More than a stew of meat and chili's

In the 17th Century:

According to an old Southwestern American Indian legend, it is said that the first recipe for chili con carne was put on paper in the 17th Century by a beautiful nun, Sister Mary, of Agreda, Spain. She was mysteriously known to the Indians of the Southwestern United States as "La Dama de Azul," which means the lady in blue. Sister Mary would go into trances, her body lifeless for days. When she awoke from her trance-like state, she said her spirit had been to a faraway land where she preached Christianity to heathens and consoled them to seek out Spanish missionaries.

In the 18th Century:

 A number of families arrived from the Canary Islands, the villa of San Fernando de Bexar, which , today, is known as the city of San Antonio,Texas. These families founded the first civil government, which became the first municipality in the Spanish Province of Texas. According to historians, the women made a spicy "Spanish" stew that is similar to what we know today as chili.

In the 19th Century: 

  Records have been found by a Dallas millionaire, indicating that the first chili mix was concocted around 1850. It was created by Texan adventurers and cowboys, and was a staple food during the hard times spent travelling to and throughout the California gold fields and Texas. Succumbing to the demands for hot grub, the trail cooks came up with a stew. They pounded dried beef, fat, pepper, salt, and chile peppers together into stackable blocks which could easily rehydrate with boiling water. 

My Experience:

  I didn't have the time or the funds to travel to the 17th Century, so I had to settle for the Southwest instead, namely, San Antonio, Texas, home of world renowned Chili Cook Offs.  San Antonio is a tourist hot spot, with history, food and culture all combining to create a truly spectacular  Southwest experience.  I was introduced to Southwestern flair by a bowl of chili, topped with cheese and diced onion. Let me tell you, there is nothing finer then chowing down on a smokin' hot, hearty bowl of cowboy stew (chili). The flavor was like no other. In your face good. This meal thoroughly inspired me to find the spices used to create that fine chili blend. If you think you can just go to San Antonio, Texas and ask what spices are used to make the perfect blend, forget about it. The recipe is under lock and key, and asking is a total waste of time.

Nevertheless, perseveredI was confident that there was an answer to my question, and I needed to find it. I have eaten chili in New Mexico, Arizona & California, and although each bowl was different, each was also equally full of flavour. It was time to head to Mexico. I began my travel through the Baja California, and then over to Mexico. The further I traveled down into Mexico, the larger the variety of chili peppers. So many different types of chilis! Fresh and dried. I fell in love with the Ancho chili, due to its tremendous multitude of flavour.

 I travelled as far as Oaxaca, Mexico, in the State Of Oaxaca, south of Mexico City. There had been times where I'd be driving along on a mountain ridge, with cattle to the left and a bluff to the right. Don't ask how far down to the bottom of the bluff, because I don't rightly know. Far enough to hurt ones self? You bet. Back to the story. I was driving along one day and what comes up on the left?  A transport truck. Keep in mind where the cattle are: to the left of me, and right in the path of the transport truck. So, here I am, driving along, and what's ahead of me?!  Not the road, because it's been washed away! I instantaneously slam my brakes, and the cattle shuffle along, slowing moving off to the left shoulder. The transport truck flies past, and it seems as if I'm the only one who doesn't see this everyday.

 What does this story have to do with peppers. Does it matter? It's a story! No. I'm heading south to Oaxaca to develop my own blend of chilis. Oaxaca is the home to three cultures. The Aztec, the Mayan and the Spanish. Oaxaca is below the Tropic of Cancer, so the weather offers supreme conditions to cultivate chilis. The markets are fully alive with fresh and dried produce (chilis), people from all walks, live stock and fresh prepared food, including one of my favorites: peeled mango , on a stick, splashed with fresh lime juice and dusted with a blend of dried chilis.

I could have stayed in Oaxaca, Mexico for a few months, but my search had just begun... It was time to head north!

                                                Not Just Any Mac & Cheese

 Mac & Cheese. What can I say? Not really from the south or the classic side dish in any 50's diner. That came later. Did you know that pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th Century. The Liber de Coquina; The book of cooking/cookery. One of the oldest medieval cookbooks. This casserole was considered an upper class dish even in Italy until the 18th century.

  Maccaroni with various sauces was a fashionable food in the late 18th Century Paris. Thomas Jefferson encountered maccaroni both in Paris and in northern Italy. Jefferson Loved maccaroni and parmesan cheese so much that he had them imported for his use while in Monticello. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson served a "Maccaroni Pie" at state dinners. Now. If you ask me. If it's good enough to serve at a state dinner them it's good enough for your table.

 Today this dish is found in all places around the world. You will most likely associate Mac & Cheese with the true American Southland. Found on the same table as fried chicken and Biscuit. I've taken it to a Southwestern expereince that will be sure to hit home.


  Not only has this classic maybe it to the United States but to Canada as well. History has it; Macaroni and cheese recipies have been attested in Canada since at least Modern Practical Cookery in 1845. This suggests a puff pastry lining and a sauce of cream, egg yolk, mace, mustard and grated parmesan cheese or Cheshire cheese on top. There is something to be said about food and history. It all come from somewhere and has become a tried and true main stay. Gives you a whole meaning to, taking the pie out of the oven!

 How this come about was really by luck. I had friends show up out of the blue and I needed to feed them. I had last nights chili and all the fixins for Mac & Cheese. I started to build what I call Cowboy Mac & Cheese. After all, if it is good enough for a state dinner it's got to be good enough for a cowboy. In a matter of minutes I had dinner ready for the table. Down home comfort food made easy. Could be served with cornbread and roast chicken. Why wouldn't ya?! 

 Now I've tossed a last minute twist to my Cowboy Mac & Cheese. Cumin. Here's a little known fact about Cumin. 

 Cumin has been in use since ancient times; second millennium BC. Originally cultivated in Iran and Mediterranean region. The ancient Greeks kept cumin at the dining tables in it's own container (much as we would keep pepper on our dinner tables today), and this practice continues in Morocco. Cumin was also used heavily in ancient Roman cuisine. It was introduced to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese colonists. There are serveral different types of cumin but the most famous ones are black and green cumin which are both used in Persian cuisine.

  Today, it is mostly grown in many countries. Anywhere from Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, India, China and Chile. I found it in Mexico and followed it to the Southwest of the United States. Something from ancient times has traveled so far and influenced many countries and styles of cuisine. 

 Remember, using too much can leave a taste of dirt to your dish. No one wants that but don't be scared of it. Start with a little because once cumin is in your dish you can't take it out.  

All references taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. My own personal experiences
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