Monday, May 23, 2016

Homemade Chili with Beef & Beans

The heck with canned chili, my Homemade Chili with Beef & Beans is the best way to go. Slow cooking cheap pinto beans with beef is a perfect combination. And when pinto beans are flavored with dried chilies, tomato sauce, cumin, oregano, brown sugar and a little vinegar, that's a whole lotta flavor.

Beef and Bean Chili is a Southern staple, especially in Texas. Pull into any truck stop or BBQ joint and you'll find it. Sometimes it's fiery spicy, so make sure to get a tall glass of iced tea. You can get plain Chile Beans without meat, but in cattle country, why bother?

Toppings for your steaming bowl of meaty chili vary. My wife doesn't like raw chopped onion on hers, but I do. We both like cheese though, especially sharp cheddar cheese. A Tex-Mex version has a scoop of Fritos Corn Chips out of the bag. I know it sound weird, but the extra salty fried corn chip crunch kicks this lowdown cowboy cuisine into high gear. Go ahead and get a small bag of Fritos (I like lightly salted) and see what I'm talking about.

The most unusual ingredient for this recipe is a package of dried chile. I get mine from the 99c only Store and from my local Latin market. You only need about 6 dried chilies.

Click on photo to see larger.

Packages of dried red chilies come in a variety of types: California, Ancho, New Mexico and Guajillo. The colors go from deep red to black. Ancho chili has the strongest flavor, while the others are mild. And you soak them in hot water for a few minutes to soften, but make sure to remove the stem and too spicy hot seeds first. You may still have a little bit of heat though.

If you can't find dried chilies, it's okay to substitute with two cans of red enchilada sauce or red chile sauce. You can use whole red chilies (like chipotle) from the can - just make sure to taste any canned sauce you add, for spiciness. Another easy substitution is dried chili powder (about 4 tablespoons.)

I've been cooking with dried chilies lately. They make an intense salsa, and are the base flavor for rich Pozole, a Mexican hominy, chili and meat stew (my video recipe, here.)

All the other veggies and spices are easy to get cheaply. And pinto beans are about the least expensive legume you can find - often for way less than a dollar per pound. They take at least 3-4 hours of simmering to make tender and thicken the broth like Ranch Style Beans from a can. And they will be even tastier the next day, when you heat them up again.

(For a simple instant version, brown ground meat and mix with canned Ranch Style Beans; or add cooked beef to pinto beans along with a tablespoon of chili powder.)

As for meat, I've been cooking with beef shank lately. I first tried this cut of beef in an Italian classic pasta dish called Pasta alla Genovese (just click here to see that recipe.) It is quite lean, but in need of braising for a couple hours to break it down into tender bites.

My local Latin market stocks whole sliced shanks for less that two dollars per pound - now that's even cheaper than ground beef these days. The large packages of beef shank are in the 5-7 pound range. For my recipe you will need 2-4 pounds of meat. Of course, add as much beef as you like to suit your budget. Any leftover meat freezes well.

You can use any cheap cuts of beef for this recipe, even ground beef. Any beef will tenderize using my cheap$kate recipe cooking technique.

The aroma of my slow cooking Homemade Chili with Beef & Beans will draw a crowd. So keep the doors and window closed if you don't want unwanted visitors! Hey, this recipe will feed a crowd, so don't be stingy  -- go ahead and throw a Chili Party and invite the neighbors. And don't forget to get a large bag of Frito Corn Chips.

Ingredients (about 6 servings)
  • 2-4 pounds beef - any favorite cut. I used cheap beef shank. Okay to use ground beef. Add as much beef as your budget will allow.
  • 1 pound pinto beans - rinse and remove debris, if any.
  • 1 whole onion - white or yellow, chopped. I used a yellow onion.
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic - fresh or from jar. Okay to use dried or granulated garlic.
  • 15 ounce can tomato sauce - okay to use any canned tomato, in pieces or whole. Just break up the tomatoes in a large bowl before adding. (They will soften and form a sauce after a few hours of simmering.) 
  • 6 dried chilis - remove stem and seeds. I used California Chilies. Okay to use any type of dried red chilies, except for the very small fiery ones. Other dried red chilies are Ancho, New Mexico and Guajillo. For an easy substitution, use two 15ounce cans of red chile, enchilada sauce, or 4 tablespoons of red chili powder.
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar - white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste - if you use cured pork then reduce the salt amount, as the pork is salty.
  • 2 cups of water - to rehydrate dried chilies.
  • 5 cups of water - for boiling the beans. 

Get the dried chilies rehydrating. First remove the stems and seeds from dried chilies. Add them to 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and allow the chilies to soak for about 10 minutes to soften.

Add 5 cups of water to a large pot and turn up the heat.

Rinse the pinto beans and pick out any discolored bit of debris. Add beans to the pot of heating water. For quicker cooking you can soak the pinto bean overnight, or a couple hours.

Add one chopped onion and a tablespoon of minced garlic. Some cooks like to saute onion and garlic first.

Next add the spices: ground cumin, dried oregano, brown sugar, vinegar and salt and pepper.

Dried chilies should be soft and the chili broth cool enough to blend. Add chilies to a blender or food processor, and enough chili broth to cover the soft chilies. Blend for a 30 seconds to a minute until smooth. Some chili pieces will still be left, but that's okay, as they  will dissolve after a few hours of simmering with the beans.

(The lazy way to work with whole dried chilies is to remove the stem and seeds, then add them to the cooking beans. After an hour, fish out the chiles with a half cup of liquid. Allow to cool and blend them. Add back to chili and continue cooking.)

Add chili sauce to pot with beans. Pour in a can of tomato sauce. If using whole tomatoes then break them into smaller pieces.

Slice beef into bite-sized pieces. You can remove excess fat, but do leave just a little for some richness. Also add any bone attached to meat - that's extra flavor! If using ground beef break it into chunks - as ground beef cooks, it will crumble apart every time you check on chili to give it a stir.

Mix all the ingredients in the pot.

Now bring it all to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover the pot. Cook about 3-4 hours. Check beans every half hour to stir, so beans don't stick to bottom of pot and burn.

Uncover the pot and cook another hour reduce and thicken the liquid, if necessary. Taste Beef and Bean Chili before serving to make sure the beans are tender.

If you use beef shanks there is a soft marrow in the bone. I call this the "chef's reward." Carefully remove the bone and scoop out the marrow. Spread it on half a slice of toast with a pinch of salt, or just eat it right out of the bone - it's so creamy and rich!

Texas-style Beef and Bean Chili, served in a BBQ joint, has been slow cooking all day. If the liquid cooks down too much then add a little water, as needed. Stir occasionally so beans do not stick to bottom of pot.

If you don't have access to whole dried chilies or enchilada sauce, an easy substitution is 4 tablespoons of chili powder from a spice jar.

For more chili flavor add a couple more dried chilies, or add a tablespoon of chili powder or paprika. Just taste the broth after a couple of hours to see if it needs more chili spice flavor.

Soaking pinto beans overnight will reduce cooking time by an hour.

For a simple instant version of Beef and Bean Chili: fry up some ground beef, add a tablespoon of chili powder and a can or two of cooked pinto beans. Finally mix and heat it all up!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Roasted Chicken with Portabella Mushrooms

Sometimes an entree is only skin deep, which suits my Roasted Chicken with Portabella Mushrooms just fine.

This earthy roast bird with mushrooms makes a delish dinner for the whole family, and if there is any leftover meat then shred it into a salad the next day.

And it couldn't be easier to make. Just slide thick sliced portabella mushrooms under the chicken skin, season the bird, and roast it until done.

While this cheap$kate recipe looks alien infected when it goes in the oven, the mushrooms cook down and the final presentation is a golden bird with brocade shapes of deep brown.

It's a tasty combination. Use my recipe as a leaping off point and substitute any type of mushrooms you find on sale, including plain white button mushrooms. The trick to to slice them thick, so they don't dry out while roasting.

Click on any photo to see larger.

For portabella mushrooms I like to scrape out the black powdery gills under the mushroom cap. Don't worry about getting it all out, though.

Mushrooms always show up at my local 99c only Stores and chicken is the cheapest protein -- so go hog wild with this recipe.

If leg quarters or whole chicken breast are on sale you can slide a few sliced mushrooms under the skin and bake them in an oven pan.

Moist mushrooms help keep breast meat from dying out, too. So next time you find fungi and poultry priced right, stock up and try my earthy Roasted Chicken with Portabella Mushrooms.

  • 1 whole chicken - okay to use leg quarters or chicken breasts.
  • 2 portabella mushrooms - depending on size. Thickly slice mushrooms. Okay to use button mushrooms or any you find on sale.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse off whole chicken and allow to dry for a few minutes.

Brush off any dirt on mushrooms. Thickly slice mushrooms. For portabella mushrooms, I like to scrape out the black gills underneath the mushroom cap. It is easiest to use a spoon. Be careful as mushroom cap will break. It's okay to add any mushroom pieces to chicken.

The trickiest part of this recipe is to loosen the chicken skin. Wash your hands, then use your finger(s)and carefully slide them under the breast skin nearest the chicken cavity. Move the fingers left to right and press them forward to middle of the breast meat. If the chicken skin splits, that's okay. Hold it together and keep on loosening. Okay to use a wooden spoon or plastic spatula.

The breast skin is extra-attached along the middle of the breast bone, from neck to the cavity. You can separate it there, or just loosen skin on either side of breast. You can also enter the skin from the neck. I got about 4-5 slices on the breast meat.

The leg meat is a little trickier. You can work your finger in at the base of the breast meat. You only need to loosen enough to get get one or two mushroom slices on the leg meat. If you can work your finger all the way to the thigh meat then add some mushrooms there, too.

Once you've loosened chicken skin once, it gets easier next time, and you will want to keep baking chicken with other tasty ingredients just under the skin, like: lemon slices (or almost any fruit,) herbs and garlic.

Bake chicken in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. To keep breast extra moist, cover it with foil for first hour, then remove foil, and finish cooking chicken until done.

Slice into dark meat to check for doneness. Chicken juices should run clear and the meat should not have any red showing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Frozen Plantains - Deal of the Day

Fried and frozen, Ripe Plantain Slices by Tio Jorge is a great Deal of the Day.

Black is truly beautiful for this fruit. Plantains are not like typical bananas because they hold up to cooking without turning to mush. But it takes patience. A typical sweet Plantain must ripen to black before it reaches maximum sweetness. Since they are usually sold green, this may take a couple of weeks until they turn black and are ready to fry. I find them in Latin markets and even regular grocery stores are starting to stock them.

South or Central American, and Cubans serve Fried Bananas like typical Americans do with French fries. Is it a dessert or a side dish? Go to local a Cuban restaurant for Roast Pork or Chicken and it's a sweet side dish along with white rice, black beans and tender starchy yucca.

And if you are looking for cheap$kate Cuban Recipes I have a flotilla-full a click away here, including: a Cuban Sandwich, Black Beans, Roast Pork, Fried Plantains and Tostones, Yucca, Cuban Salad, plus a refreshing Mojito flavored with sugar cane.

Let's get this out of the way, Fried Plantains are greasy. I guess you could roast them for a low fat version, but Latin palates are used to eating them fried in a lot of oil. The ingredient list of this Deal of the Day only mentions banana and vegetable oil and that's okay with me, the less chemical additives the better.

Click on any photo to see larger.

These Frozen Plantains are cooked, so all you need to do is zap them for 2 to 4 minutes until hot. They are tender and sweet just like they should be. When I cook with them I will brown them more, but this frozen version is close enough.

I got these Fried Plantains at my local 99c only Store in a 10 ounce frozen package. I would guess that the amount equals about two plantains - this is a good deal as a typical Latin market would sell them raw for the same price. So for convenience, they are fine.

So on the 99 Cent Chef's Cheap$kate Scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best, I rate Ripe Plantain Slices by Tio Jorge a a perfect 9 ! If you find these, then pick up a few packages, they are a sweet side that even kids would approve of.
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