Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.
If you're going to cook, you can't do better than the classic TV-viewing meal of chili; guacamole scores big, too. Neither requires more than a spoon -- or a chip -- to consume.
Chili, the dish, is named after chili, the pepper. Chili peppers (or chilies) are the fruits of the genus Capsicum that range from mild (bell pepper) to piquant (jalapeño) to incendiary (habanero) to requiring-a- medical-waiver (Bhut Jolokia, or "ghost" pepper). In 19th century Texas, a stark stew of beef and chili peppers came to be known as chili con carne (chili with meat) or, simply, chili.
Nowadays chili is often flavored with cumin, oregano, garlic and onions and, outside of Texas, it usually features beans.
In the supermarket, jars of chili powder may contain not only ground chilis, but salt and other flavorings. This recipe assumes you are using chili powder that is made, solely, from ground chili peppers (available at specialty grocers and spice markets such as Spice House in Hicksville or from spicespecialist.com or penzeys.com).
If the chili powder contains other seasonings, adjust the recipe accordingly.
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
Salt and pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste
1/2 to 1 tablespoon cayenne, or to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 pounds ground beef (see note)
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce
3 (14.5-ounce) cans crushed peeled tomatoes or diced tomatoes
1 (12-ounce) bottle beer or water
2 (14.5-ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons cornmeal (optional)
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Chopped cilantro or parsley
Diced red onion or scallions
1. Film bottom of a Dutch oven with oil and place over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Over medium heat, saute until onions are soft and translucent, 10 to 20 minutes. Add chili powder, cayenne and cumin and saute a minute longer.
2. Push onions off to one side of pot and add ground meat in an even layer, breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Leave meat alone for a few minutes so the bottom can brown, then use wooden spoon to break it up further. Cook until meat is no longer pink and parts are nicely browned, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Add garlic and oregano, and stir. After a minute or so, add chipotles, tomatoes and their juice and beer (or water). Season again with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
4. Cook chili, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, adding water if it dries out. Add beans and cook 20 minutes longer. It is traditional to finish the chili with a few spoonfuls of cornmeal to thicken. Serve with garnishes, if desired. Makes about 8 servings.
NOTE Now is not the time to use very lean ground beef. Try to get a mix that is no more than 85 percent lean, 80 percent is even better. (If you want to use turkey, stay away from the extra-lean stuff that's only breast meat.) And if you can get your butcher to give you a coarse "chili" grind, so much the better.
While there are a couple of different varieties of avocados on the market, I recommend the Hass, which is small, dark and has very wrinkled skin. A Hass is dark green to black when ripe, and when you press it gently with your thumb, it will yield a bit.
If you're planning to serve guacamole during the Super Bowl, stock up on avocados a few days before and ripen them at home: Place the hard fruit in a paper bag at room temperature and it will ripen in two to five days. To accelerate the process, put an apple or banana in the bag, too. When it's ripe, you can keep the avocado in the refrigerator for about three days.
3 ripe Hass avocados
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 small clove garlic, grated or finely minced
Pinch of cayenne or a few drops of Tabasco
Pinch of ground cumin
Chopped fresh cilantro
1. Halve avocados, remove pit, scoop out flesh into a shallow bowl. Add tablespoon of lime juice, salt, pepper, onion and/or garlic. Mash with potato masher until mixture is mostly smooth but with plenty of lumps. Taste and, if necessary, adjust lime juice, salt and pepper.
2. Mound into a serving bowl and garnish with cumin, cilantro, tomatoes or anything else you fancy. Makes 4 to 6 servings.