Friday, November 14, 2014

Chilly Days = Chili Nights

Homemade Jamie Oliver Winter Nights Chili
Yesterday was the first real snowfall in Toronto, and this morning my window is decorated with frosty snowflakes. It's official, Winter is coming! 

Although I don't want that exclamation point mistaken for enthusiasm (as someone with a circulation problem, Winter is not my season!), I can't help but feel an odd sense of relief as I willingly give in to all of the indulgent comforts that this season begs for. Cozy sweaters, fuzzy slippers, fur-lined coats, spiked hot chocolate, and, most importantly, comfort food, make Winter in Toronto bearable, and sometimes even enjoyable. 

Pardon my obvious correlation, but chilly days have me thinking of nothing other than a big ol' bowl of comfort, AKA chili! I learned to make chili from my mom, who has a knack for making an incredibly tasty bowl of chili that tastes like it was cooking on the stove all day, when really, she can get the whole bowl on the table in under an hour! Although Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory informed me that chili containing beans, actually isn't the traditional way of making the rich and meaty stew, I love the addition of beans that my mom has in her chili, along with ground beef, mirepoix, canned tomatoes, and her special blend of herbs and spices. It warms me up and gives me fuzzy, nostalgic feelings about growing up in her love-filled home. 
My lovely Oma, the Chili Cook-Off First Place Winner!
My mom learned to make her chili from my Oma, who makes a very similar version, though sometimes adds the oh-so-controversial ingredient pasta noodles to hers to give it extra substance. I can only imagine the secrets my Oma keeps in her chili, always finding a way of sneaking mystery ingredients like bacon fat, and leftover roasts into her dishes to give them incredible depth. Her chili is so fantastic that this week she even won first place at her church's Chili competition, inspiring me to write this very post. Although my Oma was the grand winner of the day, my Opa got an honorable mention for being in the doghouse for being a judge who did not vote for his own wife's chili! It's funny, no matter how partial you are to the way a certain dish is made, having enjoyed it like that for most of your life, you can't help but be stricken with delight at the surprising taste of a dish made in a different way.

Having grown up eating my mom and my Oma's ground beef and beans chili, I couldn't help but be intrigued when reading Jamie Oliver's recipe for Winter Nights Chili in his new cookbook Comfort Food (see top photo). Jamie's chili was unlike anything I had ever heard of before, containing both beef brisket and pork belly, along with an array of vegetables including butternut squash and red and yellow bell peppers, as well as a crunchy apple and red onion salsa to top it all off. With so many great flavours and textures featured in one bowl, I had to give his recipe a try! 

Slow cooked throughout the day, the chili had a wonderful depth of flavour, reminiscent of dishes found in the best smokehouses. After giving the chili a taste while still on the stove, I realized that although I love big flavours, one of the beauties of chili is in its simplicity. With this in mind, I decided to omit the apple and red onion salsa, allowing the spicy chili to speak for itself. The final dish was fantastic, and one I was proud to serve to my boyfriends family, but although I couldn't get enough of the chili that first night, I found myself craving my mom and my Oma's chili the following day. There's something about a family favourite that will always have a hold on my taste buds and my soul.  Nostalgia has a hold on me, and it wont let go. 

What is your favourite way of preparing chili? How did your family make chili growing up? What is it about chili that evokes feeling of comfort and safety? Let's chat! 

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