A Chili Day

Winter weather makes me think about soul warming, hearty dishes and Super Bowl party prep makes me search for dishes that are easy to share and reheat.

For years Mr. Lear and I have tried to spend our weekends making food that makes us happy. But, all of our culinary adventures have not exactly been paradise. Getting the other half to realize that food can be a wonderful experience took a lot of work, a lot of improvement of both our culinary skills, and lots of gentle convincing that trying new things was goodness.

The convincing went both ways.

My mister was bound and determined to completely shun anything bland and ordinary after he graduated from college. And, that was about all I had ever eaten. My father was damn proud of knowing that garlic existed. Using it included whiffing it - that didn't mean it ever made the pot.

A clove of garlic waved over a dish was over the top. After all, salt and pepper were damn good spices. And, yes of course, our "greatest generation" dads ruled in both our families. Our moms were both decent cooks given what their husbands expected on the table.

What's the meal that my dancing partner and I have learned the most about over the last 35, or so, years?


Hands down.

When we first met, he wanted to enter chili cook-offs and make dishes so hot that no one could eat them. I slinked away thinking, "Ouch, I don't want to eat that" - and I didn't. I still don't want to eat anything he would have made back then. Thankfully, those days, and dishes, are gone.

Mr. Lear still makes plenty of chili. His favorite is a something you might find in a traditional chili cook-off. But, over the years we've tried and found we liked a variety of chili recipes. So, today I'm offering two recipes that wouldn't have even entered the other half's mind, or mouth, 35 years ago. The traditional recipe, as Alton Brown might say, is another show.

First, let's look at the Cincinnati style variety. In southern Ohio chefs use an interesting mix of spices with the meat that you might more closely associate with the Mediterranean. But then, it gets more interesting. The dish is a five layer presentation: spaghetti, chili, kidney beans, chopped onions and shredded cheese. You might hear it referred to as "five way." If you hear someone refer to four way (only beans OR onions), or three way (spaghetti, chili and cheese), it's because there are three, or four layers instead.

My husband found this recipe from Jane and Michael Stern about twenty years ago in a Delta Airlines magazine. One of the nicest things about it is how quickly you can make it.

Cincinnati Five Way Chili

1 pound ground beef
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup thick barbecue sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, grated
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
tomato juice, as needed
9 ounces spaghetti, cooked
1 16-ounce can kidney beans, heated and drained
1 pound cheddar cheese, finely shredded

Brown the meat with half the onions and garlic, stirring to make it loose. Set aside the remaining onion for the top of the chili when assembling. Drain off any fat in the pan.

Add the barbecue sauce and water. Bring the pan to a boil. Add the spices. Cover the pan and lower the heat. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The chili will thicken, so you may need to add some tomato juice so it achieves a ladling consistency. Let the chili "rest" off the heat for another 30 minutes so the flavors can meld.

To make each plate, start with a layer of spaghetti and top it with hot chili. Next add a few beans. Now add a layer of chopped onions. Finally, sprinkle the top with shredded cheese.

One of my favorites is Green Chili. Several years ago I was inspired by a dish I was served by student chefs at Johnson & Wales University in Denver. Mr. Lear and I were attending the Great American Beer Festival and J&W catered the press lunch before the opening session. One bite and I was hooked.

I've experimented with my recipe over the years, but in reality it hasn't changed much. When I first started out, I chopped the green chiles and tomatillos and cooked them down before adding to the meat. Today, I roast both. I think it gives you an earthier, fuller flavor.

So, if time you're short on time, go ahead and do it all on the cooktop, or roast the peppers and tomatillos the night before and refrigerate them until needed. Another alternative is using pork shoulder and cutting it into 3/8" cubes instead of ground pork. If you're not into pork, substitute ground turkey. Use your favorite variety of fresh green chilis, or a combination. I frequently serve it over a little rice.

Green Chili

2 pounds ground pork
1 pound hot green chiles
1 pound tomatillos
1 head of garlic
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 can of beer
1 tablespoon ground cumin

Preheat the oven to 350. Cover the chiles with a thin coating of oil and place in a roasting pan. Put in the oven and roast until they blister, about 30 minutes. Remove them and place the chiles in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 20 minutes. Remove the skin and seeds. Set aside.

At the same time you're roasting the chiles, roast a head of garlic. Cut off the crown, drizzle oil on top and wrap in foil. Bake for about an hour. When it cools slightly, gently squeeze the pulp out and add it to the set aside chiles.

Turn the over down to 225. Cut the tomatillos in half and lightly sprinkle with oil. Roast until soft, about two hours.

Combine the skinned and seeded chiles, tomatillos and garlic in the bowl of your food processor. Buzz to combine. The mixture will be paste like.

Saute the pork until all pink has disappeared in a dutch oven, or stew pot. Take out the meat and set aside. drain out any fat from the pan leaving only about 2 tablespoons. Add the chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper and saute until opaque.

Add the meat and chile-tomatillo-garlic paste. Add in the cumin. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add in as much of the beer as necessary to get a ladling consistency. Taste and adjust for salt.

If you want a dish that's a little hotter, just add hotter chilies, or you can add jalapeno powder.

Any favorite chili recipes in your house? Care to share? Or, tell us a favorite chili memory.

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on a side note, we've got a pretty hefty storm about to hit, it's supposed to start as rain any time here in N. Illinois and turn to snow with 5-8" tonight and another 5-8" tomorrow. The direction it's coming from will send it right towards Mich. if it stays on the trajectory it's on now, brace yourselves. It'll be a good night for chili.

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Cordelia Lear's picture

around midnight and keep snowing well into Monday. I can hardly wait.

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"Never separate the life you live from the words you speak." --Paul Wellstone

Big Al's picture

I use an old family recipe called Hormel.
Nah, I'm not a very involved cook, so with chili I use this mix I found years ago that I can't even remember the name of now
but I'd recognize it when I saw it. Don't like it too hot, about medium or milder.
I used to make it when I'd host poker parties with people from my work. It always went over pretty well.
Good idea Cordelia, I'll make some chili tomorrow too.

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Cordelia Lear's picture

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"Never separate the life you live from the words you speak." --Paul Wellstone

Azazello's picture

What a bunch of coincidences. So I get a message, check out caucus99percent. So I do, and I log on and the first story I see is yours. On Chili. Cordelia Lear think I, isn't she ... yes! I did a diary on chili once for WFD. Not only that, but tonight's WFD just happens to be, you guessed it, Chili.
Stay warm, have a nice night.

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It didn't have to be this way.

gulfgal98's picture

It is so good to see you here. Smile

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Do I hear the sound of guillotines being constructed?

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." ~ President John F. Kennedy

Cordelia Lear's picture

It's so good of you to come by. Please let me take your coat and get you a beverage. I hope you stay a very long while.

Actually this diary is substantially the first WFD I published at GOS. It was V2.6 on Sept. 15, 2007. And, I do remember the one you did on chili some time later. Too funny that there's one over there on the same subject tonight.

I'm hoping that we have great discussions on food and drink here too.

Again, a very warm welcome to you!

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"Never separate the life you live from the words you speak." --Paul Wellstone

glad to see you made it, bud!

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