Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bitterwood's Dragon Tongue Chili

In the novel Bitterwood, when we first meet the eponymous dragon hunter, he's roasting a dragon tongue over some coals. In Dragonforge, Bitterwood explains how he's come to develop an appreciation for dragon-tongues--they're big chunks of almost pure meat--no bones to worry about, no scaly hide to peel off, and you can cut one out of a dragon's mouth in under a minute if you're needing to make a swift exit before the dragon's relatives show up. Roasting the dragon tongues can leave them a bit chewy; when he has the time, he'd rather boil one up and make chili from it.
As the official recorder of Bitterwood's adventures, and purveyor of all his dark secrets, I'll take this opportunity to share the dark secret of his chili recipe.

Bitterwood's Dragon Tongue Chili - The Dragon Age Version:

1 dragon tongue
1 big red onion
4 or 5 fresh chili pods
Salt and pepper to taste
Bitterwood cuts the tongue into chunks, tosses it in a pot, covers it with water, then brings it to a boil. He'll skim off the scum that rises after the initial boil, then hack up his onion and toss it in, and chop off the stems of the chilis and toss them in. (Since Bitterwood lives his life on the run, he can't be too choosy about the chilis he uses. Whatever is growing in a garden he can steal from is fine, but he likes his chili hot, so if habaneros are available, that's his first choice.) Once all the ingredients are in, he positions the pot over the coals so that it simmers for about 4 hours, after which the meat becomes very tender, falling apart into strings. Then, it's time to chow down.

This is, obviously, a very simple recipe, made simple by the rather gritty reality of Bitterwood's life as a fugitive. But, if you're interesting in cooking chili yourself, here's a recipe that will result in a kick-ass pot of chili:

First, take one dragon tongue. Next.... What? The meat case at your supermarket doesn't carry these? And the local butcher gives you the evil eye if you ask for one? Okay. We may need to adapt:

Bitterwood's Dragon Tongue Chili - The Human Age Version:

1 beef tongue, or, if you're squeamish about tongue, 3 pounds of stew beef.
1 pound ground beef
1 pound hot breakfast sausage
1 28oz can of tomatoes
1 40oz can of beans
1 big red onion
Salt and pepper
Various chili peppers.

Sorry to be so vague on the last ingredient. I frequently jump straight for habeneros when I make chili, but I'm one of those mutants who has a stomach lined with asbestos. So, feel free to choose your level of heat by choosing your peppers. For a mild chili with just a little kick, use two or three fresh jalepenos. For a scream-for-Jesus heat, go for five fresh habeneros. If you'd like a complex, smoky heat, canned chipoltle peppers are a good approach. Always keep some powdered cayenne around for last second adjustments if you've gone too mild.

Stage one: Cube your tongue, or your stew beef. Brown it in a skillet with a little oil. Sprinkle on some salt to taste. You aren't actually cooking the beef at this stage, just adding little extra flavor and texture by giving it a bit of a crust. Once you've browned it, transfer it into a large pot and add enough water to cover the meat, plus another inch or two, then bring to a boil The second it reaches a boil, turn it down to a simmer. Some scum may have risen during the boil. Skim it off. Cook the meat for about an hour on low heat, skim it again, then add the big red onion, cut in quarters. Also add the hot peppers of your choice at this stage. For fresh peppers, I just pull of the stem and toss the whole pepper in. Add about a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper. Then, put the lid back on, make sure every thing is at a low simmer, and walk away.
How long you let it cook depends on several elements. Tongue can be kind of tough. If you cook it a few hours at a simmer, it will soften up, as will stew beef. I would say the absolute minimum you should cook it would be 4 hours. I often cook it over night, and some times I'll go almost 24 hours. I'll start it one evening, and finish it the next. The longer you cook, the softer the meat becomes, and the more permeated with the pepper flavor. What you're achieving, aside from tenderness, is a heat that is actually inside the meat itself. The stage one chili is ready once the meat is pulling apart into fibers.

This is where Bitterwood's dragon-tongue chili recipe ends. It's pretty good, but also pretty simple. Not bland, just lacking complexity. Since we have access to supermarket goodies Bitterwood can't even imagine, we'll add to the chili in stage two.

Stage two: Brown the ground beef and hot pork sausage in a skillet, then drain all the fat. I usually season the ground beef with a different type of pepper to compliment my base pepper from stage one. A whole bottle of Texas Pete is a good approach. If you want a mild heat, just use a few teaspoons of cayenne powder. The pork sausage may at first seem like an odd ingredient, but it gives the chili an extra layer of meat and yet a third source of heat. Once I have this fully cooked, I add it to my stage one chili, stir it all together, then move on to stage 3.

Stage three: The tomatoes and beans. Now, some people, true chili purists, argue you can stop at stage two. Chili is made of meat, and doesn't need any vegetables, except as seasoning. When I posted an early version of this recipe on my other blog, I got emails questioning my manhood for daring to introduce beans into the equation. If you are one of these die-hard chili fundamentalists, just take a few deep breaths, search for the happy place inside, and move on. Moving on: Just open the cans, drain the beans and tomatoes, then dump them in the pot. It ain't brain surgery. Stir everything. Simmer. Taste frequently. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, Texas Pete, etc. until you're happy with it. You can serve it at this stage, or, let it cool overnight in the fridge to let the flavors mingle, then heat it up again the next day.

This recipe serves a LOT of people. A dozen people might just finish off a pot in one sitting. If not, the leftovers freeze well.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Coming Soon!

Hi. I'm James Maxey, a science fiction and fantasy author. I have two novels in print at the moment, the superhero novel Nobody Gets the Girl, and the dragon fantasy Bitterwood. Bitterwood stands alone as a complete story, but it's also an introduction to a larger world of prophets, angels, and dragons that will be explored in a series of novels set in the Dragon Age. The next book set in this world, Dragonforge, will be released in July 2008, with the third book, with the working title Dragonseed, coming in July 2009.

This blog will focus on all my fiction, as well as a few odds and ends like fantasy based recipes. Be on the lookout for Dragon Tongue Chili and Buffalo Angel Wings. I won't be making many posts immediately, alas. I'm currently closing in on a deadline for completing the first draft of Dragonseed, but as the Dragonforge release date approaches, the available content will rise dramatically.

Finally, I'm still doing my more rambling, general interest blog at jamesmaxey.blogspot.com. There I talk about pretty much anything that polite people aren't supposed to talk about, from politics to religion to circus freaks.