Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chili and chess pie

There used to be a story with this.
Yesterday I posted about The Homesick Texan's pumpkin empanadas (good) and carnitas (great) and my new prescription reading glasses (life changing) and two people commented, one of them praising the photo of the empanadas and the other telling me I was "too funny." Thank you. Both those comments made me happy. This morning I did something stupid and the post is gone. Here's the link to the carnitas recipe. You should try it. That's the big takeaway from the lost post.

Also, here's the grapefruit desserts story I was working on last month. Maybe I'll do a sequel after I make grapefruit tart, grapefruit souffle, grapefruit pudding, and grapefruit curd. I just couldn't squeeze them all in before the deadline.

Ok, back to The Homesick Texan, which I obviously love. Lisa Fain's seven chile chili might be my favorite dish in the book. Is it outstanding chili or do I just love chili? I don't know. But we ate it last night and it was a smash hit.

Fain offers two chili recipes in her book. I made her one-hour chili for the frito pie and as the name suggests, it's a quick and easy ground beef concoction. We've all had a variation on that chili before and it's fine. This second chili is a heroic production that begins with a trip to the Mexican market to try to track down ancho, pasilla, guajillo, chipotle, pequin, and arbol chiles. (The seventh chile is powdered cayenne.) Then you need to chop a 4-pound hunk of beef chuck into 1/4 inch pieces, an experience I enjoyed about as much as getting my eyes dilated. After that you cook the beef with the chiles for roughly 6 hours until the mixture thickens. It's incredible looking stuff, this chili, dense, iridescent, almost black. I doubt it matters that you use every single variety of chile she lists, but it's fun to imagine it does. Recipe for monumentally delicious chile is here.

For dessert I made Fain's chess pie, which has some issues, starting with the name.

I would call this lemon chess pie, because it contains 1/2 cup of lemon juice plus zest and it tasted like lemon pie, whereas plain chess pie tastes like sugar and butter. But it's her pie and she can call it what she wants. She doesn't tell you what size pie plate to use so I assumed 9-inch, the most commonly used size, and that worked perfectly. I was skeptical of her crust recipe, which comes from her grandmother and was suspiciously uncomplicated. You essentially just stir flour, salt, vegetable oil, and milk in a bowl. No chilling the bowl, no rubbing fat into flour with your fingertips, no home-rendered lard, no vodka, no ice water. And it's a superb crust. Not flaky, but crispy, tasty, absolutely great. I think maybe we get too worked up about pie crusts.

But the biggest issue with the chess pie was my apparent failure to mix the filling until "creamy and well-combined" and while the pie was baking clumps of leathery egg white floated to the top. You can see them in the picture. Blecch. Very unappetizing when you bite into one by accident.

Otherwise? Delicious, delicious lemon chess pie. The recipe for both crust and filling are here.


  1. I am sorry I missed the post that disappeared, but you are "too funny" a lot of the time. As I wear prescription glasses, I would have liked to hear what you had to say about that. It's a wonder to see well, so I guess that was the general sentiment. However, I usually see many things that give me pause when my glasses are in order. I won't elaborate! Thanks for more good recipes, taste tested! My mother's chess pie recipe includes 6 egg yolks with only 2 egg whites so this is not a problem I have ever encountered with chess pie.

  2. I have a copy of yesterday's post (yay Google Reader) if you want it.

  3. What Lass said-- on the internet, once posted, nothing is ever really gone. And yes, you are too funny.

    I write from behind a brand new pair of high-powered prescription reading glasses. Colors are bright again, fonts crisply articulated, I needn't squint to see the computer screen. Rejuvenated! Eyesight, metabolism, and my mother are what I miss most about youth. In reverse order.

    We had an uncommonly happy and convivial dinner last night. Isabel and Owen were eating and conversing like intelligent, polite adult human beings and I could have sat there for hours soaking it all up. Isabel has a vacation in February and Owen doesn't so she was talking about places she'd like to go with her mom. If we go somewhere, where should we go? As is probably clear by now, I plan to blow all my money on airline tickets.

    After dinner, Mark said, "Have you noticed how the kids behave better when they like the meal?"

    Silence as I interpreted this. Was he blaming my cooking for dysfunctional dinners past? Or was he making a neutral observation in the spirit of love and friendship? I chose the latter interpretation and the evening continued on its harmonious course.

    Here's what Isabel and Owen liked last night: The Homesick Texan's carnitas. You cut pork shoulder into cubes then cook for a long time in lime juice, orange juice, cumin, garlic, and salt until the liquid evaporates and then you let the meat fry in its own rendered fat (believe me, there's plenty) until burnished and brown. You can serve the pork chunky, shredded, or in between. I like in between. Lisa Fain's suggested accompaniment is a green salsa made from pureed avocado and tomatillo which tastes like tart guacamole. I'm not sure it's the best and highest use for avocado, but it does provide a welcome acidic foil for the rich meat. I've made great carnitas before, but I don't think I've topped these. Smitten Kitchen agrees with me about Fain's carnitas recipe, and if you want to try it, which you should, you'll find it here.

    I'd never tasted pumpkin empanadas until last night. I don't think I'd even heard of pumpkin empanadas until I cracked The Homesick Texan. Crust: cream cheese, butter, flour, easy to work with. Filling: canned pumpkin, spices, orange zest, chopped pecans, sugar. Very cute, very tasty. If I made these again I'd double the pastry recipe in order to use up all the filling and I'd omit the orange zest from the filling, as it shouted down the other flavors. We ate empanadas cold for dessert and they were fine, but this morning I heated an empanada in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes and it was amazing, like a fluffy homemade pumpkin Pop Tart. With vanilla ice cream it would be killer. The recipe is here. I recommend the empanadas, though less emphatically than I recommend the carnitas.

  4. A question on The Homesick Texan cookbook: how adaptable is to more vegetarian tastes? I want to get this cookbook, but it seems very meat and cheese heavy. I tried finding it at my local library, just thought to ask your opinion thus far.

  5. That picture looks to me like pastry clams sticking their tongues out--it amuses me greatly. And now I may have to try that other chili. We made the one-hour one, and my boys ate it. MY 6 AND 9YO BOYS ATE CHILI AND LIKED IT. for the first time ever. My husband and I kept shooting incredulous looks across the table.

  6. Hi Jennifer, I use a variation of that crust. I first encountered it in Cooking For Mister Latte by Amanda Hesser. It's the crust for her mother's peach tart, which I have made probably about a zillion times in the past ten years. It was originally published in an old edition of Fannie Farmer -- I'm such a geek that I got curious about it and tracked it down. It's my go-to crust for every open faced tart these days. The one I use is one and a half cups of flour, a tablespoon of sugar, a half teaspoon of salt whisked together, a half cup of oil, a dash of almond extract and two tablespoons milk whisked together and then poured into the flour.

    A nice variation is to substitute a half cup of barley or kamut flour for AP. They are both nutty and crumbly and give a lovely flavor and texture.

    If you have a copy of Mr. Latte the recipes in it are gorgeous.

  7. I am salivating over this chili! It reminds me just a bit of my boss's chili (she has dual residency in Texas and Chicago, where I live), especially with its color and lack of beans/filler. (As a Midwesterner, I've never understood chili without beans -- maybe it's all that oil that Texans apparently have that allows them to luxuriate in so extravagant a meal as a bean-free chili.)

  8. I love the idea of a bean-free chili. That and the carnitas. I've been making my own improvised versions of both, but I'm keen to try using a recipe for a change. Carnitas and guacamole wrapped in a lettuce leaf is one of my go-to meals. For the chili, could you use the coarse blade of a Kitchen Aid meat grinder to chop the meat? Or does it need to be cubed? (I looked at the recipe you linked to, and was pleased to see The Spice Station praised--it is next door to Forage, so we get many of our spices there. It is beyond charming, if expensive.)

    I agree about the chess pie. I put only 1 Tbs lemon juice and a hint of zest in mine. But I'm a heathen who puts the thing in an oatmeal cookie crumb crust, so I'm clearly not to be trusted in these matters.

  9. every time you put beans in a Texas chili a kitten dies....

  10. Dear Jennifer,
    enjoyed your post a lot, your blog is the only one I'm waiting for new posts and yes - you are funny-. Greetings from Germany, Susanne

  11. Hi again Jennifer,

    I looked at the Homesick Texan's piecrust recipe. I will make it even more suspicious and much much easier still: don't bother to roll it out. Pat it directly into the pan. That's what I do, since Amanda Hesser instructed me to do so, and it works perfectly.

  12. That was my grandmother's pie crust recipe (flour, milk, vegetable oil, salt, mix with fork, roll out between waxed paper). I always used it and never gave it a thought until I started looking at other recipes and found all the finicky instructions for using ice water or frozen butter or a food processor, and urgent cautions not to handle it too much or let it get at all warm. My grandmother's recipe was perfect for her un-air-conditioned farmhouse kitchen. I've stirred up that dough a hundred times, in many a blazing hot kitchen, and it always turns out right. I've tried other recipes, but always come back to it. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

  13. I enjoyed your article about grapefruit desserts. When you mentioned that grapefruit and cake don't seem like the best combination because cake is by nature dry, I thought of upside-down cakes, which are on the juicier side. Grapefruit upside-down cake? Might be good...

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