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Welcome to Everything Tasty!
We hope you will add your comments, restaurant reviews, recipes, or whatever else you like, and make this blog as much your own as it is ours.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Welcome to Everything Tasty! Here's what it was, and what it is.

Hello! Thank for coming to Everything Tasty. This blog is coming up on its 8th anniversary, and although most of the posts and action around here was in those first three years, enough time has passed so that many of you never came across it in its original state, and are now wondering why its set up the way it is, and why the header says I'm 22 even though I'm 28.

I've been part of this blog since the beginning, but it was the brainchild of my godmother Anne Milton. For any of you who met her, I don't need to tell you that Anne was a transcendently wonderful human being, full of kindness, joie de vivre, and passion for her hobbies. Paramount among these was cooking, which was sometimes also her passion–at points in her life she ran a small but successful catering company.

Anne was my mom's best friend from age 8 into their late 50s. She was there when I was born, and she was very much another mother in my life, encouraging me to be kind, to be curious, and to learn how to make art. Above all, she taught me to cook, imparting her wisdom and her recipes, bringing me to dinner parties with her adult Boston friends who were very kind about having a kid in their midst. We were very different kinds of cooks–she liked meticulous execution of classic recipes, while I preferred wild experimentation–but I learned most of what I know in the kitchen from her.

In 2010,  when I was halfway through college, and she was recently diagnosed with cancer, she came up with this blog as a way for us to do something together. She did most of the actual cooking (and took beautiful photographs), but I kicked in the odd recipe, some restaurant reviews, and our trademark Random Musings about Food. On short college breaks, I'd go to Boston and we'd cook together, sometimes planning elaborate meals for friends. It became something that bound us even closer together, and when I moved to Boston after college I looked forward to years of writing and posting together.

Sadly, it didn't work that way–we got together to cook and go out a few times, but the cancer got worse and worse, and in 2013 we lost her. It was devastating for me, for her husband Ken, for my mom, for everyone who knew her. I spent a lot of time wondering what to do after she passed, and ultimately I decided that I wanted to do the things that would make her proud of me. I went into disability activism, which has turned into my passion and full-time career. I kept cooking, for myself and for my friends.

And, at least once in a while, I continued posting on this blog. I haven't done it nearly as much as I'd like–Anne was always the organized one, and I've photographed a lot of dishes with the intent of writing them up and them haven't done it. Hers was also the administrator account, so I can't change the header–that's the last one she put up in 2012 and it has stayed frozen since then. But even if in the years since I've only averaged a few posts a year, I'm proud to have kept this blog alive–I think it would make Anne happy to see it keep going, to see me keep taking pleasure in cooking and food the way she taught me to. And if you enjoy reading this, and especially if it inspires you to make something yourself, I think that's the best tribute I could pay her. Happy eating!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Noodle Variations: East Asian-Inflected Pesto with Ramen Noodles, Soy & Butter Oyster Mushrooms, and Tobkio

For reasons that I won't get into here, I've had a lot of upheaval in my personal life lately. Not all of it has been bad, but the combination of worthwhile but exhausting work and a lot of change at home has meant I've been eating out a lot and cooking very little the past couple of weeks. I figured that if I was going to get back into the rhythm of cooking, it needed to be with something I was excited to try, so I decided to experiment.

Pesto is one of my favorite things to make. It's delicious, adaptable to both hot and cold dishes, and it freezes beautifully, so that you can get fresh herbal flavor easily even long after a fresh batch of herbs would have wilted or rotted. The traditional Italian formula with basil and pine nuts is phenomenal, but over the years I've done versions with arugula, broccoli rabe, kale, and cilantro, and they've all been lovely. However, the basic formula and applications remain relatively European; even when swapping the greens, I've typically kept things like the parmesan the same. Today, I wanted to try something else: using pesto techniques but adapting the flavors for use in an Asian-inflected take on pesto and pasta.  I served it mixed into ramen noodles (since there's no broth, this is more of a riff on mazemen), with some oyster mushrooms cooked in soy sauce, butter, and wine and a garnish of tobiko, the crunchy, salty flying fish roe you've probably had on sushi.

I should be clear upfront that this is in no way authentic to any cultural tradition. It was an experiment on my part, and I'm sure I'm not the first person to try something like this. The pesto was bright, with a welcome sharpness from the chives, and had an intense herbal aroma. It balanced very nicely with the savory mushrooms and pleasantly chewy ramen, while the tobiko added color, some welcome briny flavors, and a pleasant crunch for contrast.

I served this with a smashed cucumber salad on the side. I went with Chef John's excellent recipe, which you can find here:

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ceviche, Potato Tacos, and Margaritas: a brief but tasty return to Tucson

I went home to Arizona last week for my brother’s wedding and had a fantastic time! Annie and I were tasked with making margaritas for 100, which turned out pretty well–though it took over an hour of just juicing limes. It was a lovely ceremony and reception and a chance to catch up with some old friends. Huge congratulations to my brother! Later in the week Chris, one of my oldest and closest friends, and I got together and made dinner for us and his parents. We put together the meal below and it came out fantastically without much effort. The bright, tangy ceviche is simple but still nuanced, and its offer beautifully by the crunchy, comforting potato tacos. I’ve also included our margarita recipe, which included a secret ingredient in the form of just a tiny bit of Annie’s home-infused habanero vodka. It’s totally optional, but I recommend it; it won’t make the drink blow your head off, but it gives it a nice bit of a tingle. Enjoy! 

1.5 lbs red snapper (or other firm whitefish you like)
1 cup lime juice (approximately 8 limes) 
1 avocado, cubed
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
Minced habanero, to taste
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
1 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Slice snapper into thin bite size pieces. Add to a bowl along with the onion, garlic, and habanero. Season with salt and chili powder. 
  2. Pour over the lime juice and toss until all fish is well coated and most is submerged. 
  3. Let steep 15-30 minutes, checking periodically, until fish reaches desired doneness. Halfway through, gently fold in the avocado so it is not crushed. 
  4. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve with chips, tortillas, or rice. 

Potato Tacos
2 large or 3 medium russet potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 roma tomato, chopped fine
1 tsp ground cumin (toasted and fresh-ground would be ideal) 
1/2 tsp smoked or hot paprika
~1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar (adjust to taste) 
Heavy dash mexican hot sauce (opt)
12-20 corn tortillas
Neutral oil for frying. 
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Peel and cube potatoes as you would for ordinary mashed potatoes.
  2. Boil in salted water until soft. Drain well. 
  3. Add olive oil, butter, and tomato. Mash together until well combined
  4. Add vinegar, spices, and hot sauce, adjusting to taste
  5. Warm tortillas until soft and pliable 
  6. In a large skillet or frying pan, add a quarter-inch of oil and heat through on medium high
  7. Fill each tortilla with 1-2 tablespoons of filling, spreading almost to the edge and pressing down.
  8. Shallow fry tacos 1-2 minutes per side until golden brown and crunchy
  9. Drain on a rack or paper towels and serve immediately with salsa of your choice. 

Smoky Spicy Margaritas 
I like my margaritas pretty dry, but if you want to add sweetness, go for agave syrup, maybe a half teaspoon per drink. 

Per drink:
1.5 oz good blanco tequila (I like Agavales for a high-quality but budget friendly pick)
0.5 oz high-quality smoky mezcal (I recommend Xicaru)
1 tsp habanero-inflused vodka (optional, see below)
1 oz triple sec (Cointreau is lovely, but DeKuyper works just fine) 
1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice (approx 1lime), plus 1 large lime wedge per drink f

For salt rims, if using: 
~1/4 cup kosher salt 
2 tsp Tajín powder or chili powder (optional)

  1. If doing a salt rim, mix the kosher salt and seasoning powder together and place on a small plate or saucer. Run a lime wedge around the rim of each glass, invert, place into the spiced salt, and rotate until lightly covered.
  2. In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine tequila, mezcal, triple sec, and lime juice, and shake vigorously. 
  3. Strain into prepared glass and garnish with the lime wedge 

To make habanero vodka, add one halved and seeded habanero to a bottle of vodka and let steep for up to a week before straining into another bottle for ongoing use. Infusion process can be accelerated by leaving in a warm place or even outside in direct sunlight. For an even hotter spirit, leave in the seeds. The result will be both fruity and quite hot (though still very drinkable) without being bitter. Use in small quantities to add heat to other drinks. And if the thought of even a tablespoon of vodka in a margarita weirds you out, I’m sure the same trick would work with blanco tequila. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bunch is the Mother of Invention: Hangtown Fry with Nopales

I've written several times on this blog about the idea that perhaps the most important thing you can do, food-wise, is to have a well-stocked pantry. A big part of that is the idea of security: that with the right dried, canned, pickled, and cured ingredients available, you'll always be able to whip something tasty and reasonably nutritious up. But there's something that goes beyond that too: the potential for creativity.

Recipes are an incredible thing–a well-written one can expand your cooking horizons, guiding you to a finished product you wouldn't have known how to begin approaching on your own. Any of you who knew Anne knew her obsession with recipes, combing through cookbooks to find something wonderful and execute it precisely. I can't help but mess with recipes–which both amused and bemused her on occasion–but that doesn't mean I don't value them. Recipes teach you skills, guiding you through steps you can then apply freely in other contexts, and they teach you combinations of flavors that can spark your imagination to new places. Certainly, there is joy in making a plan, going shopping for exactly the ingredients you need, and then pulling it all together step by step.

Nearly all recipes, however, even the immortal classics, started in the same place: with someone looking the food they have on hand–staples kept always in stock, bits youpicked up without clear plans for them, things harvested from the garden or the livestock or bartered for with someone else, or odds and ends left over from making other dishes–and going "right, what can I cook with this?" Most of what we cook had no singular inventor, of course, but evolved over centuries, with hundreds or thousands of cooks handing ideas down and adding their own little tweaks. Even with things developed in one flash of inspiration, the story has usually been lost to time.

However, there are exceptions. In 1943 Ignacio Anaya, maître d' of a hotel in Coahuila, Mexico, needed to feed a group of army wives from across the border in Texas who had turned up after the kitchen had closed–so he cut up and fried some leftover tortillas, added some cheese and pickled jalapeños on top, and invented Nachos. Allegedly (though there are many warring accounts), in 1971 chef Ali Ahmed Aslam of the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow served some Chicken Tikka (which of course is rubbed with dry spices and roasted) to a Scottish bus driver. When the man complained it was dry and asked for some sauce, Ali threw together some tomato soup with cream and spices and bathed the chicken in it, inventing Chicken Tikka Masala.

And then, there is the Hangtown Fry. In the 1850s, the California Gold Rush was in full force, and towns sprang up out of the dirt to meet the needs of the prospectors. The largest of these was Placerville– in 1847 it was a parched scrap of dirt informally Dry Diggin's, but by 1854 it had become the third largest town in the state, and acquired the new family-friendly name of Placerville, although most people called it Hangtown, after three local outlaws were hung from a tree at the height of the gold fever in 1849. In 1857 they built the new Cary House Hotel, replacing the town's older hotels that had been destroyed in a massive fire. When prospectors struck gold, they would come straight to the Cary House to sell their nuggets and take their first actions as newly rich men. One day, one such man came into the bar, still grimy but holding up a gold nugget, and demanded that the hotel's restaurant make him the most expensive dish that they could. When nothing on the menu would do, they examined the most prized parts of what they had on hand: eggs, which had to be brought in by stagecoach, since there were no hens in Placerville. Bacon, which was shipped in from the east by train.  Most of all oysters, which had to be brought the 100 miles of rough road from San Francisco on ice so they didn't spoil. The kitchen cooked the three up together, and voila–the Hangtown Fry was born, and remains a California classic to this day.

Today, eggs and bacon are still shipped long distances, but the industrialization of agriculture and  improvements in transit infrastructure and modern refrigeration have made them plentiful and cheap. Here in greater Boston, fresh oysters were ironically dirt cheap in the Hangtown era, food for poor of a port city–but in 2017, the global taste for them has made the fresh ones a luxury even feet from the water. However, for purposes like a Hangtown Fry, the cheap canned and smoked variety will do just fine (although Boston is currently just beginning to see a rise in hip places serving high-end, pricy tinned seafood from Spain and Portugal, so check back with me in 10 years or so). I bought eggs to have on hand for breakfasts, the bacon was left over after I made Carbonara last week, the oysters I had bought a few weeks ago with the idea that they'd come in handy at some point–and I had one more ingredient lurking in my fridge that needed using up: Nopales, strips of prickly pear cactus pad, with a fantastic vegetal, pickly flavor somewhere between green chile, green beans, and okra. In Tucson you can buy them fresh, and they're used brilliantly by Mexican chefs for whole variety of dishes, especially pairing beautifully with grilled meat. Here, they only come lightly pickled in huge jars. I used a little to make tacos for a party last weekend,  and have a good deal left over- and they spoil within a few weeks of opening.

So I stood in my kitchen, considering what to do with this random set of ingredients, and my mind pinged the idea of the Hangtown Fry, which I'd read about years before. Nopales are a non-traditional addition, but they go terrifically with eggs, and besides, I think they're appropriate. In the California desert, there may well have been Prickly Pear growing right outside the window of the Cary House Hotel, there to provide a balancing finishing touch to the rich dish of bacon, oysters, and eggs–but cactus would have been commonplace, outside the notice of chefs trying to make the most expensive thing they could. Today, in Massachusetts, they're exotic–the kind of ingredient someone might reach for to make an old classic feel exciting again. Who knows? In ten years fancy hotels may be serving their brunch patrons a "Somerville Fry." I suppose, then, there ought to be a recipe.

Hangtown fry with Nopales
Serves two
Time: 20 minutes

4 eggs
1 3.75 oz can smoked oysters*
4 strips thick-cut bacon
~6-8 oz pickled nopales, roughly chopped (use more or less as you like)
1 minced shallot and/or 1 crushed clove of garlic (opt.)
~1 teaspoon Red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
~1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (opt but highly recommended)
Splash milk or cream (opt)
Large pinch Paprika
Dash Cayenne
Parmesan or Romano cheese, freshly grated to taste

*Or 6-8 large fresh oysters, which would be amazing but far more work if you had to shuck them yourself. Some supermarkets sell tubs of pre-shucked oysters for not much, this would be an ideal use.

1. Add bacon to a cold pan. If possible, cut into ~1 inch pieces first. Otherwise, remove when fully cooked, chop, and reintroduce towards the end. Set heat to medium and cook until just crisp. Blot out roughly 1/2-2/3 of the fat with a paper towel.
2. Add oysters, cook 2-3 minutes–they will plump up a bit as they sauté, though some may not. (If using fresh oysters, reduce this step to 1 minute)
3. Add shallot and/or garlic if using, sauté 1 minute
4. Add nopales, along with vinegar. Season with salt,  sauté 3-4 minutes, until liquid is not bubbling as aggressively and has reduced somewhat.
5. Whisk together eggs, paprika, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, milk/cream, and salt and pepper until homogenous.
6. Add eggs to the pan and immediately remove from the heat. Scrape aggressively with a silicone or rubber spatula and continue stirring until eggs stop becoming more set.
7. Return to heat, stirring continuously, until eggs are just barely set, then remove from heat.
8.Grate over cheese (if you wanted to go in a creamier direction, you could instead use 1/4 cup of pepper jack) and serve immediately with toasted or grilled sourdough or other hearty bread, fold in warm tortillas and serve with green salsa as a breakfast taco, or just eat on its own–it works well all by itself.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pantry Power: Surviving the snow with a braised chickpea and mushroom dish that uses no fresh ingredients.

One of the most remarkable things about living in the modern world is the remarkable array of fresh produce available in supermarkets. At the Shaws (by no means a fancy grocery store) within walking distance from my house in Somerville, I can reliably buy such varied vegetables as fennel, arugula, habaneros, multiple kinds of kale, and sometimes even tomatillos, all shipped from across the world to New England while still at the peak of freshness–to say nothing of the wide variety of meat and seafood available. Such ingredients are exciting and inspiring, a privilege to be able to cook with.

However, the availability of this fresh produce, coupled with the increasing interest taken by the public in high-quality ingredients in general, has produced an unfortunate false dichotomy in many people’s minds– that if fresh ingredients are high-quality, natural, and healthful, preserved ones must conversely be low-quality, artificial, and unhealthful. Restaurants marketing to a certain type of consumer (largely semi-affluent and white) tout the freshness of all their ingredients as proof of their superiority, and the use of anything that isn’t perishable is seen in some quarters as proof that a dish is “unnatural.”

In fact, this view runs counter to actual history. In some respects of course, our ancestors were more likely than we are to use certain very fresh ingredients–they were far more likely to grow their own vegetables and raise their own animals for instance. However, they were also perpetually concerned with how to make that food last, to keep themselves fed through winter months and in the days before refrigeration. Only a small fraction of produce was eaten fresh–the rest was canned, dried, pickled, smoked, or otherwise preserved against spoilage. Some foods, in fact, are better when preserved–just imagine a Jewish deli without corned beef, lox, or dill pickles, or contemplate the fantastic flavors of Spanish baccalau (salt cod) or Mexican carne seca (dried beef, reconstituted with lime juice and tomatoes). When making pasta sauce, Italian-American chefs very often reach not for the often bland fresh tomatoes in the produce aisle, but for canned San Marzano tomatoes, ideal for the purpose and preserved at their peak for sauce making. This recipe makes use of them in their crushed state, as well as an ingredient I’ve come to obsess over for just this reason–dried mushrooms, which for sautéed applications pack more flavor than fresh mushrooms do (in part because you can buy highly flavorful varieties like porcini, and in part because the drying process concentrates flavors) and because the rehydrating liquid then becomes a useful ingredient in and of itself.

More than the particular flavor advantages of certain preserved ingredients though, I wanted to highlight them here because they serve a vital interest–they protect you, and they make it far easier to cook at home. How often have you eaten mediocre takeout because you had enough time to buy food or cook, but not both? How often have you picked up ingredients for a recipe, been delayed a couple of days in making it, and had everything go off? I’ve had both happen to me with embarrassing frequency. And then there are days like today, when the snow comes down by the bucketful and the grocery store is a long trudge away. With a well-stocked pantry, as in the days of old, you can be secure in the knowledge that you’ll always be able to feed yourself. When you have fresh ingredients available, they can play starring roles, supported by what you have in the cupboard. And when you don’t, like today, you can still turn out a delicious, healthy meal entirely out of things you can keep on hand indefinitely. 

Well, I suppose the parsley garnish is fresh. Or it was anyway, when I bought it two weeks ago. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well its held up.

Braised chickpeas and trio of mushrooms over couscous
Approx. 30 minutes (plus mushroom soaking time)
Serves four

(As usual, measurements are approximate. And, in any event, the whole point of this is to make use of what you have on hand)

2oz by weight of dried mushrooms. I used 1 oz of Maitake, 1/2 oz of King Trumpet, and 1/2 oz of porcini 
1 can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved
~1/4 cup crushed tomatoes 
10 oz plain couscous (you could also use rice, especially short grain, or even pasta) 
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter 
1 small yellow or white onion, sliced fine or diced (optional–i actually didn’t have any on hand and it came out great, but it would be nice) 
2 cloves garlic, minced (again, optional. I actually used a big clove of some nice black garlic [preserved via fermentation] from Trader Joes that Annie’s mother had given us, which was lovely)
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted (Optional as above. Wasn’t necessary, but I’ve used it in couscous before and it’s very nice. You could also use pistachios.) 
1 oz sherry. 

Flavorings and spices (all optional–use what you like/have): 
1 teaspoon za’atar  (if unavailable, use dry thyme or oregano, along with some sesame seeds if available)
Large pinch five spice powder
Large pinch red pepper flake
Large pinch sumac
Dash smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
Generous splash Worcestershire sauce 
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
~1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
Salt and pepper to taste.

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

  1. Place mushrooms into any small bowl or container which you have a second one of. Cover with warm water, place the second bowl into the first, and put something in the second bowl to serve as a weight, such as a can of beans . Soak for roughly 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and pliable to the touch. (if you can’t do this setup, feel free to weight the mushrooms down another way, or just let soak longer and stir regularly).
  2. When mushrooms are ready, drain through a strainer with a bowl underneath to catch the soaking liquid. Wash mushrooms thoroughly to remove any grit. Pour soaking liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and reserve. 
  3. Grind the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a spice grinder/coffee grinder and reserve. If desired, quickly toast the seeds before grinding in the toaster oven or a dry pan, but be careful not to burn them. 
  4. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the za’atar, five spice powder, pepper flakes, and paprika and heat for approximately one minute to infuse the oil. If using the onions, add at this stage and stir regularly until they begins to caramelize. Otherwise proceed directly to step 5.
  5. Increase heat to medium high and add the chickpeas.  Salt and stir frequently until they begin to brown and crisp. 
  6. Add a splash of vinegar and scrape to deglaze the pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until juices begin to bubble out and they taste cooked through. When this process is almost complete, add 1 tbsp of butter and stir well to coat.
  7. Add the sherry and scrape thoroughly to deglaze. Add the mushroom liquid, some or all of the chickpea soaking liquid (I went with roughly two ounces), and the crushed tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and maintain a steady simmer. Add the Worcestershire sauce,  pomegranate molasses, and vinegar to taste along with salt and pepper and continue to simmer until you’re happy with the flavor and the chickpeas are tender but not disintegrated. 
  8. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan or pot, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat and add the ground fennel-cumin-coriander mixture. Cook stirring until fragrant, then add 2 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then add the couscous, cover, and remove from the heat. Let stand five minutes.
  9. When couscous is done, fluff with a fork and stir in 1 tbsp of butter, along with the almonds if using and more salt to taste. Serve mushroom-chickpea sauce over couscous and top with feta and parsley. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Savory Croissant Bread Pudding: So much better than it looks.

Bread pudding is something of an inside joke between Annie and I.

Not that there's anything inherently funny about the dish (not ha-ha funny, anyway–certainly turning stale bread into desert is a mite odd, although considering the Russians make a drink out of it, we could be doing a lot worse.)

No, it's that Annie has a problem. A couch problem. Specifically, she often can't so much as come into contact with a couch (ours or anyone else's) without falling sound asleep. (In fact, she's done it again as I'm writing this.) I have embarrassing photos that I'm really tempted to post, but for now I'll refrain.

Anyway, not long after returning from a trip to Malawi in April 2014, Annie and I were sitting on the couch late one evening (this is when I was still living with Ken), I turned to say something to her, and realized she was out cold. Ordinarily I'd just wake her up and we'd haul ourselves off to bed, but I was still finishing my antimalarials and had to wait two more hours before I could take the next dose. With her asleep, I wandered into the kitchen, saw the loaf of stale bread on the countertop, and decided that the best way to kill time was to make bread pudding at 11:30 at night. Since, as I think I've discussed in these parts before, I don't have much of a sweet tooth, I went with a savory approach--sautéed leeks, which I happened to have on hand, white cheddar, and a spiced custard spiked with Worcestershire sauce. I poured everything into a baking dish, covered it with foil, stuck it in the fridge, got Annie semi-awake long enough to drag her upstairs, and we swiftly fell asleep. She was quite perplexed to discover the next morning, while no apparent time had passed for her the night before, I'd made brunch that was now going into the oven. And once I'd gotten the idea into my head, I did this again some evening while she was dozing, and she began to joke that she could make bread pudding appear by sleeping. On both instances I took pictures, intending to post the recipe here, but as with a great many recipes, I didn't get around to it.

My pudding productivity has dropped off since then, but it's a lovely trick to pull out every once in a while, especially since really good bread always goes stale in about five minutes. Savory bread pudding in particular is something I'm shocked isn't more common--while the sweet kind can get a bit one note and cloying in anything but a small portion, and doesn't seem to have that wide a scope of variation, savory bread puddings are a blank canvas. I've put every allium from shallots to scallions to caramelized onions into them, roasted tomatoes and green chiles, and flavored my custards with a wide variety of spices and sauces, and it always comes out terrifically. So, here's my latest variation, done this past Sunday, done after I was in a cafe the preceding evening and kindly given the two croissants in the case that would otherwise have gone to waste. The results were complex, hearty, decadent, and absurdly satisfying. Enjoy–and then try out a variation of your own.

Savory Croissant Bread Pudding
(Serves four normal people or two very hungry ones)
Two large plain butter croissants
Two leeks, split, washed, and finely sliced
Two segments preserved lemon, finely chopped (optional but highly recommended)
Two breakfast sausage patties, fully cooked and chopped (I used morningstar farms vegetarian, but real pork sausage would be even better)
3/4 cup grated white cheddar (Cabot works very well)
1 tsp oregano
Dash hot sauce (Cholula is my personal favorite)
Pinch cumin

One cup milk
Two whole eggs
One tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
Generous splash Worcestershire sauce
1-2 tsp sherry (opt)
Large dash of smoked paprika
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 250. Tear croissants into small irregular chunks and toast on a sheet pan or baking dish until dry and crispy (~15 minutes)
2. Sauté leeks and preserved lemon with oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and hot sauce until leeks are browned, somewhat sweet and slightly charred. Reserve and set aside.
3. In a small mixing bowl, add two eggs and mustard to milk and whisk until smooth. Add Worcestershire sauce, sherry, and spices, adjusting to taste.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine croissant pieces, leek mixture, cheese, and sausage. Pour over ~1/3 of the custard mix and fold with a spatula until absorbed. Repeat with the next 1/3 of the custard mix, and then add remaining custard only as necessary to ensure mixture is fully moistened.
5. Transfer bread pudding mixture into a buttered baking dish, and let stand at least 15 minutes and up to overnight
6. When ready, preheat oven to 350 and insert baking dish uncovered. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until croissant pieces are firm and golden brown.
7. If desired, crisp the top under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until fully browned and crisp
8. Serve immediately.

Ok, this photo really doesn't do it justice--this was just what was left after we devoured the rest of it, but here goes. I promise you, this tasted pretty terrific.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sneaky (and tasty) No-Mayo Tuna Salad

They say necessity is the mother of invention–but if so, boredom and procrastination are at least its stepparents.

Tuna salad is one of the things I whip up most often, and am most proud of my renditions of. It and scrambled eggs may be the two greatest "what you make of them" dishes ever; while essentially zero effort will produce bland but more-or-less edible versions, a touch of technique and creativity (plus a well-stocked pantry) can turn them into something delicious and expressive with barely any work, and let you feel like you've actually cooked something that still gets to your mouth within 15 minutes.

The "what you make of it" factor also applies to how healthy the sandwich is. Plain tuna mixed with a big glop of mayo and neon-green sweet pickle relish on white sandwich bread certainly won't do you any favors (and that's before you add the American Cheese and fry the thing in butter). On the other hand, mix in some chopped bell pepper and artichoke hearts, add some cucumber and tomato slices and good fresh salad greens, and you could at least do a lot worse.

Still, there's one big issue healthfulness-wise that there seems to be just no getting around: mayonnaise.  The relative merits of the gloopy white stuff are one of Annie's and my few culinary disagreements. She's quite fond of it, whereas while I don't hate it–it's a useful means to an end where a creamy sauce is called for–I find it adds fat without any flavor, or at least any pleasant one. I don't use it as a condiment, and I prefer my potato salads and coleslaws done with vinegar instead. In tuna salad though, it seems usually necessary to get the texture right. I've tried to fight it; I've made tuna salads based on everything from tahini to pesto to greek yogurt, and some have worked out pretty well, but the texture is never quite right, and the flavors either limit you to specific applications or simply overpower everything else. Time and again, I've gone back to the mayo, and found myself dumping large quantities of every other flavorant I have on hand into my tuna just to overcome mayo's power to dull the things it's included in.

Today, though, a happy accident revealed an alternative. Annie had cooked up some red lentils for her dinner the night before (I was in Worcester for a poetry show), and I was going to have them for lunch today. We also had some very nice wheat bread from NE's best bakery chain When Pigs Fly on hand though, and I wanted something that would go with that, so on a whim (and to get away briefly from working at home) I tossed the leftover lentils into the food processor along with some Dijon mustard, garlic powder, balsamic vinegar, and a splash of fish sauce and pureed them into a spread. I put a bit on some slices of bread with some arugula, stuck the rest in a tupperware and into the fridge, and thought no more about it until tonight, when I decided tuna salad was in order, and saw the container as I was searching for things to flavor it with. What had been a thin sauce straight out of the food processor had thickened nicely, and to my pleasant surprise, stirring it into the tuna made it unctuous and creamy just like mayonnaise--but with a pleasantly nutty flavor and subtle bite that contributed without overpowering. A few other supporting condiments, some chopped olive and bell pepper, sliced cucumber, and a light slathering of the English standby Branston Pickle brought everything together into a top-notch sandwich--no mayo required.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting you boil a pot of lentils every time you want a tuna sandwich; I certainly  don't have that kind of patience. Maybe, though, this will induce you to make some extra next time–or, indeed, to try experimenting with other legumes that might do the same job. I can confidently say this, at least: even if I weren't trying to improve my diet, if I had this puree on hand, I'd never reach for the mayo when making tuna salad again.

Lentil Puree Tuna Salad
Serves 2 generously

1 cup cooked lentils. Do them how you like--Annie tossed hers with olive oil, cumin, hot sauce, and a splash of white vermouth, then boiled them as normal. You want these relatively soft and a little on the wet side.
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard.
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (adjust to taste)
Generous sprinkling of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce (unless lentils are hot already)
1 large pinch garlic powder (or 1 clove very finely minced garlic)
Generous sprinkling of cumin
Salt and pepper

Add all ingredients to food processor and run at full speed ~30 seconds, until mixture is completely smooth. Move to sealed container and refrigerate for at least one hour, up to overnight.

Tuna Salad (here especially, feel free to adjust the seasonings to what you already have):
1 can tuna (I like Tonino, and happened to have the oil packed, but water packed should work)
Lentil puree
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup green olives (I like Castelvetranos for this), minced
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce (opt)
Large pinch smoked paprika
Dash cumin
Dash ras-el-hanout
Sriracha to taste
Salt and pepper.

Combine tuna, olives, and bell pepper in medium mixing bowl. Add the puree, a tablespoon or two at a time, stirring after each, until you reach your desired consistency. Add the vinegar, Worcestershire, and seasonings, and add more puree if necessary to re-adjust consistency. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready.

Sandwich (and this is just one possible version, of course):
1 small cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
Country-style wheat bread, sliced medium-thick
2 teaspoons Branston Pickle Relish (1 for each sandwich)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (1/2 for each sandwich)
1/2 cup baby arugula (1/4 for each sandwich
Tuna salad

Spread one side of the sandwich with Branston Pickle and the other side with mustard. Lay out cucumber slices on one side, top with tuna, then arugula (crunch it in your hand to make it stay on the sandwich more readily), then the other slice of bread.

The mysterious puree. 

The finished sandwich. My lack of photography skill is evident, but it tasted terrific.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

When Feeling Fried: Cod Tacos and Mexican Sandwiches (plus Guacamole and Black Bean Spread)

Frying is a funny thing. On the one hand, we trust every fast food emporium, greasy spoon, and college cafeteria to do it decently well-and usually we're more or less right. On the other hand, even as we boldly braise, fold, and roast in our own kitchens, we tend to be scared of attempting it ourselves. Big bubbling pots of oil are intimidating things after all, and the process is both rapid and mysterious--something wholly inedible looking gets dropped into a pot, bubbles furiously as things splatter in all directions, and then is fished out, delicious and ready to satisfy your late-night pub grub cravings. My mother reacted in horror when Annie and I proposed making Chiles Rellenos last year, sure we'd burn the house down (we did not).

This week though, I found myself in possession of cod and corn tortillas, and had just made my standard fish tacos that use baked/oven poached fish a few weeks ago (but that's another post) and decided to try something different--namely, beer battering. Since I have no sense of proportion, there was enough for a second dinner, and so some Mexican-accented fish sandwiches happened as well. Try either, try both-- the batter is light and flavorful, the cod comes out flaky, and I promise, only the fish will wind up fried and crunchy.

Freshly fried fish.

The Fish
Serves 4 for 1 meal or 2 for 2

1 pound cod
vegetable oil for frying

Batter (adapted from All Recipes "Beer Batter Fish Made Great"):

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for adjustments
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cumin (fresh ground if possible)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer

Cut fish into pieces no more than three inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Pat dry. Season the fish with salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on a plate or piece of parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients for batter. Stir in beaten egg. Slowly stir in beer. Let sit up to several hours; if you are pressed for time, it can be used immediately.

Half-fill a sturdy Dutch oven with neutral oil and turn on high heat. To test for optimal frying temperature, place the handle of a wooden spoon into the hot oil. When bubbles form around the spoon, the oil is hot enough for frying. Prepare a draining rack for the fish: Cover a plate or pan with paper towels, and place a wire or metal rack (the kind that comes with a toaster oven is fine) above it.

Using sturdy metal or wooden tongs, dip one piece of fish into the beer batter. Shake gently to remove excess batter, but make sure not to shake off too much. Drop into the oil and have a slotted spoon ready to remove as much loose batter as possible from the oil. When the test piece is brown, remove it from the oil. The piece should be uniformly coated in a thin yet crisp batter. If bits of fish are uncovered or the batter looks too thin, stir in more flour. If the batter is thick or soggy, add more beer or seltzer water. If using fresh oil, the first few pieces may be pale in color - this is normal.

Working a few pieces at a time, dip the fish into the batter, gently drop it in the oil, and monitor it until it is brown and ready to be removed.  (This process is easier with two people: one person dipping the fish and placing it into the oil, and one person scooping the batter bits and removing the fish when it is ready.) Removing the batter pieces buys you more time; eventually, burned bits in the oil will start to smoke or give the fish a burned flavor, so work quickly. When all the pieces are fried, let stand until cooled down enough to eat and thoroughly drained of oil.

A note for those hoping to get two dinners out of this recipe: Resist the urge to fry all the fish at once. It will be fine this way, but the second night, you'll lose the freshly fried crispness. Instead, save the leftover batter in the fridge. It may separate, but whisk it back together and try the test piece technique as above. The oil can be saved as well; let it cool and filter it through a fine strainer to remove as much debris as possible.

Now, on to the recipes.

Fried Cod Tacos
1/2 recipe Beer-Battered Fish, above
12 corn tortillas (6 if you want single-ply tacos, but don't say we didn't warn you)
1 red bell pepper
Olive oil
1 recipe Guacamole (see below)

Sour cream
Salsa of your choice (we like salsa verde)

Split the red pepper down the middle and remove seeds and ribs. Brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast under the broiler in an oven or toaster oven until the pepper is soft and its skin is thoroughly blackened. Place in a zip-top bag for 10 minutes. Peel off the skin (which will come off easily) and slice into strips.  To warm tortillas, place on a pan in a 300-degree oven or toaster oven for 5 minutes, covered with a damp paper towel.

To serve: Stack two tortillas, top with guacamole, and place fish on top. Add pepper strips, and toppings of your choice. Besides the ones we used, you could also add some mild cheese like cotija or queso fresco, or a quick-pickled vegetable like cabbage or red onions, or hot sauce... go wild, but make sure all the individual flavors have the chance to shine. Serve with cold beer.

A delicious taco with all the fixings.

2 avocados
Juice of 1 lime
1 heaping tablespoon cumin (fresh ground if possible)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
Small handful cilantro, chopped
1 small tomato, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mash with a potato masher or other heavy implement. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill in fridge for as long as possible before serving. Leave in avocado pit and cover with plastic wrap to prevent browning.

Mexican-Style Fish Sandwiches

1/2 recipe Beer-Battered Fish
2 torta rolls or 4 slices sturdy bread
1 cup arugula
Sprinkling of romano or parmesan
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt, pepper, sugar to taste
1 recipe Black Bean Spread (see below)
1 recipe Adobo Aioli (see below)

First, dress the arugula. Combine lime juice, olive oil, garlic powder, and mustard powder. Adjust salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Toss the arugula and romano in the dressing.

*horn noise* A-ruuuu-gula! A-ruuuu-gula!

Lightly toast the bread. Spread a layer of black bean spread on each side. Place half the dressed arugula on each sandwich. Just before eating, add the fish and drizzle with aioli. Top with other slice of bread and serve immediately, with cold beer.

Black Bean Spread
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 avocado
2 cloves garlic
1 chipotle in adobo, diced
Handful of cilantro, washed and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon cumin (freshly ground if possible)
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in food processor. With motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until a smooth paste is formed. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

Adobo Aioli
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons adobo sauce (reserved from can of chipotles in adobo)
Zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients until a thin, creamy texture develops. Chill until sandwiches are ready to serve.

Sandwich assembly.

If you've read down this far, another super-secret hint: In case you haven't figured this out by now, you could easily swap the toppings for the tacos and sandwiches. Have fun, and happy frying.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happy Quarter-Century, Colin! A Birthday Feast.

Editors note: In a change of pace (as if anything associated with this blog had "pace"), this post is by Annie, for reasons that will shortly become clear.

In the nearly three years we've been dating, Colin and I have cooked together a lot. We've tried out new recipes, modified existing ones, and cobbled together new ones from scratch. I've served as Colin's sous chef plenty of times, and once or twice he's been mine. And of course, he's cooked some of his favorite dishes for me. But I realized not long ago that there was a glaring omission from the list of culinary adventures we've had together: I had never cooked a whole meal, start to finish, for Colin.

(All right, that isn't strictly true. One time we had planned to make a squash tagine, but Colin was running late and I ended up making the whole thing, with a bit of prep help from Ken, before he got home. But that time, he helped pick out the recipe and get the ingredients. For the sake of drama and narrative, consider this the first meal I've ever cooked for Colin.)

Naturally, with Colin's twenty-fifth birthday coming up, I saw my perfect opportunity to cook Colin an unforgettable birthday dinner. But what do you make for a guy who could go on Chopped, find a cardboard box in the ingredient basket, dip it in savory egg batter, and still make it to the next round? I put a lot of thought into this. Pad Thai? No, we've made it a few times before. Eggplant Parmesan? While my Italian relatives would certainly be proud, I decided I wanted to serve him something truly unique - something with a variety of influences tied together with an improvisational spirit, just like Colin's usual mode of cooking. Anything that needed to be served hot was right out, since I knew I was going to work a late shift and I wanted to have everything prepared in advance. Eventually, I came up with a menu of cold dishes united by a couple of common elements, which I could easily make the day before (which, fortunately, was my day off) and bring over for final preparation on the big night.

The Salad Course
The idea of this salad began with the candied walnuts. I reasoned that I could prepare them in advance and assemble the salad on the spot. The flavor profile was inspired by a similar idea I've seen Colin apply to brussels sprouts and preserved lemons: hot red pepper and fish sauce, plus enough sugar to get a bit of caramelization on the outside. I glanced at this basic candied walnut recipe- which essentially just outlines the principle of how to candy walnuts- and used it as the base for my improvisation. Feel free to mess with the spices - but do try this particular combination. If you want it to be vegetarian, swap the fish sauce for soy sauce. If you like, you could use Worcestershire instead to give it a different spin, flavor-wise. All the amounts here are pretty approximate.

Green salad with Spiced Candied Walnuts.

Spiced Candied Walnuts
2 Tbsp butter
2 cups walnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground red (hot) pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp fish sauce

Heat the butter in a nonstick pan of sufficient size to hold all the walnuts. Add the hot pepper and turmeric, and cook for 1 minute or so. Add the walnuts and sugar and stir until the walnuts are coated in a thick caramel. Watch carefully to prevent browning. Once the caramel has formed, spread the walnuts onto waxed paper. Be sure to distribute them evenly over the paper if you want individual walnut pieces; if you want walnut brittle, spread them in a thick layer. Serve over salad or for snacking.

I have been making variations on fruity salad dressings since I was a kid. I distinctly remember my mother having a Pampered Chef cookbook that used apricot jam in just such a dressing, although I don't remember if that version included mustard as well. Tonight, I ad-libbed this dressing and served it on a store-bought spring greens mix, topped with Spiced Candied Walnuts and some crumbled Danish Blue cheese which I had on hand because of its role in the main course (described below).

Mustard Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp raspberry jam (or other jam of your choosing)
1 Tbsp stone ground mustard
1 Tbsp prepared dijon mustard
Black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients, whisking to blend. Serve over green salad. I don't really eat meat, but I think this would go just fine with a meat dish as well.
Salad, dressing, extra walnuts, and a white wine I brought to go with it.

The Main Course
Some time ago, I mentioned to Colin that my family enjoys making a recipe called Scottish Oat Bites: a savory, oaty cracker made with a crumbly, veined cheese of the chef's choosing. Ever since I mentioned this, Colin has reminded me from time to time that I ought to make them so he can experience the cheesy goodness for himself. But, no matter how much I might have wished it as a kid, cheesy crackers aren't really a dinner food on their own. To turn them into - well, if not a main course exactly, then at least a suitably tapas-esque item, I had to get creative with the toppings. Colin got me hooked on smoked salmon only recently, and it definitely shines when served on a warm bagel slathered with cream cheese. So I decided to move the fish-bread-dairy combo from the breakfast table to the dinner table.

The serving setup for the crostini.

Smoked Salmon Crostini with Dill-Sumac Creme Fraiche
1 recipe Scottish Oat Bites (see below)
8 oz sliced smoked salmon
8 oz creme fraiche
2 sprigs fresh dill, chopped fine
1 Tbsp sumac
Black pepper to taste

Combine creme fraiche, dill, sumac and pepper. Chill the sauce until crostini are ready to serve. Cut the salmon into approximately two-inch squares. If oat bites have been made in advance, warm them in the oven for 4-5 minutes. Serve warm oat bites alongside platter of salmon and bowl of sauce. Alternatively, you could prepare the individual crostini in advance by topping each cracker with the cream and a slice of salmon before serving, but a) if left out for a while, the crackers might lose some of their crisp, and b) it's fun to help yourself from the serving platters. Serves 3-6, depending on how hungry you are.
Assembling the crostini.

When I texted my mother to inquire as to the origins of Scottish Oat Bites, she replied, "I can't remember." I think I first encountered them when my aunt made them for Christmas, but I'll need to do some more sleuthing. In any case, this was the first time I ever made a batch entirely on my own, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy they were to make. I ended up having to make do with a vinegar bottle in lieu of a rolling pin, and a chopper like this instead of a pastry blender, and they still came out just fine.

Scottish Oat Bites
1 cup oats (quick or regular; just don't use flavored oatmeal and you'll be fine)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp toasted wheat germ or wheat bran
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter, cut up
3/4 cup crumbled stilton or other blue veined cheese (about 3 oz.)
1/3 cup milk
1 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease baking sheets; set aside.
1. Place oats in blender, food processor, or spice grinder and grind to a mealy texture.
2. In a large bowl, combine ground oats and all dry ingredients (both flours, wheat germ or bran, salt, and baking powder).
3. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and cheese until pieces are pea sized. In a small bowl, combine milk and honey. Stir until honey is dissolved.
4. Drizzle honey mixture over flour mixture. Toss together with a fork. Gently work mixture with fingers until dough clings together. If dough is too dry, add milk. If too wet, add flour. Turn dough out onto waxed paper or lightly floured surface. Knead for 2-3 turns or until dough is smooth. Divide dough in half.
5. Roll one dough half into about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out shapes or squares. Arrange dough pieces on prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, rerolling as needed. (If your work space is limited, roll 1/4 of the dough at a time instead.)
6. Bake 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to plate or wire rack to cool. Makes 48 crackers.
Scottish Oat Bites!

The Dessert Course
I had initially considered making a birthday cake of some sort, but ultimately decided I didn't want to pair two vaguely bready dishes together. I also wanted to avoid buying too many ingredients - particularly things I wasn't likely to use up. And of course, I needed something that could be prepared in advance. Thank goodness I live in the 21st century- I googled something like "desserts to make in advance" and was rewarded with this deceptively simple, delightfully tasty one-pot recipe. The only modification I made was to add a cup of coffee at the stage when milk is being whisked into the caramel; I think I also reduced the amount of milk, but as the liquid gets cooked down, I don't think it really mattered much. The coffee flavor was very mild. If you want anything more than just a little hint of coffee, use espresso or stir in some instant coffee.

Colin preparing to make a wish on his birthday pudding.
All told, I think it was quite the success. I'll definitely be making the pudding again the next time I need an easy and impressive dessert. And the salad and crostini are going on my list of meal combinations. Colin certainly enjoyed it. I guess I'll have to start planning recipes now for the next milestone birthday. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Stir-Crazy Vegetarian Chili and Sage Biscuits: Return of the Zombie Food Blog

It's freezing cold outside, and spring seems years away, but here's one thing making an early return from the dead: this blog. Hello again everybody!

I won't open this post with promises of regular updates from here on out; I've fallen down that rabbit-hole before, and the truth is that blogging on a schedule is simply not something I am good at. However I have missed Everything Tasty frequently in the last year or so--in fact (with plenty of assistance from Annie) I've even been fairly consistent about documenting and photographing what I cook, in preparation for the day I got round to writing again. It turns out that a great motivation for getting round to things is getting absolutely hammered by snow and being unable to leave the house, and so before tackling the backlog I present to you a thing I actually cooked today: an improvised vegetarian chili that's rich, filling, and full of complex and intense flavors that should satisfy even ardent skeptics of things that grow in the ground--while, depending on your levels of garnish restraint, being fairly healthy

(which should be taken as suggestions; the whole point of chili is using what you can get your hands on. Also, usual caveats about my imprecise measurements apply)

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 can diced mild green chiles (opt)
2 canned chipotles, seeded and chopped (this will still be fairly spicy--use 1 for a milder chili)
1 bottle beer--I used a balanced IPA, but feel free to experiment; dark beers will work well.
6 ounces brewed coffee
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (opt)
Liberal shake of Worcester sauce and/or fish sauce (replace with soy sauce for strict vegetarians)
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 cinnamon stick
Black pepper
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil

1/2 avocado, sliced
2-4 ounces grated white cheddar
Sour cream, to taste
Chopped cilantro, to taste

1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot/dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil over medium heat. When onion begins to brown, add garlic and bell pepper until softened.

2. Add tomato paste to the pan, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until the paste begins to brown and stick to the pan. When it does, add a generous shake of red wine vinegar and scrape the pan aggressively to deglaze.

3. Add the beans, draining the liquid from the kidney beans first, along with the diced tomatoes and beer. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

4. Add all other ingredients except the garnishes, and cook covered over medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes until flavors are thoroughly combined. Stir occasionally, taking particular care to scrape the bottom and sides.

5. Uncover, increase heat to medium, and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until substantially thickened. When finished, the liquid should cling to a wooden spoon without dripping.

6. Dish into bowls and serve with garnishes.

And there you have it. As to the biscuits, which were great and an excellent companion to the chile, I simply used Sam Sifton's recipe from the New York Times for All-Purpose Biscuits, which you can read here. My sole alterations were to mix two tablespoons or so of chopped fresh sage into the dough after it comes out of the food processor (which itself was merely cribbed from a *different* NY Times biscuit recipe), to brush the biscuits with a tablespoon or so of melted butter, and to sprinkle some Romano cheese on top.  In terms of technique advice which they don't include, the leftover dough scraps can be lightly squeezed and patted into a new rectangle which you should be able to punch another biscuit or two out of. With that I got about seven biscuits out of the recipe, making their estimate of people served a bit generous. It's quite a nice recipe, and the texture comes out a nice balance between cakey and airy. Since these aren't buttermilk biscuits, however, they lack that distinctive tangy flavor that those have; the advantage, however, is that you can make these without needing to have buttermilk on hand.

These biscuits were exciting to make for me, as biscuits are a food I dearly love (and have gone well out of my way to order) but had never actually made for myself before today. This mostly stemmed from a general uneasiness about baking; not because of any of the "men don't bake" nonsense you'll sometimes see from macho chefs on Food Network programming, but rather out of a probably irrational fear that baked goods (especially leavened ones) will somehow go horrifyingly wrong. With most forms of cooking I feel as though I understand the roles that each ingredient is playing and thus how free I can be to improvise and be imprecise with quantities; baking, on the other hand, has always felt like a chemical reaction in need of precise balancing. I'm happy to say that in this case, the experiment was a success.

(Photos by Annie Moriondo)