Slow Cooker Chili con Carne

What to eat after 28 days in a row of subfreezing temperatures?  What do we crave after endlessly enduring one of the coldest winters on record?  What food could possibly cheer our Midwestern hearts in the wake of an artic polar vortex collapse that shows no sign of recovering?  Chili, of course!

A one-pot meal cooked in the slow cooker, nothing beats chili for cold-weather comfort food and convenience.   Because upwards of 6 hours has passed since I completed all the chopping, cooking and cleaning, by the end of the day it almost feels like someone else cooked a meal for me.  Seeing that simmering pot of hearty, savory, goodness after a day of work and an evening of schlepping kids to practices brings on feelings of relief, satisfaction and pride all at once. “Hell, yes.  I am Supermom.  I can do it all and still serve delicious and nutritious meals.  “Yeah!”  Fist pump.

Besides whipping up a delicious and nutrition meal, the other part of that “pride” comes from the fact that this recipe makes use of the locally grown foods I spent the summer preserving.  Even if you didn’t preserve them yourself, most likely you have them stocked in your pantry already.  This plant-based recipe includes meat but less than 2 oz. per serving. With less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed beef provides a  healthier option to corn-finished meat.  Black beans and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) easily trade places with the meat for a vegetarian alternative.  Serve it with cornbread or whole wheat pasta (both whole grains) and top it with a bit of grated cheese, minced onion, or sour cream  The kids and the man cheer when they see chili on the table and so do I (along with a fist pump.)

Awesome Chili Con Carnepuree the beansI spent 2 years on this recipe changing ingredients and tweaking measurements in an attempt to find just the right flavor and texture to please everyone in the family. (The entire staff of the Food Network might have been an easier crowd to please.)  I have discovered a few secrets in my quest to invent the perfect chili recipe which I shall now share with you. Use grass-fed beef; it gives the dish a fuller, meatier flavor even though each serving contains less that 2 ounces of actual meat. Hard apple cider provides umami and a subtle sweetness while cutting the acid in the tomatoes.  Pureeing the beans adds a creamy, substantial texture. Smoked paprika imparts a deep, rich layer of flavor.  If you don’t can your own tomatoes, try using fire-roasted canned tomatoes; they add to the smoky flavor.

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Slow Cooker Chili con Carne
Recipe type: Main Dish--Meat
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 10 cups
  • 1 pound of grass-fed ground beef
  • I ½ T canola oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (1 ½ cup)
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper, any color, fresh or frozen
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 2 t salt
  • ¼ t black pepper
  • 2 T of good chili powder
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pint jar crushed tomatoes or 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked light kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz. can or 1 ½ cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 12 oz. bottle hard apple cider
  • Grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Minced red or white onion
  • Chopped cilantro
  1. Brown the meat in a skillet. Remove cooked meat to a colander lined with paper towels and allow to drain of grease.
  2. Meanwhile, clean the skillet of beef fat and add canola oil to the pan, heat over a medium flame and cook onions and peppers until the onion becomes transparent—about 5 minutes. Add spices and garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from heat.
  3. To the slow cooker add the cleaned and drained pinto beans and 1 cup of water. Use an immersion blender or hand held masher to completely purée the pintos.
  4. Next add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker—meat, veggies, tomato and cider. Cover and cook on low for 6 – 8 hours or high for 3 -4 hours. Skim off any oil that rises before serving.
  5. Serve on top of whole wheat pasta or with corn bread on the side. Garnish.
If you don't have the time or a slow cooker, this can be made in a pot on the stove top simmering for 1 - 2 hours.


Chili con Carne--Ingredients

Ingredients Deconstructed: Peppers freeze so easily and cook so nicely that I can’t remember the last time I bought a pepper from anyone besides a farmer—that explains why they’re covered in frost.  I spent most of September canning tomatoes—no small task—but they cook down better than commercially canned tomatoes which contain a firming agent, and of course, they taste better. I buy my chili powder from Penzey’s or the Spice House.  The grass-fed meat comes from Whole Foods.  I used to buy it directly from a farmer but we eat so little meat it didn’t make sense.  If I have my act together, I cook big batches of dry beans and freeze them in 1-cup portions.  They cost less and taste better but canned beans are just fine in a pinch.

Chili con Carne-- sauté onions

Like most home cooks, I cook while I prep.  Start sauteing the onions on medium heat with a bit of salt while you chop the peppers.  Chili con Carne--sauteing aromatics

Indian dishes frequently require the cook to saute the spices.  It is a technique called tempering.  I tried it in this recipe, and I think the Indians might be on to something. It really does release more flavor. Chili con Carne

Eight hours later.

Cooking with Kids:  Have the kids measure all of the spices for this and any recipe.   Children, big and little, love smelling, discovering and eventually identifying spices. Measuring is also a good way to apply math skills.  After years of coaching and training, my own kids have finally learned to read and distinguish between a tablespoon and the various teaspoons.  In the process the second grader at least has gained a pretty good understanding of fractions—two ¼ teaspoons equals one ½ teaspoon—that sort of thing.

My children also like to “chop” the garlic.  Get a cutting board, a sturdy flat-bottomed dish (I use Corelle) and a garlic press, and have the children follow these steps:

  1. Remove the appropriate number of cloves from the garlic bulb
  2. Place cloves on the cutting board, cover with the plate, and press slowly crushing slightly
  3. Set the plate aside and remove the garlic skins.
  4. Crush cloves one at a time in the press and use a butter knife to cut away the crushed garlic from the bottom

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