RECIPE. Jan 14, 2010

Chili for the Faint of Heart

Improvisation. This is the secret ingredient of any great chef. It’s the ability to look at a chicken carcass, pieces of shriveled celery, one weak carrot, an onion hiding in the fruit bowl and see soup stock bubbling in their imagination. I believe this is a gift that comes with time and experience, as with most good things in life. Many people, including myself at one time, will devotedly follow a recipe step by step, with precision and dedication that would make a quilter weep. Then came the day I decided that maybe I could make a recipe better. What is this blasphemy? It was confidence in myself and my newly developed discretionary taste. Mix in some boredom and it was the ideal recipe for tentative experimentation. Once I did, I couldn’t stop. Every recipe was just a new adventure waiting to be perfected by my culinary wisdom. I will admit sometimes I have gone too far (more garlic is not ALWAYS a good thing and whole wheat flour can really make some baked goods taste like cardboard), but for the most part, I am proud and excited to share what I have learned.

The ability to be flexible to change, to roll with whatever life throws you is a talent I believe limited to the most wise and divine. This talent is also necessary for a college student, mother and lady living with three men. These three individuals are the inspiration for my post today. When prompted with “What would you like to see on my blog?”, these three women answered with the following specifications “college friendly”, “I can make quickly while the baby is occupied” and “soup”. It was my tested culinary improvising skills that allowed me to find an answer that met all three requests. Chili. This dish requires great flexibility to obtain just the right mix of spicy and earthy, hearty yet blended, savory and sweet. It is also very difficult to screw up so it’s a good first shot at trying out your culinary instinct. I will give you the foundation but that is all. I beg of you, plead of you to build on this foundation with a little improv of your own. Then share your little dashes, additions and subtractions so we can all learn from one another. Improve only improves for individuals as they obtain inspiration from others. For if you follow my recipe, it will be good. The shame, however, is that you will not have experienced the anxiety and elation of playing with the elements to obtain the perfect bowl of divinity. I also highly recommend, or might even demand you pair this dish with cornbread muffins from and a little honey butter.

The only tweak I make to recipe for the muffins is adding a touch of vanilla and making muffins instead of loaves. Honey butter is just a combination of one stick butter and 1-2 tablespoons honey. Melt half the butter, add the honey and add the other stick of butter and blend or cut until smooth. Refrigerate briefly and slather on muffins.

As for the chili. It’s simple. Open canned goods and drain (if you like watery chili, do not drain). Be warned that if you use produce tomatoes you may get watery chili but can be compensated with an extra half can of beans.

Cook ground beef with a little chili seasoning or taco seasoning. Do not drain of fat (are you kidding?! That is the good stuff!). Cook and slice bacon if you are using instead of ham.

Get yourself a crockpot or other large baking dish such as a dutch oven and combined all ingredients except the corn. If using crockpot, put on low for five hours, high for three hours. For dutch oven or other large pot, bring contents to boil them simmer for three or more hours.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Then add corn in the last 30 minutes of cooking. I usually put a little corn in the muffins (about 1/4 cup) and starting making muffins and honey butter while chili finishes.