My Dad makes some of the best chili ever. It has been a little rainy here today, so I decided to whip up a batch of my Dad's chili. Nothing like a bowl of hot chili on a rainy day. I'll share the recipe with you tomorrow. But, first of all, I'd like to share some photos and stories about my Dad with you. And the story about the first time I ever tried to replicate my Dad's wonderful chili. Let's just say, it was somewhat of a cooking disaster. The above photo is of me and my Dad around 1971 or so. But, here's how I remember my Dad best.
This picture was taken around 1975. Looking back, my sister and I were rough and tough. Crazy little red-headed tomboys. We were always rough housing with our Dad. He was always such a good sport about it though. By the way, does that couch just scream 1970s or what?
Growing up, my sister and I thought our Dad was the best cook ever. (Sorry, Mom.) We figured that he must have picked up this talent while serving in the National Guard as a cook. Here he is hard at work, sometime around 1973, serving up lots of good food for all the troops.
Dad even got his picture in the paper. As a little girl, I was certain that this meant he was a gifted chef extraordinaire.
Somehow, even though both my parents enjoyed baking and cooking, none of their culinary talents rubbed off on me. When I married Paratrooper Man, my cooking repetoire only included Spaghetti-O's and hot dogs. And I even occasionally messed those up.
As newlyweds, I desperately tried to cook fabulous meals for my new honey. Unfortunately, this typically ended in disaster. One time, I decided that if I kept the meal incredibly simply, it surely would turn out delicious. Or at the very least, edible. I chose tacos for the main entree and lime Jell-O for the dessert. Seems simple enough, doesn't it? Nope. My family still tells the story of how I burnt the taco shells black. And in an effort to speed-set the Jell-O, I froze it solid. Basically, I stunk at cooking!
A few weeks after the taco and Jell-O incident, Paratrooper Man got the bright idea to invite the neighbors over for supper. I suppose misery loves company. Or something like that. Now, at the time, we were stationed overseas in Vicenza, Italy. So, I called home long distance (at $3.00/minute!) in a desperate attempt to glean as much culinary expertise as I could from my parents. My Dad suggested I make chili. He said chili was hard to mess up. Apparently, he did not realize who he was talking to.
I carefully wrote down the recipe and headed off to the commisary. I meticulously picked out the ingredients. Agonizing over which canned tomato brand was best and which color pepper he meant for me to use. As I worked my way down the list, I got to the kidney beans.
Hmm. There is dried beans in a bag and there is cooked beans in a can. I wonder which I'm supposed to use. This was most definitely the pre-cell phone era. And like I said, international calls were $3/minute back then. I was on my own. I'd have to figure this one out for myself. I pondered this for quite some time. Just standing there in the bean aisle, staring at the overwhelming variety of beans available. Finally, I came up with a logical solution. I'll just get whichever is cheaper. The dried beans in the bag went into my commisary cart.
Back at home, as I was reading Dad's chili recipe, I realized I was mighty pressed for time. Better get this stuff on the stove, I thought. As I read the instructions for cooking the dried beans, I decided that surely the dried beans would cook as the chili simmered. So, into the pot they went.
Once everything was in the pot, I had more important things to do than check on the progress of my homemade delight. I fixed my hair and put on a pretty outfit. I flitted around our little apartment cleaning up. All the while, the apartment deceptively filled with the delicious aroma of Dad's chili recipe. It seemed I'd finally done something right.
Soon, the neighbors arrived and marveled at how delicious supper smelled. After some chit-chatting and enjoying each other's company, I declared that dinner must be ready by now. I proudly brought the chili pot to the kitchen table. And I began serving it up. The neighbor's husband was the first to take a bite.
The look on his face was... I don't know what word to use... perplexed? maybe, confused? He must have thought, why are there pebbles in my food?
Emberassed. Horrified. Mortified. They're all good words to describe how I felt when I realized that dried beans do NOT cook while simmering in the chili. Sensing my complete and utter emberassment, he began declaring " It's OK. I really love chili cooked this way. This is so good! I think I'll have my wife make some just like this sometime. Honey, get the recipe from her. Wow, this is great!"
He kept going on and on. And on. He ate the whole bowl. Insisting the whole time that it was wonderful. What a great sport he was. But, it was horrible and I knew it. The rest of us wimps, not brave enough to eat my chili disaster- we filled up on Frito chips, Saltine crackers and slices of Kraft American cheese.
Well, I am happy to report that I have since figured out how to make my Dad's chili. Hint: Use the cooked kidney beans in the can. It's worth the extra pennies. Actually, I have tinkered with the recipe so much over the years, that my version is probably pretty different from Dad's. However, I still wish to give him credit for it. After all, he was my inspiration.