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Can you hear that sound? It’s the clang of the Crock Pot coming out of the cupboard for the season. It’s time to make chili again, and not a moment too soon.

I love this comfort food/simple supper/warming treat almost as much as I love comfort CLOTHES. Chili in particular brings back many, many memories of our school hot lunch. We loved Chili Day, when bowls were always served with homemade cinnamon rolls! Ask any graduate of Lincoln Public Schools and you’ll see a wide smile cross their face.

Later, I met and mentored under a real chili pro: Michael McLaughlin helped build the popular Silver Palate Cookbook (where I was a shopgirl/researcher/taste-tester back in the day), then went on to create his own Manhattan Chili Company restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. I loved to stop by for a bowl with him, and to fawn over his Manhattan Chili Company Southwest American Cookbook. Later still, when I was working as a restaurant critic for Minneapolis City Pages news weekly, Michael traveled to Minneapolis to judge a Chili Cook-off we sponsored in partnership with the grand old Minnesota department store, Dayton’s.

Those days are over. Dayton’s closed and Michael passed away in the early 2000’s, at his home in Santa Fe. I know he cooked up some delicious pots of heat there. Here’s his favorite recipe for you to try, always with a side of the most homemade tortillas you can muster….or some cinnamon rolls!

Numero Uno Chili

(from the Manhattan Chili Company’s Southwest American Cookbook by Michael McLaughlin)

This chili has surprising ingredients: the cinnamon gives it a slight sweetness that works well with the chili powder. A note before beginning – I make it with medium-hot chili powder. No wimpy chili for me! Also, while any ground beef will do, if you have a butcher, ask for chili grind or the largest grind they can do.

•  1/4 cup olive oil
•  2 large yellow onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
•  1 1/2 pounds ground beef
•  1 1/2 pounds ground pork
•  2 tsp. salt
•  1/3 cup mild chili powder
•  3 T toasted cumin seeds, ground
•  3 T dried Mexican oregano
•  3 T unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
•  2 T ground cinnamon
•  1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
•  4 cups tomato juice
•  3 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
•  8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
•  2-3 T cornmeal, optional
• 2 15-oz. cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large 5-qt Dutch oven, combine the beef and pork over medium heat. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, until the meats have lost their pink color and are evenly crumbled, about 20 minutes.

3. Scrape the onions into the Dutch oven with the meat. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, cocoa, cinnamon and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato juice and beef stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.

4. Taste, correct the seasoning if needed and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the chili is thickened to your liking. Stir in the garlic. To thicken the chili further, or to bind the surface fats, stir in the optional cornmeal, followed by the beans, and simmer 5 minutes to heat beans.


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