Fall is upon us once more

Ahhh, Autumn. My third most favorite time of the year. A time of retiring as the trees change colors in fiery waves across the mountains, birds begin their southern migration to warmer climes and that most elegant of sports, American Football, starts anew. Fall is also a time of heartier foods made to warm you from the inside, from heavy turkey dinners laden with stuffing, potatoes and casseroles to stews chock full of meats and veggies. This brings me, conveniently, to one of my favorite fall foods, Chili.

Chili, more accurately ‘chili con carne’ dates back to at least 16th century when Spaniard Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a Conquistador stated that the Cholulan Indians were so assured of their coming victory that they had already prepared large vats of tomatoes, salt and chiles. The only missing ingredient was the meat, which was unluckily provided by the Conquistadors themselves in the form of their own flesh (Wikipedia).

I’ve made many different chilis over the years, some good, some, well, not so good. I’ve never made mine with meat from dead hookers or Spaniards, but I have tried various substitutes from various ground meats to diced bits of venison, steak, pork, chicken and veal. I’ve used chiles of different strengths from simple Jalapenos all the way to raw habanero and Scotch Bonnet. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve lost my youthful taste for things so hot your lips burn for hours after, but I still enjoy some tasty, tasty nuclear fire in my chili.

This last batch started off fairly easily. In a large skillet, I browned a pound of ground sirloin and a pound of ground pork. To this I added onion powder and minced garlic to taste. Once browned, I drained off the grease and dumped the whole mix into a large slow cooker, adding in two 15 Oz cans of diced, fire roasted tomatoes, 1 can of black beans, one can of dark red kidney beans and my first bit of inspiration, a can of chickpeas. Next came a whole onion, diced. This was stirred and the crock pot was set on low for about an hour to let things start getting warmed up.

After things were good and hot, I added in about three tablespoons of brown sugar, and then oregano, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, ground mustard and chili powder to taste. I also added in a fair amount of fresh basil from my gardens. Keep in mind when you add this that it will taste one way after adding the ingredients in, and then different after it’s cooked a while and the flavors have had a chance to mingle and have their own key party, each ingredient going off to a seedy motel room with another based purely on who has had too much to drink at the party.

Speaking of drinking, at this point, I had a lot of ingredients, but the whole mix was a bit dry for my taste. I needed some liquid but I wasn’t sure what to add. So I sat down with a glass of Famous Grouse whisky which inspiration number two hit me. So I added in whisky from the bottle and splashes of worcestershire sauce to taste. This I stirred, enjoying the savory aroma and left to stew in drunken debauchery for another couple hours.

At this point, the chili had been cooking on low for about 3 and a half hours and was coming along nicely, but something was missing. It needed a certain bit of tang, that drunken frat boy that comes in and starts yelling in the party goers’ faces. Yeah, that guy. Something that will stand out and give it a bit more punch. So in went white wine vinegar until I had a nice tangy, whisky flavored concoction of meats and beans and onion.

I was finally happy that things were well on their way from an awkward Spring Formal where the boys stand in one row across from the girls in frilly dresses, rocking on their heels, afraid to make the first move, uncomfortable in their Sunday suits picked out by mom for the special night to becoming a full on orgy of flavor that would make even Caligula look on in envy. The crock pot was set to high and off I went to let the kids discover each other on their own for a few hours.

It was almost the end of the dance and the band was all out of tunes. The latecomer finally made it to the party. One whole red bell pepper, chopped into little bits. Sweet, crunch, and a nice compliment to the onion and beans. But something more was missing. Something to tie it all together. The chili had spice, it had zing. It was meaty and beany and tomatoey and full of crunchy bits of onion. Something still wasn’t right. Then I thought more about great Caligula. He lived in Rome. Rome is in Italy. Italy makes that magical elixir that competes with the French called wine. I still had a good bit of Ruby Port sitting there, and I thought, “why not?” The kids are already drunk on the whisky, why not top it off with a port wine night cap. So I added port wine but something still was missing. Some elusive ingredient to make the flavors pop.

In the end, it was that simple girl next door, the one no one notices, who is secretly a freak, making you wish you’d known back then what that actually means. Her name was Salt. Just a little bit of freshly ground sea salt mixed in and the flavors exploded forth. So once more, stir, stir, stir and the mix was left to sit uncovered on High for another 90 minutes or so. This allowed the water to evaporate a bit, turning my amazing pot of chili from a soup to something more hearty, thick, oozing flavor, filling up the special chili spoon that I got years ago from a the Marlboro Man, before he died from lung cancer.

In the end, it all came together, a chili unlike any I’d made before. A new recipe, thrown together into one giant melting pot. Dirty hippies, meat eaters, lustful ladies and giddy school boys all together in one ballroom, drinking whisky and wine, dancing, fighting, fucking and intermingling under the glass dome until it was finally time to be scooped into bowls and devoured by me. Party’s over, now I’m gonna eat ya.

1 lb ground sirloin
1 lb ground pork
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
onion powder
minced garlic

The following added to taste:
brown sugar
cayenne pepper
chili powder
ground mustard
Worcestershire sauce
white wine vinegar
port wine

Mix that all up, cook for about 4 hours on low, 2 hours on high, then 1.5 – 2 hours more on high with no top to evaporate the liquid. When it’s cool enough to eat, dig in.

The Hundred Dollar Dinner Experiment

I really did NOT expect dinner to cost this much, especially for an experimental dinner based on ideas I’d cobbled together from recipes across the internet and television. Yet there I stood in shock, reading the receipt from the grocery store after Dana had picked up the bits necessary for what I had planned to cook.

Ever since seeing an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain had dinner with a family in Italy, eating a traditional, slow cooked Ragu, I’d been wanting to try one of my own. I’m not new to slow cooker recipes, nor to day long cooking adventures, but this one was new to me. It’s not chili, it’s not camp stew. It’s not a set and forget pot roast or chicken and dumplings. No, this is a couple hours of preparation followed by several hours more cooking in a large pot. This is a meal that will be hearty, flavorful and long lasting. Heaven on a bed of noodles, full of meaty, saucy goodness.

It starts out with the ingredients:

  • 3.5 – 4 lbs Beef Short Ribs
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano
  • fresh basil
  • fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 4 small carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 4 scallions
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 2 can whole fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato puree (passata)
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup Ruby Port
  • 2 cups Italian Red
  • 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp bacon grease or lard

Preheat the crock pot on high, then begin…
Start by liberally seasoning the short ribs with salt and pepper. I prefer fresh ground pepper and rose salt from a mill, but season to your liking. Next, melt the bacon grease in a skillet on high heat. I use an iron skillet for this because it retains heat very well while dispersing it evenly without any real hotspots. Once the grease is flowing and slightly smoking, put the ribs in nad brown each side. You may need to do this in batches, but as each piece of meat is done browning on the sides, put them aside on a plate or in a bowl.

While browning the ribs, go ahead and dice the carrots, celery, onions, scallions and shallots. Peel each piece of garlic from the garlic head and chop them coarsely. Once you’ve finished browning the meat and have set the ribs aside to rest, reduce heat to low and add the garlic.

Sautee the garlic until it starts to brown slightly, then add the rest of the chopped veggies, a little at a time. Once you’ve got them in (again, due to quantity, you may need to do this in batches) cook the veggies until the soften. Once the onion has become translucent, start checking the chunks of carrot. When the carrots have softened, it’s time to put the veggies, grease and all into the heated crock pot.

Add the flour and stir well, then add in the wine and beef stock. Mix this and add the tomatoes and passata, again stir to mix everything evenly.

Put the bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and parsley into the pot and mix well. Some prefer to just add whole sprigs and remove them, personally, I chopped everything but the bay leaves., I like fresh herbs in my sauces. mix well and then put the beef ribs into the pot, making sure they are completely submerged.

Most people say cook on low for 8 hours, I cooked on High for 8 hours. The goal is to cook the beef until it shreds easily and falls off the bones, and reduce the liquid so you get a rich, hearty sauce. Also, now is a great time to start finishing off that bottle of wine. Since the sauce uses a full 2 cups, that’s about half the bottle. So enjoy the rest while you wait.

Once the meat is ready (it shreds easily), remove the ribs. Pull the meat from the bones and discard the bones. Shred the meat with forks and set aside. Using a masher (or if preferred, a hand blender) blend the sauce in the crock pot until it’s fairly smooth. Chunky is fine, it’s all up to preference. You’ll also need to decide if the sauce has the right consistency for you now. If it’s fine, then add the meat back in, stir and start cooking noodles. If you prefer the sauce to be thicker, you may want to pour the sauce up in a pot and reduce it until it’s thicker.

Serve over a bed of flat noodles. I’m fond of egg noodles, so that’s what I used, but any thin, flat noodles should work well. Garnish with fresh peccorino or reggiano cheese.

We did this last night and it came out really well. The left-overs should be even better, having had time for the flavors to blend more over-night in the fridge.

Barbeque Shrimp – Better than wings for football day!

I have a certain ritual reserved for Football Day, that magical day each week in the fall when I get to watch Virginia Tech or another favored team play the noble game of Football. The ritual involves, usually, a beer or three, chips and salsa, hummus and rice crackers and most important of all: buffalo wings.

I’ve gotten wings down to a science, fried just so long in peanut oil, not vegetable oil, for that extra crispness. Sauced using a special blend of off the shelf sauces I keep in a secret location. Dipped in a nice, chunky bleu cheese dressing… Mmmm, delicious!

And today would have been the same, were it not for a chance encounter at Bella Donna Pizzaria the other night when Dana and I went out for some delicious Italian. Turns out that Al, the Shrimp Guy, was in town with another load of massive Gulf shrimp, fresh from the docks.

As we were headed out, Al and Donna offered some shrimp that Al had cooked up on the fly in a manner I’d not tried before. It’s called Barbecue shrimp, and as Al pointed out, has nothing to do with Barbecues as we think of them. His version was so good that when Football Day came this week, I decided to try some for myself instead. So here’s the recipe I made up based on some Googling and learning that there is no actual recipe, everyone has their own.


  • 2 pounds jumbo or large shrimp, fresh, shell on, not frozen
  • 1 stick of real, salted butter, not that margarine crap
  • 1/2 bottle of beer (I used a Chimay Trappiste Ale)
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 teaspoons Cayenne pepper
  • 3 teaspoons basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay
  • Tobasco to taste


  • Rinse off shrimp and pat dry
  • Melt butter in a large skillet on medium high heat
  • Add rest of ingredients and mix well
  • Stir constantly until mix starts to boil
  • Add shrimp to mix
  • Cook shirmp until good and pink, about 4 – 5 minutes per side.
  • Remove shrimp and place in a large, wide bowl (think Pasta bowl)
  • Continue stirring mix until about half the liquid remains
  • Pour mix over shrimp, let them cool just a bit, peel, eat and enjoy!

And that’s just one of literally thousands of variations, and it was delicious 🙂

Safety Note: I strongly advise that, when eating, you be careful when peeling shrimp. I accidentally squirted some of the mix into my eye while peeling one particularly fat shrimp, and given the amount of lemon and hot pepper in the juice, that’s a rather uncomfortable experience, to say the least..