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November 2, 2011

Big bowl of chili will warm a fall day

MCT — A big pot of chili is a great fall go-to dish and a good tailgate option that easily feeds a crowd.

It’s one of those dishes where people take sides, and variations are all over the map. The bowl of red you whip up can have its roots in a region or state. In Texas, beans are a no-no. Cincinnati-style chili is served over spaghetti.

The International Chili Society (ICS) defines chili as any kind of meat cooked with chili peppers, spices and other ingredients such as broth and onions. If you want to enter ICS-sanctioned chili events, don’t even think about adding beans.

The secret for competition chili is all in the spices, texture and taste. Chili cooks covet their secret spice mixtures, often mail-ordering them or using only certain brands.

Some make up a spice mixture and add it in stages. That way, all the ingredients get an initial and then a final seasoning.

For everyday cooks, chili is a good way to use up ingredients.

My ideal chili has a good spicy kick that’s not overpowering. It’s just not fun, in my opinion, if all you taste is heat and can’t enjoy the other ingredients. I also like a certain texture _ just shy of the thickness of pasta sauce, not too thick and not too thin.

I typically avoid using ground beef in chili, which makes what I call hamburger soup. I prefer cubed or diced beef, and that’s what most chili competitors use, too.

The key to cubing or dicing beef with little effort (especially if you’re making a lot of chili) is to make sure it’s well-chilled. If the beef is too warm, it’s squishy and the pieces won’t be even in size. Place the meat on a plate and put it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Take it out and immediately cut it into strips and then into cubes.

Having said that, I can say that I’m not a food snob, either, and I had a pound of ground beef tucked away in the freezer, so I used it in this recipe, along with three lonely green peppers and thin beef strip steaks.

The seasoning is from common pantry spices. One of my favorite mild chili powders is ground ancho chili. It’s a mild-flavored powder with more smokiness than heat.

From and tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

Nutrition info: 232 calories (38 percent from fat ), 10 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat ), 18 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 792 mg sodium, 42 mg cholesterol, 5 grams fiber

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