When weather changes for the cooler, as it stubbornly has here, it immediately makes me think of comfort food. So this past Sunday, I decided to kick off the fall cooking season by mixing up a vat of chili for some friends. I've been preparing chili with the same basic formula since the first time I rolled up my sleeves and decided to give it a go. It's not a Johnson family secret handed down by my Grandmother or anything, it's simply a three-step process that can be tweaked to fit my mood, the tastes of group of people I'm cooking for, or to accommodate what meager ingredients I have stowed away in my cupboards.
Step 1: Cook Ingredients That Need to be Cooked
In this case, 2 lbs. of ground beef, one medium/large onion, 2 stalks celery, and 2 cloves of garlic. Cook all of these together with salt and pepper until the beef is cooked through. Remove from heat and drain pretty much all of the excess oil. When using a less expensive ground beef (typically 80-20 meat to fat percentage), there will be plenty to drain. I find the leaner meats don't have as much taste, but utilizing alternatives (i.e.- turkey, chicken, mixed canned beans for the veggie lovers) won't compromise the overall taste too much and can give you a chance to experiment with complimentary flavor combinations.
Step 2: Add Liquid Ingredients
True traditional chili is just meat and dry spices and water or stock. But since this isn't a Nationally sanctioned chili cook-off nor do I run a chuck wagon in Oklahoma, I like making a chunky, tomato-based chili. Canned diced tomatoes add all the flavor base and liquid content I need. I used one 22 oz. can of regular tomatoes and one 10 oz. can of tomatoes with chilies just to add a little heat. The next liquid ingredients are added in no particular order and in no particular amount. Hot sauce, chipotle Tabasco sauce (if you haven't tried this, I highly suggest it), Worcestershire sauce, and barbeque sauce (I had some leftover honey-garlic sauce in the back of the fridge). All I try to do is add the correct amount to balance the heat and sweet aspects of the sauces. Don't be afraid to taste early and often to make sure the balance is up to snuff.
Step 3: Add Dry Ingredients
With the exception of salt and pepper, I only use chili powder and brown sugar......again, the sweet and heat thing.
Once everything is in the pot, lower the flame and simmer away. If the chili looks too watery, cook at a higher temperature with the lid off to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavor. All good one pot dishes take some time on the stove to complete. This gives ample opportunities to check seasoning levels. I always keep my spices and sauces at the ready in case something seems to be missing from the party. When all but the cooking time is completed, kick back with tasting spoon in hand and feel free to taste over and over again......you wouldn't want to serve up a poorly seasoned chili now would you? Watch out for the magma-like temperatures a covered, steaming pot of chili can create. If an accident does occur, immediately douse affected areas with ice cold beer.
For the finishing touch, garnishes can run the gamut from a cool dollop of sour cream and grated sharp cheddar (my favorites), to a more adventurous avocado mash or red onion relish. Heap it on and spoon it down.