In my last post, I promised “recipes” for chili, nachos, Sazeracs, and toddies. I realize that there are thousands of recipes for each of these things (except maybe the nachos), all with precise, measured amounts. And I love trying new recipes on the weekend, following the instructions precisely the first couple of times before I start messing with it. But the lazy side of me rules during the week when I can’t face the thought of having to do more than load the dishwasher, and my measuring implements are all either handwash only or don’t fit right into the racks.
I learned the chili from Maria. I visited her in Boston, where I stepped off the plane starving – my flight landed two hours late, but United delayed it 15 minutes at a time, which wasn’t enough time to wander off and get some food. Maria picked me up, we stopped for ten minutes at a grocery store where she threw vegetables and cans into our cart with unprecedented speed, and then we got to her house where she chopped everything up, tossed it into a pot, and had vegetarian chili on the table in 30 minutes. Impressive and delicious.
I love mise en place (which just means having everything in bowls ready to dump into the pot at a moment’s notice), so before I even get the pot out, I chop. With the change in my dietary requirements, I’ve noticed that I probably don’t eat as many servings of vegetables as I should, so I try to add them wherever I can, like in chili.
I use diced onion, carrots, and celery (the classic mirepoix). Other staples include minced garlic (four or five cloves), one diced zucchini, one chopped bell pepper (I like orange or yellow for chili), and two minced Serrano peppers. I’ve also added diced butternut squash, minced mushrooms, and tofu I squished into mush in my hands when I needed to use them before they rotted.
Once I finish the vegetables, I make sure I have chili powder, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, and whatever herbs I’m in the mood for by the stove. This is a weeknight thing, so I use the preground stuff without regret. Then I open a can of black beans, a can of kidney beans, a can of tomatoes, and a bottle of beer. That’s right: beans AND tomatoes, not to mention the other, non-traditional veggies. This is justification for deportation from the great state of Texas, where chili means beef and spices and not much else.
Next, in a dutch oven over medium heat with a teaspoon or two of cooking oil, I brown two pounds of ground beef. (The first time I made this chili, I used one pound, and it wasn’t meaty enough with all the vegetables.) Then I scoop out the meat and set it aside. I pour out all but two tablespoons of the fat, trying to keep as much of the fond (brown, meaty bits) and beef broth as possible.
Give the fat a minute to reheat, then dump in the onions, carrots, and celery (not the garlic, because it will burn and turn bitter if it goes in first). The sizzle when the onions hit the oil satisfies me in some primal way. I don’t stir the veg constantly, but I do try to stir frequently enough so that nothing burns. Right when the onions turn translucent, I add the other vegetables and cook for another few minutes. If there’s sticking, I’ll either splash in some wine (usually from the glass in my hand) or a little beer.
Once the bell pepper softens a little bit, I pour in the beans, tomatoes, beef, and beer and shake on the spices and herbs until it looks and tastes right. I use a lot of chili powder (probably ¼ – ⅓ cup) because I think chili should be red. Too much turmeric will make things taste like dirt. I give several mighty stirs to combine everything. I turn up the heat to medium-high to bring the whole shebang to a boil (fast, big bubbles), then turn down the heat to medium-low and let it simmer (little bubbles) for at least 30 minutes.
When done, I top with grated sharp cheddar cheese, Greek yogurt, and sometimes Tabasco if I didn’t added enough cayenne or Serrano. I don’t eat this with any sides, which means that I end up eating a bowl and a half for dinner. When Carie lived with me, that left us with enough chili to fill four, two-cup, Gladlock bowls, perfect for lunch and/or dinner in the following days. Solo, I put most of the leftovers in the freezer for a lazy evening in the farther future.
I know. It’s tortilla chips, cheese, and whatever other toppings you decide to add. I can’t eat tortilla chips anymore because of the prohibition on grains. I let myself have a cheat item once a week, but I don’t have the willpower to keep a bag of tortilla chips in the house. So nachos were forbidden for me until I read a profile of the guys who invented Beanitos.
You know how refried beans will get a crunchy crust on the edge if they’re cooked too long? I think Beanito uses that principle to make chips out of beans. The ingredients indicate that they supplement beans with some whole grain brown rice, but there’s a lot more fiber in Beanitos than in regular tortilla chips. I understand that this is the most tortuous of rationalizations. I like the black bean and pinto bean varieties for nachos; the white bean Beanitos look more like tortilla chips, but they seem to burn more easily under the broiler.
To up the nutritional value, instead of using sour cream, I use Greek yogurt. For chili, I grate sharp cheddar myself, but for nachos, I buy the bag of pregrated at the store. I can’t explain why, but it’s a necessary part of the ritual. I also top with and dip into store-bought guacamole and salsa. One last confession: in the recent past, I ate nachos for breakfast for three consecutive days.
This is my friend Dave’s recipe. He’s a professional bartender, and his Sazeracs are exponentially more delicious than mine, but with practice, mine are getting better. Fill a highball with ice and add half an ounce of Pernod. In a pint glass, add an iced tea spoon of sugar, two ounces of Bulleit rye, and a couple of shakes of Peychaud’s bitters. Stir until most of the sugar has dissolved, then fill the pint glass a little more than halfway with ice and stir. Use a vegetable peeler to shave a strip of zest off a lemon. Roll the highball back and forth between your hands a couple of times, swirl the Pernod around the glass, then dump everything out. Roll the pint glass back and forth between your hands a few times, stir the rye and ice one last time, then strain the liquid into the Pernod-coated highball. Fold the zest strip in half the long way over the highball, rub the inside of the glass, then drop the strip into the highball.
I tried this without the sugar, and it wasn’t good. The sugar takes the hard edge off the rye and allows the Pernod to shine through, harmonizing the combination. If you don’t like licorice, you won’t like Sazeracs.
Part of me is happy when I catch a cold in the winter because even though I’m miserable, it means toddies. When I’ve recuperated, I keep drinking them because they’re so delicious. I have a couple of 20-oz mugs, and they have established themselves as my toddy mugs. I pour 40 ounces of filtered water into my electric kettle and turn it on. While the kettle works its magic, in each mug I put one squirt of honey from the bear, squeeze the juice from a quarter of a medium-sized lemon (basically a lemon that sparks no remark regarding its size), a good sprinkle of both cinnamon and cayenne, and two to three ounces of VSOP cognac. (My friend Vince insists on cognac or brandy for toddies because they are more viscous than spirits like bourbon or rye.) If the water hasn’t boiled yet, which it usually hasn’t, I’ll mix the cognac, honey, lemon juice, and spices. Sometimes I add a decaf teabag, like ginger or chamomile, depending on my mood. Pour in boiling water, then stir to combine. Heavenly. I might drink one tonight.