Simply food


Cooking up a storm in my Travolta suit

Cooking up a storm in my Travolta suit

Chili con carne and chili sin carne are outstanding comfort food ideas for really cold days, which we can expect soon.

My 1974 cookbook “How to Eat Well and Stay Single,” originally just for bachelors, found a wider audience and eventually sold 6,OOO copies, a modest success by Canadian paperback standards. It cost just $1.95, so you can see I didn’t make much money, after the publisher had deducted printing and distribution costs, but I did make some.  To set the record straight, I’m an entirely self-taught cook, with a library of very good reference books and a foodie’s life-long love of cooking. I think of myself as a ‘writer who cooks.’

Michel's tattered copy of my book

Michel’s tattered copy of my book

The book hasn’t been available for years, although battered copies occasionally turn up in remainders bins and second hand bookshops. I have one virgin copy wrapped in plastic for my own archive (so don’t even think of asking to borrow it). Occasionally friends ask me to PDF the whole book and post it, but at 200 or more pages, it would be a singular chore. Five years ago, I even had a request for an original autographed photo from a young fiancée in Michigan, whose about to be husband had learned to cook from it. That was the point, of course, that young men, who’d never learned to cook at the parental home and found themselves out in the world, would have a starting point, with familiar recipes and simple to follow step-by-step no-fail instructions. Dining at home, rather than out in a restaurant, shows off one’s budding skills, and can lead to all sorts of things, including in this case apparently, marriage.

This past June, at a dinner to celebrate the late great author Pierre Berton and his writers’ retreat, a long lost acquaintance revealed he was still cooking from a crumbling copy of the book after nearly 40 years. Michel Choquette, editor of the brilliant comic strip compendium “The Someday Funnies,” sent along proof positive that these recipes have staying power. His battered copy of HTEW is tattered and torn and held together by a rubber band, but still much in use. I didn’t recognize him at first. Both of us had long hair in the 70s and less now.

All of which prompts me to share some of my favourite recipes from the book. I’m told this is the best recipe in the book, so here goes.


Great on a really cold day, although presumably the Mexicans eat it on hot days too, especially if you’re having a bunch of people in for an informal meal. Eat it out of bowls with big crusty chunks of bread or garlic toast on the side and a robust red wine. Chili’s main advantage is that it can be made the day before and reheated, and it actually gets better. I always make a big pot even if it isn’t likely to get finished at one sitting because it lasts for a couple of quick meals during the rest of the week.

Shopping list

  • 2 lb of ground beef
  • 2 19 oz (540ml) cans red kidney beans
  • 19 oz (approx 800 ml) can peeled tomatoes
  • 5 1/2 oz (156 ml) can tomato paste
  • 1 sweet red pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 5 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (for the really fiery touch)
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil

Preparation and cooking

  1. Fry ground beef in hot oil until well separated and lightly browned. Lift out of frying pan with slotted spatula so that the oil and juices remain and place the meat in the pot.
  2. Remove the stalk and seeds from washed green pepper, chop into l/4 inch squares and add to the meat juices in the frying pan. Turn the heat down to medium. Peel and dice up the two onions and add to the green pepper, stirring from time to time. Slice clove of garlic very finely and add to the pepper and onions. When the onions are transparent, and before they start to brown dump the whole contents of the frying pan in the pot.
  3. Add the 2 cans of red kidney beans and can of peeled tomatoes to the pot, stir together and place over a medium low heat so that it just bubbles. Time total cooking time of one hour from now.
  4. Stir in each of these separately, until well mixed: 2 tbsp dark brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper. Add the first 3 tsp chili, stir in thoroughly and leave the pot to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then. Taste a small amount of the sauce and if the chili flavor isn’t strong enough add another tsp and cook for a further 15 minutes. Taste again and if necessary add the 5th tsp. Once you have established how much you like you can, of course, add it all at once. Some people like chili so hot that it burns the roof of their mouth. You can add up to 3 more tsp chili powder to this recipe, but beware of your digestive system!
  5. Simmer for a further 1/2 hour, to make the total of 1 hour, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan or burn, and your chili con carne is ready. You can serve it now, or let it sit until cool and then store in the fridge until needed. To reheat, bring slowly to simmer on a very low heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Serve with a topping of grated cheddar cheese, chopped spring onions, with chunks of crusty fresh bread or toasted garlic bread on the side.

CHILI SIN CARNE: For a vegetarian option, leave out the ground beef and proceed with all the other ingredients as above. Then when all is cooked, crumble two packages (usually about 340 g each) of veggie burger into the pot and simmer for about 10 mins. Don’t tell the carnivores and they’ll honestly never know.

This is the fourth article in an occasional series on travel, good living, Scotch whisky and food.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.