Saturday, August 28, 2021

Best Damn Chili in the State

My favorite part of my favorite movie, The Blues Brothers, is when John Belushi is in Aretha Franklin's restaurant and he asks her, "Got any fried chicken?" Upon which she puts her hand on her hip, gives him the hairy eyeball, and says - like a boss - "Best damn chicken in the state." 

Well, I make the best damn chili in the state. True, I live in Illinois. But in my younger days I had fantasies of travelling down to Terlingua,Texas for the Great Chili Cook-off, where I would cook up a batch of my fabulous chili, wearing a prom dress, and walk off with first prize. In stilettos. 

(Nowadays I would rather set my head on fire than travel to Texas. Unless I was invited. By Willie Nelson. And promised a lot of weed. Then, maybe.)

But back to the chili. This recipe is my own invention, and here's the story.

It all started with my Sausage and Mushroom Sauce. Easy, peasy. Some hot Italian sausage, some mushrooms, canned tomatoes. A little olive oil, salt and pepper. Maybe a dash of oregano, but really - and this is the secret - the sausage seasons the sauce. Perfectly. I've even made this sauce with that plant-fake Italian sausage, and you know? It wasn't bad.

So, one day I was thinking: If sausage can season this sauce, could chorizo season chili? Like, make the beans, add the tomatoes, and just throw in some fried chorizo?

Yup. And a star was born.

Let me tell you a few things about chorizo before I give you the recipe. I'm talking about Mexican chorizo as opposed to Spanish chorizo, which is a different thing altogether. Mexican chorizo, at least the stuff I use, comes in a 13 oz. package, and it's two plastic-wrapped tubes of loose sausage. You take off the outer packaging, snip the tubes at one end and down the sides a bit, and peel off the plastic. Then fry the chorizo in some hot olive oil, breaking it up with a fork. I use Supremo Beef Chorizo Original Picante. (Picante = Spicy, but it also comes in mild, for big babies.) There's a pork version of this chorizo, too, if you prefer.

Chorizo Chili
Red beans, 1 lb. bag
Italian plum tomatoes, 1 28oz or 32oz can
A little olive oil
Mexican chorizo 
Salt, pepper, oregano (optional)

In a big pot, cook the red beans according to package directions. When they're done, pour off some of the liquid, but not all of it because it's good stuff and you don't want your chili to get too thick. Add a big can of Italian tomatoes and let them simmer with the beans until the tomatoes get soft. Smash up the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, and keep simmering. Fry the chorizo in a cast iron pan with little olive oil until it's very brown. Add the fried chorizo to the tomatoes and beans. Keep simmering for at least an hour. The longer the chorizo cooks with the tomatoes and beans, the better your chili will taste. At the end, you can add salt, pepper, and oregano, but taste the chili first to see if it needs it.

Serve with sour cream (I use Greek yogurt) and shredded cheese. Guacamole and/or cornbread are nice sides. 

And tell Willy I'm waiting.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Would You Like a Drink Before the War?

Remember Fawlty Towers? The episode with the German tourists? The one where Basil Fawlty told his staff something like, "Whatever you do, don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it,"? Mr. Fawlty's behavior was (mostly) on account of a traumatic brain injury, the result of being beaned by some taxidermist's masterpiece of a severed moose head. 

I have a different sort of traumatic injury, on account of The Pandemic (you know the one).

I'm going to mention The Pandemic just this once, and I promise I'll never mention it again. But I'm doing this for your own good, to save you a trip to the eye doctor. Because he's only going to think you're crazy and then (to cover his ass) send you to a very expensive specialist. But believe me, this is for real, and I might be saving you a lot of money and negative speculation about your sanity. Which will wind up on your permanent record.

My traumatic injury wasn't caused by Covid per se. It was actually a side effect of spending a ridiculous (and apparently dangerous) amount of time in lockdown with my husband.

Let's call it Anthony's Syndrome. 

If you're new to this blog, or in case you didn't read my first book, my husband's name is Anthony. (Now go buy my first book. You won't be sorry.) Here's what happened: I was bending down to get some flour out of a cabinet, and then all of a sudden, YOWZA! I got this stabbing pain in my right eye socket.

I reacted like I usually do when faced with fresh hell of any sort: I panicked. Was my retina detaching? Did I have a stroke? A tumor? Expired mascara?

Anyway, it stopped. But I remained wary. A few days later, it happened again. And then a few days after that, again. And then in the other eye, too. I thought about going to the doctor, but my eyes looked okay and I wasn't having any vision changes, and I hate going to doctors above all things, especially during a pandemic. So I decided to try to come up with my own diagnosis.

Which I did. Finally, after weeks of careful observation and analysis, I came to the conclusion that I had injured my eye muscles due to repetitive eye rolling due to my husband's repetitive goofiness.

You live and learn.

The cure was to consciously stop rolling my eyes. Not easy. I tried heaving deep, exasperated sighs instead. Out of earshot, of course. A sort of Sicilian housewife riff on yoga breathing. 

It wasn't enough, though. Being Sicilian, my preferred stress buster is cold, hard revenge. In the case of my husband Anthony, the best revenge is to deny him soup. For a whole week. No explanations, no apologies. Let him wonder.

Time for some red meat. Beef tenderloin, the way my father-in-law made it in his restaurant. Fast, easy, and full of aggression.

Beef Tenderloin
Beef tenderloin steaks, 2 
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Wash and slice some mushrooms. Sauté them in olive oil and a pat of butter. Add salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to very low to keep the mushrooms hot. Take your steaks and slice them in half, horizontally, so that you have four thin steaks. Heat up a little olive oil in a big cast iron pan and flash fry them. Stick the pan in a 350 degree oven until the steaks are done (more or less pink in the middle, however you like). Pour the mushrooms over steaks, and serve. I recommend a salad and wild rice on the side. And don't forget the wine. It's how Italians turn red meat into health food. 

And I read somewhere that it's good for your eyes.