LAKE MACBRIDE— New Year’s Day was for rest and household chores. The bed sheets were laundered, along with work clothes. As the washer and dryer ran, I rearranged the ice box and cooked chili and apple crisp—two dishes that have long been part of our cuisine.
People who complain about Red Delicious apples have likely never tasted one directly from a tree. At the end of the season a bowl remained to make one last apple crisp.
As I cut and peeled, the apples were ambrosial. They yielded sweet, almost divine fragrance with each cut. Not the crisp freshness of new apples, but the mature, aromatic drift of delicious.
There were bad spots, but plenty of good slices for the bowl—just enough.
The issue with local food is a lack of citrus fruit in Iowa, impossible to live without. It may be possible to re-create a greenhouse environment—carefully modulating soil, moisture, temperature and light—to grow citrus in Iowa. Why would we want to?
In winter I use imported lemon juice: Italian Volcano organic lemon juice, and there are few better things in the kitchen. A couple of tablespoons in the apple crisp and the flavor turns from tasty to insanely pleasurable. Combined with the apple aromatics, it makes a dessert fit for kings and queens. Since there are no American royalty, we’ll have to eat it ourselves.
Over many years I have tinkered with the chili recipe and have it about right. At one point I read every chili recipe I could find, especially those produced in the neighborhoods where I grew up, including my mother and grandmother’s recipes. We are solid on this dish.
That said, even if there is a recipe, the cooking of each instance of it is always a little different. The ingredients are simple: onions, kidney beans, Morningstar Farms® Recipe Crumbles, tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, chili powder and salt are the main ones. There are a couple of key elements to preparation.
Don’t use oil for this vegetarian chili. Instead, drain the tomatoes and use the liquid to cook the onions until translucent. When they are finished, add tomato paste until the liquid is the desired thickness. Pile in the rest of the ingredients and cover with tomato juice. When there is time to simmer the chili for 6-8 hours, use it. Don’t be afraid to add lots of beans.
While these aren’t really recipes, the dishes are common enough for cooks to find and modify their own. To learn how they taste, you’ll have to visit, unless you are royalty. In which case, nuts! Have your staff make your own.