Fend off tommyknockers with hearty fall fare
For the Appeal
With Halloween approaching, it occurred to me that every day here in Virginia City is a little Halloween-ish.
For one thing, if you’ve ever been up here at night after everyone’s gone home, it’s spooky. Hardly a building exists that doesn’t have some kind of story. It’s almost like history is so much in the forefront of peoples’ minds that it conjures up the spirits.
If you’re lacking a ghost for your story there’s always the tommyknocker. These were the Cornish miners’ equivalent of leprechauns, responsible for all things mischievous. If a hammer wasn’t where you were sure you had left it, or your coffee had been knocked over with no one else in the tunnel, these guys took the blame.
Some of the miners thought that the tommyknockers could direct them to new pockets of gold while others thought they could warn miners of impending danger. Believed to be more meddlesome than threatening, the men would leave little bits of their lunch as an appeasement.
The tommyknockers are still here and we have to deal with them on an almost daily basis in the kitchen. If a paring knife goes missing then reappears in plain sight, or the flames on the stove burn differently on weekends than weekdays, or things fall from shelves without any sign of a cause, what else could be the explanation?
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Today’s recipe is for Green Chili Stew, a classic dish from Northern New Mexico. This dish shows up on menus a lot and works with beef, pork or chicken. We’ve chosen beef, specifically tri-tip. Using tri-tip is cheating a little because you could get away with a cheaper cut of meat. But there is hardly any waste, the texture of the finished product will be superior and it cooks a little quicker. Served with warm tortillas or corn bread, you can’t beat this dish for a cold day or a spooky night.
If you are looking for a place to truly experience Halloween, consider Virginia City. A schedule of happenings is available at http://www.olvirginnyink.com or the chamber of commerce Web site at http://www.virginiacity-nv.org. Come on up.
Green Chile Stew
Makes about 1 1/2 gallon
One beef tri-tip (3-4 pounds) trimmed of fat
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 quarts of chicken stock (canned or made with chicken base is fine)
1 25-ounce can diced green chilies or four 7-ounce cans
3 cups diced tomatoes in juice
4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon whole Mexican oregano (available in the Mexican food section of most grocery stores)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the tri-tip into 3/4 inch cubes and reserve.
In an 8 quart stock or soup pot heat enough oil to cover the bottom by about an eighth of an inch. When the oil is hot, add about half of the beef and sauté until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove to a plate and add the rest of the beef and sauté until browned. Remove to the plate and reserve.
Using the same pot, add the onions and garlic and sweat for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring and scraping up any of the browned meat that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Depending on how lean your beef is, you may need to add a little more oil.
Add the cumin and oregano and sweat until fragrant. Add the green chilies, stock and browned beef and bring to a simmer. Simmer the mixture until the beef is just tender (maybe an hour and a half) skimming any fat that accumulates around the sides.
Add the cubed potatoes and tomatoes to the green chili mixture and cook until the potatoes are tender.
Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with fried tortilla strips, grated Cotija cheese and fresh cilantro.
Serve with either warm tortillas or try this corn bread recipe.
Bulletproof Corn Bread
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup yellow or blue corn meal
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 ounce melted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet in the preheated oven to get hot. Place the eggs and sugar in a stainless steel bowl and whip until well combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.
Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternately add the dry ingredients then the buttermilk to the egg mixture about one-third of each at a time. Use a wire whip to do this, but don’t over mix. Whisk in the melted butter.
Remove the skillet from the oven and set it on a heat proof surface (I can’t tell you how many cutting boards have been stuck to the bottom of skillets). Spray the pan or wipe it with a paper towel and a little oil. Add the batter and bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes or until the bread is deep golden in color. It should feel springy to the touch. Cut into 12 wedges and serve warm with butter.
• Brian Shaw is the chef and owner of Cafe del Rio in Virginia City.