Kitchens, cooking, and recipes were not always such exposed subjects. The current level of transparency surrounding technique, ingredients, sourcing and the overt display of personality bubbling over from food-focused TV, magazines and the web is a modern phenomenon. I sometimes feel I know Bobby Flay or Mark Bittman as well as I know my best friend or neighbor. Rachel Ray? Me and Rachel go waaaaay back. It’s possible Melissa Clark’s daughter is as recognizable as Vladimir Putin. Well, in some circles.
So in response to one of the most common questions I get, and in this new spirit of transparency, I reveal a small secret of the bnb owner. It’s that the recipe repetiore of the owner/cook doesn’t have to be extensive. Not. At. All.
I’ve talked about this plenty with guests. When the kudos come in, I shake my head and sometimes visibly laugh (and immediately regret doing so, so rude), but I am no chef. And no cook, either. For most of my life I was flop in the kitchen. A zero. Not enough butter, too much oil, overcooked eggs, undercooked muffins, over reliance on too few spices, and, ask anyone in my Berkeley neighborhood, I was cooking too much chicken…please, ENOUGH WITH THE CHICKEN, CURT.
What did I know. I was lame in the kitchen.
That was before I discovered Gordon Ramsey on YouTube. Before Cook’s Illustrated dropped their subscription price to like 10 bucks a year, and before The New York Times started kicking serious butt with a massive online resource of recipes, backgrounders, videos and stills. Gluten-free apple crumble anyone? Black rice, beet and kale salad with cider flax dressing? Right this way, sir.
So I tell the aspiring bnb owner, and I get my share, start small and scale slow. Unlike the mantra I heard so often in the tech trenches and among the venture cap crowd I hung with (yes, my milieu before these cider flax dressing days) you do not want to fail fast. No no no no no nonononono.
So, what’s the secret to good cooking at a small-scale bnb? It’s simple.
Master the few. Once again with feeling. Master the few.
Commit yourself to a lineup of go-to entrees, sides, sauces, dressings, and breads and perfect their creation so completely that they consistently hit the table in perfect order, at perfect temperature, and with perfect seasonings. And work it so you don’t end up soused on tequila (nerves) or dripping sweat in an undignified manner. Truthfully, it’s easier said then done. But a framework exposed is one that can be mimicked and mined for future success, even renown.
Personally, I am still of the aspiring ilk.
But let’s give this a try. This is a recipe for a very perfect winter chili. Trust me, this could easily become a go-to, crowd-pleaser recipe.
Look in your pantry and see if you have: canned chicken broth, white onion, garlic, vegetable oil. Now open the fridge and grab a bottle of beer. Have any decent salt? If not, Morton’s will do. Pepper mill? Grab it. Everyone has oregano so find it. Cumin could be tricky so either find it in the pantry or add it to what you’ll need from the store, below.
Yes, what you’ll need to pick up in town is a pound of stewing beef (chuck, top round) and an acorn squash. Maybe the cumin. And, maybe the most important ingredient — two dried ancho or pasilla chiles. One of each or two of what you find in the store (usually four or five to a bag in the spice section of any medium- to large-sized supermarket…or a Latino mercado or supermercado).
Give the dried chiles some heat to revive them and make them pliable. Just put them in a heavy-bottomed skillet for three or four minutes, turning three or four times.
With stems removed and seeds in (for heat) soak in hot water for ten minutes. Then add the chiles and two cups of chicken broth to a blender and pulse and puree for one minute. Put aside.
Cut half the squash into bite-sized pieces about inch on all sides. Watch those knife skills. Uniformity in size is not required. Clean, cut, chop, and reserve.
Heat a dollop of oil in a cast iron skillet or similar. Sizzle up the beef, cut into one inch cubes or thereabouts. Give them a short burst of high heat till seared and cooked through. Remove from the pan.
Added a finely chopped onion and half a head of finely chopped garlic to the pan. Amounts? One medium onion. Three to six cloves of garlic. Overdo what you like. Minimize what you don’t. Saute over medium high heat. Six minutes. Liquid should have reduced some so you now have a sizzling and aromatic brew cooking up. Speaking of brew, add the bottle of beer (less three or four swigs) to the pan.
Heat over medium heat for 20 minutes or so, to burn off the alcohol and let all those good flavors mingle. Then add the beef and squash and cook over medium-low heat until the squash is tender, about 20 more minutes.
Ooops. Forgot about the salt and pepper. Just keep adding both to taste at each major ingredient intersection. You’ll know how much.
Garnish with thin slices of purple onion and chopped cilantro.
Eat. Enjoy. Reflect. Plot. Plan. Act. Repeat.
Improve. Make it religion.
See God in the crevasses of the dried ancho chile.
Do that and I’ll see YOU on TripAdvisor. 🙂