With V-day having come and gone, some may be saying that love is no longer in the air, that we’ve all moved on, that things are back to normal. I disagree. While I think V-day is ridiculous at the best of times I (if you love someone, why on earth do you have to get them over-priced flowers and lame cards on one single day of the year?!) and evil at the worst of times (if you’re alone, surely this does not need to be emphasized so dramatically?), I still made a special effort for my Gentleman Companion yesterday. A special effort which is sure to last much longer than the usual V-day treats.
Some of you may have your own opinions on what constitutes an appropriate ‘special effort’ for Valentine’s Day, and frankly you can keep your lingerie, candles, edible underwear, massage oil and lord-know-what-else to yourself as what they really are: delusions of a troubled mind. Because ‘special effort’ obviously means chili.
I set out to make a an awesome chili that I have decided to call ‘Romancing the Bean’. Why? Because I accidentally used about 6 times more beans than any recipe in its right mind would suggest… and it only made the end product better. I was shockingly organized and rehydrated some pinto, navy and mung beans overnight so they’d be all ready to go V-day afternoon. Dried beans look so small and unsatisfying. So I added some more. And then some more. When fully rehydrated, it turned out that I in fact had about 12 cups of beans instead of the 2 cups I had intended. It also turned out that Creed from The Office knows what he’s talking about… mung beans really do smell like death.
Not off to the best start, I nevertheless persevered. Anything for love and food. I had read an impressive article in Cook’s Illustrated at Christmas that gave tips for making the best chili ever, so I thought I’d give some of them a whirl. First off, I made my own chili paste in a food processor using 3 cerrano peppers, a lot of cracked chili seeds, cayenne pepper, corn meal, cumin, coriander, veggie broth and… cocoa powder. Weird, but true and a wonderful idea.
Once the paste was made (approx. 5 minutes), I got a large red onion chopped up and into Nancy to sautee in some olive oil. I then threw in a handful of pressed garlic cloves (I really really like garlic). After a few minutes, before the onions became translucent and floppy, I dumped in a jumbo can of diced tomatoes, the chili paste, veggie broth, the obscene amount of rehydrated beans and… molasses! Another strange addition suggested by Cook’s Illustrated that turned out to be solid gold. Leaving Nancy alone to bring this mixture to a boil, I turned my attention to the cow.
I was going to make a veggie chili since that would be my preference, but I had then remembered the most important thought I have ever had on relationships. They are not just about compromise, as so many people would have you believe. They are about each acting to make the other happy as much as possible, rather than acting selfishly- when both sides do this, it works like magic. Sometimes this means compromise. Sometimes this means beef in a veggie chili. The best part of this attitude, is that usually acting unselfishly has unforeseen benefits. In this case, adding beef to the chili opened up the opportunity to cook with beer!
I reached deep into my beer cellar/camping-snowshoeing-gardening-house-cleaning storage closet and pulled out a lovely pale ale from Magic Hat Brewing in Vermont (even if you couldn’t care less about them, go to their website because it is really cool!). This was the last of an especially thoughtful Christmas present from my friends who smuggled a delightful selection of craft beers from the Eastern US across the border during American Thanksgiving (thanks guys!!!). Although I was reluctant to “waste” such a delicious gift beer in cooking, I knew it was the right choice. I sometimes get too carried away when cooking with beer and choose an overly dominant brew, resulting in a meal that just tastes like solid beer (see my complaints about my beer risotto efforts). Not this time… this time the pale ale was absolute perfection.
Instead of the more commonly used ground beef for chili, I used stewing beef. Another fun fact from Cook’s Illustrated revealed that ground beef usually gets very dried out during the long cooking process for a good chili, resulting in a bland taste and unsatisfying texture. Using steak (too pricey for my liking) or stewing beef (cheap and dirty- just right) are good alternatives. I split the beef into two portions and started browning the first in a large frying pan. Once the chunks were browned all over, I put them in with the beans et. al. and then cracked the beer.
Using the beer to deglaze the pan seemed odd, but it worked like a hot-damn! The beer lifted up all the juices that had stuck in the pan, so that I could pour the whole concoction into the chili. Then I repeated the process with the rest of the beef and the rest of the beer.
And then all I had left to do was put on my sexiest sweatpants, “brush” my hair (with my hand, not a brush), and recline completely un-seductively on the couch, while Nancy took care of the chili in the oven for about 2 hours (at 325°F). When my Gentleman Companion got home from a rough day of carpentry, he was greeted with the most incredible aromas of death (mung beans), garlic, beef & beer (love). Serving my Romancing the Bean chili with that scary-good foil-wrapped garlic bread from the store made for the most passionate, love-filled meal of the year (no talking, just stuffing our faces with beans). And again for lunch the next day. And dinner. And for the day after that. Seriously, we have enough leftovers to last until we too begin to smell like mung beans.