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Mom isn’t allowed in the kitchen anymore…

April 6th, 2009 by Avery

A pointless story, yet somehow instructive; this is a true story (as will become evident if only because there really isn’t a proper denouement at the end), although, perhaps, slightly exaggerated in places. Some caveats: while the descriptive text may, at times, suffer from mild inaccuracies, the recipe (such as it is) will not; if you should attempt to make this chili at home, be prepared to fend off legions of the barbarian hordes that will arrive on your doorstep just in time for dinner. Also, fix some cornbread and, if you’re sensitive to spicy food, some rice. Finally, be aware that, while I have told this story many times (and embellished it with every telling, no doubt), the punchline is something which I am not positive will translate well through written media. Here’s to hoping, eh?


As everyone and their uncle ought to be aware of by now, I like to cook. This can’t properly be called a tradition, although all the men in my father’s generation also cook. That’s where it stops, though; before my father, the cooking was done by his mother and by her mother before her and on and on as was traditional. When my father came along, he was the first of his siblings (the third of eight!) to show any interest in what went on in the kitchen, and my grandmother imparted much of the secret lore of farm cooks unto him. He learned to bake bread, skin and joint a chicken, mix the perfect pie, and, yes, to make chili.

Chili is something of a production in my family. You start with two pounds ground beef. Ideally, you want the ground beef that is the leanest you can find- I think, typically, this is 93% lean, but I’ve gone as low as 85% lean and still had good results. Toss the meat into a large skillet (I usually use an electric skillet – one of those that’s so big you can fry the Thanksgiving turkey in it and have room left over for pancakes) and brown it with a bit of black pepper and, if you absolutely must, a dash of salt.

When the meat is sufficiently brown, drain the grease and toss in a large red onion, chopped, and about a half a head of garlic, minced. Turn the heat down, but not off. This stage is very important, because while you are browning the meat, the onion and the garlic are getting to know each other and becoming fast friends. It’s important that the garlic brown slightly and the onion become clear, but you don’t want either one to burn. The next step, now that the meat and the garlic and onions have started a little party in your skillet, is to introduce the chili powder. This is an exact science. Always measure carefully, or else terrible things can and will befall you (more on this later). Take a big bottle of chili powder and drop in roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of the jar. Spread this over everything.

Next you want to get your beans. I use seven kinds of beans, one can of each type from the store: dark red kidney beans, great northern beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans, pinto beans, and butter beans. The entire can along with the juices go into a large stew pot. And you need a large pot, because this is going to be a lot of food. Add to this concoction two large cans of tomatoes (my father and I used two quarts of home-canned tomatoes, but those are hard to come by these days, so I make do with what I can find) and two dried, chopped cayenne peppers. Bring to a slow boil and add the meat mix. Stir. Bring to a slow boil and add (again, measuring carefully) 1/4 to 1/3 of a jar chili powder (are you paying attention? That’s a total of 1/2 to 2/3 of a large jar of chili powder.) Sniff to make sure your chili smells right; it may be necessary to add some additional cumin or paprika at this point, but probably not. Reduce the heat and simmer for a minimum of one hour.

Okay, back on track; that’s the quick and dirty how-to-make-chili where I grew up. Now, in addition to the men in my family all cooking, we are also all teachers and educators; my father used to go to work and, as my mother usually got home from her job later than he did, he would come home and fix dinner. On rare occasions, however, such as when the high school he was teaching at had an after-school function on a Tuesday or Thursday (when he taught evening classes at the local college), he wouldn’t have time to prepare dinner.

On one such occasion, it happened that my mother was staying home from work and she decided that it would be a kindness if she were to prepare dinner so that it was all set to go when Dad got home from work. She slaved over the stove and the counter for hours (the kitchen is not my Mom’s native environment). She chopped, she stirred, she browned, she sniffed…

And the chili smelled phenomenal. It was the sort of odor that you could smell three houses away and it would enfold you, lift you up, and waft you to your place at the table. We all sat down and Mom had to repeatedly smack out hands with the ladle to keep us from serving ourselves and devouring the pot before Dad walked in the door. At last, Dad got home. He took his time taking off his coat, setting down his briefcase. He washed his hands while we all sat around the table salivating and watching the pot like the hungry little vultures we were. At last he sat down.

Mom served us each a couple of ladlefuls of chili.

We sang grace.

We dove into the chili, each of us piling as much into our spoon and from our spoon into our mouth as we possibly could.

We all- and I mean every single person at the table- grabbed for the milk pitcher as one.

The chili was hot enough to strip paint off walls; one bite was enough to cause sweat to geyser from your forehead and drench the table, your seat, and the floor. It was awful.

When, eventually, we recovered enough to, with sorrow in our hearts, all fix ourselves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we figured out what had happened; my mother, in her zeal to make the perfect chili, had added far too much chili powder. When asked how it had happened, her only response was, “Id diddud sbell hod eduff!”

Yes, that’s right, my mother had been trying to measure the chili powder by smell (as is traditional), neglecting to notice that her severe headcold might have affected the way it was received by her olfactory senses.

My mother has never been allowed in the kitchen unsupervised since that day…

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45 Responses to “Mom isn’t allowed in the kitchen anymore…”

  1. Stickfodder Says:

    Oh I am so making that recipe this weekend.

    Man I thought I had posted this already. I guess I got distracted.


    David reply on April 7th, 2009 9:50 am:

    THATS NOT CHILI! Its “Spicy Bean Soup with Meat”.


    Avery reply on April 7th, 2009 2:12 pm:

    Heh. There are multiple kinds of chili; one theory holds that beans were introduced to replace meat in poorer areas where meat was hard to come by. I’ve made Chili beans and Chili sans beans and Chili con carne and chili sin carne for over two decades. Chili beans tends to be most popular- most accessible by people all over the world. I couldn’t swear to the reason; it just is. On the other hand, Chili without beans (and rendered down until it’s just shy of paste) is the best stuff, bar none, to put on polish sausage…

    Personally, as a diabetic (Type I), I prefer chili with beans just because it’s easier to work into my diet and adjust my insulin for. I dislike (intensely) sweet chili recipes, which remind me of the thin, noodley hanburger soup recipes of my youth.

    As for Texas chili, I’ve had several different recipes, some quite good. The best I ever had was not scorchingly hot, but kind of snuck up on you like a predatory cat in long grass. The flavor was robust, but the spices didn’t overwhelm the fresh vegetables and the venison…

    captcha: climate Car- what’s needed in Arizona in the summer time. In the winter, we can just ride bikes.


    David reply on April 7th, 2009 2:51 pm:

    That last sort of Texas Chili is what I aspire to when I break out the top sirloin and the cast iron. I want full bodied rich flavor, enticing and seductive up front but WRATH OF GOD later on.

    Good Chili … like a Good Woman.

    Which brings to mind the comparison between a Hurricane and a Woman: they start off all hot and wet, but when its all over somebody’s losing a trailer.

    Herald NxPwasKnaak’s – CHILI OF GALACTUS!

    Minty reply on April 7th, 2009 3:43 pm:

    To each his own. It’s not like any one of the vastly different recipes in the world bears any resemblence to the original dish, anyway.


    David reply on April 7th, 2009 3:54 pm:

    The original dish being… I suspect it was something stewed up out of beef jerky, pemmican, and old boot leather. I prefer the theory that the original chili was just stewed up leftover meats served as a side dish to hard-drinking patrons at old Mexican cantinas.

    These guys have a good story about the origin of chili:

    My version is simply grilled steak cubes stewed in a thick spicy mole sauce.

  2. Grayson Says:

    Avery, I hereby promote your mother to the status of “Honorary Texan.” They have chilli down there that is (allegedly) used to make space shuttle rocket fuel and napalm.


    David reply on April 7th, 2009 9:51 am:

    Texas Chili isn’t dulled down with a bunch of beans.


    Stickfodder reply on April 7th, 2009 11:58 am:

    That’s how they do things in chili competitions.


    David reply on April 7th, 2009 12:21 pm:

    competition chili: no beans

    “be rousing” – thats what chili should be!

  3. Jesse Says:

    I make strong chili. My mom once put the leftovers in a stainless steel bowl in the fridge. It etched the bowl so severely we had to throw it out.


  4. Mlynnr Says:

    Mmm, my dad used to make a chili that you could smell from the upstairs kitchen while standing outside on the porch in front of a locked door in November. I never went near that stuff (spicy hot foods simply Do Not agree with me) but the rest of the family, even the cat, lapped it up like mad. Good times….


    Weatherbabe reply on April 9th, 2009 6:12 pm:

    Same here with my dad and my not being able to handle anything spicier then mild-medium


  5. ineedhelpbad Says:

    Captcha: absolute remember
    I absolutely remember my moms chili.


  6. Andrew Says:

    i got a friend makes homemade horseradish, rly strong – lovely stuff :D

    I remember my dad telling me about when someone made him a curry, this person had never made a curry before….
    so instead of checking how much to put in she used a whole tub of curry powder


    Captcha 48.25 flames
    no wonder…


    Minty reply on April 7th, 2009 9:16 am:

    My stepfather adores hotsauce, so one Christmas, I made him up a little basket of “novelty” hotsauces sold in a store near me. Among them was The Hottest Fucking Sauce. The guy who sold it to me warned me to ony use a few drops, because it really was that hot. So, I passed the info on at Christmas.

    Apparently my mother wasn’t listening (she frequently doesn’t), because she used half a bottle when making chili, thinking it was just Tabasco with a goofy label. As a result, everyone got severe stomach cramps and the bathroom turned into a torture chamber for the next 24 hours.


    Speed reply on April 8th, 2009 5:21 am:

    Heh, I have a Vietnamese brother in law that likes to show off by using lots of hot sauce on potato chips. We got him some habenero(?) sauce and my wife warned him that it was supposed to be the hottest stuff ever made. He did the “yeah, sure” routine, put a bunch on a chip… and about died. Being the touchy-feely guy I am, I laughed my ass off. And handed him another beer.


  7. LT Ronald Says:

    My fiance is from the State of Indiana, and unfortunately was taught the “wrong” way to make chili.

    I guess that it is a northern-middle way of making chili in which it is more like a soup than a chili, she uses tomato juice and elbow macaroni, and not much spice at all, as I guess their stomachs are made out of cotton candy, and for a ministroni, it isn’t half bad, but i cannot believe they define it as chili. My coworker is engaged to a woman from Wisconsin and tells me that is the way they make their chili as well. WTF?!?!

    She tells me that she can’t stand my chili, and that what I make is a stew and not “real” chili. Since I was extremely offended that she dared question the authenticness of my chili there had to be a cook-off.

    My chili takes two lbs, of browned ground beef, some fried and chopped up bacon, finely minced onion (I mean finely minced), red kidney beans, fresh minced garlic, two cans tomoto sauce, dried cayene peppers, cumin, paprika, Salt and Black Pepper, and 1/2 a habinero pepper super-finely minced. Cook in a similar manner to Averey, then reduce in a crock pot for 4 hours. Serve with shredded cheese and chili Fritos.

    During this past Superbowl we threw a big party, and had two pots of chili, simply labeled “Chili A” and “Chili B”.

    We didn’t tell anyone whose chili was who’s but we did have everyone try em both. The unanimous decision was that my chili was the best, and many comments were left to the effect that her chili was not chili at all. I lorded it over her and then she cried and then I felt bad…. Now I feel bad again…

    *Goes off to send Fiance flowers at work for “no reason”.*


    Sicarius reply on April 7th, 2009 5:33 am:

    It seems to be about fifty fifty here in Wisconsin. My family is from the southern part of the state and around Milawukee, and our chili is thick and will burn your nosehair when you bring a spoon to your mouth. Moved north to the Green Bay region and we were disgusted with the noodly, soupy stuff that they serve.


    Benjamín reply on September 2nd, 2009 7:35 am:



    Sicarius reply on September 2nd, 2009 10:29 am:

    You heard me.

    Anonymous reply on January 11th, 2015 4:48 pm:

    Fond du Lac, here. My family makes chili that would rival Indian Food. Seriously, when we have guests, we have to tone it down. Once when at a block party, Mom accidentally made the full-strength stuff. It’s now known as “ass-blaster” strength in our house.


    Compu-scout reply on April 7th, 2009 6:00 am:

    Having grown up in Indiana and cut my Chili eatin teeth in central Texas, I have to agree that traditional Indiana chili, isn’t Chili. Good ministroni,or maybe spaghetti sauce but not chili.


    Avery reply on April 7th, 2009 6:23 am:

    Heh. My own chili frequently takes people unawares- I’m originally from the Midwest and my mother’s ancestry is actually Irish which means I have a double dose of heritage that suggests food ain’t food unless the life has been boiled out of it. What people miss is that (a) my mom actually learned about spice in Malaysia (“those little red things are pimientos, right?” That was MY mom…) and (b) my own cooking has been know to send Koreans and Mexicans fleeing to the fridge in search of strong beer or milk. And I should point out that I’ve mellowed in my dotage…

    captcha: broad growing- words to describe my ass…


    Minty reply on April 7th, 2009 9:21 am:

    Reminds me of how my Illinois grandmother used to make lasagna with cottage cheese instead of ricotta, because the town where she lived didn’t have any Italians, so no one knew what that fluffy cheese in the filling was supposed to be. Not good. Not good at all.


    LT Ronald reply on April 7th, 2009 11:03 am:

    MY fiance’s family makes it that way too. Hoosiers are freaking wierd.

    Captcha: Ass Libby – Not only is she hot, but she takes it in the Ass too! What a woman!


    David reply on April 7th, 2009 10:15 am:

    They have these chili-cookoff things every fall where we go to church and they’re a pansy waste of time worthless event that I stopped attending and stopped participating in long ago. The wussies want people to self-rate their own chili on a 1-5 scale of hotness, and of course if you’re honest enough to say you’re chili is CHILI then nobody will touch it, and therefore nobody will vote for it. Every year its some wussie bean-laden noodly sweet watery concoction that wins, and REAL CHILI might take second place.

    My chili is thick steak chili. It looks like chunks of steak in a heavy red sauce. It is not safe to eat with plastic utensils or in styrofoam bowls. There are no beans. It isn’t just “fire hot” either, its more of a Thai/Indian blend with a variety of spices from that corner of the globe and eats better with a chunk of flatbread. The tequila belongs in the marinade. Secret ingredient list includes cinnamon, cocoa, coriander, and coffee (espresso grounds).

    One bite: mmm, sweet and yummy
    Two bites: mmm, this is a little warm
    Three bites: hey, this is getting hot

    We routinely buy 15lb beef sirloin roasts at the store, and steak is cheaper than hamburger if you buy it this way. So I’ll pull the top sirloin off the roasts and save them for chili. We’re talking 2-3lb of cubed marinated top sirloin, braised, and then stewed for 4-6 hours in its own marinade.


    Stickfodder reply on April 7th, 2009 12:11 pm:

    I’m from New York and whenever I make chili my mom tries to make me put noodles in it. I never cave, also I do use beans but I don’t typically use much.


    BOFH reply on April 10th, 2009 7:25 am:

    If it has any pasta in it its not chilli its goulash and a hungarian dish as far as i know chilli is an american dish if anyone can correct me go ahead


  8. Speed Says:

    Lemme pull a Forest Gump:
    Momma always says, that ifn it don’t burn on the way out, it aint real chili.

    I have to make wimp-chili for my family, otherwise it’s “too hot.” And my wife is from New Orleans, go figure.

    Screw the denoument, it was a perfect ending.


    Minty reply on April 7th, 2009 3:46 pm:

    But burning at both ends is how you know it’s good!

    Or maybe that’s just me.


    Anonymous reply on January 11th, 2015 4:50 pm:

    Not just you.


  9. Rainewolf Says:

    Oh my stars. My buddy Neil, a man originally from El Paso then living in New Orleans and in the search to create the World’s Hottest Chili, decided to add 2 cans of extra hot chilis’n’tomatos, 4 whole fresh jalapenos, 2 fresh whole habaneros, what is rumored to be half a jar of cayenne pepper but was more likely a heaping tablespoon or two, and (I kid you not) a shot of tequila.

    another friend went on record as saying “In Soviet Russia, Neil’s chili eats /you/.” *chuckle*


    Minty reply on April 7th, 2009 9:22 am:

    Mmm. . . tequila in chili. I’ll have to try that one.


  10. Sgt. Spooky Says:

    Im also from Indiana (South Bend area), transplanted to NW Florida and as for chili, my mom used to make chili all the time when i was growing up, in later years my sister has now taken possesion of the chili throne. They’ll argue for hours over who’s chili is better till I have to slap them both and point out that they both use the same damn recipe. Me, I dont like chili, mostly because i’ve been subjected to “their idea” of chili, which is 4-5 cans of dark red kidney beans, a lb. of ground beef and a couple of packages of chili powder. When I still lived at home, one night we’d have chili the next, speghetti, then chili then speghetti, and so on and so forth. To this day I cant stand chili or speghetti, and run screaming like a scared wee lass at the mere mention of either.


    Minty reply on April 7th, 2009 12:01 pm:

    So, in other words, chili and spaghetti for you is sort of like Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and ramen noodles for me (college).


    David reply on April 7th, 2009 12:22 pm:

    mac’n’cheese + chili = not so bad
    ramen + spaghetti = abomination


  11. Phelps Says:

    You lost me at beans.

    And there are alcohol soluble flavors in chili powder. Tequila will work, beer will let you go a little easier on the masa (or lose it totally depending on the beer) and Irish whiskey is great.


  12. Matt Says:

    The best Chili I ever had almost killed me…

    It was made by a Texan (of course). It was a 5 pepper recipe, jalapeno, habanero, anaheims, and a couple of little evil ones I don’t remeber. It was fantastic. Hotter than the Hinges of Hell. Lots of peppers, thick rich sauce and meat, and an errant bottle of Shiner-Bock. It had simmered all day. Thick enough to stand a spoon up in and spicy enough to light a match. Delicious. I was halfway through my first cup when I felt my lips go numb, then my eyes got puffy, it got hard to breathe… It turns out, I am allergic to concentrated capiscum. Fresh peppers and some processed don’t bother me much. Cook them or concentrate them and it kicks off food allergies. Bummer… A couple of benadryl and shot from an epi-pen later and I was fine.


    ineedhelpbad reply on April 7th, 2009 5:45 pm:

    That’s how you know chili is good, when it almost kills you.


    Matt reply on April 7th, 2009 7:28 pm:

    Yes indeed, they had to restrain me from going back for seconds.


  13. Twan Says:

    Hmm….. your mom uses the same chile recipe as my dad.

    Just think, to some idiot geographer who has never heard of mexican food, we’re cooking a South American country.


  14. Ziggy Says:

    I have entired exactly one chili cookoff. I won. I then promptly retired from competition because there is nowhere to go but downhill from a 100% win record.

    My chili has 2 lbs lean ground beef, 2 lbs stew meat (Cubed beef will work. Venison is better.) and 2 lbs chorizo. Brown ’em all and drain the living hell out of it because chorizo makes a BUNCH of grease. Then add your spices and chili powder, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, etc…what my wife refers to as the “What have you.” part of the recipe. Cook all that over low heat for a half hour. Then add beans and tomatoes. I do two cans each of dark red kidney beans, black beans, and diced tomatoes. Pour in one Shiner Bock and continue to cook over low heat until the consistency looks right.

    That’s all pretty straightforward, except that I’m a Texan, and yet I still put beans in my chili. And the ‘What have you’ part of the recipe contains enough peppers to blind a normal person…and cumin, and oregano, and paprika, and…you know, stuff.

    I had a friend from Wisconsin eat dome of my chili. He accused me of trying to kill him. After I figured out that he meant that, I decided I’d come up with a proper rating system for chili spiciness. A decent bowl of chili should include at least one legitimate fear of impending doom.


  15. SGT Mack Says:

    No.. Chili’s good when it almost kills you THEN they have to hold you back for seconds


  16. Mom to one of you Says:

    I like chili most any way it’s fixed, and–probably due to the cold I had when I cooked it–I ate two bowls of it. Enjoyed everybody’s comments and different recipes.


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