My cookbook photographer Lizzie Leitzell is in town for a wedding and, of course, I had to have her and her fiance Kyle over for dinner to catch up, to reminisce about our cookbook travels and to talk about what we’re working on now.
The nice thing about having Lizzie over for dinner is that she’ll take much better pictures of the food than I ever will. Hence, the picture above is much nicer than the one I would have taken. You should see the size of Lizzie’s lens.
(As you can tell, I took that picture, which is why Craig’s totally out of focus; though the fact that Lizzie’s in focus may mean this is a highly accomplished artistic shot on my part.)
The rest of these step-by-step pictures are also by me.
I decided to make Lizzie and Kyle a black bean chili from Chris Schlesinger & John Willoughby’s cookbook, “Let The Flames Begin,” which I bought at a used cookbook store in Atwater Village. What appealed to me about this chili was that, in addition to the typical chili ingredients (onions, peppers, cumin, chili powder) you end up cooking the beans in a generous amount of fresh orange juice and lime juice, along with orange and lime zest. That sounded peculiar enough to merit a try.
The recipe starts with a real trial: the chopping of four tear-inducing yellow onions. I managed by sharpening my knife over and over again before starting so there wouldn’t be a lot of onion spray. That mostly worked.
Then you get to play around with how many peppers you want to use and what kind; I used a red jalapeno, two green jalapenos, and one habanero:
You chop those like crazy until you have pepper confetti:
Meanwhile, you’ve been cooking your black beans in water just to get them started; then you drain them, a little early, so they finish cooking in the chili:
Don’t forget to juice and zest your oranges and limes:
Then you can get started. Brown those onions in a little vegetable oil:
Then add the garlic and peppers:
Then lots and lots of cumin and chili powder (1/4 cup each):
You also add some sugar, black pepper, the orange zest, lime zest, the juice and crushed tomatoes:
You’ll also want to add water here:
The beans go in:
Then you realize it’s going to overflow so you ladle some liquid out:
Half-cover and simmer for two hours or so. Observation: if you taste here, you’ll be like “eh”; but as with all things that reduce and get concentrated as they cook, this tastes amazing two hours later. Still: season a bit, now and again, as it goes. (I seasoned the black beans right when they were done before draining them so some salt got inside.)
Now, this cornbread. You may have read about it when Sam Sifton wrote about it in The New York Times Magazine. It’s a cakey cornbread with lots of sugar in it, so cornbread purists will cry foul. Me? I cried “this is the best cornbread I’ve ever had” when it came out of the oven and I cut myself a piece. (Sifton’s recipe is adapted for a cast iron skillet; this recipe is 9 X 13-inch baking-pan sized.)
It’s outrageously easy to make. Into a bowl: flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder.
Whisk that together. Add the wet ingredients: eggs, milk, vegetable oil, melted butter.
Meanwhile, you spray a baking pan and heat it in the oven so it’s piping hot:
Pour in the batter:
Into the oven that goes for an hour. And you’ve got a dinner of champions: hot, fragrant cornbread.
And a black bean chili packed with flavor:
That’s a Lizzie pic, in case you couldn’t guess. This one is too:
That’s Craig putting cheese on top of his. I served this up with grated Cheddar on the side, chopped scallions, chopped cilantro and sour cream.
And here I am calling everyone to dinner with a plate of cornbread:
That’s just the kind of picture I couldn’t take myself, which is why it’s such a delight to have Lizzie over for dinner. We both can’t believe that the cookbook we spent over a year working on together is finally on its way. And if you like her pictures here, you’re going to love her pictures there. Thanks Lizzie!
Recipe: Summer Black Bean Chili
Summary: Adapted from Chris Schlesinger & John Willoughby’s “Let The Flames Begin.”
- 4 cups dried black beans
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 medium onions, finely diced
- 1 to 2 tablespoons minced habanero peppers; or 6 to 8 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno peppers (or any combination of peppers, really, that you enjoy)
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 1/4 cup ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 3 teaspoons grated orange zest
- 1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
- 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
- 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
- One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 6 cups water
- Pick over and rinse the black beans. Drain. Combine the beans in a large pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until almost tender, about 1 hour. At the end add a fistful of salt, stir around and taste. The beans should taste seasoned but not salty. Drain them and set aside.
- Heat the vegetable oil in the same large pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the diced onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they just start to get brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and peppers. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add, stirring together well, the chili powder, cumin, sugar, pepper, orange zest, orange juice, lime zest, lime juice, crushed tomatoes, and water, and bring the mixture to a simmer with a pinch of salt.
- Stir in the reserved black beans. Return to a simmer, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook, partially covered, checking occasionally, sprinkling with salt now and again, until the beans are just soft to the bite, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (If it gets very, very dry, you could add more water; but hopefully that won’t happen.)
- Adjust the seasonings and serve with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, minced scallions, and lime wedges for squeezing.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 2 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8
Recipe: East Coast Grill Cornbread
Summary: The famous cornbread from Chris Schlesinger’s East Coast Grill.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 4 eggs
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a 12 X 8 X 2-inch pan. Put the pan in the hot oven to heat while you make the batter.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder (or: you can just whisk it). In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vegetable oil.
- Pour the wet egg mixture over the dry flour mixture, then add the melted butter and stir just until mixed.
- Wearing oven mitts, remove the pan from the oven, quickly spread the batter in it, give it a smack against the counter to even it out, and return it to the oven.
- Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the bread is brown on top and a cake tester comes out clean.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8