October 7, 2013

There's no doubt about it, fall is here. At our house, we are busy getting ready for Halloween by decorating inside and out, and Carsten, our youngest son, finally decided on a puppy dog costume for Halloween.

On Saturday morning, we were at the soccer field bright and early for Kellan's team picture and soccer game. Forty degrees was a chilly start to our morning.

As the cold and rain came on Sunday, I admit I broke down and turned on the furnace.

I noticed on Facebook my colleague Joanne Conradi of Des Moines asked who had chili on their menu for the weekend. I also noticed the grocery store had a display of ingredients for chili at the end of an aisle.

Cooler weather means we begin looking for food to warm us up. According to chilicookoff.com chili has been around since "the second person on earth mixed some chile peppers with meat and cooked them." Before Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors, the Incas, Aztecs and Mayan Indians cooked meat, beans, peppers and herbs to create hearty and tasty chili.

Simple, Perfect Chili

Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, has her chili recipe down to a science. Traditional chili made with ground beef and beans is perfect on its own. If you make a double batch, keep it in the freezer to make Frito pie or to top chili cheese fries on movie night at a later date.

2 lbs ground beef

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup masa harina (corn flour, found in the Mexican food section of many supermarkets)

1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

shredded Cheddar, for serving

chopped onions, for serving

tortilla chips, for serving

lime wedges, for serving

Place the ground beef in a large pot and throw in the garlic. Cook over medium heat until browned. Drain off the excess fat, and then pour in the tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and cayenne. Stir together well, cover, and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If the mixture becomes overly dry, add 1/2 cup water at a time as needed.

After an hour, place the masa harina in a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup water and stir together with a fork. Dump the masa mixture into the chili. Stir together well, and then taste and adjust the seasonings. Add more masa paste and/or water to get the chili to your preferred consistency, or to add more corn flavor. Add the beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with shredded Cheddar, chopped onions, tortilla chips and lime wedges.

Yields 6 to 8 servings

Chicken Enchilada Chili

In "More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow," Stephanie O'Dea has simple and tasty ideas for slow cooker cooking. She even challenged herself to slow cooking for a year on her online blog Crockpot365.blogspot.com/.

Her chicken enchilada chili is a twist on traditional chili and leftovers make tempting nachos.

1 1/2 cups prepared enchilada sauce (read labels carefully if avoiding gluten)

2 (14.5 oz) cans tomatoes with seasoning (ex. garlic and olive oil)

2 (15 oz) cans pinto or kidney beans with juice (or 1 cup dry pinto beans, soaked overnight)

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 onion, diced, or 1 tablespoon dried minced onion flakes

1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 lbs chicken (thighs, legs, breasts-your choice)

shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream for serving (optional)

Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Pour the enchilada sauce and tomatoes into the bottom of the removable stoneware insert. Add the beans, celery, onion, and spices, and stir to combine. Place the chicken on top.

Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the flavors have combined. If you are using dry beans, you may need to cook longer to fully soften the beans. If your chicken has bones, fish the bones out before serving. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Serves 6

Chili Macaroni and Cheese

If you need to feed a crowd of kids, this is the dish. Stephanie O'Dea's cheesy chili overflowing with pasta will fill their tummies with happiness.

1 lb lean ground bean, browned and drained

1 onion, finely diced

1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, undrained

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups elbow macaroni (or other dried pasta that you have on hand)

2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese

Use a 6 qt. slow cooker. Brown the meat and onion in a large skillet on the stovetop, and drain the fat. Put into the slow cooker, and add the tomatoes and kidney beans. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, uncooked pasta, and cheese. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, or until the pasta has reached the desired tenderness.

Serves 6

Texas-Style Beef Chili

If hearty and spicy beefy chili is more your speed, this chili comes from Williams-Sonoma "Weekends With Friends." Chunks of beef simmer in a sauce flavored with dark beer, along with adobo and jalapeño chiles. The recipe works equally well on the stove or in the crock pot.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 lbs trimmed chuck roast, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2 chipotle chilies in adobo, chopped

1 jalapeño chili, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup beef broth

1 cup dark beer

1 can (15 oz.) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Working in batches if needed, add the beef cubes and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chili powder and cumin and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Stovetop method: Transfer the beef mixture to a Dutch oven. Add the tomatoes, chipotle chilies, jalapeño chili, tomato paste, broth, beer and beans. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the beef is tender, about 1 hour. If desired, uncover and simmer the chili, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes more to thicken the sauce.

Slow-cooker method: Transfer the beef mixture to a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, chipotle chilies, jalapeño chili, tomato paste, broth, beer and beans. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Cover and cook on low according to the manufacturer's instructions until the beef is tender, about 8 hours. If the sauce is too thin, uncover, set the temperature to high and continue to cook for up to 30 minutes.

Ladle the chili into warmed bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.