going to bake your pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm to room temperature.  It should also rise a little bit during this time. 

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 500F (you’ll lower the temp before you bake) and roll out your dough.   Roll it out to about a 14 inch round, then transfer it to an extremely well-oiled (olive or vegetable oil) 12 inch diameter deep dish pizza pan.  Press the dough with your fingers to make sure it is evenly distributed in the pan, then press the dough up the sides of the pan until it forms walls about 1.5 to 2 inches deep. 

Now, you must fill your pizza.  Start by layering slices of mozzarella at the bottom.  

I suppose you could use shredded cheese as well, but the sliced is traditional.  Then layer the rest of your ingredients on top of the mozzarella.  The traditional meat for a Chicago style deep dish pizza is Italian sausage, torn out of its casing and pressed into a layer or patty on top of the mozzarella.  I may try this one day, but to be honest, I’m just not a sausage on my pizza guy, so I went with my favorite topping, pepperoni. 

Finally, spoon your sauce over the top.  

Note, in a Chicago style pizza, the ingredients are sort of reversed from NY and other American styles, which put the sauce on first and the cheese on last.  I’ve surmised that the Chicago style does this because the pies bake for a much longer time than a thinner NY style, and if you didn’t reverse the order, the cheese would burn.  Also note, Chicago style pizza sauce is not a thin puree of tomatoes like on a NY pizza, but is made with large chunks of tomatoes, which cook in your hot over on top of the pizza to form wonderfully rich flavors.  Here’s my simple sauce recipe:


Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Chopped Tomatoes, drained:  3 cans (42 oz)
Dried Oregano:  1 tablespoon
Granulated Garlic:  1 tablespoon

Try to find the best quality tomatoes you can get.  The Pizza Forum guys recommend a brand called 6-in-1 tomatoes, but I couldn’t find any, so I went to Central Market and got the Muir Glen.  (I’ve since ordered some 6-in-1’s via mail order.  I will try them and report back)  Drain the tomatoes (otherwise you’ll get soggy pizza) and then stir in the oregano and garlic.   

Lower your oven to 450F, then pop the pizza in.  If you have a pizza stone, feel free to use it.  Let the pizza cook for 20 minutes, then open the oven and turn it a half turn.  At this point you can throw on some last minute toppings, such as the black olives I’ve used here.   Let it cook for 15 more minutes.

At this point, the crust on the sides should be crisp, golden-brown, and slightly pulled away from the sides.  Let the pizza rest five minutes or so, then slice and serve. 

 Right out of the oven.

Ready to slice!

First slice.

The crust is golden brown and crispy on the bottom, tender and flaky in the middle.  Mmmm, delish!

Until next time, 

When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's Amore!