Chili & Cornbread: Autumn Fare

Did you ever stop to think about how 'chilly' and 'chili' mean literally opposite things, but that when the weather turns into the former, all you want to eat is the latter?
Well, I have.

Here's a fun chili story: while Judson and I were dating, I moved into an apartment in an old schoolhouse. My flat was amazing: there were floor to ceiling windows lining one entire wall, and a chalkboard running the length of another wall. I had a pool and a designated parking spot in the busiest neighborhood in town, and it was awesome. So, shortly after moving in, of course I decided to host a game night and dinner party for some friends. Judson, as my co-host, agreed to help me plan the menu, and together we decided on chili and cornbread.

But then we hit our first snag: we both wanted to make our mom's chili recipe. I thought I should get priority because we were hosting the game night in my house, and Judson thought he should get priority because we were using his games. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we would each get our own mother's recipe, and then compare them to see which one sounded more delicious, and make that one. (Full disclosure: there was a bit of a heated discussion involved in achieving this compromise).

We phoned our moms, diligently wrote down their recipes word for word as they were dictated to us, and then compared notes. But here's what we found: our moms' chili recipes were exactly the same. And what's better? Both of our moms, upon being asked for their chili recipes, responded in kind with some variation of 'I mean, you brown some meat, and some onions and some bell peppers, and then you season it and then you cook it until it looks like chili. I dunno!'

Crisis was averted as we realised we'd be able to make both of our moms' recipes simultaneously, but it would be another year or so before we realised that what this really meant is that we both grew up eating pretty basic chili. Since then, we've figured out how to make it our own, and while we both still prefer a version similar to what we grew up with, we've added toppings and spices and different cooking methods to make it in our own Cowan way.

And ever since that evening in my schoolhouse apartment, not an autumn has gone by that has not seen us brewing up a big pot of chili and inviting our friends over to take part. So when I realised autumn was upon us, I was excited to search out a chili recipe from the box. Eleanor had good taste in cosy foods, and my mom had to have learned her recipe from somewhere, so I assumed this would be a bit of a copout and I'd get to make my favourite chili recipe and still call it a blog entry.

Yeah, you try taking a picture of a bowl of chili and making it look delicious. It's harder than it sounds.

Yeah, you try taking a picture of a bowl of chili and making it look delicious. It's harder than it sounds.

But then I read the recipe. There are only three ingredients listed on it, and here they are:

'5 salts.'
'2 T powder.'
'½ + sugar.'

Ahem. So this one required quite a bit of ingenuity on my part, to say the least. But we were having friends over, so it was the perfect time to try this out, and on this recipe, Eleanor did not fail me (though her vague notes may mean she was trying to). Additionally, we served it with cornbread, as all chili should be, and though I don't have one of those cast-iron pans that makes cornbread in the shape of an ear of corn, it was still delicious.

The verdict:
the chili:

Look at the crumb on that cornbread! look at it!

Look at the crumb on that cornbread! look at it!

5 spoons out of five. This may not be a new dish, but it's classic, comforting, warming, and hearty, and most of all, it's delicious. Make this for some friends, and serve it with pride. Your house will smell amazing, and you'll never feel cosier than you do curled up with friends and a bowl of this chili.

The cornbread:

4 spoons out of five. This cornbread is perfect for what it is (authentic, rustic cornbread). But nowadays the prevalence of Jiffy cornbread mix and Boston Market has made everyone think cornbread should be sweet, and this isn't. So for that, I'm docking a spoon-- just so you don't make it and think that it's boring in it's plainness. Important note: if you, like me in real life but not like me on this blog, are not into following recipes to the letter, then dress this up as you wish. A handful of pickled jalapeños give it kick; some chopped up queso fresco will make it creamier and less crumbly; reducing the butter by a few tablespoons and swapping it with honey will make a sweeter bread; adding in some freshly shucked corn or thawed frozen creamed corn will make a more rustic bread. If you have a corn-ear cast-iron pan, then I am jealous and you should make this in it. If you don't, use a skillet for maximum back-woods-ness. Failing either of these, a round layer cake pan or an 8x8 square pan work just fine.

The recipe:

Classic Chili

the directions:

Chop the onions and saute in a spoonful of oil until soft and translucent.
Add beef and brown over medium heat.
Add chili powder, salt, and green pepper, stirring to combine.
Add well-drained beans and undrained tomatoes.
Stir well, then add sugar to taste.
Stir again and let simmer, uncovered over low heat for at least 10 minutes or until desired consistency (I usually simmer mine for about 40 minutes).

Serve with garnishes as listed above, and fresh warm cornbread.


the ingredients:

2 yellow onions, chopped coarsely
1 lb ground beef
1 green bell pepper, chopped coarsely
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp salt (+ more to taste)
2 cans kidney beans, well-drained
3 cans tomatoes, not drained
1-2 tbsp sugar

optional (but recommended) additions:

Red pepper
Black pepper
3 cloves chopped garlic, stirred in with the chili powder


Sour cream
Fresh chilies, chopped
Pickled jalapenos
Sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Hot sauce

The recipe:

Classic, Unsweetened Cornbread


Preheat oven to 218C/425F.
Grease an 8x8 pan or a cast-iron, ovensafe skillet.
Sift flour once, then measure it into your mixing bowl.
Add baking powder, sugar, and salt, and sift again.
Add corn meal or polenta and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine eggs and milk and beat well.
Add egg mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until combined.
Pour melted butter into batter and stir until texture is uniform.
Bake 30-40 minutes, until brown and firm on top.

Serve with a steaming bowl of chili. Best served fresh within a day of making it, but will last for up to four days at room temperature.

the ingredients:

1 ¼ c flour
2 ¼ c baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 c cornmeal (in the UK, this will likely be labelled as polenta, and sold in fine-coarse varieties. I recommend coarse yellow polenta. Do not substitute Jiffy cornbread mix from the American grocery store for this, as it won't work)
2 eggs, beaten well
1 ¼ c milk
4 tbsp butter, melted