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Monday, January 3, 2011

Chili Afternoon: 'Tis the Seasoning








Enough with the snacking already.   Enough with the nutted cheese balls, dips and drinks, Bristol Cream brews, and plates filled to the brimming.   If I see one more butter cookie sugar-sprinkled in red or green. . .

  
A last hurrah before the reckoning with the scale and those post-holiday blues, New Year's Day is not the time to go cold turkey.  Let's skip the nibbles. Let’s turn up the heat in the kitchen and stoke up the fires of the appetite. Let’s cook something soul-stirring, warm and hearty.

Plain and simple. Let’s make chili. The ultimate comfort food

Perfect Chili 
Is it any wonder chili cook-offs and contest abound? And doesn’t everyone have a treasured family recipe or special secret ingredient for this all-American favorite stew? A good chili is a culinary art, and like a salsa dance, there's no one-way or wrong way to do it.   It's all a matter of cultural preference, personality, taste and style, not to mention what's handy in the cupboard.   
Some like it mild and sweet. Some like it incendiary. Personally, I like my chili lean and meaty, a balance of just enough spice and heat to make the flavor dark and complex.
My recipe? A fusion of Cincinnati and Texas, based on “Hell’s Kitchen Chili” out of The New Basics Cookbook, by Silver Palate authors, Julee Ross & Sheila Lukins  
Ingredients: (may vary, but approximately this is what I add to the pot and stir starting with olive oil) 
6 cloves garlic
1 large onion, chopped1 shallot, chopped
2 strips of bacon or (leaner) Canadian bacon (browned with onions)
2 pounds of sirloin, thinly sliced  into 1-inch strips
1 pound bulk sausage (sweet Italian)
2 to 3 cups crushed or diced tomatoes
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped fine
1-ounce can (1 cup)  tomato paste 
14-ounce can of black beans (Tip: puree half in a food processor to add as thickener)  
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped 

Now here's where the cooking starts simmering.  Add:

1 or 2 tablespoons crushed red peppers, chipotle or anaheim
1 or 2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and (more?) pepper to taste 
Half bottle of beer (I’ve never thrown in champagne, but it you have any leftover bubbly from New Year's Eve, why not try it?)  

Garnishes:
Grated Cheddar or Pepper Jack Cheese
Diced Scallions
Fresh Cilantro
Guacamoli
Sour Cream
  
Serving suggestions: 
Chili & Cornbread
Chili Over Beans & Rice (Moon Over Miami Style)
Chili over pasta (Cincinnati-style)
Chili over Dogs  (Coney Style)
  
Chili facts: 
Did you know that peppers have a heat index? A somewhat subjective measurement, called the Scoville Heat Unit is used to describe the heat value of various chili on a scale of zero (representing the mild bell pepper) to the 100,000 to 500,000 assigned to habaneros and scotch bonnets.  The jalapeno falls in the middle range of 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville Units.

The hot in hot peppers all comes down to a chemical called capaicin.  Capaicin is produced by chili peppers as an irritant to mammals. In humans, the response causes a release of endorphins, which might explain why we find pleasure, or even crave, that nose-clearing burning sensation of food that warms the insides all the way down.

Believe it or not, chili can also be good for the heart. The beans make it a good source of fiber, and the tomatoes are rich in antioxidant, inflammatory-fighting  lycopene.  Keep it lean and low-sodium, skip the taco chips and toppings, and you have a yourself a healthy, guilt-free cup of pure goodness.

For more chili:  

chili nation 


Got a chili recipe or secret ingredient? Do share.
Thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year.   






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