Sunday, October 21, 2012

Anita's Chili

I learned to make chili from my old boss Anita. She and her husband Charlie ran the best lunch spot in the universe, Taylor's Country Store. It was the real deal. Anita had an eye for funky odd items and collectibles so there were ever changing displays of interesting things everywhere, on the walls, on the counters, in the bathrooms. There were three floors of tables and a skylight that leaked when it rained. A semi-retired lawyer came in and played the piano for two hours and got paid in sandwiches. Listen, I couldn't make this stuff up. Practically everyone I know worked there at one time or another. And if any of you are reading this you know who you are and please, please leave a comment with your story about working at Taylor's!

Anyway, about the chili. One of my jobs there was to make the chili and Anita taught me how to do it. She was not like anyone I'd ever worked for, before or since. She was a great cook, an artist, a mother to four exceptional children, I could go on and on. But I'll give you a small example of her character. One morning I was working away and she pulled me over to a table and sat me down. She walked off and I remember thinking I did something wrong and I was going to get a talking to, or worse, fired. She came back and presented me with a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. And so everyone else was working their tails off and she and I were just sitting and eating breakfast and talking. Maybe she just wanted someone to have breakfast with, but I gotta tell you I felt a little special. For Anita work was not about work, it was about people. 

Oh, right, the chili. So this chili is not exactly the chili I learned from Anita, but it does derive most of the basics from that chili. Anita's chili had ground meat and red kidney beans; and she used Wick Fowler's Two Alarm Chili mix. We served it with shredded cheese, minced onion, sour cream and a buttered roll. It was kinda kick ass, and a huge seller. Jeez, I made it everyday!

After Anita and her husband sold the restaurant it lived on for a bit under new management. But without that special something that Anita and Charlie brought to the table it didn't last long. I continued to make the chili at home. At first, just like Anita's, with ground beef, kidney beans and Wick Fowler's. And later with ground turkey and my own blend of herbs and spices I found from reading the ingredient list on the Wick Fowlers' box. And later still just with black beans and no meat. I made that version of it countless times and it even got published in Bon Appetit magazine and lives on here. As you can see this chili is very adaptable. In fact I encourage you to create your own spin on it.

Here's yet another version I'll share with you now. It's meaty in the sense that it's a vegetarian chili with a lot of heft to it. It may be only a distant relative to Anita's chili, but for me it's still Anita's chili. And I love making it, in whatever version, especially on cold nights. Not just because it's delicious but because it reminds me of Anita and the restaurant and those days gone by.  

Anita's Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion chopped
1 red pepper chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon corn flour
2 cans (15 ounces) tomato sauce
2 cans (15 ounces) kidney beans
1 can (15 ounces) corn
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

toppings (optional)
sour cream
shredded Farm House cheddar cheese
minced onion
hot sauce 

In a large pot or Dutch oven add olive oil and heat on medium. Add onions, peppers, garlic and all the spices, oregano, corn flour.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until your onions and peppers are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for another 15-30 minutes for everything to come together.

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