Tuesday, March 21, 2006

No rest for the weary, unless you learn to cover

As head chef here, a day off is really a relative thing. People still have to eat. Everyone may say they are too full from the last few days, or they have to lose a little weight, or whatever, but by late evening, everyone still expects some food on the table.

That the chef may be a bit overloaded from making and eating garlic-roasted crab, apple Galettes, and who knows what else, not to mention that bottle of Calvados that mysteriously emptied itself last evening before dinner – hmmm… Well, to be blunt – no one really cares.

So I have learned over the years to cover by making things that probably appear to be more work than they really are. These are usually one pot meals that can be prepared in 1/2 hour or so, everyone is stuffed and happy. And they taste great. Plus two additional bonuses – almost no dishes, and leftovers.

I treasure leftovers. Not just any leftovers, but well planned out leftovers. Ones that not only retain their flavor over the course of several days, but might actually increase in flavor over time. Things with garlic, bacon, sausage, or chilies in them. With a bit of foresight, an entire multi-course dinner can appear from nowhere. Plus lunches are taken care of as well. This is a concept that just keeps on giving!

So I have a few recipes I make on a regular basis that are calculated to satisfy for many days.

This used to be pretty easy. Small kids don’t really eat that much. Sometimes nothing at all (what luck for me!). But eventually they reach the age where no amount of food, irrespective of taste or type, seems to fill the void. Pots of food that used to last days don’t even make it through one dinner. Multiple boxes of cereal are found empty on a daily basis. I’m thinking of having the milk pumped into our house as a utility, like water or electricity.

To achieve the treasured leftover situation these days, everything gets served on top of some starch. Steamed rice, mashed potatoes, grits, pasta, polenta, whatever. As long as it fills the gaping void.

With chili, there is a sort of tradition for serving it on some starch. In the mid-west, i.e. Cincinnati or Toledo (Ohio), for example, a multi-layer chili creation used to be popular, where meat chili served on spaghetti pasta, topped with beans, then with chopped onions and grated cheese on top – was a local favorite (don’t ask how I know this). It was called variously Chili-Mac or 5 layer chili. Here's a link giving a pretty good history of , along with some authentic-looking pictures. Maybe it was created during some wartime, who knows, but the obvious point was to stretch the meat with a lot of starch. It was mainly popular because of the unbelievable amount of grease that was involved. One serving of this, and you were good for days.

I sort of stole this idea (minus the grease). And everyone here loves it. My chili looks a lot like New Orleans style red beans and rice – a big scoop of rice covered and surrounded by lots of steaming hot chili. I do this with lentil soup, split pea soup, bean stews, almost anything that is in any way brothy.

So today – Chili the Quick Way – and extra time for me to catch up on all those Blogs!

Surfindaave’s Chili – the Quick Way (serves 6-8, depending on size of appetite)

Note – all spice measurements are approximate – adjust to your own pain tolerance

5-6 cups pinto or black beans, cooked (if from can, rinse off first)
5-6 cups Roma tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (with juice if using canned)
4 lbs ground turkey, chicken or beef
2 onions, chopped
1-2 chili peppers, such as jalapeno, Serrano, etc., chopped fine, including seeds
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
3-4 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp cumin
1-2 tsp cinnamon
2 bay leaves
½ to 1 cup red wine
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
Steamed rice
Cheddar cheese, grated – if desired
Parsley, chopped, for garnish if desired
Hot sauce, such as Tobasco – if desired (some just can’t get it hot enough!)

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot. Sautee onions over moderate heat until softened. Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add bell pepper and continue to cook, stirring, until pepper has softened. Remove to a plate.

Add ground meat. Fry on high heat, breaking up lumps, until meat is no longer pink, and some pieces are well browned. At this point, you can drain the meat in a colander if you want to reduce the fat content (note – this is illegal in most western states, except California!). Return onions, peppers and garlic to pan. Add chili pepper and all spices. Stir to combine, and let spices cook for a few minutes. Stir in tomatoes, and juice, and wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let come just t a boil, and then reduce to lowest heat. Let simmer for 1-2 hours. Serve over steamed rice with the grated cheddar cheese, parsley and hot sauce sprinkled on top, if desired. Enjoy!

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