Who Am I?

Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

Posted: April 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Personal | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

This isn’t a recipe site and I don’t plan to turn it into one. But as I was cooking this past weekend, it occurred to me that this would make a good dish through which I could explore the way I approach meals and cooking in general and some of the specific ways we’ve adapted dishes to be gluten free. So I’m not going to write this up as a recipe, but there will be a couple of pretty decent recipes embedded in this post if you care to extract them from the text and write them down on recipes cards yourself. If not, I hope you’ll enjoy the post anyway.

Chili, of course, is everywhere in Texas and everyone has their own recipe. It’s also a dish that’s easy to make gluten free. Many chili recipes are gluten free without any adaptation. Many others only require slight adaptation.

I started developing my own chili recipe in my early twenties. I used a fusion of techniques and spicing, primarily Southwestern and Indian, I had learned from my Dad growing up. And I developed a few wrinkles of my own through trial and error. I never had a recipe for it or exact measurements, so it was a little different every time I made it. My father and some of my friends at the time loved it, but many others found it too hot. (The chili had both an up-front heat and a cumulative, developing heat that snuck up on you.) In particular, my kids wouldn’t eat it, so I gradually quit making chili much at all.

My wife, however, loved a good Texas red with a bite, but not overpoweringly hot, so she kept looking for a good recipe. One day, she stumbled across one in our local supermarket that looked easy to adapt into a chili like the ones she preferred. She gave it a whirl and it turned out pretty delicious. She tweaked it a bit until it was pitch perfect. And the kids liked it too (especially with a lot of cheese)! I pretty much follow her recipe, though I do tweak it just a bit. It’s a fun and simple recipe that produces a reliably yummy chili.

Start by browning a couple of pounds of ground beef. These days, with our increased awareness about what we eat, we prefer lean, organic, grass-fed ground beef, but any ground beef will work. When the ground beef is browned, drain it and set it aside for later. (If you have Yorkies you tend to spoil, set aside a little of the ground beef for them.)

While the ground beef is cooking in a large skillet, add a pound and a half to two pounds of diced beef cubes (about 3/8 inch or so) to a large pot. (We generally use one of our ceramic coated, cast iron dutch ovens.) Finely diced stew meat will work. Or you can pick your preferred cut of beef and dice it yourself.

Chop a medium to large onion. I’ll use different onions according to my mood. A white onion will give the chili a slightly sharper bite. A lot of the time I’ll use a yellow onion because I like them. When they are in season a Texas 1015 onion can provide a delicious change of pace. Add the onion to the pot.

Then seed and finely dice your fresh chiles. What chiles should you use? Well, that’s according to the flavor you want. Definitely include a larger chile. Most of the time I use a poblano, but a large ancho or, in season, a roasted hatch green chile or two are good alternatives. You always need 1-2 jalapenos for their distinctive flavor. Beyond that, use whatever chiles you like. I’ll sometimes dice up a serrano or two. We almost never have fresh cayenne peppers here, but I would love to try one or two in this chili some day. Some chile pequins could be nice. Really, just use the chiles you like. The ones you pick will shape the flavor of the end result. Toss the finely diced chiles into the pot.

Crush or mince at least six large cloves of garlic and add them to the pot. Really, you can put in just about as much garlic as you like. We like garlic, so we never go easy on it.

Cook the beef cubes, onion, chiles, and garlic mixture on medium-high heat until the beef is no longer pink. You’ll know when it’s ready for the next step.

Add the ground beef to the pot and add the spices. The spices include 2-4 teaspoons each of salt, black pepper, and cumin. Throw in half a teaspoon or so of ground cayenne pepper (assuming you didn’t have any fresh ones available for the step above). Cayenne’s a moderately hot pepper, so adjust according to your tolerance. And then add 3-5 tablespoons of chili powder. I suppose in some parts of the country, you pretty much only have the generic chili powder blend in a bottle. Here, though, we rarely have fewer than two chili powder blends in the bulk spices at any of our grocery stores. The chili in the picture above was made with a San Antonio fiesta chili powder. The chili powder used will, of course, influence the final flavor of the chili. Stir to combine without removing the pot from the heat.

Stir in tomatoes. Personally, I like to use a large can (30 oz. or so) of organic crushed tomatoes and a medium can (15 oz. or so) of organic tomato sauce. I also like chunks of tomato in my chili, so I usually add a can of organic diced tomatoes. (You can chop up fresh tomatoes as long as you recognize that will extend the cooking time.) If you want your chili without those chunks of tomatoes, it’s perfectly okay to skip them.

Purists will insist that a Texas red has no beans. Beans, if provided, are to be served on the side. My wife and I both like beans in our chili, so we thumb our noses at the purists and make our chili the way we like it. We both tend to like black beans, so we’ll normally throw in a can of drained black beans. (Or add some fresh cooked ones, but we don’t make beans from scratch all that often.)

Finally, add enough liquid to reach the desired consistency. Usually that’s going to be about 1-3 cups. (This is a part I always just eyeball rather than measure.) It will be a little thin at first, but as it simmers, and especially as the tomatoes cook, it will thicken. A lot of the time we’ll use a gluten free organic beef broth for the liquid. (We like the Central Market Organics beef broth.) But a gluten free beer works too. Red wine adds a certain richness. In a pinch you could even just use water, though obviously that won’t add any flavor of its own.

Heat the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it’s done. That’s usually going to take at least an hour and the longer it cooks, the better it will be. Save the leftovers, of course. Chili is always better the second day.

We always make cornbread to go with our chili. My wife adapted one of our recipes to be gluten free, but didn’t tell me about the changes she made to it. I made it a couple of times just substituting all-purpose gluten free flour for the regular all-purpose flour on a one-for-one basis and, while edible, the result was not very good at all and had a strange consistency. Finally, she told me she had modified the cornbread recipe and wrote it down for me. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not much of a baker, so I don’t play with the recipe.

Add 1 1/4 cups of gluten free (most should be gluten free, but always check) corn meal and 3/4 cup Jules gluten free all-purpose flour (or some other all-purpose gluten free flour, though I don’t promise the same result with any other) to a mixing bowl.  Add four teaspoons of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and some cayenne (to taste). Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly.

Add two eggs, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and one cup of water to the dry mixture. Stir, just until combined. (Don’t use an electric mixer or stir past the point that everything is combined.)

Transfer to a greased pan and cook at 425 degrees until done. It’s going to take about 20 minutes, but I’m sure most people know the drill. When it’s pulling away from the sides and a toothpick or butter knife inserted into the center comes out clean, it’s done.

My kids like cheese in their chili and honey on their cornbread. I can’t eat cheese anymore and I just like butter on my cornbread. Gluten free tamales go well with it too.

And that’s pretty much what things look like when I cook. Hope you enjoyed my narrative description of the process!

Pink Slime – But Not At HEB

Posted: March 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Food Reviews, Misc | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Pink Slime – But Not At HEB

ABC has been airing a series of reports on so-called “Lean Finely Textured Beef” better known as pink slime. In their initial report, former USDA scientists outline how the agency, which is supposed to be a regulatory agency but is in fact essentially run by the industry they purport to regulate, over-ruled their recommendations against allowing BPI to label pink slime as beef. Take a moment to watch the report and discover what you’ve been eating.

In the follow-up segment below, ABC checked with top supermarkets and Whole Foods to see which ones included pink slime in their ground beef. (And in this case, a refusal to answer is as good as an admission that they do.) Although we try to buy organic beef, I was very happy to see that HEB, the supermarket at which we shop, does not add pink slime to their ground beef. I would have to be pretty desperate before I would do any grocery shopping at a place like Walmart. (Of course, that was true even before this report. It just confirms that as a wise choice.)

And it also appears the schools will at least have the choice whether they get beef with or without pink slime from the USDA starting next fall. I only have one child left in public school and she can’t eat the food provided at her high school even if she had any desire to do so. But all parents who have kids who eat school lunches should contact their school districts and make their wishes known.

Of course, pink slime is only one problem among many in our poorly regulated, highly industrialized, and fundamentally immoral food production industry. (It can hardly be honestly called farming or ranching anymore.) When I look at the sheer scope of the depths into which we have sunk over the past four decades, it can be overwhelming. But all we can do is tackle one problem at a time as we try to restore some minimum level of integrity to our regulatory agencies and overall industry.

Personally, I think a great place to start is full disclosure. It should be easy for us to determine what’s truly in the “food” we’re consuming and everything about the way it was produced. GMO? Label it. “Natural flavor”? Fully disclose everything included in the flavors, including any binding agents. Make the categories simpler and require that products be appropriately placed. We have organic, non-organic, processed, and imitation foods. We need to have mandatory, easily understood, and well-defined categories like those. (We used to require that imitation food include that on the packaging. Removing that requirement certainly hasn’t made things better.)

In Defense Of Food 3 – Getting Over Nutritionism

Posted: April 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In Defense Of Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The final section of Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto, focuses on ways we can escape the Western diet. That’s not as easily done as said, and even a few decades ago it would not have been possible for most of us. As the book has explored, we also can’t achieve a desired result by focusing on the nutritional content of the food we eat. The science, such as it is, is constantly shifting and often contradictory. The lipid hypothesis tells us that fats are bad. The carbohydrates theory says that carbs are the problem. Other research indicates much of our problem lies in an omega-3 deficiency. And if the past is any indication, there are always more theories, studies, and ideas in our future. Therefore Pollan’s thesis is a much simpler one. Stopping trying to tweak and adjust our present diet. If we want to improve our health, stop eating a Western diet.

However, that’s not necessarily easy to do. Since even our whole foods are suspect and processed foods are in every niche, it can be hard to know what to eat and what not to eat. Most of us have little or no culture of food to guide us. We’ve never known anything but the Western diet. So in this section, Pollan provides some simple and thoroughly unscientific guidelines. They don’t say much about specific foods, nutrients, or calories. Instead, the rules he offers are simple ones that most people should be able to use to guide their food choices and which should then lead us to make healthier food choices no matter what specific foods we choose to eat.

Pollan begins with his first rule: Eat food. And by food, he basically means something that your great-grandmother (or in my case probably my great-great-grandmother) would have recognized as food. Imagine her walking down the aisles of a modern supermarket. Would she have even known if that package of Go-Gurt was food or maybe thought it might be toothpaste? Trust me, reading the ingredient list on it wouldn’t have helped her figure that one out. When discussing Twinkies, Pollan adds another rule you might want to consider adopting. Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting. I got a chuckle out of that one, but there’s some truth to it. If even bacteria don’t want it, why should I?

Pollan notes that we have long processed foods to extend their “shelf life” through smoking, canning, pickling, fermenting, salt curing, etc. However, modern processed foods are not processed merely to extend the time they can be stored. Rather, they are designed to sell us more food by pushing the buttons of our inborn preferences for sweetness, fat, and salt. Those are all attributes which are difficult to find in nature, but which are cheap and easy for the food scientist to deploy. (That point reminds me of another book on my reading list, The End of Overeating.)

However, there are some products that would look familiar to my great-great-grandmother, but which would really be fooling her. I would use the example I’ve been using of buttermilk. Pollan uses the example of Sara Lee’s Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White Bread. It looks like bread, but when you look at the ingredient list, it’s an incredible processed bread-like substance. So he extends the first rule with this somewhat more elaborate one.

Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup.

Pollan points out that none of those criteria are necessarily bad in and of themselves. However, he has found them to be good guides to the sort of processed food that forms the basis of the western diet. And they are guidelines that are at once simple and easy to remember.

His next rule follows in that vein. Avoid food products that make health claims. Don’t waste your time trying to understand or evaluate the claim. Just recognize it as a marketing ploy. And when a food is packaged in such a way that a health claim is prominent, it’s probably a highly processed food. In today’s world, the FDA allows corn oil, chips, and sugary breakfast cereals all boast that, at least in some “qualified” sense, they are good for your heart.

From that, he develops two corollary rules. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. If you’ve noticed, the whole foods tend to be along the outside of the supermarket while the more profitable processed food tends to be concentrated in the aisles in the middle. While that’s not absolutely true, of course, the more you stick to the edges, the less of the other sort of food you’ll see to tempt you.

And that leads, of course, to the next corollary. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. Go to local farmer’s markets. Participate in community-sponsored agriculture. Grow your own food in small gardens. The closer you can get to the source of your food, the more likely it is that you will be eating food.

Pollan notes that as long we just eat food as defined above most of the time, we’ll probably be fine. If the incredible diversity of traditional human diets around the globe teaches us anything, it’s that human beings can survive and thrive with just about any sort of diet other than the Western diet. We are true omnivores. In fact, it took an incredible amount of technological innovation to produce a diet that seems to be incapable of sustaining us.

However, Pollan does note that the diets human beings seem to thrive the most on consist mostly of plants, especially leaves. Scientists disagree on why that’s the case, but the beauty of eating food as opposed to nutrients is that we don’t really have to understand why. And he further notes that eating meat in the massive quantities that Americans do, especially industrialized, grain-fed meat, is probably not very good for us. It would be better to eat smaller amounts of more expensive meat from animals that have been fed traditional diets of mostly leaves for their entire lives (especially ruminants like cows and sheep). Similarly, try to eat well-grown food from healthy soils.

I like his rule about eating more like the French. Or the Italians. Or the Japanese. Or the Indians. Or the Greeks. In other words, approach a culture of food as a culture. Don’t try to reduce it to something you can lift out of the overarching culture of food, food preparation, and dining. Rather, enter in and embrace the whole culture of food. You’ll get at least some of the benefits as a result, even if you don’t know why.

Finally, he suggests again that we pay more and eat less. We pay less than most other developed nations for our food and we get less benefit from it. Eat meals. Don’t consider food simply fuel for the body we must consume as we rush to do other things. Approach food within the context and culture of meals. Every cuisine that has a reputation for health comes embedded in a rich culture of dining. It might not just be the food, but also the manner and context in which we eat it. I think that point is one we should all take seriously.

It’s a relatively short book, but Michael Pollan develops and presents his case well. I certainly agree with many of his points and the entire book is very well sourced. I definitely would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone I know.