Category: Lunch

Mild or Wild Chili con Carne

chili con carne

Chili con carne

This is my favorite chili as it is simple to make yet has a varied mix of flavors that keep my brain busy. Prodigious use of tomatoes makes this a subtly sweet chili, though not so much as to overwhelm, and the combination of peppers adds layers of complexity to the dish. Personally, I prefer chili without beans, but they are easily added to this chili if you so choose. The same applies to the hot peppers, some prefer a milder chili and some a spicier, I like mine in the middle, hence just the few chili peppers. Whatever your choice, this is a rich, meaty chili with a lot of flavor, and I usually serve over rice with some grated cheddar and sour cream on top. Every day is a chili day for me.

Ingredients
1 1/4 pounds hamburger (give or take)
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 medium onion
3 chili peppers (e.g.  jalapeno peppers for light heat, habanero for heavy heat) – optional
4 garlic cloves
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
5 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons oil (olive or vegetable)

Directions

peppers and onion

Peppers and onion

1. Roughly chop the peppers, onion, and garlic and heat in a large pot with the oil. If you want a little heat (spicy heat) include the chili/jalapeno peppers with the white pith (the ribs inside the pepper).  Choose your chili peppers wisely, as jalapenos will give a moderate heat, while some types, such as habanero or scotch bonnet will make your chili very spicy. Did you know that botanically, peppers are berries? Yep, they are, although for culinary use they are considered vegetables. I’ll stop that kind of talk now.

2. When the vegetables have softened a little and the onions are translucent, add the ground beef. Break apart the beef while it is cooking to ensure it falls apart into pieces.

3. When the beef has cooked, add the tomatoes and tomato paste and thoroughly stir in. Once the tomatoes are incorporated add the chili powder and stir.

jalapeno

Jalapeno

4. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The key is to allow the chili to simmer for as long as you can to bring out the flavor of the chili powder. I cook my chili for a few hours, but if you are in a hurry, you may cook for as short a period of time as 30 minutes.

Serve with anything you like, grated cheese, sour cream, chopped parsley or cilantro.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Homemade ricotta cheese

Cheese is not something that people often think to make at home, but there is nothing in the world quite like fresh ricotta cheese. Surprisingly easy to make, this staple (in my house) is above and beyond store-bought ricotta. I often use this in our other staple, lasagna, and we even eat it plain in a bowl with a little salt and pepper, as we would eat cottage cheese. Ricotta is one of the easiest cheeses to make at home as it requires no rennet (special enzymes to curdle the milk) nor does it require any aging or care. It is the ‘lazy person’s’ cheese, so to speak, but there is nothing lazy about how fast I eat it.

Ingredients
1 gallon whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 quart buttermilk
4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice

You will also need a thermometer, sieve or colander, and some cheesecloth.

Directions
1. Combine the milk, buttermilk, cream, and salt in a non-reactive pan.

Forming curds

Forming curds

2. Prepare the colander for the draining process by moistening a few sheets of cheesecloth and layering them in the colander. This is where you will be placing the curds to drain excess whey. I place the colander in the sink to drain.

3. Attach the thermometer to the pan so that you may monitor the temperature.

4. Heat the mixture on high, stirring occasionally to prevent any milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan.

5. When the milk has reached about 175 degrees F, add the lemon juice and gently stir it in. You will see curds start to form immediately. Allow a few minutes for more curds to accumulate, stirring very gently on occasion.

Spooning curds

Spooning curds

6. Using a skimmer or sieve, remove curds from the pot and place them in the cheesecloth lined colander. The moisture level of the cheese will be determined by how long you let it drain. I like a moist ricotta, so I let it drain about five to ten minutes, but for a more firm cheese, let the curds drain longer.

7. When the curds have finished draining, remove them and eat immediately for the best ricotta you have ever tasted. The cheese will also last a few days in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Steak and Blue Cheese Chopped Salad

Steak and blue cheese salad

Steak and Blue Cheese Chopped Salad

Steak and Blue Cheese go together like humans and oxygen. And why not make it better by combining them with salad? This is something I like to make when I have people over because it’s really easy, flavorful, and can readily be tailored to personal tastes, unlike a lot of meals. It is also filling while still being healthful. This dish is more about the process than the ingredients, so I am not including amounts, but I will outline the items I generally use when making it. But again, it is how I make it rather than what I include that is important, so stay tuned for that. If you can grill the steak ahead of time, that will contribute the best flavor, but broiling works as well.

Ingredients
romaine lettuce (my preference for its crunchiness, but you can use any lettuce you want)
red bell pepper
red onion
celery
carrots
cherry tomatoes
avocado
blue cheese (crumbled gorgonzola works well)
steak (cooked to your preference), I love tri-tip or loin tip for its meaty flavor and low price

Ingredients for the dressing
I generally use Italian salad dressing from the packet that you add vinegar, water & oil (olive oil) to. But rather than using red wine vinegar I recommend using balsamic vinegar, which combines exceptionally well with the blue cheese in this salad.

Directions
1. Step 1 is where most of the work comes in. I dice up all the vegetables (except lettuce and avocado)  into small, bite-sized pieces and place them into bowls as preparation for the mixing. The steak should be cooked to your preference and allowed to sit for a while to reabsorb all its juices.  When cool, cut into small pieces, cutting it into strips against the grain, then cutting those strips into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

chiffonade

A chiffonade

2. I then cut the lettuce into a chiffonade. This is when you cut it into small, thin strips (see image). This not only makes the salad easier to eat, but looks really nice when combined with the other ingredients.

3. You then have a choice, you can put everything into bowls and dress, or, my preference is to add the lettuce, carrots, onion, celery, peppers, and cheese into a bowl and add a little less dressing than I think I need (this keeps the calories down and will actually taste just fine). I then mix everything up, which spreads a thin layer of dressing onto everything, then place in serving bowls.

4. Add the steak and tomatoes to the salad. Then scoop out spoonfuls of  avocado onto the salad. I top it off with a little more blue cheese for presentation purposes and serve.

By chopping all the ingredients into small pieces, and coating them well with minimal dressing, you will achieve a healthful salad with a lot of flavor, that doesn’t have to be high in calories. Yes, the blue cheese is not low calorie, but you don’t need a lot of it when you are mixing all the ingredients together, the flavor will carry throughout the salad. This dish always goes over well when I serve it. Some people leave the steak out (my vegetarian brother) and the salad will still taste great.

Mexican Red Bell Pepper and Cheese Soup

mexican red bell pepper soup

Mexican Red Bell Pepper Soup

This soup is very easy to make in just a few minutes. It is the classic tale of looking in the refrigerator and finding no food. What I did find was a red bell pepper, and a few hunks of cheese. The old potato in the wire basket made the dish almost complete. The cheese and the potato give this soup a creamy consistency which is really amazing. The sweetness and distinct flavor of the pepper really come through, even with the intensity of the cheese. You can also use low fat versions of the cheeses with great results. Sometimes I add a chile pepper to give it a nice kick, and pepper jack cheese would do the trick as well. I will also generally use whatever cheese I have on hand, the choice is yours. One really nice aspect of this soup is that by adding the shredded cheese and incorporating it into the hot soup off the heat, most of the cheese melts in, however you will still find cheese strands throughout the soup, giving it a really wonderful combination of textures.

Ingredients
1 big red bell pepper (or 2 small ones), seeded with the pith (ribs) removed
1 medium potato
4 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
2 cups mixed shredded cheese (I usually use Cheddar, Queso Fresco, & Asadero), regular or low fat

Directions
1. Cut the pepper and potato into small pieces and place in a pot with the stock, cooking it at a medium-high heat.

2. After 10 minutes or so, use a hand blender to puree the soup (this can be done by pouring it into a blender as well if you don’t have the hand version).

3. Turn off the heat and add the cheese, stirring to melt it thoroughly. When the cheese has melted, which takes a minute or so, you are ready to serve.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Smoked Salmon

smoked salmon

Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon should be one of the wonders of the world. I often refer to this recipe as “salmon bacon” because that is close to what you will be making. Smoky, salty, intensely rich and complex, this salmon doesn’t last long in my house (even my picky children can’t get enough). It may be a little more time consuming that some of the other Gatehouse Gourmet recipes, but it is well worth the effort. I generally make a lot of this at once and eat it over the next few days (it should last 10 days in the refrigerator, or 6 months if frozen).

The Brine
The process begins with creating the brine in which the salmon will marinate for about a day (a minimum of 8 hours, and no longer than two days if you really want, however overnight is usually perfect).

Ingredients for the brine
6 cups water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3  cup kosher salt (kosher salt dissolves much more easily than table salt)
4 bay leaves
1/2 a medium sized onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, pressed (crushed)
1/2 cup fennel, chopped
1 stalk of celery

You will need:
2 lbs salmon fillet(s), pin bones removed

Mix all the above ingredients together and marinate the fish in a non-reactive container (glass, Tupperware, etc) for at least 8 hours in the refrigerator. Overnight seems to work best. The fish will cure in the brine, which will draw out some of the moisture, concentrating the flavor. It will also allow salt to penetrate the meat, which will also enhance the flavor of the fish.

Drying the Fish
Remove the fish from the brine and lay it on a rack in a cool area, allowing air to circulate over the top and bottom if the fish. Allow the fish to dry for 2-3 hours, and the fish will form what is called a ‘pellicle’ on its surface, which is a thin, hard layer of protein that will both seal the fish, and allow the smoky flavor to adhere later.

Smoking the Fish
This dish calls for “hot smoking” which is smoking in a heated environment, rather than a cool one, which will also somewhat cook the fish. In your smoker, feel free to add any type of wood that you prefer, Apple, Oak, Hickory, etc. The fish should be smoked at about 140 degrees for approximately 2 hours, more or less depending on the thickness of the fillets (tail sections may take as little as 1 hour, while the thickest fillets shouldn’t take much longer than 2.5 hours). When the internal temperature of the fish reaches 140 degrees, it is done (a meat thermometer is very handy here). You can also tell it is done by checking to see when the meat flakes easily. The more you do this, the better your instincts will be to determine doneness.

I will often double this recipe and make up to 5 pounds of salmon at a time since I can’t keep it around long enough to enjoy it. My suggestion… Hide it so you don’t have to share.