Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Willly-Nilly Chili

I told you in my last post that if you knew me, you’d know I could probably eat chili every day of my life. But not just any chili. It has to be chili without a tomato-ey flavor. (Is “tomato-ey” a word? Let’s say for the sake of my blog post it is.) Anyway, I don’t like the flavor of chili with too much of a tomato taste. (In my humble opinion, too much tomato in chili basically makes it a red pasta sauce, not chili.)

No offense to the restaurant chain Wendy's, because I like most of their menu just fine, but their chili falls into this "way too tomato-ey" category in my book.

I like a smoky flavor. And I like beans in my chili – LOTS of beans in my chili. ALL kinds of beans in my chili. No offense to those of you who don’t eat beans in your chili, but really, without beans, what’s the point?

Chili has been a staple in my diet since I was a very small child. I actually would not doubt my mother put chili in a sippy cup for me before I had teeth. (But as mentioned above, we liked our chili with beans, so probably not...)

Seriously, though, my mom made chili at least once per week (or it seems like it now anyway) and I always loved it. Sometimes she’d make shell or elbow macaroni noodles, or even rice as a mixer. I never liked spaghetti noodles in my chili - the way Steak-n-Shakes serves its Chili 3 Ways. But speaking of Steak-n-Shake chili, no blog post of mine on chili would be complete without mentioning my family's love of their chili.

My parents' were married in 1956 by a Justice of the Peace and then went to Steak-n-Shake for their "wedding dinner" with my aunt and uncle. They stole - I mean accidentally put silverware and glasses in my mom's and aunt's purses - for their new household. Fast forward to when I was a kid, well before Al Gore invented the internet and as a result, us having copy-cat recipe websites. But that did not stop my mom and dad from trying to "break the code" of Steak-n-Shake chili. They tried not draining the grease from the meat. They tried adding things, subtracting things, but none of their versions were as good as Steak-n-Shake's chili. I have to say, even now with access to just about any existing recipe (or non-existant recipe for that matter) via the world wide web, I still cannot duplicate Steak-n-Shake chili and my family carries on the family tradition in loving it just as much as my parents did.

But my very first tangible memory of my first hand experience with making chili was in 1968 – when I was 4 years old.

My mom was in the hospital. This was when it was discovered that she had diabetes. This was also the first time my dad had to take care of me without my mom’s help. (You can see where this is going, can’t you?)

I want to say it was a Saturday night because Dad had his friend, Smitty, over and they were drinking beers at the kitchen table. Dad only drank on the weekends so that’s why I think it was a Saturday night. Anyway, my Dad must have asked me if I wanted to help him make chili. So I can see it now like it was yesterday – Smitty sitting at the kitchen table, me on a chair in front of the stove so I could reach the pot . I remember Dad asking me to walk him through how Mom made chili. I recall throwing in the beans, the meat and the cans.

Yes, the cans.

Do you really need to ask if we pulled them back out? Yes, Silly, we did, but not before we had a good laugh about how the cans gave the chili extra flavor! Over forty years later, my dad moved in with my family after my mom died in 2010. He lived with us for 9 months before he, too, passed away in May, 2011. But we made some chili together and laughed about the cans in the chili yet again in those last precious months of his life.

When I got married in 1986, I don’t remember attempting my first pot of chili, but I am sure I called my mom at least half a dozen times and/or followed more than one written recipe.

Well, times have changed. I can honestly say, I never make my chili the same from one time to the next. No recipe either. The constants are ground meat (most of the time ground beef, but I’ve used pork, turkey and deer too), chili beans in gravy, both dark red and light red kidney beans, peppers, onions, garlic, onion soup dry mix and other spices – although the combination/quantities vary, and vary dramatically sometimes, but ALWAYS chili powder and cumin – and lots of it.

And the variables? Diced garlic & basil tomatoes (Remember, though – not too many!), other types of beans – Pinto, black beans, Great Northern beans…whatever I might have on hand and kind of fits in with chili. I might add some butter, or I guess I should say I “have” added butter, but it didn’t do anything special.

I also think of chili when I want to make comfort food for someone. One year, my husband’s work didn’t give the guys in the shop – the ones who do all the hard work – a Christmas luncheon. So I made a HUGE pot of chili complete with all the fixins' and sent it to work with my husband. My husband said they were all raving how great my chili was. I had put it in a crock pot to keep it warm for them (even tho I don’t make my chili directly in the crock pot) and when he brought it home, they had practically licked the crock pot clean!

I won second place in a work chili cook-off once. Again, the crock pot was all but licked clean. Halloween – our family/friends do it up BIG – like block off the street BIG. And I always make a HUGE pot of chili with all the fixins and it goes over well every single time.

I may have participated in a chili cook-off, but I had never been to one (not for lack of desire) until about 2 years ago. There was a chili cook-off with about 10 or 12 contestants at our community’s fall festival. You had to pay $1.00 for like 2 tastes and the proceeds went to charity. We tried about 6 of them. It was so much fun but it was tough picking and choosing which ones you should try because you knew you couldn’t try them all and still be able to walk upright! So you either picked by the looks of the chili, or the creative names the chefs had come up with. The only one I remember – and I did not try this one for the obvious reasons – was the “H1N1 Chili” (as in the flu that was going around and was all you heard about that year). From the looks of the tasters’ faces that did try it, it sure wasn’t the cure!

Well, I was going to make Slop-n-Goulash for dinner tonight, but you know what? I think I am gonna brew up a big pot of Lisa’s Chili. (BTW, I need a creative name for my chili – Anyone got any ideas??)

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