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Tuesday, September 16

Russet and Spice and Everything Twice

Sometime between the Autumn Equinox and the Harvest Moon, there are three things I make: Gingerbread, Apple Spice Cake and Chili. Especially Chili Con Carne. Every food has it’s season. Autumn is all russet and spice and everything twice.

Good chili takes time, not a lot of yours, but a couple of days of soaking and simmering. Ideally, you want to start three days before feasting. The reward is one of the most versatile, universally pleasing meals you can make. It tastes just as good without meat, so you can happily go vegetarian. Since you do all the preparation, in advance, you're free to enjoy your guests.

Entertainment Tip 

One of my favourite buffets consists of Two Caldrons of Chili Con Carne (Beef and Vegetarian) Bowls of Chopped Tomatoes; Red Onions; Grated Cheddar Cheese; Sour Cream and Baskets of Tortilla Chips, or Corn Bread.

If you want to offer something sweet with tea and coffee later, you absolutely can’t beat New York Cheesecake. The cool, creamy texture, is the perfect finish to this happy belly meal.

All Time Favourite Autumn Menu for 10

Selection of Cold Ales and Ciders
Two Caldrons of Chili, One Veggy, One Beef
Toppings: Soured Cream, Grated Cheddar Cheese, Chopped Tomatoes, Chopped Sweet Onions, Tortilla Chips
New York Cheese Cake, topped with Raspberry Preserve and Fresh Raspberries
Coffee and Teas

Lovers Kitchen Chili Con Carne

What You Need 

Makes 12 Generous Servings. Can easily double recipe for a crowd. Ideally you want to make chili in a big cast iron pot. Something in the 8 liter/9 quart range. Nothing smaller than 6.6 liters/8 quart, unless you keep the beans and meat separate.
Dried Adsuki Beans - 500g (about 1lb)
Dried Black Beans - 500g (about alb)
Dried Ancho Chile Pepper - 6 These are dried poblano peppers, commonly used in Mexican food. They're brownish-black and wrinkled) You can also use Mulatos which are darker with earthier, more pungent flavor; Pasilla Chile; California Chile, New Mexico Chile Peppers, Chipotle Chilies, all work well. 
Rapeseed Oil - 2 tbs
Red Onions - 3 large
Garlic - 1 head
Hot Chili Powder - 2-1/2 tbs 
Cumin - 3 tbs
Cinnamon - 1 tbs
Turmeric - 1 tbs
Mild Smoked Paprika - 1 tbs
Sea Salt - 3 tbs
Coarse Pepper - 2 tbs
Sugar - 2 tbs
Chocolate, at least 85% cocoa, 100g / 3-1/2 ounces
Chopped Italian Plum Tomatoes - 4 tins, 400g each / 3 -16 ounce cans
Italian Passata (sieved tomatoes) 1 liter / 2 pints
Minced Beef - 2 kilogram (about 4-1/2 pounds)

Marsha's Notes
Adzuki is a small, reddish brown bean, imported from China, Thailand and Japan. If you can’t find Adzukis, Black Beans are just as good. I like to use both to add different texture and colour.

If you don't have chilie peppers, double the Paprika. I like Brindisa La Chinata Smoked Paprika from Spain. Their Mild and Hot Smoked are equally good. I use mild here because I'm cooking for a crowd. If everyone loves heat, use Hot Smoked Paprika.

If you don’t have chocolate, add 500 ml / 1 cup strong black coffee with the tomatoes.

I like the silkiness Passata gives chili. If you don’t have any, double the tomatoes, but this ingredient does make a big difference.

Minced turkey or chicken make an excellent substitution for beef here. I often make chili with minced turkey. It's slightly firmer and nubbier in texture, but absorbs the chili flavour beautifully. See chicken recipe below.


Must have tomatoes or salas, mature cheddar and red onions. After that, it's up to you. You'll be surprised by how much toppings people like with their chili.
Tomatoes - 2 kilogram (at least 4 pounds)
Mature Cheddar - 600g (about a pound)
Sweet or Red Onions - 4 medium
Tortilla Chips (go for the thinner, low salt variety)
Other toppings to consider: soured cream, avocado or guacamole.

What You Do

Thoroughly rinse beans, under cold water, in colander. Place in very large, heavy-bottomed pot (they will expand substantially) cover with cold water and cook over low heat for four - five hours, or until tender. If you have a slow cooker, ideally around 8 litres, put it to good use here. Keep an eye on your beans. They will absorb a lot of water during the first couple of hours of cooking, requiring top-ups and stirring, even in most slow cookers. Very important to not scorch your beans, even if this means lowering the heat to a whimper.

While beans are cooking, place dried chilis in bowl and cover with boiling water to soften. Allow to soak for about twenty minutes, then chop and set aside.

Peel and chop onions and garlic (keeping separate)

In small bowl, combine chili powder, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper, and sugar. Mix thoroughly.

Heat oil in large, heavy bottomed stock pot. Brown onions over medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking. When onions are golden brown, add chopped garlic, chilies, tomatoes, passata, and about 2/3 of the seasoning, reserving about ⅓ for the meat. If you’re making all veggy chili, use all the seasoning here.

Bring to gentle boil over medium heat. Add chocolate. Mix well. When chocolate is fully absorbed, turn off heat and set aside until beans are tender. Once beans are tender, add everything you prepared to the pot, stir well and gently simmer for at least a couple more hours, tasting often.

I suggest you make the beans and allow them to sit in their spicy goodness overnight. If your kitchen is cool, no need to refrigerate. If it's warm, leave covered in a cool space. A couple of hours before serving, add the meat if using meat, reserving a vegetarian pot for non-carnivores.

In large skillet, brown minced beef. When beef is cooked, add seasoning, drain off any grease, and combine with beans in chili pot. Stir well. Continue to simmer very slowly for another couple hours, or until beans are soft.

Here's where chili becomes quite individual. I like it thick enough to eat with a fork, on a plate. If you prefer yours in a bowl, with a spoon, you may want to add a bit more water, passata, or tomatoes the last hour of cooking. You will also want to taste, taste, taste, adjusting seasoning as you like.


The one thing to watch out for is that you don’t scorch the bottom of the pot. It’s easy to do when you’re simmering something this long, especially if your pot doesn't have a thick bottom. With my gas hob, I keep the flame at the lowest possible level, once the chili reaches the boiling point. And I stir often with a big, heavy wooden spoon, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. For this reason, I’m never far from the kitchen when making chili. Using quality cast iron helps avoid scorched bean syndrome.


Wash and slice tomatoes, toss in a bowl. Grate rate cheese, add to another bowl. Chop onions, place in a third bowl. Pour Tortilla Chips into a bowl. prepare any other toppings you's like. Place toppings on table for guests to help themselves.

More Ideas and Suggestions

It’s acceptable to use canned beans, though I personally find them too soggy for my tastes. I like a bit of bite to my beans. If you opt for beans from a tin, try to make the chili the day before to allow the flavours to mature.

I often make cornbread when I make chili. There is something about the combination of red, spicy chili with golden, velvety cornbread that perfectly balances the meal. You’ll find a good cornbread recipe listed in the index.

Enjoy leftover chili in burritos, tacos or quesadillas, made with quality flour tortillas.

Make a chili salad by combining shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, grated cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips, topped with warm chili.

Chili omelette, topped with fresh avocado, is one of my favourite “any time meals.”

It probably goes without saying, chili over rice (I prefer brown rice here) is a classic in England.

You can’t beat sharing a heaping platter of chili fries (homemade chips smothered in chili) for two, cuddled up on the sofa, watching a film.

Chili is also the ideal stuffing for a fluffy baked potato, topped with grated cheddar cheese and tomatoes.

This is the perfect potluck dish, as well as one of the nicest meals you can bring as a housewarming gift. You can easily make chili in a crock pot (after making your base on the stove) thereby allowing you to bring the dish with it’s own heating/serving container.

For alcoholic beverages, consider Mojitos (Cuba’s minty, lime-packed national drink) or Mexican/Indian/Asian beers.
The best non-alcoholic drinks to accompany chili are sparkling water with a twist of lime, lime or lemon based drinks (like limeade, or lemonade, strewn with a few fresh mint)

This wonderfully refreshing Mexican cucumber drink known as Agua Fresca de Pepino (combination of cucumbers, fresh lime juice, water, and sugar) is an excellent beverage with any spicy meal.

Agua Fresca de Pepino

What You Need

Limes - 12 - (enough for 1 cup, fresh squeezed lime juice)
Cucumbers - 4 large English variety
Water - 2 quarts
Honey - 1/2 cup
Ice - 1 quart

What You Do

Juice limes. Set aside. Peel and slice cucumbers. Working in batches, puree each cucumber with 1 cup of water. As cucumber is pureed, pour into large spouted bowl or jug.

When all the cucumbers are pureed, strain of seeds (I use a finely meshed colander for this job) return half the cucumber to blender and combine with lime juice, honey and ice. Blend well.

In large bowl, or spouted jug, combine cucumber/lime mixture, with pureed cucumber and water. Taste. Add more honey if you like. Serve very cold. Garnish with lime or cucumber slices and/or fresh mint.

Chicken Chili

If you prefer your chili with shredded chicken breast, instead of beef, try this idea. The first half of the recipe is exactly the same as making my buttermilk chicken strips. The second half turns the chicken into spicy, smoky, shredded chicken, perfect for chili, enchiladas, tacos, burritos, or tostadas.

What You Need

Buttermilk - 1 pint
Crushed chili - 1 tbs
Sea Salt - 1 tbs
Coarse Pepper - 1 tbs
Tabasco - 6 drops
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast - 8
Italian Tomatoes - 800g
Chocolate - 85% cocoa - 100g
Water - 2 cups

What You Do

Combine buttermilk with crushed peppers, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Mix well. Add chicken. Coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate 4  - 24 hours.

Remove chicken from refrigerator. Place it in a largish stock pot. Add tomatoes, chocolate and water. Stir well. Cover. Simmer over low heat, stirring often, for about an hour, or until chicken easily breaks up with fork.

Shred chicken, add to chili pot, the last hour of cooking.

My Dream Chili Pot is not the one you see here. 
Lodge Cast Iron makes a gorgeous 8.5 liter/9 quart Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven that is a must for anyone regularly making chili for a crowd. I'm a big fan of this century old, American cast iron maker.