Monday, 30 July 2012

Comfort Food

What's your favourite comfort food dish? Mine does depend on the time of year (I really can't be doing with shepherd's pie or fish pie in July / August, it's winter food!). Anyhow, in lands Himself with a big bag of mince - 4 kilos of it! (I think I mentioned before, he's a chef, this was a surplus that wouldn't last the weekend... )

He thought he might make burgers - did he think we were feeding the Five Thousand?! But we'd actually had homemade burgers on Tuesday, I really didn't fancy them again. Anyhow, I was tired and wrecked after a couple of late nights (why didn't they light the Olympic torch earlier?! And who knew there were that many countries in the world?! Also, the youngest girl in the house has worked out how to get out of the cot - I get awoken now about 3am every morning to a plaintive wail of "Mama" and the rattle of the door handle, we have old fashioned brass door knobs and some of them are quite stiff). I went through all my "mince recipes" in my head - I was a bit non-plussed. I had no veg at home, so bolognaise wasn't really a runner, lasagne is too much faff, meatballs are lovely but quite fiddly.... and then I had a brainwave - CHILLI! I have a great recipe, it's pretty simple to prepare, you just need a bit of time as it slow-cooks for a couple of hours, but it's no trouble.

This recipe is one I pulled out of magazine years ago (they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree - my own mother had a bulging scrapbook of recipes clipped from papers and magazines. I have a blitz every year or so, weeding out some recipes I know I'm no longer interested in, sticking in the clips that I've shoved in the back of the scrapbook throughout the year - if the girls have left me any PrittStick!). Anyhow, I got this recipe from the Sunday Times "Style" magazine, I think it dates back to about 2000 or 2001. The recipe writer at the time was a guy called Alastair Hendy, I actually have quite a few recipes of his in this book. He actually provided two chilli recipes that day - his "Comfort Chilli con Carne" is the recipe I use, it's great.
Some tips from the man himself that I think are worth sharing:-

"What Spices Should I Use?"

"Obviously chilli, more of which below. Also - and I know I'm running the risk of upsetting all you Tex-Mex purists - I like to put in a hefty pinch of cumin, a little dried oregano and a dash of Tabasco. I also throw in a few bay leaves."

"And how much chilli?"

"If there's not enough cayenne pepper (ground chilli) for your taste, then make it 4tsp to 5tsp, but don't be overzealous. Go gently, adding a smidge and then leaving it to murmur. The heat will intensify as it cooks, and you can always return to taste and add more later."

"And what about chocolate?"

"Er, chocolate? Yes, Mexicans use it, but both their chocolate and chillies are very different from ours. It's far too fancy for our home-grown hybrid, but I do add a few dark, bittersweet squares to my alternative version. It deepens and intensifies the sauce... But don't overdo it - main-meets-pud is not good."

Comfort Chilli con Carne

Reheated and eaten the next day, this will be at the peak of it's loveliness. Serves 6, with some second helpings

Spice Cupboard - including both hot and mild paprika
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1kg coarse-ground minced beef
  • 2 tbsp paprika (hot smoked, if possible - fiery! The kind that comes in a tin, the sweet or soft / mild is much less hot)
  • 3tsp-4tsp hot cayenne or chilli powder
  • 100ml white malt vinegar
  • 6 tbsps tomato purée
  • 3 x 400ml cans chopped plum tomatoes
  • 2 x 400ml cans red kidney beans
  • 300ml red wine
  • Dash of Tabasco, if needed
  1. Start by gently frying the onion and garlic in about 2 tbsp of oil in a big casserole dish or heavy saucepan, until the onion has turned soft but not browned. Then, stir in the cumin, some salt and pepper, the oregano and the bay leaves and cook for a minute more.
  2. Next, add the mince, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Stir through and brown all over - you may need to add a drop more oil.
  3. In a cup, mix the paprika with the chilli powder and the vinegar. Stir this in along with the tomato purée.
  4. After a further minute or so, tip in the canned tomatoes. the canned beans and the red wine. Mix everything together and season again, and bring to a bubble.
  5. Then, either put it in an oven pre-heated to 170ºC / 325ºF / gas mark 3 or very gently braise over a low heat on the hob for 1½-2 hours. If you do it on the hob, make sure it doesn't burn. Check up on it from time to time, giving it a stir and add a dash of water if it starts to look on the dry side. 
  6. For the best flavour, leave to cool once cooked and  reheat on the hob later. Be sure to taste each time you serve it, however, as you may need to perk it up with a dash or two of Tabasco.
Now, how to serve. Mr. Hendy suggests serving it spooned over boiled long-grain rice and sprinkled with grated cheese. However - and here's where the "comfort food" element comes into it for me - I like to serve it in a big bowl with tortilla chips on the side; sprinkled with chopped onion, grated cheese and a good dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche on top. This is how we used to serve the "chilli nachos" in Tacos, a TexMex restaurant in Cologne, where I was working in 1994 after I finished university and where I met Himself... So not only is this a great comfort dish for me, it is also my top "nostalgia" dish - what's not to love?! If only we could regularly get hold of some gorgeous Früh Kölsch beer to wash it down... Those were the days, folks!
A bowl of chilli

Anyhow, enjoy the chilli - I hadn't had it in ages, and I have to say - it rocked. I didn't have enough time to let it cool and reheat... but there is enough left over for tonight's dinner too, I hope it's going to be even more fabulicious tonight.

Sarah xx

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