Sunday, May 31, 2009

Smoky Chili with Jalapeño Corn Bread

It was such a nice day yesterday afternoon (if a bit windy...) and after we treated ourselves to that tasty cake, we thought we would zip downtown and take a walk around the lake with Gus. Lake Calhoun is usually our lake of choice, but it was very crowded with the warm sun bringing everyone out of the woodwork. So, just a mile away is another lake we like, Lake Harriet! The trail around this one is a little more secluded with trees and whatnot, but it has some outstanding views and crazy expensive homes surrounding it to gawk at.

After looking back over this past week, we prepared 6 new recipes with the following as our favorites - Dark Chocolate Cookies with Espresso, Grape and Rosemary Focaccia and Sour Cream-Hazelnut Bundt Cake.

I mentioned to Jeff the other day that I've really had a hankering for a pot of chili, fully expecting him to say "it's too warm out - you are crazy!", but he came back with "Get out! Me too... it may be warm outside, but it sounds so good!". Ok , the main dish was set then - but I figured we might as well go all out and make a batch of this Spicy Jalapeño Corn Bread to go along side!This is a recipe that you'll want to dig down in your pantry to pull out the coarser stone-ground cornmeal, rather than the typical fine cornmeal you might want to use, to give this bread some toothsome texture. To reinforce the corn aspect, we mixed sweet kernels stripped right off the cob (you'll need about two ears of corn to get the amount needed) into the mix, along with baking soda for lift and enough salt to highlight the subtle flavors.

To get those dry ingredients lubed up, tangy butter milk was combined with shreds of white cheddar, melted butter, a couple spoonfuls from our favorite jar of (lavender) honey, a touch of oil and a couple eggs to create the liquid works. For a spicy kick, we also tossed in a minced jalapeño, seeds and all - you can remove those if you like, but we didn't find it necessary (see a little later why). When you that batch into the dry ingredients, the batter may look fairly loose and thin - however, this is what you want as the larger grains of cornmeal just take a little longer to absorb all that liquid.

Instead of spooning the batter into a cold pan, we set our cast-iron skillet into the oven and gave it a few minutes to heat up while empty. The batter is then poured in when the skillet is hot, allowing the batter to be attacked on all sides, giving it a head start. Half an hour later, the bread tested done and I immediately noticed how much more color the bread achieved! Patience does come into play now as you'll want to let the bread rest at least ten minutes before you anxiously slide your knife in to cut yourself out a wedge.

With a richly golden brown crust (go pre-heated skillet!), the inside of this bread remained quite moist with a light tang from that pertinent buttermilk. The shreds of cheese melted into the bread, building in sharp waves throughout each bite, while that sticky honey added just the right kiss of sweetness without making the bread taste like dessert. That jalapeño? Well, the original recipe called for pickled jalapeños, which might have made a difference, but I just used a fresh one and even with those ribs and seeds, it didn't have as much of a spicy kick as we hoped for. However, it did have a whisper of heat, which was enough to keep us happy!

For an intriguing twist, we decided to go into the meatless realm for the chili dish tonight with this Smoky Three-Bean Chili with Cocoa.

To give this a hearty vegetable base, heaping mounds of chopped onion, bright orange bell peppers and red bell peppers were tossed into our trusty Dutch oven to soften in hot canola oil. Chili powder and cumin, along with a tablespoon of the special ingredient, cocoa powder, were sprinkled over the vegetables and allowed contact with the heat to quickly toast and develop each of their unique qualities. While the chili powder and cumin added their own smokiness, to add in a more pungent layer, a chopped chipotle chili (you know, those smoked jalapeños packed in adobo sauce) was tossed into the pot as well.

Instead of using water or a combo of broth and water as the liquids, we used a combination of vegetable broth and a beer to add to the interesting and slightly more complex direction we were headed. Use whichever trio of beans you like, but we used what always has a home in our pantry - black beans, chickpeas and red kidney. To incorporate a tomato essence, fire-roasted diced tomatoes went into the mix just before we left the pot on the stove to bubble away for a good forty-five minutes. While the chili had thickened slightly after that time, we were aiming for it to be a little tighter and not quite as soupy. After a small scoop of stone-ground cornmeal and a five minute simmer later, the chili was where we wanted it and out came the serving bowls!

Once portioned out, I asked Jeff if he wanted any toppers and after a quick spoonful to taste, all he wanted was a sprinkling of cheese! The cocoa in this chili doesn't come across as tasting like there was hunks of chocolate melted in, but its bitterness brought a contrasting depth to the sweetness in the tomatoes and onions that is worth trying if you've never added it before. While adding to the smoky aspect, the chipotle in this filling chili gave us a robust heat that was enough to for a pleasant burn as it went down, but not so much that it overtook the subtle flavors. Did we miss the meat? I thought we might, well, especially Jeff, but in fact he took the time to make sure that this didn't fall into the void of already tried recipes and was placed in a spot where we would remember to make this again soon!


  1. The bread looks awesome, I must give that a go.

    As for the chili, all I can say is that I'm salivating at the thought of it.

    Can't have a good chili without some good bread to mop up the juices with.

    Many thanks for the inspiration!

    // Mike

  2. You're a mind reader! I've been craving chili lately too! I'll try this recipe, and the bread.....

  3. Ooo, I could go for some chili right now, too--especially with that heavenly cornbread. I love that you ground your own cornmeal. What a delicious meal! Oh, and Lake Harriet sounds awesome; I love gawking at awesome houses!

  4. Lake of the Isles is always nice too! It was a gorgeous weekend--I am glad you got out and enjoyed it :o)

    That chili looks awesome! I have yet to venture out and use cocoa powder in a chili recipe, but I think this might be the one--it sounds soooo good!


  5. Sounds wonderful. I love this kind of meal but hardly ever make it. I will aim to do it this weekend. Sounds fab.

  6. What a nice view of the lake.

    That chili with cocoa sounds like a winner Joe.

  7. SM - I hope you give both a chance!

    Quinn - Yeah!

    Elyse - It's fun to dream!

    Courtney - We like that are too, but tend to bike ride around it.

    Katie - I need to make them more often too!

    Helene - Thanks!

  8. Are you kidding me? It is NEVER too warm for chili.

  9. Yum! I've been craving some chili lately and I should make it! I od'ed on cornbread muffins recently, so those will have to wait.

  10. lubed up? LOL, Yeah, I'm immature. Feel free to NOT post this comment, its more for you than anyone else? LOL, when I read that, I totally laughed so thanks for that : )

  11. Hi Joe! When Nigel & lived in Minneapolis for 5 months in the summer of 1994, we would walk at Lake Harriet! Loved it. Just up from the lake on the western side, there was a street with shops and a particularly good place for ice-cream. No idea if it is still there... Since we've lived in Frederick County, MD, we haven't ventured out as far as the mid-west states.
    I like the look of your black-bean mushroom burgers! Will definitely give those a try sometime soon.
    Have a great weekend!

  12. Anna - Okay, you have a point!

    Cyan - I hope you like it!

    Randi - Hee hee... I knew someone would comment on that!

    Bridget - Would that have been Sebastian Joe's?