Triple B Chili with Beef, Beer, and Black Beans

It’s Time to Get Your Chili On:

Beef and Black Bean Chili

October brings Fall, football, and fresh crisp weather, which, in my book, invites a large pot of chili to slowly simmer on the stove, filling the kitchen with the heady scent of browned meat, tomato, and spice on a blustery afternoon.

Now, there are many versions of chili, and I am hardly a purist. Generally speaking a good chili includes meat, beans, chile peppers, onions, and tomatoes, and, in my opinion, it should be thick and packed with goodies. From there, the variations and tweaks are up to you. Not a meat eater? No problem – just double up on the beans. Want more substance? Add a hearty grain to thicken. Not too keen on heat? Tinker with the chiles, opting for more sweet than hot.

This is a chili template I use when I crave a spicy, hefty stew. The common denominator is the plum tomato stock amplified with a generous amount of southwestern spice and chile heat and fortified with stout or beer. I’ll change the meat and occasionally add a grain such as barley for extra oomph. The beef chuck can be switched to pork, turkey, or chicken – or entirely omitted for a vegetarian version with an extra helping of beans. In this recipe, I added barley for texture and extra nutrients. Other grains such as farro or wheat berries can be substituted as well.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 chiles in adobo, finely chopped with juices
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup pre-cooked barley (optional)

Garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

Fig and Farro Salad with Mint and Feta

It’s fig season and I am figging out:

Fig Farro and Feta Salad

There is a magical window of time when fresh figs are abundant, and this is it. Soft and fragrant, fresh figs are oh-so ethereal to eat. Their flavor is delicate yet nuanced. Depending on the variety, they can be sweet and winey, honeyed, or grassy. Black mission figs are the smallest, dark and furtively sweet. Brown Turkey figs are larger, striated in brown and yellow, and pleasingly sweet like honey, while Calimyrna are perhaps the prettiest – green and golden like wheatgrass, with a nutty vegetal flavor. When figs are ripe, they are luscious to eat straight up, but if you are lucky to have too many, then layer them into sandwiches and salads, or on pizzas and bruschetta.

This recipe makes a hearty salad full of farro grains. If you prefer a more leafy salad, then halve the amount of farro.

Fig and Farro Salad with Mint and Feta

Serves 4

1/2 cup semi-pearled farro
1 1/2 cups water

Dressing:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cups arugula
1 cup shredded radicchio
6 Brown Turkey figs, quartered
2 ounces crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios
Finely grated lemon zest, for garnish

1. Cook the farro: Combine the farro and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain any excess liquid and cool the farro to room temperature.

2. Make the dressing: Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, honey, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to emulsify.

3. Assemble the salad: Combine the arugula and radicchio in a serving bowl. Scatter the farro over the salad and top with the figs, cheese, and mint. Drizzle with the dressing and gently toss to combine. Garnish with the pistachios and lemon zest and serve.

 

Grilled Beef Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Lean into the heat with these spicy grilled steak skewers:

When the weather is hot and shouty, then why not shout back with skewers of fiery meat? These steak skewers are not only cooked over a flame, they are bathed in a heady lime and garlic marinade that tenderizes and infuses the meat with bold flavor and kicking spice. And don’t stop there: Raise the flavor and heat bar further by serving the skewers with a feisty sauce inspired by Zhoug, a green herb condiment hailing from the Middle East. It’s a heat-spiked herbaceous blend that’s a cross between chimichurri and harissa – arguably a match made in heaven. You can keep the steaks in large pieces, or, better yet, cut into strips and thread on skewers for fun party food. Serve the sauce on the side, so the meat can be dabbed or generously swiped – leave it up to your heat threshold to dictate the amount. 

Skirt steak, flank steak, or hanger steak are great cuts that love a marinade, which helps to tenderize their natural toughness. When cutting the meat into strips, be sure to slice across the grain (the way that the muscle fibers are aligned). By doing this, you will cut up the muscle fibers which would otherwise increase chewiness. Grill the meat quickly over direct high heat for best results.

Grilled Skirt Steak Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes plus 4 to 6 hours marinating time
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

Marinade:
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds skirt steak, cut against the grain in 1 inch strips

Sauce:
1 large poblano pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeño pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 cup (packed) cilantro sprigs
1 cup (packed) Italian parsley sprigs
1/2 cup (packed) mint leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare:
1. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Place the steak strips in a resealable plastic bag or glass container with a lid. Pour the marinade over and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Make the sauce: Place the peppers and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the cilantro, parsley, mint, lime juice, cumin, and salt and process to blend. With the machine running, add the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is thick but pourable. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if desired.

3. Remove steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Thread the strips on pre-soaked bamboo skewers and discard the marinade.

4. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. Grill the skewers over direct heat until charred and cooked to your desired doneness, 5 to 8 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat. Serve with
 the spicy green chile sauce.

Black-and-Blueberry Clafoutis

Got berries? Make a clafoutis:

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

If you have more fresh summer berries than you know what to do with (this is a good problem) then here’s a great way to add them to a dessert. Clafoutis (clah-FOO-tee) is a French flan-like dessert. It’s light and elegant with a baked custardy batter streaked and studded with fruit. It’s also a perfect lazy-cook recipe that is whipped up with little effort and a simple list of ingredients. You can get creative with how you present clafoutis. Bake it family-style in a tart or shallow gratin dish, or for dinner-party fun, divide it between individual ramekins. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the vessel you use, so simply bake the clafoutis until the top is tinged golden and the custard is set. This can take up to 45 minutes for a tart or 25 minutes for ramekins. Feel free to mix and match your berries. This recipe uses a combination of blueberries and blackberries. Raspberries and cherries are also delicious.

Black and Blueberry Clafoutis

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 to 55 minutes
Makes six (6-ounce) or one (10-inch) clafoutis

Unsalted softened butter for greasing the pans
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces fresh blueberries
6 ounces fresh blackberries
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups half and half
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter six (6-ounce) shallow ramekins (or one (10-inch) ceramic tart pan). Sprinkle the ramekins with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and tap out any excess. Place the ramekins on a baking tray. Arrange the berries in one layer in the ramekins.

2. Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the half and half, flour, lemon zest, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt until just combined.

3. Pour the mixture over fruit. Transfer the clafoutis to the oven and bake until the top is tinged golden brown and the custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes for the ramekins (or 40 to 45 minutes for the tart pan). Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

4. Before serving, sprinkle the clafoutis with powdered sugar and garnish with additional lemon zest. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Grilled Halibut and Vegetable Skewers

Maximize char-grilled flavor by skewering your fish:

Grilled Fish and Vegetable Skewers

Weekends are made for grilling, and this weekend was no different. California halibut is in season, and while halibut’s firm flesh is ideal for roasting thick filets on the grill, I prefer to cut the fish into chunks, quickly marinate them, and thread on skewers. By doing this, more of the fish flesh is exposed to the flavors of the marinade, and there are more edges and corners exposed to the flames of the grill to crisp and char (which are the best bits). I like to thread the fish with vegetables, such as colorful bell peppers and onion. The vegetables add flavor to the fish and bright color and freshness to the skewers – plus they are a great way to stretch pricey fish to feed a crowd.

The key to these skewers is the marinade, which has an unlikely ingredient: coarsely grated yellow onion. The onion pulp and juice add natural sweetness and bite to the marinade and nicely balance its salt and acidity. Any thick firm-flesh fish, such as halibut, tuna, swordfish, can handle a longer marinating time, upwards of 2 hours, but 30 minutes to 1 hour is sufficient to infuse flavor.

When assembling the skewers, make sure all of the ingredients are cut in uniform size, 1 to 1 ¼ inches, including any vegetables that may be threaded along with the fish, to ensure even cooking. Bamboo skewers should be soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes before assembling. This will help to prevent them from burning while grilling.

Grilled Halibut and Vegetable Skewers

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour for marinating plus 20 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

Marinade:
1/4 cup coarsely grated yellow onion with juices, about 1/2 small onion
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds halibut, cut in 1-inch chunks
2 red, yellow, and/or green bell peppers, seeded, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 large red onion, cut in 1-inch chunks
Parsley sprigs for garnish (optional)
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Whisk the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the halibut chunks and gently turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

2. While the halibut is marinating, soak 8 (8-inch) bamboo skewers in warm water for at least 30 minutes.

3. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. Thread the fish on the skewers, beginning and ending with the halibut and alternating with onions and peppers. Lightly brush the vegetables some of the marinade.

4. Grill the skewers over direct medium heat, until the fish is charred in places and just cooked through, about 8 minutes, turning as needed. Arrange the skewers on a serving platter, garnish with parsley sprigs and serve warm with lemon wedges.

Summer Pizza with Squash Blossoms and Sweet Peppers

Decorate your summer pizza with flowers – squash flowers, that is:

Grilled Pizza with Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms might make this pizza sound pretty fancy, but it really isn’t. Delicate squash blossoms are everywhere at the farmers market at this time of year. I’ve been eyeing them, and contemplating ways to easily incorporate the floppy, sunny flowers into a meal. I’ve eaten blossoms fried and stuffed, but to be honest, I find them time consuming to prepare and often oily and rich. So I decided to simply layer them, with no other preparation, on a white pizza – or a pizza with no red sauce – and see what happened. The results were resoundingly good and a unanimous hit at the dinner table. The flowers shriveled and crisped while cooking, which concentrated their subtle and nutty flavor, which was nicely rounded out by sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers, onions, and a kick of heat from crushed red chili flakes. These fragile squash blossoms may be delicate, but it’s clear that they are no shrinking wall-flower.

For this recipe, you can make your own dough or purchase a good quality fresh dough from your supermarket, which is a simple shortcut for an easy meal. This recipe stretches one pound of fresh dough into a large rectangle, but you can also shape it into 2 smaller pizzas.

Squash Blossom Pizza with Sweet Peppers, Onions and Pecorino

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes one (10 x 15-inch) pizza

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt
1 pound homemade or prepared fresh pizza dough
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet red peppers, such as Jimmy Nardello peppers
8 squash blossoms, quartered lengthwise
1 (8 ounce) fresh mozzarella ball, patted dry and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the grill for indirect cooking over high heat (about 500°F for a gas grill) and preheat a pizza stone for at least 15 minutes. (Or preheat the oven to 500°F. Place a pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and preheat for at least 15 minutes).
2. Whisk the oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
3. Stretch the dough out as thinly as possible and lay on large pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet lined with parchment). Lightly brush with the oil. Sprinkle half of the Pecorino over the pizza. Top with the onions and peppers. Arrange the squash blossoms over the vegetables, and then place the mozzarella around the squash. Sprinkle the oregano, chili flakes and pepper over the pizza and lightly season with salt. Top with the remaining Pecorino.
4. Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone. Close the grill lid and grill until the pizza is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and brush the crust with some of the oil. Drizzle any remaining oil over the pizza. Cut into serving pieces and serve immediately.

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

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It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi which multitasks as a mail and food delivery service, garbage collection, and all-purpose passenger shuttle to and from Homer, the closest town accessible by road. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

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Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut

The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

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Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
Needless to say, the seafood is glorious in this part of the world. The following recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Pearl Cousous
Serves 4 to 6Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pearl (Israeli) cousous
2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, chopped fresh oregano leaves and chives

Method:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous, stir to coat, and cook until the couscous is toasted light golden, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock (it will sizzle). Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, the paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

3. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

4. To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

Homer View Lynda Balslev