{recipe} Oliver’s “Firehouse” Chili

December 6, 2011

Oliver's "Firehouse" Chili

I know you’re all in holiday mode, but I’m going to take a quick break from the chrismakwanzika madness to return to a celebration from earlier this year—the Hungry Baby’s birthday.

I started telling you about his firehouse birthday party and the requisite fire truck cake in October, right after he turned two. Remember this?

Fire Truck Cake front

I meant to follow up with a post about my firehouse chili but, well, as it tends to do, life got in the way. But even life can’t stop this delicious chili because, as chili tends to do, this recipe gives the gift of perfect, freezable leftovers. Leftovers that I popped out of the freezer yesterday morning for dinner last night.

Now, y’all know that I barely need an excuse to make chili. I’m always trying other folks’ recipes (I like the Pioneer Woman’s Super Simple Beef Chili), tinkering with my own (like my attempt to lighten chili with this Turkey and White Bean Chili) or giving traditional chili a twist (hello Pork Chili Verde). So, though the plan for the baby’s party was to keep it simple, I still wanted to experiment. After all, simple didn’t have to mean predictable, right?!

This time, I wanted to develop something easy going, but with more emphasis on oomph than on it being quick-cooking. I wanted a recipe that could sit on the stove on a cold fall or winter day. A recipe that I could spend a little time on and give a little love to. This was, after all, for my baby’s birthday.

Now firehouse chili is usually spicy (cue “5 alarm” word play), but this was for 2-year-olds, so it’s totally mild. Since you’re going to save this recipe for when you’re not rushing, be sure to play with the flavor. Taste as you go and adjust seasoning to suit you and your family’s buds. Keep in mind that your palate won’t pick up the full extent of the spice while tasting (temperature) hot and still cooking chili, so be careful not to go overboard!

I’m sharing the recipe with measurements to make a big batch for a crowd or for freezing. If you’re going to invest the time in cooking this down to deliciousness, you might as well have enough for a bunch of family and friends or leftovers that can stock your freezer. If you just want to whip it up for a family dinner, though, it’s easy enough to cut this recipe in half.

To freeze, allow the chili to cool completely before pouring into a very large ziplock baggie or freezable container. While I prefer my glass containers, large bags work great to keep big batches of chili and soup from taking up all the room in your freezer. If you use one, fill it up 3/4’s of the way and then carefully lay the bag flat on your counter. Press the chili to the bottom of the bag and squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.

When you defrost your chili, heat it up and serve with tortilla chips, rice or quinoa. Or do what I did last night and make Chili Mac. Combine the chili with perfectly cooked pasta (i.e., cooked for 3 minutes fewer than the time indicated on the box), something like this:

Chili & Pasta

…and top with grated cheddar and/or monterey jack.

Chili Mac

You can easily throw peas into the mix, too, by the way.

See! Totally worth making a big batch. Totally worth the time. Totally worth the low-key effort. And more than totally worth the love. One smile on your little fireman or woman’s face and you’ll know for sure.

Oliver’s “Firehouse” Chili
(can be shared with kids 8+ months)*
serves a crowd, about 12

2 lbs ground beef**
2 cups chopped red onion (about 1 large onion)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ketchup (make sure it’s gluten-free if you’re trying to make a GF chili)
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons New Mexico chile powder (or your favorite chile pepper powder; be mindful of the heat level if sharing with young eaters)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons onion powder
3 cups beef stock**
3 cups chopped tomatoes
1 16-ounce bag kidney beans, soaked overnight & drained

1. Saute beef and onions in a large dutch oven set over medium-high heat until onions are soft. (If using a lean ground beef, you may need to add a drizzle of canola oil to help the onions along.) Add garlic and continue cooking, breaking up lumps of meat with the back of a spoon, until the beef is cooked through and browned in spots.

2. Add ketchup, oregano, chile powder, cumin, coriander and onion powder. Stir to mix in well and saute for about 2 minutes to draw out the flavor in the spices.

3. Add stock, tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil before lowering the heat to achieve a simmer. Cover and allow to cook for 1 1/2-2 hours. If at 1 1/2 hours the chili isn’t cooking off enough liquid for your desired consistency, take the lid off for the last bit of cooking time, up to 30 minutes. If it is more dry than you like, ladle in water and continue cooking, covered, until it reaches your desired consistency. If after 1 1/2 hours the chili where you want it, take it off the heat and serve or cool to store. Serve topped with sour cream, chopped chives, cilantro and/or grated cheddar or monterey jack cheese.

*Note: This can be shared with any child already safely eating textured food and red meat. You may need to cut or mash the meat and beans into age-appropriate sized pieces for younger eaters.

**Note: The quality of your beef and beef stock are what will make the difference between a good chili and a great one. If possible, for taste, health and safety, buy your beef and possibly even beef stock at a local butcher who can grind the meat for you and maybe even tell you where it came from. I like using ground beef chuck.

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