Everyone thinks Chili means something different – some are all about the beans (some no beans at all), some believe in big chunks of meat/some used ground (or no meat at all). I’ve had Chili with no tomatoes (think White Bean with Chicken and Green Chilis or a more ‘gravy’ style) and Chili which is more like soup, rather than a stew. Some Chili is all about the heat and some is about the style of chilis used. We’ve been to Chili cook-off’s and to be honest, I like most Chili but mine is my preference (ha!).
As a kid, I used to have a lot of Venison Chili. We housed 20 hunters a year and were paid a lot in meat (and we ate many forest animals and raised rabbits/turkeys/chickens and occasionally pigs – and if we didn’t have the latter, one of my uncles did). My people were mainly hunters, fisherman, fur trappers. They had the occasional ‘real job’ but even those were designed around the hunting/fishing seasons (even school in my area closed for the first day of any of those times). In a small town of less than 1,000 people (2010 census put my hometown at 562 – that sounds on the verge of extinction) there are not a lot of options.
Our Venison for the chili was ground, however, and full of our home-canned Tomatoes cooked and broken down into a rich sauce with lots of red Kidney beans. That was pretty much it. The ‘chili’ spice was likely from a packet and we ate it with cast-iron Cornbread. It was affordable and homey. And though I miss game (man, I miss game though I can still get some ground Venison or Bison or Elk once in awhile), I think my Chili has changed with the expansion of my world.
You will find Winter Squash taking a center stage here (with or without meat, most times we do without – when you make Chili sans meat I brown the Squash and onions a little more and rinse out the Tomato Cans with red or white Wine – or even beer – to increase the body of the stew), Crushed Tomatoes and Ancho Chili powder with a hint of chocolate and cinnamon (it really deepens the flavors) and lots of Rainbow Bell Peppers/Onions (be sure to add later in the process as long cooked peppers can taste acidic or fall apart, not so much a concern the next day as they disappear into the Chili) and yes, Kidney Beans – my childhood holdover. I could envision an experimental Chili with Chipotle and Ancho with maybe the Elk and Dried Plums (now trademarked under their new name – ha!) and Roasted Tomatoes but that is for another day. The Cornbread here is easy and just sweet enough to want butter (but not necessarily need it, and Gluten Free); it took us a long time to find a cast-iron cornbread we preferred.
We’re firing up the Maple Syrup boiler this weekend – our warm spell will be over and temperatures will be back to mid-30’s during the day. A cup of warm Chili will keep you comfortable though. If you are headed out to sample some Maine Maple Sunday wares – you could always pack some up in a classic thermos for a little car picnic. I like a long cook to bring out the sweet and savory flavors of this dish and cooking it a day before will only deepen flavors. Stay warm, stay sweet.
Rock Bottom Chili
1# Stew Beef (or Lamb/Pork/Game), cut into 1″ chunks (meat optional)
2 cups Kidney Beans (already overnight soaked or Canned)
1# Winter Squash (Butternut/cup, Acorn work great), peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
2-3 Rainbow Bell Peppers, seeded and cut into 1″ chunks
1 Med Onion (optional), diced
1 28oz Canned Crushed Tomatoes
1 28oz Canned Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes (or cook fresh/frozen/home canned to equal both types of tomatoes)
2 tsp Mexican Oregano (or 1 tsp Italian Oregano)
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Ancho Chili powder (or other dark chili of choice)
1 Tbsp Cocoa powder
Sea Salt to taste
Glug of Olive Oil
If using dry beans, make sure to Soak them overnight (or a quick boil in the morning, then let sit at least 2 hours/or pressure cook). They may still be firm(ish) but will cook nicely in the stew through the day.
In a Large pot, add a good glug of Olive Oil and brown meat and Squash chunks (and onion, if using) until browned on all sides. Add beans (if not Canned), a bit of salt, the oregano, stir through then add the Tomatoes. Let them cook for awhile (about an hour) and test squash, hopefully it is still firm but getting more tender – add Peppers and Chili powder (cook another hour, you want the sauce to meld and concentrate) – tasting for preferred spiciness (add more Chili if needed). At this point, when stew has thickened, stir in Cinnamon, Cocoa, and if using Canned Beans. Cook for 10 min, then taste for flavor – add more spice if necessary. When Beans and Squash are fully cooked, the Meat (if using) should be tender.
Put on the back burner and save it for the next day or ladle into cups, grab a piece of cornbread and meet us by the Sugar Shack!
Cast Iron Cornbread (inspired by Plan to Eat blog)
- 1 3/4 cup Cornmeal, preferably organic or non-GMO/local (Some have had trouble with the cornmeal not absorbing enough of the milk. Bob’s Red Mill works great. Due to their comments I do not recommend the Quaker brand of cornmeal or a blue cornmeal)
* 1/2 – 1 cup of fresh or frozen Corn kernels (optional)
- 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 2 Eggs
- 1 tablespoon Honey
- 2 cups Milk
- 2 tablespoons melted Butter (or bacon grease/Lard)
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 10″ cast iron skillet or an 8×8″ pan.
- In a small bowl combine cornmeal, corn, baking powder, and salt and whisk well with a fork. In a medium sized bowl beat eggs and mix in honey, milk, and melted butter.
- Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and place in oven.
- Bake 20-25 minutes or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center of the bread. Allow to cool before cutting into wedges. Serve with lots of butter (optional) and Chili.
And since you missed (well, really I missed) Duendesday – here’s the peach dancing in the kitchen…