The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Dynamite chili or feeding the masses

Rachael Conlin Levy

When I learned to cook it was for a crowd. I made towers of pancakes, mountains of oatmeal and buckets of soup, practical and economical fare for a family that sat shoulder-to-shoulder around a kitchen table. It was only after I left home that learning to cook with large quantities presented a problem: I’d eat spaghetti for weeks, and had enough pancake batter to last a month. Out of a desperate need for menu variety, I recalculated the recipes inside my head, reduced the cups of flour and cans of tomato sauce, and continued cooking for one, then two, until, thirteen years and four children later, we again bump elbows around my kitchen table.

It’s easy to factor a tiny stomach into a recipe — add a handful of beans, another carrot, a little more bread — and keep cooking merrily along, but when a child turns 10 or so their stomachs stretch to extraordinary capacity, rapidly enlarging feet become food lockers, and leftovers are nonexistent. For example, this weekend I made chili using two pounds of hamburger, three cups of pinto beans and three cans of tomatoes. It was in their stomachs before it was out of the pot.


The chili was dynamite hot with chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika and cayenne that had tongues lolling out as they hurried to quench the fire with water, milk and beer. Oh, man, this is hot. It’s clearing my sinuses, said Marcel, clutching a tissue in one hand and a spoon in the other. They licked their bowls and asked for more — for dessert. Then for breakfast the next day. I guess I’ll make another pot, I replied. For a second day in a row I pulled out my big trusty pot and chopped onion as Ivan protested that his eyes were burning. I browned two more pounds of hamburger as windows steamed up and Chaja practiced her signature on the glass. I opened three more cans of tomatoes and measured in the beans as Sam and Max leaned over the pot and inhaled.

It was one o’clock when I poured in a cup of beer and silently toasted my small army and the best chili ever before polishing off the bottle.


Smoky Beef-and-Bacon Chili

Adapted from Sunset magazine, January 2007, and first brought to my attention by Shannon.

2 slices bacon, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic glove, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 12/ teaspoons smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce

1 cup of beer (India Pale Ale)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 can (14.5 ounces) pinto beans, drained

Sour cream, sliced onions, cheddar for topping

In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook bacon until it begins to brown. Add onion, lower heat to medium, cover and cook until onions are soft and nearly translucent. Uncover pan, add garlic and cook briefly. Increase heat to medium-high, add ground beef and stir until it loses its raw color. Stir in spices and salt, cook briefly. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, beer and Worcestershire and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially and cook for 30 minutes. Add beans and cook 10 minutes more, uncovered. Serve with toppings on the side.

6 responses to “Dynamite chili or feeding the masses”

  1. Andrea says:

    Wow! I never get that level of enthusiasm for a meal unless I make french toast for dinner…usually it’s “three more bites and then you can leave the table (please, god, please, eat your three bites before I begin to gnaw my own arm off from exasperation at having sat at the kitchen table watching you not eat for the last hour!!”). Perhaps some day they will have food locker feet, but it’s hard to imagine now.

  2. Fun post. I love ‘rapidly enlarging feet become food lockers’ and I really want to make a big pot of chili. I’ve never added bacon or worcestershire to mine. Thanks for some new ideas. I’ll return to my kitchen today and this looks like a great way to settle back in.

  3. My pot is bubbling. I brilliantly forgot to buy bacon, but I do have worcestershire. My last taste was delicious. I think I’ll eat it for a late lunch and again for dinner.

  4. Rachael says:

    Andrea, most of our meals involve arm-twisting as well, which was why I had to share this magical recipe.

    Denise, don’t forget dessert and breakfast. There’s no end to chili possibilities!

  5. anno says:

    Sounds delicious. Just finished dinner … still time to have a pot ready by breakfast!

  6. Melissa says:

    “in their stomachs before it was out of the pot” never happens here with picky kids. i’m envious and salivating too!

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