Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm Bringin' Scary Back: Reviving the Halloween Carnival and a Bowl of Cincinnati Chili

When I was a kid I figured that all the stuff that my parents' generation had messed up would be fixed by my generation when we came into power.  Even though we have indeed fixed a few, there are some things that we have totally blown.  Take Halloween for example, my generation has taken a perfectly good holiday that was sanctioned by our parents and squeezed most of the fun right out of it.

Even elementary schools that were once the epicenter of spooky fall fun have mostly done away with the inaugural ball of the holiday season, the Halloween carnival.  At the very least the name has been changed to the more palatable (for some that is) Harvest Festival or the downright bland, Fall Festival.  Come on folks, I have a great idea, let's put the scary back in the Fall Festival and call it Halloween.

It really wouldn't be hard to get it back.  We can start out by turning off the TV and opening up the school one beautiful fall night and decorating the classrooms like haunted houses and carnival arcades.  Then let's go old school and dress some of the teachers up like gypsies and let them pass out funny little fortunes and pixie stix.  The school principal can dress up like Quasimodo and his wife can come as Esmeralda (or vice versa), and what the heck, we'll let them pass out some red lollipops.  Why not? It's just once a year.

We can then give out a prize for best costume.  No, not everyone can get a prize, just one person can have the best costume.  Don't worry the others will live through it.  It may not be politically correct but that's OK.  Life is full of little disappointments.  This will help everyone accept the fact that you can't always be number one. 

While all this is going on, some of the moms and dads can be in the cafeteria kitchen dishing up some ground meat wonder like spaghetti or chili and selling it for next to nothing.  The children can play games and show their off their costumes while the other parents can get to know the teachers and each other so they can get an idea of who their kids deal with everyday.

And then for a little nightmarish authenticity, someone who has had too much fun can throw up in the hallway and Quasimodo and Esmeralda can clean it up with a giant string mop and a bucket on wheels, just like back in the good old days.  Wow, sounds terrifying doesn't it?

I'm just really not sure why we feel the need to homogenize everything until it is just bland and vanilla (oops, sorry Vanilla, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings by calling you bland).  I just think it is a shame to see this fun family activity go the way of the Casper the Friendly Ghost, straight to oblivion. 

So I guess it is up to the next generation to fix the stuff that my generation has messed up.  I'm hoping that our kids will see how badly we've blown this one and will restore to its old glory. So come on everyone, lighten up, relax and have a chili dog and a handful of candy corn, they really do have magical fun powers.

Inspired by the good old days, I thought I'd post a recipe for a ground meat wonder that I have recently discovered and absolutely love, Cincinnati Chili.  I had heard of this famous concoction for years and had always meant to give it a try, then one day I found a packaged spice mix at my local supermarket.  I made it and we loved it. 

Since blogging about a package mix wouldn't be any fun, especially for those of you who can't find it on your grocer's shelves, I went on a search for a great authentic homemade recipe.  I turned to a dear friend of mine who is a great cook herself and just so happens to be from Cincinnati, for her recipe.  Much to my surprise she directed me to her favorite package mix and offered to send me some on her next trip back home.

Plan B.  I turned to the Internet and managed to combine a couple of recipes, threw in a couple of my own touches and came up with one that tastes just as good as that favorite package mix of my friend.  It's not exactly what I would call chili and it is not exactly what I would call spaghetti sauce either.  It is kind of like a combination of both with its own special aromatic flavor. You can serve it over anything you want but I don't see how it can get much better than serving it poured over spaghetti with a ton of grated cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of onions on top.

Cincinnati Chili

1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion, finely minced
4 cups beef broth
1 – 8 ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
1/4 cup mild chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf

To serve:
Cooked spaghetti
Grated cheddar cheese
Finely chopped onions

Place oil in a stock pot and heat over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté until they are soft and transparent, approximately 5 minutes.
Add beef broth, tomato sauce and vinegar to the onions and stir well.  Add the uncooked ground beef, breaking it up as it is added. 

Add the chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, allspice, salt and bay leaf.  Reduce the heat to low, break up  clumps of meat before covering the pot and cooking for 1 – 1/2 to 2 hours. 

Once the cooking time is over remove the bay leaf and skim any fat that has accumulated on top.  Serve hot over cooked spaghetti with grated cheese and chopped onions.

*If you are going to be in a pinch for time on the night you serve it, keep in mind that this recipe is great when made the day before and refrigerated overnight.

Serves 8

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