Over the weekend the morning low temperatures dipped into the 50s. Here in north Florida, that typically doesn’t happen until the last weekend in October. In fact, I can usually time the first cool weather snap with three things — Halloween, the Florida-Georgia game, and my husband’s birthday — all of which happen during the final weekend of the month.
The weekend was just stunning, and even though the afternoon temperatures warmed up into the 80s, it was perfect fall weather — for Florida, anyway.
The cool weather here in northern Florida happens in fits and starts, sputtering in and out for a while. But when it begins to happen, my husband and I start craving big bowls of hearty stick-to-your-bones chili. After a quick meeting of the minds in the kitchen Sunday morning, we decided that it was time. It was time for that first pot of chili.
The recipe we’ve made for the last couple of years has come from The New Best Recipe. I’ve become a little bored with that recipe, so I went with a similar recipe – it may actually be identical, in fact, since the same folks are behind it – from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and I made some adjustments and adaptations. I had to put my own spin on the chili. What fun would it be otherwise?
I added a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to the spice mix to intensify and add complexity to the flavors. To give the chili a bit of a kick, I added one chopped chipotle pepper from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I was nervous about too much heat, though, so I cut back a little on the chili powder. I wanted the kids to be able to eat dinner with us, after all.
I like a higher ratio of vegetables to meat in my chili, so I increased the amounts of beans and tomatoes in the stew. Something about that just seems healthier. Plus, we’re guaranteed to get leftovers when I do that, and chili is just as tasty – if not more so – on the second day.
For my palate, the chili had just the right amount of heat. Madeline ate it with a topping of sour cream and shredded cheese, both of which tamed the heat enough for her. She had fun mixing in the toppings. Oliver, as usual, wouldn’t touch it, but I’m not trusting his food critiques until he’s got at least another year of age on him. My husband, though he complained that he would have liked the chili to be spicier, had a second helping of it. I’m pretty sure that speaks for itself.
Beautiful slanted light in the late afternoons, crisp mornings, goldenrod blooming on the side of the road, pumpkins and winter squash in the farmer’s markets, and the amazing smell of a big pot of chili on the stove…really, could October be any more amazing?
Beef and Bean Chili
Yield: 8 servings
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I increased the proportions of the beans and tomatoes, and I also added some extra flavorings. If you like your chili a bit spicier, increase the chili powder to 1/4 cup. Note: This chili can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to one month
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/8 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce, chopped [note: don't use the whole can - just one chili]
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds (85% lean) ground beef
3 (15.5 ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed
3 (15.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree
Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, bell pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, cocoa powder, chopped chipotle, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 15 seconds.
Add the beef and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Stir in the beans, diced tomatoes with their juice, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes.
Remove lid and continue to simmer until beef is tender, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste prior to serving.
Note: The chili is delicious with a topping of sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, or both.