Monday, January 16, 2012

Black Bean Chili

My love of cooking is no hidden secret, but something I don't get to do often that I absolutely adore is cooking for big groups of people. It's the reason I did things in college like volunteer to coordinate a 200-person Thanksgiving dinner (complete with 20 turkeys and real mashed potatoes, thank you very much). And why I still do things today like volunteer as a sous chef once a month to prep 120-person dinners at church.

Last week my boss hosted a dinner for all of the field managers in Bloomington. She decided to make chili for the group and she asked me to I offered to make a batch to share. We had a fantastic spread: white chicken chili, extra spicy chili, traditional chili with bison meat and a vegetarian black bean chili. Even better than the food was the company. One of my favorite things about the kitchen is how it brings people together. That night the house was full of people from all over the country enjoying conversation and laughs over a delicious meal. Maybe it's just me, but I'm fairly certain food even tastes better when you are enjoying it alongside others.

Here's the recipe for black bean chili I made for the group. It's a non-traditional chili flavored with coffee, brown sugar, molasses and cinnamon. It has a flavor reminiscent of baked beans with much more depth and richness. If you're like me and have been making chili fairly regularly since September, this may be a nice change of pace from the traditional style.

The recipe below makes nearly a gallon of soup (perfect for a big group!). It halves or even quarters fairly easily, so feel free to adjust accordingly.

Black Bean Soup
2-3 Hours, Mostly Unattended
Makes 1 Gallon
A Spoonful Original, Inspired by Mark Bittman

  • 1 ½ lbs. black beans, dried
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 onions
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 2 large (33 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups brewed coffee
  • 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 9-12 cups water

1. Fill a stockpot half full of water and soak the beans overnight. Drain and set beans aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Dice the onion and garlic, then sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until onions become translucent.
3. Add the tomatoes and their juices, coffee, chili powder, molasses, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and drained black beans. Add 4 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil.
4. Reduce to a medium-low simmer and allow to cook, stirring occasionally. Add an additional 1-2 cups of water whenever the chili begins to cook down.
5. Check the beans occasionally for doneness. Continue to simmer and add water until the beans are cooked through (should be slightly firm, but not at all hard or crunchy).

Tips and Tricks:
  1. There’s a definite taste difference with dried beans – give it a try if you have the extra time to soak them. However, if you choose to substitute canned for dried beans, skip step 1 and add the beans at step 3. Add the water in step 3 one cup at a time until the chili is the proper consistency. Be sure to drain the beans and omit the salt until you’re able to taste the chili.
  2. The amount of water you’ll use depends on how thick you want the chili to be. If you’re nervous about adding too much, add less at a time and keep a closer eye on the chili as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
  3. Cilantro and sour cream or queso fresco make fantastic toppings!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spoonful of Something's 2012

Once upon a time a blogger had very good intentions of providing her readers 12 festive recipes through a countdown to Christmas. Unfortunately, she forgot she has a full time job and volunteers away many (possibly too many?) of her few hours outside of the office. Then she got distracted by travel plans, seeing family and other sources of general holiday cheer (not the least of which were piles and piles of crappy but so fantastic holiday food). Next, her appendix nearly exploded so she got some unexpected quality time at the hospital. And then two of her best friends got married. After that, she realized she had no food in her refrigerator other than a half-eaten jar of salsa, soy sauce, mayonnaise and spoiled milk. At some point there were supposed to be ginger bread men and peppermint marshmallows...

Despite what you may infer from the description, my holidays were a blast. I'm not even excluding the part where I had to eat hospital jello. The unanticipated ignoring of my blog also allowed me ample time to step back, revisit my purpose (because I would like it to be a little more than just me spouting my opinions) and give some direction to the content I plan to provide throughout 2012. 

There are two subjects you will hopefully find an abundance of information on in the next year. The first is low-budget cooking. This is the place I will leverage what I learned taking on the hunger challenge last fall and ensuring I continue to learn the best methods to cook with limited resources. The other subject I want to focus on is managing meals for vegetarians and omnivores who live under the same roof. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I refuse to give up steak and am very fond of a man who refuses to eat animals (a very stubborn couple we make). I enjoy having meals together, but we don't always eat the same thing. I've come to find this mixed-dining situation is not terribly uncommon within other households. I've learned some great ways to work around different culinary preferences in the last year and want to continue exploring this topic and share with all of you what I find.

Not to fear. There will still be the occasional look-what-freak-show-of-a-baked-good-I-made posts (case in point, homemade sprinkles will be featured soon). Spoonful of Something is meant to be a window into my kitchen. I know I'll be cooking with more purpose in 2012 than years past and I hope you'll enjoy being along for the ride.