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RBR Tailgating: Chili

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No matter what else is going on, when fall turns to winter, or at least hints it might be turning to winter, you have to whip up a pot of the stuff.

If you know one thing about me, it’s that with each breath I metabolize oxygen and expel carbon dioxide and nitrogen along with a surprising amount of unused oxygen, which is weird considering the aim of the whole endeavor. I also pepper the air with a touch of argon, gratis.

If you know two things about me… I don’t know how to order these. I’m bipedal. I’m made up of atoms. I’ve never known what the hell birds are chirping about. There are so many things... I’ve seen every Leverage.

Eventually we get to things that you may know about me which would differentiate you from those who do and do not actually know about me. I’m not sure what number it would be, but if you know (x +1) things about me, it’s that there are certain dishes I regard as seasonal and that when the appropriate season hits I must have. It should surprise no knowing about me one of you that at fall’s first involuntary nipple hardening I feel the need to make chili.

Never mind that earlier this evening I walked my dog along a, admittedly drought dry, creek bed in a short sleeve shirt and felt no hint of a chill. Never mind that all thermostats under my power, one house and two cars, are still set to a pretty aggressive cool and a decent fan blast. Two days ago the wind carried a titillating cool crispness that made my chest swell with desire for spicy beef in tomato sauce with an occasional kidney bean every couple of bites but not too often because we don’t want to get distracted from the beef and tomatoes. That crispness was inspiration enough.

I’m sorry to those readers who feel betrayed by my repeated claims that home game tailgating recipes will be grillable and not beyond the reach of the average cook armed with the expected tools available in a parking lot in the shadow of Bryant-Denny and that only away game recipes will require the awesome power of a fully operational kitchen. I betrayed you. In fact, I jettisoned any pretense of tailgating because of a slight dip in the mercury.

Thankfully for the home cook, I make honest chili. I’ve played with a variety of stand-out ingredients that others swear by. Cocoa and cinnamon can be good in very specific limited quantities, but they can take over a whole pot if not properly controlled. Venison or stew cut beef are great, but they need to be tender and cooked just right or they seize up and ruin an otherwise enjoyable meal.

Mine is basic, an intro to an entrée. From it you can add whatever you wish: spice, gamey meats, black beans, whatever. Not to sound vanilla, but I’ve come to like the basic. A thing should sometimes be the thing. (Also, pure vanilla bean might be a cool ingredient if you us a lot of peppers.)

I haven’t mentioned our opponent yet. I don’t have much to say about them because they as a team are lost in the to-cupcake-or-not-to-cupcake debate. As we look at our schedule and this game right now too many see them as a place holder. The reality is that they are a respectable bunch who play good football and who I expect will be fully steamrolled by the best team in the nation, but I could say that of a lot of our conference foes. This chili is for them too.

Chili

2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, torn with their juices

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ medium yellow onion, diced

1lb. ground chuck

1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced, seeds set aside

1 16 oz. can light red kidney beans

1 tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. chili powder

1 dried bay leaf

1 can Miller High Life

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

A couple of notes before we begin:

The bold “Chili” above looks kind of boring. I considered “Chili con Carne” but I’ve never seen a meatless chili that wasn’t advertised as “meatless chili” or “vegan chili.” I’m of the opinion that the “con carne” is superfluous. Meat is intrinsic to chili. So it stays boring.

This is for a mildly soupy final product. It’s intended to be reduced to a point, but if you want to serve it over a hot dog it’ll soak the bun. If you want thick pasty chili, consider draining the juices from one or both of the tomato cans. You could follow the recipe otherwise, just stir more often to keep any of the solids from burning on the bottom of the pan.

Start with a few glugs of olive oil in a hot pan over high heat and add the onion. Saute until translucent and then add the jalapenos (not the seeds, at least not yet) and garlic. Saute for one minute, stirring constantly to keep the garlic from burning. Add the meat with a generous pinch of salt and brown.

Once the meat is browned, pull from the heat. Push all of the browned meat and sautéed onion to one side and tilt the pan to pool any fat. I like a bit of fat in my chili. That’s why I use ground chuck. I want that flavor to permeate the onion and jalapeno and I want enough of it left after the sauté to flavor the tomatoes as well. That said, every time you cook a certain amount of beef the amount of rendered fat will be different. If it looks like there’s too much greasy goodness for you, spoon it off or sop it up with a paper towel (being careful not to burn yourself like I do every damn time) now.

Add the tomatoes and return to heat, set to high and put the cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and bay leaf in with a 12 oz. can of American lager, of which Miller High Life is the King. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a slow simmer.

A note about cooking with beer: I’ve made this chili maybe a hundred times. I’ve only once needed to add more than one beer - as you will see this is a taste and correct recipe that requires more tasting and correcting than most. That said, the worst thing that can happen to any home cook is to be caught lacking when a necessary ingredient is needed. I always make sure to buy a full twelve pack. Call me overly cautious, but let’s be safe, not sorry. The more you know.

After a slow simmer for around twenty minutes, drain the liquid from the can of beans and add the kidneys to the pan. After five minutes all the flavors at hand should have had a chance to assert themselves. Consider this the starting point. If you like more spice, add the jalapeno seeds. If you like more body, add cumin and chili powder. Hold back on salt to the end, but otherwise play around. This time I added the seeds and about a half tsp. of cumin. It’s all to taste once you have a decent base. There is no wrong, except over salting.

When satisfied with the mixture, let cook for five more minutes at a low simmer, remove from heat, taste and finally correct for salt.

I like mine with a little cheddar, some sour cream, and chives.

Of course you could ladle some over chips with lettuce, cheddar, olives, and sour cream, but that may cause some controversy.

Enjoy, Roll Tide, no injuries, and let’s start looking off safeties.