chicken chili

I spent last week working on a chicken chili recipe request from an old friend.  I haven't seen much of Adam Reisig since 1999, when we sat next to each other in Mr. Winkler's Advanced Composition class, but the internet has a way of bringing people back into your life.  I hate when someone refuses to give up a recipe or claims that some of their ingredients are secret.  I'm good at sharing.  This time, though, I didn't have a recipe.  I usually make chili with chuck or ground turkey.  There are tons of "white chili" mixes on the market like McCormick, but they are creepily sweet and filled with crap:


This process for making chili is not especially conducive for busting out a quick weeknight meal.  I like to spend my Sundays cooking ahead for the rest of the week, but understand if that isn't your thing.  It involves roasting a chicken, cooking the beans separately, making chili powder, chopping veg, and then putting it all together.  A few shortcuts are possible, but there are some disadvantages:

Canned Beans
  • they come already salted and sometimes spiced, so you'll have to rinse them to control the flavor
  • take care not to overcook them or they'll turn to mush 
  • they smell like dog food when you open the can 
  • for this recipe, you'll need 3, 15 ounce cans of beans
Grocery Store Roast Chicken
  • chances are, the breast will be overcooked and rubbery
  • usually too salty
  • your chicken likely led a sad, empty life 
  • the house won't be filled with delicious smells
  • people on the bus will be seriously pissed if the aromas waft out of your grocery bags 
Chili Powder
  • most brands are pretty one-note
  • store bought versions will last only as long as homemade
  • for the price of one jar, you could probably make more than a cup using ingredients from a Mexican grocer
Canned stock
  • use beer instead! Seriously, any beer. Or water.
  • if you must, try for low sodium with as few ingredients as possible

      Chicken Chili
      (serves 6-8)

      12 oz. dry white beans (such as great northern or cannellini)*
      2 medium onions, diced
      4 roasted poblanos, diced
      2 or so chipotles in adobo, chopped (buy a 7.5 oz. can)
      1 28 oz. can whole or crushed tomatoes
      8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
      2 tablespoons canola oil
      2 cups roasted chicken, chopped, skin removed
      2 cups homemade chicken broth
      2 tablespoons chili powder
      2 tablespoons cumin
      salt and pepper
      juice of 1 lime

      For Beans
      Preheat oven to 325.  Place beans in an oven-proof pot with a tight-fitting lid, such as a dutch oven.  Fill with water to cover beans by one inch.  Add 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to water, cover, and bake for 60 minutes.  After one hour, check beans every fifteen minutes until tender, adding water if needed to keep beans covered.  Remove from oven when soft, and drain beans.

      The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken Recipe (from Michael Ruhlman)
      Turn your oven on high (450 if you have ventilation, 425 if not).  Coat a 3- or 4-pound chicken with coarse kosher salt so that you have an appealing crust of salt (a tablespoon or so).  Put the chicken in a pan, stick a lemon or some onion or any fruit or vegetable you have on hand into the cavity.  Put the chicken in the oven.  Go away for an hour.  Watch some TV, play with the kids, read, have a cocktail, have sex.  When an hour has passed, take the chicken out of the oven and put it on the stove top or on a trivet for 15 more minutes.  Finito.

      For Chili Powder
      This isn't very spicy.  I prefer to add cayenne or extra chipotles in adobo for heat, and keep this chili powder flavorful, but accessible.  Feel free to substitute your favorite peppers, add cinnamon sticks or fresh cumin seeds.

      2 Tablespoons coriander seeds
      3 pasilla chiles
      3 guajillo chiles

      Heat a cast iron or stainless skillet over medium-high heat.  Add coriander seeds, shaking pan over heat for 1-2 minutes, until seeds are fragrant, but not smoking.  Remove seeds from pan and add the chiles in one layer to bottom of pan, working in batches if necessary.  Heat chiles for 1-2 minutes on both sides and remove from heat.  Using kitchen shears, cut stems off and shake seeds from chiles.  Cut up the peppers roughly and add them along with the coriander seeds to a coffee grinder, food processor, mortar and pestle, or blender.  Process until ingredients form a fine powder.  Store in an airtight container for up to six months.

      Roast the Poblanos
      This step is not entirely necessary.  It will add a smokiness to the final dish, but if you want to skip it, instead chop the peppers and add them to the pan with the onions.

      Place a pepper on the burner of a gas stove top* directly over the flame.  Using tongs, turn the pepper every minute or so, until all areas of skin are charred.  Place the blackened pepper on a cutting board and invert a medium-sized bowl over the pepper.  Repeat this process until all peppers are roasted.  Keep them under the bowl until cooled, about 10 minutes.  Peel charred skin away and discard.  Remove stem and seeds, then dice the peppers.

      *if you don't have a gas stove, your broiler is an alternative for charring the pepper

      For Chili
      Using same pot from the earlier bean cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions with a pinch of kosher salt and cook until softened, stirring often, around 8-10 minutes.  While onions are cooking, break down the chicken and discard the skin (I recommend eating it with your fingers, but don't forget to wash your hands).  Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks and refrigerate any additional meat.  Add garlic, poblanos, chipotles, cumin, and chili powder to pot, stirring to coat all the vegetables in the seasonings.  Turn heat down to medium and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Add tomatoes, stock, beans, and chicken.  Once combined, simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.  Add lime juice right at the end of cooking and season with salt and pepper to taste.  This chili always tastes better the following day, once the flavors have a chance to come together, but does not benefit from a long simmer (that will overcook the chicken and beans).

      Garnish with shredded cheese, avocado, or sour cream.  Or all three.  I hope you enjoy, Adam.


      Restaurant Week: Perennial

      Our trip to Perennial for restaurant week did not get off to a good start.  The four of us arrived a few minutes early for our reservation and I made eye contact with the hostess.  She greeted me with a "good evening" and then a pushy customer from the bar stepped between us and interrupted.  The hostess did not acknowledge this or apologize, but instead began to assist the other woman who complained that while she did not have a reservation, "it was ridiculous that she could not be seated at 7:00" on a Saturday night even if it was Restaurant Week.  After several minutes of this exchange, and after eying the four other unoccupied staff members nearby, the hostess disappeared and I was greeted by a different hostess who located our reservation and was quite helpful.  I couldn't shake the feeling that the staff resented the restaurant week crowd.  I would hope any business would be welcome in this economy.

      We waited in the bar, but opted not to order anything to drink since we were only five minutes or so from our reservation at 7:15 and were assured we'd be seated "right on time".  When the hostess summoned us to our seats, she noted loudly that we did not seem to have a bar tab to settle up.  The interior was simple and earthy - modern, but not too slick.  Perennial was described by someone at the table as "looking like every other restaurant".  The layout is unfortunate, forcing one to dodge plates of food and hurried waitstaff in the same hallway as the kitchen on the way to the bathroom located in the hotel lobby.

      Our waiter suggested a red within our price range and the 2005 Grove Street Cabernet Sauvignon was well liked by the table.  There was a single cocktail order, for a wee little pink concoction that was enjoyed, but not deemed worthy of the price.  The pretzel rolls were a nice touch for the bread course, salty and crunchy outside giving way to a fluffy soft interior. 

      Kris and I had:
      • Black Truffle Gnocchi, parsley root puree, hen of the woods mushrooms, frisee salad
      • Farmin Iberico ham croquettes with garlic aioli
      • Roasted Duck Breast, braised savoy cabbage, confit duck and foie gras pithivier, dried cherry sauce
      • Becker Lane Organic "Pork Lover's Obsession" grilled loin, braised belly, trotter ragout, cauliflower, swiss chard, winter fruits, potato puree
      • Roasted brussels sprouts
      • Crispy Hazelnut Bar, milk chocolate, creme fraiche, chocolate caramel, pistachio ice cream
      • The Brazilian, brown butter cake, cachaça pineapple, ginger popsicles, coconut sorbet, piña colada Sauce
      Our friends Marty and Michaela also tried:
      • G.C.M. [Green City Market] Red Kuri Squash Risotto, laughing bird shrimp, toasted curried pumpkin seeds
      • Red Wine Braised Short Rib, celery root puree, glazed carrots, red wine sauce
      • Cheesecake, raspberry custard, cream cheese foam, graham cracker ice cream
      The gnocchi was tasty, but the portion was tiny.  I had very high expectations.  Listed on their website as one of the "Top 10 dishes of 2009", Food and Wine actually named this first course one of 10 Best Restaurant Dishes under $12.  The other two appetizers we tried were delicious too, but more substantial.  I definitely appreciated our familiarity with our dining partners who were anxious to share.  I am glad to have tried it, especially since it was prepared in an unfamiliar Roman-style, but I am not sure I would order it again. We waited thirty minutes between our first and second course, but our waiter did not stop at the table until about 2 minutes before our plates came out, to indicate they were on their way.  It was busy and it is restaurant week.  Our busser was one of the most efficient restaurant workers I have ever seen, keeping our glasses full and our plates cleared.  I should have given him the entire tip.
      Perfectly cooked and well-seasoned duck breast sat atop a sad heap of braised savoy cabbage.  Luckily I predicted this might be the case and ordered a side of brussels sprouts.  They were awesome: roasted to a crisp, still soft inside, and piled into a bowl large enough to share with the table.  I was pleased with such a generous portion, but it seemed incongruous with the other items we ordered.  Kris' plate was huge, but spare.  We were not at the Sizzler and moderate portions are to be expected, but two bites of pork belly? A small ramekin of pork ragout topped with whipped potatoes? Not to say that these items were not well-executed.  I'm sorry: if you call a dish "Pork Lover's Obsession" and charge nearly $30, bring some noise.
      The desserts were over the top.  Enormous compared to our previous plates and rich.  The hazelnut bar was my favorite - dense and almost rice crispy like.  It sat on a strip of tangy creme fraiche, was topped with pistachio ice cream and a huge quenelle of milk chocolate along with a caramel chip.  The Brazillian was full of textures, but also a little too sweet. 

                            The Brazilian | Perennial, originally uploaded by happy_stomach.

      Overall, I enjoyed my evening.  I laughed easily with great company, enjoyed the wine, and was impressed with most of the food.  But the service was uneven.  The pace and portions of the meal were inconsistent.  Each small service slight added up, making me feel less than welcome at Perennial and definitely less important than other diners.  We ordered off both the main and restaurant week menus, though the waiter looked deflated when we leaned toward the latter.  We were dressed in our best estimates of opentable's suggested "smart casual" and fit in (I noticed many athletic shoes and spotted only two men in tuxedos).  We used the correct forks.  Still, I felt judged.  Looking back, the hostess' comment about our lack of a pre-meal bar tab seemed a little snooty rather than matter-of-fact.  While claiming to offer a "casual elegant" atmosphere that highlights the food, Perennial tries too hard and comes off as pretentious and focused on the scene.



      Restaurant Week: Terzo Piano

      "The place is like a museum. It's very beautiful and very cold, and you're not allowed to touch anything."

      The place is a museum.  It is very beautiful, but warms up a bit after a glass of wine.  The Art Institute's Modern Wing houses Terzo Piano, helmed by acclaimed Spiaggia Chef Tony Mantuano.  Afternoon sunlight pours in the dining room through a bank of western-facing windows.  Some sparse colorful elements pepper the room: vases and urns in the center and a green wool rug in the waiting area topped with black leather Mies van der Rohe furniture.  The room is mostly white, wood, and light.  In this minimalist setting, the food needs only to compete with awesome views of the city.

      My lunch date Katherine and I finally managed to coordinate our schedules and I knew this was the spot.  She appreciates the design elements of any good looking room and shares my love of the Modern Wing. We had both neglected this restaurant, probably because we're rarely out to lunch downtown.  Terzo Piano has lunch daily, but only serves dinner on Thursdays when the museum also offers free admission from 5 - 8 pm.  Restaurant Week is a perfect opportunity to try out someplace pricey, new, or outside of your neighborhood routine because the risk is relatively small.  For three courses at lunch you spend a mere $22.

      We looked over the standard lunch menu, but settled quickly on the restaurant week selections:
      • Nichol's Farm potato and parsnip soup
      • Butternut squash filled ravioli with house made Becker Lane sage sausage, caramelized cipollini onions and Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese
      • Chocolate semi-freddo with spanish peanut nougat and salted caramel 
      Based on current prices, we saved $11 from the everyday cost of the menu items.  I promptly spent those savings on a generously poured glass of Zinfandel "East Bench" highly recommended by our server who noted it will not appear on the menu until later this weekend.  Besides the superb wine pairing, our service was attentive and polite, but not at all stuffy.

      I loved the handmade butternut squash filled pasta with sage and brown butter at Cafe Spiaggia.  The version at Terzo Piano suffers only slightly in comparison.  The pasta dough was not rolled out as thinly resulting in dense pockets of pasta rather than the light and pillowy texture that I know possible.  Each ravioli was also on the small side, though the overall dish was sizable for a lunch portion.  The addition of the salty sage sausage to dress the pasta did balance the sweet squash and caramelized onions more than the delicate brown butter I had before..

      The semi-freddo was perfect: salty, sweet, smooth, crunchy, rich, chocolate.  Great company and food.  Eating lunch at Terzo Piano will make you feel like a grown-up.  Even if you talk more loudly than any of the other ladies who lunch.

      It was quiet, a bit too quiet for boisterous friends catching up over drinks and lunch. Might I suggest BTTB, the 1999 album by Ryuichi Sakamoto, as a nice future soundtrack?


      Sweet Sunshine

      I've had a dreary couple of days.  I lost my best purple hat...among other things.  I keep forgetting to eat.  Sinus headaches and financial burdens and CTA cutbacks, oh my!  But something strange has been happening this week around Chicago.  The sun is back and hasn't just been shyly peeking out from behind clouds.  This is bright, sneeze inducing, dont-forget-your-sunglasses sunshine.

      Though it was annoying to wait longer than usual for a bus (especially without a hat), I was glad to be on the sunny side of the street this morning with friends for company and pastries on the horizon.  We arrived at Logan Square Kitchen at 11:00 am, and it was packed.  A smiley kid with pigtails and a cupcake frosting mustache in the doorway indicated what we were in for: attractively packaged cute-sized goodies made by people who care a lot about food.  The lines were so deep, people didn't even know which vendor they were queued up for.  "Are those macarons? I can't see anything!" said a woman shorter than me on her tippy toes.  They were, in fact.  And they were almost sold out even though the event was to continue to 3:00 pm.  It was an overwhelming and successful crowd for the vendors.  It definitely brought attention to a beautiful shared use kitchen and green event space. 

      I knew a lot of the products already, so I used this bakery bonanza as an opportunity to try out something new.  Lots of treats were sampled, but this is what I splurged on:

      2 meyer lemon Chicago Macarons $3
      Rich Chocolates pâte de fruit $6
      Rare Bird meyer lemon rosemary preserves $8
      B True Bakery apricot ginger oatmeal cookies $2
      Porte Rouge black tea $1


      Save the Date: Soup and Bread February 17

      Andrea and I are teaming up once again to make soup and bread for one of our favorite Chicago bars: The Hideout.  We'll be ladling up some meaty chili and handing out cornbread starting at 5:30 on Wednesday night.  If last year was any indication, you should arrive early!  We made an indecent amount of soup and it was decimated in an hour.  We'll make even more this year.  So stop by, donate some cash to the Lakeview Pantry, and fill up. 


      John Lee Supertaster

      Sophisticated Superbowl party be damned - I'm craving melted cheese product and deep fried meat.  I've been inundated with bullshit tips for fancying up a party that, at its core, is about grown-ups slamming in to each other so other grown-ups can watch, bet on, and holler about said violence.  Football is meant to be enjoyed while drinking from a plastic cup and eating with your hands.  Superbowl Sunday is not the time to bring out your grandmother's china or press your antique linen napkins into service.

      Cutting open a bag of pizza rolls isn't mandatory either - you could make your own pizadillas, or homemade pizzas with individualized toppings for your guests.

      I was glad to see Andrew Knowlton come out with some nacho rules to live by this week.

      Serious Eats threatens to piss off all of Buffalo, NY, by taste testing alternatives to the one true wing.

      Bacon Bourbon Caramel Corn sounds amazing, but I haven't tried it yet.  I'm probably going to make another batch of the way better than cracker-jack caramel corn from Orangette this weekend.

      Sometimes it is hard to let go of food snobbery.  I should know.  Kris has a "special recipe" for guacamole that involves a smart ratio of prepackaged spice mixes with expertly chosen ripe avocados, tomatoes, and lime juice.  "Delicious!" is exclaimed by someone every single time he serves it.  Because it is.  I like to make my own with garlic, shallots, cilantro, jalapeno, lime zest and juice, and cracked pepper.  But I also love to eat his version.  So we'll be serving it this Sunday along with:

      buffalo wings: celery, carrots, blue cheese, ranch
      babyback ribs: Gates and Stubb's sauce to satisfy our regional differences of opinion
      chips and "queso": velveeta, rotel, sausage
      potato salad: carbs!
      deviled eggs: if I have time to make them
      18 domestic beers: we're having a taste-test
      caramel corn: with peanuts for protein

      Gussy up your comfort food all you want.  I'm allowing myself a reprieve from my food pretension.  For at least one night anyway.