Anything Goes

Between making scones, doughnuts, pasta, bread, and pitas, I’ve really been going through bags of flour. I’m just about out at the moment, which makes a die-hard baker like me really antsy every time I start meal-planning. So I thought I’d share a few recipes that you can whip up in a similar situation.

We always try to have some sort of breakfast food on hand that Jeremy can pack up and carry to work with him. That is where muffins usually come in, but last week I decided to mix things up and make granola bars instead. The fun part about this granola is that it is flavored with pumpkin puree—in my case, what was leftover after making those pumpkin doughnuts. The original recipe calls for the inclusion of pecans and cinnamon chips, neither of which I had available, so I substituted walnuts and sweet dumpling squash seeds. I thought the flavor of this granola was excellent, with a profile similar to pumpkin pie, but it had some texture issues. The pumpkin puree adds a lot of moisture, and I think I probably could have cooked it a little longer; it tended to be crumbly and didn’t hold together well in bar form, which the cinnamon chips probably would have assisted with.

Since I liked the taste of the granola, but wasn’t thrilled with eating it straight, I ended up using some of it to make a fruit crisp with Asian pears, saving myself the need to make a flour- and butter- based streusel. Again, in principle this sounded great, but the textures just weren’t quite right. The pears didn’t cook quite how I expected, so the crisp wound up kind of dry and yet not crunchy enough on top. I had one bowlful and decided to make brownies instead. (My favorite brownie recipe uses only half a cup of flour.)

To end on a different note, we had lamb chili for dinner last night, the sort made by braising chunks of lamb with rehydrated and pureed chile peppers. My lamb’s bath was a combination of pasilla and ancho chiles with some chipotle powder thrown in, and when it was tender enough to fall apart, I threw in some white beans (mostly just because they were right there in the fridge leftover from that sweet potato fettuccine), and made some dumplings to steam in the liquid and thicken it up. The recipe calls for 75% masa harina and only uses a small amount of all-purpose flour, and the finished dumplings had that warm corn flavor without the denseness or grittiness associated with cornbread. Considering the similarity of this lamb chili to a beefy chile colorado, you could certainly substitute these dumplings for tortillas on any occasion when you’ve got a potful of juicy braised Mexican meat and are feeling too lazy to run to the store or make tortillas. On the other hand, you could also make dumplings out of tortillas, so really anything goes!

Lamb Chili with Masa Harina Dumplings

I made quite a few minor adjustments here for our tastes, but have included the original recipe here, as I’m sure it is fine as is. I used 2 pasilla and one large ancho pepper, soaked under about 3 cups of hot water until soft and then pureed; I only ended up using about half of this mixture in the chili. I didn’t catch the bit about sieving it until afterwards—I would highly recommend that, because the peppers’ seeds are hard and not much fun to eat. I also added some chicken stock to the braising liquid, and just a dash of chipotle powder instead of the canned version; even so, it was pretty spicy for my taste. I also used a smaller amount of bacon fat rather than lard in the chili, and shortening in the dumplings along with my buttermilk replacer of 50/50 milk and yogurt.

10 dried mild New Mexico chiles (2 1/2 to 3 oz)
5 C water
3 1/4 lb boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 T lard or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped (2 cups)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
3 T finely chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo

For dumplings

3/4 C masa harina
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C chilled lard or unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 C buttermilk
2 T chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Simmer dried chiles in 2 cups water, covered, in a 2-quart heavy saucepan until very soft, about 20 minutes. Reserve 3/4 cup cooking liquid, then drain in a colander. Stem chiles (do not remove seeds), then purée in a blender with reserved cooking liquid until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Force purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Reserve purée.

Pat lamb dry, then sprinkle with pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Heat 2 tablespoons lard in a 6-quart wide heavy pot or a 3-inch-deep straight-sided skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown lamb in 4 batches (without crowding), turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer to a bowl.

Add remaining tablespoon lard to pot, then cook onion, garlic, bay leaves, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute. Stir in reserved chile purée and chipotles and simmer, stirring frequently and scraping up brown bits from bottom of pot, 5 minutes. Add lamb along with any juices accumulated in bowl and remaining 3 cups water, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lamb is tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

Make dumplings: Stir together masa harina, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Blend in lard pieces with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dough is moistened (do not overmix).

Skim fat off chili and discard bay leaves, then drop 8 or 9 heaping tablespoons of dough onto simmering chili, about 2 inches apart. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer, covered, until tops of dumplings are dry to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Source: Epicurious.

Update 12/15/10: I think I will be making these masa dumplings every time I make chili from now on. Today I made a batch of chili based on this one, with ground beef, cumin, paprika, chipotle, chili powder, and cocoa powder; moistened with a can of tomato juice, can of diced tomatoes, and about 1 C of water; and a little salt, sugar and homemade cider vinegar to balance it. The dumplings worked great with the chili, faster than cornbread, and we ate it for two meals in a row.

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