Ever wonder about a mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.
If you're having people over to watch the playoffs this weekend, or hosting a Super Bowl party on February 6th, odds are you'll be serving chili. Of course, awesome recipes for homemade chili abound. But if you're already making guacamole, onion dip, wings, brownies, and other football-friendly foods, why not cut yourself some slack? I tried out Crate & Barrel's new Frontera Chili Starter ($8.95) to see if it would be good enough to serve on game day.
The name "Frontera" might ring a bell. Indeed, the recipe for this Southwestern style chili starter was developed by none other than Rick Bayless, owner of Frontera and Topolobampo restaurants in Chicago, and Top Chef Masters season one winner. Since Bayless obviously knows a thing or two about chilies I was eager to taste his particular spice blend, which includes chipotles, green chilies, and ancho pepper.
The chili starter can be used with ground beef, ground turkey, vegetables, or beans. In an attempt to be somewhat healthy, I decided to make mine with lean ground turkey. I thought about adding some black beans, too, but the jar said that there were already black beans in the mix.
The first step in preparing the chili was to cook the turkey in a large pot until it was nicely browned. Then I added the chili starter and one cup of water (you could also use broth. Red wine or beer never hurt chili either!). The final step was simply to let everything bubble away for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the bottom from scorching. The instructions said to partially cover the pot, but the chili looked pretty soupy to me so I left the lid off completely in the hopes of thickening it a bit more.
After 20 minutes my chili was just about the perfect consistency. Not too chunky but not too saucy either, it begged the question, "Do I use a fork or a spoon?" The flavors were robust and hearty. I tasted lots of garlic, as well as onions, bell peppers, oregano, and brown sugar. The heat level was mild but present. This definitely isn't five-alarm chili, but it will keep you reaching for your beer. My only complaint had to do with the beans, or rather the lack of beans. While the ratio of tomatoes to sauce to turkey was well balanced, there weren't nearly enough black beans in the mix. I had to hunt for them in my bowl as opposed to finding them in every bite.
In the end I would say the Crate & Barrel Frontera Chili Starter yields a very good, very basic Southwestern chili. If you're short on time, or would rather devote yourself fully to the game, it is a solid alternative to preparing chili from scratch. I would suggest adding an additional cup of black beans, and, if you like your chili on the fiery side, a pinch or two of chipotle or other ground hot pepper.