Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hands-Off Smoky Chili and NYE: Whiskey Sours and Cheese Straws

Greetings, and Happy New Year!

I have friends who deliberately keep their expectations for New Year's Eve low, but I was excited to have many dear old friends over on Thursday, and the evening turned out to be everything I'd hoped for.  I tossed a few little things together in the hours before people came over, enjoying the rare opportunity to make finger food.  I chose things that were simple but still a little special.

I wanted to make a special drink for the evening and our friends are whiskey drinkers, so I decided on whiskey sours, choosing Ina's ratio.

Whiskey Sours  

2/3 c. simple syrup (just boil equal parts granulated sugar and water until the sugar dissolves, then cool)
3/4 c. whiskey  (we used Jameson)
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (3-4 pieces of fruit)
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine, shake with ice, and serve in a martini glass.

One adorable party-goer enjoying one, and a glass of blush Andre, ringing in the East Coast New Year.

Party food must be easy to grab, easy to hold, and very easy to eat.  It should also be a little over the top in calories, with small portions and quality ingredients.  I decided to make a tray of vegetables with yogurt herb dip, plain shortbread, brie en croute, spanakopita trangles, and cheese straws.  We had leftover fudge from Christmas and someone brought nuts, making a very well rounded plate, especially when combined with a local beer.

There are two main styles of cheese straw recipes out there: those that start with puff pastry and those that are light doughs.  I chose the latter, getting inspiration from Smitten Kitchen for the basic dough, which is apparently an adaptation from this cookbook.  I decided to swap their chili flakes with cayenne because I love its flavor, especially with cheddar.  I also used white whole wheat flour instead of all purpose.

Spicy Cheese Straws

3 c. grated extra-sharp cheddar
8 tbsp (one stick) butter at room temperature, cut into tbsps
1 1/2 c. white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/4-1 tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1 tbsp. milk


Combine all ingredients but the milk in a food processor, pulsing until they make a sandy dough.

Add the milk, then pulse again until the dough comes together.

Roll this into a rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick.

Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut the dough into strips 1/4-1/3 inch long.

Bake these on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 for 13 minutes, or until the edges are just brown. They will puff up, the bottoms will get crispy, and they will be light and airy.  I put these in a glass and they were beautiful and delicious, and very easy to eat with a cocktail in the other hand.

Despite not being terribly hung over on New Years Day, we didn't really feel like doing any cooking, so I decided to make something that was very simple but comforting, and that would last us all day.  We went with a version of our bean chili.  Then I used canned beans, but I'm trying to avoid them so I used dried beans.  I didn't have the forthought to soak them the night before, so I just cooked about 1 cup each of dried black beans, kidney beans, and great northern beans for around two hours at a simmer, until they were just undercooked.  You can use canned beans if you want, but truthfully the flavor and texture of dried beans is far superior to canned, and canned do pose some health issues, since the lining contians chemicals which can easily leach into your food.

Hands-Off Smoky Chili

2-5 slices of smoked bacon
3-4 c. cooked beans of any type
1 lb. meat (optional) we used ground beef from Organic Prairie
2 quarts of tomatoes, we used home canned
2 small cans of tomato paste
1 lb. carrots, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
1/4-1/3 c. beer (this can be cheap and stale)
1-2 c. stock as needed to cover
2 tbsp. cumin
3 tbsp.+ chili powder to taste.  we used hot chili powder
1 tbsp. cayenne powder to taste
2 tbsp. salt, or more to taste
2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper

To serve:  plain yogurt or sour cream, extra sharp cheddar, sliced green onions, and corn chips

Cook the bacon first, until it's cooked through and the fat has rendered.  Then add the vegetables and cook for 2-5 minutes until they're about half done.  Move the vegetables to the edges of the pan.  Then add the meat to the middle of the pan in small batches, browning it as well as you can.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Add in all your seasonings and stir to coat.

Then pour in the beer and use it to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add your beans


Then enough liquid to cover.  Simmer until you're ready to eat, then top with anything and everything.

2009 brought big things, and 2010 promises to do so, too.  I don't tend to make resolutions, but I know this year will be a more positive and exciting one, without question, and I can't wait to share it with you. I've been writing this blog for three years now, and don't see myself wanting to stop anytime soon.  I appreciate each and every one of my readers, and thank you for taking the time to be a part of my journey through life as a cook, gardener, and woman.

To family, farms, food, and the blogosphere:  Happy New Year!


Anonymous said...

Diana from Spain in Iowa recommended you for our Iowa food bog, if you are interested, send me an email.

Linda said...

I'm thankful you posted pics of making the cheese sticks. I made some for Thanksgiving but mine were thicker and looked like biscottis. Not comfortable with baking and using dough at all, but your pics have inspired confidence to try again.

Happy 2010 Alicia!

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