Some Chili + Cornbread, baby!

So I realize that chili is different things to different people. And it’s one of those foods that gets people all riled up. Y’know, the kind of food that can start a fight. Because people, they love Their Chili. Not just chili. Their Chili. And they’ll get all up in your grill if you do/do not add beans/fresh chilis/ground beef/beef chunks/ veggies/tomatoes/doyagetthepicture? I guess you could call it  a contentious food, even. Well, I’m sure this here chili that I made is gonna get some of you all riled up (as will my cornbread, probably, since that gets people plenty riled too!). And I’m about to tell you something that’ll get you even more riled up..

      Not only was last night the first time I ever made chili… but up until, oh I don’t know, a couple months ago maybe, maybe as long ago as a year, I had never eaten chili. Seriously. Never. (Whenever it was chili night at my house growing up I ate cottage cheese. Like, people, I ate cottage cheese with crackers for dinner. What the eff was wrong with me?!) So clearly I am not of of those chili experts and I’m not gonna try and tell you what does and does not belong in a chili. But I will tell you this: this here chili I made.. it was fantastic.

It is spicy and warm and hearty and filling. And before you go sayin’ crazy things like warm and spicy food is winter fare and doesn’t belong on a summertime dinner menu, I’m gonna have to stop you. Because for some reason, warm spicy food, the kind that makes you sweat and clears out your sinuses, it’s good eatin when it’s sweltering outside. I know it doesn’t make sense. But in a lot of parts of the world (like, the really hot parts like Thailand and the part of China I was in.. and I think India though I haven’t been there to verify this) they eat exactly that when it’s hot out. It feels…good. So I’m gonna implore you to give it a try. Even if you’re in the middle of the heat wave that is testing the limits of people’s sanity in much of the mainland US. I think you’ll like it.

My First Chili + Cornbread  (yee-haw! for some reason the word ‘cornbread’ makes me want to talk in a southern accent. is that just me?)

Now, clearly since I was (and still am) a chili novice, I wasn’t about to just dive right in here without doing some research first. But I also liked the idea of not following any specific recipe to a tee, especially because this was something I was hankering to make without a special trip to the store. So I looked to some people that I would like to think are probably chili connoisseurs, The Homesick Texan, The Pioneer Woman, and Hilah Cooking. Between the three of them, I scraped together not only an awesome chili recipe but a freakin’ delicious cornbread recipe too.

This will make a decent pot of chili: enough for at least 4 hearty servings or more if you aren’t pigs like us. And it’ll make you sweat.

For the Chili:

  • 1/2 lb ground turkey (this is literally just how much we had in the freezer. Feel free to use more if you have more, or use ground beef which is more legit, or leave it out entirely if you’re not a meat-eater–I’m lookin’ at you, pappy! You could totally sub in potatoes, zucchini or other veggies if you wanted to go vegetarian on this chili. I’m sure I will in the future when I have a hankering and no meat to speak of. It’d be delish.)
  • 2 1/2 cups pinto beans; about 2 cans worth; rinsed and drained (now, I’ve begun making my own beans using dried ones, because good lord it’s so much cheaper I can’t even believe it, so I just dumped in everything we had at the time. I think it was about 2 1/2 cups. I had pinto. You could use black or red or white or any combination thereof. It’s your dang chili!)
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3-4 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chili powder (I’m pretty sure our chili powder is extra spicy, so taste yours first. if it’s too spicy you could add less chili powder, if you have a mild chili powder, feel free to add more) 
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (leave this out if you are a spice wimp like I used to be)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
  • Olive oil
  • Few glugs of whatever beer you are drinking that night
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

For the Cornbread:

  • 1 cup cornmeal (dudes! I ran out of cornmeal so I added in polenta to fill it up to one cup and lordy, lordy if you have polenta on hand please do the same! I probably used less than 1/4 cup but it adds a really nice texture. Seriously. try it. or don’t. whatevs. your loss.)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk (you can make this by putting 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup and filling it up to the 1 cup line with milk. let it sit for 5 minutes before using. booom I just saved you like five dollars.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses or honey (I used molasses this time and while it was delicious, both Brett and I agreed that it makes the cornbread a depressing shade of brown. So in the future I’ll probably use honey so that my cornbread is happy and yellow. You pick)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter  (or lard, I guess, which is probably more authentic but most of us don’t exactly have it on hand..)

Procedure

We’ll go ahead and make the chili first, even though I made the cornbread first, because I had no idea how dang easy cornbread is. So we’ll start with the chili and you can cook the cornbread while the chili is bubbling away. It’ll be a better time management thing than what I did.

  1. Open up a bottle of beer. Have a few sips. Relax. This is chili. It’s gonna be good even if you mess up.
  2. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat up a bit of oil (couple tablespoons I’d say) over medium heat. When hot, toss in your onions, carrots and celery. This is called a mirepoix. Feel free to feel fancy as you do so. I did. Let this cook for about 10 minutes or more, until the veggies soften up, the onion is translucent, and your house smells fabulous. Add in your garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Make a bit of space in the pot and toss in your ground turkey if you’re using it. Let that sit for a bit and get brown, maybe 5 minutes or so, and then go ahead and mix it all together with the veggies in the pot. Cook this for another 3 minutes or so, just to let the turkey cook most of the way through.
  4. At this point, go ahead and pour in a few glugs of that beer you have in your hand, and scrape around the bottom of your pot to get any stuck on bits un-stuck.
  5. Then you can dump in everything else: Beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and all your spices save for salt and pepper. Turn the heat to low, stir it around, stick the lid on it and let it do its thing for a bit. After about 10 or 15 minutes or so, you can taste it and then add salt and pepper as you see fit. (I’d say don’t add it earlier than this in case your beans or tomatoes are salted, which if they are from a can they most likey are. If you are using fresh tomatoes or you canned your own, and you’re using beans that you made, you can add salt earlier)

Now, let that keep on cookin’ on the stove and let’s make some cornbread!

  1. Preheat your oven to 400F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another bowl (or your measuring cup if you, like me, don’t want to do that many dishes) mix together the buttermilk, egg, and molasses (or honey). Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Don’t get crazy with the whisking, just make sure everything is wet.
  4. Heat a 10-inch ovenproof skillet on the stove and melt your butter in it until it is sizzly hot but not burned.  (true cornbread must be cooked in a cast-iron skillet, apparently. so if you have one, use it. But true cornbread also apparently doesn’t have any sweetener in it. I’m a blashpemer. I don’t have a cast iron skillet. It all works out, just make sure you aren’t using a teflon coated or nonstick skillet).
  5. Pour your cornbread batter into your sizzly hot pan and then stick it in the oven. Cook until puffy and set, which takes seriously only like 10 minutes (I went for 15 and the center got a little dried out. I’ll take it out earlier next time)

Serve up your chili topped with cheese or sour cream or avocado or cottage cheese or crackers or whatever you like, and alongside a big ol’ hunk of warm cornbread. Sit back and sweat it out a little bit. Yum.

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