rustic homemade chili by betty

No. This is not a recipe. I’m not that blogger. But – I did make chili for the first time last night. My husbands been lying to me all this time: chili is easy to prepare.

Ok- so- he didn’t lie exactly. I don’t think he’s ever qualified the difficulty of making chili. But for some reason in my mind it’s an art form. I blame that episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes to a chili festival and criticizes everyone’s contribution. I sort of assumed there was more to cooking chili than canned tomatoes and canned beans in a pot.

I swear the only reason my husband knows how to cook is because his mom hates it and he and his siblings had no choice but to learn how to cook as teenagers. My mom, however, cooked a meal every night from scratch and never gave any of us any reason to learn to cook. She is one of those moms who did everything for us, which probably contributes to the fact I’m 33 and still feel like “keeping house” is something I haven’t mastered yet.

My mom is not a braggart chef. Growing up we had tuna noodle casserole topped with crumbled saltines and Kraft American cheese. She’d make tater tot casserole with green beans and occasionally we’d go crazy with “Mexican Night” and refried beans with quesadillas. Beyond this middle American dining fare, she makes the best oven baked chicken I’ve ever eaten and every time I go back home it’s basically the only meal I request.

I have been blossoming in the kitchen as of late. Well, I’ve been trying to cook lately. And half of the time it doesn’t turn out half bad. I’ve even taken over cooking dinner when my husband is home, something I’ve rarely done in our almost seven years of marriage.

I’m trying to take on my moms no nonsense approach. Things made from scratch but nothing insanely challenging. I grow tired of seeing everyone’s perfected meals. Yeah, I too could describe my crockpot meals with pretty adjectives and embellish the effort- “thrown into pot at 7am” turned into “slow cooked for hours to perfection”. See what I did there?

For my birthday this year I asked for the plainest, most sturdy cookbook I knew of: The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Nostalgia played a part in the request: my mom had the same book, although her book was published sometime in the 80’s. Something about having ONE source of recipes makes me feel like cooking is within my realm. There’s one chili recipe in there. I don’t need to find reviews and search through the search engine. There’s no impossibly polished photo of said fare to envy. It’s just there. Chili. Pancakes? Waffles? 20-minute dinners? Betty has you covered with the staples. There’s also tons of tutorials on how to cook.

I love having something solid in my hands when I venture into the kitchen.

My husband laughs at my dependency to this silly cookbook but as far as I’m concerned, its scripture in the kitchen.

Oh Betty, I love thee

let them eat cheerios 

I’m a wretched, unconfident cook. My problem is my lack of courage in the kitchen.  So I stick to my staples, my comfort zone. Casseroles and crockpot meals and frozen pizza. It’s hard enough when my husband is gone managing things without his help, so cooking is low on my priorities list.

I’m attempting to change this. Self growth in the culinary sense is my goal as of late. I have a meal planning pad on my fridge, and I’m trying to cook a higher variety of food.

That said, I totally messed up thinking tonight G would be home and he could cook the skirt steak I bought on Saturday.

He left this afternoon so – I stuck to the script. H was snoozing in the swing, L was on my back in the Tula and E was doing homework. I took out the slab of meat and we eyed each other for a moment. “Just add salt and pepper” my husbands voice echoes inside my head, full of wisdom and Chef-with-a-capital-C authority.

I add some. Then some more. The other side of the steak is thick with muscle – I’m not sure what to do with that, so put salt on it too- and then the voice of my husband reminds me- “Make sure the cast iron grill is SUPER hot before you sear the steak”. So, I do. I add the steak to it after a few minutes, afraid to cook it to long. Another authoritative chef’s voice speaks up- this time it was the cranky Sous Chef from my first restaurant job I had over 15 years ago, the man who refused to let me eat a steak over medium done— “nothing worse than an overcooked steak….may as well be hamburger….”

So, eyeing the spitting and hissing thing on my grill, I flip it over. L on my back is pulling my hair, but in an affectionate way. E is whining for dinner.

I knew I needed to put the steak in the oven and the oven already contained the freshly sliced homemade fries (that’s something I know how to cook). So, after a minute or two of searing the backside of the slab of meat, I put it in the oven on a cast iron pan. Then, I wait. Nervously. Grumpy Sous Man, and Cocky Husband Chef, they both are in my brain. The worst thing my husband says, when I compliment his cooking, is “It was easy”.

This kind of thing should be easy to me.

But it’s simply not.

I took the steak out three or four times- it was never to temperature. The oven fries are crisp and ready so I spin L out of the Tula and she and E get to work on them. The fifth time I take the steak out of the oven I slice into it. It’s red, but not super red, I don’t think, it’s probably good, so I take it out, start to cut “against the muscle” like the website I haphazardly found while googling “how to cook skirt steak” suggested.

Damn. The steak is raw. Raw in the the center. Raw like my incompetence. Bleeding like my shame.

Yes, these are dramatic ways to put it- but, cooking something unfamiliar makes me dramatic. The waste of food, potentially, plus the added invisible voices of better cooks than me— the chorus of “It’s easy”, it all leads to a crescendo of me wanting to pull my hair out.

People order blue steaks so I figure it can’t be to bad. I slice up small portions for L & E from the ends, which don’t look like blood is still flowing from the veins, and give myself a larger piece. H is quiet in the living room so I have a chance to eat this at the same time as my bigger kids. I sit down.

Yeah, it’s not good. I don’t enjoy it. A bit of A1 sauce may make it better, but we don’t have that in my house. Its super chewy, so chewy I wonder if my fillings are gonna come out with each bite. I’m not a finicky eater but even this is hardly edible.

E & L are done with the fries, they’ve avoided the steak, they’ve avoided the side salad I’ve provided, and they are hungry still. I sigh. I take out the trusty yellow box of Cheerios, pour them both bowls. They are happily slurping up the o’s and milk combination and I just sit, looking down at my raw, chewy, undercooked amateur job and wish for a large glass of red wine. My kids are happy as can be. Why, I wonder, did I just waste the time and energy trying to make something nice for my family when they could care less about home-grilled steak?

Husband consoled me later that evening. “Let’s talk through it. Tell me everything you did”. He is supportive of my new cooking bravery. Apparently the pan in the oven should have been super hot too. That and I should have been more patient, more willing to let the oven do it’s job.

This cooking venture of mine, I’m not giving up. Just like this blog. I will continue to do better, push myself more, and eventually I can create things worthy of pride. In the meantime, if it all goes to hell, I can always just pour the kids more processed cereal to supplement my terrible cooking.