I hated Skyline for a long time.
I wanted to like it. I’ve been intrigued since learning that Macedonian immigrant Tim Kiradjieff served the first version of Cincy Chili at his Empress Chili Parlor in 1922. He dubbed the dish “Chili Mac” after the popular chili dish of Texas. Eventually, I found a love for this take on Chili Mac when I visited OTR Chili, housed in Rhinegeist Brewery. OTR Chili serves up the Cincinnati chili delicacy that includes unusual flavors such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and bitter chocolate. While the traditional recipe calls for the beef to be boiled, OTR Chili sears their beef beforehand thus deepening the flavor. It was delicious. I had to give it a try at home.
I Googled some recipes and I found they mostly were lacking some crucial ingredients in my opinion. Once I got back in the “lab” I made my adjustments during initial experiments. I seared the beef, and then sautéed diced onions and garlic in the rendered fat. I then added my spices which consisted of the usual cumin, oregano, nutmeg and cinnamon. I added allspice and cut the recommended chocolate in half. Instead of generic chili powder, I smoked my own chipotles to grind into a powder. The chipotles along with smoked paprika and fire roasted tomatoes imparts a genuine smokiness to the chili. Finally I added the beef back to the pot, mashed it up real fine, and cooked it down with broth and tomato sauce. My wife, Laura, loved it at first taste. We put it over some macaroni, added shredded cheese, snapped pictures, and later I posted it on IG. The Cincy Chili Heads came out of the woodwork to shame me for not serving it over spaghetti. Utter blasphemy.
Meanwhile, I had been tinkering with an old family recipe that we simply call “Baba’s Mac & Cheese”. It’s pretty basic - just macaroni, cheddar, and eggs baked in a casserole dish topped with melted Kraft singles. I love it, as do my sisters. Our spouses though? Not so much. Laura said it’s a bit bland (offended) but since her opinion was seconded I figured I should try to elevate the dish in some way. I started with the obvious - scrapping the “fake cheese” singles and using extra sharp cheddar on top as well as throughout the whole mix. After a few iterations I settled on a recipe that includes copious amounts of cracked pepper and Makalo - a Macedonian garlic-oil-lemon juice emulsion. It received a passing grade from the non-Macedonian family members. But a passing grade just isn't good enough for me.
Months later it hit me...top it with chili and and throw some cheese on that bitch! I made some more Baba's Mac & Cheese and some chili, then eagerly awaited for Laura to get home from work. She is truly the barometer for how successful any of my dishes will be. She loved it...Success indeed. It's a great enough deviation from the Cincy classic that I feel like I can call it my own thing, but I'll pay homage to Baba. I present to you Baba's Chili Mak, with a "k" because toa e Makedonsko (it is Macedonian).
From here on out I put chocolate in my chili.
Skyline still sucks though don't @ me!