Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Slow Cooker Beef and Lamb Chili

It's chili night, y'all!

I know I'm not very good at consistent blogging anymore, but I do often post pictures of dinner over on instagram. I'm a fan of the near-instant posting, and since most of my photos are taken on my phone these days (who wants to carry around a DSLR when an iPhone fits in your pocket?), that particular social media has won out of this one. I like that the pictures are usually sort of messy and un-styled, too (note chili splash marks and chipped bowl). Unfortunately, iPhone keyboards are not so excellent for typing out entire recipes, so here I am again! Let's talk chili.

I make a big batch of chili at least once each winter. It's a fantastic recipe that I got from my friend Kristen, and I will certainly bring it out at some point during football season, but man, is that sucker a project: there's lots of chopping and hours of simmering, and it feeds twenty (twenty!) people. I needed to make some room in the freezer this week, and the weather has turned cool again, but I didn't have hours to tend to a pot - in fact, I threw this in the crockpot in about 30 minutes after Bones the other night and dinner was done before I even woke up the next day. This version is a slimmed down, use-what-you've-got interpretation of my old stand by, so there's a little bit of pre-cooking and a little bit of finishing, but the batch was perfect for dinner for two and a few lunches worth of leftovers.

Slow Cooker Beef and Lamb Chili
Serves 6-8, or 2 with plenty of lunches for the week

By all means, use all beef if that's what you've got (or what you like) but we really enjoyed the added flavor from the ground lamb. And a note on fat: Adam doesn't eat pork on principle, but we do have bacon once a year (New Year's Day, when we have guests for brunch), and I save the fat and cook with it from time to time when it seems like a good fit. If you don't save bacon fat, you could certainly use olive oil, or a combination of oil and butter as in the original, or any other interesting fat you feel like cooking with that day. Or you could cook some bacon with your breakfast and use the fat to start slow-cooker chili that you'll eat for dinner that night. I used home-canned tomatoes from my #crazycanninglady frenzy of Labor Day weekend, but I'm sure store bought would work just fine. 

about 2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil, divided
2 stalks celery, cut into half moons about 1/2" thick
2 jalapenos, seeded, minced

2 green peppers, diced into 3/4" pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium white or yellow onions, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2" pieces
2 14.5 ounce cans beans, drained and rinsed (I used dark red kidney beans and pink beans, but use what you like)
1 28-32 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-16 ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 tablespoon* cumin
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning as you go
kosher salt

*I happen to have a 1/2 tablespoon measure, but if you don't, it's equivalent to 1 1/2 teaspoons.

Heat 1-2 teaspoons fat in a cast iron or other large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the green peppers, celery and jalapenos and saute for 5-7 minutes until just starting to soften. Add the garlic, season with a big pinch of kosher salt, and saute for one minute more. Scrape the vegetables into the slow cooker.

Add another 1-2 teaspoons fat in the same skillet, and add the onion. Saute for 5 or so minutes, or until the onion is just starting to get translucent. Add the lamb to the skillet, breaking it up with your spatula, and season with a big pinch of salt. Cook until the lamb is no longer pink, stirring and breaking up the meat as it cooks. If your lamb gives off a fair amount of fat as it cooks, tilt the skillet and spoon out most of the fat before scraping the lamb and onions into the slow cooker. (Pro tip: I used one of the empty bean cans as a place to put the fat before it solidified and I could throw it out - never put fat down the drain!)

Add another 1-2 teaspoons fat to the skillet, then add half the beef. Turn the pieces occasionally, trying to get a good dark golden crust on at least two sides of each piece. When the first batch is golden brown on a couple of sides, scrape them into the slow cooker and repeat with the second half of the beef. If your skillet is very large you won't need to work in batches, but mine isn't huge, and crowding the meat will cause it to steam instead of developing the golden brown crust you're after.

So now you've got partially cooked vegetables and meat in the slow cooker. Add the beans, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, then add all the spices - you can use more or less chili powder or chili flake to adjust the heat level, or you could add hot sauce if you like. For me, this amount of seasoning amounted to a medium heat level - I didn't add any additional fire power to my bowl, but Adam added pickled jalapenos to his. Anyway, add another large pinch of salt, stir the whole thing together, then put on the lid and turn the slow cooker to low.

Cook on low for about 8 hours or overnight (it is kind of weird and awesome to wake up to a house that smells like chili). When you get up, take the lid off the slow cooker but let it keep simmering, stirring occasionally, for about an hour to thicken slightly (totally ok to skip this if you don't have time, it'll just be a little more soupy). Taste the chili for seasoning - it may need more salt depending on how aggressive you were when seasoning during cooking. Serve hot, with all the fixins if you've got 'em: sour cream, grated cheese, extra hot sauce, sliced green onion, cornbread, fritos, etc, etc.