Friday, January 06, 2006

Tri-Bean & Beef Chili

My first and second grade teacher was a fabulous mentor for all things culinary. Mrs. G must have been an amazing cook and she encouraged our little hands at the same. At one point, we must have been learning about bivalves. Something very basic I am sure (there is only so much bivalve information a first grader can pick up). Later that day, we had 3 large batches of mussels steaming in the back of the class, “see how they open when they are ready to eat!” Mrs. G exclaimed. During the lesson, I can remember thinking why would anyone want to eat a “muscle”?! I could not imagine the muscles in my body resembling these hard-shelled critters and I was slightly repulsed by these midnight blue orbs cooking away at the back of the class.

A few minutes later, everyone was served up a small plate of mussels. I cannot imagine that I ate mine. Now that I think about it, this lesson must have done the teachers’ lounge much more good, because I am sure that is where the bulk of the mussels ended up. If I was in that classroom now, I would steal all mussels from all those grubby little hands, devouring them in great triumph. I would later marvel at how strong my own muscles were to steal such a quantity away!

The following year, second grade, still with Mrs. G, my elementary school hosted an all-school event. Every classroom chose a booth to host: Some made popcorn, some spun cotton candy, others ran a musical-pie-chair (the winner won a home-baked pie). Mrs. G signed us up for the chili booth. (I wonder if we were consulted on this because for a second grader the other booths sound much more appealing.) Mrs. G came to class one day and told us we were making chili. Mrs. G told us she was an award-winning chili chef, and we would be making her secret chili recipe. (I guess secret chili recipe sounds good enough for a second grader.)

Sure enough, event day was approaching. Some facts to know before we proceed:
1) There were about 500 students in my elementary school.
2) The event was held on the weekend so parents could attend and therefore, help raise money.
3) This equals about 1,500 heads to feed (figuring on some families only 1 parent will show, or there are multiple children + the staff)
4) My class had maybe 25 students in it.
5) A classroom full of second and third graders were to make chili for say, 1,000 people (my school had a 1-2 then a 2-3 grade split which is how I had Mrs. G for 1st and then 2nd grade)

So as event day approached our classroom was full of green peppers, onions, beans, tomato sauce and other assorted secret ingredients, enough to feed 1,000 people. I was lucky enough to be a green pepper chopper. I now feel sorry for any student that was given onion duty. Each of us were handed 5-10 of each vegetable and proceeded to chop. The last thing I remember of this process was a field of greenery covering my desk. The following day my classroom worked in shifts of 2 or 3 serving up cupfuls of chili to hungry event-goers, “That’s right! I made it!”

Last I heard Mrs. G was around the San Francisco area working as a principal in an elementary school. While visiting relatives in the area in 5th grade, my mother and I took a detour to Mrs. G’s new home. I remember groves of avocado, lemon and orange trees as we drank tea and reminisced.

Today’s chili is in honor of Mrs. G. I cannot remember any of her secret ingredients, but I still think it is pretty darn good. I was a vegetarian for six years and one think I take away from that is filling my chili with extra beans. A more colorful chili, this one is made with three different beans. I also tried something new, and threw in some hot Italian sausage, in addition to the standard ground chuck-- an excellent spice surprise. Next time I might add a third meat or other sausage variety (like chorizo). Do not be overwhelmed by the long list below. Many of these are items you may already have at home (or different varieties of the same food).

Use a 16-quart pot. Makes 12 servings (enough to freeze for future lunches). Prep time= 30 min. Cook time= 3+ hours (less if you used canned, not dried beans)
4 Tbl olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 green pepper, cubed
1 yellow pepper, cubed
1 large onion, cubed
4 large links hot Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 lb ground chuck
10 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced (optional)
12-15 jalepeño peppers, sliced (optional)
1- 28 oz can tomato puree (no salt added)
1- 28 oz can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
2- 8 oz cans tomato sauce (no salt added)
1-½ cups red kidney beans, dry**
1-½ cups black beans, dry
1-½ cups white beans, dry
1- 28 oz can water (if you use canned beans this is not necessary)
2 Tbl Worchester sauce
2-3 Tbl Tabasco sauce
5 Tbl chili powder
3 Tbl cumin
2 Tbl oregano
1 Tbl cinnamon
4 bay leaves

1) In a 16-quart pot, over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Once warm, add the first 8 ingredients (garlic, (2) peppers, onion, sausage, meat, sun-dried tomatoes, jalepeño peppers). Stir occasionally, and allow meats to fully brown, about 15 minutes.
2) Add remaining ingredients, stir and cover leaving the lid slightly cracked. Bring to a boil then turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until beans are soft (about 3 hours), stirring occasionally. Add more chili pepper/ cumin to taste.

NOTE: 1) I try to buy tomato sauces with no salt added and then add my own salt. If I cannot find any no salt added cans, I will dismiss my own salt addition. 2) You can mix and match any form of tomato product you like for the base sauce. I like diced tomatoes because they add a nice texture. 3) **If you use canned beans cooking time is only about 30 minutes. I like the dried because I can throw this on the stove and forget about it while the smell fills the house.

OTHER OPTIONS: 1) Try roasting some red peppers and/ or tomatoes and add to the chili (roast a red pepper by placing it directly over flame. This is messing since some juices will drip. Once totally charred, place in paper bag to cool. Peel off blackened skin, chop and add to chili). 2) Use more sun-dried tomatoes. 3) Add brown sugar, honey, unsweetened, or very little semi-sweet chocolate to the batch. 4) Try other meats. I’m trying a second sausage next time. Bacon might do well too. Veal or shredded pork are other options. 5) Shrimp might do well in the above recipe, though it might create more of a gumbo flavor. 6) Add a can of beer or 2 cups red wine

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