Monday, April 10, 2006


We're having company tomorrow. A bunch of people that my husband went to college with are getting together and today I made a huge pot of chili because he wants it casual and easy and chili is all that in spades. I make a couple of different kinds of chili, although not as many as my friend Tom who has actually won contests. There are people for whom there are religious issues around chili. Beans, no beans. Texas chili is no beans, I'm told. In New Mexico, ask for chili and they'll ask you 'red or green' and what you get will not resemble anything you think of as chili unless you are from New Mexico.

Me, I don't have a religion about chili, probably because when I come from Cincinnati, where you can get Cincinnati chili. It's a Greek recipe. You boil the beef, not brown it. And the spices include cinnamon and chocolate. And it's served over spaghetti. Three Ways are spaghetti, chili and cheese. Four Ways are Three Ways with either onions or beans. My mom made browned ground beef chili with chopped onion and celery and about a teaspoon of chili powder. She also served it over spaghetti. It's hard to get on your high horse about the proper way to prepare chili when your mom's recipe includes celery.

I have a rather catholic sense of chili. I like Texas chili unless it's too hot for me. (I can take fairly hot food, but can't eat authentic Thai, for example. I can go pretty hot on the U.S. Thai scale.) I also like New Mexico green a great deal. So much that I can actually make a competent if not exciting version of it.

The chili I made for tomorrow I call Hell's Kitchen Chili because it's loosely based on a couple of recipes, one of which has Italian sausage in it. Italian sausage is probably not in anyone's authentic chili recipe. But I like lots of flavor and Italian sausage tastes good with chilies and onion and tomato and cumin. I put in chuck, too.

If you don't know what the difference is between hamburger, ground sirloin and ground chuck, it's fat content. Chuck is 80% lean beef and 20% fat. It has the highest amount of fat in it of the usual ground beefs. I happen to think almost all food tastes better if the fat content is higher. That's one of the secrets of French cuisine. If you eat a meal in a classic French restaurant, one of the reasons it tastes so good is that you are probably eating between half a stick and a stick of butter. So if I'm cooking for company, I try to incorporate fat in ways that doesn't lead to grease. So sausage and ground chuck in chili. And sour cream on top. Oh, and cheese, too.

If you are a person who has religious feelings about chili, I'm sorry about that. I know it's blasphemy. But sour cream is a pretty sublime substance.

It took me a long time to assemble my chili today. It's funny, I am very bad about a lot of maintenance. I hate to clean a house. I can. Almost every time I've moved out of an apartment, I've gotten a thank you with my deposit. When I moved Bob out of his apartment when we got married, I cleaned afterwards and he got a thank you. Bob isn't a slob, but he wouldn't have thought to polish the wooden floors. But it's soooooo boring. A lot of the stuff I do when I cook should be boring. Today I started by roasting poblano peppers under the broiler. Then I stuck them in a brown paper bag and let them steam for awhile. Then I peeled them. This ought to be about as stimulating as dusting. But I love to do it. I'm in the kitchen roasting my poblano peppers and I'm just so psyched about the whole process. I'm thinking about why I like poblanos and why they'll be good in company chili. Company chili should be flavorful but not overly hot because not everyone is comfortable with heat. I plunk hot sauce on the table for people who like more heat. (Poblanos are not terribly hot, so lots of chili flavor with less heat than say, jalapenos. Jalapenos are a lot of heat and not as tasty as some other chilies. If I'm asking for heat and flavor, I tend to favor serrano. And if this chili didn't have sausage in it, I'd even go to chipotle chilies. Chipotle chilies were once jalapenos but they've been smoked and packed in adobo sauce so they are flavorful like no ones business. Smoky, hot, spicy, rich. But in this case they'd be a little like wearing too much jewelry on a dress that already has a print on it. They'd clash.)

I diced my onions and garlic, and my red and green sweet peppers. I sweated veggies and browned meat and drained my canned plum tomatoes and squished them up into the chili. I added light red and dark red kidney beans. It's not particularly difficult cooking. Not like pastry or sauces or any of the hundreds of finicky things you can do in the kitchen. Making chili is unpretentious. If all of the onions and green peppers are not perfect quarter inch dice, no big deal. They're going to cook. And it's chili.

Like I said. Should be boring as hell. But the whole house smells great and I am filled with a quiet sense of accomplishment. The chili is in the frige for the night, and tomorrow the flavors will have melded and mellowed. I'll make some cornbread. Fruit salad. Roast asparagus.

If you have a chili religion and you have read this far, avert your eyes. I serve Hell's Kitchen Chili over rice. It's really fine. And I've converted a lot of unsuspecting people to eating chili over rice.

(If you want me to post the recipe, I will, but this post is already too long.)


Blogger claire said...

Yes, thank you, I would very much like the recipe.

As a girl who grew up in New York's "Hell's Kitchen" I cannot be but intrigued. But more to the point it sounds like some damned fine eating...

April 10, 2006 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I make Texas chili (I recall my shock when I first heard about Cincy chili--and my laughter, of course), but I'm pretty free with it now and have even included tofu and eggplant (but never cinnamon!). I go heavy on the chili power (got a bunch in Albuquerque when visiting Rob's daughter who lives there) and garlic too.
One thing: I wash the canned beans first--too much salt (well, that's my thing now, watching sodium).

Love to cook. Love to take pixtures of food too. Hate to clean.

April 10, 2006 11:27 PM  
Blogger Karen Sandstrom said...

Yes, i want the recipe. This doesn't necessarily mean I will MAKE the recipe, but I at least want the vicariousness, as well as the possibility that I could make the recipe if I were inclined.
Aside: Do you ever eat scrambled eggs with sauted poblano peppers and a little grated cheddar? I have no religioius feelings toward this, but it sure is tasty. Second aside: I can already see that blogs devoted to food would have their own porn quality.

April 11, 2006 7:57 AM  
Blogger Karen Sandstrom said...

One more aside: I think a post about delicious chili demonstrates the limited, uh, shelf-life of a blog name like Guano Happens. Just a thought.

April 11, 2006 7:59 AM  
Blogger mary grimm said...

I put light and dark red chili beans in my chili too--an inheritance from my mother. I don't know why she did it (recipe in a '50s women's mag?) but chili doesn't seem right to me without the two colors.
Karen--speaking of food blogs, have you checked out

April 11, 2006 8:37 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Karen said: "Aside: Do you ever eat scrambled eggs with sauted poblano peppers and a little grated cheddar?"

No. And I don't have any more poblanos in the house. So I guess it will wait until tomorrow...

I hadn't thought about the effect of all that food under 'guano happens'. Will have to contemplate blog titles some more...

April 11, 2006 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of odd chili combos --

Friends of ours (who are from Cincinnati, too) make a chili with sausage that is served over rice and topped with feta and pickled peppers. Sounds weird. Tastes amazing.

April 11, 2006 12:27 PM  
Blogger SquidgePa said...

Ah, chili.....

The older I get, the more I love the stuff, and the more I realize how easy it is to make a great one.

Roasted poblanos are also great in grilled cheese sandwiches (made with a white cheddar or monterey jack).

April 11, 2006 2:08 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

I'm accustomed to eating chili on rice, but that's probably because rice has always been the default carbohydrate for me. I did notice on a visit to Hawaii that chili on rice was regularly sold in the cafes at tourist attractions.

April 11, 2006 4:04 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Ted, my husband is Secret Asian Man. His comfort food is always Chinese or Thai, especially rice. My comfort food is potatoes. But he, like you, found eating chili over rice a completely natural thing.

This is weird only because he's German-Hungarian-American and grew up on American 50's cuisine.

I wonder if they put Spam in their chili in Hawaii...

April 12, 2006 8:50 AM  
Blogger Responsible Artist said...

I wish we had some chili her right now to eat for breakfast.

April 12, 2006 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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