Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When it's chilly, it's chili....

We are now close to 2 months into our home and are getting unpacked and well adjusted.  Every week new things are added to the house like drapes and blinds, new furniture, and decorations on the walls.  We are far from being unpacked.  The garage is full of boxes, still, but we have the important things unpacked and are starting to feel at home.  

Now that we're moved in, the election is over, work projects are winding down for the holidays, I can get back to the point of this blog.  Our favorite times in life are spent with family and friends.  We enjoy taking time to visit, often around the dinner table, with good company, a good meal, and a glass of wine (or two...). We enjoy traveling and meeting new people and just enjoying our short time on this earth.  And it can be short.  My mom taught me to cook, and how to have fun.  She was the type of person who did for everyone else, and rarely worried about herself...to the detriment of her health.  She was the typical worry wart mom, the doting aunt and a loving wife.  And boy, could she cook.  Sadly, she passed away at a young 64.  She passed on to me her love of family and friends, and her passion for cooking, sewing, and reading books.  When I am not working, I am usually doing one of those three things.  

My mom Donna

I am very lucky to have married a man who enjoys spending time with friends and family and he LOVES to grill/smoke.  He's on a quest to find the best way to smoke a brisket.  He'll even attempt to cook something inside and I often tease him because he literally follows a recipe to a T!  I cook so differently....I rarely measure anything, and I often deviate from a recipe.  I just have to put my own spin on it....that I get from my mother.  

  Cooking together days before my wedding

So....chili.....fall has officially arrived in southern Texas.  It does actually get a little cold here from time to time.  I think our high today was only in the 60s.  When the weather gets cold, it gets chili in the Beckelheimer house....and so tonight I made a big batch of chili.  Quin loves chili....he really loves chili.  He loves MY chili.  So...I make chili for him.  I love making chili for him.  Ok, I think you get it now.  I tend to make chili different every time I make it.  There are basic ingredients I always use...well, no not really.  Well, sort of.  And I don't measure anything.  

I have one secret ingredient.  And I'll get to that in a bit.  I start out with ground meat.  Usually ground beef or ground sirloin.  I've been known to use some pork in with the beef.  I've even been known to use ground bacon.  Don't judge.  It was a moment of curiosity with a meat grinder. It didn't disappoint.  There is almost always chopped onions.  Did you know that if you put an onion in the fridge before cutting into it, your eyes won't burn.  Yes, you have to leave it in the fridge til it's cold.  Just putting it in there and taking it right back out won't help.  Tonight I added some scallion and garlic.  

Throw it in a pot and get it hot!

Then it's time to get is a bit saucy.....

The trifecta of sauciness

I used crushed tomatoes, usually.  Sometimes I just use a few fresh tomatoes that I've seeded, blanched, and cooked down a bit.  Heirloom tomatoes can be very yummy.  Diced tomatoes are always good.  I used lime/cilantro flavored ones tonight, but usually I get Rotel brand chili fixin' flavored diced tomatoes.  Then there are the beans.  True Texas chili does not have beans.  If I was making chili for myself....I would omit the beans.  But the cowboy loves his beans.  So beans it is.  If it was up to him, he'd have me use Ranch Style Beans, and sometimes I do.  But I like these Grillin Beans from Bush's but you must use the Texas Ranchero ones.  They have great flavor for chili.  Don't use any of the sweet barbeque-y ones....that just makes your chili taste like crap. I know....I've gotten the wrong ones before.  Quin still loved it, but it was crap to me.  Throw the whole can in (not THE can), juice and all.  I sometimes don't use the can of crushed tomatoes.  If you like it to be very beefy, you can actually get away with just the beans and their sauce and the diced tomatoes.  It still has some sauce and it's thick and hearty.  Now my brother-in-law, Drew (who is a chef) would tell you that it ain't chili unless you put in a bottle of beer.  It does give it another layer of flavor....but we rarely have beer in the house.  I had some in the fridge (it's been there for weeks), guess I should have added that too...but didn't realize I had any in there.

Seasonings.  I usually throw seasonings in when I'm browning the meat....then add more to taste later.  The one definite seasoning I use...and I use a lot of...is Cumin.  My mom never used cumin until the last year of her life.  She had been out to visit us and I made chili one night.  Actually, she made chili and she had me tell her what to put in it, because she wanted to make sure she made it the way I do...for Quin.  I just pulled out a bunch of seasoning and told her to throw them in.  When she got to the cumin, she realized that cumin is "the flavor of chili".  She always thought her own chili was missing something, and at that moment, she realized it was cumin.  She thanked me profusely for teaching her how to make chili, and told me that over the next year (she would pass away almost a year later).  I am happy that I got to teach her something new in the kitchen!

I rarely use the same exact spices twice.  This was tonight's combo!

I love Penzey's spices.  I know there are other spice shops out there.  I just have always had a Penzey's close to me.  I don't any longer.  I'll either have to go to Penzey's when I'm in Austin, or mail order it.  I use a good tsp-tbs of all these spices.  I would say that I use about a tsp or less of the chipotle and the crushed jalepeno.  I actually don't make it spicy, at least it doesn't seem spicy, but your nose may be a runnin' by the end of the bowl.  But the cumin.  Oh.  There is a reason why I buy that big bottle.  It doesn't last long.  I use many tbs of cumin.  Depending on how much I'm making, it might be closer to 1/4 cup.  Then if that isn't enough, I do more.  And yes, you can put in too much cumin.  I know...I've done it.  And you can't fix it.  When I am basically finished cooking, I add some all purpose seasoning.  It's the equivalent of adding salt to taste...it just has a bit more stuff in it than salt.  My favorite is Ozark seasoning.

I grew up in the Ozark mountains of Missouri.  When I smell this seasoning it takes me back to the fried fish and chicken of home.  I think Branson and Silver Dollar City as soon as the scent hits my nose.

Here it is coming together.  All that powder on top is cumin....just the cumin...a lot of cumin...then I added more...that much more...it could have used even more.

Now for the secret ingredient.  I heard a chef mention that they do this on a cooking show...kind of as an aside.  You could almost miss it when they said it.....but I heard it.  It's Masa!  Corn Flour Masa.  The stuff tamales are made from.  Now it is the stuff my chili is made with.  

You'll find it in the hispanic food aisle.  Or in the flour aisle.  In southern Texas, you might find it in every aisle.  

Masa will do two things to your chili.  One, it will give it a wonderful, southwestern flavor you would not expect, then when you taste it, you're like...."wow, why isn't this always in chili?".  It's subtle, but you'll notice it.  Two, it will act as a thickener.  So, go ahead and use that whole big can of crushed tomatoes, it won't be too thin, because, Masa will make it all better.  I put water in a bowl and then add some masa to make a "slurry"...something a bit looser than a paste....that sounds kinda gross doesn't it?  But it's yummy.

Masa slurry

Then pour that into your pot of chili.  Now you have a perfect pot of chili.  We like chili better the 2nd night. So I make a big pot and we have it for a few meals.  Left overs make wonderful chili mac.  Some people don't like left overs.  But some left overs are better than the first night, so don't judge if you don't do left overs.  

Pouring in the slurry.....

The finished bowl!

I then do one more thing that Quin doesn't.  He thinks it's weird.  I think it's not.  I usually will add either:  sour cream (no fat, low fat, full fat, your choice), greek yogurt (I'm cooking more healthy these days), or guacamole (something else I rarely make the same way twice).  Especially if the chili is spicy, the cool creaminess of one of these items makes a nice balance.  It does the same thing cheese does, except it's not stringy.  

Tonight it was sour cream

We usually serve with cheese, crackers and/or fritos.  We didn't have any of that tonight.  

Chili is a great source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants.  Adding garlic adds a whole other set of health benefits.  Like increasing your metabolism, decreasing cholesterol, and warding off vampires.  The beans usually render Quin some alone time.

Chili...it's what was for dinner tonight!


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