Ding Dong Eight Alarm Chili

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Let’s just start off with a disclaimer:  This is not eight-alarm chili.  At least not the way I made it.  In all fairness, it would have been had I been able to find anything I was shopping for at the grocery store last week.  Let me just say, Publix, that I’m really disappointed in you.  You’ve never let me down like this before.   But I’m over it, because it was still delicious.

I found this recipe on Epicurious a while back (like 2 years, actually).  It was originally published in Gourmet magazine back in 2003, and it’s supposed to be the famous chili from the Cosby show (I dunno.  I didn’t watch the Cosby show, but I hear the chili was like a big deal or something).  I just thought it looked like a pretty good recipe so I saved it, and when I had my little impromptu dinner party last weekend, it seemed like a good time to dig it out.  You can never go wrong with a (mostly) one pot meal that you make a day ahead for a dinner party.  It gives you plenty of time on the day of to do any last minute house-cleaning, dog de-hairing (that’s the technical term for the removal of dog hair from miscellaneous surfaces and/or seating areas), or decorating.   I’ll admit it.  I did all three of those things.

Back to the chili.  Please, please, please don’t buy packaged stew meat for this.  They just like to trim off any random leftover bits from whatever they’ve been working with in the meat department and you never know what you’re getting in there.  Buy a shoulder or a chuck roast and cut it yourself.  It only takes a few extra minutes, and you can be sure of the cut of meat you’re getting.  Also, since you’re cutting it yourself, you can make sure that your pieces are all similar size for even cooking.  Once you’ve done that, you brown your meat – get a good sear since that is where all the flavor comes from.  Set your meat aside and throw some onions and garlic in there, then some spices, then your sauce (we’ll talk about the sauce in a moment), and that’s it.  You cook it down for a while, let it cool, and stick it in the fridge.  Let it sit around for a day or two, then heat it back up and voila’,  chili.  Yummy goodness chili.

Now the reason mine didn’t turn out super spicy is because I couldn’t find the right sorts of peppers.  All my Publix had was jalapenos and “long hot peppers”.  I’m not sure what a long hot pepper was supposed to be, but I tasted it and I’m pretty sure it was just a funny shaped bell pepper.   I wasn’t going to inflict habaneros on dinner guests, so I just used the jalapenos and then added some extra chili powder and aleppo pepper.  It was faintly spicy, but not robustly so, so if you like a good scorching chili, you need to make sure you get peppers with some heat.  Also: the sauce.  When you puree your peppers, etc, the recipe has you add a half cup of cilantro.  When I took the top off my food processor I was immediately hit with the smell of cilantro.  Jacob actually said that I had ruined the chili, because the smell was so strong, and I was a little worried myself that it would be overpowering, but don’t fear.  Add the cilantro!  Once you cook it for a couple of hours, it disappears into the background, leaving just a slight herbal note that you really need to balance out the other heavy flavors.

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This made a great chili that wasn’t overly difficult to make, and turned out to be a good, hearty, warming meal.  If only I had winter weather deserving of such a dish…alas, you can’t have everything.

Oh! Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope yours is going splendidly!

Ding Doing Eight Alarm Chili

2 oz dried ancho chiles (4 large), stemmed and seeded*

6 large garlic cloves, 3 of them finely chopped

1 tablespoon salt, or to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder (not pure chile)

4 lb well-marbled beef brisket or boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice

1/4 cup canned chipotle chiles in adobo

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1 1/2 lb white onions, chopped (4 cups)

1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled

1 to 4 fresh serrano or other small green chiles, finely chopped, including seeds (1 is fine for most tastes; 4 is the eight-alarm version)

1 (12-oz) bottle beer (not dark)

2 cups water

2 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (optional; 30 oz), rinsed if canned

Soak ancho chiles in hot water to cover until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain well.

While chiles soak, mince 1 whole garlic clove and mash to a paste with 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon cumin, and 1/2 tablespoon chili powder. Pat beef dry and toss with spice mixture in a large bowl until coated.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide 6- to 7-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef in 3 or 4 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch (lower heat as needed; spice mixture burns easily). Transfer beef as browned to another bowl. (Do not clean pot.)

Purée anchos in a blender along with tomatoes (including juice), chipotles in adobo, cilantro, remaining 2 whole garlic cloves, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon salt until smooth.  Add enough oil to fat in pot to total 3 tablespoons, then cook onions and chopped garlic over moderate heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits from beef, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add oregano, remaining tablespoon cumin, and remaining tablespoon chili powder and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add chile purée and 1 chopped serrano and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes.

Stir in beer, water, and beef along with any juices accumulated in bowl and gently simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and checking often to make sure chili is not scorching, 2 hours.

Taste sauce, then add more serrano if desired and continue to simmer, partially covered, until beef is very tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 hours more. (If chili becomes very thick before meat is tender, thin with water as needed.)  Coarsely shred meat (still in pot) with 2 forks and cool chili completely, uncovered, then chill, covered, 1 to 2 days to allow flavors to develop.

Reheat over low heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 30 minutes. Add beans (if using) and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes

* I think it’s safe to say that if you can’t find dried anchos, or any of these specific peppers, the world will not end and the chili gods won’t rain hellfire down on you.  Just use whatever chilies you like, or whatever suits your taste heat-wise.

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Decor from the…yard?

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Can you believe I got those bud vases at Wal-Mart?  I’ve been wanting to use more greenery in my decorating, so when I saw these little vases, I thought it would be a great way for me to dip my toe in the water, so to speak.  I’ve mentioned this blog to you before, but Pure Style Home is a really great site that I find very inspirational, and Lauren has mentioned using greenery – even just the plain little things you have growing around your yard that wouldn’t necessarily work for an arrangement – in vases, glasses, bowls, or any other vessel you find attractive, as a cheap way to add color and that little something extra to a room.  You always see flowers and greenery in magazine showcase homes, and store windows, but it’s something anyone can do in their own home with very little effort, and for free.  I love having flowers around, and especially if you’re expecting guests, it can really dress your home up and give it a fresh, chic look – especially if, like me, you don’t have a lot of other decor yet.  Since we moved into a larger house I’ve found that the things I was using as decor in our previous home just aren’t enough to fill in our new space, so I’m always looking for ways to add to our sparsely decorated living area.

I had a small dinner party last Friday night – just some family over for a meal and a visit – and I really wanted to put my little vases into use, so off I went out into our (rainy) yard.  Thanks to the previous owners, who were very enthusiastic gardeners, we have lots of plants around our home, so  I walked out onto our front porch with no real plan in mind except to see what captured my fancy.   As I stood there looking around, I felt like I was seeing my yard for the very first time; since we’ve only been here for the winter season so far, I’ve only been seeing my plants for the potential they have to be pretty when they’re blooming.   It’s been pretty gloomy in our yard, actually, especially since we’ve had almost a week straight of gray, rainy days, so it was like a whole new world of pretty things opened up in front of me.  Most of my plants are actually fairly attractive, even without their blooms, and I’ve been overlooking them this whole time.  I saw that my azaleas had these really pretty glossy red leaves, and my little eucalyptus tree is perfect for adding a sculptural element; my rosemary is blooming with these tiny purple flowers (I used that in another vase in my kitchen), and I have lots of Leyland Cyprus trees just waiting to donate a snipped twig or two to my decorating efforts.  So if you’re feeling a little gloomy amid all the winter weather, or rainy days, I encourage you to step outside and take a fresh look at your yard.  You never know what will appeal to you, and you can bring a little of the outdoors in to give your home a little facelift.

I love to hear your thoughts!  What do you guys do to add that special touch to your home?