Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chilly Chili

Along with the cold weather comes a need for a food that will warm us up from the inside out. Nothing can accomplish this feat when it's below freezing outside like a big pot of chili.

I like to make a vat of it: you never know when somebody might come over before caroling, to drop by a gift, or to curl up and watch a movie and need a little sustenance to take them on to their next holiday stop. And there is really nothing easier in the world of hospitality than handing somebody a bowl and a spoon and pointing them to the stove. Set out sour cream, various hot sauces, and of course Fritos, and voila, instant party.

Like spaghetti sauce, chili is one dish for which I have no set recipe. All I have is a basic premise, process, and ratio that I like. Except for one very important element: seasoning. Everybody in my family likes their chili in a very different way: Mike's taste preference depends on his mood, and I like it hot to nuclear. And since I make so much of it to share with other family and friends, I never know who will like it in which way.

For that reason, I usually season my chili relatively blandly, with only the basic seasonings to make it taste like chili, so we can season each individual bowl to our mood and like. Just last night we discovered a new hot sauce that goes especially well with my chili: jalapeƱo flavored Tabasco, courtesy of my dad. It gave the dish a brighter spicy that was oh so tasty.

The main point to remember: start with onions and ground beef. From there, just add ingredients slowly and one at a time to arrive at a final dish of which you can be proud. I have learned that chili is very personal: you might like yours soupy or so thick the spoon stands up in it (which is my personal preference). You might not like beans at all, so just leave them out.

Chili is truly a dish of "I like beef. And I like tomatoes. So let's dump them in a pot and try them together."

2 ounces olive oil
1-2 onions, chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 pounds 85-95% lean ground meat, like ground round or sirloin
Worcestershire to taste (1/2 - 1 Tablespoon)
Black pepper to taste (1/2 - 1 Tablespoon)
Salt to taste (1-2 Tablespoons)
Ground cumin to taste (1/2 - 1 Tablespoon)
Chili powder to taste (1-2 Tablespoons)
2 quarts or 4-5 cans of tomatoes, crushed, quartered, or chopped (I love to use preserved backyard tomatoes.)
2-3 cans red or kidney beans (You can use rehydrated bagged dry beans if you have the time. Just follow the directions on the back of the bag.)
3-4 Tablespoons corn starch (optional)

  1. In a large pot, heat the oil and add onions to sautee until soft.
  2. Toward the end of sauteeing the onions, add garlic and continue to sautee.
  3. Add beef and seasonings and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown.
  4. Drain the fat off the meat and add tomatoes and beans.
  5. Stir well and cook until bubbly.
  6. Take out about a cup of liquid and add to that the corn starch. Stir until completely incorporated and no lumps remain.
  7. Return corn starch mixture to pot and cook this on low for as long as you want.
  8. Really, as long as you want.
  9. Stirring occasionally.
  10. Just keep it warm on the stove.
  11. Don't let it burn.
  12. The longer you keep it heated, the smaller the beef chunks will become.
  13. Don't leave it out unheated for 3 hours: at that point bacteria can grow.
  14. When we're done with chili for the night, I'll let the pot cool and just put the whole shebang in the fridge. Be careful not to put it in too hot, as you don't want to raise the overall temperature in your fridge, which might lead to bacterial growth in other dishes.
Chili photo courtesy of MixMingleGlow.



Made by Lena