Cincinnati-Style Chili

The Evolution of a Recipe

Over the recent holidays I took the opportunity to trot out an old family favorite recipe.  My “Cincinnati-Style Chili” is great when the kids are home or when friends are over, as it makes a large batch that will feed a crowd. And it offers the opportunity to work with spices you might not think of using in chili. My kitchen demo explaining the steps can be heard below, in this BONUS TRACK of the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast.  

At some point in my younger days, my family became acquainted with a fast food eatery called Skyline Chili.  It was started in Cincinnati by a Greek immigrant who opened his dining establishment within site of the downtown Cincy skyline.  He served authentic Greek dishes, and his chili was a big hit with customers. Today dozens of Skyline Chili restaurants dot the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and beyond.  With a unique seasoning blend, added toppings of beans, onions, shredded cheese (chili three-way), all nestled in a bed of spaghetti, what’s not to love?  (Hoosiers know Steak N Shake has its own version of this dish as well.)

Not long after getting our first taste of Skyline Chili, my mom happened upon a recipe for “Cincinnati Chili.”  She made it and we judged it as good as Skyline’s.  It became one of our family’s favorite wintertime meals.  

Many years later, newly married and contemplating the eternal question “What’s for dinner?” I remembered the Cincinnati Chili recipe and thought how good that sounded, and I knew my husband would love it.  I called my mom and asked her to read the recipe to me over the phone.  What I transcribed is shown below.  “June 15—Stacy” referred to  the upcoming wedding date of my cousin, which my mom had recently learned and informed me of on the same phone call. Our recipe files sometimes contain vital information that has nothing to do with food.

Now this recipe transcription may leave you scratching your head. I failed to record the second ingredient correctly, and it took several attempts to determine that it is indeed tomato sauce, and not paste. Too bad I didn’t use a pencil. And I didn’t even write the title of the recipe at the top until several years later. The sheet was always folded and filed under “C,” and when I came to the recipe headed with “June 15–Stacy,” I knew I’d found Cincinnati Chili. 

Rather than forcing you to decipher my quirky recipe notations, I’ll share what I hope are clearer instructions below. They have evolved over the years. Give it a try this winter for a hearty, family-pleasing dinner. And hear the demo HERE.

Subscribe to the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast wherever you get your podcasts–iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, etc. Links are to your right and at the top of this page.

Cincinnati Style Chili

Makes 8-10 servings

  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 T canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1tsp dried chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp dried ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 T vinegar, any kind
  • 1 T Worchestershire sauce
  • 3 cups water, divided
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp dried chili pepper, if more heat is desired

For serving, you will need:

  • Cooked spaghetti
  • 1 or 2 14-oz cans red beans or chili beans, rinsed and drained
  • Shredded cheese (Colby, Colby-jack, pepper jack, cheddar, any of those)
  • Diced sweet (raw) onion, optional

Measure all dry spices and set aside.

In a large pot or dutch oven, brown ground beef, then remove from pot, drain, and set aside. Into pot (med to med-low heat), drizzle oil, then add chopped onions. Sauté for about a minute, then put in all the pre-measured dried spices. Stir them into the onions and cook another minute. You should begin to smell the fragrance of the spices.  Return the ground beef to the pot, then add garlic, salt, vinegar, Worchestershire sauce and one cup water. Turn up heat to med or med-high, and allow mixture to come up to a boil. Stir and scrape up any bits that are stuck on the bottom of the pot. Add the tomato sauce, chocolate, bay leaf and 2 more cups of water. (Go ahead and add the dried chili powder if desired, or add later if you feel chili needs more heat. Or serve it at the table and let everyone decide for themselves!) Also, you can add the beans right to the pot at this point, or reserve and heat them up later to serve with the chili.

The chili at this point is very watery. That’s ok, it will cook down. Allow pot to come back up to boil, then turn down heat to low and let it simmer 2-3 hours, with the lid on, but slightly vented. Stir occasionally making sure chili is not sticking or burning on the bottom. If it cooks down and seems too thick, add more water. 

Serve over cooked spaghetti, topped with beans (if serving separately), cheese, and onions if desired.

Version 2
Measure spices and seasonings ahead of time.
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Chili has cooked down and thickened nicely.
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What else can I say about this artifact…

 

 

BONUS Track–Fluffy Yeast Rolls for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are well prepared for the holiday feast, whether you are  hosting the meal, bringing a dish to someone else’s home, traveling many miles to celebrate with family, or keeping it low key with a small group. I’m putting up a BONUS TRACK of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast with a cooking demo featuring my mom, Barbara Mercer. She and I teamed up last Thanksgiving and stirred together our family’s traditional Fluffy Yeast Rolls. Have a listen to find out just how easily the dough comes together–no kneading required! And the recipe is below. Happy baking, and here’s wishing you and yours abundant Thanksgiving blessings.

Stay in touch here on the website, or on Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to subscribe to the Indiana Home Cooks podcast at iTunes or Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.

See more pictures and information on the Fluffy Yeast Roll recipe here.

Fluffy Yeast Rolls
From the kitchen of Barbara Mercer, from Margaret Balder
Makes 18 rolls

Dissolve 1 pkg. active dry yeast in 3 T. lukewarm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. While that is dissolving, whisk together the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

1/2 C. (one stick) unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
1 C. lukewarm water
1/4 C. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature

Add yeast mixture and whisk again. To this mixture, add 3 C. all-purpose flour. Mix with electric mixer until fairly smooth. Stir in 1 C. flour by hand. (Total of 4 cups of flour) Dough will be sticky. DO NOT KNEAD. Leave dough in bowl, cover with a plate or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Three hours before baking:
Remove dough from refrigerator. It should’ve doubled overnight. Grease muffin pans for 18 rolls. Melt 1/4 C. butter.

Punch down dough and pull off pieces of dough roughly the size of large walnuts and shape into balls (2 dough balls for each roll). Dip each ball into melted butter before placing in pan. Cover rolls with tea towels and let rise until double. Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.* After baking, while still hot and in the pans, brush tops with more melted butter. Serve warm.

*If using dark baking pans, reduce oven temp to 425 degrees.

 

Italian Sausage & Lentil Soup

After a full day working on the podcast recently, I looked up and saw it was 5:00, and I hadn’t done the first thing to get dinner on. All day I had in the back of my mind I would grill salmon, so I knew I should get a couple of filets out of the freezer to thaw. But I never even got that far. And in the meantime, the weather turned breezy and rainy, so grilling was not an attractive option.

My husband and I were hosting a gathering of about dozen people the following night and my plan was to bake homemade pizzas for that group. I had a pound of Italian sausage in the refrigerator, a portion of which I would use for pizza. So why not kill two birds with one stone and cook the entire pound, reserve some for pizza night, and use the rest in…something….for dinner this night. But what would that something be?

Since the weather outside had turned from grill-friendly to chilly-damp, I thought soup would be just the thing. The first soup of the fall! With Italian sausage as the base, I began thinking of what else I needed to make soup. Onions, celery, and carrots, of course. I had plenty of onions on hand, and just enough of the other two. There was half a carton of beef broth in the fridge that I needed to either use or freeze, so I grabbed that. Canned diced tomatoes–check. And something to bulk up the soup and make it more substantial and filling. I remembered the half pound of dry lentils in the cupboard and thought that would do the trick and not take too long to cook.

You can hear the rest on the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast BONUS track, and see the recipe, and step-by-step pictures, below.

The idea is, this is soup, and soup can be a template for whatever meat, vegetables, beans/pasta/noodles, broth, and seasonings you like. If you don’t have Italian sausage on hand, but there’s a pound of ground beef in your freezer, use that, and bump up the seasonings. The great thing about Italian sausage it is highly seasoned and makes for a nice shortcut in soup. Ground beef or chicken as a base will require more imagination on seasonings, but go with what you like. Experiment and taste as you go. You can always add more herbs and seasonings but you can’t take them out!

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Italian Sausage & Lentil Soup 

Makes 6 servings

 

  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot)*
  • 2 cups diced vegetables (equal parts onion, celery, and carrots)
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound dry lentils OR 2 cans of beans—kidney, cannellini, red, or black (If using canned beans, rinse and drain before adding to soup)
  • Broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

If sausage is in links, slice through the casings and remove sausage to crumble and brown (medium to med-low heat) in a large soup pot. Once browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave fat rendered from sausage in the pot and return to med-low heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, stir and let them begin cooking. After about a minute, put the lid on the pot and allow vegetables to sweat about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, scraping up any bits of meat from the bottom of the pan. The sweating process will help loosen the stuck-on bits. You can also add a bit of the broth at this point if you need more liquid to do the job. 

After vegetables have cooked about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes, lentils or canned beans, and the cooked sausage. Pour in enough broth to cover all ingredients by an inch or so. If you need to add water to bring up the level of liquid, that’s fine. Add the sage, stir gently, cover and cook on med-low until soup comes up to a simmer. Then reduce heat to low, TASTE, and add salt and pepper as desired. Allow to simmer about an hour. The lentils should cook through and even begin to break down a bit. Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread or corn bread. 

*NOTE: Most Italian sausage comes in links. If you want larger chunks of sausage in the soup, cook the links, intact, and then slice them before returning to pot. And if you prefer a meatier soup, then by all means, use up to 1 pound of sausage. 

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A potato masher helps crumble the sausage.
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Lots of flavor stuck in the pot after browning the meat.
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Equal portions of celery, carrots, onions.
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After sweating the veggies, the stuck on bits have loosened.
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A little broth and light scraping gets all that meat flavor into the soup.
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Everything else in the pot. Cover with broth and cook!

 

A Look Back–Part One

The Indiana Home Cooks Podcast keeps moving forward with plans for more shows to listen to and posts to read here on the IHC blog. Sharing the stories of people who cook, eat, and drink in the Hoosier State is my mission, and coming soon are shows featuring Indiana food artisans. First, a sound montage from the recent Artisans Marketplace in Indianapolis, and later, a more in-depth conversation with an artisan candy maker in Lafayette. Watch for those episodes coming soon to Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. Simply click the links on the right side of this page, or go to those apps on your phone and search for “Indiana Home Cooks.”

So far nineteen podcast episodes have been produced. I’m highlighting a few of my favorites in this and subsequent posts to give readers and listeners an idea of what the show is all about.  It’s about friends spending time together and sharing a few laughs, memories and recipes…

I hope you give these shows a listen if you haven’t already heard them. Please share them with your friends or family, and give them a rating if you have a moment. That will help others find the show too.

I am deeply grateful for the support of family and friends who have encouraged me to pursue this venture, and have been willing accomplices by letting me interview them on tape! It’s been a blast and I’m looking forward to finding and sharing more stories of cooking, eating, and drinking in the Hoosier State. I hope you will join me.

*******

The week after Easter, I interviewed Susie Butler, owner of Butler Winery in Bloomington. More on that here.  I couldn’t leave without a bottle, or two, of her wine. I also met Richelle Peterson, owner and operator of Richelle In A Handbasket candy and gift shop in Lafayette, when I walked into her shop and she handed me a piece of chocolate. That’s her English Toffee in the picture below. I’ll interview her soon for the podcast. Another day that week I met a fellow podcaster in Lafayette, Craig Martin, host of Art Tap. Craig is an artist and his podcast explores the vast arts scene in the Lafayette area. Check it out on his blog or on Apple Podcasts and iTunes.

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Chex Mix–My way

Is there an American anywhere not familiar with Chex “Party Mix?” It is arguably the highest and best use of Chex cereal. And for me, Chex Mix is the ultimate comfort snack. I grew up eating the stuff. My mom made it not only for parties and family get-togethers, but sometimes just for fun because we loved it. I learned early on that she did not follow the recipe exactly, and adjusted the ingredients to her liking–extra Worcestershire sauce, trading out some of the seasoned salt for celery salt, no Wheat Chex, etc.

When I started making it for my family, I had already altered the traditional recipe considerably, and it’s continued to evolve over the years.  Can you really improve on a classic? I’ll bet most of us who make Chex Mix change it up to suit our own preferences, and for me, that starts with the Wheat Chex. I would rather eat Wheat Chex straight out of the box than in my party mix. Some might argue Wheat Chex taste like the box, but I wouldn’t go that far. They just don’t belong in my mix. Leave them out and increase the Corn and Rice Chex, to 9 cups total.

Mixed nuts? Does anyone really eat all the nuts in that weird assortment? I never have, and therefore they do not make the cut for my party mix. Nix the mixed nuts, and go for PEANUTS ONLY. And not a cup, like the original recipe. Just put in half the can. That might be about a cup anyway, and it’s about the right amount of peanuts only!

Then we come to pretzels. Everybody loves pretzels. A sorry one cup of pretzels I will not abide. Half a bag does the trick for me. And that’s it for the components of Chex Party Mix. No bagel chips, Cheez-It crackers, Cheerios or other add-ins. Just Rice & Corn Chex, peanuts, and pretzels.

The seasonings of course need tweaking. The original recipe in my file calls for six tablespoons of butter. Six tablespoons. It’s much easier and more streamlined to use one stick of butter. That’s eight tablespoons. Big deal.

The original two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce are doubled in my version. And it’s a sloppy four tablespoons at that. Probably closer to five. The remaining seasonings, you can see for yourself here:

These seasonings reflect my personal taste preferences and go above and beyond the original (ho hum) seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder. If you would like hold fast to the original, it’s printed on every box of Chex cereal on the grocery store shelf. It’s also here.
So if you’ve never made Chex Party Mix, here’s how it goes:
In a large baking pan (I use a roasting pan), melt the butter and stir in the w’shire sauce and all remaining seasonings. Stir the Chex cereal, peanuts, and pretzels into the seasoning mixture to coat everything. Put in a 250 degree oven, for one hour. Every 15 minutes, give the mix a stir. Otherwise it will brown on the bottom. You don’t want a lot of browning, but rather a nice even toasting of everything. When done, let it cool and enjoy. If you can wait that long.
No matter how you make your Chex Party Mix, I’m sure we can all agree that once you starting eating it, it’s hard to stop.