Recently, while attending Should've Brought the Invasion's birthday party at Taylor & Dunn's Public House in Mequon, my gaze was transfixed by a sign that said "3rd Annual Cool Beans Chili Cook Off". I was intrigued, and inquired further (expecting to come to eat chili) and before you know it, I had signed up to bring a batch to be judged.
There is only one problem... I had only made two batches of chili in my life (I've always had barefoot and pregnant women do that for me). KIDDING, MA! (and My-Sugar-Na, too!)
But as someone who has eaten food for most of my life, I felt qualified to enter. Now all I needed to do was figure out how to put together a good chili. I decided to issue a Throwdown! Playing the part of Bobby Flay will be (Sponsor's Name Here). Playing the part of the opposition will be, well, the opposition. I've decided that I need to make some practice batches between last week and November 14, so let the experimenting begin.
I've had some really nice chili in my day. I remember a place on 43rd & Layton (which is now Los Mariachi's) that had their chili in a crock, and then they layered a slice of cheddar cheese and put it in the oven - almost like a French Onion Soup. Who doesn't like Real Chili's Hot chili? If they could only find a way to make it less acidic, though. The ex-wife (in probably the nicest thing my mind can come up with about her) used El Rey salsa while browning the meat instead of traditional chili powder and it gave quite a different flavor.
In addition, (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Father has a cookbook with a Devil's Delight chili, which includes stew meat and chunks of Italian Sausage. That one is pretty good, too, although Pops wimps out and doesn't put nearly enough peppers in it. My chili is going to try to take elements of the chili that I like.
On the other hand, I've also had some dud chili, which I will try to avoid. White Chicken Chili, for example, is both white and has chicken, so that is out. George Webb's chili is one I can't figure out. Everyone loves it, but it is soupy and has month-old mushy noodles floating about. Not good there.
Practice batch #1 - Sunday, October 10th.
If you are ever in doubt, Alton Brown's Good Eats show is a nice soft spot to fall back upon. In his show about chili, he made his own chili powder from arbol, ancho and cascabel chilies. The commenters to the on-line recipe seemed to enjoy it, so I decided to try to make my own. I also rationalized that this is my chili and if I didn't like something, I want to know what is going in it so I can eliminate it next time. For that reason, I soaked and boiled my own pinto beans, too. My daughter, Gooey, and I headed first to El Rey's to get the ingredients, but they didn't have the cascebel chilies, so I would have to improvise (Side note; A later online search showed that Penzey's Spices carries them, but I found them ten minutes before I started making the powder and they likely wouldn't have been delivered in time. I could have driven to Penzey's, but then I would have had to put pants on. I decided to solder on without the cascabels.)
While the chili powder was cooling, I started browning the stew meat and two hot Italian Sausages, I cut up the sausages and put them in the pan. In the last Alton influence (and if you watch the episode, not only will you agree that this is where the similarities end, but I didn't have that goofy accent, either) I deglazed the frying pan with a bottle of New Glarus Spotted Cow. Into the pot the greasy beer went.
I added a tablespoon of homemade chili powder, a sprinkling of kosher salt, the soaked and boiled pinto beans, two cans of Rotel Lime and Cilantro tomatoes and a big can of the cheapest crushed tomatoes they had at El Rey. While that was simmering, I skinned and chopped an Anaheim pepper, chopped and added two large jalepeno peppers, half a green bell pepper and two habenero peppers.
I let the concoction simmer on the stove during the Packers game, then tried it around 4:00 PM. I was frustrated with how soupy it was, so I added a tablespoon of corn starch. About an hour later, I still wasn't happy with the thickness, so My-Sugar-Na added a couple more tablespoons. That did the trick.
At dinner time, I garnished my bowl with a dollop of sour cream and a handful of chopped onion. I filled the bowl with chili, then an overdose of shredded cheddar cheese.
Nummers. But not perfect.
I thought it tasted too tomato-ey. I also think it could have used more meat (I used a pound of stew meat and two sausages. I could have easily used another pound of stew meat and another sausage). I also didn't note any cilantro flavor from the Rotels. I finished two bowls (I never said it was bad chili) and made notes in my Chili Journal for the next practice batch.
I had quite a bit left over, so I took the leftovers to work and had my supervisor and the shipping manager try a bowl (and I wanted to try it on Day 2, also). My boss had told me of his Chili-ventures once and claimed he had a perfect bowl of chili, but on Day 2 he took it to his hunting buddies and nobody could finish it. I had a lot of peppers in mine, and I can't deny that I was a bit concerned.
But they both loved it. They actually liked the tomatoeness, and it wasn't too spicy at all (Side note; I really struggled with how spicy I had wanted it. This is for a contest for charity, not for an iron stomach convention. If I wanted that, I would have just taken some merciless peppers of jungle primeval of Quetzalacatenango (aka the Guatemalan Insanity Pepper), and put them in a blender on "Gooify".) My boss suggested the addition of venison, and I suggested that he could enter that into the contest.
So the next scheduled practice batch will be on Sunday, October 24th. I think I will add the meat that I mentioned above, and maybe while browning it, I will add some onion to deepen the flavor. I may cut back on the amount of beer so that it isn't as soupy, and I had completely forgotten to add celery (which I love to find floating in a spoon of chili).
And if you hear My-Sugar-Na screaming through the neighborhood, I've probably added too many habeneros.