Chili! Family Friendly Investment Cooking
I could happily lose myself in the intricacies of competition chili. There are strict rules within which is room for huge creativity. I love it. I've done a few small cookoffs (proud of THOSE trophies!), and I'd probably live on the competitive cooking circuit if I could steal an appropriate RV somewhere. However - that kind of chili takes forever, and I tend to crank the heat level up to somewhere near nuclear. Which means only my equally heat stupid brother can eat it.
The chili in this article is an entirely different story. This is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with flavor and as heat adjustable as you like. I normally make the monster batch very mild, because my dad and my youngest critter both think even black pepper is hot. I then seperate out some to crank up the Scovill scale - and those of us who like it hot can eat and turn red and sweat and trash talk each other and chug milk to our hearts' desire. So this one works however you like it.
Now if you've seen my videos, you know I love double duty meals. Making one dish that you can transform into something else or stash in the freezer, and have a freebie with the cooking done or mostly done. I love this one also because it makes a huge batch. Chili is one of those little lovlies that just gets better as it sits. It freezes well too - so if you take the time to make a batch, you'll have the base for quite a few meals. I usually run at least four meals from one big ol' pot of chili. I use it for just plain chili of course - topping it off with all kinds of condiments. But after that you've got the base for several meals ready to go. Tortilla soup, enchiladas, Chili Bowls or Taco Salads, layered nachos....I run out of chili before I run out of things to make with it.
I also tend to distrust anything prepackaged - and one of the things I love about this chili is that the ingredient list is just plain simple. Beef, onion, tomatoes. That's it. If you've got a garden at your disposal you're Golden. If not - you're still good - choose whatever peppers look best at your market according to your heat preference, and use canned tomatoes. (Tomatoes are canned so quickly and have no additives that they really get close to fresh.)
Simple Crockpot Chili
Ok - yes, this is a recipe. But it's a method as well. The method is stewing - or braising. and I'm going to give you the base ingredients - but for many I'm going to give you alternates. The main ingredients are pretty basic; beef, onion, tomatoes and peppers. But there are a hundred variations using those. Go for what's fresh and on sale. If chuck is cheap, use that. If it's stew meat, use that. If you have a preference - crank it. In this case I used ground chuck, which often goes on sale here. But I've used all kinds of cuts - it doesn't matter.
I also tend to use everything fresh, with the exception of the tomatoes. I have a couple of reasons for that. Canned tomatoes are done well, done right, immediately preserved while in season and freshly picked. They are consistently high in quality. Fresh tomatoes are great if you're making homemade salsa or a salad - but if you're cooking with them, you'll get consistently high quality results with canned. It's too difficult to tell the quality of a tomato out of season when purchased at the store, and the flavor is too important here. Of course if you can your own you're already a Bombshell and you can skip the whole tomato issue entirely. Otherwise - give yourself and your flavor a favor and use canned.
Now - for peppers. There are lots of ways to go here, but I'm going to tell you my philosophy and let you play with it. Peppers are a major flavor compenent in chili, so you need them. And they come in a thousand variations - so you can choose your heat level as you like. But I have rules for that - and you may want to listen.
- First - you want the rich pepper flavor from stewing them with the meat. That's the first rule.
- You can can get that flavor from a number of places, including the 'hot' peppers. But the greater the heat level, the less volume you'll need, and therefore the less 'pepper' flavor. Does that make sense? So I start with a minimum of a couple bell peppers, and add another couple mild peppers to develop the complexity of flavor that you're after. Pepper flavor doesn't mean heat - that comes from the type of pepper. Ok? Ok.
- You'll need to lay down the base flavors with mild peppers - bell, Anaheim, Pablanos - all of these will give you volume without too much heat, so you can develope rich flavor.
- THEN you add heat elements - try Jalapeno, Serrano, Habaneros, even Scotch Bonnets if you want - but proceed carefully. You'll quickly overwhelm your flavors with plain old heat - and you don't want to do that. You want flavor AND heat - otherwise, just eat the danged hot peppers plain and save yourself some effort.
- Finally - you must remember that as the chili sits the heat will develop and 'bloom'. I've made batches that were rather mild to medium the day I made them, and then damn near took my head off a day or two later. You can always add heat - but you can't take it out. Be cautious until you learn your peppers.
Finally - about beans.
Yeah - yeah. I don't want to hear it. Put the dang beans in. We are talking about comfort food chili here - not a traditional Texan 'bowl of red'. Beans are one of the Superfoods - they're loaded with nutritional punch and really pack it. Protein, fiber, antioxidants and about forty three other fabulous things. Not only do they taste great and compliment the flavors in chili perfectly, but they add perfect 'bulk' - they'll stretch a budget like nothing else. You can cut back on the meat, while retaining all the flavor.
I grew up with pinto beans and I don't think chili tastes right without it. But I also love black beans - so I go half and half. Use whatever combination you like - or start with this and then play with it.
Ok - that's my preaching. Here we go.
- 2 lbs ground chuck
- 3-4 large yellow onions, diced
- 5-7 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 medium bell peppers, diced
- 3 Anaheim peppers, diced
- 4 - 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained, juices reserved
- 2 19.75 ounce cans black beans, drainied
- 2 19.75 ounce cans pinto beans, drained
- 1 Tbl dried oregano
- 1 Tbl chili powder (or to taste)
- 1 Tbl cumin
- 2-3 tsp kosher salt
- 1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- juice of 2 limes
- Brown the ground beef in a heavy dutch oven over medium heat. If you're using a leaner cut of meat, add some olive oil - a tablespoon or two - to the pot to facilitate the browning. If you are using a fattier cut, let it render the fat out on it's own. I like to let ground beef or chuck render, then I drain the fat, and rinse it under hot water to get even more fat off. Yes I know - normally fat means flavor and that's a little overboard. But in this case you're going to be adding a ton of extremely high-flavor ingredients, and I'd just as soon get rid of the fat. That way I can eat as much as I want with no guilt. It doesn't serve a purpose here - so away with it!
- Once the beef is browned and drained as necessary, return it all to the heat and bring the temperature back to about medium. Add the onions, garlic and peppers. Stir everybody up and allow the veggies to cook about ten minutes or so, or until fragrant the onions are becoming translucent. If you want to up the heat quotient - start with far less than you'll think you need - say 1 habanero instead of 4. Put one in at this point, and give the chili an hour between each additional heat smack. You'll thank me for this.
- Everything else (except the lime juice) can now go in! Everybody into the pool! No particular order necessary - just throw it all in. Bring to a simmer, and allow it to simmer for a good long time. Give it a minimum of an hour - three-four hours is even better. My kids start dipping out of the pot the minute it's not raw - so you may have to be sneaky at this point. Frankly it smells so good you'll have a hard time keeping it safe.
- Now - that's the base chili. The only 'artistry' part you need can come into play at this point. After the first hour, start tasting. I can almost quarantee you'll need salt and black pepper. If you want additional heat start layering it in now. You can add additional heat or more cumin, more chili powder - whatever you like. Just go slowly and allow the flavors to marry for a half hour or so before adding more. Remember - this is a long simmering dish, and well worth the effort - so you'll have opportunity to pop the flavor in any direction you like. If you're adding additional peppers, make SURE to let them simmer in and fully incorporate.
That's it - you're done. Have at it - you'll love having the giant batch to divide up as you wish - you invested a little time one day (and not even that much), so you can reap the benefits over several meals. Enjoy the rewards.
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