Sunday, January 4, 2009

Chili Night to ease back into the work week with the Horns.

There is nothing sadder than returning to real life after the holidays. Every second that goes by on this last Sunday of freedom seems to taunt me, as if I could be doing more interesting or exciting things to make the most of it. But as we have friends coming over tomorrow night to watch the Texas Longhorns play Ohio State on the Fiesta Bowl, I'm making chili.

Yes, it's ANOTHER riff on a Nigella recipe, and it's unique in that it has dark chocolate in it. No one will ever know, and if you have a foodie-phobic crowd coming over you can omit telling them as well as remove the cardamom pods before you serve it (though I like discovering their floral bite in my bowl.)

What your guests don't know won't hurt them and all they'll think is that it tastes damn good.

2 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped into smallish dice
2 fat garlic cloves, minced
Plenty of kosher or sea salt to season as you go along
6 cardamom pods, gently bruised with one of your tomato cans
2 heaping tablespoons of cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (feel free to up this if you like more of a kick)
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried ancho chili
3 pounds lean ground sirloin
2 (26 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, juice and all
1 cup red wine
2 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped or broken into chunks (I like Godiva)

Tortilla chips or Fritos, for serving
Sour cream
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In your LARGEST dutch oven (there's a lot of food here, but it freezes beautifully), add about 4 tablespoons of olive oil, or enough to thoroughly coat the bottom. Bring to medium heat for a few seconds, letting heat through, then add your onions. Season well with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and cook another 2 minutes.

Using your wooden spoon, scoot the onions over to one side clearing an empty space to 'toast' your spices (this is a Lydia Bastianich tip to enhance flavor, and I love it.) Then add your ancho chili, red pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon stick to the cleared space, giving each of them their own little space. Let them 'toast' for 3 minutes - you can spread the cumin and coriander out a bit so it toasts evenly. Stir in all of the spices, incorporating them well into the onions.

Add your ground sirloin, breaking up with your wooden spoon so it can begin to brown. Season WELL with salt (remember you have a ton of meat in there - I do about a tablespoon of kosher salt during this step.) Stir occasionally and continue to cook until all the meat has browned, about fifteen minutes.

Add your whole tomatoes and their juice, and stir in the tomato paste. Use your spoon to break up the tomatoes, then gently stir in the beans and red wine. Raise the heat and bring the chili to a simmer. Stir in the chocolate pieces until they melt into the chili.

At this point, you want to simmer the chili over low heat with the cover partially on for an hour and a half, stirring every so often to make sure the bottom isn't burning. However, I've served it after just a half an hour's worth of simmering with no complaints.

Taste for salt before serving and adjust accordingly. (This is also an excellent thing to make the day before a party, then just heat up gently on the stove or in the oven on 350 with the lid on for 30-45 minutes until heated through, possibly stirring in a little low sodium chicken stock to loosen it if it's become too thick.)

Remember to remove the stem of the ancho chili and the cinnamon stick. Serve with bowls of sour cream, sharp cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips or Fritos for people to dress their chili as they please.

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