Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Living Room Chili

As we enter week three of our kitchen redo, lots of folks are asking what a cook like me is doing without a kitchen in which to cook. Answer: find another place to cook. My only option right now is the living room, which presents challenges. Where to put everything, where to plug everything in, and most importantly, where to wash the dishes. For about a week and a half our only choice for dish washing was the bathtub. Not surprisingly, we ate out a lot that week. But our amazing contractor has rigged up a temporary sink in our bombed out kitchen, which opens up lots of possibilities.

Where our beautiful new double oven will be. Eventually.

For the food prep, we are relying on a collection of counter appliances to get the job done. The microwave, toaster oven, coffee maker, blender, slow cooker, and rice cooker are all present and in use. The only item we purchased specifically for the living room was an electric burner, which cost all of $18 and has completely expanded our possibilities. 

Don't get me wrong--we are definitely buying more from the Trader Joe's frozen aisle, and the kids talked me into Eggo waffles (one glance at the ingredient list has convinced me not to buy Eggos anymore). But we've managed to cook fair amount. Last week we cranked out honey orange chicken in the slow cooker, burgers on the grill, and pasta with pesto. 

The living room set up. 

After a class a few days ago, I came home with leftover black beans and cilantro. My daughter took one look at them and requested chili. Actually, she specifically requested the chili my friend Lisa makes for an annual camping trip we take in the fall (does my daughter think we are camping?). Lisa told me she uses a Cooks Illustrated recipe, which I checked out and promptly altered substantially. In the end, my recipe isn't cutting edge, but a simple chili tastes so good when done right. 

Chili is perfect for the slow cooker, but you can't rely only the slow cooker to get the job done. I use a sauté pan to brown the meat, soften the veggies, and wake up the spices, but washing that extra pan is worth it in terms of flavor. Even on the $18 burner that step only took about 10 minutes, and then the chili can manage unsupervised in the slow cooker for the rest of the day. If I can make this in the living room, surely you can make this in an actual kitchen.

One note. I think part of what makes this chili so delicious is the spices I used. I don't use a traditional chili powder mix, which is often a combination of many herbs and spices. I start with Penzey's ground ancho chili pepper, which is just the chili. Ancho has high flavor but not a lot of heat. Use cayenne if you must have spicy heat, but I personally like the ancho flavor all by itself. 

Living Room Chili
Serves 4 with leftovers for lunch

1 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 T. ground ancho chili pepper
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. oregano
1/2 t. cayenne pepper (optional) 
1 lb. lean ground beef (or bison)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. corn kernels
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
Kosher salt to taste

Toppings, if you have them: chopped cilantro, chopped scallions, sour cream, feta cheese, avocado slices, or lime wedges.

Heat oil in a sauté pan until shimmery. Add onions and red pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add chili pepper, cumin and oregano and stir. Add beef and brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir briefly. 

Scrape contents of pan into a slow cooker (at least a 4-quart). Add beans, corn, tomatoes and tomato sauce and stir. Set slow cooker to low and cook 6-8 hours. 

Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. 

Serve with toppings. 

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