Home cook champions from-scratch dishes, baby food

Hugh McDaniel with son Miller.

Today’s home cook in the spotlight was recommended by a fan, Stuart McDaniel, who also happens to be his father.

Name: Hugh McDaniel

Age: 41

Residence: Charleston

Occupation: Manager, Project Services Benefitfocus

Family: Wife, Lindsay; son: Miller (8 months)

Q. How do the skills, critical thinking or creativity you need and use in your job relate to how you operate in the kitchen?

A. That’s a tough one; my life at work is pretty separate from my life in the kitchen. I guess the parallel would be a meticulous nature and attention to detail? I manage a team of project managers in my work at Benefitfocus, and I really love it, but the high-paced and complex work environment does not often translate to an all-weekend braise involving good wine and Waylon Jennings on the kitchen speakers.

Q. What dishes are you most proud of? Why?

A. I think the most rewarding dishes are those you make totally from scratch — lasagna for instance if you take the time to make/roll the pasta noodles, the bechamel and the bolognese. My wife is very patient with (and luckily humored by) all the crazy stuff I keep in our freezer: the stocks, the purees, the blanched/frozen veg from the farmers market, the various assortments of fats that live in cubes or plastic bags. If you cook with these ingredients, it elevates the outcome and it makes it fun. I laboriously make duck confit once a year, not necessarily to enjoy the confit legs/thighs which I do, but more to wind up with a huge freezer bag of duck fat that I use religiously throughout the year.

Q. You make all of your son’s baby foods. What’s the biggest challenge in that? What does he like best, and what doesn’t he like at all?

A. I love making his food. With one or two books and a blender, it’s really not a challenge and it’s a ton of fun. It’s also a great way to introduce him to new tastes, to local produce, what’s in season, etc. He certainly likes anything with natural sugars like pears, apples or sweet potatoes, and he certainly does not like cauliflower even with a light shower of parm cheese in the puree. His new favorite is blueberries; maybe I’ll try mixing that with the cauliflower.

Q. You won a chili cookoff at Benefitfocus. Name one ingredient — secret if you dare — that you think made the difference.

A. High-quality unsweetened chocolate.

Q. You designed and built your own kitchen. What is its best feature, one that you would recommend to others?

A. My wife and I bought an old house in Hampton Park in 2009 and did some work on it early on. As old houses go, the unexpected electrical work devoured the kitchen budget. So we rolled up our sleeves and got creative. We built the kitchen island and installed stock cabinets and drawers. It’s funny how this “temporary” approach still works fine for us today. One feature that’s essential is a small/simple detail that was borrowed from my (very) brief stint in restaurant kitchens years ago. We found a small/short plastic trash can and cut a hole in the countertop next to the cutting board. So when we cook, all prep scraps slide easily from the cutting board into the can. When cleaning up, we wash the can with the other cooking items and pop it back into place. Anyone who leans over their kitchen trash can peeling garlic will quickly appreciate this.

Q. You’ve also been described as a “master of the grill” (charcoal only!). What is the most ambitious thing you cook or have cooked on the grill?

A. “Master of the grill” is certainly a stretch but I am rather puzzled by gas grills. So much of successful grilling is the combination of direct heat and indirect heat, and using indirect heat like an oven to bring your protein/veg up to temperature. I also like using the grill as a smoker for whole chickens, ribs or pork butts — maybe you can do this with a gas grill but they sure aren’t designed that way. I assume if you smoked a chicken on a gas grill, it would taste like propane? As for ambitious grilling, I haven’t done anything too crazy aside from what I’ve mentioned, so I’ll encourage folks to go find a lengthy tomatillo salsa recipe, and lightly char then smoke all of the ingredients before you puree it. The result is pretty substantial.

Ingredients

2 high-quality, well-marbled rib-eye steaks, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup chili powder, preferably homemade (recipe below)

3 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil (duck fat preferred)

2 medium yellow onions (1 diced, 1 thinly sliced)

2 medium jalapenos, ribs/seeds removed, and diced

6 cloves garlic, diced

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 chiles in adobo sauce (2 chiles, not 2 cans)

1/2 cup dry red wine

3/4 cup low-sodium or homemade beef stock

2 (28-ounce) can whole marzano tomatoes, including liquid

3 Italian sausages, casings removed

3 spicy chicken sausages, casings removed

3 tablespoons unsweetened chocolate

1 (28-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed

1 (28-ounce) kidney beans, rinsed

Small bunch cilantro, leaves only, rinsed and roughly chopped

Juice of 1 lime

Directions

Toss rib-eye cubes in half of the chili powder until thoroughly seasoned. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight refrigerated (or minimum of 3 hours).

Before assembly, remove any/all ingredients from fridge and allow to come to room temperature (proteins, beef stock, etc).

Heat olive oil, canola oil or duck fat in large nonreactive, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven on medium/high heat.

When fat is shimmering, add rib-eye cubes and brown, careful not to overcrowd the pot, about 5 minutes.

Add onions, stirring often until softened, about 3 minutes.

Add jalapeno and garlic, stirring often until softened, careful not to burn garlic, about 3 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste and adobo chiles until combined, about 1 minute. Add wine and beef stock, bring to a healthy simmer, reduce liquid until mixture no longer smells like alcohol, about 5 minutes. Add whole tomatoes by gently squeezing in your hands over pot to break into smaller pieces, add liquid in cans as well. Add sausages and break into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon as you stir. Add remaining chili powder and chocolate.

Reduce heat and maintain a gentle (but consistent) simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add beans and continue to gently simmer for an additional hour, stirring occasionally. As you stir, be breaking the rib-eye cubes into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon.

Before serving, stir in cilantro and lime juice. If time allows, allow pot to cool slightly, place pot in fridge and serve the next day by warming thoroughly on the stove before serving.

Makes 1/2 cup

Toast 2 dried/chopped ancho chiles and 2 tablespoons coriander seeds in small skillet until fragrant (careful not to burn). Grind into a powder in coffee grinder. Add 2 tablespoons chili powder, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 tablespoon dry oregano, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Grind all ingredients again, stir in 2 tablespoons kosher salt.