Friday, June 8, 2012

The Chili Queen

Around these parts... we're from Texas. Although I have spent mostly all of my adult life living elsewhere, my formative years were all spent in The Lonestar State. And, let me tell you... there are two things that Texans take very seriously: their history and their chili.

I was dumbstruck when I moved to Alaska towards the end of high school. Their state's history was barely a blip on the radar... at least where the public school system was concerned. In Texas, we spent the better part of several grading periods learning solely about Texas history. Our entire 7th grade year, we had a Texas history course. Not world history. Not US history. TEXAS history. Weren't all states like this? I guess not. 

The Alamo. Bluebonnets. Jim Bowie. Mockingbirds. Independence from Mexico. Chili. Yes, CHILI. The origins of chili have their roots firmly planted in The Lonestar State. So, it's only fitting that it is the official state dish of Texas. One of my favorite projects in my Texas history class was "Cowboy Chow" day. We researched the traditional meals of real frontier cowboys of yore. Chili, cornbread, pork and beans. At the end of the week, each student was responsible for bringing in a dish to share. A dish of traditional cowboy fare. Favorite. Project. Ever. I was a foodie even at the age of seven.

San Antonio. My favorite city in all of Texas. Rich with history. Delicious meals available at a plethora of traditional Tex-Mex restaurants on nearly every corner. Back in the 1800's, the phenomenon of the Chili Queens at Military Plaza Mercado. These women sold bowls of stew known as "chili". At the time, it was a simple dish consisting of dried red chiles and beef. They made their chilis at home, loaded them up into colorful chili wagons, and hauled their fare to the market every night. They would build mesquite fires right at the market square to keep their chili nice and hot. Colorful lanterns would adorn the chili wagons, drawing patrons to the women seated on the ground next to their pots. The Chili Queens would serve up their fiery stew to patrons while they sat on stools in the square, enjoying their spicy meals. Eventually, sanitation laws were passed that put The Chili Queens out of business in the square. Many just closed up shop, others went on to open indoor cafes. Whatever the end of their story was, their infamous fare lives on as a popular culinary treat even today.

Recipes for chili are up for serious debate. They are the star player in culinary cook-offs all over the southwest. And, each chili cook has his own recipe that he or she proudly proclaims, and firmly believes is the. end. all. be. all. chili. recipe. Beans or no beans? Ground meat or cubed chuck? Spicy or nuclear hot? It's all a matter of opinion. But, this recipe has been in my family for quite some time. Over the years, I have put my own twists on it. And, like any other chili cook... I believe this to be the. end. all. be. all. chili. recipe. 

One note before we move on to the recipe... chili is supposed to be hot. Not so spicy, in my opinion, that it sears the roof of your mouth and you dissolve into a puddle of sweat. But, heat is an important factor in this dish. I have found that there is NO way to make this mild enough that kids will enjoy it, while still maintaining the integrity of the flavor. So, just do yourself a favor... unless you have a child with extremely savvy tastebuds, forego serving them this dish. The accompanying corn muffins go nicely as a side with tomato soup or canned chili of a less spicy variety. Now, moving on...

Queen's Chili
2 lbs. ground turkey (You can also try ground pork, beef or chicken. We LOVE bison as a subsititute.)
1/4 of a lg. Vidalia onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
3/4 of large Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
3 lg. jalapenos, seeded and minced
2 (12 oz.) cans or bottles of beer (I use whatever is on hand... usually PBR)
2 Tbs. molasses
1 (6 oz.) can and 1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste, plus 1 can each full of water
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
1 lg. handful fresh parsley, chopped
4 tsp. terragon
4 tsp. sweet basil
2 tsp. thyme
1 can Ranch-style pinto beans, UNdrained
1 can kidney beans, UNdrained
1 (4.5 oz. bottle of chili powder)
2 tsp. paprika
2 lg. squares baking chocolate
1 lg. handful of yellow cornmeal
Several dashes of mango habanero salsa

Start by cooking in a skillet: ground turkey, minced onion, minced garlic and salt over med-high heat until meat is just cooked through. 

While meat is cooking, put all remaining ingredients into a large crock pot. Add cooked meat, and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Cook on low heat for 4 1/2 hours. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, and chopped onions. 

You can also offer the option of Frito pies. Take a handful of Fritos, top with chili and cheese. I think this ruins the whole chili experience, but the Mr. loves it. It is a great way to enjoy left-overs, though. Only then, will I allow the Fritos to creep into my bowl!

This makes A LOT of chili... perfect for Super Bowl parties! It also freezes quite nicely. So, even if you're only feeding a small group... cook it up, and freeze some of the left-overs. Or, if you're so inclined... just cut the recipe in half, and eliminate the can of kidney beans.

Every bowl of chili needs a tasty carb to soak up the remaining gravy in the bowl. These muffins are PERFECT. Just a slight touch of heat to their moist, sweetness!

Sweet Heat Muffins
3 Tbs. butter
1/2 lg. vidalia onion, chopped
2 lg. jalapenos, seeded and diced
1 (8 oz.) pkg. corn bread mix (I HIGHLY prefer Jiffy brand)
1 lg. egg, beaten
1/3 C. whole milk
1/2 C. sour cream
1 C. grated sharp Cheddar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried dill weed
1/4 tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 375*. Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray; set aside.

In a skillet, melt butter. Saute the onion and jalapenos until tender, but not browned. 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place muffin mix, egg, milk, sour cream, cheese, salt, dill and paprika in a lg. mixing bowl. Add onions and peppers. Mix until just combined. Spoon into muffin tins until 3/4 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned, and toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.

Now, you're ready to enjoy a good old cowboy-style meal... just like you would deep in the heart of Texas!

And, just like Texas has its favorites of chili and history... I have my favorites of history and food. You may have noticed, I have tried to tie in a little history with every post here lately. I am enthralled with food history. The shows Unwrapped and American Eats have long been favorites of mine. I have a stack of food history books on my bedside table that I'm in the process of working my way through. The history will eventually play an important role into the design of this blog. Stay tuned!


Unknown said...

this looks so yum. might have to steal your recipe!

j.leija said...

i'm a texan! yup, 7th grade was a full year of texas history. my friends from other states are baffled by this and i find that funny. it's texas, what did they expect?! :)