Today I made another variation of my "nasal decongestant chili" recipe. The twist was that I didn't plan to make chili, so I was only able to use ingredients that I had purchased with other dishes in mind (with one exception). I have never had such a daring improvisation come to such a successful result.
The 1 lb. of ground beef was earmarked for a meatloaf - as the eggs, seasoned breadcrumbs, and chili sauce stored in my kitchen bear witness. But the dishes I needed to mix and bake the meatloaf were dirty and I didn't feel like washing up, so I plopped my handy saucepan on the stovetop and started browning the hamburger. I even remembered to drain it this time. Then I returned the crumbled, browned meat to the pan and scrounged for other ingredients.
Next, I added a moderate amount of garlic powder and cumin. I decided against chili powder this time, since I also added a can of Ro-Tel "original" diced green chilis & tomatoes (the one ingredient I had bought in case the thought of making chili struck me), and I figured that would suffice for the pepper department. Since I hadn't planned well enough to have a fresh onion on hand, I soaked a little dried, chopped onion, drained it, and added it to the meat mixture.
It all looked pretty dry, so I popped open a can of beef broth and poured it in. Now it looked too wet, so I shook in about a cup of uncooked orecchiette, a type of pasta that looks like little flak helmets. I brought the broth to a boil over high heat and stirred frequently for about 11 minutes, which is how long it takes the orecchiette to cook. I didn't time it precisely, but I taste-tested the noodles and, when it looked like it would be done in about a minute, I added more garlic and cumin, plus a modest sprinkle of basil and cilantro. A minute letter it was really starting to look done, with the noodles and meat starting to break the surface of the broth. Considering how skimpy the noodles looked at the start, I was pleased to see that everything looked like it was mixed in good proportion.
I took the pan off the burner and covered it while I rummaged in the fridge. I wanted to start eating right away, but I didn't want to burn my mouth, so I was determined to find something to cool off the chili. Lo and behold, I discovered an unopened container of French onion vegetable dip, which is mostly sour cream. I had meant to dip broccoli in it, but the broccoli had gotten lost at the back of the fridge and, alas, will probably not make it to the table. I plopped a spoonful of this veggie dip onto the center of my first bowl of chili and stirred it in. Then I tasted it.
Wow! I like this even better than my last batch of chili. The orecchiette gives it the character of "Hamburger Helper" chili, only without the box of premixed ingredients. The seasonings were closer to my chili ideal too - not so overpoweringly peppery, and though my sweat glands did let loose this was partly a result of eating it so hot off the stove. The flavors blended nicely, the texture was good, and having snacked on corn chips and bean dip while cooking it I didn't miss the bean component one bit. Thanks to Ro-Tel, there were even those wonderful little strings of tomato skin that are as essential to the chili experience as the stretchy strings of mozzarella are to pizza.
I gobbled my first bowl and went back for a second, trying it "as is" to begin. I decided after two bites that the French onion dip really made an improvement, so I stirred in another dollop and enjoyed. There is at least another helping left over, similar to the two big bowlfuls I ate. I toyed with the idea of putting it in a plastic bowl and taking it to a friend as a treat, but greed prevailed and I decided to keep it for later.