fat free opinions on a food centric life

Chunky Beef Chili with Butternut Squash

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If you’d asked me even at age 25, I’d have told you squash wasn’t something I thought I’d enjoy eating at any point in my life.  I’d just begun to experiment with zucchini about then and that’s only because I had a small garden and harvested a few that were more than a foot long and five inches in diameter.  I quickly became someone who could cook anything with zucchini.

It was the yellow and orange squash I continued to not like the idea of, and I think it may have had something to do with texture.  When I saw it prepared, it was always soft and mushy, and ironically, sweet.  It’s always been a challenge for me to consider eating meat or vegetables that have been sweetened…well, as long as nobody counts Sweet & Sour Chicken, right?

Thankfully, I’ve gotten past the few issues I’ve had with squash, so when I saw the copper pot full of glistening “Texas Beef Brisket Chili” on the cover of Bon Appetit last month and realized those orange chunks nestled up against the beef were nuggets of savory butternut squash, I knew what we were having for dinner and quick.

But there was just one thing…this dish was anything but quick.  In fact, it was the epitome of slow and low — and just perfect for football watching on Sunday.

 

Chunky Beef Chili with Butternut Squash

large dried ancho chiles* (about 3 ounces), stemmed, seeded, coarsely torn
6 oz. bacon, diced
1-1/4 lbs.onions, chopped (about 4 cups)
1-5 lb. 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 T chili powder
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground coriander
1-1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1-1/2 10-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles (1-3/4 cups)
1-12 oz. bottle Mexican beer
1-7 oz. can diced roasted green chiles
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh cilantro stems
4 c. 1-1/2  to 2-inch chunks seeded peeled butternut squash (from 3 1/2-pound squash)

Place dried chiles in a bowl and pour enough hot water over to cover. Soak until chilies soften, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Saute bacon in a large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat until it just begins to brown. Add onions and reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5 minutes.

Salt and pepper the beef and add to the pot, stirring to coat. Set aside.

Drain the chiles and reserve the liquid. Place the chiles in a food processor, adding 1 cup soaking liquid, garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse salt. Process until smooth, adding more soaking liquid if very thick. Pour puree over brisket in pot.  Uncover and cook for 1 hour more until beef is almost tender. Add the chunks of squash and stir to coat. Roast uncovered until the beef and squash are tender, adding more soaking liquid if needed to keep meat covered, about 45 minutes longer. Spoon off any fat from surface of sauce and adjust seasonings to taste.

Enjoy with your favorite chili toppings and some cornbread!

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Notes:

  • Our idea of chili usually includes pinto beans which we really enjoy, so this was quite different.  The squash was great, and the brisket very tender without falling apart like chuck does when it cooks for this long.
  • Chilies can be a big mystery to everyone, but as long as you remember that chilies have one name for when they’re fresh and another for when they’re dried, you’ll be fine.  Here’s an excellent resource to help you keep it all straight. Plus, when I cook with chilis, it isn’t about getting the exact chili.  It’s more about choosing one we like and that people will eat.  I know lots of people are very opinionated about spicy food and are afraid of anything that’s too spicy.  My rule of thumb is that spicy food is better hot, as long as it isn’t so hot that it interferes with my enjoyment of the food.
  • I used New Mexico chilies for this because they were in my pantry.  I also used Newcastle, an English beer because we had that as well.  The brand of canned tomatoes I use when making chili is Rotel, but they are a bit spicy and depending on the type of chilies you use, you may not want more heat.
  • If you don’t have or can’t find dried chilies, use chipotles in adobo.  They’re spicy and will work, but you won’t have the nice soaking liquid to use.  Use broth instead.
  • There are lots of ways out there to peel butternut squash, which isn’t a favorite task of mine, but I usually cut it into manageable chunks, then use a paring knife to slice the peelings off.  It takes much less time than using a peeler.
  • And a final note…

I’m seriously interested in your opinion…

I try not to snark about issues on my food blog but lately there has been much talk amongst friends about photos submitted to sites that feature food photography not being accepted for reasons that are clearly in contradiction to other photos posted on the site.  In fact there’s quite a bit of talk about food photography in general swirling around out there.  I think a couple of things are at issue here and are somewhat related.

First, most of us are not professional photographers and are learning by practice, which is the very best kind.  So in the spirit of attempting to offer our viewers an example of what we’ve cooked, we include photos.  Everyone wants to get a look at what the dish looks like, right?  The problems begin when a judgment is made about the quality of the dish by looking at the photo alone.  If this is all about photos, then why post a recipe?  It’s beyond tedious and the photography is far more fun.  Or better yet, why not just post a sprig of cilantro and not take photos of the dish at all!  *Just a bit testy, yes?*

This is beyond annoying to me.  Think about cookbooks.  Yes, we all enjoy cookbooks with beautiful color photos, but I also use and like the cookbooks I own which have no photos at all.  The real test for me is about whether the recipe is good.  What’s the list of ingredients like?  Is the procedure similar or different to what I’ve used before?  Can I learn something new?  I know that a gorgeous photo doesn’t always tell the best story about food even though I may enjoy looking at them — especially in the case of recipes tried that are less than stellar after I’ve been lured by a hot shot of food porn.

Additionally, I think many of us who enjoy reading some of the more popular food magazines have noticed a shift in the photography published recently.  I laugh about it because things change.  I adapt.  Plain and simple.  In fact, it’s somewhat nice to see photos with stark shadows and contrast in light.  I like the messy tables, and plates that have been scraped clean after a meal.  The photos look real.  They look like they were taken in my house at my table or in my kitchen.  It gives me a feeling that maybe, just maybe, I can put my less than perfect photographs up with a very tasty meal and that someone may want to try it themselves instead of having them languish in my photo files waiting until I have nothing new to post…for weeks sometimes.  I know you know what I’m talking about, right?

Photograph by Hans Gissinger for Bon Appetit magazine.

So I’m taking their lead, I guess — the professionals.  If Bon Appetit can put the photograph above by Hans Gissinger on the cover of their magazine, then I, too can post my photos, whether there’s oil glistening on the surface of the mixture or not.  In fact, I was inspired by his photograph.

I took the photo of my chili below when it finished late in the afternoon.  My husband wasn’t due home for hours, and the plan was to heat it up later.  I took some photos because the light was still decent, and while it set, the fat rose to the surface, of course.  Yes, it was spooned off before eating, but what I’ve learned is if you really want all the fat out, refrigerate it first.  The fat solidifies and then you can scrape all of it off.

My photo below looks decent compared to the one above.  I need to work on the exposure on the handle, though…but the chili isn’t about light on the pot handle, is it?  And the last time I checked this was a food blog, yes?

I’m tired of the food photo snobbery — aren’t you?  Be honest.

Photograph by Kelly Peacock Wright for Sass & Veracity: a food blog