I have a chili recipe. It started life in the recipe book that came with my aunt’s CrockPot, lo these many years (really decades) ago, but has been modified extensively through contact with outside influences: roommates, old boyfriends, that kind of thing. In its current incarnation it calls for: garlic, onion, ground meat; canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste; kidney beans; mushrooms; and eight different herbs, spices, and seasonings. Once upon a time I used Spice Islands Chili Con Carne seasoning along with a little salt and pepper and called it good. Unfortunately, Spice Islands stopped making their Chili Con Carne seasoning ages ago. When I called in desperation, the company was gracious enough to tell me the list of ingredients (although not, of course, the proportions) and I spent some time fiddling with herbs and spices until I achieved what I thought was a good approximation of their combination.
My chili is good. It’s thick and very spicy (hot, yes, but also multi-spiced) and it was perfect for the many years when I didn’t eat red meat (health reasons rather than ethical, moral, trendy, etc.) and so made chili with ground turkey. If you’ve ever eaten ground turkey you know it has absolutely no flavor whatsoever and needs all the help it can get from garlic, onions, various forms of tomatoes, and especially herbs and spices. However, it’s also kind of a pain to make and frankly the last few times I made it (now using ground beef) I wasn’t all that excited about eating it.
So a couple of weeks ago I was casting about in my mind for something to fix for dinner and after reviewing the contents of the freezer arrived at chili. Still I found myself oddly reluctant to start opening all those cans and dragging all those herbs and spices out of the refrigerator only to produce a dish about which I felt lukewarm at best.
I have the 1955 Edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook (for the Hostess and Host of Tomorrow). I don’t know when I got it; I was one year old in 1955 and although my parents considered me the most precocious child in history I doubt even they thought I’d be cooking at such a tender age. I do know I’ve had the cookbook since at least the mid-60s so it’s been a while.
The cookbook languished in various out of the way places - inaccessible shelves in my mother’s house, a storage facility near me, in my basement - for decades. Then, several years ago, I developed a yen for egg salad sandwiches. I don’t know why. So far as I’m aware no cook in my family - mother, aunt, or grandmother - ever made an egg salad sandwich and I’d be surprised if I’d eaten more than 3 or 4 of them in my life. Still, there it was: I wanted an egg salad sandwich.
I turned to my various big fat cookbooks and I perused the Internet and what I discovered is that there are a lot of very strange egg salad recipes out there. They call for odd mustards and pickles (!) and strange seasonings. I didn’t want any of that; I just wanted a plain old egg salad. Searching my overflow cookbook shelves for a source I might have missed, I spied my Junior Cookbook. Surely, I thought, if any cookbook would have a simple egg salad, this is the one. Why, back when it was written, no one cooked with odd mustards or exotic herbs, at least no one who bought their cookbooks from Better Homes and Gardens.
So, with renewed hope, I opened the little cookbook and found exactly what I wanted: eggs, a little celery, a little green onion, mayonnaise, plain old yellow mustard, and salt. (The recipe called for the salad to be served in “coney buns” scooped out to look like little boats and to be decorated with wooden skewer masts with triangular construction paper sails but I skipped that part and went with rye.) The egg salad was delicious and my Junior Cookbook was promoted from the overflow shelf in the basement to a place of honor in the kitchen where I soon discovered it had an equally delicious deviled egg (or, as the cookbook calls them, “Stuffed eggs”) recipe.
I had no memories of cooking any of the recipes in the Junior Cookbook as a child or teenager but looking through it, I found two recipes that were well-spattered: BAR-B-Q-burgers and Speedy chili. I mentally bookmarked the burgers to try again someday (they call for Chicken Gumbo soup and that’s a whole other story) but ignored the Speedy chili. After all, I had a chili recipe, years in the making. I ignored it, that is, until that fateful day two weeks ago when I had decided on chili for dinner - and thawed the meat - but was unable to summon up any enthusiasm for all those cans and jars. What if, I wondered, I tried the Junior Cookbook’s chili instead?
I ran the idea by my husband and he was happy to agree, which perhaps means I’m not the only one who’d been feeling lukewarm about my old chili recipe. So I dragged out my little cookbook and set to work. Speedy chili was in fact speedy: it required two cans and two seasonings, one of which was salt. Speedy chili was remarkably good: it was possible to actually taste the various elements - meat, onion, bell pepper, beans - rather than just a general spicy flavor. Speedy chili was a big hit with the cook and at the table.
So for anyone who’s wondering what to serve for dinner tonight, I append the recipe. I have to admit I worried about copyright issues but this recipe can be found in various places on the Internet (here, for example) so it seems legal to spread it around.
2 Tablespoons fat
1/2 cup chopped onion [I used a little more]
1/4 cup chopped green pepper [I used a little more]
1 pound ground beef
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 1-pound can (2 cups) kidney beans [I drained and rinsed before adding]
1 teaspoon salt
Melt fat in pan (the recipe recommends using a “big saucepan”). Cook onion, pepper, beef until meat is lightly browned.
Add tomato sauce; cook on low heat 5 minutes. Add kidney beans, salt. Heat.
Stir in 1 teaspoon chili powder; taste. Add a little more if you like.
Ladle chili into soup bowls and eat with with big spoons.
Pass a basket of saltines. Another good “go-with” is dill pickles. [Have to admit I didn’t try the pickles.]
This recipe will make about 6 servings. [Maybe but it’s awfully good.]