Championship Chili

Admit it: Chili is awesome. Despite however many different competitions there are for chili and the elitist chili zealots present at the cook-offs, chili is really quite a simple concept. To make chili, you take a pot and fill it with spices, particularly chili peppers, vegetables, protein and liquid. So really, chili is just an awesome stew. The beauty is that you can use whatever you have on hand. Following recipes to a T is for chumps when you can make it the way you want or the way that’s most convenient for you.

To begin you’ll need two to three pounds of meat. Ground meat, chunks of meat, sliced sausage, whatever. Take it and brown it in a pot. When the meat’s done cooking, throw in your vegetables. Of utmost importance are the onions, of which you should use lots. Also good are garlic, bell peppers and a couple of chopped jalapenos (or habaneros if you’re down with the heat). Fry up your vegetables in the pan and let them get happy with the juices that have seeped out of the meat.

Next, add your spices. Throw in your black pepper, salt, cumin, different chili powders (cayenne is awesome) and anything else you like. If you have some smoked paprika on hand, throw that into give the chili a smoky kick.

Chili needs that red color, and just chili powder isn’t gonna cut it. Throw in a can of tomato paste. One of the larger cans, not the ridiculously small six ounce cans. The sugar in the paste will start to caramelize if it’s too hot, so turn down the heat and keep mixing. Now you’re going to need to add some liquid, so why pass up a great chance to add flavor? You’ll need about 24 ounces of liquid. Chicken and beef broth, beer and red wine are all liquid gold.

Now that you’ve got a nice pot of bubbling deliciousness, turn the heat all the way down, put a lid on it and just leave. Forget about it. Come back an hour later. Maybe an hour and a half. When you return, add beans. Two cans. Right in there. Mix it up, put the lid back on and leave.

When you return an hour two later, enough liquid will have either evaporated off or been absorbed by your ingredients to thicken the chili up into chili-consistency. Ladle into bowls and serve with your favorite chili condiments. Careful! It’ll be hot (in more than one way).

[Not] Mother’s Meatloaf

Meatloaf always seems to get a bad rap. Trust me: meatloaf is delicious. It’s all the bad meatloaf out there in the world that gives a baked pile of meat a bad name. Meatloaf is awesome, especially on a cold night. However, it’s been mostly relegated to the category of “utility food.” Nobody goes to a fancy restaurant hoping to try the meatloaf. It’s time to bring meatloaf back into the foreground of the culinary world.

To begin our foray into meatloaf heaven, you’ll need four pounds of ground meat. Yes. Four pounds. It’s called meatloaf for a reason. Any meat will do, really, but it will work best if you mixture of meats. Beef, pork, veal, throw it all in there. You can even use some turkey or chicken, but make sure it’s not the majority. You need the fat content of the darker meats for flavor and moisture, so your meatloaf doesn’t end up a dried-up meat brick. Remember: fat is flavor.

Contrary to the popular belief often held by mothers and bad diners, meatloaf must contain things other than meat. In fact, a general guideline would be a cup of not-meat to every pound of meat. Not-meat helps us avoid the dreaded dried-out meat brick. Also, it allows us to call our meatloaf Meatloaf, and not Pile of Meat.

An onion is a good not-meat. Dice up a large onion and throw it in there. Let’s just call it a cup. Throw in some garlic too, because garlic is delicious. What else should you put in? It’s up to you. Throw in your favorite vegetables. Make sure you pour in two or three eggs though. You can think of eggs as food glue. It’ll help the meatloaf stay as a loaf and not crumble into meat rubble. Also, throw in some breadcrumbs or croutons or crushed crackers or something. You need the starch to, once again, hold on to that moisture. Say it with me: It’s all about the moist meatloaf. Moistloaf, if you will.

Season your mixture to taste. Salt is good. So is pepper. So are thyme, rosemary, basil and red peppers. Make sure that you season.

Now here’s the fun part. Make sure your hands are clean, and stick them in your pile of ingredients. Loosely mix everything together. Emphasis on loosely. You do not want to pack the ingredients together. It’s bad news. Form it into a loaf-like shape in a baking pan or cake pan or something. Important! Liquids will leak from your loaf, so make sure there’s room for it. Don’t use a loaf pan. Loaf pans are good for cake and banana bread and such, but not meatloaf. We are trying to bake it, not boil it in its own liquids.

Take that pan in stick it in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes. Afterward, take a bottle of ketchup. Normal, everyday ketchup. Completely cover the top of your meatloaf, and spread it out. Return to oven for 15 minutes or so, or until the ketchup starts to caramelize and harden up.

When your ketchup glaze has darkened to however much you like it, take the meatloaf out of the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Serve in any which way you like. It goes well with mashed potatoes, or, y’know, more meatloaf.

After making meatloaf like this, you’ll never settle for lumpy, dry meat bricks again. Ever.

A version of this article appeared on page 10 of January 9th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.