Chili

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I didn’t have chili, or even hear about it, until I was in my early twenties, after moving to Texas. In “Big D,” it wasn’t long before I was initiated. There still exists a well-known restaurant that specializes in chili, too, called Tolbert’s, that co-workers took me to for my chili introduction. (I thought their chili only adequate…)

The first time I made chili, I followed the recipe in The Great West. It was one of the many books of the Foods of the World series put out by Time-Life a million years ago.
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If I hadn’t made it myself, I might have hated chili. Not to sound horribly critical, but have you ever been to a chili cook-off?!! Oh my. Such terrible chilis. Really inferior meat, chili too often watery, and horribly under-seasoned to top everything off.

But no, I followed a recipe, and fell in love with chili.
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There are a few things about chili about which I feel strongly. The meat, the liquid, and the tomatoeyness.
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First of all, the meat has to be good quality. I’m not saying use beef tenderloin. On the contrary, a good chuck works well. You need some fat, and you need a meat that can hold up to a couple hours of cooking. What I personally don’t like is ground beef. It pretty much dissolves, and you’re left more with a beef sauce than a chili. I like chunks!

Secondly, chili, in my book, should be meaty and thick. That means very little liquid. You need some beef broth in which to cook the beef, but you don’t want to serve the beef drowning in broth. Otherwise, it’s beef soup.

Thirdly, many people think that chili requires lots of tomatoes. Much to the contrary, chili doesn’t have a tomato base to it because it’s not a beef stew – it’s a chili. It’s different.

I might mention a fourth aspect of chili that many people can’t agree on – and that’s the addition of beans. There is the no-bean camp and the bean camp. There is only one reason that I add beans to chili, and that’s the health factor. It’s a no-brainer to me, but good chili is good either way!

Chili

5 pounds beef chuck, trimmed
Oil or bacon fat
Salt and pepper
2 onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground chipotle
2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chile powder
2 tablespoons ground ancho chile powder or 2 tablespoons home-made ancho chile paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional
16 ounces beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cans kidney beans, drained well, optional

Cut up the beef into small pieces. They don’t have to be perfectly uniform in size.
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Place a large Dutch oven on the stove. Add some oil, and turn up the heat to high. When the oil is hot, begin browning the beef in batches. Add a generous amount of salt, and some pepper. Brown, moving the beef around occasionally, until very little pink remains.


Although browning each batch of meat takes a while and is a tedious process, it has to be done this way. If too much meat is added to the pot at one time, it lowers the internal temperature of the pot, and instead of browning, liquid is produced and the meat poaches instead. We don’t want that.

When meat is nicely browned, remove it to the bowl, and continue with the remaining meat, adding oil as necessary with each batch.

After browning all of the meat, turn down the heat to medium and add a little oil to the pot. Add the onion and sauté for about 4 minutes.


Then add the minced garlic, the seasoning, and stir well. The mixture will be dark and rich. Cook it for about one minute.

Then add the beef broth and stir to combine, scraping all the caramelized bits of browned meat that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Carefully return all of the meat to the pot, including any juices that have accumulated. Stir well.
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Bring the chili to a boil, cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer for at least 2 hours. At that time, remove the lid and look at the chili. The beef will have shrunk in volume. If you think there is too much liquid in the chili, raise the heat a bit and let the liquid reduce for maybe 15 minutes or so, uncovered.

Then stir in the tomato paste and the drained beans and heat through. Taste for seasoning. You might need more salt, but taste first!
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There are probably many different opinions regarding what to put on chili. I personally love the addition cheese, and chopped purple onions.
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But sour cream is a lovely addition as well.
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However you serve it, enjoy the richness of the chile peppers and other seasoning that flavor the beef.
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Spicy Pork with Sweet Potato Hash

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One often reads about dry rubs when looking at barbeque recipes, because it’s quite common to dry rub a pork loin or a brisket before being placed in a smoker. But a rub, which is typically a mixture of spices and herbs, doesn’t have to be rubbed onto meat days before serving, or only used when smoking. In fact, in a way, coating a whole chicken with lots of herbs, spices, salt and pepper is essentially a rub. The reason it’s traditionally called a dry rub is that it’s not a paste or a more liquid marinade. Just dry seasoning.

A rub is a wonderful way to add flavor to meat, even meat that takes very little time to prepare. Today I’m cooking two pork tenderloins, and using chili powder for the rub. Yes – just chili powder – the mix used in chile con carne.

The brand of chili powder I like is from Penzey’s. But of course, all you have to do is mix together paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, salt, and black pepper, and you’d end up with the same mixture, essentially. Plus, you can adapt it to suit your taste, like add chile pepper powders, for example, like ancho and chipotle.

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The pork I’m using is Berkshire pork purchased from D’Artagnan.

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I first let the pork tenderloins come to nearly room temperature. Meanwhile, set your oven to a good roasting temperature. I have a “roast” setting on my oven, but roasting usually involved about 400 degrees, at least for about 15 minutes, and then the temperature of the oven can be reduced. The important thing with pork tenderloin, as with all meat, is to cook it properly.

I never let pork tenderloin’s internal temperature go beyond 155 degrees Farenheit. Some people don’t like the hint of pink, and go with 165 degrees. That is just personal preference.

Place a little olive oil in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate the tenderloins.
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Generously sprinkle on the chili powder, rotate the tenderloins in the oil, and sprinkle on more chili powder.
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Make sure the tenderloins are coated with oil and the seasoning mixture. I always tuck under the smaller ends of the tenderloins.
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If you were to be picky, this really isn’t a dry rub since since the tenderloins are coated in oil, but because this meat is very lean, I wanted the oil. Plus, it just helps the seasoning stick.

Place the pan in the oven and roast until done.

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Immediately place the tenderloins on a cutting board and let them sit for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, make the sweet potato hash by adding a little oil to a large skillet and adding some diced bacon.

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Cook only part way, then add some finely diced onion to the bacon.

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After sauteing the mixture for just a couple of minutes, add grated sweet potato. Season with salt and white pepper.
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Use a medium setting, but adjust the heat accordingly. Toss the sweet potato with the bacon and onions, and then let the sweet potato cook, undisturbed, for a couple of minutes. Turn the mixture over; there will be minimal browning, but the sweet potato is cooking. You know if you’re at too high of heat if the bacon and sweet potato burn.

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Add a little butter and let it melt. After a couple of undisturbed minutes, flip over the sweet potato hash again.
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It should be nicely browned. If you feel more cooking is required, continue at a medium-to-low setting, or place a lid over the skillet. However, if you want any crispness to the hash, give it a little browning right before serving.

Slice the pork tenderloin.
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Serve with the sweet potato hash, and a green vegetable like Brussels sprouts.

I used some of the “jus” from the roasting pan and drizzled it over the pork for extra flavor. It was not oily at all.
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For people who need recipes for simple, quick meals, this one fits the bill. As soon as the oven is preheated, in goes the pork tenderloin with a spicy coating. During the short time in the oven, no more than 30 minutes, the sweet potato hash is done. Easy, flavorful, and fabulous for fall!

Chili Pecan Buns

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Back when I was a personal cook for a family, I made bread at least every few days. And I never made the same bread twice. It was perfect for me, because it’s just the kind of thing I like to do in the kitchen – mix it up! And bread is so versatile, with various grains and flours from which to choose. Not to mention the liquids as well as the different seasonings you can use in your bread to really enhance a meal.

I always made bread for my family as well, but a certain family member has recently eschewed the merits of whole-grain carbs. I know. Boo. But to be fair, he has a specific wheat allergy, so of course, I will occasionally “force” home-made gluten-free bread on him. In spite of his carb issues, the bread always disappears quickly.

But occasionally I like to made bread the old-fashioned way with wheat. And today I wanted a rich spicy bread to go with a very mild bean and green chile, if you will. So since I was thinking Southwestern flavors, I came up with using chili powder and pecans. It turned out fabulous, I must say.

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I’ve included photos representing all of the steps, just in case you’re not familiar with the bread-making process. Relax, it’s easy. So here’s my recipe:

Chili Pecan Buns

1/2 cup warmish-hottish water
2 teaspoons yeast
Sprinkling of sugar
1 1/2 cups milk*, warmed
2 – 3 tablespoons chili powder (I used 3)
2 tablespoons plain oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup pecan halves, toasted, ground up
2 cups unbleached bread flour
plus a little more for kneading

Place the warmish-hottish water in a large bowl. You should be able to hold your finger in the water and it not burn. If it’s too hot or cold, adjust accordingly. If you’re a perfectionist, the water should be 110 – 115 degrees Farenheit. Also make sure the bowl doesn’t cool down the water.

Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar. Wait about 5 minutes.

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Then whisk the mixture together and let it sit another 5 minutes or so.

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This is called proofing, and the mixture will look all bubbly and doubled in volume. If none of this happened, your water was too cold or hot, or your yeast isn’t working. But I doubt the yeast, because I’m still using at least ten-year old yeast that I bought in bulk and store in my freezer. It always works.

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At this point, add the warmed up milk, oil, salt, and chili powder.

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Add the whole wheat flour and whisk the mixture together until very smooth. It will look like this:

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Cover the bowl and place it in a warm place for about an hour. It will double in volume. Remove it from your warm place and whisk the mixture again. Now is when you add your ground pecans.

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Stir the pecans into the batter, and then add one cup of flour and stir until well combined. Add the second cup of flour and stir as well as you can to incorporate it. At some point, when the dough isn’t too sticky, you need to remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface. You have to use your instinct for this – sticky dough can be dealt with by patiently using floured hands. If you prefer your dough less sticky, incorporate more flour into it before attempting the kneading process.

Knead the dough and incorporate flour as needed for about 5 minutes. What that means is, if the dough is sticking to your work surface, add a sprinkling of flour. If your hands begin to stick, add a sprinkling of flour. In my experience, it is best to use as little flour as possible, while still managing to knead your dough properly.

Leave the dough on your work surface and cover with a damp towel for at least an hour. After it has risen, remove the towel.

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Knead the dough a little bit, and then cut into half. Since I made buns, I wanted them to all be about the same size for baking purposes, so I used a scale to weigh out the halves. My dough ended up in eight pieces, at about 5 1/2 ounces each. They ended up the size of hamburger buns, so if you want them smaller, cut your dough into 16 pieces.

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Make nice round buns by rolling the dough in between your hands, them place them on a greased cookie sheet. Continue with the remaining buns. Then let them rise in a warm place until they double in size once again.

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Bake the buns for about 20 minutes. Again, if you’re a perfectionist, test a bun with a thermometer – it should read 195 degrees Farenheit.

Remove the buns from the oven and let cool slightly. They are best served warm, but they reheat really well.

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* Just for fun, I did not use a dairy milk for this recipe. I’ve always loved showing people how easy it to substitute ingredients in cooking – especially in simple, every day kind of cooking. So, surprise! I used coconut milk in this recipe!!!

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note: If you don’t want pecans or other nuts in this bread you could always add about 8 ounces of grated cheddar to make a Chili Cheese Bread!!!