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Home Cookin': Weekend Chili & Cornbread


Published November 19, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

It’s a good time to talk about my favorite meal for a cold, snowy Sunday: chili. I grew up with my grandmother’s simple version. She used just three ingredients: ground beef, kidney beans and a packaged spice mix she purchased at Wegman’s grocery store. She always served it over white rice.

I loved Nana's version, but when I started making chili for my family I wanted something with more complex flavors. I experimented with various vegetarian and meat versions and finally settled on this smoky, spicy recipe. Don't be scared by the heat. This is exactly the way I make it for my family and everyone — including our 3-year-old daughter — scrapes up every last bit. 

You don’t have to make the cornbread. You can certainly serve this with rice, quinoa, bread or biscuits. But I feel that chili is best enjoyed when you scoop up the last spoonfuls with a warm slice of golden-brown deliciousness. Make some and judge for yourself.

Note: I call this Weekend Chili because I like to let it simmer for as long as possible, and weekend afternoons accommodate that well. But don’t let that stop you from trying it on a weeknight. A half-hour simmer is plenty to satisfy an emergency chili craving any night of the week.

[jump] Weekend Chili  (serves 6)

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 medium carrot, minced
1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies
2 chipotle chilies in adobo, chopped finely, plus a few teaspoons of the sauce (you’ll find these in the International aisle of your grocery store, near the salsa.)
1 lb organic ground beef (optional)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans
1 15-ounce can pinto beans (if you’re omitting the beef, add a second can of pinto beans)
1 15-ounce can black beans
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot. When it’s nice and hot, add the minced onion and stir for a minute or two, then add the garlic and the minced carrot.

Keep stirring for 3 or 4 minutes. You don’t want it to stick or burn! When the onion is becoming translucent, add the chopped chilies and stir to combine.

Now that the wonderful scent of sautéed onions has enveloped your kitchen, it’s time to add the ground beef (if you’re using it). Break it up with a wooden spoon and incorporate it into the onion mixture as it browns.

Once the beef is browned, add the chipotles and adobo and stir them into the mixture for a minute or two.

Next, add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and cumin.

Stir to combine everything and let it heat through — about 5 minutes — before draining and adding the beans.

Now cover your pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for as long as you can. Aim for at least 30 minutes but feel free to go all the way up to 2 hours. I like to get this going in the afternoon and hang around the house while it simmers until dinner time. When you’re ready to serve, give it a taste and adjust the salt and pepper if needed.

Garnish ideas: grated cheddar cheese, sliced scallions, chopped red onion, black olives, cilantro, sour cream, avocado, crushed tortilla chips

Corn Bread  (makes an 8- or 9-inch square pan of bread)
adapted from Ina Garten

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cornmeal, salt and baking powder. Stir together with a fork.

In another large bowl, mix the honey, milk, melted butter and eggs until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix with a fork just until everything comes together. Really, you want it to be lumpy. Do not overmix!

Spread the mixture evenly into your lightly greased pan and pop it into the hot oven. Check it after 25 minutes. It’s done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top is a nice, golden brown.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.