Hatch Chile Season in Full Effect

Hatch Chiles are truly a marketing marvel of modern times. Typically, from around the beginning of August through the end of September, you will see many of your local stores featuring the mild New Mexican chile pepper, and many of them will offer free roasting as well.

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I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a “Hatch bag” from the Lazy Acres Natural Market in Mission Hills (on Washington Street, if you’re in San Diego). It’s a wonderful natural foods market, and they make a ton of their own products. I was given a bag not just of the chili peppers themselves, but a plethora of items made with Hatch chiles.

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That’s pie, cornbread, wine, crackers, cheese, cream cheese, beef patties, orange juice, guacamole, cream cheese, fiesta mix, and of course, some Hatch chiles, both fresh and roasted. Wow! Who knew they even made Chile Wine? (Not me.)

The first thing I did was grate up some of that Hatch chili cheddar cheese, and I used it in my Sunday meal prep to spice up my breakfast casserole.

The recipe for the casserole is wicked simple: the crust/bottom layer is crumbled up biscuits, then cooked sausage with mushroom and onion, then scrambled egg mixed with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Top with cheese and bake til done, like 30 minutes on 400 degrees.

 

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Next, I used the Hatch chili cream cheese and the grated Hatch chile cheddar cheese, plus ranch dressing and chicken breast, to make this amazing little snack.

If you’re ever stuck needing a quick, easy, potluck dish, or just a regular appetizer or snack, this is for you. Simply mix the chicken (canned or fresh/cooked) with ranch and cream cheese, then top with grated cheese and bake until bubbly. This is a very versatile  – the original recipe is buffalo sauce and regular cream cheese instead of Hatch-flavored cream cheese and cheddar cheese – and will be an instant crowd-pleaser.

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I also used the spicy orange juice (I was too chicken to drink it) in my Instant Pot to make some delicious ribs … just cook the ribs (on their side, like pictured below) on a rack inside the pot, pressure cook on high pressure for 25-30 minutes (and natural release), and then finish off on the grill or under a broiler with your favorite BBQ sauce. You won’t be disappointed!

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I also used the cornbread for a few dishes … it was a perfect accompaniment to the sweet taste of the Mississippi “Coke” Roast I also made in my Instant Pot.

Coke Roast is one of those recipes that sound really crazy when you read the ingredients, but you know it’s for real as soon as you taste it. This particular insanely easy and fast Instant Pot recipe is a pork loin (or beef chuck roast, but I think the pork is more tender), a can of Cola-Cola, a stick of butter, half a jar of pepperoncinis (with the juice), a packet of ranch dressing mix and a packet of au jus gravy mix. Pressure-cook for about 30 minutes with natural release, and serve over something spicy.

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I used the Hatch chile cream cheese and cheddar cheese for variations on a few of my favorite recipes. In addition to the chicken-cheese dip, I also made one of my favorite side dishes with a spicy twist.

These onions are usually made with Asiago cheese … simply wrap a slice of bacon around a half an onion, then add broth, cream, and roast until tender. Then add a bunch of grated Asiago cheese on top. I followed this same recipe but added Hatch cheddar instead of Asiago. It doesn’t have the same funky Asiago flavor, but the spiciness certainly made up for it.

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I think my favorite item in the bag was the delicious beef patties … they were clearly handmade, stuffed with cheese and lots of chunks of Hatch chiles, and the meat was very tender and fresh.

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I served the burgers on cauliflower sandwich thins with ketchup, mustard and mayo, and topped it with some sautéed mushrooms and fresh Hatch guacamole from the Hatch bag.

It was EPIC.

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What’s your favorite Hatch chile recipe? Let us know in the comments and your recipe might be selected for our Hatch feature next summer!

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Instant Pot Love – How to make yogurt, cheesecake, meatloaf and more

Do you have an Instant Pot yet?

It was apparently the hottest gift for the 2017 holiday season, so if you’re like me, someone who loves you bought you one of these babies.

Happy Holidays to me!

It’s really an amazing machine.

It’s a pressure cooker – but not one of those old and clunky ones that your grandmother used to have that made horrible noises and looked like it might explode at any moment.

This is a computerized cooking machine that is smart enough to remember your past settings and cook everything from hardboiled eggs to cheesecake to BBQ ribs.

After using this machine for a few weeks, I was able to happily donate my old slow cooker (because the IP has a slow cooker setting that doesn’t involve pressurization), my rice cooker (it makes all rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and any other type of grains in half the time of the best rice cooker on the market), and my yogurt maker.

Yogurt

Speaking of yogurt, you can literally make a ton of it at the touch of a button. I recommend setting it up before you go to bed at night, and you’ll wake up to yogurt!

All it requires is:

  • a gallon of milk,
  • a small container of plain yogurt (approx. 6 oz.), and
  • a 5 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk.

Put it on the “Yogurt” setting for 10 hours (or more) and then refrigerate.

That’s it.

Six quarts of homemade Greek yogurt.

That yields 6 quarts of yogurt.

Wow!

Adapting Your Favorites to the IP

My first experiment with this machine was for a tagine recipe … one of my favorite Moroccan dishes with chicken, chicken livers, green olives, preserved lemons, and other veggies.

Instead of slow cooking this for 8-9 hours, or on the stovetop in a fancy tagine clay pot, I simply placed all the ingredients in the Instant Pot and pressure-cooked it for 25 minutes.

Instant Pot Moroccan chicken

I have to admit, I was still a little nervous. Would that be enough time to cook chicken? And to make sure all of the flavors were properly cooked in to the meat?

To my pleased surprise, it turned out beautifully. If you are trying to adapt your favorite recipes to the Instant Pot, check out this link.

I think the most important thing when adapting is to check the pressure release – a “quick release” of the pressure will let the steam escape right away and are for recipes that are not generally slow-cooked (see, for example, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe, below).

For a recipe like this chicken where you want the flavors to be infused into every bite, you will want to do a “natural release” method after the cooking time is over. It takes a few extra minutes, but it’s worth it. And it’s still ready to eat in a fraction of the time.

Sweet Dishes

One of the first rookie mistakes of the Instant Pot is to neglect the sealing ring. The IP comes with a clear ring that fits on the inside of the pressurized lid.

At the very least, you need to make sure the sealing ring is cleaned after every use, or the flavors from whatever you cook will stick to the ring and get into everything you cook later.

If you intend to use your Instant Pot for savory dishes (chicken, ribs, eggs) as well as sweet dishes (cheesecakes and desserts), then the first thing you need to do is buy at least one extra sealing ring. I got a pair of them on Amazon.

Now I only use the red sealing ring for desserts and sweet dishes.

I also purchased a springform pan that fits inside a 6-quart Instant Pot, and I can use this for cheesecakes and other desserts as well as lasagna.

Cheesecake

I made a couple of different types of cheesecake to see how well it worked. Basically, you can make the crust however you like (crushed cookies with melted butter, or even a brownie that is only partially baked in the oven).

Oreo crust!

Then the filling recipe is simple:

  • 4 8-oz. packages of cream cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

The most important thing to remember is that the cream cheese and eggs MUST be at room temperature. If not, they will not blend properly and will result in a lumpy cheesecake. Make sure all ingredients are blended and smooth, then pour into your springform pan.

Cook on the (high) pressure setting for 45 minutes, and use the natural release method (which will take about another 10-15 minutes).

Let it cool and garnish with your favorite toppings.

Oreo cheesecake with berries.

This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s so easily adaptable. Try it with lots of different crusts and/or toppings!

Turtle cheesecake with brownie crust

I have tried similar recipes in the oven before, and I even made some in the oven while I was making some in the Instant Pot, just so I could see the difference in flavor and texture. The pressure cooking makes the filling much softer and lighter!

Food parties

During my first couple of weeks with the Instant Pot, I organized a few friends for a tamale party.

If you’ve never been to one, it’s basically a fun way to make a party out of something that can be pretty boring and tedious – making tamales.

Tamales are a popular dish around the holiday season, especially in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are delicious concoctions of many types of fillings and masa (corn) dough stuffed into corn husks and steamed.

They are also a giant pain to make. Hence, a party.

Tamale party setup

Instead of spending hours doing all the work yourself, you get a few friends, everyone brings fillings and masa dough and corn husks (as well as a few bottles of wine and snacks to sustain you for a long afternoon), and everyone makes a bunch of tamales.

It’s a little bit of work, but everyone goes home with tons of tamales to eat (or freeze for later).

Tons of tamales. Literally.

As you can imagine, the Instant Pot made a ton of work a little easier.

The night before the party, I used my Instant Pot to make a vegetarian filling … literally a variety of vegetables and spices simmered for a few hours. Except that it literally took less than 20 minutes on the pressure setting. It took me longer to chop all of the veggies than it did for me to make a huge amount of delicious vegetarian filling.

Vegetarian tamale filling

I also made a chicken verde filling – literally a few boneless chicken thighs and a big can of salsa verde – that was ready in half an hour.

Saving the day at the tamale party

And, of course, tamales need to be cooked, too; and that usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours in standard steamer pot. But I actually brought my Instant Pot with me to the party (did I mention it’s very portable and has a handy handle on top?) and was able to steam a few batches right on the spot.

A full pot (I have a 6-quart) stuffed full of tamales steamed each one beautifully in 30-35 minutes. (Do a quick release afterwards.)

Weeknight Meals

Because the Instant Pot can make short work out of many dishes that would otherwise take hours and hours, it’s perfect for weeknight meals and holiday dinners.

For Christmas dinner I used it to make Brussels sprouts (in 3 minutes!); and for New Year’s, I made black-eyed peas and greens, a delicious Southern New Year’s Day tradition to bring good luck in the new year.

Usually it simmers in my slow cooker for 24 hours. This year, I made it in 35 minutes – from dried beans!

Black-eyed peas and greens for New Year’s Day.

Which brings me to another awesome feature of the Instant Pot – it’s multi-functionality! Although most recipes use the “pressure” setting, there is also an equally awesome “sauté” setting.

For example, before, when I made black-eyed peas in my crock pot, I would brown the onions and garlic and whatnot before adding them to the slow cooker.

With the Instant Pot, you can sauté the veggies, then add the rest of your ingredients and switch the setting to pressure to complete the dish! It saves tons of time in washing multiple pots and pans, not to mention that you are cooking the food in a fraction of the time.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

The meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe from I Wash, You Dry is definitely going to be a weeknight supper regular for me. It’s so easy!

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes AT THE SAME TIME!

You place the potatoes and chicken broth at the bottom, then put the wire rack over the potatoes and place the foil-wrapped meatloaf on top. You can even cook a vegetable side dish in there, too.

Meatloaf and potatoes dinner

With only 25 minutes on pressure, and quick release, you can have a delicious dinner on the table in no time.

Sous Vide Eggs and Meal Planning

I usually eat breakfast on the go, and it’s hard to do that and stay healthy sometimes. Luckily, the Instant Pot is also great  for meal prep.

This is another cool Instant Pot accessory … a silicone mold. The Amazon listing says it’s for baby food and egg bites, among other things, but I use it mostly for eggs.

Sous vide egg bites

The most important thing to remember here is to not fill the cups all the way. I made that mistake my first time, and the egg mixture expanded and almost popped out of the container!

Ah well. They still tasted good!

This is a really great way to prepare an easy and healthy breakfast.

You can customize the flavorings (and control the salt and fat, etc.), and make a whole pan of these in less than half an hour – 8 minutes of pressure cooking (which means it will take a moment to get to the appropriate pressure) and then 10 minutes to let the steam naturally release.

The result is a pan of delicious and super-fluffy egg bites you can eat all week long.

Coming soon

In addition to some fun and useful Instant Pot accessories, I treated myself to a new cookbook, too!

I really adore Indian food, and I can’t wait to experience how much easier it is to make at home with the Instant Pot!

Coming up soon on Starbright’s Kitchen!

Please stay tuned to Starbrightskitchen.com to see the creations from Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot Cookbook!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herb and Eatery

A few of us lucky food bloggers got a chance last weekend to visit Brian Malarkey’s newest venture, Herb & Eatery – an extension, really, of his award-winning restaurant Herb & Wood.

Herb & Eatery is the front of the store and the Herb & Wood dining room is in the back.

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Herb & Wood has already won a ton of accolades for being the most stylish and sexy new restaurant in town- and now with Herb & Eatery, you can take all of the goodness home with you.

Jars of goodness at Herb & Eatery

Jars of goodness at Herb & Eatery

Herb & Eatery essentially has all of the goodies that make chefs (and humble food bloggers) swoon. Brian Malarkey gave us a sweet tour of the chef’s shop and restaurant before filling us with food.

Brian Malarkey

Almost everything is made in-house. You like the tapenade or the salsa that was part of your (award-winning) dinner at Herb & Wood? Come next door and you can buy a jar of it to take home.

Want some fresh herbs, fresh-baked croissants, imported cheeses, frozen ice cream cookie sandwiches, or even the designer flatware you used? It’s all for sale next door.

View of the pastries from the second floor

View of the pastries from the second floor

Herb & Wood was the first phase of this project; and this awesome shop is phase two. They have already expanded the upstairs area into a lounge for private gatherings; and the adjacent space into an art gallery and private event room.

Art on display in the private event space next door to Herb & Eatery

Art on display in the private event space next door to Herb & Eatery

In addition to a drool-worthy “chef’s shop,” a host of housemade pastries are available, every one of them made around-the-clock by pastry chef extraordinaire Adrian Mendoza.

pastries and kombucha

And don’t forget the house-made kombucha.

pastries

Speaking of croissants, YOU WANT THESE CROISSANTS.

They are made fresh daily (and sell out really fast) with tons of specialty imported butter and they are said to rival the best Parisian café. We enjoyed them plain, stuffed with chocolate, stuffed with meat and cheese, and made into these lovely breakfast sandwiches.

This is the Maple Croissant: filled with maple pork sausage, a fried egg, gruyere cheese, arugula and aioli.

croissant

We also got to sample a few of the baked eggs dishes: Brian was very exited about these … they take a loaf (bread) pan and fill it with scrambled eggs and potato, then bake it, slice it, and cover each slice in one of five different topping combinations.

This is the one with mushrooms, Humboldt goat cheese, herbs, kale, and crème fraiche. It was heavenly.

mushroom baked eggs

And this is the baked egg with tomato, capers, olives, basil pesto and lemon zest:

baked egg with tomato

We weren’t even close to being finished. Next we got to sample a few of the items from the All Day Menu (breakfast is only served from 8-11 a.m.).

One of my favorites was the poke & avocado salad, with kimchi, cilantro, housemade ponzu and mixed greens:

poke

… but I also loved the smoked curry chicken and cashews salad with kale and cilantro.

curry chicken salad

We also sampled some of their amazing sandwiches, like the banh mi with chicken sausage, papaya, and chicken liver pate:

banh mi

… as well as the amazing tuna melt with olive oil-poached albacore tuna, preserved lemons, herbs, capers and white cheddar cheese.

tuna melt

As if that wasn’t enough carbs to put us all into respective food comas, we also got a sample of two of Brian Malarkey’s favorite appetizers: a Marin triple cream brie with seasonal mustard and jelly:

brie

…  plus these beautiful sugar cane Thai chicken skewers:

thai sugar cane chicken skewers

And really amazing root fries with homemade smoked French dressing and yusu aioli:

root fries

Aaaand ice cream cookies …

ice cream cookies

The ice cream cookie flavor blends were perfect: they have chocolate chip cookies with mint chocolate chip ice cream; cranberry oatmeal cookies with vanilla bean (my favorite) and peanut butter cookies with banana ice cream.

I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise given the amazing reputation that Malarkey enjoys in this town, but LITERALLY everything they have is amazingly delicious.

This isn’t one of those places where you might drop in for a breakfast pastry because they have a good baker, but not come for lunch or dinner because other items aren’t as good.  Here, everything is good. You can tell that the chefs and employees there take food quality seriously and want you to experience the best. I’ll definitely be back!

The perfect cheese plate

Ok, I am not an expert on most things, but since I was a little kid, there are a few things I know I can do well.

I can write well. I can put on eye makeup without the assistance of a mirror. I can smell when milk is even slightly sour. I can write my name using a pen between my toes. I can make an excellent mix tape … and that was back in the day, when you made a mix tape from recording songs off of the radio, and you had to be super-fast to hit the “stop” button before the DJ came on, talking over the end of the song you were trying to record. Nowadays the kids have it much easier with the mP3s and playlists. But I digress.

cheese plate

And I can make an excellent cheese plate. This isn’t hubris or boasting, it’s a simple fact. Part of the reason is because it’s nearly impossible to make a BAD cheese plate … I mean, honestly, just take a look at Pinterest one of these days and search for the term “cheese plate.” (Or check out mine right here! Shameless plug!)

mini cheese plate

Some people seriously pull out a pretty platter, slice a few bits of cheese and meat, and call it a day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to do it …. if you’re going to have a great party and you want to really hit it out of the park … there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

1) Have a good selection.

Don't be afraid of the sample basket!

Don’t be afraid of the sample basket!

Seriously, people. No matter how much you love that one awesome cheese, not everyone at your party is going to like it. Present a blend of hard cheeses, soft cheeses, and stinky cheeses, and switch up the types of cheese as well … you want some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat cheese and some cow’s milk cheese.

cheese selection

My favorite local cheese shop keeps a basket near the register full of the odds and ends and weirdly-shaped chunks of cheese they have left over. This is an excellent way to sample certain cheeses you might not otherwise try.

2) The cheese is just the star. It needs a limo.

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

Don’t forget the rest of the plate! You want a nice crusty bread and at least one type of cracker, and some vehicles for cheese that are fresh fruits or vegetables.

apples and gjetost cheese

apples and gjetost cheese

Try mixing up different breads and crackers, and different fruits and vegetables like apples, pear, strawberries, endive, celery, carrot sticks, and radishes (slice them lenthwise).

endive and spicy cheese dip

endive and spicy cheese dip

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

Always have at least one savory spread and one sweet spread on the plate. I love the selection of jams and toppings from the Friend in Cheeses Jam Company, a small buisness that specializes in things that go great with cheese. (Seriously, how awesome is that?) More than once, their amazing creations like salted watermelon jelly, strawberry tarragon conserve, carrot marmalade and pisco pear butter have been the best parts of my cheese plates.

bacon jam and cheddar

bacon jam and cheddar

Meat items are also important to keep a good balance on your platter. The salty and sweet punch of bacon jam, or the smoky depth of smoked chicken liver pate or storebought liverwurst, are excellent accompaniments to most cheeses.

3) It’s a carpenter, not his tools. But get some nice tools.

mini cheese graterOk, not crazy tools. Or expensive tools. Just things like a tiny cheese grater so you can grate your cheese on the spot. Or a few of those tiny forks and knives for spreads and cheeses. Just a handful of toothpicks for your olives and your bits of meat, and a few small bowls or rammekins for those jams and jellies.

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

4) Be an artist about it.

cheese plate 2

I usually set up my larger selections on a handmade wooden board, but it’s certainly not necessary. A cracked plate works as well as a fancy decorative platter. What matters is how delicious everything looks.

cheese plate 3

cheese plate 4

Football Feasts and Easy Appetizers

It’s that time of year again. The time when appetizers and finger foods are piled high atop wobbly tables surrounded by rowdy sports fans. I love it.

In general, I am a huge fan of finger foods, hors d’oeuvres, tapas, appetizers, small plates, cheese plates, things stuffed with cheese, things wrapped in bacon, things topped with cheese/chili/other things, and of course, munchies. This time of year arouses my creativity as well as my hometown pride.

I am sure your Facebook feeds and inboxes are stuffed to the gills this week with plenty of cheese dips and spicy wings recipes, so I won’t add to that list. There’s no need to paint yourself into a foodie corner with your party menu.

Here are a few of my favorite party items. Try one or two of them this weekend (or for your next get-together) and let me know how you like them.

Prosciutto-wrapped cheese snacks

As you know from my many gleeful rants about cheese, you can make homemade mozzarella in about 30 minutes, at home, with no special equipment. It’s delicious, and it’s AAAH-MAZING when it’s fresh, creamy, and still a little warm. How could I make it better, you ask? Wrap it in prosciutto after you’ve worked it into a log, then slice it, place it on slices of crusty sliced French bread with a bit of salt and pepper, then a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. That’s it.

Caprese Spears

Well, as long as you’re making cheese, put some chunks of it on toothpicks with basil leaves, cherry tomatoes, and the same salt/pepper/oil/balsamic seasoning. Now your one appetizer has become two … plus, the vegetarian sports fans don’t feel so left out!

Saucy Sausages

Seriously, two ingredients: tiny sausages and your favorite BBQ sauce. Heat and serve. Don’t forget the toothpicks.

Bacon-wrapped Tenderloin

This is another wicked simple recipe, so much that it’s not really a recipe (pork tenderloin and bacon). You will need a grill, however. It’s a great way to impress your party hosts (if you confirm ahead of time the existence of a grill), because you can buy your tenderloins and wrap them with good, thick bacon at home, then cook it at the party. If necessary, you may want to coat it with a little oil so it doesn’t stick to the grill.

Keep it on the upper rack so the bacon doesn’t burn before the pork is cooked through. If you cook an average-size tenderloin at 350 degrees for about an hour it should be perfect, just make sure the internal temperature is 160 degrees.

Bacon-wrapped Dates

This recipe is completely adaptable for a small gathering or a huge party. Essentially, each date (use the big, soft ones, like Medjool) needs to be sliced open, pitted, then the empty cavity where the pit was is stuffed with a hunk of blue cheese. Then you wrap it with a half-slice of bacon and secure the whole thing with a toothpick.

I usually make a huge pan of them ( for me, this is just a little too much work to only make a few), and I drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil and broil at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Top it off with another drizzle of balsamic vinegar — or, if you really want it to pack a punch, reduce about a half-cup of balsamic vinegar in a saucepan for about 20 minutes or until it thickens and reduces by half, then drizzle THAT over the dates right before serving. It’s concentrated. It’s tangy. It’s on top of cheese-stuffed-bacon-wrapped goodness. It’s divine.

Chili

This is the most valuable of sports event dishes. It’s spicy, it’s hearty, it can be topped with anything you like, and it becomes a myriad of other tasty dishes … namely chili dogs, chili burgers, chili pie, and, of course, my favorite, the big bowl of chili with sour cream and cheese, served with a big hunk of steamy, sweet cornbread (see the next item below).

Many people get very picky about their chili; some dislike beans and some dislike meat. Personally, I like it all.

  • 1 white onion, diced (plus another onion, diced, for topping)
  • 1 head of smoked garlic, diced
  • 1 whole smoked jalapeno, diced
  • 1 can each of crushed tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, rotel (diced tomatoes and chilis), white beans, light red kidney beans, black beans and whole kernel corn
  • 2 cans dark red kidney beans
  • 2 lbs ground beef or turkey
  • 1 tbsp. each of ground cumin, black pepper, chili pepper and paprika
  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • about a half-bottle of good beer

Brown the meat in a skillet with the diced onion, garlic and jalapeno. Mix it in a 5-quart crock pot with the canned ingredients and spices and let it simmer on high for about 4 hours (or, for the best, most slow-cooked flavored deliciousness, cook it on low for 8+ hours). Then add the half-bottle of good beer (or more if you like it less chunky, the beans absorb a lot of the liquid) and let it simmer another hour. Check the spices, add more if necessary, and serve while piping hot.

Smokin’.

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Extra-Corny Cornbread

The single best accompaniment to chili is also pretty darn easy. I use a boxed cornbread mix (you know, the ones where you just add a bit of milk and an egg), plus I add a can of creamed corn and maybe a handful of pepper jack or some other spicy and/ or tangy cheese. Bake it according to the package instructions, as a cake or muffins.

Turophiles Unite Part II – Easy Cheesy

So you may recall my last cheese experiment, where I discovered the ease of making my own mozzarella and ricotta cheese. I used a handy kit from the good people at the Roaring Brook Dairy that I found at my local fancy cheese shop, but you can find it on Amazon for a decent price … or you can save some cheese (haha!) and buy yourself a pack of rennet tablets, a container of citric acid, a few plastic gloves and a good thermometer. I am glad that I used the kit for my first attempts at cheesemaking — they make it seem very non-threatening.

Really, making your own cheese of various types is incredibly easy … you just need a good thermometer and to keep your eyes on the temperature. Letting the mixture burn or adding the culture(s), rennet, acid or other additives at the wrong time is really the only way you can totally screw it up. For example, when making mozzarella, you have to add a citric acid solution when the milk reaches 85 degrees, then the rennet solution when it hits 100. If you don’t, it won’t work properly.

Essentially, fresh cheeses are milk brought to temperature and then cut with an acid, which makes the curds form, and then the curds are strained and formed into cheese. When making ricotta, you can use the whey left over from making mozzarella (“ricotta” means “re-cooked”) by adding milk, bringing it to 190 degrees, and adding vinegar. Strain it through a cheese cloth and you’re done. You can also eliminate the whey and simply bring the milk to temperature, then add the acid and strain.

Goat’s milk or sheep’s milk makes awesome fresh cheeses. I scored a quart of delicious and incredibly fresh goat’s milk last week at a Queso Diego cheese club meeting, and wanted to make some cheese with it right away. Now, in order to make a creamy chevre, you need cultures, which I did not have on hand. But I still was able to make a big hunk of incredible fresh goat cheese using basic ingredients from my kitchen, plus some fresh herbs I picked up that same day. The whole process took less than 20 minutes, although the cheese admittedly tasted better the next day, after it had hardened a bit in the refrigerator.

Super-Easy Herbed Goat Cheese

(did I mention I love cheese?)

Step One: Procure a quart of the freshest milk possible. Make sure it has not been ultra-pasturized (regular pasturization is OK, no pasturization is best).

Step Two: Pour it in a pot and make sure you have a good thermometer. Bring the milk up to 190 degrees, stirring occasionally to make sure the milk doesn’t burn.

Step Three: Remove the pot from the heat and add 1/4 cup of vinegar. It will curdle pretty much instantly.

Step Four: Remove the curds and place into a bowl covered with a cheese cloth. Add salt to taste and herbs of your choice.

I used ground black pepper and chopped fresh dill. I packed it into a small bowl and ate some right away, but it was pretty crumbly; the next morning it was easier to spread after refrigerating overnight.

If you don’t care for ricotta or goat’s cheese (shame on you!), there are several other delicious fresh cheeses.

For homemade queso fresco (aka queso blanco), bring a gallon of milk to 190 degrees, and as soon as you remove it from the heat, add the juice of 4 limes and a couple of teaspoons of salt. Strain and enjoy.

For homemade mascarpone, bring 2 cups of heavy cream to 190 degrees and add a teaspoon of lemon juice. No salt is needed. Strain and serve with your favorite fruit for an impeccable dessert.

Turophiles unite! Cheese is so easy ….

I. Love. Cheese.

Soft cheese, hard cheese, grated cheese, sliced cheese, crumbly cheese. American cheese, French cheese, Spanish cheese, Italian cheese, Greek cheese, Swiss cheese. Sharp cheese, sweet cheese, smelly cheese, spreadable cheese, gooey cheese. Cheese with things on top or cheese stuffed inside of other things. Cheese coated in nuts or studded with berries. Brie, provolone, Swiss, cheddar, chevre, blue cheese, cotija cheese, feta cheese, manchego cheese. Goat cheese, sheep cheese, cow cheese. All of it. I make a wicked good cheese plate, and given the choice of a decadent hot fudge sundae or a plate of delicious cheeses and accompaniments, I would probably take the cheese.

And, of course, mozzarella and ricotta are probably two of my favorites. Both are easy to cook with in pretty much any dish, or just by themselves. Is there anything more lovely than a caprese salad/sandwich/snack?

The last time I was perusing my local artisan cheese shop, Venissimo (seriously, check them out if you’re in southern California, they let you take full advantage of their tasting policy!), I noticed this cute little package.

Mozzarella, you say? All I need is one gallon of milk? And in less than an hour I will be shoving cheese into my face? Sounds good to me. And there was enough in this kit for me to make a pound of cheese out of a gallon of milk four times. Heck yeah.

I decided to give it a try. Upon closer inspection, this was simply a convenient kit with all of the little things you need to make cheese. No grand kitchens or fancy equipment needed — however it is handy if you are like me and cannot seem to locate rennet tablets anywhere in your town. (After I made this, I discovered this post from Simple Bites, and it’s exactly the same recipe. Although clearly she has a rennet hookup.)

The kit came with instructions, gloves, a thermometer, citric acid, salt and rennet tablets. I mixed the rennet into water and the citric acid into another cup of water per the instructions, and started the process.

Step 1: Gallon of milk (not ultra-pasturized, as fresh as possible) goes into a great big pot. Turn on  the heat. Not boiling but not too low either.

Keep the thermometer handy. Cheesemaking isn’t complicated, but you need to keep an eye on the temperature.

Step 2: When the milk temperature reaches 85 degrees, add the citric acid solution. Keep stirring.

Step 3: When the temperature reaches 100 degrees, add the rennet solution. Keep stirring, but start moving your spoon in a gentle up-and-down motion.

Step 4: Stop stirring. As the temperature continues to rise you will see curds starting to form, like this:

Step 5: Cover the pot and let the curds rest for 5-10 minutes. Then strain the curds out with a slotted spoon or colander, and place in a microwaveable bowl.

Step 6: Microwave the curds for 30-60 seconds at a time, and each time you remove it, strain more of the liquid out (squeeze it with your gloved hands), and fold and stretch the cheese. Sprinkle the salt over the cheese at this point. Repeat this process two or three times (but don’t add any more salt).

Your cheese should, at this point, look like cheese, and you can shape it into one large ball or several small ones, as well as string cheese strips.

The shaping is where I had some difficulty, as you can see. This was my first try with the ball-shaping, but it was still delicious.

Then, of course, what are we to do with all of that whey left over in the pot?

Well, let’s just say, they don’t call it “recooked” for nothing ….  ricotta, that is.

It’s made from the leftover whey you have after making cheese, plus some extra added milk and a little vinegar. According to SB Canning, you need to make the ricotta less than three hours after the mozzerella, but other than that, it’s incredibly fast and easy. Brilliant!

So … take the whey you have left over, and add a quart of milk. Bring up to 200 degrees, and keep stirring so you don’t burn the whey. Then add about a half-cup of apple cider vinegar and let the curds and whey sit for a few minutes.

Strain over a cheesecloth-lined colander, and once all of the liquid has drained out, you have a big pile of ricotta cheese, ready for stuffing into your favorite pasta!