Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Best Chili

When I was growing up, we spent a lot of Christmas and summer vacations making long treks cross-country in a minivan. We lived in northern Michigan. Bajee, my mom's mom, lives in southern Colorado, about a 24-hour drive away. My dad's parents, Grandmom and Pop, lived in Memphis, about 14 hours. Many of my parents's friends lived in New York. My sister and I got comfortable in the backseat, hauling great bulging backpacks full of books, crayons, travel games, and later, magazines, journals and portable CD players. We knew how to do a road trip.

Every time we arrived in Memphis, Grandmom would dish out bowls of the spiciest soup I had ever tasted, and we would eat every last bite, not wanting to suffer the shame of being labeled sissy Yanks by our cool older cousins. When I went to college, my mom started making chili for me when I'd come home. Spicy chili with shredded cheddar, warm corn bread with lots of butter and honey. We'd sit at the same dining room table we always had, just my family, sinking right back into our old ways of being together.

This time of year, I crave this kind of food. Hearty, packed with flavor, tasting like home. When friends and family arrive at your house this winter, road-weary and sick of fast food, give them some chili. It makes everyone feel better. Beer doesn't hurt either, but chili is a great place to start.

NOTE: This is not turkey chili, or chicken chili, or veggie chili. This is not low-fat chili. If you're looking for low-fat chili, I advise you to rethink your life choices look elsewhere. If you're looking for chili that warms you up from the inside out, makes children and grown men alike grin with delight, and tastes like the chili that would win first prize in Heaven's chili cookoff, MAKE THIS NOW.

The Best Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package mild breakfast sausage (like Tennessee Pride)
1.5 pounds 80% lean ground beef
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 15-oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed
2 25-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more or less to taste

Place the olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and ground beef and saute, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon as you go, until it is mostly brown. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic, and tomato paste, and cook about 2 minutes, stirring until combined. Add the beans, tomatoes and spices, and stir. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 2-3 hours or more (you can also transfer to a crock pot and cook it all day). Taste and adjust seasonings, and serve with whatever condiments and sides you like: corn bread, Saltines, sour cream, shredded cheddar, chopped onions, green onions, Tabasco sauce.