Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Award Winning Slow-Cooker Chili

I love chili. Most any kind of chili. Two years ago when our town started to do a "Chili Cook Off" I was in heaven, counting down the days until it began. I'm not usually a huge beer fan, but with chili (and the Superbowl, and those really hot summer days on the deck) I have to have a corona with lime and salt. Unfortunately, last year the "Chili Cook Off" began the day after we had planned to leave for our annual California trip. I seriously tried to change our dates, to accommodate the cook-off. Alas, I am married to Jeremy who is very practical and didn't see the urgency in staying, so off we went. Our first morning in Cali we went to breakfast and low and behold, on the door was a flyer advertising the "Malibu Chili Cook Off" that weekend! A ray of light! I had been to the legendary "Malibu Chili Cook Off" as a kid with my Dad a couple times and it holds a special place in my heart. I remembered it as being fun, festive and happenin' and I was really looking forward to it!

The day came and everyone knew my expectations were high. The only problem was, for some reason or another, the kids hadn't napped on time that particular day and we were going to have to wake them to get to the festival. Also, it was really hot outside. Another thing was that both Jeremy and I were really tired. We woke the kids up early, rationalized that it would be a lot cooler in Malibu than in the valley where we were, and off we went. I know Jeremy didn't really want to go but he was trying to act excited for me.

The whole thing was kind of a disaster. It was held in a dirt lot, which is where it had always been held, but Jeremy hates walking in dirt, so he had to get over that. Then, we had to pay to get in. Then, I realized the carnival rides that used to be spread throughout the chili stands were in a separate lot next to us so we couldn't get to it without leaving the festival. Then lastly, and most disappointingly, you had to pay each and every vendor for tastes of their chili!!! Ugh! We only had a limited amount of cash, so Jeremy just wrangled the kids together and kept them out of the way while I went from booth to booth to get my fix. Turns out, chili tasting is not very fun when it's just you and you know your kids are acting like wild banshees and complaining about the sun and standing around doing nothing. We lasted about 30 minutes before we were back in the car, by my own initiative. Bad experiences really do make for fun stories later. That's the only upside.

Needless to say, because of my love for chili, I make it quite a lot. I made it last night, in fact. This chili recipe is my favorite as it is straight forward and what I personally want when I think about chili. There are other versions I really like as well, and when you make chili as often as I do, you have to change it up a bit. I'll probably be sharing the other chili recipes with you as this year goes on, but for now I'd like to start with this one.

I originally thought this recipe was a secret. Well, I think it was for a while as it had won a couple chili cook off's it was entered in. However, I got the feeling the last time I was with the family who's recipe it was, that it really didn't matter much anymore, and I am so glad because now I can share it with you (My Aunt Kellies cookies are a different matter entirely). The recipe comes from My Aunt's Husbands parents, actually. I don't know how else to say that...My Uncle in law's parents, maybe? I had wanted to not be that formal and just say it's my Uncles parents recipe, but then you would have thought it was my Grandparents and it would have been weird. I digress.

You make this chili in the crock pot which I think is fabulous because you can do it in the morning and it just cooks all day. Chili in general, I've found is much better in the crock pot because it takes a while for the meat to get soft enough to meld into everything else and for all the flavors to slowly marry. This recipe is specific. I am going to write it the way it was given to me, with certain brands of tomatoes and so fourth, but just know it's okay to substitute for another. It's certainly best when made as written, but I can't find everything called for in my grocery store and it's still incredibly awesome. Hardez Mexican Tomato Salsa makes all the diference in the world if you can find it. I think as long as you stick to kidney beans (red and white are ok and I am known to use both) or sometimes I use a can of navy beans, you are okay. Don't do black beans or pinto or anything crazy like that or it won't be the same. I mean, you would probably like it and all...well you get the idea.

Award Winning Slow-Cooker Chili
adapted from Tom Brukiewa

2 lbs. 80/20 ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 30 oz. can hunts small red beans, drained
2 14.5 oz. cans S&W ready diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. cans Hardez Mexican tomato salsa (aka. "casara"- I can only buy this is glass jars)
1 15-oz can of tomato sauce
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 Anaheim peppers, chopped
1 jalapeno, or Serrano or red jalapeno, diced
2-3 tablespoons chili powder (schilling brand)
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt

*see note below for making this vegetarian

Brown the ground beef and onion in a frying pan over medium heat with a sprinkle of salt. Put the meat mixture in the bottom of a crock pot and add all other ingredients and stir. Cook all day on low, or at least 6 hours.

Topping time! I like to top this chili with chopped, fresh red onion, cilantro and cheddar cheese with maybe a small dolop of sour cream. If you can't find the 30 oz. can of the red beans and are going to substitute, just remember that 30 oz. is a big can, so you will probably need 2 more cans of beans to make up for it since beans typically come in a 15 oz can. If you like your chili spicier, add another jalapeno because one doesn't really add that much kick. Oh, and about that, I don't dice my jalapeno up or else it ends up all over my hands and I always end up touching my eyes, ouch! Instead, I just cut it in half, long ways and put it in the pot. That way all the flavor gets in but I don't risk getting jalapeno juice everywhere. Just make sure to not serve someone the whole half. Well, unless it's my Mother or Isabella, my daughter. Those two would probably ask you for both of them!

*I should note that I made this vegetarian last night to accomidate our diets right now. I just put everything except the meat in the crock pot, with an extra can of beans and let it cook all day. It tasted really good but wasn't as thick. I guess that's just the price you have to pay!