I spent Friday morning fighting with my umbrella while scribbling notes in the wind and pouring rain. Perfect weather for picking a U-cut Christmas tree, if the families I followed up hill and over dale can be considered credible sources.
For most, the day-after-Thanksgiving hunt for the perfect tree is a time-honored tradition, regardless of the weather.
Stopping by a bright, red hut at Hubert’s Christmas Tree Farm on Seabeck Highway, I met the owner Randy Billick and his “Uncle Dan” Saul. Uncle Dan is a colorful character, whose offbeat comments kept everyone laughing. But his Habañero Hellfire Chili is really something to smile about.
Dan offered me a sample, like a dare. D’ya like hot dishes?” he asked with a sinister twinkle in his eye.
I took a bite: tender little chunks of beef and pork swimming in a fragrant, spicy broth, with grace notes of chocolate and the kick of 15, count them, 15 habañero peppers (for a recipe that serves 20). Not so secret ingredients include bittersweet chocolate, strong coffee and a quart of dark beer.
Hellfire Chili emanates the kind of heat that creeps up on you, and seeps out your nostrils and ears like something from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. The chili blasted through my rain-induced chill from the inside out.
“Uncle Dan” travels all the way from Whidbey Island to cook for the crew at Hubert’s during the holiday season. Upcoming dishes include chili mac, Caldo de Res (Mexican Beef Stew) and Hungarian Hangover Soup.
Dan, in his 60s or 70s (he was kind of vague), works in The Soup Kitchen in Langley, that recently served up its 1,000th community lunch. Group officials estimate nearly 110,000 meals have been served at the kitchen since its inception nearly 10 years ago, according to the Whidbey News-Times.
It’s clear Dan enjoys feeding people, and he’s as generous with his recipes as he is with his dishes. His blog, Soups on at the Soup Kitchen or at Home, has been up and running since 2010. Try it you’ll like it. On the blog you’ll find assorted dishes including his Thai Mussels in Curry Broth, a 2003 Penn Cove Mussel Festival winner.
Here’s the recipe for Uncle Dan’s Habañero Hellfire Chili. Don’t say you weren’t warned. (If you don’t need 20 servings, hopefully you can do the math to cut it down.)
4 onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 pounds ground beef
2 pounds ground pork
15 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
15 habañero peppers, seeded and chopped
20 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped
1 quart dark beer
4 cups coffee (strong brewed)
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
5 (16-ounce) cans chili beans
1 (six-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup chili powder
2-ounces bittersweet chocolate, shaved into fine pieces
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
3 tbsp. cumin
3 tbsp. smoked paprika
In a stock pot brown beef and pork over medium-high heat
Season with salt and pepper
While meat is browning, stir in all ingredients except beans
Reduce heat to simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally
Add beans and continue simmering for 45 minutes.
“Bon appetite,” says Dan.