Monday, January 18, 2016

Cincinnati Chili


Baby, it's cold outside! We have had sub-zero windchill temps which made this Martin Luther King holiday a welcomed reason to stay indoors. It was one of those days when we didn't get out of our pajamas the whole day. I did manage to shower, but then I put my fuzzy pajamas back on to enjoy the rest of our cozy day inside.

Lex and Eli transformed our entire living room into a fort made of couch cushions, pillows, and blankets which entertained them for at least 2 hours. Lex worked on computer coding, which I plan to write more about in a future blog. I found several really good games, videos, and apps that teach kids how write code. And since Lex loves nothing more than being on the computer, I thought this was a productive way to use his screen time today.

And since it's so cold that we're pretty much trapped indoors, we found comfort in food. Yummy, yummy food, which brings us to this classic recipe. We make it a couple of times a year, and there are a few spices we always keep in our pantry just in case we are in the mood for this. If you've never had this style of chili, please don't be fooled by the name "chili." This is not your traditional soup. It has a Mediterranean flare which comes from an incredible spice blend. Oh, and also.... It has chocolate in it! I hope I haven't scared you off now. Because although the chocolate part is fun, it really isn't a sweet chili. It actually really packs some heat.

Of course if you're from Southern Ohio or Northern Kentucky, this needs no explanation. You probably visit Skyline Chili at least a couple of times a year. So you know the drill. But did you know that this recipe was thought up by Macedonian Immigrants who were looking for an ethnic topping for their spaghetti? It really is something, I promise. It is earthy, spicy, and hearty, and great for a "chilly" day outside.

So now I have to tell you that this is NOT a throw together recipe. Well it kind of is in that you just throw together everything in one pot except the spaghetti and toppings. But there are a LOT of ingredients. Spices mainly. If you're like me, you recognize that (usually) more spices means more depth of flavor and that little extra prep pays off in the end. Don't run from the challenge! Embrace it!

Here's your full list of ingredients:
2 T. vegetable oil
1 small onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. chili powder
2 T. paprika
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 12 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
 6 ounce can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
2 T. chopped unsweetened chocolate
1 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 pound cooked spaghetti

Optional toppings: kidney beans, shredded cheese (optional but HIGHLY recommended), and onions.

Here we go. I like to start with the spice blend.

Oh my goodness. Just looking at this makes my mouth water. There are 4 Tablespoons alone just in chili powder and paprika. 4 Tablespoons! Also, cumin, allspice, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and ground cloves. Quite a combination, right?!?

Here's my sous chef, Eli. This kid, I am telling you. If he doesn't grow up to be a chef, I will be completely shocked. He practically lives in the kitchen, climbing on counters, and rummaging through cabinets for "secret ingredients." One time, he combined some ground coffee in with the sugar canister on the counter so he could "practice stirring." I could not bear to throw it out since it would be literally throwing food down the drain, so I left it just the way he had it in the canister so he could stir it whenever he wanted.

So what Eli is doing in that picture is sauteing 1 finely diced onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Once the onions are soft (4-5) minutes, dump in the entire spice blend, and stir it together. It will turn into a beautiful, dark, rich paste.

I am telling you, there is so much flavor in that pasty mixture, it's ridiculous. Again, mouth watering.

After a couple of minutes of stirring the paste in with the onions, add 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef and stir to combine all the flavors. Continue cooking until the beef is no longer pink.

Next, stir in 1 1/2 cups of water.

Then a 12 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained.

And 6 ounces of tomato sauce. Stir it together.

And then you add 2 Tablespoons of chopped, unsweetened chocolate. I was so excited about this step that I couldn't even hold my hand still for the picture! AND, true story, I was going to take a picture of the first tablespoon but accidentally dumped it in before I snapped the picture. Are you kidding me?! Come on people. I hope you're feeling this as much as I am. It's chocolate. In chili!

1 Bay leaf. Check.

And you top it all off with 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoons of Worcestershire.

Stir it all together and let it simmer. uncovered for about 20 minutes to thicken up a little bit. But it's important to note that it is meant to be soupy. Not thick. A little bit of this goes a long way. It's not meant to be eaten by the bowl. It's meant to be a "topper" for spaghetti (or hot dogs - but that's for another day).

Okay, now for the serving suggestions. There are many "ways" to order this if you were actually in a restaurant in Cincinnati.

It starts with spaghetti....

This is a "2 Way." Spaghetti with the chili sauce only.

This is a "3 Way." Spaghetti, chili, and cheese.

This is a "4-way." Spaghetti, chili, cheese, and onions. Another variation is the "4 way beans" which replaces the onions with kidney beans. And then there's the "5 Way" which has chili, cheese, onions, AND beans. Of course, when you make it at home you can try every variation! My favorite is the 4 way (with onions) as pictured above.
If you like earthy flavors or Mediterranean food, try this. I think you'll like it. 

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