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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chili and cinnamon rolls

As the weather made its irreversible turn toward winter this past week everyone I work with started talking about making chili and cinnamon rolls for dinner on Tuesday or Wednesday night. Pretty much everyone I know who grew up in Nebraska instantly thinks of the chili/cinnamon roll combination but I've found that people not from Nebraska have never heard of the concept, considering it weird, or foreign, or even gross.

In my 13 years in a Nebraska public school you could count on chili and cinnamon rolls being on the lunch menu at least every other week during the fall, winter and early spring. Just about everyone I know who went to school in Nebraska says the same thing. The meal of chili and cinnamon rolls isn't just something we all have because we like it. It's also a reminder of childhood and simpler times.

Why is Nebraska peculiar in this manner? Did the state dept of Education have some sort of deep connection to the chili mix and cinnamon roll dough industries?

Anway, Yesterday I finished the chili I made on Wednesday evening. Here's the last bowl.

Since coming under the influence of a mean band of Texas chili fascists a few years ago I only make my chili the correct way, with no beans. Beans can be added later, as with the Cincinnati 3,4 or 5-way. Vegetarian chili, which I used to make often when I was a vegetarian, is simply spicy bean soup.

My recipe:

Spice measurements are approximates since I don't measure.

1 eye of round roast (any cut will do, longer cooking negates the need for a tender piece of meat from the start) - cut into small cubes
1 large onion - chopped
2 yellow chili peppers - diced
2 fresno peppers - diced
1 large bell pepper - diced
2 tbsp cumin
4 cloves garlic - minced
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp salt
1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce - chopped
1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 bottle of good beer, preferably brown ale or a decent lager like Sam Adams

soften all peppers and onions over medium heat in a little oil while browning the beef in a separate pan. Add beef, chipotle peppers and sauce, beer and tomatoes to pepper and onions and add seasonings. Bring to boil and then simmer for awhile. Put it all in a crockpot and cook it as long as you'd like. The beef gets more tender the longer you cook it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sometimes I lose track of where I've been

Thanks to Gary for reminding me of my recent trip to Northern California, Yuba City/Marysville in particular. Driving from Sacramento north to Yuba City was sort of like driving from Grand Island to Kearney on Highway 30 except if you squinted really hard to the east you could sort of make out the Sierra Nevadas through the smog.

The main thing I wanted to do was return to In-n-Out Burger for the first time in about 7 years. I've heard so much hype since my last visit that I figured I must have missed something the last time.

Luckily for me, there was one across the parking lot from my hotel which meant I didn't need to waste time driving around to find one. Which was too bad since I'd been upgraded to a V-8 Mustang by Avis and I really enjoyed driving it although too much extra driving around could have resulted in a speeding ticket so in the end the closeness of this burger joint was a good thing.

I forgot how small the menu was - burgers, fries, sodas, shakes. I ordered a Double Double (a double cheeseburger) with mustard, pickles and onions and fries. The burger was pretty good, definitely better than the usual fast food. I'd put it on par with the double cheeseburger at Don and Millie's although Don and Millie's has better fries. The In-N-Out fries were soggy and flavorless, possibly undercooked or cooked in oil that was too cool.

The next day I was reminded of the secret menu including the popular "animal style." I'm not sure this would have improved my opinion of the burger since this style includes extra secret sauce and I'm not a fan of secret sauces on burgers at all. The mustard-cooked beef patties sound good though.

Yuba City also has one of the largest Sikh communities in the United States so there are plenty of choices for Indian food. Several people recommended Taste of India which turned out to be a few blocks from my hotel. This was seriously some of the best Indian food I've ever had. Two words: Paneer Pakoras. Fried cheese, Indian-style. The Lamb saag (lamb with spinach) was also amazing. The lamb was falling apart in the creamy, buttery spinach sauce.

Finally, when you order calamari in California they don't serve you those rubbery little rings but give you big chunks of tender, breaded squid. I'm developing an obsession with tentacled sea creatures and this only made it stronger.

I'm hoping to post on a couple more things (The peculiarly Nebraskan love of cinnamon rolls with chili and dinner tonight at Sakura Bana (formerly Sushi Ichiban) in Omaha) before Monday when I leave for Knoxville which will include a 3-hour layover in Cincinnati so a real Cincinnati chili 5-way is probably on the agenda.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

This Week

I'm off to Northern California in about 7 hours. I'm on the waiting list at The French Laundry for next Friday. I'm also scheduled to fly back to Omaha at 6 am on Friday so if the Laundry calls I'll have to do some fast flight changing and hotel reserving but it'll be worth it.

Shadowbrook Salad Company

Shadowbrook Salad Company, out at 56th and Pine Lake Road, has been around for a couple of years now. I'd been there once before but recently met my mom there for lunch this past week. If you haven't been there yet Shadowbrook Salad Company offers a big salad bar, 6 soups, some hot offerings and about 30 flavors of gelato which cost extra as of this past June.

Besides the salad bar with the great Shadowbrook Farms greens and enough toppings to way outdo the Ruby Tuesday salad bar there are at least a dozen prepared salads each day. These are hit and miss, as prepared salads are. Your tolerance for mayonnaise will determine how much you like these although there are usually three or four that I like.

What's best though is the soup. My favorite is the roasted red pepper and gouda and this last trip there was a great beer cheese soup with ham. The broccoli cheese was a little too greasy for my taste but the vegetable beef was delicious. Another soup I love that wasn't available on my last visit was the chicken pick a noodle which is basically chicken soup and then there are several kinds of cooked noodles on the side.

There is also some great sourdough bread available. I think it might be Le Quartier but there was no way for me to tell.

The hot offerings are hit and miss. The pizza I had last week was not good but the baked potato bar I had on a previous visit was a nice addition. That's not really why you'd go to Shadowbrook though so consider it a bonus if the hot food is good.

The food is a little pricey. Lunch for two was about $16. I forgot about my company 10% discount, too. The ingredients they use are worth the cost I think and it's really one of the only places that gives you the ability to eat a completely healthy lunch with lots of choices.

Dinner on Wednesday: Farmers' Market Tasting

For a couple of weeks I'd had a dinner scheduled with a couple of friends for last Wednesday night. I had all this great stuff from the farmers' market and a new (to me), functional kitchen with an island facing the dining table so I thought I'd do a dinner of small plates made up of all that great stuff.

Here's what we had:

Branched Oak Farm quark and basil Le Quartier ciabatta pizza - Quark and chopped basil mixed together and spread on halved ciabatta loaves and toasted under the broiler. I mixed a little good balsamic vinegar in with the cheese and basil mixture, too. Pretty tasty and a nice appetizer.

Roasted tri-color beet and carrot salad - I bought a bunch of beets on Saturday that came in red, golden and candy cane colors. I also had red, white and orange carrots. I roasted those for 30 minutes then tossed them in a simple vinaigrette and let the whole thing macerate overnight. You really can't go wrong with beet salad and even better if the beets have been roasted instead of boiled.

Warm spinach salad with cippoline onions, black radishes and toasted sesame seeds - I was kind of surprised at how well this turned out. I sauteed the onions for a few minutes then added the radishes then a few minutes later I added the pile of baby spinach leaves from Open Harvest. I cooked that all down then tossed in the sesame seeds. The radishes took on a really nutty flavor with a little heat and the combination of flavors gave the impression there was a vinaigrette on the salad when there was not.

Roasted turnip and parsnip puree with star anise - I've made this before but I added some star anise to the roasting mix and a little cayenne pepper to the puree to give it a more Chinese flavor. Again, this would be better if I used way more butter and cream but I tried to keep this somewhat healthy.

Baby fingerling potatoes and garlic scapes with reduced balsamic drizzle - I had some tiny potatoes and garlic scapes which are the shoots from the tops of garlic bulbs that have usually been harvested to encourage bulb growth. The flavor is lighter than regular garlic and a little sweeter. The flowers are really tasty. I parboiled the potatoes then fried them while I steamed then sauteed the scapes in another pan while I was reducing some good balsamic vinegar in another pan over medium heat. This was a great little dish although the balsamic was too reduced. It had taken on a little of the chocolate sweetness that happens when you reduce balsamic vinegar to the level where it's good with fruit. Oops.

Italian sausage with whole-grain pasta and fresh basil - I had some Italian sausage from the farmers' market so I decided to inject a little meat into the meal. I sliced the sausage then sauteed it while the pasta boiled then tossed it with a little olive oil and a bunch of basil one of my guests chiffonaded for me with my new knife.

Branched Oak Farm Krista's Little Camembert with sauteed pear slices from my parents' backyard - This was a perfect finish to a great meal. It's not just common wisdom that soft ripened cheeses go well with warm pears it's almost written as law. The Branched Oak Camembert is really, really awesome. If you love soft cheeses like brie or St. Andre, pick some up.

A great meal and a lot of fun. It took about 2 1/2 hours and 3 bottles of wine.