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Cooking (#960)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, end-notable

Yesterday at water aerobics, someone mentioned that they had made black bean chili the other day. I thought to myself Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve made chili. Then I realized that I hadn’t made anything non-trivial for a long time [1], at least not outside of the holiday season.

For example, this Thanksgiving, I helped youngest with bagels, cooked the turkey, ham, and brisket, attempted the gravy [2], made the sweet potato casserole and the stuffing, and, um, maybe something else. However, none of those are particularly complicated. So perhaps I don’t need to include the disclaimer at the end of the previous paragraph [3].

It used to be that I cooked regularly. I didn’t make gourmet food, but I made food with multiple ingredients that required multiple steps. Chili was one of my go-to dishes as was quiche. When Eldest Son and I visited Mass MOCA a few months ago, I ordered quiche for lunch and he said, What’s quiche? So I guess it’s been longer than I thought.

I cooked through most of college once I moved off campus in my second year. I cooked through graduate school. I cooked when I was at Dartmouth. I recall cooking when I was here. But at some point, I stopped. I wonder when. I wonder why.

One of my favorite events to cook for was our formerly annual Ground Hog’s Day Potluck Brunch, a tradition that Michelle and I inherited from my parents. I always made bagels, baked eggs, and quiche. I made some other things, too, depending on how things were going. For example, in some years I’d make fruit salad in and other years Michelle did. But we haven’t held a Ground Hog’s Day Potluck Brunch for a long time. How long? I’m not sure. I recall having one after we added to the house, but that’s about fifteen years ago. Why did we stop? It was a combination of issues. It was hard to think about having brunch after we lost Lloyd and even harder after we lost my mother and Kathy. A lot of events started coming into conflict [4].

But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t keep cooking.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve spent much of the last decade feeling stressed and low on time. Cooking should feel like a nice break, but, too often, all that I could imagine doing was cooking up some chicken or something equivalent.

Anyway, as I reflected on these things, I decided I should try cooking again. So, on the way home from water aerobics, I stopped at HyVee and Fareway and got some ingredients.

Then I got home. I brought my computer into the kitchen so that I could listen to music [7,8]. Then I made …

Can you guess?

Sour mix.

Why did I make sour mix? Um, for no particularly good reason. I had made simple syrup the other day and, in doing so, learned that sour mix is essentially simple syrup made with lemon juice and lime juice. So it seemed like a good thing to attempt. Plus, sours are one of my favorite drinks. Rum sours. Whiskey sours. Tequila sours [10].

After that, I went ahead and made something a bit more complex. That is, I made a chili-like substance. Why do I call it a chili-like substance? Because you may have strong opinions about what goes in chili and I may not have followed them. This substance has tomatoes [11], onions, chicken [12], black beans [14,15,16], a red bell pepper, a poblano pepper [17], and some spices that include chili powder. Although I live in Iowa, I did not add corn. I still don’t understand why people put corn in chili.

I tried a few things that I haven’t done in the past. I toasted the spices [18]. I included spices and some onions and chopped poblano when I cooked the beans [19]. I roasted the peppers on the stove [20]. I had not previously tried roasting peppers on the stove for any purpose, but it went relatively well. However, I think I prefer using the grill or, if necessary, the convection oven. I spiced each ingredient separately before adding it to the pot.

As I said, I think of this as a non-trivial dish to make or at least one that requires multiple steps. It requires cooking a variety of things separately. It requires playing with spices [21]. I also have some traditional steps that add a little bit of extra work. I tend to use whole canned tomatoes and blend them to an appropriate consistency; that seems to give me a better result than tomato sauce, tomato paste, or just diced tomatoes [22]. I also blend one onion with a bit of tomato juice from the cans to get an onion slurry that adds something different than the chopped onions.

What else have I done in the past when making chili? I’ve forgotten. Perhaps I’ll remember the next time I make chili.

Did I learn anything from all of this activity? I do enjoy cooking, at least when I don’t have time pressures involved. I enjoy black beans. The ones I made turned out well. I thought about setting some of them aside to eat separately, but I felt like I needed all of them in the main recipe. Maybe I’ll make some more another day.

Next time, I think I’ll go back to ground beef, I’ll use more poblanos, and I might try cooking the beans in something other than water. Maybe stock. Maybe beer. Maybe tomato juice. Maybe a combination thereof.

Postscript: After the chili, I decided to try an experiment in reducing a bottle of ginger ale back down to ginger syrup. As Michelle suggested afterwards, it might have been okay if the ginger ale was made with sugar, but it was made with corn syrup. In any case, I turned away for a bit too long [23] and managed to burn it to the bottom. Plus, our house now smells like burnt sweetener.

Fortunately, I have a pot scraper [24] and some chainmail [25]. It took a bit, but I managed to clean the bottom after thirty minutes or so.

Postscript: How did the other dishes turn out?

The sour mix is a bit thick, which provides an interesting mouth feel. But it doesn’t always mix as well as I’d like; it sometimes sinks to the bottom. The taste is nice. I enjoyed my bourbon sour more than my rum sour. I’m not sure what I’ll try next. Oh, I did figure out that it tastes great on cornbread.

The chili [26] is also good, particularly since I let it sit in the fridge overnight to allow the tastes to meld a bit more. It has a nice, smokey, flavor, which may be due to the poblano, the can of fire-roasted tomatoes, or the cumin [27]. And I like the way the chicken worked out. It has the texture I wanted (more substantial than ground beef) and a good taste. Still, a few more black beans would have made the substance better.

[1] Yes, I realize that chili is comparatively trivial. But I’m good at making comparatively trivial things more complex.

[2] It did not come out as well as I’d hoped.

[3] Oh well. I’m too lazy to go back and edit it. And if I edited it, I’d need to edit the next paragraph. All that seems to complex.

[4] Not just the Super Bowl, which used to be a week or two off from Ground Hog’s day [5], but also a variety of kid events. There always seemed to be a swimming event on the weekend we would normally hold our party [6].

[5] This year, it’s the same day as Ground Hog’s Day, February 2.

[6] This year, the Grinnell Mini-Invite is on February 1, which would be our normal alternative.

[7] It’s been a long time since I’ve had speakers attached to the stereo. And Michelle borrowed the set of wireless speakers I like to use.

[8] The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, if you care. I don’t keep good enough track of the versions, but I’m pretty sure I chose the three-disc version from a decade or so back [9].

[9] I have not yet purchased the new deluxe version. Given that I own multiple versions, it’s not clear that I need the new deluxe version.

[10] Yes, there are differences between tequila sours and margaritas. But both combine the alcohol and some citrusy stuff.

[11] More on that later.

[12] I traditionally use ground beef but felt like whole chunks of meat.

[14] As you may recall, the whole adventure was inspired by someone saying that they made black-bean chili.

[15] I traditionally use chili beans or kidney beans. However, these days I prefer black beans.

[16] I am not now, nor have I never been, a resident of Texas.

[17] I discovered that at Fareway, one poblano pepper costs about half of what one red bell pepper costs.

[18] I toasted the spices repeatedly; I used them for the beans, the chicken, the onions, and the tomato base.

[19] I prefer to use dried beans rather than canned beans.

[20] I love gas stoves.

[21] Recipe? What’s a recipe?

[22] I also use a can of diced tomatoes. This time, I added a can of smoked crushed tomatoes.

[23] Five minutes, to be precise.

[24] A Lil’ Chizler, to be precise.

[25] It’s great for cleaning cast iron. And that’s why I have it.

[26] Or chili-like substance.

[27] Probably a combination.

Version 1.0 released 2019-12-19.

Version 1.1 of 2020-02-15.