super bowl saturday
February 4, 2006

I'm in a book club. It gets worse. Periodically we decide that all the time we've spent together not discussing our books just isn't enough—so we schedule a Book Club Sleepover. Our grown-up version of the slumber party generally entails drinking wine, baking cookies and playing Trivial Pursuit.

Book club has a checkered culinary history, dating back to the days when we met over wine and brie and then all went home slightly drunk and sick. There was the somewhat infamous time we made lasagna with whole garlic cloves, which we probably should have roasted first (they came out almost raw, but we ate them anyway). But before we all got as busy as we are now, one member would bring dinner for the group each month, and we got a great sampling of home-cooked food. These days, we mostly meet at restaurants or order takeout—but no one objects when I volunteer to bring dinner for the sleepover.

Tracy has been asking for Tipton Salsa (it's the only time she'll eat olives) and even though I'm hesitant to make anything that depends on tomatoes in February, I'm also a sucker for appreciation. I splurge on the expensive tomatoes, but I end up throwing half of them away anyway and just letting the other ingredients do their job. The result—while not summertime quality—is fine. (A note on cilantro: A long time ago I asked my mother just how much cilantro you needed for Tipton Salsa. Her gauge: You keep adding it until you're so tired of cutting off the leaves that you have to give up.)

Even though I'm less aware of the Super Bowl this year than I am some years, its essence must have seeped in because I'm craving chili. There's a Black Bean and Espresso Chili in Bon Appétit that seems more elegant than any old chili, so I check out the reader comments on This is a bad idea. Opinions are wildly diverse: Some say it's the best ever, others claim it's made them sick, still more say the chili is good if you reduce the onions, use beer instead of water, replace the honey with molasses, replace the honey with sugar, eliminate the honey, add jalapeños, use chipotle peppers instead of chili powder, buy all new spices.... I'm ready to scrap the idea, but then my March issue comes in the mail. (March? It's Feb. 3. My magazine's March issue hasn't even gone to the printer. We don't even have all of our stories in yet. When did they write this thing? November?) The March issue of Bon Appétit is asking for a vote to decide the best chili recipe printed in the magazine's history—and Black Bean and Espresso Chili makes the editors' top five picks. So I decide to forget all those comments and make the recipe as is.

In the end, I adjust slightly, making a modified half (really three-sevenths, but it's much can the proportions matter really?), reducing the honey, adding fresh oregano instead of dried (that was a mistake—I misread the ingredients), adding extra cinnamon (it smelled so good...) and drizzling in some adobo sauce at the end, since I have a can of chipotle peppers in the fridge. The result is smoky, deep, spicy chili, slightly bitter, but tastes fantastic with a sprinkling of chopped Ghirardelli dark chocolate. (We also top the chili with cilantro and jalapeño jack cheese, at first separately, but as we get braver, at the same time as the chocolate. It works.)

Bon Appétit pairs this chili with a cheesy polenta, and I'm sure that's fantastic. But I'm just as sure that polenta would not benefit from the 45-minute subway ride to Musi and Aminah's, so—trying to stay thematically intact—I make Jalapeño and Honey Cornbread. (I remember it being better: I'm not sure anything can stand up to this chili flavor-wise.)

Likewise, I want to tell you that the French wine we drank was the perfect complement to the meal because it seemed to have the same flavors as the chili—but we later decide that actually everything has taken on the flavor of the chili.

Our games of Trivial Pursuit tend to go on for hours, so even though we've stuffed ourselves, midway through we're hungry again. In true slumber party fashion, we dig into Aminah's sugar cookie mix (just add water) and fish-shaped cookie cutter. We put the cutting board on the floor and roll out the dough there, so as not to interrupt the game (possibly the first time I've made cookies on the floor). They're addictive.

It's common to wake up after a party (especially the all-night kind) hung over from champagne, cheap wine or sangria. I wake up Sunday morning with sugar cookie hangover.