Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The three "B's" of Chili.

The best thing about this chili is all the "B's" involved: beer, bacon, and brisket. And of course, then there is the butternut squash. Technically this is the fourth "B" of the recipe, but I leave it out of the bragging title, because for some reason thinking about squash in chili turns people off. While bacon, beer, and brisket perk the salvation glands, the thought of squash can dry them right back up. So I leave it out of the title, even though the squash is the shining star of this pot. It totally and completely takes the chili from good to AMAZING.

When you scan the ingredients list, your first thought might be that this chili is destine to be scaldingly spicy. After all, it has anchos, chili power, and chopped green chilis to give it heat. But the interesting thing is that the final product actually tastes more sweet and earthy, thanks to the addition of the squash. Plus, in a no-bean chili, the squash adds a hearty dose of bulk and fiber to keep things healthy and filling. And the flavors meld so nicely, making this a very comforting fall and winter dish.

The first time we made this, we started it after dinner. It was for an event the next day, and we did not realize we were in for four hours of braising. Needless to say, that night we had to set the alarm into the wee hours of the morning several times in order to add ingredients, stir, and finally remove from heat, all in our jammies with bleary eyes.

This time, we budgeted our time accordingly. We made the chili for a Fake Surprise Party, also known as Lauren's Surprise Party #1. We needed something to eat as we pretended to be at her real party. To prepare, Sam and I spent all day in various states of chili making, and I do hope the final project met her fake party expectations. It must have been alright, because her husband John ate my portion's leftovers straight from my bowl (he did use his own spoon).

I highly encourage adding this to the fall repertoire, especially if you live in a climate even slightly reminiscent of autumn. It would go so well with a crisp afternoon, golden leaves on the trees, and perhaps some college football on the tube. Eat up, there might be a game of tag football in the leaves afterwords (or perhaps a real Surprise Party #2, depending on if you are Lauren or not).

Texas Beef Brisket Chili
Bon Appétit* by Bruce Aidells* October 2008

A cold-weather favorite, this all-beef, no-bean chili gets added appeal from a seasonal ingredient: butternut squash. For best results, make the chili at least one day ahead so that the flavors have time to meld.

* 6 large dried ancho chiles*
* 6 ounces bacon, diced
* 1 1/4 pounds onions, chopped (about 4 cups)
* 1 5-pound flat-cut (also called first-cut) beef brisket, cut into 2 1/2- to 3-inch cubes
* Coarse kosher salt
* 6 large garlic cloves, peeled
* 2 tablespoons chili powder
* 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
* 1 1/2 10-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles (1 3/4 cups)
* 1 12-ounce bottle Mexican beer
* 1 7-ounce can diced roasted green chiles
* 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro stems
* 4 cups 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks seeded peeled butternut squash (from 3 1/2-pound squash)

* Fresh cilantro leaves
* Chopped red onion
* Diced avocado
* Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
* Warm corn and/or flour tortillas

Place chiles in medium bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to cover. Soak until chiles soften, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sauté bacon in heavy large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat until beginning to brown. Add onions. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle beef all over with coarse salt and pepper. Add to pot; stir to coat. Set aside.

Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Place chiles in blender. Add 1 cup soaking liquid, garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt; blend to puree, adding more soaking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if very thick. Pour puree over brisket in pot. Add tomatoes with juices, beer, green chiles, and cilantro stems. Stir to coat evenly.

Bring chili to simmer. Cover and place in oven. Cook 2 hours. Uncover and cook until beef is almost tender, about 1 hour. Add squash; stir to coat. Roast uncovered until beef and squash are tender, adding more soaking liquid if needed to keep meat covered, about 45 minutes longer. Season chili to taste with salt and pepper. Tilt pot and spoon off any fat from surface of sauce. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool 1 hour. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

Garnishes: Set out garnishes in separate dishes. Rewarm chili over low heat. Ladle chili into bowls and serve.

*Available at many supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Latin markets.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Surprise! Happy Birthday Lauren.

Surprise Party #1
SURPRISE! Happy Birthday Lauren. Today is your real birthday, but this weekend, it was your birthday x2. That is because this weekend we celebrated your birthday twice, with two surprise parties. Haha, I hope at least one was a big surprise.

It all started with Lauren's husband John. He wanted to do something nice for Lauren, to commemorate her 28th birthday. So he asked for his friends' assistance throwing a surprise party. We all agreed to brunch on Sunday, the day before her birthday. It would be a wonderful surprise. Plus, we know this great little place downtown doing $1 mimosas for brunch (in case you are wondering, that place is Insignia, and it's good). A nice morning buzz is always a crowd pleaser. So John sent out an Evite and plans were made.

Then came a hitch. Lauren's brother called. He had good news. He said he was getting married! But it was also bad news, because the impromptu wedding was the same weekend as the surprise party, and in Dallas. Of course Lauren wanted to go to Dallas for the weekend. But what about the surprise party?!? John had to think quick to save the plans and make it to Dallas for the wedding, so he told Lauren we were having a party for surprise party for her... on Saturday night.

Wait. What? A surprise part on Saturday night?

Yes. A surprise party on Saturday night. To maintain his original ruse, John arrange a second surprise party to foil the REAL surprise party on Sunday. Except of course Lauren knew about the Saturday surprise party. But she didn't know we knew she knew, even though we all knew she knew, because it was a fake surprise party that we planned only after she knew. So to keep things as they were supposed to be, we all continued to pretend Saturday's party was a surprise, event though everyone involved was faking.

Sound confusing? It was! And it was very silly and funny, except we couldn't laugh about it until Sunday morning after the second surprise. Basically it was like those of us on the inside were double agents, working one surprise party against the other. And yes, while it was confusing and didn't make sense to all of us, it made sense to John. So we obliged. After all, we do like Lauren, and John, and parties. So it wasn't a big loss to throw two parties. Plus, she flew to and from the wedding on Saturday, so it was the best of all worlds.

The good news is that two parties in honor of Lauren's birthday meant many good things. First, it mean three carafes full of mimosas on Sunday morning, followed by a two hour midday nap. Second, it meant Virginia Green's Chocolate Cake from the Liberty Bar on Saturday night. Third, it meant making the Three B's Chili for a crowd at my place, as part of Fake Surprise Party, otherwise know as Surprise Party #1. I will post the recipe for the chili tomorrow, because it is so good it deserves it's own post aside from a birthday shout out.

So, in summary, Happy Birthday Lauren! Watch out, we just may be showing up on your lawn tonight to yell surprise again, when you AND John least expect it. Or maybe we won't. You just never know, do you?

Surprise Party #2

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lamb ragu, and an almond tart for YOU!

Enough sewing already. Sometimes a girl's gotta eat. And sometimes when she eat,s she cooks a three-course meal for her friends from her new Mario Batali cookbook. And if she and the rest of the eaters are lucky, they end their eating with a big piece of dessert. This dessert is a Crostata alle Mandorle, also known as an almond tart. It combines almond, apricot jam and chocolate, and that is why it is good.

I asked my friend Lauren as we ate the tart if she thought it might count as healthy, since it is packed full of almonds, and (raw) almonds are one of those high fiber, high protein super foods. She responded "No, and you wanna know how I know that?...Because this tastes GOOD." She is right. Things that tastes good like this tart are probably never as healthy as your mid-morning snack of 6 raw almonds. That would just be too good to be true.

It was fun to make, because 1) I got to knead the tart dough, which is such a luxury. I am used to dough that should be touched as little as possible to prevent toughness, which always gives me anxiety (Think "Ahhhh! did I overwork the dough, have I ruined the dessert?!? Gahhh!!!). And 2) because I got to beat egg whites with sugar until glossy stiff peaks. It was beautiful, a wonderful texture, and tasted good. I don't get to beat egg whites often.

The recipe involves using both a food processor AND the stand mixer, so it is a bit heavy on counter space and dishes, but other than that I found it very simple. I sliced it very warm, and it did not hold together as firmly as I imagine a tart should, but after cooling it seemed to have a more solid body. The jam is a bit acidic, which balances some of the sweet, and little bits of chocolate throughout add a nice, satisfying cocoa fix that we all look for in a desert, without being too rich. I fully expect to add this to the dessert files to be made again, preferably after a hearty lamb ragu.

Almond Tart: Crostata alle Mandorle
from Mario Batali's

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground toasted almonds, plus 2 cups
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, plus 3 egg whites, plus 1 egg beaten
1/2 cup apricot jam
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and set aside.

Toss together the flour, 1/2 cup almonds, and sugar. Cut the butter into the dry mixture until it is the consistency of fine bread crumbs. Add 1 egg and a pinch of salt and mix well, kneading slightly. Form the pastry into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Line the tart pan with the dough, letting it hang over by 1-inch. Trim the edges, reserving the scraps and rolling them into a ball. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line the tart pan with waxed paper and load the inside with beans. Bake in the oven until the dough has firmed but is still pale about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Beat the egg whites until they are thick and glossy. Spread the apricot jam in an even layer inside the tart crust. Fold the remaining almonds and the chocolate into the whipped egg whites and spread this mixture over the apricot jam. Bake 30 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

This is the ultimate juxtaposition. Four pounds of broccoli being washed for dinner, while I beat in a cup of sugar into egg whites. At least we ate a semi-balanced meal.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sencha Blouse: Muslin #1

Yeah. Moderate success. Hope springs eternal. I CAN and I WILL have a successful Sencha blouse fitted and sewn in fashion fabric one of these days soon. And once I get the pattern right, I plan to sew up about eight of these babies and wear them every day, for every occasion. I will be comfortable and look classy AND have a do-it-yourself practicality.

However, because I love to self-torture, and because I have some perfectionist instincts, I have circled and noted all areas for concern and further modification above. Individual photos with some notes are also below for your viewing pleasure. And if you scroll to the bottom, I have found many examples of successful Senchas to provide further inspiration.

I know that the fabric pattern makes it a bit harder to see the design lines, but I think I can see the drag lines and areas of concern just fine. Perhaps a floral wasn't the correct pattern to sew a muslin with, but who cares? The truth is that the fabric came from two thrifted pillowcases, and I like them. I wish the fit would have been perfect here so I could wear the darn thing. I am going to sew the full process despite the fit errors in hope.

Further alterations that may be in order include:
  • small 1/2 inch forward shoulder adjustment
  • 1/2 tuck "sway chest/hollow chest" across front
  • 1 inch sway back in upper back
  • move center darts closer to center by a few inches, further away from the outside dart
  • redraft darts, taking them in deeper near the hips to eliminate excess
A lower neckline will be more flattering for sure. And I think unpicking the darts and re-clipping will allow me the flexibility to take them in as much as they need, plus allow me to place them at the most flattering place.

Not too shabby. It might be pulling a tiny bit at the center back waist, and I do see some fabric puddling in the swayback area. I can fix those.

Right side:
I want to limit some of the excess swinging forward between the darts. It is very maternity-ish. And even though I have a round "maternity-ish" stomach shape, I do not feel the need to dress it as such.

Left side:
Side seem:
I am pleased it seems to be falling evenly along my true side center, see how it matches up with my pants seem? No crazy pulling to the back or front is a good thing.

There are a number of finished Sencha's haunting the blog world that I have been looking at for inspiration and fit guidance. I am especially looking for fuller busted gals as examples. If their Sencha's all wrinkle in the same place mine does, than it must be a normal wrinkle, right?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sencha Blouse: "Sway Chest" Adjustment question

To fill in the space or not to fill in the space, that is the question... or rather... To trim off the excess wedge or not to trim off the excess wedge, maybe THAT is the question. Bad Shakespeare puns aside, I do question how to finish my "hollow chest" adjustment, or what I am thinking of as my "sway chest" adjustment. I haven't really found an answer online or in my books.

That there above is a two inch tuck taken along my upper bust line, exactly where my breast curve stops and my chest begins. This is where the tissue wanted to be folded, so this is where I folded it. It indeed took me a bit of pondering and staring to figure out to fold this at all. During my fitting, I originally thought the center waist was not big enough, because the center front seam was sweeping out toward my side. As I played with the tissue, I realized the center front was swinging out because the upper chest was too long. If I tucked out some inches from the upper chest, it pulled the center waist into the correct position. Viola. Solution found. Almost...

Now I just need to figure out how to finish off this adjustment to keep things on grain.

This is my first sway chest attempt, although I have high, high hopes for it. You see, I have come to realize that I am indeed short in the upper chest. Too often in ready to wear, especially in blazers and jackets, my shoulder and neckline try to "stand up" off of my shoulders when I sit or relax. Lapels are always gaping away from my upper chest. Even in my fitted t-shirts, I get wrinkles and "puddles" of fabric over my bust. It's because my clothing is too long up there!!! I never thought much of it, but now I am starting to understand that I am wearing clothing that has been graded in length, not just width, to match my size. And I don't need extra length in my upper chest and shoulder area. I am short there.

Hence comes in the question. The "sway chest" tuck left an inverted curve in the center front chest area. So, do I fill it in? Or do I trim off the little wedge the is poking over the majority of the center front line. Both options are demonstrated below.

The "Trim off" Method:

See that extra wedge of pattern? I could trim that off to true the center front on a consistent grain line. But this will diminish the overall width at the center front a little bit.

The "Fill in" Method:
See that triangle gap in the pattern? I could fill that in to true the center front on a consistent grain line. This will add some width to the center front.

Being fairly new to sewing, I am a bit concerned what all these alterations are doing to the potential grain lines in my fabric. Heaven knows I don't want things stretching all wonky along the bias because I shifted the lines. But hey, trial and error is a great way to learn!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sencha Blouse: Tissue Fitting #2

Progress is happening, and it feels good. I really want to sew my Sencha muslin up this up this weekend (or sooner, if I work really, really quickly!). Any thoughts as I work through this fitting?

Front Alterations:
  • 2 inch full bust adjustment
  • large side dart transferred to two waist darts/tucks
  • armhole lowered 5/8 inch
  • 2 inch "hollow chest" tuck across high bust, tapering to nothing in armhole
Back Alterations:
  • 5/8 inch high round back
  • 1 inch wide waist
  • back tuck currently unpinned (I plan to add more width to this area, as I would like a back tuck)
Things are looking in the right direction. I need to make a few more adjustments and sew this puppy into fabric for another look at the fit. Good thing it looks so quick and easy to mock up.

p.s. Sometimes I really cannot believe I post these photos of myself on the Internet. Look at those droopy sweatpants, and that belly being pointed out ON PURPOSE! But then again, my sincere hope is that someday these will be documentation for another women with fit ills to see that yes, there are rotund people like her in the world, and yes, she too has the potential to fit and flatter her body. After all, there are many lovely bloggers out there currently offering me glimpses here and there of there own fit trial and error, even though I have yet to find my "doppelganger" sewist, I am hopeful. So please, judge not my appearance in these photos and instead look at them as instructional, education tools.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sencha Blouse: Tissue Fitting #1

The bad news. I am on a long term hiatus with the Lady Grey Coat. It's just too advance for my fit skills right now, and no sense wiling away precious sewing time, energy, and patience on a project I am not ready for. The good news. I am moving on to another Colette pattern, one that is more my skill level.

I look at the Colette Patterns website at least once a week. I have added every pattern that might feasibly fit and flatter to my Amazon wish list. And this summer, because I just happened to be near a local fabric shop in Austin that carries that pattern, I FINALLY made one of the patterns my own. I purchased the Sencha blouse (and would have also purchased the Ceylon dress too, but they don't carry it).

And to make the decision to tackle a new pattern even sweeter, my dear husband did something he HATES to do, and helped me with the first round of tissue fitting. I diligently traced the pattern knowing it will be decimated in the fitting process, and then taped and pined as designed. Here are the results. I am not surprised that the blouse is too small and will require both full bust and wide waist additions.

First step is a high round back, wide waist on the back, major full bust adjustment, and probably some wide waist adjustments involving transferring the FBA dart too. I also think I might need to lower that arm hole a bit, it feels snug. Wish me luck on this Colette vision. I have high hopes it will be a step in the right direction!