One thing about teaching culinary arts and working in a non-related field at other times is that one doesn’t get to spread one’s culinary wings very often. Curriculum is set and I’m not the one doing the cooking in class anyway. My retail job only allows for cooking in so much as I can bring treats to work to a receptive audience, for which I am grateful. But aside from weekend dinners with leisurely cook times (ha, like that happens anytime between Halloween and New Year’s Day), there isn’t much pull or challenge for culinary imagination or menu planning.
In an effort to feel like I am doing something worthy with the talents given and to have an outlet for my creativity, I took on the job of cooking the Wednesday night fellowship dinner at my church. (For those who have been reading along you already know, but we are Unitarian Universalists.) Three Wednesday’s a week, I get to cook for a serious crowd, 50-70 people depending on several factors. No reservations, so I have to be ready to feed the max but don’t want to have copious amounts of leftovers either. A challenge I can sink my teeth into, Yay! Another challenge I have set myself for this task is to buy as much organic food as I can within the budget and to make food that appeals equally to omnivores and vegetarians.
The first foray into this adventure, I had my mom riding shotgun. Today is Wednesday, again, and I am flying solo. I have discovered that I will have to set my sights on things I can accomplish in chunks by myself until I can get it down to a well-oiled machine of deliciousness. For the first night, I did roasted fall veg with either chicken gravy or mushroom gravy and sauteed greens with add-ins (balsamic vinegar, dried cranberries, pomegranate seeds, and feta cheese) and pineapple-carrot spice cake. We very nearly didn’t have enough food. Tonight I am kind of winging it as I didn’t think I would be doing the heavy lifting. We are having a baked potato bar with homemade chili, ala Dad, with a veg version I like to call Mega-Bean chili. I also made some of the decadent brownies, in case a potato bar just didn’t seem like enough. To paraphrase Nigella Lawson, “That’s me, never knowingly undercatered.”
For your own chili-ing pleasure I am passing along the Mega-Bean recipe.
1 block of firm tofu, frozen, thawed, pressed and crumbled (optional)
6 oz. dark beer
6 oz. real sugar cola (Blue Sky is my standby, but Coke will work in a pinch)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce (or if pescatarian, Worcestershire sauce)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
1 Tablespoon salt or to taste
3 Tablespoons chili powder (I make my own fiery blend, I just wouldn’t recommend the commercial ones with cinnamon for this application as it can make the chili have an off-putting sweetness)
3 to 4 large onions, small dice
2 to 3 cloves of garlic (or lots more if you like), minced
2 quarts tomatoes (if you don’t have home-canned, I like the Muir Glen fire-roasted ones)
3 to 4 cans beans, I like a mix of kidney, pinto, black and garbanzo (you can also add a can of vegetarian refried beans or mash a can of pintos to thicken the chili)
Season the tofu with soy sauce, cumin, coriander, chili powder and salt and saute in a large skillet until chewy, breaking it up into smaller pieces as you go. When the tofu is done add the onions and saute until translucent. If you are skipping the tofu, add the seasonings directly to the onions and start there. Scrape all of this into a deep stock pot and add beer and coke and simmer until almost dry. Add tomatoes and simmer another 20 minutes or so to break down the tomatoes and let everything mingle. Add the beans and simmer a further half hour or so. It is good at this point but is truly at its best the next day, warmed to a simmer.
Notes: If you like your chili in the four-alarm range, you can add a small scotch bonnet or habanero to the pot whole. “If it buss, it be real hot” so gently simmer the chili with this little packet of heat floating in. You can also substitute about a pound of dried beans, cooked of course, for the cans. I tend to go with one bean when doing this, usually pintos or Jacob’s cattle beans as they are easy to cook and very creamy when made from scratch. Save the cooking liquid to add to the chili. There’s lots of flavor in it and it helps thicken a little, too.