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My dad sent me a recipe the other day titled “The best chili ever”.

Sensationalist links aren’t usually my thing. But chili, now you’re speaking my language; anything food-related is immediately worthy of attention. Especially chili, which I consider to be a distinct sub-category in my recipe arsenal. I’ve done the time, I’ve studied it like a fine art, I’ve Dutch ovened it, Crock potted it, made it with black beans and pinto, ground beef and cubed chuck. I even made a pretty killer vegan version earlier this year.

But the one thing I’d never tried….Texas chili.

I’ve always thought that bean-free chili would taste a little bit like meat sauce. But when I clicked the link, I was surprised and excited to see that it was a recipe from Tim Love. Tim’s not a household name, but a few years ago he did a stint on Top Chef Masters and I was impressed by his big and bold Texas style.

Given that I don’t spend much time in Texas, I figured that his chili is the closest I’ll come to Tim Love and his cooking.

In true-to-form fashion, I felt compelled to source the exact ingredients called for in the recipe. Lone Star beer? Check. Guajillo and chipotle chilies, check and check. Normally I campaign against laborious, painstaking steps like toasting and grinding my own chilies, but when you’re going for something authentic, cutting corners isn’t an option.

Out came the electric spice grinder from the far left corner of my uppermost cabinet, behind the dishtowels and the citrus juicer. The last time I used my grinder, Y2K was our country’s most pressing issue, and American Pie was #1 at the box office. It still smelled faintly of old spices.

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chili 227

I got a message on Facebook last week from a relative. “Hey, we’re going to be in town for the Super Bowl, are you around that weekend?”

Two questions: 1. The Super Bowl is in New York this year? 2. What weekend?

To give you an analogy, this kind of question is like me writing to a friend in San Francisco to say “Hey, I’m showing up for the Point Reyes Blue Cheese Festival, are you around that weekend?”

I did consider asking him for specific dates, but remembered my trusty resource Google. Google is that friend to whom you direct all of your embarrassing questions. As long as you clear your history. You don’t want your significant other to see that you’ve been researching Syphilis. That happened to good friends of mine (it was an honest mix up, I won’t get into it) but it serves as a cautionary tale: keep that history clean.

I’ve formed a strong relationship with Google over the years, sometimes I think I expect a little too much; I’ve caught myself asking open-ended questions, like “will I have another baby?” or “will my dinner guests like salt cod?” But for the garden variety questions, Google’s always had my back.

Armed with information, I quickly responded “we’re in town!”

It’s not that I was completely unaware that something vaguely footballish was going on. Facebook was abuzz. Taunts were thrown. My sister’s update on Jan 19 read: “Are you watching Brady peeing in his Gucci panties? #BRONCOSSSSSSSSSS”.

So I did what any smart person with a food blog would do – I immediately logged onto Pinterest and created a Super Bowl board, and started collecting recipes for all of those manly dishes that people seem to eat at this time of year. The wings, dips, chilis, nachos, and of course the little football-shaped deviled eggs.

Who knows, maybe I’ll throw my own Super Bowl party down the road. It sounds like fun. I’ll just wear earplugs so that I won’t have to listen to the sound of football on TV. Am I the only one who feels this way? I’d watch golf over football any day. I don’t even golf, but I love the velvet hills, the soothing voices, and the conspicuous absence of sweat.

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chili_fmd

If there’s a cold weather dish that I spring for most, it has to be chili. Or stew. Or soup. Or some kind of braise with a big hunk of meat.

But let’s go with my first answer. Because chili is one of those dishes that has so many variations that you can make it every week and never get bored.

I used to be fanatical about following recipes for chili- the world of dried chiles and  spices can be overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with it (which I admit, I still am for the most part). My go-to fruit & vegetable market in in NYC, the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, stocks a big variety of chiles, from the wrinkled, smoky ancho chiles to the tiny chile de arbol. Although I’m pretty adventurous with most foods, I’ve always been a little fearful about picking chiles off the shelf – how can you know how spicy they’ll be? Are there any special preparations that are needed, such as soaking or dry toasting? So for years I cooked chili with guided instructions only.

Fortunately, there are a ton of recipe to choose from both online and off – I even have a cookbook that has nothing but chili recipes. It’s right there on my bookshelf next to the book that has nothing but smoked salmon recipes, and the two separate mac ‘n cheese cookbooks. Thankfully I’ve slowed down on  my cookbook purchases lately, leaving me with a little more money for other essentials like our gas bill, exotic fruits and light-up kids’ shoes.

But strangely, despite trying a huge range of dishes, I never found a chili recipe that I truly loved. And I’d end up doctoring and tweaking my dish until it resembled nothing like the dish I’d originally intended.

I’ll never forget the year that I entered a chili cook-off at a friend’s house. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and he suggested to a group of us that we bring over some beer and vats of chili and have a taste-off. 

And so I began to plan. Eager to impress my crew of judges, I searched through cookbooks and hunted around online until I found a recipe that was impressive enough to wow the guests, who would be tasting each dish blind.

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