Sunday, January 30, 2011

Keir Graff's Chili

The headquarters of the American Library Association is in Chicago. So whenever I travel by plane to a big conference, I usually end up with several of the ALA staff on the same plane. A few times now I have ended up sitting near the fabulous Booklist Online editor Keir Graff, and during one four hour flight I was delighted to discover that he is a mystery writer as well. In addition to his adult titles, Keir is also now writing for younger readers. When I saw him on the plane heading to San Diego - I quickly asked him to join the blog guests for this month. Enjoy!-AA

Keir Graff's Chili

I love to cook and generally make the dinners for our family. I enjoy working from recipes but rarely do--choosing a recipe and shopping for the ingredients often requires more time and planning than I can manage. So much of my cooking is improvisatory, from Anything-Goes Salad to Refrigerator Gumbo. (For an approximation of this style of cooking, see page 19 of my latest book, The Price of Liberty, where Jack McEnroe starts breakfast with a wedge of bacon fat from the can under the sink.) My chili, however, is one of my proudest creations, and tends to come out pretty much the same every time. So here's how you make it, more or less:

2 lbs. chuck steak, cubed

1 or 2 yellow onions, diced

3 or 4 cloves garlic

2 cups beef bouillon

2 big cans of tomatoes, diced or crushed

3 to 6 canned chipotle peppers, minced, and some of the adobo sauce

black beans, 2 cups, soaked until tender

kidney beans, 1 cup, soaked until tender

pinto beans, 1 cup, soaked until tender

1 small can tomato paste

kosher salt to taste

cumin to taste

Cut the beef into 3/4-inch cubes. Pound with a tenderizing hammer; if you need motivation, think about work. Brown the meat in vegetable oil (or bacon fat) over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. While the meat is cooking, add the onion and then the garlic. When the meat is lightly browned, add the bouillon (it should be hot) and then the tomatoes. Add a judiciously unhealthy mound of salt, at least a rounded tablespoon of cumin, and the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.Then bring the whole mess to an energetic simmer and keep it that way for a couple of hours. If too much of the liquid boils off, add some water.

When the meat is to-die-for tender, stir in the beans. Heat through, thicken with tomato paste, then taste and adjust any of the seasonings as necessary. I often find that it is too spicy for my friends and not spicy enough for me, an intractable problem. Fortunately, chili is what you make it, so you can build any number of variations off this basic framework: all meat, all beans, one kind of beans, etc. I've even made it with tofu. (Although the very first version was made with venison.)

If it's really, really spicy, I like to serve it on a bed of white rice. And, at any heat, your guests aren't likely to complain if you offer toppings such as cilantro, green onions, white cheese, and fresh jalapenos. Serve with warm corn tortillas or corn muffins and lots of cold Negra Modelo.

Keir Graff is the author of the novels The Price of Liberty (2010), One Nation, Under God (2008), My Fellow Americans (2007), and, under the pseudonym Michael McCulloch, Cold Lessons (2007). His short stories have appeared in a wide variety of publications, from the Portland Review to the Chicago Reader. A former freelance writer, he has written about topics ranging from books and publishing to billiards and cocktails. By day, he is the senior editor of Booklist Online. He lives in Chicago with his wife, two sons, two cats, two goldfish, and about two thousand earthworms. He enjoys drinking scotch whiskey, playing pool, running, and coaching soccer, but not all at once. Read more about him and his books at .


Cursuri Cosmetica said...

I love chili with everything. I’m always looking for new add-ins to vary recipes as much as I can. Thanks for this great recipe.

Anonymous said...

great advice on the amount of chipotles (3-6), salt, adobe sauce, and other ingredients. That's what chili cooking is all about: a complete lack of precision and inability to recreate the same dish ever again.