Recently I had my hair cut and during it my barber asked what I was making for dinner. I told her I was making chili and she asked me somewhat sheepishly if I put noodles in my chili. Normally I would have whipped around to face her sputtering in disbelief but at this point in the haircut I was afraid that there would be some serious issues with my hair if I had. Instead I yelped, without moving my head, “What do you think I am?!? A lunatic?!?” I mean, my god, who would do something as wildly inappropriate as that?

I turns out that she does. Awkward . . . but frankly, you know, how bad can that be? Pasta . . . chili. Sounds like a winner. Not really. It wasn’t bad but, I dunno, the pasta sorta just dumbed the chili down. Neither thing was what it ought to be. I ate it, of course, because aside from anchovies and certain smoked fish items, I’ll eat anything.

Unplanned insanity

With the Instant Pot I find it is better to make chili in stages. The brute force of 20 minutes renders the chicken highly shreddable but murders the beans and vegetables. So usually I do things one at a time. I started with the beans, some fancy white bean from Mexico grown only by Mayans or some damn thing, Rancho Gordo tells me. 10 minutes is fine. I have to take the beans out and then comes the chicken. Vegetables come last for 3 or 4 minutes. When I was done with the chicken, though, the bean to chicken ratio was way off. I’d planned on green chicken chili which is a fine month of pain slop-like meal. The beans were already done so I had to make more. I then had the scathingly brilliant  idea (a line from the Parent Trap with Hayley Mills—a personal fave of mine when I was a kid much to my father’s disappointment) to make 2 kinds of chili. Red and green. I then Instant Potted up some black beans (which surprisingly did not take the pressure as well as the white beans note to self).

Then I finished them both in different real pots rather than 2 more Instant Pot sessions. I was pretty sick of that insanity. (I also weighed the cooked chicken so I had equal amounts, just in case I hadn’t been being mentally disordered enough). 

When I was done though, I thought Oh, cool, I can have them both in the same bowl side by side!! I ladled them carefully into each side of the bowl and put sour cream and chopped onions in the middle. It was pretty and delicious even if it was a little difficult to eat with the straight jacket on.

Peter Piper picked a peck

I was asked to make green chicken chili which I love and is totally simple to make but it requires mild green chiles as I may have mentioned. Failing that (but not without trying, not available here in Berlin: Mild green chiles, white beans, gotta have those) I decided on red chicken chili and for a real lustrous chili I planned on using red pepper couli with the other chili ingredients. Roasted red peppers are just absolutely one of my favorite things.

Roasted red pepper soup was one of the mainstays of my restaurant. I’ve made it hundred of times. And I’d seen these luxurious jars of peppers on my first recognizance tour of Edeka, our local grocer, and knew I was gonna buy a jar sooner or later and make something. I just could not pass these glorious things up. I didn’t know what I was going to make but, you know, there’s always something. And then here was that something.

So chicken chili. I got out one of the myriad cutting and grinding devices that sit along side the 100s of pounds of copper in the home of our local mounted policeman and processed up a cup or two of them and slopped them into the pan with the chicken. I added chili powder and, you know, whatever. An hour later I tasted it to adjust the seasoning and WTF?

They were pickled peppers. This might have tasted good if I hadn’t dumped a half cup of chili powder and 4 TB of ground cumin into it. We ate it and I have to say he wasn’t grudging about it. But, ugh. Edible is as far as I could go in describing it. I did eat the leftovers for break fast but, you know, I’ll eat anything. Well, not anchovies.

This beef did not die in vain

This may just be theoretical, and I may be rationalizing but it seems to me that when MetroMarket has prime cuts of meat nearly its departure date, they make it into this ground meat. It doesn’t look like their regular ground beef/sirloin/chuck. It’s some other weird thing and there are vast quantities of it. My thinking is that it’s near the end of its viability and it’s going to get thrown away (This does not trouble me any more than the insanity of the good until dates on cans of things. OK, maybe slightly more) I figure, I don’t want all of this meat to be wasted so I bought a pack. It was cheap. I know it’s not organic. But I think not wasting meat is more important than being righteous about eating it.

Anyway, I decided to make chili to have for Month of Pain lunches (no carbs). For extra flavor I threw in the bone from New Year’s Eve prime rib. Whether or not this made any difference I don’t know. But it seemed like a good idea although I strained the fat off it and probably all of its flavor went too.

The chili is, meh, fine. But I have a lot of it. I’ll be eating it for weeks.

Chili in season

The thing I like about fall and winter is that chili is always an option for dinner. It is in the summer as well (for me anyway) but I think people at work judge me if I bring in leftover chili for lunch when it’s warm out. As if there’s something doubtful about someone who would flout convention enough to MAKE CHILI WHEN THERE’S NO THREAT OF SNOW.

So I was making my world renowned chicken chili on a lovely fall day when I happened upon this envelope of taco seasoning and thought what the hell. I tossed in a half jar of this lame-o-rama La Frontera tomatillo salsa since it was in the way in the refrigerator. I had the idea that maybe it might be something different. I’d kill for some of the vaguely suspicious chili they used to serve at Grebe’s (only “in season”). The meat was not identifiable exactly, in fact it may have been Alpo but the flavor was something memorable to me. 

Grebe’s chili, like say, pickle and pimento loaf and the hamburgers in the cafeteria in high school (also possibly an Alpo product) may only be delicious in my mind’s eye as opposed to reality. I imagine I am unlikely to eat them ever again. (Checking the google, I see there’s a Grebe’s out on 51st and Lincoln. James “Jimmer” Grebe just passed away in January of this year at the age of 58, may he rest in peace. I should send a card.)

Anyway, despite my best attempts to make this chili taste vaguely institutional, taco seasoning not withstanding, it did not. It tasted pretty much like the chili I make every time I make it. 

Grocery store chili

I used to really like Grebe’s chili. It didn’t taste anything like the chili I made. It had a consistency that was gruel-like and yet surprisingly toothsome. The meat was not really like meat. It had a certain spongy quality to it that I found interesting and not unpleasant. Last Friday I got home way too late to cook (having spent the evening doing a corporal work of mercy for which I will get several bonus points in heaven, or maybe a free cocktail at the bar in hell) and I kind of had a taste for bad chili so I stopped at MetroMarket and availed myself of some at their soup bar. I really don’t know why. There was NO meat in it. Absolutely none. And very few beans. But it had that smell that I wanted so I got it anyway.

And then I proceeded to add jalapeños, chips, cheese and sour cream. It wasn’t half bad. But then, I’ll eat anything.

FOH, vacation lodging

Food On Hand is generally an important issue for someone who does a lot of cooking. I routinely have cans of mild green chiles, tomatoes (diced, paste, sauce; respectively), and, say, black beans. I’m pretty current on my pantry’s contents vis a vis mustard, pasta and cooking oil and if I think stocks might be low I check before I shop. But that’s me.

Having owned vacation rentals, and stayed in quite a few of them I have had the opportunity to observe an unusual phenomenon: The desires, habits and compulsions of vacation food consumption and its relationship to grocery shopping. I suppose being out of the normal routine, shopping in an unfamiliar place, and shopping while distracted, by hunger, children, or spouses who aren’t accustomed to grocery shopping can result in a cart full of things that one would normally not eat. Eating on vacation is another variable. People think, “Oh. what the hell, I’m on vacation, I’m gonna splurge on a box of gin-flavored, raspberry swirl sugar doodles!” What results is cabinets full of gin flavored sugar doodles. Refrigerators, shelves and drawers of food left behind by vacationers, like sinners after the rapture.

When people stay at my cottage I ask them not to leave any food of any type. People seem to think that ketchup and olives are not food. I’m sure they think “Oh, he’ll use ketchup of course.” But I don’t. At the end of the summer along with many different condiments, I toss boxes of sugared cereal, oleo margarine (who uses that miserable shit?) and Noodleroni and, as I write this, I realize I don’t consider those food either. The detritus of a vacationing family can tell you quite a bit about them or at least about the cook and/or shopper. Leaving behind envelopes of dehydrated mashed potatoes and cans of hormel chili does not speak well of the departed, in my opinion. On the other hand, while I wouldn’t eat it or touch it with a stick, a half-used jar of caviar, while I will still toss it, is another matter. “Oh, indeed,” I might think as I hurl it into the trash. 

While I feel I understand the compulsion to buy the odd bag of circus peanuts, I am confused by people who don’t inquire or look to see what’s there before they shop and buy duplicates of stuff that is commonly used, like salt, oil or chili powder (this is Colorado after all). The condo I am staying at, owned by my friends Jeanne and Jerry who neither cook nor come here that often, has a very large and odd assortment of food left by vacationers (sinners/rapture). There are 4 containers of chicken stock, countless jugs of oil, vinegar and enough tea bags to swamp Buckingham Palace, though I am not entirely sure her majesty would care to toss back a cup of Smooth Move. Or maybe she would. In any event, Vail being chili country, it seems that everyone who comes here makes it. Buying a can of chili powder is a commitment to make chili, a lot of it. And I know someone is thinking “Oh, I’m going to just make a huge vat of chili and we can all just nosh.” Everyone buys their own proprietary container of powder. Only a few of those pictured below are opened and none of them have more than a teaspoon or two removed from them. Cumin, another chili ingredient, is popular too apparently. There are both Turkish and Pakistani varieties. I see now that one of those bottles is caraway. Close enough. What you might be using caraway for on vacation is a mystery to me. Oh sure if you were going to make kofte, or loaf of marble rye, but who does that on vacation?

I’d better go check on my vichyssoise. I’m making a vat in case I feel peckish this week.

First chili

Oh my God you have no idea how thrilled I was at the rain and cold last night. Chili!!!!! It is my favorite meal. The season has begun. I even like it when it comes from a buffet line at a convenience store when the meat has the consistency of say, well, I’m not sure what, but it isn’t meat. Pink slime maybe. I’m not opposed to pink slime, at least not in chili.

For me chili is a layered thing, the more you add to the structure, the better the chili is. The requisites are tomatoes, beans and chili powder. Lots of chili powder. At the next level of importance are peppers, onions and beans. These 2 levels alone will get you chili and it will be a chili you can enjoy. But taking a step further, meat is nice, in this case grass fed, organic beef and organic farm raised pork, (God knows I try). But ground turkey works and I have made it out of seitan, which has that not-really-meat quality I enjoy at the QuikTrip. Then on the third refining level, is cumin, mild green chiles, cloves (just a little), wine, tomato paste maybe (didn’t use it last night), paprika, balsamic vinegar and a bay leaf might work.

At this point we can start throwing things in that begin to take it further from the realm of chili and more into the realm of I’ve drunk too much and don’t much care what the hell is in here. Corn. celery. Christ why not anchovies.

I should note I used about a 1/4 cup of Spice House mild chili powder (the hands-down finest chili powder in the world) and at least 3 TB of cumin. I also use salt and pepper.

Last night’s chili was today’s breakfast as well. And lunch. I might make it again tonight if it’s cold enough out.

Dinner on Thursday

I decided to make turkey chili one of my go-to, easy, good, diet meals. I use eggplant to create the right mouth feel when I’m making something with ground turkey, a trick I learned on Top Chef. It works well. The eggplant more or less melts into the meat and creates a not-unpleasant, slimy-that-translates-as-greasy feeling. But I also bought some chorizo to put in it which totally ruins the point of the low fat turkey. It also added nothing to the chili. Couldn’t taste it at all. It also negates the need for the eggplant since it was plenty greasy.

I decided on chili because I wanted to try out the hot sauce my sister brought me from Puerto Rico (a place I don’t think of as a destination for spicy food) but I forgot to use it. I did use the tomato sauce I made last summer. Excellentemente. But I didn’t have my go-to chili powder from the Spice House which is the world’s best because I sent it to Ashish in Belgium. Instead I used some really crappy Caputo chili powder, a bag of which I bought at Metro Market rather than try to park near the Spice House. The chili powder was flavorless. I added a lot of cumin. It was edible. Or, in any event, I ate it.