Chili – with or without beans?

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Nothing warms us up on a chilly day like a steaming, fragrantly spicy bowl of chili. Topped with cheese or sour cream or avocado or crushed up tortilla chips, it is a treat for the tastebuds and the tummy. This humble bowl has interesting beginnings and quite a heated controversy among chili purists.

The origin of chili, or chili con carne (chili with meat), dates back to the mid-1800’s in the US. Trail cooks in and around California and Texas devised a brick of dried beef, suet (beef fat), salt, pepper and chilis that they could boil in pots of water along the trail. The ‘bricks’ were lightweight and stackable, thus lending to their ease of portability. They were also hearty enough to feed hungry cowboys at the end of a long day on the trail.

Chili parlors were a popular staple in Texas in the early 1900’s and wove their way into other states, generally through Texans who emigrated from their home. In the late 1800’s in San Antonio, chili stands were operated by ‘chili queens’ (latino women) in the town center marketplace. The women would make the chili at home and then bring it to town in brightly colored wagons to feed the soldiers there. Offered in plentiful portions at cheap prices, the chili wagons soon became popular with all classes of people who came regularly to eat.

“Texas-style chili”, what chili aficionados refer to as ‘real chili’, is meat (usually beef) and chili peppers. The addition of beans is hotly contested amongst the chili elite and they consider chili with beans inauthentic. As a mandate for inclusion in their official chili competition, the Chili Appreciation Society forbids the inclusion of beans in any preparation of chili. Some even feel the addition of other vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, or garlic are a departure from true chili.

Beans, it seems, came onto the chili scene in the early 1900’s. The most commonly used beans in chili are small red beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans or great northern beans. They are simmered along with the meat, chilis and vegetables.

Today there are many variations of chili; with or without beans, white chili, chili verde, vegetarian chili, chicken or turkey chili. To many of us, chili refers to a stew made with beans, sometimes meat and generally an assortment of spices. For some, the hotter the better. Some folks have honed their chili recipes to perfection and guard them with their lives. We’re happy to share our chili recipe with you. While it may raise the eyebrow of some purists, we’re pretty sure you’ll think it’s delicious; with or without beans.

New Year’s Appetizer Recipe: Salmon Tartar

Look for something special to prepare for New Year’s Eve? Whether you’re hosting a cocktail party or cuddling up at home, this festive and elegant recipe is sure to fancy up your evening. It’s a family tradition for us to serve this on New Year’s Eve, and we hope you’ll try it at your celebration too!

Salmon Tartar

Serves 4 as an appetizer

salmon tartar

Ingredients

  • 2 oz smoked salmon
  • 4 oz raw salmon
  • 1 tbsb freshly grounded horse radish
  • 1 small bunch chives
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • salmon roe (this is optional)
  • 1 small baguette

Instructions

  1. Toast pine nuts in a pan over medium heat until they start to get some color. Remove from pan and let cool.
  2. Cut smoked and raw salmon into tiny pieces.
  3. Slice the chives.
  4. Slice and toast baguette in a toaster or oven.
  5. In a bowl mix salmon, horse radish, chives, pine nuts and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve in glasses or on top of the baguette and top with salmon roe.

Happy New Year!

Mince, Dice or Chop (and what’s the difference?)

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We’ve all been there. We are reading through a recipe that calls for 1 cup of chopped onion, 1 clove of minced garlic and 2 carrots diced into 1/2 cubes and we and we think, “Well, what’s the difference?” It’s a great question. A quick search on the internet pulls up the online dictionary definitions of each as follows:

Mince: to chop food into small pieces

Dice: to cut food into small cubes

Chop: to cut into small pieces

The French have their own set of definitions for size and cut of vegetables (three alone for dicing), but we’ll stick with the abbreviated English versions for now. What the dictionary definitions lack is the reasoning behind the particular method. They are also rather sparse on the information, so we’re here to save the day with details on what each technique means and when to use it.

Mincing

To mince is to chop food into the tiniest possible pieces while still maintaining the integrity of the ingredient. Think of the items that you mince (garlic, shallots, fresh herbs) as something that you want to blend into whatever you are making without any noticeable chunks or pieces. If you are making a shallot vinaigrette, for instance, you would mince the shallot into tiny pieces so that it blends into the dressing seamlessly.

Dicing

When your recipe calls for dicing something, like a carrot or potato or squash, it means to cut it into uniform cubes. Size depends on what the recipe calls for. Personally, I do not keep a tape measure in the kitchen (for those recipes that specify the inch size of the dice) so I rely on the common sense rule of thumb.

If you are dicing vegetables for a soup, the pieces should be about the size of a sugar cube. For a stew or when roasting vegetables, they can be bigger, about the size of, say, a square of chocolate or a caramel or even an ice cube. Cutting vegetables into uniform sizes and shapes allows them to cook at the same pace, ensuring even doneness. This is also the choice to make when you want your dish or your vegetables to look pretty.

Chopping

Chopping is a little looser in practice. It basically means getting the vegetable from its whole form into chunks or pieces. The sizes don’t have to be uniform, as in dicing, and can be somewhat haphazard in shape. Chopped vegetables are great for soups that will be pureed, as a base layer for roasted meats or when you just don’t have the inclination to be all that precise with you mad knife skills.

Can you substitute one for another? In most cases, yes. Just pay attention to what you are making and what textures are a part of the dish. Do you need all of the pieces to cook evenly in the same amount of time? Do you care if you bite down into large chunks of garlic in your stir-fry or would you prefer the tiny pieces to melt on your tongue? Are you trying to get all of the vegetables into a pot of water in the least amount of time so you can sit down for 10 minutes before buzzing them in the blender and getting the delicious butternut squash soup on the table? It’s your call. We’ll always provide you with the guidelines and then encourage you to explore.

Livin’ La Vida Locavore

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In today’s food and culinary culture, there are a lot of buzz words bandied about–so many it can be downright dizzying. One you may have heard, especially if you are a patron of your local farmers market, is locavore. Although it sounds a bit like a type of rail transport, it is actually a word used to describe a person who eats food grown locally, generally within a 100 mile radius. This loose definition most often refers to produce (fruits and vegetables) although it can include meats and dairy products.

Eating locally is not a new concept. For centuries it was the only concept. What one needed to eat one grew, hunted or harvested oneself. In communities goods were traded and shared. By the mid-1800’s with the advent of the US railway, it became possible to transport agriculture within the US and then internationally. We now live in an age where taking a trip to the supermarket is like visiting the United Nations. Our food is trucked, shipped and flown in from all corners of the world.

While finding exotic fruits and vegetables at the supermarket is fun and having access to strawberries year-round is a nice convenience, eating locally and in-season provides us with an array of foods that are fresher, tastier and more economically sound. Foods that are locally grown or produced are generally minimally processed and harvested within a few days or hours of selling or packaging (meats, dairy products, cheeses, etc).

Eating local makes sense for many reasons. It has the power to boost the local economy by keeping dollars in the community and providing employment opportunities. It helps to reduce our carbon footprint by keeping the transport to a minimum. It allows us to connect with the people who grow our food, and provides occasions for us to meet and talk with them and learn about their farming practices. It enables us to take control of our health and well-being through conscious choice and selection. And it just feels – and tastes – good.

According to the 2015 Locavore Index, which culls information from all 50 states in regards to consumers’ commitment to eat local food, Massachusetts ranks in the top 5. That means that a large percentage of people in Massachusetts consistently choose to shop at local farmers markets and farm stands, cultivate a back or front yard garden or are a member of a community garden, participate in community supported agriculture (CSA) or patronize companies or services (like Just Add Cooking) that engage local farms and purveyors.

That’s pretty great. And Just Add Cooking is proud to be a part of that by committing to source our ingredients from local farms, vendors and purveyors. Want to learn more about our local philosophy? Check out some of our featured vendors here, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get the scoop on the local ingredients we’re featuring each week!