Stuck in the Kitchen – It’s Getting Chilly

One of my favorite things about winter, and the cold months, is that people start eating chili, and I fucking love chili. So I decided to give it a try. The biggest problem I had with the prep was finding a recipe that wasn’t “Grab all the shit, throw it in a pot, and cook it.” I know that’s how chili is made… but I need something more scientific when I’m cooking. Tell me EXACTLY how much shit to grab, what order to throw things in, and how long to cook it in the pot. Most of the initial recipes I found didn’t measure anything out, and the others I found didn’t give specific times… it was stressful, and I hated it. I know MOST people cooking already have an idea of what to do, or how much to add, and I also realize that the amount you add is variable because of personal tastes… but I’m a newbie. I need to be talked to like a newbie in this. I got frustrated and thought about giving up, but decided I’d mention it to a friend as part of my self-improvement. I am historically bad at asking for help, and would just suffer in silence, so I reached out. My friend found a recipe that did all the things I needed within five minutes and sent it over to me.

Step 1: Heat oil in a Dutch oven. I just so happen to have bought a Dutch oven to perform the jambalaya experiment, so I could handle this pretty easy.

Step 2: Add all the shit that isn’t meat, beans, or tomatoes. “What the fuck does coriander taste like? Oh wait, I need to chop the vegetables up.” So yeah, I need to read the whole recipe before I start turning things on. So I turned the stove eye off and set to chopping onions and a red bell pepper. Following some advice I received after my jambalaya injury, I kept the knife blade in contact with the cutting board the whole time and did the little rocking motion cut thing… I imagine there’s an actual name, but whatever. You know what I’m talking about.

So let’s talk about the spices, specifically about the acquisition of them… I had to go grocery shopping to buy all this crap, and I ended up going to the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market because I wanted to use their pharmacy for some cheaper prices. It was fucking packed and a quick glance around and some head-math showed that only about 7% of us were wearing face masks. The spice aisle proved very challenging to me, because the grouping doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, they’re alphabetical, but then they’re sorted by brand, and red pepper flakes aren’t under R or P. And there were plague-ridden customers reaching over me and touching me inadvertently and I lost my shit. I literally abandoned my cart and went out to my car to sit and listen to music really loud while I rubbed my fingers over my new grounding talisman. Eventually I went back in and my cart was still there, so I resumed shopping. Anyway, I got the spices I needed as well as some other shit (more on that coming).

The recipe said FINELY-CHOPPED onions, which I don’t think I did, but I might get a food processor to help with that at some point.

Step 3: Turn the burner back on and heat up the oil, and then add all the shit that isn’t meat, beans, or tomatoes. Ok, this is a rehash of Step 2, because I got sidetracked. Sorry. Also, stir the shit around until the onions and peppers start to soften up.

This process makes the house start to smell good. I like this part a lot, even though I hate having to stir.

Step 3, for real: Add half the meat and brown it, then add the other half of the meat five minutes or so later.

Why can’t I just add it all at once? Also… that black utensil in the picture? That thing is amazing as smashing up hamburger while you brown it. Thanks again to my friend for recommending it. (I’m going to have to come up with a nickname for her, I think. For now I’m going to call her Sunshine. It’s a working title. Don’t hold me to it.)

Also, if you don’t completely thaw out two pounds of hamburger, the middle is going to be an ice block. So I just used the middle ice block as the second half, and I thawed it by putting it in a resealable bag and letting it sit in water in the sink for those five minutes.

Step 4: Add the tomatoes and the beans. The recipe called for drained beans, but the beans I had were in “chili sauce” which was most definitely NOT a liquid, so they didn’t drain at all. The recipe also called for cans of diced tomatoes with the juice, so that was easy. And finally, 28oz of “tomato puree.” I could not find a single can that said this. I googled and tomato paste is NOT the same thing. Puree is thinner than paste. But I did find two cans of “chili-ready tomatoes” next to the “diced tomatoes” so I figured, that must be what I need. Spoiler: It was not what I needed. I was two more cans of diced tomatoes.

In hindsight, I should have thought about draining the juice out of these two other cans… or even not added them at all, because giant tomato chunks are literally my least favorite part of chili.

Step 6: Boil, simmer, “stir occasionally”. I do not like vague words like “occasionally” in my instructions. Tell me to stir it every ten minutes. Every fifteen minutes. I don’t care how often, just tell me me how often. Communicate with me! If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past six months it’s that communication is fucking important.

Anyway… I brought it to a boil. I turned it down to simmer. I put the lid on the Dutch oven and I set ten minute timers for an hour to get up and stir it. After that hour, I took the lid off and set fifteen minute timers to stir for another hour. Then I turned the eye off and let it sit for awhile before I fixed my first bowl.

It was soupy, which is a characteristic I don’t like in my chili, but I think this was because of the double-dose of diced tomatoes and juice, and maybe the chili sauce on the beans. A lesson for next time. It also surprised me that I never took a taste during the cooking process. How the hell was I supposed to know if I should add more coriander? How would I even know if coriander was missing? What is a coriander, other than Starfire’s actual name?

Final verdict… it was good. I did end up adding more chili powder and simmering it for another 30 minutes to stir it in, and that seemed to help. I even think I know how to fix the soupiness for next time, which I can’t say for the jambalaya with as much confidence. But there WILL be a next time… just as soon as there’s another cold weekend coming up and I’m done with the nine gallons of leftovers from this batch… So, thank you to Sunshine for providing this recipe. (Hmmm… not sure that’s going to stick as a nickname)

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