Tag Archives: Mexican food

pumpkin chili with venison (the venison diaries, part IV)

Two winters ago, I wrote a series of blog posts all featuring ground venison, since I’d been given 6 pounds of it from my dad. According to my first post in the series, my plan was to write a different recipe for each of the 6 packages, but somehow I fell off after three. I can’t recall what I did with the other 3 pounds,  but I’m guessing it’s pretty likely there was at least one batch of chili in there.

Chili is probably the most common dish made with ground venison- I suspect some people turn to it because the powerful seasonings can mask the venison’s taste, but that hasn’t been a problem for us since my dad’s deer always taste great with no “off” or gamey flavors. We just make it because it’s easy and we tend to have most of the ingredients on hand. However, I never really considered my usual chili (which consists primarily of chopping onions and garlic and opening a bunch of cans) to be worthy of writing down a recipe.

Folks, this batch is a different story. I did rely on a couple canned ingredients, and this is still squarely in the camp of weeknight fare (even with the experimentation factor and my own slow-pokiness, it only took me an hour and a half from start to finish) but the flavors are richer, deeper and, dare I say, more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill chili. Marvin may have to make good on his mention of taking up hunting himself in order to keep us stocked with sufficient quantities of venison, because rather than quell my cravings, this just made me hungry for more.

When my venison supply was replenished a couple weeks ago, I knew that this was the first dish I wanted to try. My dad’s wife Amy had told me about a pumpkin chili she had recently made for a cook-off (it took second place out of 20- not too shabby!) and I was intrigued. Amy hadn’t used a recipe, but she told me what ingredients she used and I tweaked it to my tastes. For example, her version used chili powder, pumpkin pie spice and a little brown sugar, and included lots of beans, corn and tomatoes. I omitted the sugar, added toasted and soaked guajillo chiles instead of chili powder, and used cumin, allspice and cinnamon for a vaguely Middle Eastern feel. In fact, I can easily see substituting lamb for the venison in this recipe (or grass-fed beef if you’re not a fan of lamb). I also left out the corn and cut back on the beans and tomatoes, wanting the pumpkin, chiles and meat to be the primary flavors.

For garnish, I stole Amy’s idea of reserving a little pumpkin to mix with sour cream, and added cilantro and scallions to brighten things up. Chopped jalapenos would be nice too if you wanted a little more kick. One authoritarian note, though- although I am generally very flexible with my recipes, I have to strongly advise against any temptations to use shredded cheese as a garnish- the flavors wouldn’t work with the cinnamon and allspice. I guarantee you won’t miss it, though.

Pumpkin Chili with Venison
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Prep time: 30 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive

Serves: 8

5-7 dried guajillo chiles (see note)
2 cups boiling water
2 Tbs olive oil or neutral vegetable oil
1 large or 2 small white onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground venison, lamb, grass-fed beef, or a combination
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 large (29-oz) can 100% pumpkin puree (check to make sure it has no sugar or other spices added)
1 small (14-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small (15-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained

optional but recommended garnishes:
sour cream
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro

Note: 5 guajillo chiles will yield a chili that is “warm” but not spicy-hot; feel free to add more, but I wouldn’t go too hot because you’ll overpower the other spices. You could also substitute dried ancho chiles if guajillos are not to be found.

Directions:

1. Heat a cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Toast the chiles in the dry skillet, turning frequently and taking care not to burn them. Remove the seeds and roughly tear the chiles into pieces; place in a blender. Pour over the 2 cups boiling water and replace the lid; allow to soak while you prep the vegetables.

2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute more.

3. Increase the heat slightly and add the meat, salt, and all of the spices except the cocoa. Cook until the meat is browned- this will vary depending on your choice of meat; venison is very wet so it takes longer, but keep going until the liquid has evaporated. Meanwhile, process the chiles and water for 30 seconds in the blender.

4. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot, and all but 1/3 cup of the pumpkin puree; add the cocoa powder and stir to incorporate. Strain the chile water into the pot with a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth, pressing to extract all the liquid (guajillo skins are very tough; if you use ancho chiles you don’t need to strain them). Add more water to reach your desired consistency, allowing for some evaporation (I added about a cup).

5. Cover and reduce heat to a very low simmer; cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water if it looks too thick. About halfway through, add the black beans (canned beans often verge on overcooked, so I prefer to add them toward the end).

6. Taste the chili for salt and adjust as needed. Whisk the reserved pumpkin puree with a cup or so of sour cream. Serve the chili garnished with pumpkin sour cream, a generous sprinkling of cilantro and a few scallion slices.

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oaxacan mole verde: a springtime stew

Everywhere I turn- on Facebook and Twitter and even *gasp* real-life conversations (remember those?)- people are, to put it gently, lamenting spring’s tardy appearance this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to ditch the scarf and gloves, and temps in the 60s would feel balmy right about now, but I try not to dwell on that which I cannot change. Instead, I’m trying to transition as best I can, by cooking foods which satisfy both the craving for something warm and hearty, and the desperate longing for something green.

When I prepared my prosciutto leg in January, I had a fair amount of meat (and bone; see above) left over from the trimmings. I took some out of the freezer a couple weeks ago to make a Oaxacan pork stew.  I’m sure the very word “stew” conjures rib-sticking, squarely winter food, but bear with me. The dish incorporates plenty of green things like tomatillos and squash and an herb purée that gives it a lively perk and, when stirred in, turns the color from olive-drab to a brilliant emerald.  The stew’s heat (both temperature and spice-wise) will fend off these last bouts of winter chill, while the vegetables and herbs will prime your palate for green things to come.

I served this one night to my friend Amanda, wh0 has visited Oaxaca with her Mexican beau, and she said it was very similar to something she had tried there. I wouldn’t expect anything less of a Rick Bayless recipe- this one comes from his book  Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. The only change I made was to use zucchini in place of the chayote because the market was out of it that day, but I think it’s a fine (if less authentic) substitution. I also used frozen green beans because I prefer them over the somewhat large, tough specimens that are found in stores this time of year.

If you still think that stew is too much of a winter dish, I would humbly remind you that in Mexico it is MUCH warmer than it is in most parts of North America, and they eat stews like this all the time! I won’t preach to you about not being deterred by the long ingredients list or prep time; this is unapologetically a recipe for those who may actually enjoy spending an afternoon in the kitchen. Might as well, since it’s still too cold to go outdoors.

Oaxacan Pork Stew with Vegetables & Herbs /Mole Verde Oaxaqueño (adapted slightly from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen)
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2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 lb pork bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
2/3 cup dried navy beans
4 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 lb medium tomatillos. husked and rinsed
fresh green chiles to taste- about 2 jalapeños or 3 serranos
½ tsp cumin, preferably toasted and freshly ground
½ tsp black pepper, preferably fresh ground
pinch of ground cloves
1 ½ Tbx lard or vegetable oil
2 medium (1 lb total) chayotes, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch chunks, or substitute 1 lb zucchini (do not peel)
1 ½ cups (about 6 oz) tender young green beans, trimmed and cut in half, or substitute frozen if no good fresh beans are available
2/3 cup fresh masa, or  generous ½ cup masa harina mixed with 6 Tbs hot water
about 2 tsp salt
4 large sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnish
2 small sprigs epazote (or 5-6 sprigs of cilantro if unavailable)
2 leaves hoja santa (or 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds)

Place the meat and bones in a large Dutch oven or cazuela and cover with 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil, skimming the gray foam that rises to the surface. When no more foam surfaces, add the beans, minced garlic and onion. Partially cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the beans are cooked and the meat is tender, 1 ½- 2 hours. Add any water as needed during cooking to keep the beans and meat covered.

Meanwhile, roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft and blackened on one side, about 3-5 minutes; turn them over and blacken the other side. Transfer tomatillos along with any juices to a blender or food processor. Heat a cast iron skillet or heavy griddle over medium heat. Roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic in the dry skillet, turning frequently, until soft and blackened in spots. (Note: I found it helpful to keep the garlic on the outer edge of the pan to avoid burning.) Peel the garlic and roughly chop it with the chiles. Add to blender along with the cumin, cloves and pepper, and purée until smooth.

When the meat and beans are tender, pour them into a colander set over a large bowl or stockpot. Remove the bones, picking them clean of any remaining meat and adding it back to the colander. Set colander aside. Skim the fat from the top of the broth.  Wash and dry your Dutch oven or  cazuela, set over medium heat, and add the lard or oil. When hot, add the tomatillo purée- it should sizzle sharply (test a drop first). Stir constantly for about 5 minutes to thicken. Add 4 cups of the pork broth, partially cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the chayote or zucchini and green beans and cook 5 minutes longer.

In a small bowl, whisk 2/3 cup broth with the masa mixture, mixing well to remove lumps, then whisk into the stew base until thickened. Return the meat and beans to the stew pot. Season with salt to taste, usually about 2 teaspoons. Let the stew simmer gently while you prepare the herb mixture.

Purée the herbs with 1/3 cup broth in a blender until smooth. (If you are short of broth, you can use water.) Stir the puréed herbs into the stew. Add broth or water as needed to achieve a medium-thick consistency. Ladle into wide soup bowls, garnish with additional parsley, and serve immediately with warm corn tortillas. If not eating all of the stew immediately, stir a spoonful of herb mixture into each individual serving rather than the whole pot, reserving the remaining mixture to add to the stew when reheating it.

chicken enchiladas with chile verde & chile colorado, el azteco style

chix-ench-plate-2-crop

In college I worked at a restaurant in East Lansing called El Azteco (or simply “El Az”, for those in the know).  Anyone who ever went to MSU probably has fond memories of their 96-cent burrito and margarita specials, and if you’re old school you remember when it was underground in a tiny basement location.  I remember going there in high school with friends, ordering “friburs” (frijole burrito) and Mountain Dew, and leaving a pile of change for the waitress (cringe!).  I started working there the summer after freshman year of college.  There were many ups and downs to the job, but one thing that appealed to me was the management’s sense of equity.  It didn’t matter if you had 10 years experience or none as a server- everyone had to start off in the kitchen and work there for at least a few months before graduating to server (or “waitron”, as it was called).  Consequently, all of the servers including myself knew exactly what was in the food and how to make it.  Comes in handy for when I have a craving and don’t want to drive 80 miles!  (You’d think that eating the same food 4-5 times a week for 4 years would make you sick of it, but oddly, no.)

Last week my friends Ian and Michelle welcomed their son  Henry into the world.  I wanted to bring them some food so that they could take a night off from cooking and hopefully relax a bit.  I had eaten at El Azteco the week prior and it occured to me to make chicken enchiladas because I could make them in bulk and have enough to feed myself and Marvin as well.  I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen on Sunday and made the works: chicken enchiladas with two kinds of sauce (chile verde & chile colorado), Spanish rice, refried beans and pico de gallo, all from scratch.  Given how much food I ended up with, it was time well spent, I think.  And when I delivered the food to Ian and Michelle, I got to peek in on an adorable sleeping brand new baby boy!

Very soon I will be posting my recipes for refried beans and Spanish rice, as well as a couple other El Az-inspired recipes that incorporate leftovers from this recipe, so please check back.

Please note: the given recipes make a LOT of enchiladas and sauce, so if you’re not feeding a crowd and don’t want to freeze stuff, I would recommend cutting everything in half.   However, you can freeze the sauces and use extra leftover chicken in Chicken & Rice Soup (recipe coming soon).

Chicken Enchiladas, El Azteco Style printer-friendly version

enchiladas-with-towel

To cook the chicken:

6 chicken leg quarters (about 5 lbs), preferably organic or Amish
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs tomato paste
1 bay leaf
about 2 liters chicken broth (see notes)

To assemble the enchiladas:

8 oz finely shredded medium or mild cheddar
16 oz shredded cheddar or muenster, or a combination
about 60 corn tortillas (I bought 2 packages of 30)
Chopped scallions for garnish

Notes: For the poaching liquid for the chicken, feel free to use low-sodium canned chicken broth, or water plus bouillon.  I like this product called Better than Bouillon- they make an organic chicken bouillon that comes in a jar and has a paste-like consistency.  I like it because it’s easy to add as much or as little as you need and to taste for saltiness as you go.

Directions: Roughly chop the carrots, celery and onion and smash the garlic.  Put in a large stockpot with the chicken broth, bay leaf, and tomato paste (stir to dissolve) and bring to a simmer.

While the stock is simmering, rinse and pat the chicken dry and trim of all excess skin and fat.  I find a kitchen scissors the best tool for this.  Place the chicken quarters in the simmering stock, arranging them so that they are all covered by the liquid (if necessary, add more broth or water to cover- you want the liquid to just come to the top of the meat).  Return to a simmer and poach for 25 minutes, covered.  When done, remove lid and let the chicken cool in the poaching liquid while you get on with making the enchilada sauces (see recipes below).

When cool, remove the chicken from the liquid.  Strain the broth and reserve for making Spanish rice or Chicken & Rice Soup.  Skin and debone the chicken and chop into small pieces (you will want them pretty small so that your enchiladas aren’t too bulky).  Combine in a bowl with the 8 oz. shredded cheddar. (If you are going to use any of the chicken for Chicken & Rice soup, set some aside before adding the cheese, and adjust the amount of cheese accordingly.)

To assemble the enchiladas, take about 15 tortillas at a time, wrap them in a clean kitchen towel, and microwave for 3 minutes.  Take them out and divide and flip them, so that the ones on the outside are now on the inside, re-wrap in the towel and nuke for another few minutes.  You’re aiming for the tortillas to be completely steamed and pliable so they don’t crack when you roll them.

Take out 1 tortilla at a time, keeping the rest covered, and lay on a cutting board or your clean countertop.  Place a small amount of chicken filling down the center (see photo). If you use too much filling, your enchiladas will not stay rolled.  You want them about the thickness of a cigar.  Take the bottom third and fold it over, scrunching the edge towards you to get a nice tight roll.  (You can imagine the many references to illegal smokeables made at El Azteco when training new cooks on how to roll enchiladas :)) Roll it up away from you and place in a lasagna pan or other container, seam side down.  Because the tortillas have been steamed, they should be sticky enough so that your enchilada will stay rolled.  If your tortillas are not hot to the touch, you’ll have problems, so try to work quickly so they don’t get cold.

chx-ench-unsauced

You can roll as many or as few enchiladas as you like.  This recipe will make quite a lot, so you can either roll only as many as you want for a particular meal, or roll them all and refrigerate or freeze some for later (cover well so they don’t dry out).  Once they’ve been refrigerated, they’ll hold their shape well enough to be put in zip-lock bags for freezing, if you don’t have Tupperware.

When you’re ready to bake the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350.  Place a cup or so of your sauce (Chile Colorado or Chile Verde, recipes to follow) in a shallow dish.  You can replenish this as need be, but it’s better to do it in a separate container so as not to get stray bits of chicken and cheese in your sauce.  Dip each enchilada in the sauce, making sure it is well-coated.  Lupe, the general manager, would always instruct us to unroll the enchilada just a little so that the sauce could get under the “flap”.  No one likes a dry enchilada!  Place the enchiladas in a glass baking dish, fitting them snugly up against each other.  Cover with shredded cheddar, muenster, or a mixture, and bake until the cheese is bubbling, about 30 minutes.  Garnish with chopped scallions, and serve with frijoles and rice.  The restaurant portion is three enchiladas, but I find I’m stuffed after eating two.

*Alternate cooking method:  If you only want to cook a plate or two of these, you can do it in the microwave.  I recommend a slow and low cooking, such as 8-10 minutes at 30% power.  It helps if you can cover the plate during the last few minutes to trap the steam so nothing dries out.

Chile Verde Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CV Sauce”) printer-friendly version

jalapenos-in-colander1 20-oz (“family size”) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 16-oz container sour cream (I use reduced fat)- see notes
10-12 jalapeño peppers
1 tbs cumin
1/2-3/4 cup water

Notes: This will probably be the one and only time you will see me call for canned soup in a recipe, but that’s what it’s made out of!   Go to Whole Foods; they probably have an organic version.  I have to ‘fess up to using Campbell’s, in spite of the third ingredient being vegetable oil… Good thing I only eat this stuff once in a while anymore. According to my friend & fellow former El Az cook Dave, the actual proportions are more like 3:1 or 4:1 soup to sour cream, so feel free to cut the sour cream to a cup or less if you like.

Directions: Optional- remove the seeds and pith from the jalapeños (leave in for a truly fiery sauce).  You may want to taste a tiny bite of one to see how hot they are, since it can vary greatly depending on the season and other factors, and use that to gauge how many peppers to use in your sauce.  (This is supposed to be the “spicy” sauce though.)  Finely chop the peppers by hand or in the food processor.  If you’re sensitive, you may want to use gloves but I did not find it necessary.

Combine condensed soup and sour cream in a large bowl.  Add jalapeños and cumin.  Stir to combine well. The sauce may be somewhat thick, but will thin out upon being heated. That’s it!

Chile Colorado Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CC Sauce”) printer-friendly version

1 28-oz can tomato sauce (unflavored)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 mild dried chile, such as Anaheim
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs cumin
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Notes:  At El Azteco, the cook in the back kitchen made the CC sauce, so I don’t know what’s *actually* in it, I’m just going by taste.  It’s a fairly thin tomato-based sauce and the predominant flavor is cumin.  They probably use onion powder and garlic powder, but for my homemade version I decided to use the real thing. Please use salt and sugar to taste, as different tomato purées will have different flavor profiles. You don’t want it to be sweet, you just want to add enough sugar to take any bitter edge off. 

Directions:  Pour boiling water over the chile and cover; let sit until fully softened.  Sauté the onion in some vegetable oil until translucent, adding the garlic about halfway through.  Roughly chop the chile and add to the sauce, reserving the soaking liquid.  Add the cumin and a little salt and cook for a moment to release the cumin’s flavor.  Add the tomato sauce and thin with the reserved chile water  to reach your desired consistency.  Taste for sugar and salt.  Transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.