Chili ATX

For the first time in my culinary career, I won a cooking contest!

In celebration of the NFL opening weekend, my work sponsored a chili cook off. Of the 250 or so employed at The Gatehouse Center for News Design in Austin, 10 entered. All of the entry's were tasty and the competition was fierce, but when the judging and voting finished I ended up taking home 1st prize — a $100 gift certificate to H.E.B., a Texas-based grocery chain. 

When our office manager told me I had won, I have to admit, it really made my day. I was hoping to place in the top three, winning was a nice surprise.

I went into the contest with a strategy. No beans, very simple and tons of depth.
No bean chili is a Texas thing so I honored that. I wanted to keep the chili simple and focus on technique to bring the most flavor out of each ingredient.

I built the base of the chili in layers, onions and jalepenos first, followed by the garlic and spices, then the tang of steak sauce and the acidity of tomatoes. The beef and liquid were the final additions. I also cooked the liquid out twice and let it rest in the fridge overnight – because chili is always better the next day.
The real secret to any great chili is a long simmer to evaporate the liquid and concentrate the flavor. That, mixed with building a balanced and flavorful base were the key elements to this recipe.

The strategy worked. I'm honored and proud to be this year's Chili cook off champ!

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves a crowd
10 lbs Ground beef
4 large Onions, finely diced
5 jalapeños, seeded and diced
10 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 C plus 2 Tbs Chili powder
1/4 C plus 1 Tbs Cumin
2 Tbs Mexican oregano
1/4 C A1 steak sauce
1 28 oz can of crushed Tomatoes
1 28 oz can diced Tomatoes
2 Qts Beef Broth
2 Qts water
Tortilla chips for garnish

In a large soup pot (8 qt) over medium heat, brown ground beef in batches, salt and pepper to taste. Remove ground beef and drain all but a quarter cup of the drippings from the pot. 
Add onion and jalepeño, sauté until soft 6 to 8 minutes, salt and pepper to taste. Add chili powder, cumin, Mexican oregano and garlic, cook until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add A1 steak sauce and tomatoes, cook a few minutes more. 
Mix in ground beef and add beef broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 hours or until liquid is reduced by 3/4. Remove from heat, let cool and store overnight in the refrigerator. 
The next day return pot to stove, ad four quarts of water, bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer another 2 to 3 hours or until liquid is reduce by half or two thirds. Spoon into bowls and serve with tortilla chips for garnish.

Homemade French Fries

Great homemade french fries are not as easy as they seem to make. Getting the crispy outside and soft, pillowy inside takes some work. I think they are the greatest side dish of all-time and are totally worth going the extra mile for. In fact, I would rather overcook a burger or burn the pizza rather than screw up the fried spuds – they are just that important.

Most people just cut the potatoes and then drop them in oil. This results in decent fries but often they are way overdone and too crunchy or cooked just right without the crispy outside. Such high hopes for the work it takes to cut them often ends in the devastating realization that the french fries are below average or just plain suck.

In order to get the best results, good fries need to be cooked twice and cut as evenly as possible. Most restaurants that make fresh cut fries will first fry them at a low temperature until they are just cooked through, let them cool and fry them again at a hotter temperature to get the crispy outside.

In order to avoid the maximum grease intake, I like to boil the fries first in water to cook them through, then frying them to crisp them up. Just one bath in the hot oil results in less grease absorbed by the potato and there isn't much of a difference in taste.

The boil then fry technique is how I made this batch of fries, which resulted in some damn good crispy spuds. I used my knife to cut them instead of a french fry cutter and that turned out to be their one real flaw. The inconsistent size resulted in varying degrees of doneness and crunchiness. The batch was pretty good overall, but they would have been much better had I dusted off the fry cutter to get one consistent size. With french fries – consistent size matters.

After making these, I have decided to try and master the beloved homemade french fry, it will take some work but I consider this the beginning of a quest, a culinary journey to make the perfect fry. I have no disillusions that mine will ever top McDonald's, the greatest french fries the world has ever consumed, but something that comes close.

Eat well, cook often ...

2 Idaho potatoes, cut into french fries
1 quart of oil

Cover potatoes with water in a pot. Bring to a boil and cook through, 8 to 10 minutes. (This may vary according to the size the fries are cut into) Drain and let cool to room temperature. Heat oil to 375° in a large pot. Fry potatoes in batches until golden brown and crispy 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate or bowl. Immediately season with salt to taste. Let cool slightly, then serve.