Friday, February 26, 2010
I am blessed with having so many wonderful cooks in my life. My own mom (I think I remember eating fast food about 3 times growing up - honestly) as well as my mother in law. Two incredible ladies. Two incredible cooks. (Oh and my sister too - she's a caterer - see what I mean?)
Well I could talk for hours about any one of them but tonight is Charlotte's - my mother in law's turn. Charlotte LOVES experimenting and tweaking and pushing a recipe to its limits. People are always asking her why when she makes something, it tastes so much better than when they do! Well, I can't give you her secrets, though I can tell you, it never hurt a pound cake to add another egg to it. Oops I've already said too much... The point is - recipes were meant for fiddling once you've mastered your landing gear in the kitchen.
Anyway, not long after we met she made me the most wonderful book of her favorite recipes put together in a neat, tidy binder. Many of them are still my all time favorites - but the front runner has to be Charlotte's chili. One of the first times my husband and I went to visit her she'd just cooked up a pot and I almost fell out of my chair when he put ketchup and mustard on his!
'What the hell's wrong with this chili that you have to put hot dog condiments on it?' I secretly and silently wondered.
Well it turns out not a damn thing. The chili is perfect (the additions were a personal quirk of his.) Hearty and comforting yet clean and refreshing at the same time. The thing about it is, it equals more than the sum of its parts. Nigella's chili for example, which I'm a huge fan of, has an ingredient list that reads like a college thesis compared to this. And in a pinch, I'd have to pick Charlotte's. While Nigella's fits a certain hunker down for winter mood, Charlotte's works on a snow day like today (really, NY? Really?) as well as it does on an August night just after the crickets come out.
I've never told Charlotte this but her chili was the first thing I made when we moved to New York. We were in corporate housing - an apartment in Hell's Kitchen with a spectacular view of the Hudson - with buildings peering in all around us like nosy neighbors, and I was so excited and stimulated by being here that I had to make something just to anchor me down.
So I made Charlotte's chili. And as we ate it watching the cats tool around the new apartment like private detectives, I knew that everything would be alright. And it was.
One final note - something unique that I almost didn't remember about this chili is the fact that you don't drain the red kidney beans. I'd gotten so used to chefs yammering in my ear about how important it is to drain and rinse canned beans, I almost went against Charlotte's instructions. Don't. This is one case at least where they're wrong. (On a similar subject - in The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Ree Drummond rails against the hatred of seasoned salt, such as Lawry's and says she's all for it. Go Ree! Have you gotten her book yet? It's fantastic.)
* This is easy to put together but it does need an hour to simmer.
* Serves 4, but chances are you'll want extra to freeze so you might double this.
* I made the mistake of eating this with a little yellow mustard over it last time to see what the heck is wrong with my husband and it is indeed delightful. Funnily enough, he seems to have given up the habit.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small to medium onion (preferably Vidalia or Spanish) chopped
pinch salt and pepper to season
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped (I like yellow or red, Charlotte likes green)
1 pound lean ground beef
1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, such as San Marzano
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 oz (1/4 of an 8 oz can) tomato sauce
1 (15 1/2 oz) can red kidney beans, UNDRAINED
pinch cayenne pepper or chili powder
small pinch fresh cracked pepper
Grated sharp cheddar cheese, for serving
Put a large lidded dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil and let heat through for 30 seconds before putting in your onions. Season the onions with a little salt and pepper and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic and bell pepper and cook another 2 minutes, then add the beef breaking it up lightly with a wooden spoon and cook until just browned, stirring occasionally - about 10 minutes.
Add in the can of tomatoes (juice and all), salt, tomato sauce, beans, and seasonings, stirring well. Reduce the heat to medium low, place the lid 3/4 the way over, and simmer for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so to make sure the bottom's not burning (I actually have to keep my burner on low the whole hour to prevent this.)
Taste for salt, making any adjustments necessary and serve with shredded cheddar, and or mustard or ketchup over the top.