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Although it was 97 degrees today here in the waning days of August, I felt like making chili tonight. There are many things I love about chili, but I think one of the things I love best about it is how forgiving of a dish it is.

If you go back to the history of “true” chili, also known as chili con carne, it was definitely a meal born of necessity. The story goes that cooks along the cattle trails in the American southwest used a blend of chiles and spices in a long simmering stew to tenderize very tough strips of beef, or even other less savory creatures. Sometimes this meat was on the verge of rot, but the spices and chiles masked a rather unpleasant flavor. Additionally, these cooks often were using raw, un-aged beef, which we would NEVER do today. So, from its very beginnings, chili was a savior for the busy cowpoke on the go.

I am not a cowpoke. I herd children, ages 5-14. When I come home from a hard day on the trail, I want me some good vittles. So, today chili it was.

I have never made chili con carne.*

*Whenever I have seen chili con carne made on TV during those chili cook-offs I find those people to be mildly insane. “THE BEEF MUST BE CUBED EXACTLY IN 7/16 INCH CUBES!” You think I’m exaggerating, but check out the 2010 chili cook off winner’s recipe. Did he really stand there with a ruler, checking those cubes? You, my measuring friend, are a dedicated man. I digress.

As a solid midwesterner, I believe chili needs beans. (However, I remember some of my Wisconsinite friends thought Chili needed macaroni) So, when I got home today, I was ready to make some chili, but I was NOT sure if the proper ingredients were available.

They were not…but it’s OK, because chili is a forgiving friend.

What I had on hand was: Half an onion wrapped in the fridge, two older stalks of celery (there was still crunch in them), ground beef, a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, spices, AND…black beans.

I love black bean soup, but I haven’t made black bean chili. So, a cooking adventure began.

First I diced the onion and celery. I sautéd them in a little oil with a little salt to get things going. You can see my main cast of characters at this point in the process.


After the onions were translucent, I added a pound of ground beef and some garlic (garlic did not make the picture cut, as cooking while taking pictures has proven to be a challenge for me).

Once the meat was browned, I added my first layer of spices. I really like chili powder and cumin. I know chili powder usually has cumin in it, but I add extra for the smoky flavor it brings. I will confess, I am not a measurer. I eyeball it. Once the meat was browned, I drained it but only put half of the meat back in. Why you ask? Back when I weighed much more, I consumed large amounts of ground beef. I try to limit that now. I tried making chili once with just a half-pound of ground beef, and found that it tasted just as good, minus all the fat. I will say it again, chili is a forgiving friend.

What do you do with the rest of the beef you ask? We like it as taco filling on another night. The diced celery in the beef even provides some extra crunch, and the meat is already well-spiced.

Anyway, I added the fire-roasted diced tomatoes to the beef, as you can see below. I like the subtle, lingering heat the fire roasted tomatoes give to the dish. Image

Finally, I added the two cans of beans. I learned a lesson on the first can…there is too much watery liquid in the can of black beans! So, I drained the second can before I put it in. After another dose of chili powder and cumin and a few splashes of Louisiana hot sauce, I added about 1/2 cup of water and let it simmer for about 1/2 hour uncovered to thicken it a bit. When all was said and done, the results can be seen below:


We always garnish our chili with sour cream and shredded cheese…chili plays well with others.

Overall, it was great. The black beans had a different consistency than the usual chili beans, and it was seasoned well. Katie had two bowls, and Brendan ate his whole bowl, onions and all. Sarah finished up the pot when she came home from a photo shoot.

So, there you have it. My non-regulation chili with spare ingredients was a hit. I believe that all chili wants is to be your mealtime friend. It will forgive your mistakes (like all the bean liquid), and treat you right at mealtime.

Now, I have a challenge for my readers: I am curious about your chili recipes. How do you do this dish at your house? If you list your recipe, I will make it (to the best of my ability) and blog about it. I’m thinking of doing one of YOUR chilis a month until Christmas. But I can only do it with your help. Please send me your recipe to my email address (listed on my about page), or post it in the comments below to share! My only disclaimer is that I am allergic to POULTRY. No white chili recipes please. I will not blog from the hospital! Thanks for reading.