As I’ve said before, I’m definitely NOT a chef, and I seriously doubt if you could call me a cook. I’m a recreational foodmaker, who just fixed a pretty scrumptious pot of chili and wants to share.

The recipe, not the chili. The chili’s all mine (except for whatever’s consumed by The Resident Carpenter).

Today’s forecast called for snow–FINALLY–in the Portland metro area, and snowstorms have a salutory effect on me: I stay in the cozy-warm house and cook. Snow started falling around 3:30.

That’s a problem, because I was at work and had to get home. We live on a steep hill on a steep hill on a steep hill; Chiquitita the Porsche has all-wheel drive (yay, Chiqui!) but let’s not get silly about scaling an icy incline without chains.

I didn’t exactly fancy parking a mile away and trying to walk up slippery hills, either. Docs say I’ve already had my second chance with The Leg, also my third, fourth, fifth, sixth… Fall and hurt The Leg again, they warn, and no more Elmo, no more leg.

So I walk carefully these days, thankful I can walk. I left work at 4:00 to avoid the worst of the freeze, trying not to see my boss’ reproachful glances, stopping off for groceries and chili fixings.

Homemade chili is just about perfect for a cold snowy night, especially if there’s cornbread in the neighborhood.

Winter Celebration Chili

I needed a fast, easy recipe–I didn’t want to be cooking all night–so I grabbed one from Cooks Country, modified it (a lot) and got making. Start to finish, this can be made in about 40 minutes, incredibly fast for chili. I let it simmer while I made the cornbread, though, so total cooking time was probably closer to an hour. My normal recipe requires an 8-hour simmer in a crock pot.

This one speeds things up by starting with canned stuff in one pot, aromatics and meat in the other. When they’re both cooked through, you add them together and finish the cooking.

2nd time around

The Resident Carpenter, himself an exceptional cook, sampled my chili* and pronounced it excellent. He had a couple of suggestions to make it even better, though: First, split the diced onions in half and saute one half in the pot with the other aromatics, but put the other half in to stew with the tomato mixture. It did indeed deliver more “layers” of flavor.

Second, instead of simply adding cold water to the pot at the end, add the liquid along with the tomato mixture and substitute 6 ounces of V8 for half the water. It really enriched the tomato flavor.

What you’ll need

  • 28 ounces (1 big can or two small cans) diced tomatoes
  • 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans
  • 4 teaspoons chipotle chili paste in adobo sauce (you’ll find a jar way up high on the shelf in the Hispanic food section of your grocery store, or give up and go to the nearest Hispanic market for an incredible selection of this stuff-it’s indispensable)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup catsup (any kind will do, but if you have Portland fermented catsup, wow…)
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste (you can substitute cayenne for more bite)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped or roughly minced (it doesn’t matter if the pieces are different sizes)
  • 3 heaping tablespoons chili powder (if your jar is more than a year old, get a new jar)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin (Use more if that’s your taste–the original recipe called for two teaspoons. I think that much overpowers the dish, frankly.)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced fine
  • 1 teaspoon tobasco sauce
  • 1T real butter (NO MARGARINE!! If you don’t have butter, leave it out)
  • 1 lb ground beef (80% or 85% lean)
  • 1 lb ground pork (2nd time around: The store was out of ground pork, so we used sweet Italian sausage. Even better.)
  • 12 ounces cold water (2nd time around: We substituted V8 juice for half of the water. It was wonderful.)
  • Grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (or cotijo if you went to the Hispanic market)
  • Sour cream


  • Large-ish sauce pan and a soup pot (I have a wonderful cast-iron dutch oven that’s perfect for this–the heavier pan distributes heat beautifully)
  • Potato masher
  • Cheese grater
  • The usual knives, wooden spoons, measuring implements, stove

How you make the chili

  1. Dump the diced tomatoes into the large saucepan and lunge at them with the potato masher for about a minute. (Cooks Country says to puree them in a food processor for five pulses, but I found the masher works better and you don’t have to clean the food processor)
  2. Drain the can of beans and toss them in, along with about a half-teaspoon of salt, the chipotle chili paste, catsup, and sugar. Bring them to a boil over low heat for about five minutes, then reduce the heat and let them simmer while you prep everything else.
    (2nd time around: We dumped half the diced onions into the tomatoes, which gave a more robust, layered flavor.)
  3. Pour the olive oil into the dutch oven, turn on the stove and let it get hot on medium heat (you should see it shiver). Then add in the onion, chili powder, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, and cook until the onions have softened and are starting to turn translucent.
  4. Add the garlic and cook for less than a minute, just till you can smell it cooking.
  5. Now turn up the heat on the dutch oven and add the ground beef and pork. Cook them until there’s no sign of pink, breaking chunks apart until it’s pretty finely distributed.
  6. Stir in the butter, catsup, and tobasco until well mixed.
  7. Now dump the tomato mixture into the dutch oven, making sure that you scrap any fond into the pot, too, and stir well. Bring it up to a low boil or furious simmer, stirring a few times. When it starts to slightly thicken, cover it and reduce the heat to low and add in the water (or water/tomato juice mix).
  8. It’s essentially finished, but let it simmer while you make cornbread, at least 30 minutes.
  9. Get the cornbread in the oven, and taste the chili, correct any seasoning issues. Generally, you’ll be adding more salt and maybe a wee bit more heat to the pot.
  10. When the cornbread comes out of the oven, dish up the chili, add a small (very small) dollop of sour cream, top with grated cheese, and serve.

That’s it. I’ll go back to my bowl of red now.

* “Sampled” probably isn’t the right word. Try “went through the whole pot like a buzzsaw through butter.”