Chili for a Chilly Day

Thanks so much to everyone who made such nice comments to me while I was buried under a mound of papers and textbooks and exams … And Happy New Year to all!

So, I have been getting more and more into food and cooking – actually, more like obsessed with food and cooking, especially now that I have Jean-Marc to use as an experimental gerbil in the kitchen. As a result, this blog may be turning into kind of a foodie/cooking blog now. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

(But no one should think that cooking is unphilosophical. According to a biography I was reading a while ago, Gandhi used to give people recipes all the time. OK, so I’m not leading a country out of colonial bondage or anything, but I do belong to the school of thought that says food can be good for the soul.)

Anyways, on to today’s recipe. It began with a trip to the liquor store to find champagne to toast the new year. The liquor store had kindly set out a chafing pan of warm chili along with a sign encouraging customers to help themselves. Jean-Marc and I had a little, and to our surprise, it was delicious, full of rich stewed tomatoes and beans.

“What a great idea!” I said.

“Yeah, normally I don’t like chili, but this is good – it’s not too spicy, and I like the fact that it’s not all meat, but there are beans, too,” said Jean-Marc.

We finished and found the bottle we wanted, and went to pay.

“I want chili-eeee,” said Jean-Marc.

“No problem,” I said. “We’ll make some tomorrow.”

When we got home, I pulled out the recipe books I thought would be most promising for chili: My old vintage 1960s Betty Crocker cookbook that I bought off eBay, and the new Joy of Cooking, which my mom had just given me for Christmas. I found five different recipes, but none of them sounded quite like what we’d just eaten, so I decided to create an amalgam of the five, putting in whatever sounded good from each recipe.

We went to Balducci’s, and I looked for ground beef. I didn’t want to be chewing on chunks of stew beef, I wanted to be able to just spoon the chili right down my gullet. I asked the butcher whether ground chuck or ground sirloin would be better for chili, in his opinion.

“Actually, there’s chili beef right over here,” he said. Who knew? Apparently there is a special type of grind that is just for chili – coarser than regular ground beef, and 85% lean. Well, I trust that Balducci’s generally knows what it’s doing, so I got a pound of the chili beef. And here’s the recipe I made:

Strange Violin-Betty Crocker-Macleid’s Rockcastle-Cincinnati-Ohio Farmhouse Chili Cockaigne


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 small dried chili pepper, crushed (I used a bird’s eye/Thai chili) (optional)
1 pound special chili ground beef
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 12-ounce bottle of beer (we used Guinness)
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
2 tablespoons chili powder (based on ancho chilis)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 star anise
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, or more or less, to taste
salt, to taste

In a large pot or saute pan, heat the oil until hot. Add the chopped onions and saute for about four minutes or so (as long as it takes to peel the garlic and mince it). Add the garlic, cumin, and the crushed chili, if using (ommitting will make the final dish less spicy), and saute for another minute or two to release the flavor. Then add the ground beef, and stir over medium-high heat until beef is browned and onion is tender. At this point, you may drain off any grease if you want to (somehow I didn’t need to – I guess either the meat wasn’t very greasy or I cooked it long enough that the oil was absorbed or evaporated). Then, stir in the all the rest of ingredients except the vinegar and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer uncovered until it has thickened to your liking and the onions are completely soft, an hour or so. Taste and season with red wine vinegar and salt. Makes about six servings.

In the end, the ground meat was not the best – we found ourselves biting down a couple of times on near-solid little bits of gristle. Next time, I think I will just use regular old lean ground beef, myself. The chili didn’t taste like the chili we had in the wine shop, either, but it was still delicious – most of all I liked the mingling of the beer, cinnamon, and star anise flavors. It was just the thing for a chilly, rainy, day.

Happy eating!

3 thoughts on “Chili for a Chilly Day

  1. I applaud your appreciation of chili, and your efforts to prepare it. As a southwesterner however, I’m (horrified? revolted? disgusted?) disappointed by your recipe selection. Perhaps next time you’ll look to Sonora (old Mexico), Arizona, Texas, or New Mexico for inspiration. Hell even Nueva York would offer more authenticity than Ohio! And forget anything resembling ground meat. Or reliant on standard commercial chili powder. Or involving beans. Aieee – for this you might as well open a can of Hormel and save some time and money.

  2. Anonymous,In defense of my chili-making: First of all, I’m a Southwesterner too, albeit transplanted to DC. Secondly, I don’t think Southwesterners are the only people capable of making decent chili, although, granted, I never really tried the chili in Ohio or New York … thirdly, what’s so wrong with ground meat? In this context I prefer it to chunks of stew beef myself – it soaks up more of the good sauce. Fourthly, I used Balducci’s chili powder (Balducci’s is a local gourmet food store), and it was quite good. Fifthly, beans are high-fiber and keep me regular, in addition to being tasty. Sixthly, chocolate and cinnamon and beer are some quintessentially Mexican ingredients. And seventhly, in the end my chili tasted great, which is not something you could ever say for Hormel out of a can! I swear, you’re as bad as one of those cassoulet partisans in Southern France who can spent all day arguing about what type of duck confit or sausage should go in the stew! As long as it’s recognizable as the dish it’s supposed to be and tastes good, I don’t believe in nitpicking too much (well, except for the things I’m partisan about, such as basic vinaigrette).

  3. Hah, your comment re “cassoulet partisans in Southern France” made me smile in recognition. Touche.It also reminded me of my french ex-husband and his extended family at any given holiday meal. It seemed any particular dish required a round of everyone critiqueing it and comparing it to every other such dish they’d ever been served. All to put it in context, I suppose. I didn’t realize that I’d picked up that – ahem – endearing habit. 😉 Quelle charmante. (Oh, they were from Paris and Chablis, not SW France, not that it matters, I suppose…)

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