Thursday, November 5, 2009

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program...

This just in, Sincerely Yours, Kate has breaking news. We interrupt your regularly scheduled asymmetrical skirt programming for this brief update on the season's best chili.

I am usually a ground beef and beans kinda girl when it comes to chili, but this is an all brisket style with a secret addition of squash. I was wrongly incredulous when I first saw the recipe in a Bon Appetite last fall. But Sam was smittin' and so the first time we made this recipe was for a chili cook off at his work. We did a bad job reading the instructions and started making the chili at 9:30 p.m. only to realize that there were many steps after two hours of braising, then two more hours of braising, etc. So needless to say we set the alarm and had mini-chili cooking sessions throughout the night. But seriously, this chili is worth it. Sam took a respectable 2nd place, but we both think this pot-o-deliciousness should have won. A department secretary took first place, and Sam swears she bribed the votes with candy. Plus, as any of us who work in large offices know, you ALWAYS want to keep on a secretary's good side, even if it means voting for the wrong chili.

Anyway, unfair second place standing aside, this chili is now a favorite, and a real crowd pleaser. Ever since getting married, I have been trying to establish a new household tradition of the chili cook-off Halloween. It worked the first year, because Halloween was on a weeknight and no one wanted to party. We had a massive chili cook off with a dozen entries. But last year my plan failed. Halloween was on a Friday and everyone wanted to drink beer, not cook chili. This year I reinstated Chili Halloween, but took away the competition component. We had friends over and made a big pot of this and a big pot of veggie chili. The brisket chili was a smash hit!

Oh yeah, and I also baked a really delicious apple cake in three layers that sadly imploded on itself. I guess apples are too heavy to stack so high...? It tasted good, but looked rather sloppy. Which brings me back to the showstopping dish of the night. Aside from being delicious, one benefit of chili is that it is not a greedy dish. It never goes for looks and taste simultaneously like my cake tried for. A good old fashioned chili just skips the vanity and puts all of its effort into the taste. And this Haloween, the chili delivered.

Texas Beef Brisket Chili
A cold-weather favorite, this all-beef, no-bean chili gets added appeal from a seasonal ingredient: butternut squash. For best results, make the chili at least one day ahead so that the flavors have time to meld.

  • 6 large dried ancho chiles*
  • 6 ounces bacon, diced
  • 1 1/4 pounds onions, chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1 5-pound flat-cut (also called first-cut) beef brisket, cut into 2 1/2- to 3-inch cubes
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 10-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles (1 3/4 cups)
  • 1 12-ounce bottle Mexican beer
  • 1 7-ounce can diced roasted green chiles
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro stems
  • 4 cups 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks seeded peeled butternut squash (from 3 1/2-pound squash)

Place chiles in medium bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to cover. Soak until chiles soften, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sauté bacon in heavy large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat until beginning to brown. Add onions. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle beef all over with coarse salt and pepper. Add to pot; stir to coat. Set aside.

Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Place chiles in blender. Add 1 cup soaking liquid, garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt; blend to puree, adding more soaking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if very thick. Pour puree over brisket in pot. Add tomatoes with juices, beer, green chiles, and cilantro stems. Stir to coat evenly.

Bring chili to simmer. Cover and place in oven. Cook 2 hours. Uncover and cook until beef is almost tender, about 1 hour. Add squash; stir to coat. Roast uncovered until beef and squash are tender, adding more soaking liquid if needed to keep meat covered, about 45 minutes longer. Season chili to taste with salt and pepper. Tilt pot and spoon off any fat from surface of sauce. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool 1 hour. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

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