So here’s one of the things the relocation guides never mention: no matter how long you live in a foreign country, no matter how integrated you become, eventually you will fall prey to the cravings for (literally) a slice of home, and it will, inevitably, be incredibly cumbersome to replicate. One of the joys of moving to a new place is experiencing a new food culture – but different food cultures tend to make things you would otherwise take for granted at home remarkably difficult to come by.
We can get a bit desperate and start spending an exorbitant amount of money on imported goods, and that’s all well and good but the best (and most fun) thing to do is to get creative.
As ¾ of our little blog-team are expats, you will frequently find us doing the following: stalking pharmacies across town in search of proper red food colouring; visiting the English bookshop (of all places) to stock up on *actual* tea as if war were about to break out; hoarding treasured things like greedy little goblins (syrup is rationed in Four’s house, Argentinean Tea has nearly-sacred status, tins of allspice have been known to last over a decade); resorting to creating the most basic ingredients, like condensed milk, from scratch (WHO DOES THIS?!) and, ultimately, begging anyone going back to the homeland to bring certain unobtainables back with them (like clingfilm that actually sticks, OTC effective painkillers … but now we’re getting off track).
There’s a whole story behind Cincinnati Chili, where it came from and why it’s different than normal chili, but you can go read about it somewhere else if you’re really that interested. Suffice it to say, it was one of Number Four’s favourite meals Back Int’ Day and upon moving to Europe she promptly had to learn how to make do. Usually it’s served with spaghetti but corn bread is yummier and less bad for our diets, so tough. The chilli recipe isn’t necessarily authentic (it doesn’t taste a thing like Skyline, for instance) but it is really damn good anyway. We won’t tell you how many years it took Number Four to realize that instead of using corn meal (definitely unavailable in unimaginative Swiss stores) she could use fine, dry polenta instead because frankly it’s embarrassing. Regardless of where you’re from, this chili is a hit.
Cincinnati Chili and Cornbread
FOR THE CORNBREAD
You will need
1 cup polenta (or corn meal if you can get at it, of course)
1 cup white flour
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup milk
1. Preheat your oven to 200°C, or 180° if it’s fan assisted.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together.
3. Beat the eggs into the oil and milk.
4. Combine. Don’t go all French and get over excited with the mixing, though; this is a rustic recipe. There should still be lumps and things.
5. Pour into a round, greased and floured baking tin (a regular, medium sized cake tin will do.)
6. Bake until it goes golden brown on the top and a fork stuck in the middle of it comes out clean. Don’t over cook it or it goes a bit dry, especially if you’re using polenta. Basically, polenta is not ground as fine as corn meal would be; your cornbread will be mealier and grittier than cornbread otherwise might be but will still taste incredible. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are being very historically accurate. If it helps, imagine yourself in the back of a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, munching on corn pone made with corn meal you ground yourself. Now you’re in the right spirit.
FOR THE CHILLI
You Will Need:
1 pack (ca. 500 g) ground beef
2 cloves garlic – pressed
1-2 onions – chopped
1 large tin kidney beans – drained
1 tin chopped tomato
1 carton (ca 250ml) tomato passata
2 tbs tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tbs black pepper
1 tsp salt
1-2 tbs chilli powder [the chilli powder that is sold in Swiss supermarkets is actually pathetic. We used quite expensive artisan chilli powder that has a real kick.]
1 tbs cayenne pepper [ditto the chilli powder ordeal.]
2 tsp cinnamon [again, the cinnamon they seem to sell in Swiss supermarkets has next to no taste. Once again, we resort to expensive ‘artisan’ options.]
1 tsp allspice [this can be tricky to find. In Britain you can find allspice if you look for it; I recommend checking Indian shops and health food stores, which tend to have a wider variety of spices. I think I once saw it in a massive Sainsbury’s. I did have to trawl all the food stores in Edinburgh until I finally found it in a sort of spice/tea/indian/Mexican supply store (yes, all of those things at once), not ground but in whole kernels, a bit like pepper. In German supermarkets, it is called Piment or Nelkenpfeffer. The Swiss generally ignore its existence.]
1 tsp Cumin
1 – 2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tbs cider vinegar [we can’t exactly get this easily in Switzerland, though you can get apple vinegar which is nearly the same thing. You can also use plain vinegar or white balsamic. Get creative.]
5 – 6 dashes tobasco sauce
1 – 2 tsp worcestershire sauce (careful not to let the bottle essentially explode into the pot as we did this time round, woops).
Grated cheddar cheese
Raw white onion, chopped
1. Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil in the bottom of a large saucepan; brown the ground beef.
2. Toss the chopped onions in, cook with the beef a little. Then pour all your various tomato bits in. Add about 2 tomato tins of water to the pot as well.
3. Now just add all the other ingredients except for the kidney beans. Chilli is literally so easy to make, you have zero excuse.
4. Bring the entire thing to a boil for a bit, say five minutes, then reduce to low heat and simmer covered for as long as you can stand to. An hour and a half would be ideal. Keep checking –you may need to add more water if it boils down too low, or uncover if it looks too runny. Your chili shouldn’t just be meat and tomato, but shouldn’t be overly soupy either. Try and find a nice middle ground.
5. Towards the end, bring the heat back up and put the drained kidney beans in. Cook until the kidney beans are warmed through, then remove from the heat.
6. The traditional way to serve Cincinnati Chilli is with a choice of toppings: grated cheddar cheese, raw onions (adds a certain delicious crunch, though Number Two would object strongly to this), and sour cream are classics. You can have it the traditional way with spaghetti, or with rice, or cornbread as we have, or simply eat it alone. (Pro tip: Crunch up some tortilla chips into a bowl of chili if you don’t have cornbread to hand. Delicious).
Remember that chili is a very forgiving dish so if you want to just pour and shake ingredients in regardless of their measures, go for it. Adjust amounts of chili and cayenne according to your tastes/the effectiveness of your chili and cayenne. The longer you cook your chili the more the flavours mellow and blend, so be patient if possible. Remember also that chili is always better the second day, after all those delicious flavours have matured, and it will keep in the fridge for several days.
One two three four – SCORE
[Numerical ratings are out of four, where four is best/healthiest/hardest.]
Taste: 3.5 only because too much worcestershire sauce
Difficulty: 2. It takes time. But it’s fairly simple, and you can adjust spice levels to your taste.
Healthiness: 3.5 for the Chili itself. Add cheese: 3. Add sour cream: 2.5. Now truly enjoy
Cost: 3.75 highly affordable, specially if you already have all the spices at home!