Chili works whether the weather's warm or cold

April 14, 2002|By Rob Kasper

CHILI IS ONE of my all-weather favorites. On bitter days -- and this spring has dropped plenty of "chillers" on us -- a warm bowl of chili can take the edge off the cold. On sun-drenched days, when you feel the urge to gambol on the green, chili is an ideal companion to the hot dog, the quintessential outdoor delight.

As I started making chili last Sunday, it looked like a hot-dog kind of day.

The sun was bright, the sky was royal blue and the last of the pear tree blossoms were floating through the air. The baseball season -- the high time for hot dogs -- was under way. As I sat in the kitchen, I heard the slap of flip-flops on the floor as our son hurried out the door with his teen-age buddies down to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles play.

Yet later when I stepped out the door, I discovered that, despite the sunny optimism of the teen-agers, it was cold outside. A biting wind kicked up, and I did a double take. Were those pear blossoms in the wind, or snowflakes? I scampered back to the kitchen. Instead of a hot dog frolic, it was going to be a hunker-down, pot-of-chili afternoon.

Making chili makes you cry. You have to chop those onions. Over time, I have tried various no-tears tricks: holding a piece of bread in my mouth as I chop, or simply tossing the onions in a food processor. I have been unhappy with both results. When I put the bread in my mouth, I still get teary. When I put the onions in the food processor, they get mushy. So the other day, I simply placed onions on the cutting board and went to work. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and sometimes a man's gotta cry.

I followed a recipe for Stadium Chili. It came from Michael McLaughlin's 1993 book, Cooking for the Weekend. I met McLaughlin in the 1980s in New York shortly after he had finished testing recipes for The Silver Palate Cookbook, the 1985 blockbuster by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. The Silver Palate has usually been too froufrou for me. But I found McLaughlin's Cooking for the Weekend offered more straightforward fare -- guy food, in other words.

This chili, a mild yet winning mixture of ground beef, cocoa and cinnamon, for instance, is the "perfect hot dog topping," McLaughlin wrote, because it is "thick enough not to drip on your Bermuda shorts." Now that I have made the chili, I am waiting for the arrival of Bermuda-shorts weather.

Stadium Chili

Yield: 6 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups finely chopped yellow onions

5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 pounds ground beef

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon celery seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper

2 cups tomato juice

2 cups canned beef broth

1 / 4 cup yellow cornmeal

In a 5-quart pan, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring once or twice, for 10 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring and breaking up lumps, until the meat is evenly crumbled and no longer pink, about 8-10 minutes.

Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, cocoa, salt, celery seeds, turmeric, cinnamon and dried red pepper and cook another 3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in tomato juice and beef broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chili is thick and reduced by one-third, about 1 1/2 hours. Stir in cornmeal to thicken, and adjust the seasoning.

-- From Cooking for the Weekend by Michael McLaughlin (Simon & Schuster, 1993)

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