I grew up in a family of five children – two boys and three girls. I am the oldest of the sisters and the only grandmother so far. Our mother taught us all basic culinary skills and we are constantly emailing recipes and new ideas back and forth. When we get together – the kitchen is inevitably the place where we congregate, cook and catch up.
When I turned 40 my two sisters Susan and Kay decided to celebrate by taking me on a trip to San Francisco. That first year we allowed Kay’s youngest son “Baby Joel” to accompany us and it’s hard to believe that he is soon going to be 21 years old. Every year since that first trip we’ve maintained this tradition. It has become sacred time for us, and we do not allow anyone other than blood sisters to come. We haven’t missed a year – not once.
Throughout the years we have traveled to places like Sedona, New York, Aspen, Baltimore and Virginia, to name a few. I have no doubt that the coming years will bring us to many new and exciting locales. Ironically, it was a vacation I was least enthusiastic about that remains one of my fondest memories. In both 2008 and 2009 I was coerced into going to a knitting convention in Baltimore. I had in mind a gaggle of gray haired ladies, clicking away with their needles and gabbing ad nauseum about knitting and purling. I was pleasantly surprised to find how entertaining and inspiring these women were. Many were young, some were older but the beautiful garments they created inspired me to focus again on knitting.
After the convention we drove to Virginia to a place called The Meander Inn and Plantation. Susan, Kay and I looked out the car windows at verdant, rolling hills and arrived at this magical place, feeling immediately transported to the old South. We stayed three nights, enjoying the historical feel of the town and the relaxing pace of life. We even experienced an indulgent wine maker’s dinner featuring wines from the region.
For me, the highlight of the visit was the cooking school where we learned how to make “sophisticated, Southern cuisine.” There were two full days of classes led by their chef and Suzie Blanchard, executive chef and owner of the Inn. We learned how to prepare apple pie, stuffed butternut squash, English muffins, focaccia, apple cinnamon cheesecake, and a honey and pine nut tart. Surprisingly, one of my favorite things we made was chili. Chili is chili, you might think. I quickly learned that this is not the case. The Meander Inn recipe has quite a kick. It has lots of warm spices and yields a huge pot of satisfying, perfectly seasoned chili.
As with most dishes, I altered the chili recipe to make it my own. I decreased the cayenne and red pepper flake quantities for my family, and added black beans in addition to the red kidney beans; I use fresh cooked beans. This recipe makes an enormous amount which can seem overwhelming. However it freezes beautifully and is the perfect dish to defrost and reheat on cold winter days.
And now, here comes the chili!!
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 6 medium garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup chili powder
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes (Use more if you like a lot of kick)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 lb lean ground beef
- 1-15 oz can rinsed black beans, or 2 cups fresh cooked
- 1-15 oz can rinsed red kidney beans, or 2 cups fresh cooked
- 1-28 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
- 1-28 oz can tomato puree
- Salt to taste
Heat oil in very large dutch oven (or non stick large pot) over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano and cayenne and cook until vegetables are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Increase heat to medium high and add half of the beef and cook, breaking up pieces with a wooden spoon until no longer pink and just beginning to brown – about 3-4 minutes. Add the rest of beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon until no longer pink, another 3-4 minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and bring to a boil, then change the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and simmer 1 more hour, stirring occasionally, If it gets too dry, add a bit of water. Adjust seasoning with salt.
This chili is especially delicious served with corn bread and a crisp salad!!