Thursday, January 13, 2011

BRRRR! It's chilly/chili time!

You may infer from the scribblings of this blog that I am something of a gourmet. But once in awhile, I crave something lowbrow and bad for me. Often in my household, the consumption of crap food occurs on a Saturday night, accompanied by the viewing of films (which may or may not be crap). This weekend, I was overcome by desire for what I call Chili Fritos, but is alternately known as Frito Pie or Walking Tacos. You know, you love it...the dish that is comprised of Fritos corn chips on the bottom, topped with chili, and garnished with (my preference) a drizzle of ranch dressing, or perhaps sour cream and salsa. Oh, I know, I know. You don't need to say it. But once in a blue moon, it really hits the spot!

To redeem the junk food meal a bit, I did make the chili from scratch. And even though I was kind of throwing things in the pot willy-nilly, it came out GREAT! So I need to make a record of (approximately) what I did for posterity.

Beef and Bean Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 large red pepper plus 1 Fresno pepper, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes with green chiles
1 pint homemade (seasoned and herby) tomato sauce
1 small can regular tomato sauce
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 can seasoned black beans, drained
2 tablespoons spicy BBQ seasoning/rub
2 tablespoons dark chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
scant cup of water

Heat the olive oil in a five-quart Dutch oven. Brown the beef. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic and cook until veggies are tender. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, all of the seasonings and the water, and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for as long as you can stand it before you have to have some (the longer the better--add a little more water as needed).

Even after two people had a hearty helping of Chili Fritos, there was lots of chili left over. So I chucked the remainder in the freezer for a future dinner. But the future came sooner than expected when I was invited over to my friends' house for a potluck and game night a few days later. I was assigned the entree, but I had already been to the store, and it was so cold that day that I didn't want to make another trip out.

So I began to contemplate a hearty dish that could serve a lot of folks that could be made with what I had on hand. I thought about the chili, but it didn't look like there was enough to serve everyone just on its own. So I decided that it had to be some sort of casserole. Naturally, I considered involving cornbread, but I didn't want to do that thing where you bake the batter on top of the chili and then end up with runniness on the bottom and a big dry chunk on the top.

What I really wanted was to simulate something that had the flavor and texture of a tamale, but without all the work! So I stole an idea from a recipe that I found on the Whole Foods website here. And I think it turned out just as I had envisioned it. Here's what I did to make what I am now calling Tamale Casserole:

I prepared two boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix with a can of creamed corn and a can of drained whole kernel corn (making a softer, moister, denser and sweeter cake to simulate tamale texture). I baked this in a sprayed 9x13 pan for 30 minutes at 400. When cooled, I cut off about an inch all around the cornbread (saving the crispy sides for me to enjoy later!) and crumbled up the rest.

I cleaned the 9x13 pan and sprayed it again with nonstick cooking spray, then added half of the crumbled cornbread, about five cups of homemade leftover beef chili, the rest of the cornbread crumbles, and about a cup and a half of shredded co-jack cheese. I baked it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees*, and served it with salsa and sour cream on the side.

*The one thing I would do differently next time is to cover the casserole with foil while baking to keep the cheese on top soft and melty, though the dinner guests said they preferred it with a crunchy top. Personal preference, I suppose!

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