October 22, 2016
Faux Chili with Cheese Grits
Our temperatures went from 89-90 degrees for the past few days to a cool 40 degrees this morning with a northerly wind. It’s not exactly cold but definitely cooler. This temperature plummet made me want to whip up something hearty and filling. The answer is faux chili and cheese grits. I call the dish chili but it isn’t exactly chili in the traditional sense. I thought it might be offensive to some if I called it chili here in the blog so I am calling it faux chili.
Faux chili is a mix of ground beef and ground mushrooms along with onion, tomatoes, tomato paste, tomatoes with green chilies, cannellini beans, and sometimes, like today, I am adding canned whole kernel corn to the mix. I use cannellini beans (white kidney beans) because I don’t like the usual giant red kidney beans with the tough skins that most chili contains. I mainly dislike the tough skin. The insides are pretty much the same for most beans. In my mind, the red, tough kidney beans are the guys and the soft, tender white kidney beans are the girls of the bean family. Today, we’re adding the girls. I also use packaged chili seasoning. Why reinvent the wheel?
Now, there is some controversy about whether or not to wash mushrooms. I take after Mom on this one, although she never cooked with mushrooms—not even the ones that come in a glass jar. When questioned about this absence of mushrooms, she replied, “Do you know where they grow them?” End of discussion. Anyway, Mom washed everything. Actually, rinsed is probably a better word since she only used water and sometimes a little scrub brush to clean produce. She rinsed apples, lettuce, all the normal stuff and, she rinsed bananas and eggs--everything. She would always say, “Who knows where they’ve been between the farm and the store.” I tend to take it on faith bananas and eggs are okay mainly because we discard the outer parts and I simply don’t remember to rinse them. Mushrooms are a different story. They come with dirt still attached. I can’t bring myself to simply pat or brush them off and feel like I am not still eating dirt. The idea behind the not rinsing is that mushrooms will absorb the rinse water. I figure once they hit the hot oil in my faux chili dish, all that so-called absorbed water will splatter away so I don’t worry about a little wash water. Clean is good.
I based the cheese grits recipe on a recipe my mother-in-law gave me. She always made cheese grits for her mother-in-law and I fell in love with it too. I love it because first, I love grits, second, I love cheese and lastly, I love that this dish can be cut like a slice of cake because it holds its shape. It is great to cut a slice and pour the faux chili over the top. It’s a meal in a dish.
Now, understand that these dishes are not ones that can be prepared easily or quickly and certainly don’t start them if you are tired or don’t want to spend time in the kitchen. They take time. I have plenty of time today because I am home alone and up for the challenge.
It is getting close to Halloween and I am feeling festive today so I am going to try to cut the cheese grits into pumpkin shapes. I am going to try a jack-o-lantern shape but I don’t think the dish is quite stiff enough for cutout eyes and such. Only time will tell.
It is best to make the cheese grits dish first because we want it to have time to cool enough for the pumpkin cookie cutters. It is also a dangerous dish to cook. Always remember our important safety rule—wear protective gear when dealing with anything hot. For the grits dish, I also recommend donning safety glasses because when it gets to boiling it looks very much like an erupting volcano and we all know how dangerous spewing hot lava is. We have a similar situation with the boiling grits. Better to be safe than sorry.
We can make some recipes on the fly but not cheese grits. Get everything ready before you start boiling the water. Mix the dry seasonings, crack the eggs, grate the cheese, open the milk. . .you get the idea. It goes fast once the water starts boiling. Here’s the recipe—
This recipe fills a 11 x 15 inch baking dish. It’s enough to please a crowd and it’s a universal pleaser for Southerners.
Preheat the oven to 275o F.
4 Cups Water
1 Cup Quick Cooking Grits
¼ tsp Paprika
½ tsp Salt
1-1/2 tsp Onion Powder
¼ tsp Garlic Powder
1/8 tsp Chili Powder
2 Sticks Unsalted Butter (1/2 pound)
16 oz. Grated Cheddar Cheese I used part medium cheddar and part sharp cheddar (I used the block cheese and grated it. It seems like the pre-grated cheese has something in it that keeps it from sticking together so it doesn’t melt as nicely.)
1 Can Evaporated Milk (12-oz. can)
9 Large eggs (I used the kind that are supposed to be more healthy. I want to live to play and to eat this dish again later in life. Although eggs get a bad rap, it’s actually the cheese I should be concerned about.)
15 Drops Tabasco Sauce
1-1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
I used a 6 quart (6 liter) pot because, like I stated earlier, this dish can splatter a bit.
Fill the pot with the 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Add the 1 cup of grits, the dry seasonings, and bring back to a boil.
Be ready with a wooden spoon to stir the grits to make sure they are cooked through. Here’s what they should look like:
Remove the cooked grits from the heat and add the 2 sticks of butter, grated cheese, and the Tabasco and Worcestershire Sauces and stir until the butter and cheese are completely melted. It takes a couple of minutes.
If you haven’t beaten the 9 eggs, do so quickly and add the evaporated milk to the eggs and make sure they are combined. It makes it simpler to mix into the grits if the milk and eggs are already mixed well.
Add the egg-milk mixture to the grits pot and stir until well combined. I used a whisk for a minute at the end to make sure everything was well combined.
Pour the grits mixture in to a greased 11 x 15 inch baking dish and bake for about 50 – 60 minutes at 275oF.
Here’s what it looks like after it’s cooked:
I think it turned out a bit too poofy to use my pumpkin cutter but I won’t know until I let it get completely cool. If you don’t let it cool off, it won’t cut nicely into squares or anything else.
On to the Faux Chili. Here’s the recipe:
Note—make sure you open all cans before you begin this recipe. We don’t want anything to burn while we are trying to get cans opened.
This dish also makes enough to feed a crowd.
2 – 3 T. Olive Oil
1 lb. or so of Baby Bella Mushrooms rinsed and ground up
1 lb. or so of Ground Chuck
1 Yellow Onion ground up
1 15.5-oz. Can Cannellini Beans rinsed and drained
1 Can Whole Kernel Corn rinsed and drained
1 6-oz. Can of Tomato Paste
2 Packages of 1.25-oz. Chili Spice Mix (Use your favorite brand.)
1 14-oz. Can Diced Tomatoes (I used Italian Seasoned diced tomatoes.)
1 10-oz. Can Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies
1/2 12 oz. beer, or 1/2 cup wine, tomato juice, or water (whichever you have on hand)
I used the same 6 quart pot I used for the cheese grits. Washing it was a challenge but I find if I squirt some liquid dish detergent in the pot and fill with hot water while I am wiping everything else up, cleaning it is much less stressful.
Wash (actually rinse) the mushrooms. This can be a bit difficult because mushrooms float. I bet there are many chefs out there that don’t know mushrooms float. I also used a soft scrub brush to make absolutely sure all the dirt was rinsed off them and removed most of the stems.
While the mushrooms are draining, peel and cut an onion into quarters. Now, you might notice that my onion is not perfect. It is getting a little long-in-the-tooth but don’t let this bother you. Older veggies taste just as good as young, pretty ones. I don’t discriminate based on age.
Grind the mushrooms and onion in a food processor. Beware of the blade. Never try to remove the contents of the processor before removing the blade. Safety first. By the way, I drained the onions a bit because they contain a lot of water, way more than the mushrooms.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and place on high heat.
Put in the ground onion, ground mushrooms, and the pound of ground chuck
Cook until the ground chuck is cooked through.
Once the mixture has cooked through, add the chili seasoning packages.
Cook the spices a minute or two to bring out the flavor. You can tell when the spices develop by the lovely smell.
Next, add half a beer or half a glass of wine or if you don’t have alcohol on hand, pour in a half cup of tomato juice. No tomato juice—add a little water. We just need something to bring up the bits on the bottom of the pan so they don’t burn. I added half a beer. Stir everything together.
Drain the cannellini beans and the corn. I added all my tomatoes and the tomato paste to the beans and corn just to make it easier to add all the items to the pot. I am not sure why I added everything together because I am generally an open-the-can-and-put-in-the-pot kind of girl.
Pour all the tomatoes, tomato paste etc. into the pot and stir.
Once you have everything stirred together, you have two choices. One, you can babysit the mixture until it has simmered awhile and you are ready to eat it. Or, you can do what I did, put it in a crock pot to keep warm until you are ready to eat it. The flavors will meld just fine in a crock pot as long as you leave it in there awhile.
Wow! The pumpkin cookie cutter worked! Fun!
I took a little taste out of the corner to make sure it was indeed delicious. I didn't attempt the jack-o-lantern cookie cutter. Felt fortunate that this one worked.
Here’s the Final Dish. It warms you from the inside out.