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Dinner When It's Cold Outside

Chili Bowl by John Raven, Ph. B.

I'm going into my fifth year with www.texascooking.com. What an experience it has been. I've learned an awful lot about food and cooking over the years. I had a fair knowledge of the subject when I began, and every month I have learned something new. Every article requires a certain amount of research. I have managed to retain some of the data, along with an idea of where to go look for information on most any subject that comes up. It has been a lot of fun. The feedback I get from readers has all been positive. That in itself is very satisfying. I thank everyone who has said something nice about my work.

Nah, I ain't hanging it up. I plan on being around a long time. I just wanted you to know how I feel about the whole deal.

Traditional Texas Food deals with most anything Texans or want-to-be Texans consume. Of the Big Three items on the Texas menu -- chili, barbecue and chicken fried steak -- chili and barbecue are in a dead heat for popularity.

Not a month goes by that chili is not on my menu here at the home at least once -- more often, two or more times. I refer to it as my "medicinal chili". It cures what ails me. There is nothing that comes close to chili as comfort food on a cold Texas evening. It makes the whole house smell so good while it's cooking, and it warms me going down. It makes me feel good.

My "Eating" Chili

I've gone back to the old method of making my "eating" chili. I use dried chile pods, and the pot seldom contains tomato products. Using the dried chiles requires some labor, but the end product is worth it. Commercial chili powder or chili blend contains the skin, seeds, membrane and stems of the chile pods. My chili has no seeds, membrane or stems. I do include the skins as removing them is just too much work for lazy me. I've found that blending the heck out of the reconstituted pods makes the skins so fine that you never notice them. My "secret" blend is about two-thirds ancho pods and one-third New Mexico Red pods. For the heat, I use some of my homemade cayenne or petin powder. The chilepetin is a native Texas chile. It grows best in the shade of an old Hackberry tree. The petins are fiery hot, but they have a flavor that comes through the heat. The cayenne is just hot.

For the meat in my chili, I use whatever I have on hand for just everyday chili. I get a fair amount of venison and, when mixed half and half with pork, the venison makes some mighty fine chili. If I'm fixin' "company" chili, I'll get some beef (chuck, round or rump) and hand dice it into the perfect little cubes.

My personal serving of chili is topped with some diced fresh onion and cheese, which is allowed to melt before digging in. Cheddar is the traditional cheese for chili, but I prefer Velveeta. That and a stack of crisp saltines is all it takes to make a great meal.

Often, I'll have a taco salad made with my own chili. Shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes go into the bowl, covered with a good portion of chili and topped off with shredded cheddar and surrounded by a good supply of tortilla chips.

Leftover chili mixed with cooked pinto beans and Velveeta cheese and warmed until the cheese melts makes a really fine dip for company.

I have not been doing much barbecuing as my old smoker died of rust. I do have my little patio grill ready for when I need something special. I can cook a brisket on the grill, but it's too labor intensive and I have several good barbecue joints within driving distance. My buddy Scott and I are constructing a Texas Hill Country style smoker. We hope to finish it just as soon as the weather turns decent again. I'm photographing the progress and will have an article on the construction so you can build one, too.

Grilled Summer Sausage

I don't think I've ever mentioned it, but one of my favorite snacks is grilled summer sausage. It's a recipe my cousin and I developed one Sunday afternoon when we had nothing else to grill. Here's how: Take a stick of good summer sausage. Slice it into one-half inch slices. Remove the wrapping, and pick out all the visible peppercorns. Put the sausage slices over some hot coals. When the edges begin to crisp, paint the slices with Kraft Hot and Smokey Barbecue Sauce. Turn the slices over and paint the other side. When the first side is good and hot, do the other side. That's it. It might be too tangy for the kids, so you can substitute a milder sauce if you wish.

Here's something I discovered by accident. (I think you call that Sarah Dippity.) Drizzle a little English malt vinegar on anything you grill. It gives a whole new dimension to the flavor. And to think the English waste it on fish and chips.

Scott has a great method of doing fresh corn on the cob on the grill. He takes the ears and pulls back the husks. He pulls all the silk (that's them little hairs) off the ears. He then dips the ears in clean water, pulls the husks back in position and ties them in place with cotton string. The ears go on a medium hot grill and are turned occasionally so they get heat on all sides. When they are too hot to touch, they are done. You pull back the husks and use 'em for a handle instead of the little plastic do-dads you see. Slather on some butter and salt. Nothing better. Just remember, the fresher the corn the better the end product.

In just over a month the Texas winter will begin to go away. I can't wait to get out and build a real fire and do some Texas Cooking.

If you have a subject you would like for me to expound on, give us a holler and I'll try to oblige you.

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