How Not To Cook Chili - 101

1.  Sign up for a chili cooking competition when you have NEVER cooked chili in your life.
3.  Buy a cut of meat (brisket?) for said chili that you have never really heard of, let along cooked with before.
4.  Ignore friend's advice to get meat from a good butcher and instead buy crappy stuff from ShopShite.
5.  Attempt to cook chili with cavalier 'devil may care' attitude 2 hours before start time of event, despite recommended timing on lovely recipe suggesting closer to 4 hours (or preferably all day).
6.  Follow lovely online recipe, from very reputable chef, only to find one of the crucial liquid ingredients is mentioned once, then never again [500ml of coffee...WTF Jamie??].
7.  Realise at eleventh hour that am missing possibly key ingredients...bay leaf?...molasses? so substitute brown sugar and some dark chocolate...am sure that this is used in Mexican cooking...so maybe in chili?
8.  Compete in competition with 'native' Chili cooks who have probably been cooking this virtually National dish for at least 20 years. 
9.  Turn up to event with no cooking 'partner in crime' (due to a stomach bug on her part) or husband (on babysitting duties) ie no moral support.
10. Feel like downing a few sneaky tequila shots before event for some 'dutch courage' but being unable to, as is a preschool affair and this would not be a good look.

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A work in progress
So it was that the Great St XX's Chili Cook-Off took place at my daughter's school last night with my first ever (and possibly last) attempt at chili.  Perhaps I should have taken it as a sign, when my cooking partner bailed out on me at the last minute with a tummy bug.  Or when I saw the worried looks on friends' faces that afternoon when I blithely told them I was off home to cook chili at 4 o'clock...'you mean you haven't started it  yet?' and '...weeeeeelllll you won't win , you realise that?'.  And that, from a woman who is renowned for her ahem 'char grilling technique' on everything from bagels to bacon...


The competition

Actually it wasn't that bad.  Despite a very late start in the kitchen, I did manage to pull together something that was pretty passable, though the school Director may have just been being kind when she advised 'they were all very good, it was hard to choose a winner'... In hindsight, I have a few tips I gleaned over the course of the night, after sampling and talking to the competition.
  • Use the best cut of meat you can afford - even hours of cooking won't fix 'tough as gumboot' [rainboot] old meat.
  • Don't add too much water if it is too thick - instead use stock otherwise the taste will be diluted.
  • Use different types of chili and use fresh spices where possible for maximum flavour.
  • Cook chili the day before you plan to eat it.  This one is, I believe, crucial!
  • Purists will argue, real chili doesn't contain beans.  I have researched this extensively online (ie via wikipedia) and I say go with whatever you like in chili. 'The question of whether beans "belong" in chili has been a matter of contention among chili cooks for a long time. It is likely that in many poorer areas of San Antonio and other places associated with the origins of chili, beans were used rather than meat, or in addition to meat. Texas-style chili contains no beans and may even be made with no other vegetables whatsoever besides chili peppers'. 
  • and the recipe? Chili is a very personal dish and almost all chili cooks will have their own secret ingredients... Have fun and experiment!  BIG THANKS to Emily from The Gourmand and the Peasant and Ju from Ju's Musings for their wonderful recipes and ideas. In the end I decided to go with a combination of theirs and my friend Mr Oliver's - if in doubt, try this one out which was adapted from Jamie's 'American Road Trip'.
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Click on the above image for RECIPE
'Ok, so I’m making chili, which like tomato sauce or chocolate chip cookies, there are a million variations of and everyone thinks that theirs is right. I don’t, I just think it's damn good.' Emily Peterson.
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Click on the above image for RECIPE
'This recipe is based on Nigella’s ‘cornbread topped chilli’ – although I’ve never made the cornbread - combined with a few tips and tricks from Jamie Oliver.  It turns out different each time I make it but it’s always delicious'. Ju.
Chili Con Nikki
(Serves 6-8)

1.5 kg beef brisket, trimmed and sliced into 2cm thick pieces
1 cup good coffee
Good pour of olive oil
2 tspn ground cumin
2 tspn smoked paprika
2 tspn dried oregano
1 tspn coriander seed
2 red onions, peeled and diced
3 – 4 fresh chiles (small green ones are good)
2-3 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 Tbspns brown sugar
75gm darkest chocolate
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
2 x 400g tins of beans (kidney, butter or pinto), drained
TO SERVE:
Sour cream
Large handful chopped parsley or coriander, chopped

Make coffee. 
Put oil in a large casserole pot (with lid) and gently heat on low.  Add cumin, paprika, oregano, coriander seed and onions. Fry for 10 minutes, until the onions soften. De seed and chop your fresh chillies and add to onions and spices.

Add the meat and stir well to coat with onion and spices, and then add cinnamon sticks, garlic, salt and pepper, coffee, tomatoes, sugar and chocolate. Cover casserole dish with lid and simmer for around 31/2 hours, stirring occasionally. 

After a few hours break up the meat and pull it apart using a fork. 
Add the sliced yellow and red peppers and the beans and leave to simmer for 30 minutes with the lid off until the meat is completely falling apart and delicious.  If mixture gets too dry, add a little beef stock, if too runny, leave to cook a bit longer til liquid reduces.

Ideally leave in fridge overnight, bring back to room temperature and heat through before serving.
Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve with rice, corn chips, corn bread and sour cream.
Beer and Tequila optional!


PS In case you were wondering, I didn't win, but serving the leftover chili to good friends the next night (who loved it) was good enough xx