Friday, February 4, 2011

a really super bowl of chili

…the more you eat, the better you feel, so let’s have beans for every meal


The super bowl and chili go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Even I know that, though I can’t say I’ve ever actually seen the much-hyped, highly commercialized spectacle.  The closest I’ve come was more than a decade ago when I hosted an Anti-Super Bowl gathering with my 10 female roommates.  The event was primarily estrogen-charged save for one or two guys willing to forgo the real action in favor of spending an afternoon with a room full of attractive women.  Think high school French class and you get the idea.

The intent of our fete was brilliant: we enjoyed a moving rendition of the national anthem, an energetic halftime song and dance and scores of occasionally witty, mostly lame commercials.  The game itself was muted and disregarded in favor of a great deal of talking and eating.  In retrospect, it was an ingenious way to buck the sporting trend.

Despite total inaptitude in the realm of team sports, I can attest to one commonality with ‘fellow’ Super Bowl fans: Chili.  And by chili, I mean really, really stellar chili.  Because, truth be told, my tolerance for chili only slightly exceeds my threshold for football.

Whenever my mom, a most excellent cook, simmered up a pot of the stuff, I’m sure it was delicious; only I hated it.  I’m fairly certain it had green pepper, which ranked code orange on my vegetable terror alert chart.  Equally deplorable were chopped onions cut roughly the size of thumbnails.  I also recall kidney beans with tough skins and mealy white centers.  Yeah, not my fondest food recollection.  No offense, mom. 

This will come as a shock to most  but here goes:  When I was a kid, I regularly consumed and actually enjoyed canned chili.  The thing was, unlike the homemade version, it had unobtrusive pinto beans, well-concealed onions and evenly distributed meat.  It was good.  On the way down, at least.  It was especially good smothered in melted, shredded cheddar cheese because, back then, cheddar cheese was epic. 

Whenever the brand name variety went on sale, mom loaded up the shopping cart with1lb bricks of the stuff.  We cubed it in our tomato soup and ramen, shredded it on our tacos, tuna melts, nachos and casseroles and sliced it on our burgers and sandwiches.  We could have been the spokesfamily* for Tillamook Cheese.  That is, if they were looking for a geeky accountant with huge glasses, his frazzled, slipper-clad housewife, their dweeby teenage son, sporting full-on headgear, and clueless tween daughter with a really bad perm.   Yikes.  Memory lane isn’t always a walk in the park.

My chili con carne days were over once I made that fateful connection between the consumption of chili and the aftermath of chili, probably some time around the year I entered high school.  Following this revelation,  more than a decade passed in which nary a drop of chili passed my lips.

A few years ago, I picked up an issue of Everyday Food with a hearty bowlful of turkey chili on the cover.  Leave it to Martha Stewart to give chili a dazzling makeover; though it wasn’t so much her chili that grabbed my attention as the suggested toppings: cornbread crumbles, cilantro, pickled peppers, sour cream and shredded Monterey Jack.  Then there was the matter of the meat.  Turkey is decidedly less of a dead weight than ground beef.  The overall list of ingredients was far from humdrum and I had a feeling it would be good.  In fact, I took this feeling seriously and tripled the recipe.  Insanity?  Yes indeed.  It’s a bad habit I acquired while living with ten roommates (cooking in mass quantities, that is).  As luck would have it, the chili was outstanding.  And fortunately, it froze well.  

On various occasions, I have made this chili with a combination of white and dark turkey meat, ground turkey mixed with ground beef, and my current preference, all dark turkey meat.  I do not recommend using all white turkey meat as fat is necessary to keep the meat moist and imparts flavor in the chili.  Turkey notwithstanding, this chili has three unlikely ingredients going for it: cocoa powder, molasses and bacon.  I would go so far as to argue that the smoky, spicy, sweet, savory combination gives off that revered 6th taste sensation known as Umami.

Over the years, I have adapted the recipe to suit my tastes and can say with a measure of confidence that it is now a very loose adaptation of the original.  And because every bowl of chili deserves a hearty helping of cornbread, I have included my recipe for whole wheat buttermilk corn muffins with luscious maple butter.  They are ridiculously good and you won’t detect the slightest hint of whole wheat (thanks to Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour).

Be sure to make this chili before the winter is over.  If you love it, what am I saying, of course you will love it.  If you hate it, blame Martha. 

*appearances have been slightly exaggerated to enhance visual impact, more in some cases (mom), less in others (the rest of us).

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