October 24, 2010

Pumpkin Turkey Chili!

Last fall, as has been my habit for many years now, I acquired a couple of Sugar Pie pumpkins, baked them up, and then used my food processor to puree them into that wonderful ingredient known hereabouts as "pumpkin goo". I say "wonderful" because there are so many truly great dishes you can make with this ingredient (and that are so much better when you make them with fresh, rather than canned, goo). Among our favorites are pumpkin pie, of course (from the unusual stove-top recipe in Joy of Cooking), pumpkin flan (from a Martha Stewart recipe intended for use with sweet potatoes), pumpkin cookies (from an amazing recipe we cadged off our good friends down in Portland), and pumpkin bread (assembled, in Frankensteinian fashion, from a whole host of exemplars on the web).

You may notice a unifying theme among these favorites of ours. Yes, shockingly, they're all desserts; who could have guessed? Well, last December or so, having made at least one batch of each of these yummies, and still having a substantial remaining supply of goo (did I mention that I try to find the two largest Sugar Pies I can?), I began to fear for our ability to maintain the svelte figures Kathleen and I had worked so very hard to earn earlier that year. I felt that it might be very good for us if I could come up with one or more savory goo-consuming dishes. (The logical alternative, that of not creating so much goo each year in the first place, naturally never occurred to me, then or even now.)

With this savory ambition in mind, therefore, I set off for the den to start roaming the web, looking for ideas. On my way there, Kathleen (who knew nothing of my goo-inspired intentions) called out to me. "Hey, sweetie! I bought some ground turkey this week. You should look on the web for some fun ways to use it!" Always up for killing two birds with one stone, I sat down at the computer and typed in the search terms "pumpkin ground turkey", just to see if anything showed up.

Oh. My. God.

Go ahead, try it yourself. Suffice to say, though, that we were not the first to consider combining these ingredients. On that occasion, literally all of the top 20 hits were for various forms of turkey pumpkin chili. I quickly recovered from my surprise and started digging into this motherlode of potential inspiration, printing out several of the more interesting-sounding recipes, gathering ideas one by one, and starting down what turned into an all-winter-long obsessive quest for the perfect turkey pumpkin chili recipe.

Lucky for you (and for us, of course), I found it. No, really. And I'm prepared to share it below, after boring you for a bit longer with some of the lessons learned along the way.

The first leg of my journey to chili enlightenment centered around the turkey itself. There are a few obvious approaches to getting the meat. The first one I tried, as mentioned, was browning ground turkey; this was a failure in the texture department: I like my chili to be chunky, chewy, stewy, and thick, but ground turkey simply won't hold together enough to fight back. Instead, it turns into an amorphous soup of little tiny turkey granules, floating through the rest of the ingredients. Scratch that. Next, I tried the lowest-effort approach: I broiled a bunch of turkey breasts for about 10 minutes a side, let them cool a bit, and then easily cut them into bite-sized morsels. The texture problem was fixed, but now the taste was disappointingly boring: the browned ground turkey had had a nice touch of that lovely caramelization that only the skillet can provide, and I really missed it. I thus was backed into a corner: there just isn't any way around it, you need to cut up the raw, deboned turkey (I find it much easier to use my kitchen shears for this, rather than even a sharp knife) and then brown it before putting it into the chili pot. Don't try to brown too much at a time, or you'll just end up steaming the meat instead of searing it and then you might as well have broiled it in the first place. Browning in smallish batches, with plenty of air-gap between the chunks, takes a bit longer, but it's the only technique that really delivers the goods.

The rest of my key learnings take much less time to explain. I might not have thought of it myself, but one or two of the recipes I found that day last winter included what turns out to be a really important addition: frozen corn. I don't put in a whole lot of it, but you end up with one or two kernels per bite, and it gives you this little crunchy burst of sweetness that I find very pleasurable indeed. The other key secret concerns the spicing: I use as much unsweetened cocoa powder as I do chili powder, and it completely transforms this dish; the result is a rich, dark brown bundle of flavor that goes on forever, warming you all the way down to your toes and making that winter weather outside matter just a little bit less. You've got to try this with the cocoa powder.

The final point of experimentation concerned the liquids. Mostly, this chili gets its moisture from the pumpkin goo, which doesn't so much give you an actual taste of pumpkin as it lends the dish a kind of earthy flavor and texture that ties the whole thing together wonderfully. That's not quite enough liquid, though, so I tried not draining the cans of beans and tomatoes, but that was much too thin; the perfect compromise came from draining the beans fully but not draining the tomatoes.

The recipe below makes about eight cups of chili, or about four bowls the way we serve them in our household. That is, of course, an absurdly small amount of payoff for the effort, so I usually make a triple batch, which completely fills my big eight-quart pot. That fits reasonably well in the fridge and keeps us comfortably "in the chili zone" for a couple of weeks or so.

1.25 lb. boneless, skinless turkey meat
1.25 c. chopped celery or onions
1.25 c. diced carrots or peppers
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 28-oz. can chopped/diced tomatoes (UNdrained)
2 c. pumpkin puree (or 1 16-oz. can)
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
1/2 c. frozen corn
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

Per bowl:
a sprinkling of shredded cheese
a dollop of Greek yogurt

I brown all of the turkey first, and then reuse the pan to lightly saute the raw veggies. (Kathleen can't eat onions, and doesn't like peppers, so I use celery and carrots instead, which works better than you might imagine.) I don't want to "use up" the potency of the garlic in the skillet, so I only add that to the dish once it's in the pot, along with all of the rest of the ingredients. I simmer the chili for two or three hours, depending on how hungry we are and how much I underestimated how long all of the prep would take. Like all stews and other chunky-style soups, this tastes better after it spends a night in the fridge mingling all of the flavors together (but it's not too shabby that first night, either).

I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it. Please write a comment and let me know how it turns out for you (or suggest your own ideas for making it even better)!

August 22, 2009

Curried Chicken Salad

While on our recent vacation down to San Francisco and Ashland, my stomach got to rumbling every time I saw curried chicken salad at a grocery store. It was, indeed, yummy, so I decided to try making some of my own. The variety across all of the zillions of recipes I found on the web convinced me to just take my own stab at it, with the intention of playing around with the recipe each time, eventually (and asymptotically?) homing in on Pavel's Favorite Curried Chicken Salad.

I just finished making the first batch, and while I'm waiting 24 hours for the flavors to combine and settle before judging its success, I thought I'd revive this blog with the first-iteration recipe:

3 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and diced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup deli mustard
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, chopped a bit finer
1.5 oz. raisins (i.e., one mini-box)
2 Tbsp. crushed garlic
3 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. ginger

Combine the yogurt, mustard, garlic, and spices in a small bowl, mixing them together well. Put the chicken in a large bowl with plenty of room for further mixing, and then add the yogurt mixture and stir well. Add the celery, raisins, and almonds, and mix everything together thoroughly. Store in the fridge for several hours (or overnight) before serving. Yields about 55 oz., or 9 servings of about 6 oz. each. Nutrition per serving: 256 calories, 7.6g fat, 6.8g carbs, 0.5g fiber, 3.9g sugars, 40.4g protein.

April 20, 2007

Don't Mess with Our Chocolate!

There's an insane proposal to the FDA to allow manufacturers to use hydrogenated vegetable oils instead of cocoa butter and various "milk substitutes" instead of milk and still call the resulting concoction "chocolate". The deadline for feedback to the FDA is April 25th, less than a week from now. Educate yourself at and then send your comments to the FDA to keep this terrible idea from being accepted.

January 08, 2006

A stirring tale, infused with tea

I drink a fair amount of tea at work. I have a long line-up of cylindrical Republic of Tea cans on the sill of my window, and I usually enjoy at least one, and up to three or four cups of tea each day. Mostly, I indulge in black teas infused with fruit flavors, such as RoT's fine Ginger Peach variety. I'm not much of a tea connoisseur, but I know what I like, and that includes the convenience of using tea bags. I do, however, have a couple of favorite loose teas in the office (RoT's Cardamon Cinnamon and a Keemun Black that I picked up one night at the Herbfarm) and I've been looking for maximally convenient (or, perhaps better, minimally inconvenient) ways to enjoy them. I've tried tea balls, and have found them invariably a pain; they leak tea bits, which is annoying, and they're often tricky to clean properly.

Just before Christmas, my good friend Lilly bought me a fancy new tea-steeping device she'd seen described somewhere. "If you don't like it, I'll take it," she said, which is just the kind of low-pressure tactic that works remarkably well on me.

The Teastick, from the Gamil Design company, is a well-designed tea infuser, both in form and in function. This stainless steel device is about five inches long, elegantly hooked at the top, and smoothly morphing into a hollow cylinder at the bottom, open on one side to act as a kind of scoop. It features a cylindrical mesh screen that slides down to firmly seal in the tea leaves while allowing the hot water to pass through. There's room for enough tea to brew up a 10-14 ounce cup, and the sides of the scoop portion are cut just right for measuring out a proper-sized portion of dried tea.

Most tea cups are too small to allow the hook to actually engage the brim; instead, the Teastick is intended to gently rock back and forth in your cup as the tea steeps. You can easily stir the cup with the stick to speed the steeping and, eventually, remove it when it's ready for drinking. Cleanup is perhaps a bit easier than with a traditional tea ball; I've found that the fineness of the screen mesh leads to fewer stuck tea bits when rinsing out the device.

Overall, in comparison to a tea ball, the Teastick is less finicky, less leaky, and less bulky in my cup. Compared to tea bags, of course, the Teastick is less convenient to clean up. I had been using store-bought empty tea bags (themselves a relatively recent revelation to me) for my loose teas, but the Teastick takes up much less room in the cup, making it possible to add milk and sugar during the steeping process, something that was an ugly process with the bags. Once again, life is a matter of balancing one set of advantages against another. How annoying...

Bottom line: I will use my new Teastick (thanks, Lilly, but I think I'll keep it) for all loose teas that want added milk or sugar, and I'll "stick" with store-bought bags for all my other loose-tea needs. The Teastick is elegant to look at, and functional in my teacup.

August 10, 2005

More Scandinavian Berries

Norwegian raspberries

When we started our trip to Finland and Norway, all we knew about Scandinavian berries was that we wanted some cloudberry liqueur. We began to get an inkling of what else might be available as we walked around the wonderful open-air market in Helsinki. Past all of the crafts and tchotchkes, every day there were many big booths selling all manner of produce, and the tables were piled high with strawberries, raspberries, cloudberries, blackberries, and cherries. We'd come at the right time. We sampled some of the strawberries there, and they were quite lovely, if a bit small.

It wasn't until we reached the open-air market in Bergen, though, that we discovered just how good berries could get in Scandinavia. The basket of raspberries artfully displayed in Kathleen's hand was a revelation. These berries are huge. These are not the thumbnail-sized raspberries of home, these are the size of the whole first knuckle of my thumb, easily twice the heft of what we were used to. And they didn't just look good, they were sweet and flavorful, with just the right touch of tartness that we expect from good raspberries.

Later, on the first excursion from our Norwegian coastal cruise, we took a long bus tour out of Geiranger. Along the way, while waiting for a ferry, the daughters of a farmer were walking among us with big flats of raspberry baskets, and we indulged again, wolfing down all of the nice big beauties before we reached the far side of the fjord.

It turned out that the tour company had a deal with the farmers: each day, they called the farmers to let them know how many buses would be coming through, and when, to let the farmers arrange to be there waiting for us. I don't know what the tour company got out of it, other than the satisfaction of customers like us.

Pursuant to that plan, at a later stop on that tour, there were more daughters of farmers, this time selling baskets of strawberries. Now, the raspberries were enormous, and certainly tasty, but that was nothing as compared to these strawberries. They were of normal size, but truly unbelievable flavor. Oh my god, they were good. So good, that as we worked out way through the basket purchased by a British couple we'd befriended, I swear, every single time somebody started on a new berry, they moaned audibly. They'd forgotten, since the previous berry, just how mind-blowingly marvelous these strawberries were. I could have cried when the last berry was gone. (The daughters, having quickly sold out, were also gone by then.)

Let this be a lesson to you, should you find yourself traveling in midsummer in Norway (and probably Sweden and Finland, too): missing out on the berries is tantamount to missing out on juicy little missives from heaven.

(Oh man, now I really wish I had another basket of those strawberries! This must be how Lucifer felt after the Fall...)

August 06, 2005

A Cloudberry Love Story

Many years ago, some friends of ours who travelled frequently to Scandinavia brought back a delicacy and invited us to share it with them. It was a liqueur made from a fruit we'd never heard of, but that was common in those Northern latitudes, called "cloudberries". We were told stories of neighbor fighting neighbor in the far North over whose berry bushes were whose, and whether or not someone had been taking cloudberries to which they were not entitled. These berries, it was said, were so wonderful, that neither they nor any product made from them was ever exported.

It all sounded a bit unlikely, but then we tasted the liqueur, called "lakka", the Finnish name for the berry. Served ice-cold, it's a marvel on the tongue, sweet like most liqueurs, but also just a bit tart, with lovely strong fruit flavor. We immediately decided that, somehow, we had to get ourselves some of this stuff. But how, without flying halfway around the world?

In those ancient, musty, and primitive days, well before the invention of the web, when one spoke about "the Net", it meant the newsgroups, now almost forgotten bulletin boards on nearly every topic imaginable, with contributions from people all over the (connected) globe. Like most other techies, I read many of these groups regularly, and this gave me an idea about how to attack "the cloudberry problem".

I started watching closely the email addresses of newsgroup contributors, looking for one ending in ".fi", indicating Finland. There were more Finns connected in those days than any other European group other than the British, so it didn't take long to find a posting, in English, from some Finnish fellow. I wrote him a message directly, noting that he didn't know me, but explaining our recent cloudberry experiences and desires. Could he, I asked, receive some money from us, buy some cloudberry liqueur with it, and then mail it to us? Ah, said he, how wonderful! A foreigner with an appreciation of fine Finnish liqueur! But, he was sad to report, it's illegal to send spirits through the mail in Finland. So sorry. But then, he went on to ask, where in the United States did I live? Because he was planning a business trip in another month or so, to a town called Foster City, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Was I near there, by chance?

What luck! At the time, of course, we lived only ten miles or so from Foster City. Sure enough, a month and a half later, I met him in his hotel room there and received three bottles of genuine Finnish cloudberry liqueur, all of different brands, so that we could taste them all in comparison. And to top this marvelous bounty, he refused my payment for the same, saying it was his pleasure to unite an aficionado with some of the best goods that Finland had to offer.

Well, that was about 15 years ago, so naturally we long ago exhausted our supply of Finnish nectar. While in Helsinki a week and a half ago, of course, we replenished our supply; this time, we have four bottles of different brands and we look forward to many pleasant tastings in the years to come.

May 11, 2005

Better Eating for Lazy People

About a month ago, while visting a kitchen and bath remodeling store (don't ask), Kathleen and I noticed that, sharing the parking lot, there was an outlet of Designed Dinners. Kathleen had read about them, but the concept was new to me: pay these guys $185 and get the ingredients for 12 entrees for four people each.

Before you arrive, a chef has done essentially all of the prep work, including creating any sauces, toppings, marinades, etc., and the results are set up at a number of refrigerated serving stations. You show up and move from station to station, pulling the indicated amount of each ingredient and putting it into one or more Ziploc bags, as described in the sign over each station. You tag all of your bags with the preprinted labels they provide (each of which includes full cooking instructions for the dish) and then pile them all up in a box to take home to your freezer. The whole selection process takes about an hour and a half in a very friendly atmosphere, with complementary wine, cheese, and cookies, and several other customers to chat with. There's plenty of hand-holding for those who need it; it's a very service-oriented establishment.

For those with families smaller than four people, they offer the option of "splitting" each entree into two packagings, with two servings each. Some dishes can't be split (like casseroles or roasts), but most can.

It's pretty convenient and, we've found, helps make it easy to eat a wider variety of food at home. There's nothing there that we couldn't have made ourselves (given a recipe), but the thing is, we never would have. We're just not sufficiently motivated about cooking to put this kind of thing together (or to spend the necessary prep time).

On a scale of one to three, we've rated almost every dish we've eaten so far with two stars. The only exception was a fettuccine where they didn't recommend pulling enough sauce. Nothing's been worth three stars, but a steady diet of twos is pretty good.

The biggest problem with this program is finding enough room in your freezer.

October 03, 2004

A Little Loaf of Cinnamon Heaven

I recently was introduced to perhaps the very best cinnamon bread I have ever tasted. The very thought of it brings a tear of yearning to my eye: it's been a week since I last tasted it.

I write of the Cinnamon Chip bread served up by Great Harvest Bread. Specifically, I refer to that baked by the folks at the shops in Factoria (at 3610C Factoria Blvd. SE, in Lohmann's Plaza next to Starbucks) and in Redmond (at 17192 Redmond Way in Bear Creek Village). Since Great Harvest is a franchising operation, there can be substantial differences between shops; these two are owned by the same couple.

Upon walking into the shop in Factoria, I was immediately struck by the marvelous informality of the place, with its open racks of fresh-baked loaves, display cases of yummy-looking cookies, and friendly employees slicing thick slabs off several loaves as free samples for the customers. Just our luck, they started a fresh loaf of the Cinnamon Chip just as we came in. There's a big bowl of butter there so that you can slather it onto your sample to your heart's content (and probably doom).

Of course, fresh-baked bread of any sort is one of life's great treasures, but this Cinnamon Chip stuff is from the next level of Heaven up from the rest. The lovely chewiness of the body is the perfect complement to the zingy wonderfulness of the melted streaks of little cinnamon power pellets, and the butter just capped it off, leaving us unable to speak intelligently until the slice was but an aching memory.

My informant tells me that this stuff also makes a fabulous french toast, but I have a hard time imagining any lasting long enough to be used that way.

Oh, that they were still open at 9pm on a Sunday night!

September 27, 2004

Normally I don't approve of shaving, but...

Kathleen and I had dinner again recently at Shanghai Café, at 12708 SE 38th St. in Factoria, and once again we were pretty darned happy at the end of the meal.

We were introduced to this place by some friends who read about it in a "Best of Seattle" book. They were smart enough to pick it up shortly after they moved here, recently, from Switzerland. (Somehow, it never occurred to us to buy a reference book about the place we'd moved to. Maybe it seemed like cheating.)

Anyway, the specialty of Shanghai Café is their "hand-shaven" noodles. They have two sorts: regular and barleygreen, with the latter being the best, in our humble opinion. Both are very irregularly shaped, thick, substantial, and very tasty. Our favorite "vehicle" for enjoying them is the house special chow mein (yes, really), which combines them with shrimp, scallops, chicken, and various vegetables. My first thought upon seeing these noodles was that any noodle that thick simply must be doughy, but fear not: they're as light and supple and yummy as any noodles I've had anywhere.

It should, I suppose, be pointed out that the Shanghai Café in Factoria is an offshoot of the Shanghai Gardens restaurant in Seattle's International district. The Factoria location is much more convenient to our house, though...

September 12, 2004

A Night Out in Seattle

On the way into Seattle tonight, Kathleen noted that, due to increased proximity and convenience, we've probably made more trips into Seattle in the year we've lived in Bellevue than we made to San Francisco in the previous ten years of living on the Peninsula. We certainly do go in fairly often, primarily for the theater (somehow this year, we've ended up with season tickets to three different theater companies).

Tonight, however, the excuse was an art-house movie we'd been wanting to see, a French film called "Intimate Strangers", which has been out for a while and is now only playing at this one theater in Capitol Hill.

The Harvard Exit theater is near the very top of Broadway, on E. Roy. This is a lovely, relatively quiet little neighborhood with a few eclectic shops and several restaurants that look interesting.

The Seattle Weekly gave the Harvard Exit an award for "Best Movie Theatre Lobby to Wait In", and it's easy to see why. The building was originally a clubhouse for a women's club and there are several nice living room / parlor rooms scattered about. It's a very comfortable place to see a movie (even though our show was in the "Top of the Exit" theater, upstairs on the third floor) and you can't beat their politics: the other movie showing tonight was "Uncovered: The War in Iraq" and they have other, similar films coming up. Definitely a place we'll be going back to.

(The movie itself was also pretty charming, in that classically quirkly French way. It begins with a woman mistakenly coming into a tax lawyer's office, thinking it's the office of the therapist down the hall, and pouring her heart out to the bemused lawyer. Misunderstandings, confessions, understandings, and cryptic confusions ensue.)

After the movie, we walked across the street to a nice, informal little coffee shop and crepery called "Joe Bar" with a small but interesting crepe menu including the intriguing "PB & J" (which comes with a glass of milk). To our great disappointment, though, they only serve crepes until 2pm on weekends (why?). Fortunately, Kathleen noticed a line in the newspaper review they had posted on the display case, which mentioned that Joe Bar finally gave Seattlites a choice of creperies, joining long-time standard "611 Supreme", at 611 E. Pine, only a few minutes' drive away.

We quite enjoyed the food (and the value for money) at 611. I had their Salmon Chevre crepe, with smoked salmon, chevre, and lots of scallions. The scallions really make this dish, adding a necessary edge to a very creamy filling. (In fact, they added enough cream and/or butter to the chevre that the "goaty" flavor was almost completely hidden, a bit of a disappointment to me.) Kathleen concocted her own crepe of salmon, tomatoes, and spinach and was likewise pleased; the crepes are enormous, easily the largest we'd ever been served.

The music at 611 is too loud and too hip-hop for our tastes, but not so much so as to keep us from intending to come back for tasy crepes. (Of course, we'd also like to go back to Joe Bar sometime when they're actually serving...)