The weather turned sharply cooler in Chicago this week, and that made me think of one thing.
And that made me think of another thing.
To me, chili and football go hand-in-hand. Whether you prefer Saturday’s college games, or Sunday’s pro spectacles, or both, having a pot of chili brewing in the crock pot makes your football experience complete. It’s hot, it’s spicy, it’s filling, and you can return to the pot for refills all day long.
You can tell a lot about somebody by the way they make their chili. In high school, the family of a friend of mine owned a meat packing company. They used beef tenderloin in their chili. I’ve seen downtown chefs make minimalist chili with crystal clear tomato consumee and perfectly shaped diced vegetables. That ain’t right, either.
I was recently in Cincinnati and they put spaghetti in their chili. Wait, what?!
Professionally and personally, I’ve made dozens of different kinds of chili – white chili and green chili; black beans, red beans or white beans; five alarm chili (super hot) to old lady chili (spiceless). But for football chili, I always go back to the same basic recipe: Red beans, ground meat and vegetables in a spicy tomato-based sauce.
I love to let people personalize their chili by choosing their own favorites from an array of toppings. I usually offer sour cream, shredded cheese, macaroni, scallions, diced white onion, and at least two kinds of hot sauce.
A bowl of chili is great by itself, but it’s even better with a slice of homemade jalapeno cornbread. That alone almost makes a Chicago winter worthwhile.
Cornbread is a quick bread, meaning it’s leavened with baking power instead of yeast and you don’t have to knead it. Even if you never baked before, it’s almost foolproof and absolutely delicious. Serve it right out of the oven with a little butter softened to room temperature. Yum.
So here’s the recipe for my standard football chili and jalapeno cornbread. I hope it makes you feel as warm on the inside as it does me.
2 15 oz cans cans dark red kidney beans
14 oz can diced tomatoes
13-1/2 oz can of Mexican diced tomatoes w/ chiles
2 cups spicy V-8
1 lb. ground turkey (or ground beef, or beef and pork mixture, whatever you want)
1 TBS cumin
1/2 TBS chili powder
1 medium white onion, diced
1 green pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
S&P to taste
Heat cast iron pan then add EVOO. When smoking, add ½ the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about five minutes. Add the ground meat and cook until browned, about another 10 minutes (If using ground beef, pork or a combination, you’ll want to drain the fat at this point). Stir in cumin and chili powder and cook an additional 2-3 minutes and remove from heat.
Drain beans and add to crock pot, along with remaining onion, green pepper, jalapeno, garlic, diced tomatoes and tomatoes w/ chiles. Add the cooked meat, then cover all with spicy V-8. Stir it all together, then cook on the low setting for 4-7 hours. Season with S&P to taste just before service.
If you don’t have a crock pot, stop reading this and immediately go get one. They are a critical piece of autumn and winter cooking equipment. But seriously, if you don’t have one, you can make this recipe on the stovetop. Just cook it over a low flame for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
1 cup All Purpose Flour
2 TBS sugar
TBS baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup vegetable oil
3-4 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, diced
Preheat oven to 425F. Grease your cast iron skillet — I use pan spray — and throw it in the oven.
1. While the oven is warming, combine milk, eggs and oil in a bowl. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cornmeal. Slowly stir liquid mixture into powder mixture just until batter is wet. Fold in jalapenos, then use potholders to remove skillet from oven and pour batter into skillet.
2. Cook for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
This recipe can also be made in a 9”x9” baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
A note on jalapenos: These green Mexican chile peppers are only hot if you leave the ribs and seeds in. Once they are removed, jalapenos are not much hotter than a green bell pepper, but add a nice zesty flavor to whatever you add them to. They are also rich in Vitamin C, among other nutrients. You will, however, want to wash your hands after handling jalapenos to avoid getting burning eyes or other areas.
So this weekend, set up a little self-service chili bar, stock plenty of ice cold beer and invite a few friends over and you’ve got yourself a party. Go Irish! Go Bears!
Do you have any special recipes you make for football weekends? What kind of chili do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below.