Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Brrr... It's Chili!
It's just after 4 pm and the outside temperature is only 44 degrees, we have dropped 8 degrees in the last 3 hours. The blustery wind gusts sound like a train is heading straight for my house, and my sweet-but-neurotic Golden Retriever is hiding under my computer desk because she thinks the noise outside is something evil inside the house. In other words, it's CHILI WEATHER! Days like this make me want to crank up the stove and baby a big simmering pot of heaven, and of course have a few candles burning. Chili is one of my favorite cold weather foods because it's easy, it's inexpensive, and it's really, really good. It's good the next day, and it freezes well. Good thing too, because I've never learned to make a small pot of chili, even though my youngest son is almost 25 years old and I haven't had to cook for a whole family in years.
Everyone makes it a little bit different. Some like it spicy, and some like it without beans, but there's no right or wrong way to make it. I like to make it on the thicker side. Not so thick that you can stand your spoon up in it, but not soupy either, and not too spicy. I remember when I was a kid our church would have an annual soup supper. Each one of the "church ladies" would bring a quart of homemade chili, and then they would dump it all into one big pot. That was some tasty chili!
"Church Ladies" reminds me of one of my favorite cookbooks; "Lutheran Church Basement Women; Lutefisk, Lefse, Lunch and Jell-O", by Janet L. Martin. The book was sort of a parody of those church ladies that I remember from back when I was growing up in our little Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. I found it especially humorous that the chapter on funeral luncheons was titled "Dead Spreads". Yes, I do have a rather sick sense of humor at times. The book came with a flour sack type dish towel with a recipe for Red Jello stamped on it:
One box red Jello
2 cups water
Sliced banana for company
I also found it rather eerie that the lady pictured on the dishtowel looks way too much like my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church Basement Grandmother... from Missouri.
I think chili is on my list of comfort foods. Maybe because it's so nice and warm on a cold day. Anyway, here is my chili:
2 pounds ground beef, I usually use 85% lean because you want a little fat, but this is not too much. (Sometimes I use ground turkey, or a combination of turkey, beef and ground pork. Let yourself go!)
1 28 oz can Diced Tomatoes (I like the petite dice, or if you are a home canner, use 1 quart of your own tomatoes. Just squish them up into smaller pieces before you dump them in. Do it with your hands, because it's fun.)
1 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes with Puree (I like the Good Value brand at WalMart because these big cans only cost $1.)
3 cans beans (any combination of chili beans, dark red kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans.. whatever blows your skirt up.)
I used dark red kidney beans, black beans and pinto beans in this batch. Aren't they pretty?
1 medium onion, diced
3 Tbsp Penzey's Regular Chili Powder (Penzey's has 3 different kinds, this is the mild one.)
1-2 Tbsp Penzey's Chili Con Carne (This adds more great chili flavor but no heat.)
1 Tbsp Penzey's Ground Ancho Chili Pepper (Again, great smoky-sweet flavor but very little heat. This is on my list of Penzey's spices that I won't do without.)
Those spice amounts are just guidelines. The packages have a suggested amount per pound, but you can go lighter or go wild. I'm pretty much a "dump cook" and I don't usually even bother to measure, I just dump some in and stir it up.
Salt - just throw a little on your ground meat while it's browning.
Brown the meat really well, it tastes better when it's good and brown. Add the diced onions and cook along with the meat. Next stir in the beans. Turn the cans upside down and shake a little to get that good stuff off the bottom. You can always make this without beans if you like. Next dump in the tomatoes, and then the spices. Let it simmer on low for awhile. Leave the lid off, and stir it occasionally. Wait at least a half hour after adding your chili powder before tasting it, that gives the flavors time to blend and you will get a better idea of whether or not you need to add more. If you think you added too much, just dump in an extra can of beans or add a cup or two of water and let it cook down. It's impossible to screw this up!
My husband likes "oyster" crackers on his along with some shredded cheddar or colby-jack cheese. Here's a quick and easy recipe for some tasty Ranch snack crackers that are great on chili. I got this recipe in 1993 from my dear friend and former next-door neighbor Sandra.
RANCH SOUP CRACKERS
2 pkg Premium Soup & Oyster crackers
1 cup oil
1 pkg dry Ranch dressing mix
1 tsp garlic salt (I use 1 1/2 because we like garlic.)
2 tsp lemon pepper
2 tsp dill weed (I thought this made it too "dilly" so I only use 1 tsp.)
Spread crackers on cookie sheet. Whisk remaining ingredients together and pour over crackers. Toss to coat. This would probably work better if you tossed it all together in a bowl, so I am going to try that next time. Place in 225 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Store in airtight container when cool, if there are any left.