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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Beef Stock

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Do you ever end up with a lot of beef bones? Maybe after de-boning a large roast? If you hate to waste food like I do, try this simple way to make beef stock using bones! It’s so simple, and yet a smart way to take advantage of leftover bones.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Start by putting all of your trimmed bones in a large roasting pan. Globs of trimmed fat are fine as well. Some people believe in salting and peppering the bones and bits, but I just leave mine plain. After you’ve collected the stock, you can taste and season. That way, you also don’t end up with too salty of a stock.

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Roast the bones for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375 degrees and continue roasting for another hour.

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Remove the pan from the oven and place it over 1 or two burners on the stove. Let the pan cool for a while, then add some filtered water to it.

Turn on the heat until the broth just boils, then turn it down to a low simmer. You could add other ingredients at this point, and seasonings like bay leaves, but I like to just leave it alone and keep it simple. Bones and water. And some fat.

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After about two hours, and occasionally turning the bones, you’re left with a beautiful broth like this.

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Let the mixture cool somewhat, then place everything through a colander over a large bowl and drain well. And there you have it.

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Refrigerate the broth overnight, then remove the fat layer before proceeding with a recipe.

I happened to use this broth when I made chili, and it was delicious!

note: This could be called either a stock or a broth. There are more involved home-made stocks, like those that also include vegetables, but personally I like just using the bones. Then I get the meaty beef flavor into my soup or stew via the stock/broth, and then add the aromatics at that time I’m preparing the soup or stew recipe. It’s just a personal choice.

Black Beans and Kielbasa

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I love cooking beans. They’re delicious when home-made, especially because you can make them taste however you wish – barbeque style, Mediterranean, or Southwestern. But I have to admit that canned beans are pretty good – especially in a pinch.

For this recipe, I used canned black beans. The only important thing is to drain them well in a colander before using. Other than that, they require no cooking, so they can be added to whatever you’re making at the last minute.

This recipe is kind of like a chili, in that there are meat and beans, but the flavors are quite different. And unlike real chili, this dish can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. And it’s good, too!

Black Beans and Kielbasa Stew

3-4 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 – 14 ounce package polska kielbasa, or polish sausage, cut into 1″ pieces
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon hot paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 cans black beans, drained

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Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the onion, red bell pepper, and sausage and cook over high heat until there is some color on the sausage.

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Turn down the heat to medium, and stir in the garlic. Then add all of the remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine, and heat through.

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Serve hot. It’s really good with freshly made cornbread!

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