WARMING UP WITH CHILIBy: Marcelle Bienvenu
The one and only time I judged a chili cook-off in Texas I thought I would have to report to the emergency room at the local hospital. I opted instead to return to my motel room where I collapsed on my bed and prayed that the thunderous roll in my tummy would subside. I lay there quietly, armed with a large bottle of the pink stuff within reach. It took three days for my body to return to normal. It seemed that most—not all—Texans like their chili HOT, made so by the addition of several kinds of chile peppers.
Needless to say I couldn’t look at a bowl of chili or even give it much thought for quite a while. But when I did, I recalled the chili that was my Aunt Anna Lou’s pride and joy, and which she often prepared during the cold winter months. Hers did have a little peppery jolt but didn’t knock you down and out. She served the chili with crackers, or sometimes cornbread, and hers contained beans that seemed to mellow out the dish.
Alas, I don’t have her recipe, but I’ve been poring through food magazines and cookbooks, looking for something similar. From what I can determine, chili is like gumbo—almost anything goes. Most Texas-style chilies don’t contain beans, but rather the beans (pinto or red) are served on the side, possibly a contribution from the Mexican cooks on the cattle drives long ago. But there is some claim that beans were added as a filler because they were cheap. And with that said, chili as we know it is really chili con carne, which is the Spanish term for “chili with meat” which is made with diced or ground beef and chile peppers or chili powder, or both. In some parts of the country, where chili contains beans, it called chili con carne with beans. Got that?
And there is also some discussion about REAL Texas chili, which doesn’t have any tomatoes, but rather dried ancho chilies, cubed beef, cumin, bay leaves, oregano, paprika, sugar, and garlic, all simmered long and slow, then thickened by the addition of yellow cornmeal.
The second most popular chili is what is known as Cincinnati chili. This dish has a tomato and ground beef base, and seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, cardamon, and yes, chocolate in some cases. It’s traditionally served on a bed of spaghetti and served with lots of shredded cheddar cheese. This is known as three-way chili. To make it a four-way or five-way, the chili can be topped with kidney beans and/or chopped onions.
Despite being a great year-round meal, chili is still a favorite cold weather meal. (Some people in Louisiana would argue that gumbo is the go-to dish when the weather outside is frightful.) Just imagine sitting by the fire with a piping hot bowl, watching the snow fall. It’s comfort food at its best. Seventy percent of chili eaters associate the winter season with chili and 13 percent mention fall.
With that said, I am now ready to share with you a recipe I found to be pretty close to Aunt Anna Lou’s. It’s not so hot it will numb you taste buds, but it suits me just fine. And don’t forget, chili is like gumbo. You can add or change the recipe according to YOUR taste. Although crackers can be served along with it, I opt for a good cornbread.
Chili, my way
Makes 10 to 12 servings
1/2 pound bacon, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 pounds round steak, cut into small cubes or coarsely ground
½ cup chili powder
1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cans (16 ounces each) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cans (15 ounces each) pinto beans, undrained
3 whole large dried red chili peppers (optional)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 ¼ tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour dissolved in 1 cup water
Chopped onions and grated cheddar cheese, for garnish (optional)
Fry the bacon in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven until just crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. In the same pot, brown the beef with the chili powder and salt over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are very soft, about eight minutes. Add the tomatoes and the beans, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the red chilies (if using), the garlic, cumin, Worcestershire, and hot sauce to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, at least two hours, but as long as three.
Add the flour-water mixture and stir to blend. Cook, stirring, for about one minute. Taste and adjust seasonings. Return the bacon to the pot and cook for five minutes. Serve hot and pass the garnishes.
Skillet corn bread
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
2 to 3 tablespoons bacon grease or shortening
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg and milk and mix well. Do not beat.
Heat the bacon grease or shortening in a 9-inch skillet, preferably cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet, over medium-high heat until it’s almost smoking. Pour in the batter and cook for two to three minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden.
Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Let cool for a few minutes before slicing to serve.
A LITTLE LAGNIAPPE
SUGGESTIONS FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN
My great aunt Belle taught me how to make goodies from your kitchen for gift-giving during the holidays. I firmly believe that homemade candy is an ideal gift for just about anyone on your list. Like Tante Belle, I began gathering my ingredients right after Thanksgiving. I keep a stash of ingredients and when the weather is accommodating, out they come and in a short time I too have a few tins filled with pralines and fudge to have for drop-in guests and of course, for gift giving.
Believe me homemade food gifts are always welcome and really aren’t that difficult to make. Gather your ingredients, arm yourself with a candy thermometer and a couple of good pots and you’re on your way. Candy tins are available just about everywhere. Rather than waxed paper, you can always nestle your candy in tissue paper. See, it’s really very simple.
Another great aunt, Cina, gave me her recipe years ago and it has never failed me.
Makes about 2 dozen
1 pound light brown sugar (about 3 cups)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups pecan halves
Mix the sugar, salt, milk and butter in a large, heavy pot over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Add the pecans and raise the heat to medium. Stirring often, cook to the soft ball stage. Remove from the heat and cool for several minutes. Stir rapidly until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the pecans. Drop by teaspoons onto parchment or waxed paper. When the candy has cooled, gently lift them from the paper and store in an airtight container.
This Russian taffy was Mama’s favorite. I have no idea why it’s called that, but I still have Mama’s handwritten recipe and that’s the name of it.
Makes about 2 dozen
3 cups sugar
1 cup milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the sugar, milk, and condensed milk in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring, to the soft-ball stage. Remove from the heat, then add the pecans, butter, and vanilla. Beat until the mixture becomes thick. Pour into a buttered 9-x12-inch pan. Cool, then cut into 1-inch squares. * If you want to make chocolate fudge, use this same recipe, but add 1/2 cup cocoa powder when mixing the sugar, milk, and condensed milk.
These rum balls are not candy, but a friend of mine expects them every year and I don’t ever disappoint him.
Rum or brandy balls
Makes about 3 dozen
1 (10 to 12 ounce) box vanilla wafers, crushed
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup very finely chopped walnuts or pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup rum or brandy
Extra confectioners’ sugar for rolling
Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Form into one-inch balls and roll in the confectioner’s sugar. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
TASTY TREATS, GOOD TIMESBy: Marcelle Bienvenu
I’ve decided that late afternoons on these long summer days are perfect for inviting the neighbors over for a cocktail hour now and then. Mama and Papa often had these impromptu get-togethers years ago on their cool, lush patio and I thought that was so civilized and pleasurable. You might want to do the same! These appetizers and desserts will surely win over the neighbors!
PEPPERONCINI-CREAM CHEESE DIP
1 (10-ounce) jar pepperoncini (salad peppers), drained and stemmed
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
Two or three dashes of hot sauce, or to taste
Party crackers or toasted pita triangles
Combine the peppers, cream cheese and Parmesan in a food processor and pulse several times until smooth. Transfer this mixture to a bowl and fold in the sour cream. Season with hot sauce. Cover and chill for at least one hour before serving. Serve with party crackers or toasted pita triangles.
Makes about 1 2/3 cups
CORN AND AVOCADO DIP
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 large avocados, peeled
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chopped, pickled jalapenos
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Yellow or blue cornmeal chips
Combine the corn and oil in a shallow pan. Bake at 400 F. for eight to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, stirring once or twice. Cool and set aside. Mash one avocado and coarsely chop the remaining one. Combine the corn, mashed avocado, chopped avocado and the remaining ingredients, stirring to blend well. Cover and chill up to 24 hours. Serve with yellow or blue cornmeal chips.
Makes about 20 appetizer servings
2 cups finely chopped cooked lobster, shrimp, or crawfish tails
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell peppers
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to mix well. Chill for at least two hours before serving. Serve with party crackers or toasted pita bread triangles.
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups mashed fig preserves
1 cup pecan pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
I always put up fig preserves during the summer, and I always set aside some to make this delicious cake. Serve it with vanilla ice cream for a cooling dessert.
Cream the sugar and the eggs. Add the vegetable oil and stir well to blend. Add the milk and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add this to the first mixture, stirring, to blend. Add the pecans and figs. Stir again to blend. Pour into a 12-cup bundt pan and bake until it sets, about 1 hour. Remove and cool before slicing to serve.
COOL DRINKS, GOOD TIMESBy: Marcelle Bienvenu
During the summers of my childhood, the highlight of many hot afternoons was sipping homemade lemonade, root beer or tea. What fun we had under the oak trees at Aunt Belle’s slurping the beverages chilled with ice that had been crushed by beating ice cubes wrapped in a towel with an old hammer! These days, what with the plethora of bottled, canned and ready-to- mix drinks on the market, half the fun, that of gathering ingredients and making the concoctions, is gone. With the summer stretching before me, nieces and nephews, some of them with their own young children, are already calling to set aside some time to spend in my tree-shaded yard with plastic swimming pools, I’m gathering some old-time drink recipes.
LEMON CREAM SODA
2 quarts water
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
3/4 cup light brown sugar, or more to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla
Club soda * optional
In a large pitcher combine the water, lemon juice, sugar and vanilla. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Serve over crushed ice and top with a splash of club soda.
6 individual size tea bags
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup grenadine
1 quart chilled ginger ale
Combine the tea bags with 2 cups of boiling water and steep. Discard the bags. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the fruit juices and grenadine. Chill for several hours. When ready to serve, add the chilled ginger ale. If you have fresh mint, use a sprig for garnish.
GRAPE ICE SLUSHY
3 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 (12-ounce) can frozen grape juice concentrate, undiluted
Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until the grape concentrate is completely melted. Pour the mixture into freeze trays or a plastic bowl. Freeze until firm. Stir several times during the freezing process. The adults can enjoy these cooling drinks.
Makes about 3 quarts
1 (6-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
1 (6-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed and undiluted
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups bourbon
1 (2-liter) bottle lemon-lime carbonated beverage, chilled
1 (10-ounce) bottle club soda, chilled
Combine the orange juice, lemonade, lemon juice and bourbon and mix well. Chill for several hours. When ready to serve, add the lemon-lime beverage and club soda and mix. Pour over crushed ice to serve. Hors d’ouevres can be as simple as cheeses and crackers, but if you want to take a little more effort, here are some easy tasty treats.
Makes 2 servings
3 to 4 scoops vanilla ice cream
1 1/2 jiggers dark rum
1 jigger light rum
1/2 jigger Creme de Cocoa
1/2 jigger Kahlua
Dash of 151 rum (optional)
Put the ice cream and liquors in a blender and pulse to blend. Add the ice to an inch or two to the top of the blender container and blend until smooth. If the mixture freezes, add a few drops of water. Pour into an old-fashion glass and top with a dash of the 151 rum.