Friday, January 21, 2011

Chili with Cheddar-Cheese Biscuits

There are two foods, maybe three, for which no two people will ever agree how to prepare: meatloaf and chili (the third is ribs). I suppose it all has to do with what one grew up with as a child. I have had chili that was totally bland and tasteless and chili that was so hot and spicy that it bordered on the absurd. For some reason, insanely hot has, in this country, been equated with testosterone and masculinity. Maybe it's the "climax" factor of feeling your head is about to catch on fire and explode: OMG! OMG! OMG! 

Truth be told? My favorite chili of all time was served in the cafeteria at the small-town school in which I taught for twenty years. It was a beautiful Midwestern-blend of chili and spices, peppers, tomato--with just a hint of sweetness. Often, it was served with a slice of "government" yellow cheese and a chunk of corn bread. Their beef stew was to die for. 

The recipe below is a no-nonsense, non-offensive recipe that is palatable to many, including children. It does not use chocolate or cocoa or peanut butter or beer, ingredients now popular to add to chili. You control the "heat" by the amount of jalapenos you add. The smoked paprika (do not substitute regular paprika) along with the bacon gives a nice "campfire" feel to the dish. Like soups, it's important to taste and to correct seasonings  throughout the cooking process.

Yea, I know . . . it's a pretty sad-looking onion but it's all I had . . .

  • 3/4 pound ground chuck
  • 4-6 slices smoked bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1, 14.5 ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained (save the juice)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1, 3-inch jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribbed, finely chopped (save seeds) divided in half
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced (reserve one for later use)
  • 1, 4 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1, 14.5 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon cumin seed, freshly ground, depending on taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2-3 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar (optional)
  • 2-3 teaspoons brown sugar

Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove to paper towel to drain and reserve. Without wiping the frying pan, discard all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion, green pepper and half the jalapeno and cumin. Cook over medium heat just until the vegetables begin to go soft, about six minutes or so, being sure to scrape the pan clean of bacon renderings. Add the two minced garlic cloves and stir just until fragrant. Remove from heat and add to a medium Dutch oven. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Stir.

Add ground chuck to frying pan and cook over medium heat breaking it apart as it browns. Add a bit of salt and pepper. If necessary, drain. Add to Dutch oven and stir together with the vegetable mixture. Stir in the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, the rest of the jalapeno and garlic, oregano, and, if using, tomato paste. Add two teaspoons smoked paprika and chili powder. Stir. Crumble in the bacon and mix. Bring to a slow simmer. Cover. Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.

It's important to taste your chile pepper. Some are hotter than others;
others are more mild. This particular one was quite mild
and I could have used another one.

After an hour, taste the chili and correct the seasonings. If you want more heat, add some of the jalapeno seeds. Add additional smoked paprika and/or chili seasoning if needed. Add the cider vinegar (if using) and about 2 teaspoons of the brown sugar. Stir. Re-cover and simmer for an additional 30-40 minutes. If too dry, add some of the reserved liquid from the red beans. Taste again and re-season, if necessary. Now add the drained red kidney beans and allow to simmer about 20 minutes. To serve, place in a bowl and top with a bit of sour cream and shredded cheese.

Cheese Biscuits

Step-by-step instructions for making biscuits can be found by clicking on the link below:

These tender biscuits use White Lily Self-Rising Flour, a flour easily found in the South but only in gourmet grocery stores in the North. If you don't have access to it, use cake flour and follow the instructions from above for "Cake Flour Biscuits" cutting the recipe in half.

  • 1 cup White Lily Self-Rising Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cold lard or shortening
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup cold milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly-shredded extra-sharp cheddar (I prefer white cheddar)

Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with a piece of tin foil. Do not begin making biscuits until oven is pre-heated.

Add all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and stir.

In a small bowl, shred the cheese. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of the flour mixture, carefully tossing with a fork to coat the cheese so it does not stick together. Reserve.

Using a pastry blender, cut in the lard (or shortening) and the butter until crumbly and flour bits are the size of small peas. Now fluff in the cheese mixture. Using a knife or fork, add the milk, using just enough until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to get dough to come together. Do not over knead. Gently pat 1/2-inch thick and cut into 2 - 2 1/2 inch circles. Gently re-pat scraps and cut again. Place biscuits on foil-lined sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, just until golden brown. Brush with melted butter immediately. Makes 5-6 biscuits.

While biscuits are traditionally served piping hot from the oven, I think the cheese flavor of these biscuits is more pronounced if served warm, even cold.

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