A knackered cook concocts easy(ish) chicken chili

Whew! In the last eight days I’ve hosted three dinners, one brunch, and one cocktail party. And I’ve washed, I think, eight zillion dishes, even though the Cocktail Host has pitched in mightily and done more than his fair share of scrubbing and sweeping. No matter how often we’ve cleaned up, our kitchen has perpetually looked like this:

I am, to put it mildly, totally tuckered out, so much so that I asked the husband unit to go out and buy us burritos for lunch so I wouldn’t have to face the kitchen again this afternoon. But unless I cook something tonight or tomorrow, we’ll be eating fried eggs and take-out pizza all week. This  is when my mind turns to whipping up something fairly simple but substantial that will keep us fed for several days.

Recently I’ve been fixated on this chicken chili recipe that I developed a few weeks ago. Ground pepitas, canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, and a hint of chocolate give the dish a depth of flavor you don’t find in most chilis, and poaching a whole chicken in the liquid (later removing the skin and bones) makes for a much richer and more flavorful chili than you’ll ever get from throwing in some chopped-up boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

In a nutshell, you gather together the ingredients: pepitas, chicken broth, chipotle chiles, a whole chicken, olive oil onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, canned tomatoes, chocolate, beans (I like pinto beans, my husband likes black beans, and as a result all we had left in the house was kidney beans—ah well!), and fresh cilantro.

Then, before you fire up the stove, you throw the pepitas in the blender or Cuisinart along with the chicken stock and chipotle chiles.

Once you’ve thoroughly pureed this mixture, you saute the onions and garlic.

Once they’ve softened, I throw in all the spices. Often I throw in a tablespoon or so of butter at the same time to help ensure that the spices don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. You don’t have to do this, but you should definitely stir the mixture more or less continually to avoid the spices developing a burned flavor.

Once the spices have toasted for a minute or two, add the pureed pepita-and-chipotle mixture and the canned tomatoes.

At this point you add a whole cut-up chicken, after stashing the backbone and wings in a bag in the freezer for making stock later. Yes, I know that it would be easier to use cubed boneless chicken pieces, but I promise you that this is going to result in a richer, more flavorful chili in the long run. And the technique is not as fussy as it seems.

Cover the pot and poach the chicken for about an hour, turning it every 15 minutes or so, until the chicken is cooked through. Then use tongs to transfer the chicken to a platter and let it cool until it’s easy to handle. Once you can handle it without burning yourself (don’t rush it!), use your hands to remove and discard and skin and bones and shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. At this point add the chicken back to the chili, and throw in the beans, the cilantro, and an ounce or two of semisweet chocolate. I usually use Ghirardelli or whatever else I have on hand, but since I had this chile-infused chocolate gathering dust in my pantry, I used it, and it was divine.

Just cook everything for a few minutes until everything is heated through, then serve. I like to garnish it with sour cream and a sprinkling of pepitas, but let your conscience be your guide: tomatillo salsa, Jack cheese or queso fresco, or cilantro would all be delightful.

Chicken Chili with Pepitas

2 cups chicken stock, plus more as necessary
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1/2 cup toasted pepitas, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces, backbone and wings reserved for stock
3 cups cooked pinto, black, or kidney beans (two 14-ounce cans, rinsed and drained)
1 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sour cream, for garnish

In a blender or food processor, puree the chicken stock, chipotle chiles and adobo sauce, and pepitas until smooth. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute until slightly softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, and salt and saute, stirring frequently so the spices don’t scorch, for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock mixture and canned tomatoes and stir.

Add the chicken pieces to the liquid, adding up to 1 cup more chicken stock if necessary so that the chicken pieces are just submerged. Cover the pot, lower the heat to a simmer, and simmer, turning the pieces every 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour.

Turn off the heat and use tongs to transfer the chicken pieces to a platter or baking sheet. Let cool at room temperature until easy to handle. Then, using your fingers, remove the skin and bones and discard. Shred the chicken meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the chicken meat to the pot, then add the beans, chocolate and cilantro. Warm, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until heated through. Taste and season with more salt, if necessary. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of pepitas before serving.


Blood oranges: I wish I knew how to quit you

If you read my post a few days ago, “Dear Blood Oranges: I think we’re through,” you might have (reasonably) assumed that there would be no more posts on blood oranges forthcoming. I mean, I’ve already praised them to high heaven in past posts, like  “The Apothecary” and “Blood orange cocktails: Redux.” And I thought I was ready to move on.

But, you know how sometimes, after you break up with a boyfriend, you have to hook up with him one more time to just get it out of your system? No? Okay, then. Never mind.

You might have read about the Momofuku pork bun extravaganza that I co-hosted last weekend. Since Ron made these crazily decadent Momofuku pork buns …

and his fiancée Arlie assembled perhaps the most beautiful crudité platter I’ve ever seen …

you know, to lessen the effects of eating great gobs of pork fat, that meant I was free to do nothing but make cocktails.

Despite my initial plan to make no more than two or three cocktails, my enthusiasm got the better of me, as usual, and I put together a menu of seven drinks, plus a few off-the-menu specials.

The fun thing about serving so many drinks is that it always helps you discover which drinks appeal to the greatest number of people. Inevitably, there’s one cocktail that rises to the top, and that guests keep coming back for again and again.

At this party that drink was the Pimlico, a delightful bourbon and mint cocktail that originated at The Hungry Cat, in Los Angeles. I have loved this drink since I discovered it a few years ago, although I have never seen it anywhere other than in a cocktail book published by Food and Wine Magazine.  In my mind, it’s the perfect alternative to a Mint Julep, which always seems like a good idea, but packs a very powerful wallop for those not used to drinking straight spirits, since it’s nothing more than bourbon, sugar, and mint. The Pimlico, on the other hand, contains both lime and orange juice, which tempers the drink a bit, and means that you can drink at least two or three before you have to take a nap underneath the dining room table.

The original Pimlico is a real winner, and I’d heartily suggest you try it sometime. But, since I had some leftover blood orange juice after the party, I decided to try it out in this drink, and it was delicious. I also substituted superfine sugar for the simple syrup used in the original recipe, since I find that when you’re muddling mint, mashing it up with some granulated sugar helps extract the most flavor out of the mint. I also tweaked the proportions slightly. So after you try the original Pimlico—which I thoroughly recommend—you might try this variation, if blood oranges are in season where you live.

Blood Orange Pimlico

3 sprigs of fresh mint, plus 1 sprig for garnish
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces bourbon
3/4 ounce blood orange juice

In a cocktail shaker, combine the leaves from the 3 mint sprigs with the sugar and lime juice. Muddle until the mint is very aromatic. Add the bourbon and blood orange juice. Add ice to the shaker and shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into a highball or similar glass filled with crushed ice and garnish with the remaining mint sprig.

Mmm Mmm Mmmomofuku Pork Buns

After months of letting silly things like my hectic work schedule and my limited budget get in the way of entertaining as much as I’d like, I’m happy to report that I got to tie on my hostess apron three nights in a row this past weekend. The most elaborate to-do of the three was a small party co-hosted by my friend Ron, who had the genius idea of making David Chang’s iconic pork buns from his new Momofuku cookbook. He would handle the food, which would leave me free to geek out about the cocktails (about which I’ll post later).

Now, I’m happy to say that Ron is nothing like me. If I had been throwing together an elegant party for 15 or 20 guests, I would probably think twice about serving a dish that I had never made before as the centerpiece of the party. Ron, however, has chutzpah. He went to the butcher and purchased 15 pounds of pork belly.

All photos by Ron Carmel

Now, the mathematically inclined among you might realize that this is about one pound of pork belly per guest, but luckily this didn’t seem to occur to Ron at the time (thank goodness!). After brining the pork overnight and roasting it, he ended up with four of these gorgeous slabs …

as well as, ahem, this …

And no, that’s not a beer next to the loaf pan of solidified pork fat. It’s a pint glass of liquid pork fat. No word yet on what Ron plans to do with all of that, but I’m planning on loaning him a copy of the cookbook Fat, which I copyedited a handful of years ago.

Anyway, back to the pork buns. Ron prepped the quick-pickled cucumbers and scallions, so as soon as the guests started arriving, he could start steaming the buns …

and then slather on the hoisin sauce and assemble everything à la minute.

The results were these perfect little pillowy works of art, simultaneously soft and crunchy, sweet and salty, and delightfully porky, with hot layers of fat that dissolved on the tongue. (Sorry, vegetarians … no other way to say it.)

The bad news? I was so busy shaking cocktails that I only had time to nab a couple of these. The really awesome news? I have a two-pound slab of Ron’s leftover pork belly in my fridge waiting to be seared.

Dear Blood Oranges, I think we’re through

My beautiful blood oranges, I know I’ve been singing your praises a lot lately. I mean you’re sweet and sexy and all that …

.. and when it was just the two of us, and maybe a bottle of gin, I enjoyed our time together. I really did. But I think it’s time to move on.

First of all, you’ve gotten a little precious for my budget. Yesterday I spent $9 buying a big pile of you at the farmers’ market in preparation for a party that night. And what did that get me?

A pile of this …

.. .which yielded this …

Really? 1 cup of juice for $9? I don’t mean to be stingy, but you’re not exactly a cheap date.

And then was the party itself (more on which later). Admittedly, when I made the Blood Orange Bee’s Knees, you had some stiff competition with about seven other drinks on the cocktail menu, but you I don’t think you knocked my friends’ socks off. Everyone talked about how pretty you looked, but even that was probably because of the nasturtium petal garnish I dressed you up with. You were like a gorgeous but not-too-sharp date you take to a party. Everyone was interested in you for about 15 minutes, and then they found someone more interesting to talk to, like my old friends The Aviation and The Boulevardier.

Maybe it’s me, not you. Maybe I didn’t come up with the right cocktail. Maybe I should be willing to spend a bit more money on you. But I think it’s time to cut our losses and say we’re through, at least for now. Besides, it’s almost rhubarb season.

Favorite blogs about entertaining? Please share!

This evening I added a few websites to my blogroll, all of them blogs about cocktail geekery, which is a subject I adore. I can spend hours on end reading about rosemary-infused gin and varieties of expensive Cognac. But since my blog is (theoretically) about entertaining, I was hoping to add some blogs about hosting parties, large and small, to my blogroll.

Here’s my dilemma: All of the blogs I find about entertaining are written by high-end catering companies, which typically feature gorgeous high-resolution photos of Willy Wonka-themed bar mitzahs, extravagant summer garden parties in the Hamptons, and weddings costing upward of $50,000 for the catering alone. The photos of matching invitations, fondant cakes, and artfully designed party favors are beautiful, no doubt, and sometimes I get inspired by these images, but these websites bear little relation to my own experience, which is to throw some food on the barbecue, mix up a pitcher of cocktails, and batten down all the hatches before I invite everyone I know to come over and join in the fun.

Blogs about cocktail geekery? Check!
Blogs with a zillion recipes? Check!
Blogs about entertaining with a ten-thousand-dollar-plus budget? Checkity check check!

But if you happen to know of any great blogs that focus on casual entertaining, on the ins and outs of having frequent (and not-too-expensive) casual get-togethers, I’m all ears. Please clue me in!

Blood orange cocktails, redux

Recently I posted the recipe for The Apothecary, a cocktail using blood orange juice, but recently I was tinkering with blood oranges and came up with something a little different. I discovered some nasturtium blossoms in my backyard, which put me in the mind of a Bee’s Knees, a Prohibition-era cocktail that I first came across in David Embury’s  The Fine Art of Making Drinks, one of my favorite cocktail books, first published in 1948. His recipe calls for honey, lemon juice, and gin, with the optional addition of orange juice. He also mentions this drink in the introduction to the book, which I adore for its delightfully snarky tone:

During prohibition the overwhelming majority of available liquor consisted of bathtub gin and Scotch…. So unutterably vile were these synthetic concoctions that the primary object in mixing a cocktail became the addition of a sufficient amount of sweetened, highly flavored, and otherwise emollient and anti-emetic ingredients (cream, honey, Karo, canned fruit juices, etc.) to make it reasonably possible to swallow the resultant concoction and at the same time to retain a sufficient content of renatured alcohol to insure ultimate inebriety. Just how much dilution of the “gin”-bottle contents might be necessary to accomplish this supposed salutary result depended largely on the intestinal fortitude and espohageal callosity of the particular individual involved…Small wonder, then, that this period gave birth to such pernicious recipes as the Alexander—equal parts of gin, crème de cacao, and sweet cream [and] the Bee’s Knees—equal parts of gin, lemon juice, and honey; and so on ad nauseam.

I happen to find the Bee’s Knees not at all “pernicious,” and I’d say that this simple variation of mine using blood oranges and orange bitters is downright delicious.


Blood Orange Bee’s Knees

2 ounces gin (I used Hendrick’s)
1 ounce blood orange juice
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup (1 part honey dissolved in 1 part warm water)
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Edible flower for garnish

Combine all the ingredients except the flower in a shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the flower.

In praise of my sanguineous sweetie

I’m absolutely obsessed with the beautiful blood oranges I’m finding at the farmers’ market these days. They have a perfect balance between sweet and tart, and a complex, slightly floral aroma that reminds me a bit of Meyer lemons. And the ones I’ve been buying lately have been the bloodiest red blood oranges I’ve seen in years. Their color is quite lurid, I think.

Imagine you were to see the following picture out of context.



You might be a little concerned, right? It looks like something from an anatomy textbook instead of from a farmers’ market. Maybe some bone marrow, or a ganglion cyst, or nerves radiating from a spinal cord? Am I alone in finding this photo a little gruesome, or do I just have a disturbed imagination?

It doesn’t help that, after making cocktails with them, I look like I’ve been slaughtering something rather than squeezing citrus.

If I haven’t succeeded in turning you off of blood oranges for good, look for a post tomorrow with a crimson cocktail recipe.