What’s this? You may think, More recipes based on geek conventions? That’s right, gluttons, this is a thing now. You may have heard of Dragon Con, but today I would like to tell you about a magical, happy con out in the Midwest you might not have heard of. You’re welcome.
What con is that? I am talking about the annual, three-day Disneyland of Steampunk, Teslacon. Teslacon is in Madison, Wisconsin, and try not to think of it so much as a con, but as a theatrical experience in an all-immersive world with colorful characters, costumes, and contraptions. Every year is a new chapter in an ongoing storyline involving director of the show, Lord Hastings Robert Bobbins III, taking all 1500 of his friends both new and old on a fantastic journey whether under the sea, to the Moon, or even to the center of the Earth. Every step along the way, however, he faces the mischief and machinations of the evil Doctor Proctocus and his wily band of henchmen, S.W.A.R.M.
To give you an idea of what this con is like, I will say that this con is the only one I’ve been to where EVERYONE comes to the opening and closing ceremonies. Through the use of actors, set pieces, and video vignettes, it is impossible to not get into the story. Last year they even had life size dinosaur puppets for the journey to the center of the earth. Both cast and con attendees are decked out in fantastic steampunk and period costumes. All the pictures in the host hotel are covered with theme-appropriate artwork. The weekend is full of fun panels and events from fashion and prop shows to tea-dueling. There is even a formal ball with period dance music played a brass band whose organization was first established during the American Civil War. Even the hotel staff plays along in speech and attire. My band has been playing there the past three years and the fun we have is always worth the 12-14 hour road trip.
This year Teslacon is going to the Wild West and to commemorate the theme, I decided to come up with some recipes inspired not just by history, but also by the grand Pooh-Bah of Teslacon himself — Lord Bobbins. Lord Bobbins, while sometimes can appear on the prissy side, has a strong love and heart for adventure. His belief in the creativity in the steampunk world drives him to explore and give people the venue to become inspired and go create something marvelous on their own.
In this particular case, I wanted to imagine what Lord Bobbins would serve at his table for his friends in Texas. Knowing him, he would like to try something new and from the region, but inject some elements of British cuisine to add his own stamp to it. That’s why today we’ll be serving up some Texas-Style Chili con Carne featuring Earl Grey Tea, leeks, and baked beans as ingredients and Yorkshire Puddings made with corn flour.
Chili con Carne was more than likely borne out of necessity for cow hands and range cooks in the 1800s as the heavy spices would preserve and improve the taste of freshly killed beef on the long runs. No one knows if the first, true recipe of Texas-style chili has been found. However, most early descriptions and copies of the recipe agree on this basic one:
Cut up as much meat as you think you will need (any kind will do, but beef is probably best) in pieces about the size of a pecan. Put it in a pot, along with some suet (enough so as the meat won’t stick to the sides of the pot), and cook it with about the same amount of wild onions, garlic, oregano, and chiles as you have got meat. Put in some salt. Stir it from time to time and cook it until the meat is as tender as you think it’s going to get.
An interesting thing to note about Texas-Style Chili, unlike its modern counterpart, it never was known to feature tomatoes or beans. If anything the usage of those ingredients came about when the recipe spread to the east coast since beans were a cheap alternative to beef, and also in the 20 century with canned good convenient family cooking becoming popular. Considering that baked pork and beans are part of a hearty English breakfast, I thought that it would be a good addition to this dish.
If you’ve never had Yorkshire puddings, you’re in for a treat. Their bowl-like shape is perfect for spooning chili into before taking a bite. You can even use cake pans or Yorkshire pudding tins instead of muffin tins if you want to make bowls to serve in (though you make want to increase the recipe if you want to make more than one or two.)
Keep in mind that this dish does require a lot of time and patience. I can promise you, though, that it’s worth it. Also, it’s not too late to join in on the fun this year at Teslacon. They do cap their attendance, so make your arrangements soon and buy tickets here!
Southwestern Yorkshire Puddings
Equipment: 2 muffin tins, oven
- 1-2 Tbs cooking oil, beef drippings, or bacon grease (or a mix of any of the three)
- 1 cup beaten egg
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup corn flour
- 1/2 cup milk
- cumin (optional)
- Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a dent in the center.
- Pour beaten egg gradually into dent while incorporating into the flour mix with a whisk.
- Mix milk and water in a separate measuring cup and then gradually whisk into the batter.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- When you’re ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to 475° F.
- Pour a little oil/drippings into each cup of the tin and put tins into the oven. Turn on the exhaust fan in the kitchen, crack open windows. You make get some smoke.
- Remove batter from fridge and whisk to remove any lumps
- After being in the oven for 5 minutes, remove tins and pour batter halfway into each cup. Put them back into the oven.
- Cook for about 20 minutes in the oven. Do NOT open the oven in the first 10-15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let cool before serving.
An Englishman in Texas Chili con Carne
Equipment: Large crock pot, skillet, blender or immersion blender
- 3 dried pasilla ancho peppers
- 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 2 quarts of beef broth or water with bouillon cubes
- 7 Earl Gray teabags
- 4 oz can green chilis
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter
- About 4-4.5 lbs beef chuck roast
- Safflower oil
- 1 Tbs adobo sauce from can
- 2 leeks, white and light-green parts only, sliced.
- 1 Tbs minced garlic
- 1 can of baked pork and beans
- 2-3 Tbs thickening agent like corn flour, arrowroot, etc.
- 1 Tbs Worcester sauce
- 1 Tbs cumin
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tsp marjoram
- salt and black pepper
At least 1 day before–
- Bring 1 quart of broth or water with bouillon cubes to a boil. While waiting, remove seeds and stems from the dried and chipotle peppers.
- When broth starts boiling, add peppers, can of green chilis, and tea bags. Cover, remove from heat and let steep for at least 10 minutes (it’s alright, in fact, encouraged to let sit longer).
- While the mixture is steeping, heat skillet with butter on medium heat to melt and coat the pan. Add leeks and garlic and cook until softened.Dump contents of skillet into the pot of the crockpot.
- When the quart is done steeping, remove the teabags and discard (or use later for another meal’s marinade). Blend the contents smooth with blender or immersion blender. Add to the crockpot, put the lid on and refrigerate.
On morning of serving or the night before–
- Trim the roast of excess fat and gristle. Cut half of the meat into thick steaks and season the with lots of salt and black pepper.
- Heat skillet on high heat with a light coat of safflower oil. When hot, place steaks in oil, do not move for 6 minutes. As steaks are cooking, cut the rest of the raw meat into 1-2 inch cubes/hunks, season with salt and pepper, and add to the crockpot.
- Turn steaks and allow to sear for another two minutes. Remove and let rest on cutting for at least 10 minutes. Save the pan drippings in a bowl or jar for the Yorkshire puddings (if there are any).
- In the meantime, go ahead and add the beans, cumin, marjoram, and nutmeg to the pot.
- Cube the cooked steaks and add to the pot, stir in the other quart of broth.
- Set crock pot on low for 8 hours,
- During the last hour of cooking, mix the thickening agent with Worcester sauce and stir into pot.
- When the timer has gone off, stir and serve. Suggested toppings are sour cream, shredded cheddar or Colby jack cheese, and chopped cilantro.