Next to my reading chair I typically keep a big, messy stack of books and magazines; sometimes the Sunday NEW YORK TIMES rests there until the next Sunday rolls around. In the pile are that month’s book club books (I try and keep up with three book clubs plus a cookbook club, though I often don’t succeed) along with another new one or two someone’s told me about or loaned me. If I’m really lucky, and I often am, I also keep a precious something I can read piecemeal, a tiny bit at a time when I need to get off my feet or have an extra 10 minutes before needing to stir a pot or leave for an appointment.
Sometimes it’s a book of short stories or essays; it might be a long-hoarded favorite issue of a magazine I’m longing to read one more time. Rarely, but it does happen, there’s poetry. (I also play the piano during those times.) Lately, and for a while, it’s been a book by Ruth Reichl: MY KITCHEN YEAR : 136 RECIPES THAT SAVED MY LIFE : A COOKBOOK. I read tishes and tads of it in between devouring –or struggling through — many other tomes, including another book by Ruth Reichl, SAVE ME THE PLUMS : MY GOURMET MEMOIR! And while SAVE ME… is a captivating, excellent read I’ve mentioned before, it didn’t hold me closely, as did..
MY KITCHEN YEAR. Could it be one is life itself; the other is work life? I think I’m doling it out a recipe and story at a time to make it last. If you haven’t read it, do. And skip the Kindle version; you need to see and hold this book, to look closely at the photographs on the paper pages. It’s not new; you can get a hard copy for ten bucks. Check out what Ruth’s writing today along with her complete list of books on her blog.
Over a lifetime of cooking and reading food writing, I’ve come to realize there’s a rare breed of human out there who is a fine, intuitive cook with a humongous heart for food and people. She’s someone who makes happy use of a winky sense of humor and also happens to be a first class writer. Maybe people even cook after reading her prose or recipes. You probably have your own best ideas, but I’ll include here (in no particular order–some have long ago crossed the river) writers like Dorie Greenspan, Melissa Clark, Andrew Schloss, Nigel Slater, Susan Herrman Loomis, Patricia Wells, Ina Garten, David Lebovitz, MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, Darina Allen, and, of course, Ruth Reichl. Chefs are rarely on such lists as they’re not known for their writing or even for their recipe writing. I would, however, include a few close to my heart who are my personal notable exceptions: the late, great Anthony Bourdain, Jacques Pépin, Tyler Florence, and the more recently added Vivian Howard.
Food writers, often the great encouragers, not only make me want to cook but also to explore the world. Thanks!
This week, though, the stack of reading was made up of things like this….
..because while I wanted to make a new White Chicken Chili, I was having a hard time remembering exactly how it was made or even how I’d made it before. Yeah, it’d been a while. So, a little research was in order. I printed out a few promising ideas from the internet, but I pulled off a slew of books from my own shelves I figured might have a recipe. Turns out very few books in my collection had a recipe for White Chicken Chili exactly…though there were similar things. I located older soups and stews that were probably predecessors or wannabes; White Chicken Chili isn’t a terribly old recipe, it turns out. I read, I ruminated; I got new ideas and jotted notes. I knew, for instance, I was looking for a quicker dinner–something done in under an hour. I wanted a meal that could be doubled or tripled for bigger groups like those at Super Bowl parties (since that’s coming up soon), neighborhood soup gatherings or even for friendly soup swaps. Most of the recipes I found required cooking chicken on the bone and while you know I love a good roasted chicken, that takes time. Then there’s cooling and shredding it afterward. Looking for shortcuts here…
The food processor made little work of the vegetables:
I decided to run with ground chicken, which is quickly done and seasoned easily. The food processor cut the chopping time down to nothing (see above.)
A finely diced potato (see above) and puréeing a cup or two of beans and broth in the food processor would take care of thickening the stew pronto rather than waiting for it to cook down. Canned beans eliminate the longer cooking time needed for dried beans and canned chiles were much easier than roasting fresh chiles on the stove or in the oven. In the late summer, we can buy freshly roasted chiles on the side of the road in Colorado; it’s definitely not summer and I’ve already used those I froze. Going with canned.
I wrote a cooking road map (above), ran to the store, came home, and cooked.
A version or two later, along came a lightning bolt idea for including a little tequila…and I knew this was a winner. I especially loved the idea of a choice of toppings at the table a la posole. I tried queso fresco, the simple white and crumbly Mexican cheese (you could sub Monterey Jack or sharp Cheddar in a pinch), pickled sliced jalapeños, sliced scallions, the wayward tomatoes, minced red bell pepper, pico de gallo, as well as a bunch of fragrant fresh cilantro you must have no matter what–unless you don’t like it, that is. The cook with a chopping aversion–or one who is only in a great hurry– might just tip a spoonful of jarred salsa on top and be done with it. I do think something that crunches–even crumbled tortilla chips– somehow makes a real difference. Ah, texture; I love you. You’re right up there along with color. Well, just try this and have it your very own way:
tequila white chicken chili
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil needn’t be extra virgin
- 2 medium yellow onions peeled and quartered
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 2 stalks celery with leaves
- 2 jalapeños sliced and trimmed, seeds and membranes removed (leave them in for a spicier stew or add a third pepper)
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 3 teaspoons dried oregano divided
- 3 teaspoons ground cumin divided
- 3 teaspoons ground coriander divided
- ¼ cup tequila
- 2 pounds lean ground chicken
- Handful chopped fresh parsley
- 3 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles, drained
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 Large potato, peeled and finely diced
- 1 15-ounce can EACH cannellini beans and garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup frozen corn optional
- Hot sauce optional
- CHOICE OF GARNISHES: Queso Fresco- crumbled white Mexican cheese or grated sharp Cheddar or Monterey Jack, sliced scallions or diced white onions, pickled jalapeños, chopped fresh tomatoes, pico de gallo, salsa, fresh cilantro, chopped avocado, shredded lettuce, crumbled tortilla chips
- Melt the butter in the oil in a large dutch oven for 2 minutes over medium heat. Place onions, garlic, celery, and jalapenos in the food processor fitted with a steel blade; pulse until chopped coarsely. (Alternately chop by hand.) Add vegetables to the pot and season with one teaspoon EACH kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, dried oregano, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes or until softening. Pour in tequila; simmer for a few more minutes until reduced by half. Add in the chicken and parsley along with the reserved 2 teaspoons each dried oregano, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Cook, stirring regularly, until chicken is done through and no pink remains—another 10-12 minutes.
- Add the drained chiles and pour in the broth and water. Cover and raise heat to boiling; add potatoes and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, carefully add a cup or so of the drained beans along with a cup of the broth from the stew to the bowl of the food processor and pulse until puréed. (Or mash in a bowl by hand.) Stir mixture back into the stew along with the remainder of the beans and the corn, if using. Simmer another 10 minutes or until thickened a bit. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add a dash or two of hot sauce, if desired –or pass it at the table. Serve hot with desired garnishes.
WINE: Nah. Go with a Mexican beer you like or an amber. Maybe a pitcher of margaritas for a group. If you really need wine, a Syrah (not a blend) will be your best bet. You might even try riesling if you want to keep the white theme.
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE MY…
Happy cooking and baking. Let me know what you’re stirring up or reading? I’m off to visit family next week, so may not get a post up. If that’s the case, you’re ready for Super Bowl now!