Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Chili Queens and the Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili


Chili con carne (simply known as "Chili") is a Texas obsession, even passing legislation making it the official dish of Texas in 1977! But who do we thank for this deliciously spicy Tex-Mex concoction? Why, the Chili Queens! The Chili Queens were the most beautiful, voluptuous, dark-eyed senoritas who would transport their perfected homemade chili in colorful chili wagons to Military Plaza in San Antonio, Texas, cheerfully serving stockmen, soldiers, rounders, and prowlers. Even Teddy Roosevelt was not immune to their allure! 

The Chili Queens are believed to have been selling their spicy creations for 200 years, but they had sold chili only for the last third of that period, selling strictly Mexican faire before that. Alongside roaming Mariachi bands, they would build mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, light colorful lanterns strewn along their wagons, serving chili to whomever they could charm and convince that their chili was the best. I read an article years ago talking about how masterfully they could handle even the most brutish of men, smiling, inserting fresh red roses in customers' lapels with a lingering touch, craftily picked from a great mass of roses on her bosom! Oh my! With a twinkle in her eye, she nearly always had trouble making change, which was usually not a problem for her smitten customers! The Chili Queens remained a highlight in San Antonio until the late 1930s, when sadly the health department put an end to their time-honored profession.   

I love making chili for the earthy hunger-inducing smells, the fiery flavors, and for the longstanding tradition. So, in honor of my Texas heritage, I give you this:

The Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili:
  1. Thou shalt only use beef, cut into small chunks, never ground.
  2. Thou shalt never include beans.
  3. Thou shalt never use tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even paste.
  4. Thou shalt never include bell peppers. (That goes for salsas as well!)
  5. Thou shalt only use Texas beer. (preferably Shiner Bock)
Got that? Remember that making chili is not an exact recipe. You should gently cook it all day, tasting and adjusting to your likes and dislikes. In addition, this is simple campfire cuisine and should not cost a fortune. Use simple cuts of meat, like chuck. Chili is often best the second day, which makes it easy to remove the fat that will rise to the top and harden after refrigeration. And finally, it is almost impossible to make a bad chili. So, embrace your inner Chili Queen and get cooking!


Chili Con Carne (Chili)

Serves 4-6, can easily be doubled

Ingredients:
For the chili:
4 tablespoons canola oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2" cubes, tossed with some salt and pepper
2 large yellow onions, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tablespoons chili powder (Gebhardt, if possible)
2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons crumbled oregano (Mexican oregano, if possible)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (this ensures it will not taste bitter)
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
2 serrano chiles, slit down one side (or whatever chiles you prefer, chipotle chiles work well too)
8 ounces strong beef broth (I add 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon beef base to 8 ounces water)
1 bottle Texas beer (preferably Shiner Bock)
1 tablespoon Masa Harina
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

For garnish (pick and choose as you like):
Sour Cream
Freshly grated Cheddar cheese
Diced Avocado
Sliced jalapeno, seeds and all
Finely chopped red onion
Sliced green onions
Your favorite hot sauce
Oyster crackers
Cornbread (I like the simple Jiffy brand mix, sold at most stores. I always mix in some honey, as well.)

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy Dutch oven or large pot. Add the meat in batches to brown slightly. Remove to a plate, or the lid of the Dutch oven! Drain off any excessive amount of fat that may accumulate. Add the onions and garlic to the pot, adding additional oil if needed. Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the pan.

Combine the chili powder, flour, paprika, and cumin. Sprinkle the mixture over the meat. Stir with a wooden spoon, reducing the heat to low, until the meat is evenly coated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the oregano, salt, sugar, cayenne, serrano chiles, beef broth, and beer. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer slowly for at least 2 hours, or all day, until the meat is very tender. (Remember to stir occasionally adding more beer or water, if needed! If it dries out too much, it can burn and ruin your chili!)

Sprinkle in the Masa Harina and cilantro, stirring occasionally and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the serrano chiles and taste and add additional salt, etc., if necessary. Serve with garnishes laid out in bowls, so everyone can garnish as they like!

Friday, December 30, 2022

Crustacean Crush and Happy New Year!

Don't tell my husband, although I'm sure he already knows, that I have a major crush on crustaceans; specifically, crab legs! Anyone who's eaten crab legs with me knows that I can plow through them with efficient velocity! (Maybe that's why I prefer to enjoy these babies at home.) King crab is the obvious choice, but I would never turn my nose up to snow crab either. With their sweet, briny flavor and meaty texture, they are an excellent choice for any celebration, like New Year's Eve! However, I'm sure that I am not alone in buying crab legs at the last minute, frozen and without the time to let them thaw overnight. This is the kind of spontaneous purchase you make and then dread when you're not sure what to do with them. Well, I think I can help you out!

(The spoils of my most recent conquest!)

How to Buy, Reheat, and Serve Crab Legs

Purchase at least 1 pound per person.

It is recommended that crab legs be thawed overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't have time, thaw them under cold running water, which is usually what I do.

Unless you buy a live crab, the legs are already cooked. The main goal is to reheat the meat without overcooking or drying it out. Some people like to reheat them in the oven, boil them, or even reheat them in the microwave. My preference is to steam them. 

To steam them, fill a large pot big enough to hold the legs with enough water to come up about 1 1/2" from the bottom. Add half a lemon, one bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and 1/2 cup white wine. Insert a steam basket, like the cheap folding kind available at almost any grocer. If you don't have a steam basket, you can wad up some aluminum foil to hold the crab legs above the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then add the crab legs and cover. The crab legs should be done shortly after you begin to smell them, about 5-9 minutes total. Remove the legs with tongs and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately with necessary utensils (kitchen shears or shellfish scissors, seafood or lobster crackers, and seafood or lobster forks), clarified butter for dipping, and lemon wedges.

Clarified butter is also called drawn butter. Clarified butter is melted butter in which the milk solids have been removed. To serve 4-6 people, melt 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks) in a small saucepan over low heat. Allow the butter to come to a boil. As it begins to "sputter," it will separate into three layers: foam on top, clear liquid in the middle (this is the clarified butter part you want), and milk solids on the bottom. When the top foam subsides, remove the pan from the heat and skim off the top foam with a spoon. Pour the butter into a measuring cup and allow it to continue to cool. When cool, gently pour the butter through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into another measuring cup, stopping short of the very bottom of the butter where the milk solids lie. You can store the clarified butter in the refrigerator until ready to reheat. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat until returned to liquid state. (Note: I do not recommend reheating in a microwave. I have had it explode numerous times, even when set under 10 seconds. It's makes a terrible mess and you'll have to start all over.)

What to serve alongside? Take your pick: buttered new potatoes, corn on the cob, green salad, toasted bread, etc. Although, if you are a true crustacean aficionado, the answer is always, "More crab!"

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Celebrate the New Year with Yvette!

As I prepare for a retro New Year's Eve celebration, with Rumaki, a mountain of crab legs, and Seven Layer Jello, I wanted to share some ideas to spruce up your cocktails! You can always pick up a bottle of the delicious French raspberry liqueur Chambord and mix 1/2 ounce with 4 ounces of your favorite Champagne, garnish with raspberries or a lemon twist for a "Kir Royale," or as I prefer to call it, a "Cham-Cham!" Or, you can go ultra-retro by picking up a bottle of once defunct Creme Yvette to make "The Stratosphere!" 

Creme Yvette is a berry and violet liqueur that was originally produced in the late 19th century in Connecticut by the Sheffield Company. Over time, it's popularity dwindled and was taken out of production in 1969. It was the base for such classic cocktails like the Aviation and Blue Moon. However, after an onslaught of requests from cocktail experts, Charles Jacquin et Cie bought the recipe and re-released it in 2009. The original Creme Yvette supposedly had a more purple color, while the new version (made in France with dried violet petals from Provence and berries from Burgundy) has a more reddish hue. So I'm not so sure how blue your Blue Moon would be? Maybe pink? Anyway, whether you are hosting or attending a New Year soiree, why not pick up a bottle that is guaranteed to impress even your most savvy cocktail-loving friends! Only one question remains, who was Yvette? Bonne Annee!


The Stratosphere

Serves 1

Ingredients:
Glass of Champagne
3/4 ounce Creme Yvette
Lemon twist (I prefer raspberries!)

Directions:
In a chilled champagne flute, add the Creme Yvette and top with Champagne. Garnish as desired and serve! Fantastique!