When March Madness descends on my family, we typically take a seat in front of the game -- almost any game, game after game -- settling in for a fortnight (and more) of college hoops action. Kansas or Kentucky, Xavier or Gonzaga, we don't care. Just bring it.
Ticking off games on our brackets works up an appetite, naturally. And although we're a family deeply interested in good food, nobody's about to leave the action long enough to whip up elaborate dishes. That's why a big pot of chili is called for at this point in the game.
We've found that once you've put on that chili, you can stop worrying about what's for dinner and keep your eye on the ball. That's because the chili can be eaten not just as a bowl of red (or whatever variety you prefer) but also in other dishes. We're partial to our renditions of soft tacos, Frito pie and tamale pie, all derived from the same batch of chili. By working in different treatments for each dish, you don't feel like you're eating the same thing, meal after meal.
Here we offer one version of award-winning Texas chili from a local reader, with various goodies to make over a weekend. If you're up for a national roster of chili ideas, we've pulled three worthy contenders from an appetizing book called Killer Chili: Savory Recipes From North America's Favorite Restaurants, by Stephanie Anderson (Chronicle Books, $16.95).
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See if these don't make a great final four in your chili repertoire.
Jim Moss, a Trophy Club resident, recently won the chili cook-off at his neighborhood country club with his tried-and-true recipe. A Texas native whose family goes back several generations in Lone Star history, Moss says that when he moved to Pittsburgh for work in 1959, there was neither chili nor Tex-Mex to be found there, nor anyone who'd heard of such. "I missed it and decided to make my own," he says. What a winning idea.
Serves 12 to 14
4 pounds ground round steak
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried
2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
3 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
4 large onions, chopped
4 cups water
Salt, to taste
2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, if desired
1. Brown the meat in a large, heavy pot and add remaining ingredients, except the beans. Simmer for 2 hours. Add beans, if desired.
2. Simmer, covered, up to another 2 hours but stir often to keep ingredients from sticking. (You may leave the lid off in order to get liquid to cook down.) Serve the old-fashioned way with grated Cheddar cheese and diced yellow onion on top and saltines on the side.
Nutritional analysis per serving (based on 12): 465 calories, 27 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams protein, 104 milligrams cholesterol, 876 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber, 52 percent of calories from fat.
Three dishes to make with the Texas chili
Tamale pie: This has been a staple in my family since I was a kid, and nobody remembers exactly where the recipe originated. To make it, fill the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch iron skillet (or a square baking pan) with 3 cups of chili, stirring in 1/2 cup sliced green olives to the chili mixture. Using a cornbread mix (we like Martha White's), combine mix with 2/3 cup milk, 1 beaten egg, 1 seeded and chopped jalapeño and 1 (7-ounce, drained) can yellow corn kernels. Spoon the cornbread batter over the chili and bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until cornbread is just golden brown. Cut into wedges or squares and serve hot. Serves 6 to 8.
Soft tacos: Talk about easy -- this takes only as much time as getting the ingredients out on the counter. Wrap 8 whole-wheat flour tortillas tightly in foil and warm in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes (microwaving makes them too rubbery). Into each warm tortilla, spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons warm chili and top with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, sliced avocado, shredded Cheddar and jack cheese, sour cream and salsa. Serves 4.
Frito pie: An old favorite that never goes out of style, this one is easy to vary as you see fit. You can put the Fritos on the top or the bottom, using about 3/4 cup of Fritos to 1 cup of chili. Top with any combination of chopped fresh jalapeños, chopped green onion, sour cream, guacamole or sliced avocado and salsa. Serves 1.
Poblano-grilled chicken chili
A good pick from Killer Chili , this chili comes from a small bistro called Salamandra in Carlisle, Pa. It's relatively mild and incorporates two kinds of beans.
Serves 6 to 7
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
3 poblano chiles, seeded and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (16-ounce) can chopped
tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons dark chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
10 to 12 ounces skinless,
boneless chicken, grilled and cut into small cubes
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 green onions, finely chopped
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and poblanos. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens. Add garlic and continue cooking until the onion begins to color.
2. Add tomatoes with their juice, chili powder, cumin and cilantro. Bring just to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Season with salt and pepper. Add beans and grilled chicken. Stir in chicken broth and tomato paste. Cover and continue simmering for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
4. Serve hot, topped with green onions and shredded cheese.
Nutritional analysis per serving (based on 6): 306 calories, 15 grams fat, 23 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 44 milligrams cholesterol, 434 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 41 percent of calories from fat.
Meriwether's, a restaurant found inside the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, caught the attention of the Food Network for its upscale dining offerings. Here, its chili features ground bison, a lean, low-cholesterol alternative to beef. You can find it at gourmet grocery meat counters. (Note: Recipe has been slightly adapted from the original only in quantity of ingredients.)
2 to 3 tablespoons
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 poblano chile, roasted, seeded and diced, optional
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 cup diced red bell
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/4 pounds ground bison meat
4 tablespoons dark chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
1 (15-ounce) can black beans
3/4 cup tomato juice
1. In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion, chile, celery, bell pepper and garlic until the onion is translucent.
2. Add the meat and cook until brown.
3. In a small bowl, mix together the chili powder, cumin and cayenne and add to the pot. Add tomatoes, beans and tomato juice. Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 202 calories, 5 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 580 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 22 percent of calories from fat.
Cape Cod seafood chili
In Anderson's Killer Chili , one of the more unexpected finds is this fish dish from Atlanta Fish Market, an acclaimed restaurant in the Georgia capital. French-trained Robert Holley brings an unusual combination of ingredients together to exciting effect.
Serves 6 to 8
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and diced
2 red bell peppers,
seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons chili
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup (8 ounces) bottled clam juice
3 1/2 cups crushed
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 pounds bay scallops
1 1/2 pounds bay shrimp
1 (6- to 8-ounce) cod fillet, cut into chunks
1. In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion, chiles, peppers, and garlic and saute for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add salt, chili powder, black pepper, red pepper, bay leaves and allspice, stirring well. Add the tomato paste and stir for 2 minutes.
3. Add the clam juice and crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add beans, chocolate, cilantro and parsley. Taste for seasoning and add more if necessary.
4. Add scallops, shrimp and cod; cook for 3 to 5 minutes or just until the scallops and cod are opaque throughout. Remove bay leaves. Serve hot.
Nutritional analysis per serving (based on 6): 582 calories, 17 grams fat, 55 grams carbohydrates, 57 grams protein, 222 milligrams cholesterol, 3,246 milligrams sodium, 12 grams dietary fiber, 25 percent of calories from fat.