Friday, November 6, 2009

Bonfire Night Chili

Tonight, like most people in the UK, we will be celebrating “Bonfire Night.” For the uninitiated: On November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were foiled in their dastardly plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament. For many years, effigies of Guy Fawkes were burned on November 5; but these days, it’s mostly an excuse for fireworks and bonfires – and that kind of activity is easier to carry out over the weekend. My daughter’s school always holds an elaborate Bonfire Night, which includes a torch-lit procession down to the waiting bonfire. Like all activities that take place in the dark, the occasion has a slightly transgressive quality to it. The teenagers tend to slope off to do goodness knows what, while everyone ooos and ahs over the bursts of fireworks in the inky dark sky.

I attended my first Bonfire Night more than a decade ago, and my chief memories of that night are suffused in smoke and the cold foggy damp that rises up from the forest at night. I remember eating tinned tomato soup, followed by burnt sausages, in a thin drizzle. I found it all rather miserable.

For me, the key to enjoying Bonfire Night is to dress extremely warmly, and to forget the barbeque and eat inside. (Frankly, English barbeques are dubious enough in July; never mind November.) The traditional menu is sausages and “jacket” (baked) potatoes, but because the occasion requires something especially warming, I am going with chili – Texas-style. I will still make the jacket potatoes, but I will load them up with chili – with lots of cheddar cheese and sour cream and tortilla chips on the side.

In Texas, where I'm from, chili is a way of life. The Chili Cook-Off is a popular social activity, and there is almost no limit to what you can put in that stew pot. The key ingredients, though, are some kind of beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes and chili powder. Many Texans think that you must never, ever put beans in chili; but I like the flavor and texture they give. They make a healthier chili, too, and break up all of that meat. I’ve never found The Ultimate chili, but I think that this recipe is a pretty good starting place for our family’s tastes. Even if you aren’t celebrating Bonfire Night, the beginning of November is always the tipping point for colder, more wintry weather. This month can feel dark and bleak, and there is nothing like a bowl of hot steaming chili to warm up the insides.

Congressional Chili
(adapted from the Peace Meals, the Houston Junior League cookbook)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 red peppers, diced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 ½ pounds ground beef
16 ounces tomato sauce
3 tablespoons prepared red mole
3 tablespoons chili powder
24 ounces water
32 ounces canned red kidney beans
For garnishes: shredded cheddar cheese and diced onions and sour cream

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions, peppers and garlic and saut̩ until the onions are translucent and the peppers begin to soften. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Brown the beef in a separate skillet; draining off any excess fat. Add half of the onion mixture to the meat and reserve the rest for later. Stir in the tomato sauce, mole, chili powder and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust the seasonings for taste.* Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the beans and remaining half of the onion-pepper mixture. Cook for 15 minutes more, then serve Рwith desired garnishes.

*I thought about calling this “blueprint chili,” because in my mind chili is always more of a process than an exact specification. This is particularly true in England, where there are a variety of chilis/chiles (and chili powder), but not necessarily the same ones that you are going to find in Texas. Also, unless you have access to some specialty store, it is doubtful that you will be able to find any red mole sauce. I Googled red mole, but quickly rejected the idea of making it from scratch when I saw the long list of ingredients and the repeated words: roasting and pounding. The key thing about mole is that it includes good quality dark chocolate; so that is what I retained from the mole concept. I added a cocoa bean/chili blend spice and also about 4 ounces of 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate. This gave the chili a lovely rich dark color and a slightly silky quality: I highly recommend using it. I also added too much fiery chili powder, and then had to compensate with more tomato sauce and some beef broth. So really, my advice would be to go easy on the spices at first, and to keep tasting until you get a concoction that will please your family. My family isn’t fond of tongue-burning chili, so I aim to get something with a slight bite.

Speaking of bite, I’ve made chocolate spider cupcakes for dessert. Okay, they are usually something I make for a Halloween treat . . . but I think that they work well for Bonfire Night, too. When those wood piles get disturbed tonight, the spiders will be on the prowl!

I have a family of chocoholics coming for dinner, so I’ve tried out the rich cupcakes and icing from the new Primrose Bakery cookbook. The spider idea comes from a Ladies Home Journal article from 1997. You use dark chocolate peppermint creams for the spider’s body and melted white and dark chocolate for the web, eyes and legs. Just melt a few ounces of chocolate in a small Ziploc bag in the microwave – 30 seconds will do it. Snip off the tiniest corner from one end of the bag, and use it like an icing bag.

Chocolate in the chili, chocolate in the dessert . . . a week of Halloween candy still hasn't put us off!


julochka said...

what a super cute cupcake!

and strangely, i swear i can smell chili now, tho' none is bubbling away in my kitchen. i don't think i've ever seen red mole, not even living in arizona. it must be a real texas thing. :-) i put chocolate in my chili too, it gives it a depth that's just perfect on a chilly november evening.

we'll have to do up a pot of this this weekend! yummy.

Char said...

the spider is too adorable. i wonder if the girls would love them. makes me think of ladybugs too for some reason.

i haven't seen red mole either. i'm so incompetent when it comes to chili - i use the old fashioned chili-o mix by french's! LOL

Anne said...

I love the spider cupcake! Chocolate cupcakes with peppermint patties on top sound delicious...

... As does your chili! I've never tried a chili that had chocolate in it, but I love mole, and it sounds like it would be great in chili. My favorite (omnivore's) chili recipe is from the Silver Palate Cookbook. It would probably be rejected out of hand by most Texans, as it has not only beans, but sausage (in addition to the ground beef). It's been my ultimate chili for years, but I wonder if a chocolate-laced version might steal its crown.

Enjoy the fireworks! No Guy Fawkes night festivities here, but I might see I can find V for Vendetta on tv.

Jelica said...

This chili looks yummie, but I think I will try it without red mole/chocolate because of my conservative food tastes :)

TBM said...

We had chili last week too... but hon, I'm still a no beans kind of gal ;-)


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Wind Spirit said...

Loved the story about the BBQ in November! I think Chili and November just go together and on the boat too! Have never tried chocolate or mole in it but sure will next time. I do use beans, kidney, black and usually corn niblets too. Use diced tomatoes and rarely have to add more liquids. Serve it over rice with all the toppings!


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