Each New Year a group of our closest friends get together to see in the New Year. These are often nice and sober occasions with idle chat and a promise that next year we will do the same again as we obviously haven’t got anything better to do! Quite the contrary really as I am sure you can imagine but then these are some of our closest friends and so it is usually great fun.

There is one recurring theme however that keeps coming back each year; aims for the year to come. Last year I made three aims and the first was to learn Italian. I failed miserably at this task! The second was to teach our son, Sebastian, to walk which I was most proud to achieve. He started to walk at about 13 months and is now running around to his hearts content causing myself and Jo much energy loss trying to keep up! The third was a rather absurd aim to make Heston Blumenthal’s Chilli Con Carne. This doesn’t sound much but if you realise it takes three days to make you may see the challenge. Read more about the account below.

So, I had watched Heston do the Chilli on his “Perfection” series and wanted to emulate the feat. What a stupid thing to have done! I decided to buy the book and have a look at the recipe to see if it was possible – he does use magic in most of recipes after all. Having bought the book I realised that the three days to cook was not the only element of this recipe. I realised the preparation was no quick job either and most of the ingredients were not freely available – as if Heston would do anything easily!

Reading through the recipe took me the best part of a day – this is a 41 page description, history, ingredient list and recipe after all – I decided to go for it and make it for New Years Eve so that the same group of friends who had witnessed the proffering of the aim would take part in the whole event.

The first action to complete the Chilli was to gather all of the equipment needed and this made it a real family affair! Firstly there was the pressure cooker (never used one of these before) which I borrowed from Auntie Dawn, thank you Auntie Dawn. Then there was the Food mixer which I borrowed from my Mum, thanks Mum. I noticed on the equipment list that it also specified “Dry Ice”. This worried me slightly as I had never seen it before let alone touched it or even contemplated cooking with it. Who in their right mind would ever think about using something that could literally freeze your hand off by touching it for too long! So I had to get this ordered as well – not cheap and not easy to obtain, let alone store!

What I will do to explain this recipe is work through the days of preparation and briefly cover each stage:

December 28th.

What Heston’s 41 page essay doesn’t tell you is exactly what order to do the recipe in so this was the day of working through the plan I had already briefly made to see if it made sense and also worked around the activities we had already planned for the next two days (visiting friends of ours on the 29th and going to Sebastian’s first ever pantomime on the 30th – such fun incidentally, his face was a picture looking at the Ugly Sisters!)

The plan, after a bit of tweaking looked alright. Therefore I got on with making the spice mix which Heston’s states as

Spice Mix

being an “an important blend to the success of the chilli”. For starters very few of the chillies that he quotes are available in the UK which is a great help but the people at www.thespiceshop.co.uk in London did help out here a lot and gave viable alternatives – not a great start though considering the importance he puts on the whole blend – it almost sets you up for a fall immediately to be honest and make me feel a bit uneasy about the whole thing.

Anyway mixed them all together and then made the “Finishing Butter” which I had to

The finishing butter

store in the fridge until the last few moments of making the Chilli – essentially a garnish to give it the final flurry of heat and to make the Chilli glisten. This was basically butter mixed together with some of the spice blend and a bit of whiskey (there will be a recurring theme here believe me!) and a few other bits and pieces like cumin, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce.

December 29th

This was where the real work started. I had to start on the preparations on the Kidney Beans early on i.e. leave them to soak for 12hrs and then start on brining the Short Ribs – these would be worked on further and then I would take the meat off of them and add them to the kidney beans and meat later on. Quite a lot of

Flaming of the whiskey!

work for not a lot of meat to be honest. However, they did bring about one of the spectacles as well. You left them to

soak in a salted water and whiskey, yes whiskey, mixture. This whiskey mixture first had to be set alight to remove all the alcoholic fumes and this was amazing. I have never seen my kitchen look so frightened before. It was immense and well worth doing again and again and again!

Once I had done this I could start making the stock. This took some time especially all the preparation of vegetables not to mention the browning off of 2.5kg of mince (which you would later discard along with so much other food which I didn’t really agree with) and then there was the Pressure Cooker.

I have never used one of these contraptions before but they are magnificent and I would like to buy one in the future. The stock was too much for this cooker though and I had to do it in two batches. This doesn’t sound too bad until you realise that you have to leave the stock in the pressure cooker for two hours at a time. Doubling this meant a minimum of 4 hours to make the stock and that doesn’t include all the preparation time! It was worth it in the end though and great to experience the pressure cooker (very frightening to begin with though)

30th December

This was probably the most labour intensive day and the one that was combined with the joy of the pantomime. So much to do and so little time.

Braising the ribs

I started by braising the ribs that I had been brining yesterday. I basically had to sear them, cook them for about 40 mins while caramelising some vegetables. Add them to the vegetables, add in some wine and the short ribs from yesterday and all the kidney beans from yesterday. Stick this in the oven for 5hrs.

Once this was done I had to take off all the fat, separate the bones and kidney beans into two separate containers and pour over equal measures of the liquid left behind. After several hours of cooling I then had to do possibly the worse job of the whole experience, shredding the meat off of the bones – not a pleasant job and quite time consuming for such a small amount of meat. This was the point where I was really wondering what it was Heston did

Taking off the meat on the ribs

to think these things up and just wondering exactly what it must be like to work under him in the kitchens. It must be quite an experience, both enthralling when you think of the recipes he creates and unbelievable frustrating whilst trying to discover those same recipes!

By late afternoon, and after the pantomime, I was able to actually start on the “assembling of the Chilli”. What an event this was, to actually start on the making of the chilli after two days of preparations and after shouting “Oh no you don’t” at the top of my voice for a few hours.

More mince had to be added and then more Whiskey and then just dropping in everything that I had already prepared like kidney beans and the meat from the short ribs. I just had to keep it cooking and then I wanted it to cool and take on all the flavours. I would then heat it all up the following day to add the finishing touches.

To finish off the 30th I prepared some roasted peppers (be sticking them under the grill for a few minutes) and a cipolline confit (basically onions slowly cooked and softened in oil). These would be added along with the finishing butter at the end.

I feel asleep dreaming of Heston and his mad cap ideas wondering what on earth I still had to do – honestly I must have dreamt about the recipe all night – it was terrible!

December 31st

I woke up thinking that I couldn’t have a massive amount to do today, just the corn muffins and dry ice sour cream ice cream; oh, and the finishing touches to the chilli. I have to admit I was quite wrong and I know this has to do with the fact that I had never experienced dry ice and was also not sure about these muffins – I didn’t think they would take too long but I managed to miscalculate that in my idealistic mind. All good experience though.

The day started as usual with Sebastian but I have to admit we cheekily slept in a little and were rudely awoken by the door being almost knocked down. Sleepily I went down the stairs to confront the culprit only to find that the courier

Dry ice delivery

was in fact a young girl in her 20’s who surely couldn’t hit the door quite as hard as she was making out. Anyway in front of her was the polystyrene box of dry ice. As soon as she went I had to prise it all open and have my first little play with this magic substance – it was amazing just taking off the top, giving the ice a little disturbance and watching your living room transform itself into a dance floor! Anyway, we left it outside in the cold for later.

I made my first attempt on the sour cream ice cream during the morning. I first tried to do everything in the food mixer which didn’t work at all. I then reread the recipe after blaming Heston for everything – it didn’t help that I had watched a video of him online stating that after the rest of the

Dry ice going full pelt!

 recipe this was the easy bit – and found out that actually I had done it wrong. I gave it another go breaking up the ice into small particles in the mixer and than mixing it all together in the Kitchen Aid (wonderful bit of kit). Still it didn’t work and looked nothing like Ice Cream. On top of this the Kitchen Aid wasn’t looking too keen with the temperature I was asking it to work at! I gave up for a bit vowing not to be defeated.

During the afternoon I attempted the Corn Muffins. This was a lot more delicate than I had expected if truth be told but also it felt like real cooking against the rest of the recipe. I have to confess that I did go wrong a bit once more. After I had fried the sweet corn and cream mixture together I didn’t then blitz it together in the mixer. I just tried to squeeze the juice through a

Frying the sweetcorn

sieve non blitzed – this probably would have made my life an awful lot easier in the long run but there you go.

After about an hour of preparation – though this could really be reduced to be honest on future attempts – I had it already to go and put the mixture into silicone muffin moulds (the best things I have used in a long time – highly recommend them to anyone). I left them in the oven for 25 minutes and they came out looking superb! They actually looked like the muffins in the book and I felt quite satisfied. I then repeated the cooking process again for the left over mixture. Once these additional muffins had been

The Corn Muffins

cooked I let them cool down and then tried them – delicious.

After two more failed attempts in the afternoon – who said it was the easiest bit of the recipe Heston? – I thought I would leave the ice cream until the evening to get the groups opinion on the process. Therefore we had some time to relax a little bit (well get the table ready, go through a mad tidy up, get some more holly and ivy to refresh the decorations etc etc)

Once our friends had arrived we again made an attempt on the dry ice cream but again to no avail and it looked like the frost you get once you had cleared you car on a frosty morning. Jo suggested we lower the amount of dry ice to see if it made a difference. Hey Presto, by halving the amount of dry ice we got what almost resembled Ice Cream – not a lot but then this was much better than crumbled up frost from a car!

I was then careful not to drink too much alcohol so I could finish the dish off; basically heating it through and adding the roasted pepper, a cipolinne confit (the onions I had slowly cooked) and some more Jalapeño pepper. To be honest, this was the most relaxed I have ever been cooking at a dinner party as there was basically nothing to do – it was fantastic and almost worth all the stress and anxiety from the days before. I would defiantly recommend making a chilli (maybe not Heston’s) for a dinner party!

Before we served it all up we popped the muffins back in the oven for a few minutes just to warm them up a little bit and then we served it all.

The verdict!

One thing is for sure, everyone cleared their plates and all commented on the fact that it had some complex flavours going on. I was definitely surprised that I could not really taste the whiskey and liked the fact that it wasn’t too hot – the heat did gradually grow on you but it was more smokey than hot which was definitely an interesting twist. I have to admit that Jo couldn’t really eat it because a/ she had seen what had gone into it and b/ she has an exceptionally good pallet and evidently could taste the alcohol.

The chilli was good, the ice cream was definitely welcome and the muffins were really good. I have to say the combination of the ice cream and muffins were sublime and definitely took all the heat away immediately – a real find from Mr Blumenthal.

In summation, I am not sure I would do it again (though I would really like to do it with the actual recommended chillies if I did to see if it would make a huge difference to the flavour) as the taste was certainly not good enough to warrant three days spent on the project. I think I was most pleased with the fact that I learnt a lot more about cooking in those three days and learnt some new processes that I would never ever have learnt otherwise. I was also pleased with the muffins and will definitely repeat those again, without hesitation of spending an hour preparing them.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my account of how I achieved my aim for 2009. By the way, my aims for 2010 are as follows:

  • To watch a lot less TV – I will try not to watch before 9pm
  • To produce one pot of honey from my new hobby of beekeeping
  • To write a book following my life for one year with a particular angle on learning the art of beekeeping.

Oh dear, not a lot to do then, perhaps Heston’s three day chilli was the easy aim!