Chili – a Hearty Budget Stretcher

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There’s nothing nicer on a cool evening or when you’re looking for a simple, hearty dinner for the family or the masses.  And chili is one of the easiest meals to make, reheat or keep warm, whether you have a slow cooker or not.

What makes for a hearty chili is one basic spice – chili powder spice blend – which is a common mix of several spices that includes chili peppers, cumin, oregano and more.

Chili Powder is easy to find in the stores and a budget alternative to buying a few spices that you may or may never use.  But, your chili spice should be reasonably fresh to get the best bang for your buck.

Other essential ingredients include ground beef, kidney beans and tomatoes, along with a few veggies thrown in. But there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the amounts of each ingredient or options you can throw in.

What You’ll Need to Make About 5 Qts of Chili:( * are optional)

  • 2 lbs of ground beef (sauteed, drained)
  • 2 tins of kidney beans (red or a mix of color)
  • 2 tins of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tin of sliced mushrooms* (fresh is preferred)
  • 1 tin of kernel corn*
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 of a bell green pepper – chopped (can use a mix of peppers, more or less)
  • 4 tablespoons of chili blend spice
  • parsley
  • salt and pepper

Saute Meat, Veggies for Best Taste:

You can make Chili on the stove or in a slow cooker – there’s no difference in ingredients and little change in method.  For either method, I’d recommend sauteing the ground beef (till pink is gone) with the onions, garlic, celery and peppers, then drain the grease off before adding to the pot or cooker with other ingredients.

Sauteing enhances taste, though you can skip this step if time is a constraint, or you’re using lean meat. You can also do this part the evening before, refrigerate and then combine all ingredients the next morning.

Slow Cooker or Stovetop Cooking Option:

With a slow cooker, place all ingredients in it and stir.  Cook on High for the afternoon (4 hrs), or on Low for 6-8 hours.  Chili is done when veggies are tender and meat done (if not sauteed prior).  You can turn it to Warm till dinnertime.

For making chili on the stove – place all ingredients in an appropriately-sized cookware pot. A pot with a heavier base is best to avoid hot spots.  Stir it and cook on low-to-medium heat to achieve a gentle simmer.  Stir occasionally to ensure nothing burns on the bottom. Simmer for about 1 hour.  Cooking time is drastically reduced with stovetop cooking. Covering will shorten the cooking time slightly, but you’ll also need to reduce the temperature.

Alternatively, you can cook chili in the oven as well.  Time will be about 1.5 hours and a moderate oven.  Ensure the oven cookware is covered so ingredients do not dry out in spots.

Customize Chili at Will and Other Tips:

  • This is one meal item that can be easily stretched out to accommodate unexpected guests, by adding another tin of beans or tomatoes.
  • The chili spice measure will give you a nice mild chili taste. You can easily increase the chili spice to kick it up a notch.
  • You can easily reduce or omit items due to a lack of ingredients or double up on some.
  • I’ve given you a sample recipe based on a 5 qt slow cooker (or stove top pot) which is suitable for a family of 5 or 6.  You can easily cut the recipe in half for two persons. You’ll probably have left-overs in both cases for lunches.
  • Be careful not to overfill your slow cooker.  You should have at least 1″ room at the top.  With an overfilled cooker, a vacuum effect can be created during cooking and contents can start to be drawn out and down the cooker.  This is a nasty mess you should avoid.  So be careful when adding ingredients and leave a little clearance.
  • When serving, a garnish of sour cream and grated cheddar cheese is very nice and adds a wonderful taste to your homemade chili.
  • Complete your meal with fresh buns, buttered toast, garlic bread or corn muffins.
  • Alter liquid ingredients to your preference. Some like Chili that is more like a chunky soup.  My recipe is more like a hearty stew consistency.
  • Chili is a nice meal item to take to pot lucks or to enjoy out on the patio, or from a tailgate buffet.
  • Using a slow cooker gives you that load, set and forget convenience – my favorite.  It will also save energy to use a counter appliance, rather than the stove.  And on hot days, it will keep your kitchen cooler.