First Place Loser

October 19th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Quick, Rituals, Uncategorized

There’s this thing Abby and I do, before every soccer game. She’s usually sitting on the wooden bench by our door, in her too-big uniform, and even though she’s in third grade, I’m enabling…I mean, tying her cleats. When I’m done, I give her a pat on the knee and look into her eyes.

“You ready?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says. The affect couldn’t be more flat. She has heard this before.

“You gonna be tough out there today?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Good,” I say, “because if you lose, don’t bother coming home.”

She rolls her eyes.

So when I was loading my stock pot full of chili into the back of our car at 8:30 last Saturday morning, on my way to deliver it unto the judges of our town’s first annual Chili-Off, Abby saw her opening.

“Hey, Dad,” she said.

“Yeah, Abby?”

“If you lose today, don’t bother coming home.”

You know where this is going, right?

We’d signed up for this Chili-Off — which would take place at the Pumpkin Fair, which raises money for our town’s elementary school — a few weeks ago, and Abby wasn’t the only one having fun at my expense. Jenny, too, had been gleefully applying the pressure, getting all up in my mug about it. (“Remember that venison chili Francine made for us like ten years ago?” she asked a few days beforehand, out of nowhere, which I took as challenge — brazen in its passiveness — to my manhood. “Mmmm, that was so good.” Damn, I thought. Should I be using venison?). The night before the contest, she’d been watching me like a hawk as I got my mis en place going, hovering, looking skeptical, asking me if I was nervous, if I knew anything about “the competition,” if I had a secret ingredient up my sleeve (meaning: you might need one), if I’d be able to show my face at the coffee shop if we lost. But I had waited until 9:00 on the night before the contest to start cooking, and I didn’t have the time or bandwith for new recipes or special ingredients. Go with what you know, as they say, and so I did. I’m not about to abandon the chili I love because there might be someone out there building a better, prettier one. It’s called loyalty, people.

Besides, I only know how to make one chili by heart. It’s quick and easy, about thirty minutes of hands-on time, and is a regular in the family rotation. Every Halloween, actually, we make a batch of it for friends and neighbors, who stop in before they go trick or treating, or while they’re out trick or treating, sort an open house kind of deal. It’s a dinner party in a pot. We stick a ladle in the Le Creuset, put some paper bowls and fixings on the counter — sour cream, cheese, cilantro, avocado, chips — and everybody stands around with a glass of red wine and serves themselves. It’s become something of a tradition, and nobody has ever complained about the food. To my face, at least.

The chili itself is a pretty straightforward base with lots of possible variations, but for the First Annual Chili-Off, I decided to go classic (beef), with a slight twist (chorizo). The chorizo adds some subtle heat and smokiness and, in general, just really good depth of flavor. I mean, it’s sausage, for chrissakes; it’s not going to make it worse. By 10 pm, the stock pot was in the refrigerator, marking its time until Judgment Day.

We showed up at the fair at 12:30, having completely missed the Chili-Off, not to mention the panel of seven judges who apparently tasted all fourteen entries with the seriousness of the dead. The day was beautiful, sunny and windy, the leaves just beginning to turn. High clouds were blowing through in long formations. A soccer kind of day. One of Phoebe’s friends ran right up to us as we walked in. “You guys came in second place!” she said. “Phoebe, your dad almost won!”

Almost. Hey, I tried, right?

Jenny looked at me. She smiled. “Second place, wow,” she said, throwing an arm around my shoulder. “Not bad, not bad. But you know what George Steinbrenner said: Second place is really first place loser. I’m just saying.”

Ouch. I don’t the name of the guy who won first place, but I have two things to say to him: Congratulations, your chili rules. And: Stay away from my wife. – Andy

Second Place Chili
Serves 12 to 15 (more…)

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My 8-year-old Made This Chili

April 19th, 2010 · 18 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Pork and Beef, Rituals

Well, almost. Both Andy and I directed her (and hovered over her) as she wielded a real knife and stirred chili powder into hot browning turkey meat, but she actually did everything — except open the can of tomatoes. Abby was at a sleepover so we told Phoebe she was allowed to pick her favorite dish and help us make it.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m usually wary of the whole cooking-with-kids thing. It tends to make me anxious, and even though all those parenting magazines promise that my kids will be more likely to eat food that they are involved in making, that never seems to be the case in my house. But I guess context is everything — this time, it was a Saturday night and we started early enough so no one was starving or feeling the pressure of the clock. And I think Phoebe enjoyed a rare stretch of being the exclusive focus of her parents.

But what I’m really trying to say is this: If this turkey chili is easy enough for an eight-year-old to make, it’s easy enough for you. We’ve been perfecting this recipe over the course of a decade. It’s a good one.

Turkey Chili

Saute one large onion (chopped) and a clove of garlic (minced) in olive oil. Add a pound of ground turkey (preferably dark) and brown until it loses its pink color. Add 4 tablespoons of chili powder, get it sizzly so spices get cooking, add 1 large (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, a dash of oregano, thyme, cayenne, 1 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon (crucial). Turn down the heat, simmer for 15 minutes add black beans, cook another 5 or 10. Serve with toppings such as avocado chunks, shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped cilantro.

Other ground-turkey dinners that rock tha house: In-N-Out Turkey Burgers, Lettuce Hand Rolls

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