Remembering Ingram’s Chili Bowl

Photo from Serenejournal

Longtime Sonoma County residents, and even those who have traveled to Sonoma County through the years, may remember Ingram’s Chili Bowl. It was a very simple place that opened in 1951 on Old Redwood Highway in Santa Rosa. The seats were always filled and you’d often find lines of truck drivers and construction workers waiting to get a good, hearty lunch. It was a piece of America that hardly exists any more, a simple “mom and pop” restaurant making good food.

I was sad when I heard the news a few months ago that owner Jack Ingram died. Memories have taken me back to September of 1997 when I teamed up with fellow Sonoma County chefs Michael Quigley, Dan and Kathleen Berman, Mark Dierkhising and Michael Hirschberg for a fundraiser to help the Ingrams avoid being eliminated by a development plan by Home Depot. We turned the chili diner into a fine restaurant for the night, with white linen tablecloths, fancy silverware and wine glasses, and it was a lot of fun. We did manage to help the Ingrams survive that battle, but in 2000, Jack’s son had taken over the restaurant and decided to close it.

In honor of Jack, and small independent restauranteurs everywhere, I am posting this great chili recipe. It is very similar to the one that was served at Ingram’s Chili Bowl.


Serves 8 – 10

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 medium onions, chopped

6 large garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and freshly black ground pepper

1/2 can (3 ounces) tomato paste

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 pounds coarse ground beef chuck (85% lean)

3 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice

1 bottle (12 ounces) mild lager beer

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) kidney beans, rinsed and drained (optional)

Garnishes: Shredded pepper jack cheese, chopped cilantro, avocado, lime wedges and corn chips

In a Dutch oven or large (5-quart) heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add tomato paste, chili powder, chipotles, cumin and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, until mixture has begun to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beef, and cook, breaking it up with a spoon until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes with their juice, and beer. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a rapid simmer. Cook over medium heat until chili has thickened slightly. Add beans, if using and cook till they are tender, about 5 minutes. Serve in bowls passing garnishes separately for guests to add at will!
John Ash © 2008

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Cooking for Solutions: Sablefish

Photo from Wikipedia

I’m already looking ahead to spring of the New Year and one of my favorite events I participate in each year, the Cooking for Solutions gathering at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I am one of the founding chefs of this event and I fully believe in its mission to educate people about why and how to inspire conservation in our oceans.  This year’s event takes place May 18-20, 2012 and I’ve been assigned Sablefish as my star ingredient for a dish to serve at the Friday night Gala Tasting.

Sablefish, also known as Black Cod or Butterfish is one of my favorite fishes, and of course, it is sustainably managed in the wild. It has a delicious flavor and one of its best attributes is that even if you overcook it a bit, the fish is still moist and firm. I’m working on the recipe right now and will share it with you soon!

In the meantime, I hope you’ll put this year’s Cooking for Solutions event on your calendar and consider making a spring trip to Monterey with me!  In addition to the Friday night Gala Tasting, there are several
Food & Wine Adventures you can sign up for.  Here are details for the one I’m participating in.  It’s really going to be a great time!

Food & Wine Adventures
Sat., May 19
9:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.
$225 general public / $175 Aquarium members
(Tax-deductible portion: $140 general public / $90 Aquarium members)
Explore, savor and learn at one of six small-group events led by our celebrity chefs. Each takes you on a different exploration of sustainable foods: on the farm, in the water or in the kitchen. Whether you want to hone your culinary skills with a master chef, learn salty stories from a “seafoodie” or explore scenic vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, our Food & Wine Adventures give you the opportunity to spend time with culinary leaders and gain firsthand knowledge from their expertise.  Depending on the adventure, you’ll join John Ash and Clayton Chapman, Sean Baker, Ben Sargent, Kevin Gillespie, Jesse Ziff Cool or Cindy Pawlcyn for a fascinating culinary exploration.

Tour 1: The Art of Food
Event begins and ends at the Aquarium. Transportation will be provided.
Join celebrity chefs John Ash (culinary educator and cookbook author, Santa Rosa, California), Clayton Chapman (The Grey Plume, Omaha, Nebraska) and Wendy Brodie (Art of Food, Carmel, California) at Wendy’s Carmel Highlands home. Guests will enhance their culinary skills and get a glimpse into the creative minds of each chef as the group prepares a gourmet lunch in a demonstration kitchen that affords sweeping views of forest and ocean. It’s a true opportunity to cook with the masters. You’ll enjoy the fruits of your labors together, along with premium wines by Estancia.

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Cool Kitchen Tip: Opening Sparkling Wines and Champagnes

Photo from B Rosen

At sports victories we’ve all seen the winners shaking a bottle of champagne and then opening it so the cork flies off and the wine showers out of the bottle.  Fine for a sports celebration, but you definitely don’t want to do that at home.  Here are a few tips for properly and safely opening sparkling wines:

1.    Always remember that a bottle of bubbly can be dangerous.  It’s packed with six or so atmospheres of pressure (90 pounds per square inch) within each bottle.  That’s about the same as a truck tire.  Never, never point the cork toward anyone (including yourself) when you open the bottle.

2.    Be sure to chill the bottle before opening, to at least 45 degrees or lower.

3.    Make sure the bottle hasn’t been handled roughly before opening.  You don’t want to agitate the carbon dioxide gas and make it even more explosive.

4.    Hold your thumb on the cap with your left hand as you remove the wire cage.

5.    Hold the bottle at 45 degrees and then turn the base of the bottle with your right hand to loosen the cork.  The cork should be released with a hiss and not a pop.  You don’t want to lose any of those precious bubbles!!
A final note – -Pour the wine slowly into the glass so it doesn’t foam over and be sure your glasses are sparkling clean.  Glasses with any soap or other residues hinder the bubbles!

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Posole- A Recipe to Warm You Up

Photo from Evelyn Giggles

When the weather turns cold, I’m ripe for anything warm, spicy and soupy. One of my favorite simple recipes is Mexican Posole (pronounced po-zo-lay), a delicious mixture of stewed pork or other meats, hominy, chiles and lots of fresh healthy garnishes. Posole is traditionally served at Christmastime and also often on the menu at Mexican restaurants on weekends because it is believed to be a terrific hangover cure! Here’s my favorite recipe:


Serves 12 generously. A classic Mexican home recipe that can be made with pork, chicken, goat, etc. The salsa Colorado can also be stirred into the stew before serving. 2 small white onions, peeled and halved 6 large peeled garlic cloves 2 large bay leaves Salt and freshly ground pepper 4 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes 2 29-ounce cans white posole (hominy) drained and thoroughly rinsed Salsa Colorado (recipe follows) Garnishes: 4 cups finely shredded green cabbage, 2 bunches finely sliced radishes, 2 cups finely diced white onion 1/2 cup dried Mexican oregano* 2 large avocados, peeled, seeded and diced Cilantro sprigs Lime wedges Add onions, garlic cloves, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 3-1/2 quarts water to a large deep pot and bring to a boil. Add the pork and bring back to the simmer. Skim off scum for the first 20 minutes or so. Cover and simmer until meat is very tender, about 1-1/2 hours. Add the hominy and bring to a simmer. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve with the salsa and other garnishes, each guest adding what they like. *Available at Mexican markets and spice shops Salsa Colorado 8 Guajillo chiles, seeds and stems removed 6 Chiles de Arbol, stems removed 3 large peeled garlic cloves 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon dried Mexican* oregano 2 tablespoons white vinegar Salt to taste In a small skillet, toast the guajillos over moderately high heat until toasted in spots and set aside. In the same skillet toast the chiles de arbol until fragrant. Be careful not to burn them or they will become bitter. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the chiles and off heat let them soak for 15 – 20 minutes. Remove chiles from the water and put in a blender along with the garlic, cumin, oregano, vinegar, salt to taste and add enough of the soaking water to make a smooth salsa. Can be made ahead and stored refrigerated for 3 days.

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Perfect Mashed Potatoes- Revisited

Photo from Jude Doyland

It is that time of year again when we turn to warm, comforting holiday foods.  It seems one of the most popular dishes, would also seem one of the most simple– mashed potatoes.  They are simple, but there are a few basics that will help make sure yours are the best.  I published this post last year, and thought I would give us all a refresher.  Enjoy!

1.    Pick the right potato!  Russets from Idaho and Washington are the standard.  My favorite are Yukon Golds which have a thin skin but starchy meat which is what you need for good mashed potatoes.  Don’t use new potatoes (red or white) or fingerlings.  Because of their texture and water content these are great for steaming, boiling and frying but not for mashing.  I know I’ll get some push back from that!

2.    I like to cook potatoes whole with the skin on so they don’t absorb so much water.  As soon as they are tender, immediately drain and then peel as soon after as you can handle without burning yourself.

3.    My favorite tool for mashing is the food mill, which yields a nice texture.  Second choice would be a potato ricer that looks like a giant garlic press and after that the good old hand masher.  If using a mill or ricer, press the potatoes right back into the pan over low heat and stir to evaporate any excess moisture.  If using a hand masher then drain potatoes well and mash them in the pan over low heat.  Never, never use a food processor!  It’s too powerful and will quickly turn the potatoes to glue.

4.    Stir in seasonings and serve mashed potatoes as soon as possible.  If you’re adding milk or cream, heat it in order to keep the potatoes warm.  Some great restaurants actually make mashed potatoes to order because they feel they lose subtle flavors even sitting just a short time.

5.    If you need to hold mashers for a while, do it via the double boiler method, that is with a stainless or glass bowl over barely simmering water. Don’t cover with plastic or foil.  This creates condensation that drips back into the potatoes making them soggy and creating off flavors.

How potatoes are stored also makes a big difference in the final product.  Make sure you store potatoes in a dark, well-ventilated space. Stored in the light they will sprout and turn green which for some can cause a toxic reaction. You can cut out and discard the green but the flavor will still be affected.  Cool room temperature (around 60 degrees) is best.  Don’t refrigerate mashing potatoes, especially russets.  Refrigeration causes the potatoes to convert their starch to sugar, softens them and they lose their potato flavor.  Finally potatoes are sensitive to ethylene gas.  Many fruits (like apples, melons and tomatoes) naturally give off ethylene, which is an odorless, colorless gas that promotes ripening resulting in sprouting and deterioration of the potato.  Keep them separate!

Here’s a mashed potato recipe my Grandmother used to do for special occasions.


Serves 4 – 6

1 pound peeled Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 pound peeled parsnips, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons or more crème fraiche or sour cream
Cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound bacon, crisply fried, drained and chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced and floured and then deep-fried till crisp and golden
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Add potatoes and parsnips to a saucepan with lightly salted water to cover.  Bring to a boil then cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain and return to pan over low heat to dry them out.  Mash adding butter, crème fraiche, drops of vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately topped with bacon, onions and chopped chives.

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Tips for Deep Frying a Turkey

Photo from Mot the Barber

Most of us have heard about deep frying turkey, which originated in the south and is often called “Cajun Fried Turkey”.  When I finally tried it, the results were outstanding, I have to admit.  The turkey was crisp, moist, not greasy and took a whole lot less time to cook.  However I must say that having a big pot of hot bubbling fat over an open flame can be risky.  Underwriters Laboratory notes that an overheated turkey fryer can explode. And, if the oil ignites, it can become what they describe as “a vertical flame thrower”. A number of homes and other buildings (such as garages) are destroyed each year due to the unsafe use of a turkey fryer. UL has refused to list turkey fryers as safe.  They have a very graphic video on YouTube which shows the dangers.  There is another option, however I want to be completely transparent and say that I have no connection with this product or company.  The safer alternative is one made by Char-Broil and it’s  called “The Big Easy”.  It is a propane powered infrared roaster oven that gives you foods that look and taste like they were fried. Anything you can lower into the cooking chamber can be cooked quickly (turkey at about 10 minutes a pound).  It’s also great with chicken and other larger birds.

If you try The Big Easy, or if you have some tips for safely deep frying a turkey, I’d love to hear from you.  However you choose to cook your turkey this Thanksgiving, I hope you have a safe holiday!

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KSRO Chicken Recipe Contest

Lately I have been focused on a true global culinary star—chicken!  I am currently writing an upcoming cookbook called Culinary Birds, and I’ve been gathering and testing recipes.  Wherever you are, whether it be a four-star restaurant, an international street food market, sipping Grandma’s chicken soup at work, or sitting down to a home cooked Sunday meal, the versatility of chicken is unmatched. It can be wrapped and rolled, seasoned and sauced, while never losing its identity.  Here in Sonoma County we are fortunate to live where delicious chicken is locally raised and available year-round.

I host a Saturday morning radio show in Sonoma County called “The Good Food Hour” on KSRO  in Santa Rosa, CA.  We are hosting our 25th Annual Good Food Hour Cooking Contest this month for listeners, and we’ve decided chicken is the perfect ingredient for a fall cooking competition.  I’m inviting anyone who can be in Santa Rosa for the finals on Saturday, November 12th to participate!

We will choose four finalists to come to G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa on that date to cook their dishes, and a panel of celebrity judges will determine the winner.  The event will be broadcast live with me and my co-host, Steve Garner.  For those outside of the area who would like to listen to the show- there are podcasts available.

First prize is $250 cash for the first place winner, courtesy of Petaluma Poultry.  Other prizes include gift certificates, cookbooks, wine, and cooking classes.  Also, one of the winning recipes will be included in my upcoming Culinary Birds cookbook.

If you’d like to enter, and you can be in Santa Rosa on November 12th for the finals, you may email  your original recipe to my Good Food Hour co-host, Steve Garner.

Deadline for entry is Wednesday, November 9th,  2011 at 5pm.

Good luck!

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Cool Kitchen Tip: Facts About Cookware

Photo from tvol

•    Aluminum:  Remember a few years ago when people were throwing out their aluminum pots and pans because of the “Aluminum causes Alzheimer’s” scare??  According to the National Institutes of Health there is absolutely no evidence that cooking in aluminum pans causes Alzheimer’s
•    Iron: Cooking in an iron pot can add beneficial iron to your diet.  This is especially important for pre-menopausal women, children and teenagers who need extra iron.  Acidic foods like tomatoes or apples that cook for a long time in an iron pot absorb the most iron.  Interestingly though you can also get a little bit of iron from stainless steel cookware.
•    Non-Stick:  The Teflon coatings are basically inert.  Teflon is used as part of heart implants mechanisms.  And, although they can lose their non-stick qualities with hard use, there is no reason to throw a nicked or scratched pan away.  Even if you consumed a little piece of the resin in your food, it would pass unchanged through your body.
•    Copper:  Don’t use unlined copper cookware.  Enough copper can dissolve into your food to cause illness.  Copper cookware, which is lined with stainless steel or tin, is fine and often desirable because copper on the bottom of the pan is a great heat conductor.

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A Fire and Ice Recipe Inspired by Mexico

The gorgeous courtyard of the Rancho La Puerta cooking school

This week I have had the good fortune to teach cooking classes at Rancho La Puerta, a gorgeous getaway located just over the California border in Tecate in Mexico.  This health resort is focused on helping guests develop a lifetime of healthy habits while vacationing in a beautiful part of the world with picture-perfect weather.  It has been voted the “World’s Best Destination Spa” for two years in a row by the readers of Travel & Leisure magazine.

Below I’ve included one of the recipes we are making in our classes here.  With all of the ripe melons and figs at this time of year, it is an easy and nutritious recipe for everyone to try in their own kitchen.

A note on chili heat:  There is a way to measure the heat level in chilies.  It’s called the Scoville Scale and was developed back at the turn of the last century by W.L. Scoville.  His method involved extraction of the heat elements in Chiles known as capsaicinoids, which were then diluted to a point where they were barely detectable.  For example, if a gram of Chile extract had to be diluted in 40,000ml of water and alcohol to be barely perceptible then that chili was rated at 40,000 Scoville heat units.  Although this is not a precise test, since each of us has some differences in sensitivity to Chiles, it does give a good basic estimate.

Here are some Scoville heat ratings for various Chiles:

Students learn to cook flavorful, healthy meals using the spa’s organic produce grown right on the property

  • Bell Peppers  0
  • Anaheims  800-1200
  • Poblanos 800-1200
  • Jalapenos 8000-10,000
  • Serranos 10,000-18,000
  • Japanese (Hontaka) 25,000-40,000
  • Thai types 40,000-60,000
  • Pure Capsaicin* 1million

* Capsaicin is one of the compounds in the capsaicinoid family and is thought to be the most potent of the heat elements in Chiles.


Serves 8

This is a perfect summertime dish to start a lunch or dinner.  The heat of the serrano Chiles contrasts with the cool, refreshing melon and the mint and lime to add interesting counterpoints.

1/3 cup sugar or honey

1/4 cup white wine or water

1 teaspoon seeded and minced serrano Chiles or to taste

1 tablespoon each finely diced red and yellow bell peppers

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint

2 large honeydew, cantaloupe, crane or other ripe melon

8 fresh ripe figs, fanned

Garnish:  Edible flower petals such as nasturtium, borage and or day lily, if desired

Students learn to cook flavorful, healthy meals using the spa’s organic produce grown right on the property

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and wine and over moderate heat stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the Chiles and peppers and cool.  Stir in the lime juice and mint.  Syrup can be stored covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

To serve:  Cut melons in half and remove seeds.  Cut into decorative shapes and arrange attractively on chilled plates.  Spoon Chile syrup over melon and arrange figs attractively around.  Sprinkle with edible flower petals.

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Cool Kitchen Tips: Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

Many people believe bottled water is safer than tap water.  I’ve bought into this too, but it often isn’t true.  Municipal water supplies are tested every day for disease-causing microbes and chemicals.  Bottled water, which is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration rather than the Environmental Protection Agency, may or may not be tested, ever.  Besides, many bottled waters are tap water.  According to the American Dietetic Association, 85 % of bottled water is municipal water, which has been filtered to take out local taste and odor and a big up charge slapped on it, which we pay.

At the definitive bottled water site, you will find extensive information on bottled water, including regulations, definitions, and resources.

Also, water bottled from municipal water supplies must be clearly labeled as such. The requirement is dropped if municipal water was used but was processed and treated so that it could be labeled as “distilled” or “purified” water.

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