Complex but uncomplicated

[MRM guest post]

Chili. Yum.  In high school I’d make a can of Hormel (“hot” – and the hot stuff was the waxy orange grease you had to scrape off the top of the can, after opening it).  Crush some Doritos in there and mix it with chopped iceberg lettuce and some shredded cheese, a wonderful meal.

We still love chili kinda like that — chili from a mix or packet — premeasured chili powder, garlic powder, masa (corn flour) etc– with some ground turkey or beef, beans, and a bottle of generic sweet bbq sauce.  For a quick dinner  you can’t go wrong.

Lately though we’ve been experimenting with real chili.  There are a lot of recipes all claiming to be authentic (I might be willing to bet there are more chili recipes than recipes for anything else, online), and the loudest shouts about authenticity come from the folks who maintain that real “texas red” doesn’t have any tomatoes, or beans, or onions, or anything, really, beyond the five basic ingredients (beef, garlic, cumin, oregano and ancho pepper).

I like simple recipes that complexify in the cooking so I started messing around.

Turns out it’s very easy to make a really good authentic chili; the only difficulty as far as I can see is that the standard batch isn’t big enough.  I’m not kidding when I say that if I took a spoonful every few minutes as I walk around the house I could finish an entire batch in one day, easy.

The only concession I’ve made to innovation was to add some jalapenos, because the anchos don’t have any heat (just glorious smoky depth).

chili ingredients

The anchos are, however, where the magic happens. Rubbery or papery and dark purple-brown, soaked in water and then pureed they make the wonderful smooth but slightly grainy red sauce — and that’s it– the sauce and the beef, and later some masa to thicken. You couldn’t get more simple:


Hours later that red turns a dark rich brown about the same time whatever tough cut of beef you’ve chosen gives up the game and changes from chewy to melting.  Eat it like that, or dump in some chopped onion, or some cheese, or beans if you like; just leave room for seconds.

An added bonus is the masa qualifies for that oddball category of packaging that shows the item in question happily cannibalizing or at least inviting you to eat its own people (i.e., bbq ads showing pigs in overalls eating ribs, chickens in straw hats serving up hot wings, etc.) — here Mr. Corn is apparently saying “Yum won’t you please try this tremendous taco made in part by the death and grinding up of my brothers and sisters?”


Then, finally, last night while Rebecca was writing about bread, I dug some old LP’s out of the basement and perhaps as a concession to college days, listened to them by the light of a couple candles.  Hyla listened too but was playing with her Nintendo DS most of the time.  I was just listening.  The shadow cast by the lamp in this corner seemed particularly nice, and constant, after I stared at it for a couple hours:


The window and the umbra made me think of Joseph Wright of Derby’s “Experiment With the Air Pump” though in comparing the two just now the light isn’t that similar — but anyone with the bandwidth should consider clicking the pic in this link, maximizing with the icon in the lower right, then using the slider on the right to enlarge the image rather a lot.

Evidently the UK’s nat’l gallery’s done a great job in giving us access to really high reproductions of their works, and this painting has always been a favorite — complex but uncomplicated, made from a small number of basic brilliant elements (kind of like good chili).


1 Comment

  1. kenelson says:

    cool pic — I love that painting! (I can see exactly where that notecard fits into the two hundred I made and memorized for my Renaissance to Modern survey class sophomore year…)
    hope things are a little less snowy in Vermont. when do the goats arrive?

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