Chili in some corners of the nation is held in the realm of religion. Pasta, never pasta. Beans, never beans. Meat ground, chopped or omitted. Essentially, the only common factor in chili nationwide is the chili powder and tomato product as its base. Here in the Midwest, chili varies from family to family like meatloaf and homemade mac n' cheese. Running with an outdoorsy crowd, serving chili is perfectly acceptable because the after dinner campfire hangout provides an appropriate setting for post-chili release. (Did she just make a reference to farting? - Yes. Yes I did.) Plus, chili made over a campfire is fantastic - but the cleanup is a bitch.
Anyway, I have had the fortune of having several families versions of chili since I've been out on my own. I have seen the different applications of ingredients to arm myself with the ability to make chili with almost anything in the cabinet - so long as one item is chili powder and I have a tomotoey base.
Other factors that play into my preparation:
- Availability: If I don't have something, it's obviously not going into the chili. Since I have a chest freezer full of venison this time of year - we normally end up with a meaty chili. I usually ensure that I have the chili beans, kidney beans, tomato sauce or paste, and diced tomatoes stocked in the pantry.
- Heat: My husband prefers to cry at every meal by slathering everything in peppers, hot sauces, and other torture devices. I have a more sensitive palette and with breastfeeding I have to be careful, but I try to compromise. I put in enough spice to push the mix beyond a beany spaghetti sauce, but not so much that it burns my eyes as it simmers. If my husband is making the meal, a mix of the following required coolants are required: cheese, sour cream, sugar. The combination of all three are preferred.
- End game: What are the plans for the next 24 hours? Will we be sitting at a wedding, hiking single file, crammed into a family gathering, or working solo in the office or hanging on the couch? How available will a bathroom be? Seriously, if you don't worry about that stuff - you're either "that guy" fogging up the room and blaming the dog or you live a very secluded life. I'm just one foot inside of the mountain cave and I still take it into consideration.
- Time: Finally, the end-all, be-all limiting factor. Do I have time to cook peppers and meat before adding to the pot? Usually no. I cook during nap time. If I add steps, I reduce the likelihood of being able to enjoy my creation before bedtime.
Chili ready diced tomatoes, chili beans, kidney beans, tomato sauce. No time for meat. I like to serve my chili on top of pasta as to not risk bloaty-pasta chili in subsequent bowls. Of course, the queen of pasta hoarding had depleted her stash of three dimensional pasta. (I apparently can make spaghetti until the cows come home.) I ended up breaking lasagna noodles into bite-sized pieces. I added shredded cheese and sour cream (which may have been past its prime - so hard to tell with a dairy product already marketed as sour...no mold, so we're good to go). It wasn't great, but not bad either. I'm sure my husband will dump a load of chili powder into the mix when he tastes it - rendering the remainder too hot for me to handle...
I know you are all jealous of my culinary prowess.
Oh. Icing on the cake: I was inspired to make chili by the corn bread on the counter that was no less than three weeks old, but covered securely with foil. I had already cracked my can of chili beans before noticing (while chewing a nibblet of the bread) that white mold had begun to grow on the top.