Strange, but true.

I decided I missed having my chili, even though it is the season of hot-summer weather. I’ve tried several varieties and I enjoy my concoction of beef, sausage, beans and vegetables. Everyone seems to have their own version of chili–mine is affectionately called Protein poisoning chili. Each step in the recipe is a meal for a night. I’ve never tried to make all the ingredients for the chili at once and then make the chili on the same day. Everything in my chili recipe can be bought (bottled or canned), but it never tastes the same when I skimp on all the ingredients. Due to the season (summer), I have to skimp on some (using tinned tomatoes and store bought salsa, for example) if I’m to make the chili in a budget-conscious way.

The best part of my chili recipe is that I love every meal of the 4-step process. I don’t skimp on taste (but I do try to be frugal). The chili can be made vegetarian, if you desire, by adding tofu or more beans instead of meat. In the case of the spaghetti sauce, just omit the beef and milk entirely from the recipe.

The worst part of my chili recipe is that it takes time. It’s not something I can usually just whip up on a whim. Even when my freezer is appropriately stocked with home-made goodies and my pantry is full of beans and tomatoes; it still takes a day or two to make this recipe. But the chili freezes really well (assuming there are leftovers that last that long); so it’s a decent concession to the amount of time required.

The steps of my chili:

  • Day 1. Homemade Spaghetti sauce.
  • Day 2. BBQ Sausages.
  • Day 3. BBQ Hamburgers.
  • Day 4. Homemade baked beans.
  • Day 5. Chili!

Day 1: Spaghetti sauce

Homemade spaghetti sauce is something I grew up with. My mother, never content with the store bought sauces, would occasionally make a batch of homemade spaghetti sauce when the home-grown tomatoes were ripe. I don’t remember if I appreciated it then; but I certainly do now.

My recipe is different from my mother’s. My mother-in-law taught me the power of deglazing your pan with alcohol. She uses a homemade red wine. I just pick a strong vintage that I’d willingly  drink with the meal. The recipe I use is a slightly modified version of Rick Gallop’s Bolognese sauce. The sauce is very simple and straightforward. I add red pepper flakes for the kick it provides the sauce, but these are optional. When in season, I use about 50g of pureed tomatoes – beefsteak or Roma preferred.  Otherwise I buy no-salt added diced tomatoes and either use a blender to turn them into a puree, or use my immersion blender once the sauce is done and slightly cooled. Recently, I’ve discovered dried Greek oregano and have been using that more even than the fresh (which is over-grown on my back gallery). Long-cooking dishes work better with dried herbs. If you wish to use the fresh, shred them very fine and add them only at the very end of the cooking process.

A  note on the liquid in this recipe – the wine/sherry/stock item in particular – any liquid will do. Choose something you’d enjoy drinking straight from the container. So, a wine you’d gladly serve for dinner, a sherry you’d offer a guest, or a stock you’d enjoy drinking in a mug. If you can’t find any of these things, you can use water.  The secret to a good spaghetti sauce is that each ingredient must be something you’d enjoy eating on its own (hot or cold, your choice). If there’s something in this recipe you don’t like (say, carrots) just replace it with something that you do like (say, more peppers, celery, or even sweet potato, winter/acorn/butternut/spaghetti squash, or pumpkin). Naturally, it will change the taste.

A note on the prices – these are my best estimates. My pantry is pretty well stocked and I buy many things (olive oil for example) in bulk whenever possible, so my prices probably won’t be your prices. Right now, the most expensive ingredient is probably the bell peppers. For my current version I cheated and  bought cubanelles instead as they were significantly cheaper ($2.00 for 4, instead of $1.75 for 2). I buy dried herbs as needed and when they’re on-sale. Garlic, I buy in packs or strings (at the end of the fall season). I’ve not bought salt since 1993 — when a friend “accidentally” bought 15 pounds of the stuff. Long story short: I paid for and took my share of it when I moved out.

This recipe freezes incredibly well (lasting up to 6 months), and stores in the fridge for about a week in an air-tight container.

Bolognese sauce

Inspired by Rick Gallop‘s Bolognes recipe from his GI Diet Cookbook (ISBN – 13:9780679314400)

Servings: 12+
Serving size: 1/2 cup per person
Total cost: $11.02 (not including all pantry items)
Cost per serving
: $0.92
Time: Prep (15 mins) Cooking (45 mins) = 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (pantry – $0.04)
  • 1 pound extra lean hamburger ($2.70)
  • 1/2 cup 1% (or fatter) milk ($0.43)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced  ($0.10)
  • 1-2 stalks of celery, washed and finely diced ($0.15)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced ($0.05)
  • 2 peppers, seeded, washed and finely diced (cubanelle’s $1.00, the original recipe called for 1 red and 1 green bell pepper)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, and finely diced (pantry – $0.16)
  • 1/2 cup red wine, sherry, or stock (I used sherry – $2.89)
  • 2 cans tomatoes, pureed ($3.50)
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano (pantry)
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil (pantry)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional) (pantry)
  • salt and pepper to taste (pantry)

Directions

  1. Put a large (22″ or so) skillet on a burner and turn the burner onto medium heat. Add the olive oil.
  2. When a drop of water added to the olive oil spits, crumble the meat into the pan. Stir briefly to distribute across the pan. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until all the pink is gone.
  3. Add the milk and stir. The meat should start to crumble. When the milk seems to disappear, add the vegetables and stir to incorporate.
  4. Cook the mixture until the carrots are fork-tender and the onions are translucent. The mixture may start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Sticking is good. You want a brown coating to form on the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat down once the food starts to stick, and continue to stir occasionally. Do not let this burn!
  5. Add the liquid (red wine, sherry, or stock) to the pan and scrape the bottom of the pan. You want all the stuck-vegetables and darkened stuff to come up off  the pan. Stir to incorporate.
  6. When the liquid has evaporated, taste it. Add the herbs, and season with a bit of pepper. Then taste it again. If it needs more pepper/herbs/salt — add them, but add sparingly.
  7. Add the tomatoes, turn the heat back up to medium and let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the mixture bubbles and spits, turn the heat down a little bit and stir well. If it continues to spit, you can put a lid on it – but remember to leave an opening (prop the lid up with a wooden spoon or something) so that the liquid in the sauce can evaporate away.
  8. After 45 minutes, the sauce should be ready to serve. Stir once more and take it off the heat to cool a bit and taste it again. If you need to – add more herbs/salt/pepper. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

How it went

I started the recipe around 4:45 and had dinner on the table for 6:30. Not exactly fast, but I was watching good TV, so I was taking my time.  Everything went pretty smoothly overall. I forgot to season the sauce at the end (it needed more salt and pepper) and left out the red pepper flakes entirely (I blame the TV). I also didn’t puree my tomatoes before adding, so the sauce was slightly more chunky than normal. I bottled it and put it in the back of the fridge for now. Tomorrow night I’ll puree it finer and set some (a serving or two) aside for freezing. The rest will go into the chili.

Rick Gallop’s recipe suggests freezing it in baggies in 1 cup measures. I typically use a 500g mason jar as I prefer not to use quite so much plastic. Also, I find mason jars don’t get lost quite so easily in my freezer.

I served 1 cup of the sauce over whole-wheat rotini with 1/2 a cup (very loosely packed) or so of Parmigiano-Reggiano freshly grated right into the pasta and sauce, then stirred to incorporate.  The meal served two with enough leftovers for two large lunches. I had intended to also make a green salad with red wine vinagrette; but the sauce was making me hungry–and so forgot to make it.

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