A day to cook

When it comes right down to it there are only a few things I really like to cook. There’s a whole world in cooking and I admire those who feel like they need to explore every facet of it. I’m not one of those people. There are a small number of things I want to be able to make really well. I’m more than willing to enjoy the outcome of other people’s passion beyond that, but I don’t feel the need to go beyond a few things.

Dried_ancho_chiliOne dish that I love making is chili. My version doesn’t have beans because I don’t happen to care for beans in chili. That’s me. You’re more than welcome to yours and I’ll be happy to try it. I’ve had good chili with beans. They all would be better without them, but they are still good. Anyway, it’s been a weird winter in a lot of ways and one of them is that I haven’t made my chili. I think Carla made hers sometime before Christmas (has beans, very good anyway), but I haven’t made mine. Until today.

Something Carla has gotten involved with is an organization called the Pink Boots Society. It’s an organization for women in the brewing industry. One thing that happens every year is that all the chapters brew the same beer on the same weekend. It turns out the traditional weekend is also when Bockfest happens in Cincinnati, so the brewing is happening tomorrow at Blank Slate Brewing. What this has to do with me making chili is that Carla volunteered me to make some. The conversation went something like this:

Carla:   I volunteered you to make chili for the Pink Boots brew at Blank Slate.
Me:       OK. I get to go and hang out, right?
Carla:   Of course.
Me:       Cool.

You can see she had to twist my arm.

I’ve been making the same chili recipe for probably about 30 years. It’s to the point where the spice mix is pretty much tied to the amount of meat going in. I tend to like Fiesta chili powder and I use 3 heaping tablespoons per pound of stew meat. Two cloves of garlic per pound. A tablespoon of cumin. 1/2 a tablespoon of oregano. A teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of cayenne. A bottle of beer (I like using Shiner Bock because Texas). All of this is per pound of meat, remember.  Since I usually make 2-3 lbs in a typical batch, there’s also a 15 oz can of tomato purée, but I wouldn’t increase that even if I were to go to 4 lbs of meat. No great theory behind that, I just wouldn’t. I also roughly dice up a big yellow onion.  I’ll do two if they’re medium or smaller. It’s just about impossible to get too much onion in chili as far as I’m concerned. I’ll also have an ancho chili pod to toss in, and Masa Harina on hand for the very end.

A habit I’ve gotten into is combining the beer, purée, and spices in the crockpot before I start browning the meat. I brown the meat, onions and garlic together then add it back into the warming sauce. Then I walk away for as long as I can stand. When the stew meat starts shredding and we’re good and hungry I put a slurry of water and Masa Harina in to thicken it.  Not much.  Maybe a quarter cup. A little goes a long way.

I got hooked on Frito Pie in high school. So I put my chili over Fritos and put cheese on top. It’s one reason I have no criticism of people putting Cincinnati-style chili on spaghetti. I have no reason to criticize.  There are purists out there who’d be horrified with me using tomatoes in the sauce, much less eating it with Fritos. That’s OK. They’re welcome to not have any.

I wanted to give my SmoBoT another workout today so I’ve changed things up a little. Rather than browning the meat on the stovetop I decided to do it on the smoker. I’m also cooking a little chuck roast for tonight, so I put the stew meat in a smoker basket and quartered the onion to lay on top of it.  I have a second grid that sits above the main one and that’s where the basket went. I only had it in there about an hour.  I just wanted it brown and to take some smoke.  I also stuck some ancho pods on in foil and ground them up to toss in the chili. The onions browned up pretty nicely as well. It’s all been in the crockpot now for several hours. It’ll sulk in the fridge later tonight.  We have to be out there fairly early tomorrow, so there will be even more time for it to cook tomorrow.

I think this is going to turn out pretty well. It’s made for a fun day.