Chili Ain’t No Picnic

Saturday evening, we had a chili picnic.

Yes, it was for the small children.  Yes, I said “chili” and “picnic” together, as in, we had a picnic with chili, inside.  I have indeed not been evaluated for psychosis, but might agree with you that I was a little out of my mind with that idea.

Oh, and did I mention that our family room carpet is (was) off-white (again, one of my good-at-the-time ideas…)?  Brilliant plan, I tell you.  Brilliant.  It started with us inviting a couple of people over to watch the 49ers-Saints game.  I was going to make some chili anyway, and David absolutely loves the Niners, and, well, it’s the playoffs.  See, my dear husband has this propensity to follow teams that are based absolutely nowhere near where he lives.  His argument when I tease him about it is that it gives us an excuse to travel to watch the teams play.  And I’d be cool with that if that actually meant we were jetting back to northern California every year to do so.  But no, we’re not.  What I got to do was visit Detroit–DETROIT–for a weekend for a hockey game.  It was actually my idea–I surprised him with tickets a few years ago because he’d always wanted to see Joe Louis Arena, and I didn’t realize the level of dismal-ness that is that city in March.  Who ever says, “Man, I really want to see Detroit some day?” or “You know what’s on my bucket list? Detroit.  I can’t wait to see Detroit!”  But that’s love.  David loves the Red Wings (I know, I know), I love David…

So, back to the chili picnic.  We do family room picnics during Notre Dame games in the fall if the Irish are playing around dinnertime.  We set up a blanket on the floor, bring down the kids’ food and their sippy cups and a pile of napkins, and let them have a jolly old time while we don’t miss any second of what most likely is a terrible game.  And the picnic works well with, say, pizza, or cheese and fruit.  So I didn’t think anything of it when we brought down little kid-sized bowls of chili, and cheese, and sour cream, and cornbread and let the kids have at it.  And even as I type that last sentence, I wonder, what were you THINKING?

All I have to say is that Saoirse likes order.  When she builds with her blocks, the creations must stay perfectly in line for days.  She still lines up her cars on the playroom floor.  She harbors programs and ticket stubs from activities we attend and keeps them in an organized pile on her dresser for months.  So Chili Picnic isn’t so bad when it comes to our oldest.  She sits primly, finishes her food while watching the game, and politely asks for dessert.  The Mighty, on the other hand, decided to do her best Godzilla Saturday night.  All I have the strength to tell you about that hour is this:

  • 2 1/2 bowls of chili into one tiny stomach
  • 1/2 bowl of chili onto one tiny stomach
  • one cup of milk, spilled upon blanket and rug and carpet
  • two pieces of cornbread, wielded like boxing gloves, delightedly swung about as a toddler raced up to her mother to excitedly tell her that she was “eaaaat fooooood!”
  • four separate piles of spilled vegetarian chili
  • Woolite carpet and upholstery cleaner
  • a large glass of wine (mine)
  • legs completely turned-reddish brown, especially after same toddler sat in her dish
  • a bath
Don’t do Chili Picnic.  But you knew that already, didn’t you.
Now, about that chili.  I made two big ol’ pots, one beef and one vegetarian, because as much as I’ve gone snorkeling in the vast pool of carnivorous life, the idea of SCUBA diving in it makes me want to run for the hills and eat some tofu.   I’ve ventured into meat (okay, poultry)-eating because, frankly, after 20 years of vegetarianism, I’m bored out of my mind.  That and I had a chorizo-topped pizza and a cheese steak (most likely on the same day) when I was pregnant with SK, and they were the best food I’d ever had.  Isn’t that terrible for somebody who still feels that eating animals is awful and unnecessary?  Am I a hypocrite?  Or do I just really like food and cooking, and there’s not really that much you can do with tofu?
Anyway, I’m giving you the recipes, if you’d like them.  You can do this as a traditional chili or as a vegetarian meal with just a couple easy substitutions.  Set aside a solid afternoon if you’re doing this, because there’s a lot of checking, and stirring, and skimming, and checking again.  And chopping.  I can’t forget the chopping.  Especially when you make two pots, you’re going to be swimming in onions and garlic.  Which may not make you appealing, but golly, your house is going to smell good.
Oh, and this recipe makes a massive amount of food.  So, invite some friends over, or prepare to eat it all week long and by the end of it all just lie on the couch, full and exhausted in a chili-induced stupor, vowing never to look at Tex-Mex food again.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Chili
adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse
Serves: 6 to 8
Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp.  vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions (about 2 onions)
  • Salt
  • Cayenne
  • 2 lbs. stew meat (or 2 lbs. soy crumbles, like Boca)
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef stock (or vegetable broth, if making this vegetarian)
  • 1 15-oz. can dark red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed
  • 2 tbsp. corn meal
  • 4 tbsp. water
  • 1 bag Tortilla Chips, or homemade (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 6 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 small jar of jalapenos
Directions:

In a large sauce pot, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables start to wilt. Season generously with salt and cayenne. Stir in the stew meat or soy crumbles, chili powder, cumin, crushed red pepper, and oregano. Brown the meat for 5 to 6 minutes.  (If you’re using soy crumbles, add enough water to them periodically so they don’t dry out.)  Stir in the garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock or vegetable broth, and beans. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the liquid, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, or until the beef is tender. Skim off the fat occasionally.  Mix the corn meal and water together in a separate bowl. Slowly stir in the corn meal slurry and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Reseason with salt and cayenne. Place a handful of the chips in each shallow bowl. Spoon the chili over the chips. Garnish with the grated cheese, sour cream and jalapenos.

I find that this recipe works best when the chili simmers even longer than the last recommendation of 30 minutes, and fresh Monterey jack cheese tastes infinitely better over this than the stuff you get in the bag.  Eat in front of a football game with a red wine or good beer to truly feel like you won’t be able to get off the couch at the end of the night.  Not suitable for family room floor picnics.

Super-Easy Homemade Tortilla Chips
from Parents magazine
Ingredients:
  • 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 8-inch corn tortillas, each cut into 6 wedges
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a bowl, add oil and salt.  Add tortillas; toss to coat.  Spread in 1 layer on 2 baking sheets; bake for 20 minutes or until crisp.

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