21 March 2012

Chili Cook-Off...Disaster

The first time my mom asked me to make chili, I was baffled.  “Isn’t there a recipe?” I asked her.  “No…you just add some of this and some of that,” she replied.  What could this mean?  What are the things that you put in chili?  This is back before I ever really started cooking, and I was comfortably oblivious – similar to the way you aren’t really sure how to get to Traverse City until you actually start driving.  Or your other favorite distant town.  So I would add an ingredient, per her instructions, then run back to where she was working to ask for the next item to add.  I’m a little ashamed to admit now that Mom always put the tomatoes and onions in the blender, because I really disliked both of them, and I refused to eat the chunks. 

How things have changed!  I never use a recipe.  If you want to know how many tomatoes or the quantity of jalapeno I put in the chili, I could never tell you.  It turns out almost exactly the same every time though.  I even have a secret ingredient now!  And a secret process. 

Or maybe you’d rather hear about where this chili took a wrong turn and ended up in Disasterville.  There’s nothing quite like making a disaster dish, and then serving it to your family, or entering it into a cook-off and serving it to all your coworkers.  I have one HUGE piece of advice regarding that.  Make a practice round first.  If you’re making something for the first time ever, don’t wait until the day before you’re contributing to a big meal.  I truly considered a practice round of chili, but I didn’t want to spend all the money on ingredients, and I didn’t want to end up eating chili for weeks on end.

Alright.  Enough talk.  Let’s get down and dirty.
EVOO and chili vegetables (you know, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and for some heat, peperoncinis).  Roast 'em in the oven for half an hour at 400*.  Actually, roast them for more than half an hour.  Wrong Turn #1 - didn't roast long enough.
This saves actual working time because then I didn't have to chop everything up.  After roasting, I threw these bad boys (in small batches) into the blender.
I got a hunk of meat.  MAJOR Wrong Turn #2.  I never ever cook with beef because a) I don't like it, b) it's hard to find grass-fed and c) it's really fatty.  I must have gotten the cheapest cut in the world because I have never seen so much fatty fat in my life.
So I threw that disgusting beast in the crockpot and covered him with my pureed roasted veggies and turned the crockpot on low for eight hours.  Don't forget to add spices!  Cumin, coriander, chili powder, lime-chili powder, garlic powder...and the secret ingredient - a hint of cinnamon.
Next step:  "shred" the beef.  There were so many veins of fat it was less shredding and more cutting.  I almost cried.  This was the most disgusting thing I have done in a while, and I am so ashamed that I even bought such an unsustainable, unhealthy, and mistreated piece of meat.  I'm not going to lie, I compromised my values to save money.  If I buy expensive meat, I want to put it into something that I'll actually get to eat.
Wrong Turn #3:  Underestimating the size of the crockpot.  With all the meat and veggies (and a can of kidney beans), it was only about half full.  Panic time.  Unfreeze a ton of tomatoes, chop up more peppers, add MORE tomatoes...
Look at the sheen of the fat on the top.  Wow.  So I mixed all that crap together and left it in the crockpot on low until morning.  I delivered it to the lunchroom at around 10:30am and added half a cup of chopped cilantro.

Wrong turn #4:  never cooking chili in a crockpot before.  All the spicy peppers I put in there were neutralized.  The roasted flavor was neutralized.  The cilantro, even in that short time, was mostly neutralized.  Luckily the cinnamon was neutralized, because I'd added too much.

Holy crap!  Four wrong turns?  How did I ever win first place?  Just kidding.  I didn't place at all.  I didn't even like my own chili.  LESSONS LEARNED. 

Just for the record, I made an amazing roasted chili a couple months ago with the perfect roasting time, venison burger, and NO crockpot.  It was the best chili I've ever had, which is probably why I was so cocky about this chili cook-off.  Oh well.  I guess there's always next year...

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