Sunday, June 13, 2010

Improvised Camp Chilli

When I worked at summer camp back in the 1970’s, there were certain foods and recipes that were unique to each camp. For those of us who worked there several weeks or over several years of summers, it came to be as much a tradition for us as it was for the campers. Some we enjoyed more than others! There was your basic camp food like pancakes and sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, roasts, soup, sandwiches and so on.

But where I worked, there was a type of chilli that was not found anywhere else. Almost every week we would make this recipe – outside in a large cooking pot over an open fire if the weather cooperated. It was so good and there was rarely any leftovers.

It isn’t your basic chilli recipe and many people will likely screw up their noses just reading the recipe. I recall the first time I worked in the kitchen and had to help assemble the ingredients I thought the head cook was joking when she handed me the list of ingredients.

I asked the origin of the recipe. I was told that several years earlier, a cook was going to make chilli and discovered she was missing a couple of ingredients so she had to improvise. The campers loved it and a tradition was born.

Before I left the camp that summer, I wrote down the recipe – not the version that served 50 but a more manageable family size version. I made it several times over the next few years.

Eventually I got tired of it and actually forgot about it until a few months ago when I was talking to a friend about weird recipe ingredients. I wondered if I would still like the recipe after all these years. I would have to try it again one of these days.

So, a few days ago, I checked to see if I had all the ingredients. I was missing only one - the second canned ingredient listed below - so picked up the ingredient while shopping. Before I prepared the chilli, I looked over the old recipe again and decided that my tastes had changed a bit over the years so I should probably add a few more things. The peppers, mushrooms, garlic, basil and oregano were not in the original but I had a strong sense that I would need them to make it satisfactory to my more mature taste buds.

As I was preparing the recipe, I really wondered if I was making a mistake in even trying this again after so many years – let alone making changes to it. When it was ready, I ladled out a bowl and set it on the table beside the fresh French bread that I had bought that morning.

Okay, here goes nothing .... hmmm ... this isn’t bad if I do say so myself!

So here it is - a modified version of the camp chilli that I enjoyed as a teen. It isn’t cooked over an open fire, but there is no reason you can’t cook it inside or out this summer.

Improvised Camp Chilli

• Olive or canola oil
• 1 pound lean ground beef
• 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ¼ cup)
• ½ sweet red bell peper chopped (about ½ cup)
• 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
• 1 Tablespoon (bottled type) minced garlic
• 1 14oz./398ml can red kidney beans, undrained
• 1 14oz./398ml can spaghetti in tomato sauce
• 1 10oz./284ml can vegetable soup
• 1 ½ teaspoon chilli powder
• 1 teaspoon dried basil
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Drizzle about a tablespoon of canola or olive oil in a large, deep frying pan and add the ground beef. Brown the beef over medium high heat stirring often. Add the onion and pepper and stir into beef, cooking till translucent. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook just till tender. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Reduce heat to medium low and cook about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often.

Serve with a tossed salad and a bread such as Focaccia, French or homemade buns.

Serves 4



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