Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Fat Tuesday

The little boys—who, if you'll remember, don't like chili—devoured the crawfish. Next year in New Orleans!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Back in the Saddle: Venison Chili

I have, sadly, been neglectful of Hambone and Spice. And not because I haven’t been cooking blogworthy food, either. Most assuredly, we've been eating incredibly well at home and in restaurants, doing our best to keep the local economy alive! No, I just have not been able to find my writing voice lately. My dear friend Caryl gave me a nudge today. She didn’t know that I was planning a comeback, either, but without her quiet encouragement, I could have put off food blogging until…I don’t know when.

Caryl and I regularly have breakfast together, mostly, but not exclusively, to talk about books. Last week we met at the Longfellow Grill, an upscale diner just across the mighty (frozen) Mississippi from where we each live in St. Paul. We shared a cheesy/eggy/potatoey dish, as well as a stack of Jack cakes—hearty oatmeal pancakes adorned by granola, salted peanuts, fresh blueberries, bananas, and honey. Plus, we drizzled real maple syrup over the top and between the layers—all over. These cakes are the ultimate in sweet-salty tastes and are so comforting. Caryl took this photo and sent it to me for inspiration—thanks! See, this is what friends are for: support and indulging in over-the-top breakfasts!

Dinner is slowly simmering on the stove right now. We’re having venison chili. This past fall, my brother Nik shot a mule deer in South Dakota and very kindly shared some of his bounty with us. Before I crumbled in the ground meat, I had to make note of its color—a velvety, iron-rich purple. Also, the venison was incredibly lean with almost no obvious fat studding the pat.

My little boys aren’t big fans of chili. I know: a lot of kids don't like chili. But I think it's crazy. I loved chili when I was their age and even endured anemic strands of stewed tomatoes lurking throughout an egregiously underseasoned sauce. But I love my boys and want them to eventually embrace chili, and I ask that they eat no more than a half cup of not-very spicy brew, ladled over corn chips (“Frito pie,” a concession to Hambone’s Texan roots), with a chocolate pudding chaser for dessert.

This chili is by no means authentic Texas chili but I’m not going for authenticity on a Monday night in February. All I require is delicious and somewhat quick, though you can simmer the chili as long as you like, thereby intensifying the flavors. Because the venison is so lean, I used more oil than usual and really sweated the onion so as to provide as much extra moisture as needed. Also, I felt like the wild game might be, well, gamey, which isn't a bad thing, it just means that the meat can support stronger spices, in larger measure. So I amped up the spice mixture with more chili powder and cumin than usual and added a bit of ancho chile powder, which I would never use in ground beef chili (between you and me, I’m not wild about ancho’s smoky flavor). The browned meat is soft, lacking the gristly toothsomeness of ground beef, and has a rich flavor.

venison chili
2 T. olive oil
1 pound ground venison (or beef, bison, elk)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
2 T. chili powder (I like Penzey’s medium hot)
1 tsp. ancho chili powder
1 T. cumin
1 T. salt
1 tsp. oregano
1 bottle beer (I used Left Hand porter because I had it on hand)
1 (15 oz.) can red beans (drained, rinsed)
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
2 T. tomato paste

For serving: chopped onions, sour cream, Fritos, shredded cheddar cheese

In a Dutch oven, over medium-high, heat oil until it shimmers. Saute onions, garlic, and jalapenos in oil until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add ground meat and break into large pieces. Season with salt, chili powders, cumin, and oregano. When the meat is browned, add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, lid the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes (for best results, simmer an hour to two hours). Serve on a bed of Fritos, garnished with chopped onions, sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese.