Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chili Cheese Pie

Among the joyful signs that summer has arrived in Brooklyn are the appearance of Mr. Softee trucks, Red Hook taco vendors, and stoop sales. It is a triumph to score a $50 hardcover coffee-table cookbook that was hardly, if ever, even cracked open, for a few bucks.

A few weekends ago at a BK stoop sale, I acquired Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook ($5), plus a vintage original 1984 edition of Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres ($1), both utterly pristine (except for a super-endearing inscription in the Portale, “Merry Christmas '97, Handsome”--which led to a whole discussion speculating about whether one of the guys I bought it from had written it to the other and they were just clearing house, or if the current boyfriend had demanded that the cookbook inscribed by the ex be put out at the stoop sale. Being a romantic, I assumed the former and was crestfallen when someone to whom I was eagerly showing my finds pointed out the possibility of the latter. But I digress).

Flipping through the Martha book, I instantly fixated on a recipe for Corn Cups Filled With Beef Chili, and decided to adapt it into a full-size entree pie.

This recipe can be done in under an hour -- you just add the hot filling to the baked pie crust (which is REALLY EASY TO MAKE, I SWEAR), so you can make your filling as the crust bakes. (Of course I felt the need to top the whole thing with cheese, requiring a few more minutes of oven time, but that’s your call.)

This would be a great meal for a family with kids; it looks like a cross between hamburger, pizza, and pie, and feeds plenty of people with one big dish. It can include a variety of veggies and could be done with ground turkey or chicken, or just beans if your fam is vegetarian.

For the cornmeal-based crust, I followed Martha’s recipe -- which is, awesomely enough, on her website, despite having originated in 1984! And you best believe I printed that sucker out for reference, to ensure my book would remain pristine.

I decided to make the same quantity of crust the recipe said would yield 2 1/2 dozen cupcake-molded cups, which fit pretty perfectly in a 9-inch-diameter circular cake pan (a pie plate would be too shallow to accommodate the filling). (You could totally use a disposable aluminum supermarket pan -- it would transport and reheat amazingly well for a potluck -- but just check it a little earlier than the 20 minutes the recipe calls for, since it may cook quicker within the thin aluminum.)

Using your palm and fingers, press down the pie dough, spreading it across the pan’s bottom and sides. Don’t freak if at first it seems it won’t cover the surface—just keep mashing and spreading. You can use a measuring cup to first pound lightly against the bottom of the pan, spreading the dough out, and then roll its sides against the side of the pan to get the dough even there. If one area of the pan side has overhang and another is lacking, tear off the excess above the rim and paste it on as needed with your thumbs; this dough is as forgiving as Play-Doh. You want the dough to be as even as possible (try not to have any dents so deep they’re translucent), but it’s okay (and inevitable) to have some variation. Remember, the foodie word for “asymmetrical” is “rustic.”

Martha doesn’t call for this with the muffin-size dough cups, but since it’s a larger surface area, stab the bottom of the dough with a fork 4 or 5 times, so the crust doesn’t puff it up like it thinks it’s so great.

After putting the crust in the oven (this is some aromatherapy, let me tell you), I improvised the chili filling. Now, I’ll do a full-on chili post at some point, gentle reader, but this is the simplified version. If it’s not quite done when your crust gets golden brown, just let the crust chillax in the pan.

Heat a little olive oil in a big saucepan. Add a diced onion and about a pound of ground beef (again, you could use chicken or turkey--but add a little more olive oil, and skip the draining step below). Turn up the heat to medium-high, add a few minced cloves of garlic. With a wooden spoon, mix up the beef, stabbing it in the pan if necessary to keep it from getting too chunky.

After the beef goes from red to -- well, everyone calls it “browning,” but if my Met Food is the source it should be called “graying” -- drain it into a metal strainer so most of, but not all, the grease comes out. Return the meat to the pan.

Add a diced chipotle in adobo (like spicy? Go for a second), and about a tablespoon each of ground cumin and paprika.

Add an 8-oz. can of tomato sauce, a couple good squirts of ketchup, and any diced veggies or beans you want -- I did half a 15-oz. can of red kidney beans, and a diced half each of a yellow pepper and a tomato. I added a splash of chicken stock and beer each (you can use water, brewed coffee, and/or all of the above).

Let this cook down on medium for about 5 minutes. Stir it, taste it, and adjust seasonings as you like. Reduce to low while you grate about a cup of cheddar and/or jalapeno jack cheese on the grater s coarse setting.

When your crust is done, pour chili into it (don’t overflow it; any leftovers will keep in the fridge or freeze excellently) and cover with grated cheese. Return the pie pan to the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. (Give it a few minutes to cool before cutting into it.) Cut into wedges and serve with sour cream and chopped scallions for slathering garnishing.

Please note: My photos of this dish have mysteriously disappeared. Instead, please enjoy the above classic Martha image. UPDATE: I found my photos hiding in a folder! So please enjoy them as well as Martha, though obviously not as much.

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