Accidentally The Best

C-SC food-500x500Some time ago, my husband wrote an article about the two-person, at home, chili cook-offs that we had between us. He named me the victor of both cook-offs. Although that was quite generous of him to do so (and it was a little flattering) it didn’t feel like a victory. It wasn’t because my chances of winning were 50-50, or because I cook often and can taste individual flavors, or even that I have an appreciation for cooking and eating.

My husband has several times told me he only eats for sustenance… I believe it. If it was up to him we might only ever eat tacos from TPs (Taco Palenque), burgers from 5 Guys, sandwiches from Jason’s Deli or worse… Subway, and a variety of frozen pizzas from HEB. Those places are all good, but to eat those every week in a different order to “vary it up” just doesn’t really work for me. All those flavors are generic; they are good enough to satiate hunger and cravings for something good to eat, but they just don’t activate the brain and senses (for the lack of a better term).

I know it feels like I am getting off topic but I think it is important to understand this and get the full scope of this chili cooking journey before I continue.

I, on the other hand, like to eat….nay LOVE to eat. It’s a struggle because I don’t eat my emotions; I don’t eat because I am bored, or because it is there. I eat because I love the flavors, the experience of tasting all the different components that go into a meal that create this incredible plate of food. I want to taste all the different things out there. I love smelling the hints of garlic in Asian stir-fry’s. Seeing the different colors of Som Tum (Thai Papaya Salad) all mixed on my plate makes my mouth water. Hearing the sizzling of Fajitas on a hot skillet as it wafts right past me on the server’s tray, makes me feel what I can only describe as how I imagine a man catching a whiff of a beautiful woman’s perfume mixed with the smells of her body chemistry. Then of course the obvious, the first bite of anticipation and the savory last bite you take that -just somehow- completes the meal. It completes it not because it is the last bite and it’s done with, but like sex it’s the final moments when it all sets in and you feel so good that you can fall asleep; you take that last bite and the last bit of taste lingers on your tongue before you decide to wash the flavors down with water so not to soil the taste with artificial sugars. Then you sit back, take a breath, and comment on how good it was. This is my love of food. Point taken?

Back to being named the victor of the Teran- White Chili Cook-off was nice but it was missing something. My husband often said, “it’s good but it’s not the best and it is missing something.” Those weren’t the exact words but it was something to that effect. Strangely, I was never offended by that because not only did I think that there was room for improvement, but because if there is a palette that I need approval from, it would be the man that I will likely be cooking for for the rest of my life AND because this is the guy who thought Hot Pockets were good enough to eat day-in and day-out and really only eats to sustain. He always mentioned how there was something missing from it. It needed a punch… some “umf” (sp?)… Something that makes you want to roll over and fall asleep, not because you feel fat and rolly like the canned chili but because it was so good and filling.

I made chili several times after that and always left something to be desired by my husband’s tongue. I often used the same ingredients but changed up the spices or added another flavorful ingredient in hopes that I could get it right. As I kept making it more and more I was able to fix the consistency, the textures, the colors, and most of all the flavors. Learning to make the chili that leaves my husband hungry for another bowl that he knows he can’t possibly, comfortably, fit in his cute little belly was a challenge but, alas, all my attempts paid off and at the best time.

The best pot of chili I made was for a group of 10 people at a little reception I hosted for my sister when she graduated from law school. I am quite proud of it because it was made in haste on a very EARLY morning after having a very LATE night of preparations. I’ll include the recipe at the end of the article so that you may have a crack at it. You’re likely wondering how I knew that it was a good pot of chili. Well because one, my husband told me so and that was enough for me, but I felt like everyone who ate it was satisfied. My mother and father, who were a little weary about eating chili that wasn’t from a can and smothering a hot dog, had seconds and were surprised people could eat chili on its own and have it be so satisfying. My sister was upset with her boyfriend because he liked my pot of chili and didn’t really want to eat hers. My brother-in-law (my sister’s long term bf) had seconds and wanted me to make him a bowl to take home and eat later. My Tia Lee gave it her approval and wanted the recipe, and weird Uncle David kept saying how good and spicy it was and it would make for a great meal after a long hike somewhere in Big Bend. My honorary god mother ate two bowls and asked for a third; even I can’t eat that much chili.

Finally, after many tries, I got it to where I wanted it. I feel like I could win an actual chili cook off and maybe one day I’ll join the chili cook off competitions that they have at work. It’s no Master Chef competition, but it would feel pretty damn close since my bosses are the judges. I do apologize if this article feels a little pretentious or cocky, or if I tooted my own horn too much, but I feel that after as many tries as it took to get it where I wanted it I can toot about it a little in an article and never really mention it in person to anyone. I’ll let you be the judge.

The recipe is included below so you can have a stab at it. One thing that you should know about the way I cook is that I don’t measure anything. I go by taste and season to flavor where I think it needs it. That is why it is so important for me to taste all the different flavors in my food, so that I may later try and recreate the taste in my version of the meal. In addition, I don’t use all scratch ingredients, I take short cuts where I can only if it doesn’t compromise the taste. So feel free to alter the quantities/measurements of the ingredients I used. We don’t all experience food in the same way.

Suelynn’s “Accidentally Best” Pot of Chili Recipe
1 pound lean ground beef
1 can of beef broth
1 can red beans (optional: salted or not)
1 can black beans (optional: salted or not)
1 cup of frozen corn
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 pack of chives
1 bundle of green onions
1 purple onion
1 fresh Jalapeno
1 SMALL Serrano pepper
2 dried Ancho peppers
2 dried Chilcostle Chile
½ tbsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning
1 tbsp McCormick’s southwest Seasoning
½ tsp McCormick’s Garlic and Herbs seasoning
Approx. ¼ tsp Garlic Salt
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tbsp Chili Powder
½ tbsp Cayenne pepper powder

1. You’ll want to do this first so you can get some heat on your crock pot to get some of the flavors out of the ingredients. Use half a can of the beef broth (set the other one aside for later use) and put it into the crock pot. Chop the chives and green onions at desired length and size and put them in the crock pot. Add in the garlic and stir. Let sit for about 5 minutes or until you feel heat coming out of the crock pot.

2. While you wait, start prepping the other vegetables and ingredients.

3. Drain and rinse both cans of beans. You don’t have to make it where the water runs clear, but just enough so that you don’t have that goopy stuff from the can. Make sure you drain them well because you don’t want the extra water in the chili pot.

4. Chop up the remaining veggies (onions and peppers). Start with the onions because the longer you have the peppers in the broth, the spicier it will be. You can put however much or little you want. I like the color and the taste so I do about half an onion. I sliced the jalapeno and the Serrano pepper and used half of each, seeds and all. That is where you get a lot of the spiciness from.

5. Add the onions in and stir. Here is where you start adding the seasoning (to taste). You can start with the chili powder, the cayenne pepper, garlic and herbs and the southwest seasoning. Let sit for about 5 or 10 minutes.

6. With the remaining half a can of beef broth you are going to boil the dried Ancho and Chilcostle peppers. If you need more water go ahead and had a tiny bit and sprinkle a few pinches of salt in it for flavor. While you allow it to boil you can start on the meat.

7. While you let the ingredients stew in the pot, start cooking the ground beef on the skillet on medium-high or low-high setting. When you drop the ground beef onto the skillet, start breaking it down with your spatula. Add the garlic salt, oregano, the garlic and herb seasoning, and chili powder (again to taste) and mix it. Let the meat brown before flipping it.

8. Add the beans into the pot and stir it to get the ingredients mixed. While you do this, cook the frozen corn in the microwave for about 2 minutes. I use frozen corn because I like the way it tastes. The only caution I give is that be sure that it is piping-hot because you don’t want the ice from the frozen corn to make the pot watery. Don’t add it in just yet; leave it almost to the very end.

9. When your meat is nicely browned, “charred”, and “toasted”, you can drain the excess grease and then stir it into the crock pot. Make sure you mix it well and distribute all the ingredients throughout the crock pot.

10. Once the chilis have come to a boil and they look like they have expanded, take them out and put them in a blender or whatever you choose to use to make a chili puree. Put all the chilis into the blender and add some of the broth that was boiling. Then puree it to a fine paste. Once you have gotten it to where you like it, mix it in evenly into the crock pot. If the chili looks too dry you can spoon in some of the chili pepper broth a little at a time so you don’t overdo it with water.

11. Now you can add the corn and give it a good mix. Taste it and see if the seasoning is right. If it needs salt, add in a little bit at a time. If it still needs more of that smokey flavor, add in the south west seasoning and some chili powder. If it is too bitter from the chili puree, add some salt to it. At this point you shouldn’t have to be adding too much more seasoning unless you like stuff super-salty, then by all means have at it.

12. I let it sit for about 30 minutes on high and then drop it down to low and it is ready to eat. I leave the crock pot on until the last person has had the last bite. Then I turn it off, let it cool and store in the fridge.

13. If you are going for presentation, corn chips or small tortilla strips and sprinkled grated cheddar cheese will do the trick nicely.

I wrote this article for a few reasons. It wasn’t really about getting my chili recipe out there to the world, and it certainly wasn’t to brag about the chili. I did this because I wanted it to be seen how important it is not to settle on something that is just good enough if you know you can do better. The end result is much more satisfying when you get to a place where you know there isn’t any way to make this better. Most of all though, I wrote this to show you that cooking doesn’t always have to be about EXACTS. We don’t all experience food in the same ways and nor do we like the same amount of flavors as everyone else. All the measurements I gave are all just approximations because I generally just dump it in and eyeball how much more is needed. Art is expression of one’s self, as is cooking. There is an art to cooking that expresses your personal flare.

Let go of those traditional restrictions of measurements and have at it. Let your taste buds do the measuring.

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