Aromatic Chicken Soup with Rice Noodles

1 tablespoon light oil
2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed and tough outer layers discarded, remainder halved lengthwise and minced
1 Thai red chili pepper, seeded and minced
1-inch piece ginger root, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 ounces cooked chicken, shredded (see NOTE)
4 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth
5 ounces thick rice noodles, or egg noodles
Soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 medium lemon
Handful cilantro leaves

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the lemon grass, chili and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the chicken and the broth, and cook for 5 minutes to let the flavors develop. Add the noodles and cook according to the package directions. (It should take no more than a few minutes.)

Season to taste with soy sauce and pepper. Squeeze a little lemon juice into each serving and sprinkle with the cilantro.

NOTE: To make this with raw chicken, cut the chicken into thin slices and add it to the saucepan 30 seconds after adding the garlic, stir-frying it until the exterior looks cooked. Then add the broth and proceed with the recipe as written.

Poblano, Bacon, and Cheddar Corn Bread

3 fresh poblano chili peppers
6 to 8 slices center-cut bacon (about 4 ounces total)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs, well beaten
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups fresh or frozen/defrosted corn kernels

Place the poblanos directly on a gas burner over medium-high heat. Cook, turning them as needed, for 10 to 15 minutes or until they are charred all over. (Alternatively, position an oven rack 4 inches from the broiling element and preheat the broiler. Arrange the poblanos on a piece of aluminum foil and place on the rack to broil for 10 to 15 minutes; turn frequently until charred all over.)

Transfer the poblanos to a zip-top bag and seal, or place in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. When they are cool enough to handle, discard the blackened skin, stem, ribs and seeds, then dice the remaining flesh. (It is easier to remove the skin under running water, but some cooks say that washes away flavor.) Cut the flesh into small dice; the yield is a packed 3/4 cup.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a plate with a few layers of paper towels.

Heat a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisped. Transfer the bacon to the lined plate to drain. Turn off the heat, leaving the fat in the skillet.

Combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and black pepper in a mixing bowl.

Whisk together the milk, cream and eggs in a large liquid measuring cup, then stir into the cornmeal mixture until just incorporated. Add the diced poblano, the cheese and corn. Crumble the bacon over the bowl. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat from the skillet into the batter, stirring gently to incorporate.

Heat that same skillet over medium heat. Once the remaining bacon fat shimmers, pour the corn bread batter evenly into the skillet. Transfer to the oven; bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cut into wedges; serve warm.

Tex-Mex Chili with Beef and Pork

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound beef stew meat, cubed or cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound lean ground pork or lean ground beef
Kosher salt or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded then coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño pepper (seeding optional)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon mild or hot paprika
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder or chipotle chili powder
1 tablespoon sauce from canned chipotles in adobo, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
28 ounces canned, crushed, no-salt-added tomatoes
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
4 cups no-salt-added beef broth
30 ounces no-salt-added, homemade or canned pinto beans (drained and rinsed, if using canned; about 4 cups)

Sour cream, for garnish
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish
Crushed tortilla chips, for garnish
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven or wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chunks of beef. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the meat releases from the surface. Stir so the meat begins to brown on all sides, then add the ground pork or ground beef. Season lightly with salt and black pepper; cook for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring, so the ground meat browns and loses its raw look and its juices evaporate.

Clear a space at the center of the pot; add the remaining tablespoon of oil, then the onion, red bell pepper and jalapeño pepper, stirring to coat. Cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring frequently to keep them from scorching.

Clear a space at the center again; add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, adobo, cumin and oregano, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, brown sugar and vinegar; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring a few times, to form a thickened mixture.

Stir in the broth; once the mixture starts to bubble vigorously, reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the beans. Reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a low boil; cook, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally; for a thicker chili, add up to 15 minutes to the cooking time. Taste, and add adobo, salt and pepper as needed.

Divide among individual bowls. Serve the sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, tortilla chips and scallions at the table, so guests can garnish their own portions.

Basic Marinara

1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, certified D.O.P. if possible
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
Small dried whole chile, or pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large fresh basil sprig

Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands. Pour 1 cup water into can and slosh it around to get tomato juices. Reserve.

In a large skillet (do not use a deep pot) over medium heat, heat the oil. When it is hot, add garlic.

As soon as garlic is sizzling (do not let it brown), add the tomatoes, then the reserved tomato water. Add whole chile or red pepper flakes, oregano (if using) and salt. Stir.

Place basil sprig, including stem, on the surface (like a flower). Let it wilt, then submerge in sauce. Simmer sauce until thickened and oil on surface is a deep orange, about 15 minutes. (If using oregano, taste sauce after 10 minutes of simmering, adding more salt and oregano as needed.) Discard basil and chile (if using).

YIELD
Makes about 3 1/2 cups, enough for 1 pound of pasta