It’s hard to believe I haven’t blogged in four months! There have been many foods and experiences I wanted to write about, and I snapped quite a few photos. My first semester of grad school intervened, however. Reading and writing for school took priority over blogging. My goal going forward is to find a balance with school work that allows me to keep up my blog. Only time will tell how successful I am with that goal.
Back in October, I started writing a post that has been patiently waiting for my return. Now that I’m on winter break, I can finish it up! While the seasons have changed since, the sentiments and feelings remain. Perhaps even more as the chill of winter sets in.
I love the autumn time of year – leaves are bright red, orange, and yellow. Days are shorter. Warm afternoons give way to chilly nights. Smells of burning wood and baking apples fill the air. Carved pumpkins pop up all over the neighborhood. Fall is in full swing, and as much as I look forward to summer, I eagerly await autumn’s arrival even more. Especially because it’s a prelude to winter, but that’s another story for a different post.
The greatest things about fall are the seasonal foods that help create those warm, cozy feelings I wait for all year long. You know which culinary creations I’m talking about – soups, stews, roasts, pumpkin pie, apple crisp, hot cocoa. The list goes on. Perhaps my favorite fall- and winter-time food to whip together is a great big pot of homemade chili. Both the spicy aroma and flavor warm the soul from the inside out, the perfect remedy for overcoming chilly weather. Another great thing about chili is that you can kind of make things up as you go. Screwing up the classic soup is quite difficult to do, because there are no hard and fast rules. For example, if you don’t like or have beans, the chili will be just as scrumptious without them (despite what some chili purists may say). I find a sense of excitement in the liberation from a recipe, and chili is one of the best dishes with which to experiment.
That being said, over the years I concocted a foolproof base for chili through many tests and trials. While I start every chili off with core ingredients and seasonings, I often vary their amounts – particularly when it comes to seasonings. As a result, no two pots of chili are ever the same. So, instead of thinking of my tomato-based chili recipe as an exact one, use it more as a guideline. In fact, to encourage creativity, I replaced some measurements with TYL (to your liking). Play around. Change things up. In addition to warming the home and body, making chili should be what cooking is all about – fun!
Extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbsp
Tomato sauce, low sodium (28 oz. can)
Tomato Paste (TYL – used for thickening)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
Jalapeño pepper(s) (TYL – for spiciness)
1 tomato, chopped
Garlic, minced (TYL – I use 1 or 2 cloves)
1 lb ground meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) – optional
Beans, 1 can drained (white, red, or dark red kidney beans OR, if you’re feeling particularly saucy, use 1 can of Hot Chili Beans including the liquid in the can – choose your own adventure!)
Bonus! Try a little tequila or vodka. I mean, why not, right?
SEASONINGS – all TYL
Fresh cracked black pepper
Ground cayenne pepper
Hot sauce (use your favorite)
Bonus! Ground cinnamon adds a sweet, spicy warmth. Sounds weird, but it works.
In a large Dutch oven, sauté onions, carrots, celery, peppers, tomato, and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle with chili powder, salt, and pepper. When the carrots, onions, and celery are softened*, add the ground meat. Season again with chili powder, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through. Once the meat is fully browned, pour in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and beans. Stir. Season with all spices, including another round of chili powder, salt, and pepper. I typically season lightly this round. It’s always easy to add more seasonings if necessary. Correcting for over-seasoning proves rather impossible to achieve. IMPORTANT: Taste your chili. Adjust seasonings according to what you want more of. (I usually end up adding more chili powder and salt, but not always.) Bring the chili to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2-4 hours. Enjoy topped with your favorite shredded cheese, corn chips, sour cream, and green onions. Leftovers taste even better, and if you feel like you have chili coming out your ears, it freezes well.
* If you’re willing to try the tequila or vodka, dump it in now and cook for a few minutes before adding the ground meat to the pot.