Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Mrs. Woody's Wimpy Chili

or, What to Do Until You Grow Another Gall Bladder

In the Woody household, we've been making our own chili for years. It began when we started our food storage program. We had some room in the garage. Rather than clutter it up with a car, we decided to buy some bulk foods, can them, and store them where we might otherwise have parked our car. Later, about a year before we ended up selling the townhouse, I built shelves to store the food because, darn it, we wanted to park a car in there.

One of our stored food items was pinto beans. Lots of pinto beans. Enough pinto beans, I would estimate, to feed roughly two thousand generations of weevils. That's a lot of beans. Of course, once you've begun to store this food, you also have to make plans to "rotate" it. Rotation is the act of consuming the food so you can buy more to replace it and always have it on hand. I blame the burgeoning Food Storage industry lawyers for cooking up this scheme.

One obvious use for pinto beans - in fact, the only use we've discovered so far - is chili. The trouble is our wimpy Woody palates. Mrs. Woody is allergic to onions and not a huge fan of fresh garlic. As for me, I'm so out of practice after more than eight years of wanting a goodnight kiss, that onions really don't help me much. Also I'm missing all of my officially expendable organs now. Those come in really handy when you're eating spicy food. So, we cheat a lot.

Fortunately, if we can't use fresh onion and garlic in our food, we can and do use powders. About five years ago now, Mrs. Woody perfected our Mrs. Woody's Wimpy Chili recipe. We soak our own beans, toss in some ground meat, tomatoes, and all the spices we can handle. It's been a big hit among some of our friends and family. They always ask us for the recipe. The trouble is, we've never written it down.

Really. Mrs. Woody began this recipe as a grand experiment. We had no idea how it would come out, and every pot is virtually a surprise. Also, instead of using ground beef (too fatty!), we typically use ground turkey. This surprises folks who sample our chili because they can't really tell the difference. We happened to use ground beef tonight. I didn't get that much of a taste difference out of it. Go figure.

Today one of Mrs. Woody's friends stopped by to deliver clothes. Some day I'll post about our Underground Clothes Connection. Anyway, she smelled the chili cooking in the kitchen and asked my wife for the recipe. "I'd love to," she said, "but I've never written it down!"

It's really something to watch, especially when we cook it together. The basic recipe really isn't all that complicated. Six cups of dried beans are soaked overnight in water and two tablespoons of baking soda (helps with the, um, methane problems later on). After the beans have cooked and are tender, Mrs. Woody takes about four cups out to be made into refried beans later. We cook up one and half to two pounds of ground meat and stir it in. Two cans of diced tomatoes come next. Then the spices. When I'm helping, Mrs. Woody and I stand in front of the pot shaking and squeezing various spices into the mix. Our kids generally stay in their room.

This is the part we can't write down. Every time we come up with a successful blend, we can't for the life of us remember exactly how much we used. For one thing, when using our powders, we just shake 'em right out of the bottle rather than use measuring spoons. Also, mustard plays a prominent role in our chili. How do you write down "one good squeeze of mustard, to taste" and have it make sense?

For what it's worth, here are the spices we use in no particular order. If you can get them to taste good, terrific. Write it down and consider yourself published:

Yellow Mustard. I prefer the squeeze bottle variety myself.
Pepper, occasionally
Onion powder
Onion salt
Garlic powder. We use something called "California Blend" ("NO MSG!") from Ralphs.
Chili powder.

To taste.

From our kitchen to yours. Enjoy. I know I will.

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