At this point in our series, hopefully, you’ve gotten some cookbooks and started diving into the world of cooking. Maybe you even tried my spaghetti recipe, and hopefully didn’t burn down your house or send a dinner date screaming into the night.
Cooking Up Some Inspiration
If you’re looking for inspiration, my favorite food blog is the infrequently-updated Smitten Kitchen. Blogger Deb Perelman is witty and knowledgeable, her dishes kick massive amounts of ass, and her instructions are clear and well-illustrated with great photography. I’m also a big fan of Homesick Texan, as a perpetually homesick Texan myself. Their recipes are tasty and guaranteed to appeal to any dude.
With that in mind, I’m going to leave you with instructions on how to make a full Texas-style homecooked dinner out of easily-purchased items without breaking your budget. It’s not a low-calorie meal by any means, but it is incredibly awesome and tasty.
Chili con carne (chili with meat)
A note, here: authentic Texas chili has no beans. Let me repeat that: all Texas chili is, by definition, chili con carne. This is my family’s chili recipe, which goes back at least a century; it’s flavorful but not too hot, and it’s great served in a bowl or on top of enchiladas or even hot dogs.
You’ll also notice that the ingredients are very similar to those of my spaghetti bolognese. If so, good eye! Most Western foods are really based on the same basic ingredients, and the variations usually lie in the spices or preparation.
- 1 20 oz can crushed tomatoes
- Three pounds ground or minced beef
- 2 white onions, chopped rougly
- 1 red pepper, chopped roughly
- Chili powder (mild)
- White vinegar
- Grated cheese and sour cream (garnish, optional)
This is super easy, super cheap, and super-awesome, and this is my mom’s recipe, so I can tell you with authority that this is, in fact, the bomb.
- Two boxes, Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
- 2 eggs
- 2/3rd cup whole milk
- 1 small can green chiles
- 2 lbs. grated cheddar, Monterey jack or “fiesta blend” cheese
- Salt, pepper
Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas
Two Southern classics, cooked together for a one-two punch of gastronomic wizardry. Your momma would approve.
- 1 bunch chopped fresh collard greens
- 2 cans black eyed peas
- 3 cups prepared beef stock
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1 ham hock
- Salt, pepper
We’re gonna start with the greens ‘n’ peas first, as they can just simmer while we make everything else. First, if you’ve got concentrated beef stock rather than the liquid kind, you’re going to reconstitute it. (If you’ve got liquid, skip this step.) Put three cups of water in a bowl in your microwave and heat it for three minutes. Take it out — it’ll be really hot, so be careful — and drop your stock into it — generally, the rule of thumb is one small block or tablespoon of stock per cup. Use a whisk to stir it until the stock is all mixed in. Set it aside.
Next, chop your collard greens up into bite-size bits and open your cans of black-eyed peas. Next, take a medium-sized saucepot or soup pot and heat it to medium. We’re going to make a simple roux, which is the basis of a lot of European and American-style cooking.
Drop your butter into the heated pan and let it melt without burning. When it’s melted, pour your flour into it and use a whisk to mix it all together. The flour and butter will combine to make a sort of pale paste. Make sure you stir away any clumps of flour. You want this stuff to turn brown without burning it, so you’re going to keep stirring it as it browns. Don’t walk away from it, or you’ll mess it up.
When your roux is about the color of peanut butter, pour your beef stock in and mix the roux into it thoroughly. Drop your collard greens, black-eyed peas and ham hock in. Reduce heat down to simmer and cover your pot with a lid. You’ll add salt and pepper at the end.
Now it’s time to get our chili cookin’. Heat a large cooking pot to medium heat on another burner and, once it’s hot, throw in your ground beef, onions and red pepper. Use the fat of the meat to sauté the onions and pepper. When it starts to turn brown, throw in some cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. The key ingredient in chili is not the chili powder, but the cumin, and that’s what you want to focus on: make it flavorful without making it abrasive.
Once the meat’s fairly brown and the onions and pepper chunks are soft and sauteéd, throw in your crushed tomatoes and add more cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper, to taste. (It’s hard to tell you exactly how much to use, because your mileage may vary; when it tastes amazing, you’re where you need to be.) Again, reduce the heat and cover it with a pot and set it to simmer.
At this point, you can go sit on the porch and drink some iced tea and chill for a bit; both your greens ‘n’ peas and your chili could simmer all damn day and it would only make them more awesome. But we want to time our cornbread so it’s ready right when everything else is.
When you’re about twenty minutes out from when you want to serve dinner, start making the cornbread. Preheat your oven to 400º F, and while it’s heating, grab a mixing bowl and mix the two Jiffy packages with the eggs and milk until you’ve got a smooth batter. Take about half the cheese and the chilis and mix them into this batter.
Grab a 9×9 baking pan and grease it with butter or olive oil. (Pam and other non-stick sprays are a tool of the Devil.) Pour half your batter into the pan. Take half of the cheese that’s still remaining and spread it evenly across this batter, to make a cheese layer. Pour the rest of the batter in and top it off with the rest of your cheese. Place the pan into the oven.
Fifteen minutes later, turn off your collard greens and chili. Open the greens and taste the broth, which should be thick and brown and murky. Add salt and pepper as necessary to the broth. Do the same to your chili. Let them cool for a couple of minutes.
Check your cornbread at about eighteen minutes. If it’s done — the cheese on top is browned and the batter has become golden and brown at the edges — take it out and let it cool on your stovetop.
Serving In Style
Grab a bowl and a plate for each dinner guest. Put the chili in the bowl and a helping of greens ‘n’ peas on the side. Cut your cornbread into squares and serve it in a wicker basket lined with a clean towel or paper napkin, or on a serving plate. If you’ve got the grated cheese and sour cream for garnish, serve them on the side as well in small bowls with spoons so your guests can help themselves. Serve with Southern-style iced tea, light beer, red wine or orange Nehi soda, and some Stevie Ray Vaughan playing on the sound system. I recommend the album The Sky Is Crying, but your mileage may vary.
See? You’ve totally got this cooking thing. I’d love to hear about your recipes and tips for fellow journeyman along the epicurean highway. Bon chance and bon appetit!