Two of Twelve

The second Christmas gift installment* took place last Sunday. Everyone came over for lunch, which was two different types of chili - my family's traditional meat and bean chili and a vegetarian chili. And bread, of course.

And are you surprised I don't follow a recipe for either chili?

The meat and bean chili starts with browning ground beef and pork (I like the flavour the pork adds, but Mom always made it with just beef, which is also good). Then I toss in diced onions, carrots and celery and let them cook down for a bit (good cooks would remove the meat first. I'm not a good cook). Then add some tomatoes, either whole or sauce - I tend to use both, but use what ever you have. And let it simmer for a good long time - the longer, the better. About 30-60 minutes before serving, or whenever, add some kidney beans (either canned or pre-cooked dry beans). As the beans are already cooked, they really only have to heat through, but I often add them at the same time I add the tomatoes - it's easier that way! Season with chili sauce, salt and pepper, thyme to taste. Since this is a long cooking dish, I go light with the seasoning at the start, and taste and adjust just before serving. If you like some spice, a few dashes of hot sauce will do the trick - but again, add at the end!

The vegetarian chili is based on a recipe from Looney Spoons, but now I just make it without the recipe (of course). I start with diced onion, carrots and celery. Then, once those are cooked down a bit, I toss in some mushrooms and diced sweet peppers. Add some canned whole tomatoes (or diced, but not sauce), black beans and corn. Season with salt and pepper, thyme and a good amount of cumin and chili powder. For this version, I like ancho chili powder - it adds a smokiness that goes really well with the cumin. This is a quick chili, and doesn't need to be simmered for any length of time.

Both versions are endlessly adaptable, and can be stretched by serving them over rice, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or any other starchy food. I honestly can't say which version is my favourite: if I have the time to let it cook, the meat version is fantastic, but I also like the smokey flavour and quick-cooking of the veggie version. I also love the fact that both versions can be made with local ingredients.

For bread, I tried this recipe for cheesy pull-bread. And this is a great example of when my not following recipes jumps up and bites me in the... behind. I decided both cheese and butter was overkill, and so omitted the butter. Next time, I'll use the butter. The bread was still good (I made one with diced jalapenos, one without), but it would have been better if I had followed the recipe. My bad!

I also had a loaf of plain Italian bread and butter, and was going to make cornbread as well (I love chili and cornbread), but realized it is possible to have too much bread, even when feeding a crowd :)

No wine was served (hey, peeps, it was lunch!), and there won't be wine next month either. Because next month? Breakfast! Yum!!

*Instead of Christmas gifts for the adults in the family this year, I'm having everyone (including the kids) over for one meal every month. Yes, I am crazy.

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