Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bland. With a Side of Spicy!

Finally, for a brief moment, I'm back to getting off work at 5pm on Sunday. That means that I can get to Queens, and the relaxation of Michael's house, earlier than my recent 8:30pm arrival time. It's nice to be able to just get there, uncork a bottle or two, and relax for the evening.

This past Sunday, I decided that I wanted to cook something. I usually bring a bottle of wine or something for dessert. Sometimes I just bring my southern self with the very unsouthern "nothing" to give the hostess. Tacky, I know. I never said I was perfect. Oh, I strive to be, but sometimes I'm just lazy. And God forbid, cheap. There, I said it. I can be cheap. Of course, it's because I worry about money. Having enough of it that is. In regards to Sundays in Queens, it's mostly about being lazy in getting something to take with me. Back to me cooking. The one thing that I know how to cook without the recipe is my Mamaw's Mexican cornbread. It's not exactly hers anymore, as I've had to modify it for what I could purchase in NYC. You see, when I started making this cornbread, I couldn't find corn meal in the grocery store. It struck me as odd 10 years ago, but being a New Yorker now, I realize that items I might find back in KY differ from items that people want to buy here and vice versa. So I started making the cornbread with Jiffy cornbread mix. It's a little sweeter than regular cornbread and I kind of like it better. It's a good base for all the ingredients. It's sweet with a little spicy thrown in the mix. Not providing the recipe, so don't even ask.

I stopped at the Ctown grocery store in Queens on my way to Michael's place. I was able to get almost all of the ingredients there. The one thing I couldn't find, I knew I could do without as I've done without it before. I got to Michael's just as he was leaving to go to the grocery store himself for the ingredients to make chili. I went upstairs, uncorked a bottle of Rioja, and began preparing the cornbread. After Michael returned, he realized he forgot cheese and sour cream for the chili. I realized I forgot to get milk for the cornbread. I also realized that the cheese I purchased for the cornbread was imitation. How could I be so stupid as to get imitation. I want real cheese. No imitation. No fat free. No reduced fat. Call me Paula Dean, but I want real cheese. Maybe it's a little more Julia Child and her love of real butter. Doesn't matter, it was back to the grocery store for me. The Trade Fair this time. I got milk, sour cream, and real cheese for the cornbread and the chili.

Back in the kitchen, with the sounds of jazz coming through the speakers and wine swirling in my glass, I began to scoop out the shreds of imitation cheese I had poured into the cornbread mix before realizing it was fake. I retrieved a Pyrex cake pan from it's storage space only to realize, after spraying it with non stick spray and starting to fill it, that it was too big. I went with a smaller backing pan. I'm used to making this cornbread. However, I usually make it in a rectangular metal cake pan and bake it for 40 minutes. This pan was Pyrex and smaller so I had to watch the timer and periodically check to see how brown the top was. After 35 minutes, it wasn't done, so I placed it back in the oven for 10 more minutes. Here's where the real fun began.

Michael had been slaving away dicing onions and peppers, browning ground turkey, and adding spices to the large pot. Ingredients that would eventually simmer and mix and blend into a pot of chili. Perfect for a chilly Sunday evening, a glass of red wine and Mexican cornbread. During the final 10 baking minutes of the cornbread, Michael decided he should try the chili. It was the first time he had ever made it. He had gotten the recipe from the Internet. He dipped the spoon into the bubbling red liquid, blew on it to cool it down, and tasted his concoction. He nearly choked. It was so spicy that he began searching for something to drink like a crazy person. Sweat broke out on his forehead. I suggested the wine. He gulped. Not literally like you would gulp water, but a gulp for wine. We didn't know what to do. He thought it was going to be inedible. All that food wasted. Thank God we had cornbread to eat if it really proved inedible.

He rushed to the computer to search for ways of "cutting the hotness" of chili. All the results were things to do before cooking. Nothing for what to do after it's basically complete. I called my friend Matt, a chili maker, for suggestions. I did not reach him. I then called my friend Josette, Matt's fiance, hoping he might be with her. I didn't reach her either. I called my mom. No answer. I then called my friend Neal. Success! He began Google searching things to do to make the chili less spicy.

Here's what we did: Added sugar. Added more ground turkey. Added a can of tomato paste. Added red wine. Added salt. Added more sugar. Added more water. Scooped off a mug full of the liquid. Added a can of Campbell's Beef Consomme.

When all of these things were done, we had a slightly less spicy, incredibly bland chili. I still don't know how it's possible for the chili would end up bland, but it did. More salt helped, but didn't repair. The damage was done. We knew that the dairy of the sour cream and cheese would help with the spiciness, but the blandness was another layer of contention.

Forty-five minutes in the Pyrex pan turned out to be the right amount of time for a perfectly browned cornbread. We cut ourselves large squares of it. I put mine in my bowl and ladled the chili on top. That's the way I had been craving the two dishes all day. Married together in one bowl. Flavors uniting for a burst of heaven in my mouth. Well, it wasn't exactly that. The chili left a lot to be desired by each of us. Michael couldn't finish his even with the sour cream and cheese on top. The cornbread did help with the flavor, but as I'm not a spicy food person, the spice was a bit too much.

Let me just say that thankfully, we had wine to wash it down and cookies in the refrigerator just waiting to be backed. Chocolate chip and mint chocolate chip. Yes, they were from a break and bake package, but who cares. They were fantastic. They helped erase the taste of the spicy, bland chili.

When our friend Tynan arrived home to the apartment she shares with Michael, we recounted the story. Had she been there while we were cooking, she would have known how to fix the chili. She suggested we add beans and/or Cumin. So, instead of dumping the pot of chili out and wasting all those lunches/dinners from leftovers, Tynan was going to work her magic and fix it up right.

It's so nice to have friends with whom to share moments like: sitting in the kitchen and laughing about the chili, recounting the story to Tynan and watching her face react, realizing I bought imitation cheese. None of them would be possible with out the love and generosity of friends. I'm glad that I've at least had the sense in my life to know to open my heart to people who are going to fill it with joy.

I'm so grateful for the friendship and for the Sundays in Queens.