Friday, November 4, 2011

Texas Chili and Strange Bedfellows

To slow cook or not to slow cook? That is the question.

Do you ever come across a recipe that sounds delicious, but then you realize that you are missing an important piece of equipment to make it? You know, like an immersion blender, food mill, mandoline, etc? That's how it was with me and slow cookers.  I had long heard people extolling the ease of use of slow cookers, and I felt like I was missing out on "something big".

So I did what any good bride-to-be does, and registered for a slow cooker months before my wedding.  Someone generously gifted us said slow cooker. Then same said slow cooker sat at my parents' house due to space restrictions.  Finally, after a year, same said sitting slow cooker came with me to our new, slightly more spacious digs.

And then, but only then, did I start to think about and ponder mighty hard about the virtue of a slow cooker. Did I really need one? What could a slow cooker do that a french oven/casserole couldn't? This pondering was somewhat moot at the time because the return date had long passed.

So, by default, I kept same said slow cooker that had sat until space had sprung. Do I love it? Well, I like it a lot  but wouldn't say love.  Can you do with a good ol' casserole pot what you do with a slow cooker? Well, yes, with adjustment in cooking method and time. 

Well GD-it then what's the point? 

The point is that, to blatantly rip off a certain infomercial that we all know, you can set it and forget it. You prep the ingredients (the prep can either be very simple such as throwing frozen food and broth in there, to doing something more complicated like browning meat beforehand), put them in the slow cooker, turn it on, and just leave it. You don't have to worry about an open flame, you don't have to constantly just let it be. 

I haven't quite worked up the courage to leave the slow cooker on while I'm at work because I don't want the apartment to burn down (I go apoplectic just thinking about the pugs by themselves), but that probably would be a great advantage of the slow cooker.  For now, I turn it on during the weekends and go about my business (where I'm in and out of the apartment) or leave it on overnight.  

Because, you know, it's one thing for my apartment to burn down while I'm not there, but I'm *totally* okay with it burning down while I'm still in the apartment.  My sense of logic could use some help.

But! That is for another day.

My slow cooker did, however, give me the happy excuse to buy Slow Cooker Revolution from Cook's Illustrated, a book that I am enjoying very much.

I recently made Texas Chili, apparently because Texas is known to have big hunks of beef in its chili.  This recipe uses soy sauce to help enhance flavor and tapioca to help enhance texture.  Who woulda thunk?

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Oh crap--one more thing (sorry for the long intro). The original recipe is for 8 to 10 servings. I made approximately a 2/3 recipe.  I'll give the original ingredient amounts, because some of them are not easily 2/3-able and I kinda estimated.
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup tomato pasate
  • 3 TBS vegetable oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 TBS ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 15oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree (or tomato sauce)
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 tapioca or tapioca flour
  • 3 TBS soy sauce
  • 2 TBS minced canned chipotle in adobo sauce
  • 2 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 5-lb boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (as God is my witness I will buy the beef pre-cubed from now on because I can't exactly call the 30+ minutes I spent struggling to trim the chuck roast as enjoyable) 
  • 3 scallions, sliced thinly
In a large bowl, combine the onion, chili powder, tomato paste, garlic, cumin and oregano.

Microwave (this helps soften the onion and blend the flavors) the mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

Here's my big tip of the day regarding the next step, which involves the chipotle peppers in adobe sauce.  Most of them are vacuum-packed. Please be careful when you open it. I don't want to go into detail about the time that I started to open one and the very SPICY and BURNING contents SPRAYED up in to my FACE including MY EYES and ALL OVER the WALLS and even the CEILING.

So, I open the can facing away from me, very slowly, and I wear latex gloves. I know. Paranoid. 

You bitch.

Stir the chipotle, beans, tomato puree, broth, tapioca, soy sauce, sugar and bay leaves into the slow cooker along with the onion mixture. 

I know, whoever thought you'd be using the following ingredients in the same recipe.

It happens.

Season beef with salt and pepper, and add it to the slow cooker. Everybody in the pool!

Cover and cook for 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.

Let chili settle for 5 minutes and skim off any fat with a large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.  Season with salt and pepper if necessary, sprinkle with scallions, and serve.


What's your opinion of/experience with slow cookers?


  1. Lol. I totally snorted at 'everybody in the pool'. I can imagine little meat chunks walking across your counter with some arm floaties on. @_@

    I don't have a slow cooker, but that chili looks delicious!

  2. 'as god is my witness' :) you will never be hungry again with that amount of delicious food.

    cute bowl, by the way.

  3. your story of the pepper can is very traumatizing. We bought our slow cooker last year, didn't get to open it until this year and the lid was shattered. So, I still have yet to use a slow cooker but when I do, i'll make this chili

  4. woah, soy sauce. Who woulda thunk it.

  5. That cookbook is on my wishlist! Who cares that I already own three separate ATK cookbooks? Clearly I need one for the slow cooker we use 3 times/year. :) Did you like the chili?!

  6. That looks fantastic. I've heard really good things about Cook's Illustrated and ATK recipes. I'm going to have to subscribe or pick up a cookbook. I love crockpot recipes and always looking for good/interesting (but mostly healthy) new ones. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Um...why did my comment on this post get eaten? The lady on the chipotle peppers does look like she'd want to sting your eyes.