Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chili Part II - Chili Mac,

I have something of a habit of wanting to try every item on the menu of restaurants I enjoy.  This has landed me in a few unfortunate situations throughout my years but my introduction to Chili-Mac made any failed experimentation worth while.  

Steak-n-Shake was the first (and only) establishment at which I have ordered this dish (the reason for the 'only' qualifier being that I've never seen it offered elsewhere).  While I would normally have gotten a burger, in the interest of expanding my horizons, I ordered the disorderly looking dish.  In what way the combination of flavors makes the chili-mac such a masterpiece I could not tell you and as such those of you who have not partaken will have to take it on faith.  

The recipe itself is nothing challenging, so long as you have chili laying around, which I do.  And I must note - I never make chili-mac with fresh made chili.  The chili at that point has not aged enough and as such the flavors have not combined properly.  Such an unflavored chili would be an insult to the mac with which it would be coupled.  That said - given the chili - the recipe consists of spaghetti noodles, topped with ketchup, topped with chili, topped with fresh diced onion, topped with cheddar cheese (and, if you please, topped with more ketchup).  That is all, and yet, that cosmic concoction has only one descriptor, ambrosia. 

Not much to look at, but what it lacks in physical attractiveness it makes up for in culinary excellence
If you've never partaken before, I suggest ordering the dish at a Steak-n-Shake before venturing out on your own.

Another note - I mark this post as gluten-free simply, because I used gluten-free pasta.  If you do not have an aversion to gluten, I suggest wheat pasta.  Tonight's was rice.  My co-workers had suggested quinoa, however I was not able to find any at Whole Foods, though the reason for that may have been, because I thought it was spelled with a "K" until 2 minutes ago.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mostly Meat Chili

I do not make chili nearly as often as I ought, though the reason may be that I do not know how often that is. Seeing as how I received a new pot from my parents for Christmas perfect for chili preparation, I saw no excuse outside of laziness to not shut myself in on this snow covered day and prepare a pot of chili.
The weekend exposes a fine opportunity to make large quantities of freezable food, facilitating quick meals throughout the week. Chili sets me up especially well for chili-mac, a favorite of mine since our first encounter at Steak n Shake.  My chili however typically falls short of expectations leaving me continuously searching for innovations in the recipe. Today, my root recipe consisted largely of meat which was a departure from the norm as I am used to beans in my chili.  I have however heard rumor that proper chili goes without.

Browning in the new pot
The recipe started with ground beef and sausage, two and one pounds respectively.  Both browned and set aside.  Next a white onion, finely chopped, was also browned to an extent. Interestingly it was not long ago that I was rather timid about my browning. Fearing overcooking I would stir too often and pull food from the heat before the fruits of the act could ripen. It was not until I saw an episode of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef concerning the subject that I realized the loss of flavor I had brought upon myself.

Once the onions were done, all other ingredients were added. This included a bottle of beer, a cup of water, beef bouillon, four cloves of garlic, an 8oz can tomato sauce, half a can of tomato paste, 3T chili powder, 2T cumin, 2t paprika, 2t oregano, 2t sugar, 1t coriander, 1t unsweetened cocoa, and a few spritzes of Louisiana hot sauce.

Tonight's beer of choice
Cooking sealed over low heat I checked in on things every thirty minutes to make sure matters were not progressing too rapidly while ensuring they were in fact progressing at all.  Two hours in I removed the lid and added a water, cornmeal, and flour (gluten free flour) mixture to thicken things up.  I'm not sure if this was necessary and I've never added a thickener like this to chili before, but the root recipe called for it and I figured I would see what difference it made, though, not having made this recipe without the addition I do not have a basis for comparison.

Regardless, another 30 minutes of cooking uncovered resulted in an incredibly rich and flavorful dish.  The meat, when originally served, was still in chunks larger than I like to see in a bowl of chili.  This I remedied with a potato masher.  Normally when making chili I add spice throughout the process (a trick I learned watching some chili cookoffs on Food Network) however this time I am glad I didn't, because the heat and spice rendered quite adequately.  All in all, reasonable success, though I'm still convinced I could do better.  We will see how it fairs in the context of mac later this week.

The finished product