Here is something I am reminded of by the small cooks in my house: we all need more comfort food. Kids do not make obligatory salads. They follow their pleasure in the kitchen.
Now that my two kids have been in charge of dinner once a week for a few months, their particular pleasures are beginning to take shape. I’m noticing the nuances: their incredible hunger for all things bread and butter, their love of simplicity, their passion for beans.
We started buying beans in bulk at the beginning of the pandemic, and for the grown-ups, this was not a joy thing. It was fear-based, laced with panic and scarcity and a host of other ingredients that do not make for good eating. But as time wears on and we see that, for the most part, supply chains are working, the reason for the bean-buying has been shifting. There’s something about a six-pound can of beans that cuts right to the heart of pleasure. The abundance! The possibility!
The girls seem to find new ways to empty these cans every week. They devour black beans in cheesy lunch quesadillas. They cook refried beans into breakfast burritos and fold chickpeas into minestrone soups. Recently we got a big old can of kidney beans. They made Portuguese kale soup. And then they discovered chili.
The recipe I introduced them to is an old favorite, one my mom got from her friend Mrs. Doughty. There’s just enough chopping to make things interesting, but not so much that our small cooks tire. Everything goes into a big pot, so there aren’t many dishes to speak of. And, of course, there’s a clear opportunity for hot cornbread, and the sheer comfort of melting butter.
Mrs. Doughty’s Chili
Serves 4, plus leftovers
There’s nothing fancy or exceptional about this chili, but that’s part of what makes it so good. It’s a great recipe for kids just learning to cook — or adults, for that matter.
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1½ cups yellow onions, chopped
¼ cup green or red pepper, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
½ cup red wine
1 cup beef stock
2 cups crushed tomatoes
4 cups kidney beans, cooked
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. chili powder
4 Tbsp. cold water
Optional: sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt for serving
Warm up the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for five minutes, stirring constantly; then turn the heat down to medium and add the peppers and the garlic. Continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant and the peppers and onions are tender, about another five minutes.
Add the ground beef and break it up as it browns. When the meat is browned, pour the red wine evenly around the edges of the pan, let it steam up a moment, and stir to get anything that might be sticking to the bottom of the pot (the fancy word for this process is “deglazing.”)
Stir together the chili powder with the water. Then, add it to the pan, along with all of the other remaining ingredients. Turn the heat back up to medium high, cover the pot, and bring the chili to a boil. Give it a good stir, cover it back up, turn the heat down to low, and leave it to cook, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour.
Taste the chili, adjust the salt and chili powder as needed, remove the cover, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Serve hot, with cornbread on the side and, if you want, a dollop of sour cream or yogurt on top.
Skillet Corn Bread
One 9-inch skillet batch
I am a big fan of corn bread, and I’ve tried all kinds of recipes. What I like about this one is that it uses all cornmeal — there’s no fussing with flours or deciding whole-wheat versus all-purpose. The all-cornmeal approach has the added bonus of coloring the bread a beautiful yellow. It’s adapted from The Newlywed Cookbook by Sarah Copeland.
6 Tbsp. butter
2 cups fine yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup whole milk
Butter for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. As soon as you turn the oven on, get out a 9-inch skillet and put the 6 tablespoons of butter in it. Stick the pan into the warming oven and let the butter melt.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. Make a well (a.k.a. a ditch, or hole) in the center. Crack the eggs into the well, then add the maple syrup, yogurt, and milk. Starting in the middle, and using a fork, slowly stir everything together.
Pull the melted butter from the oven and stir it into the batter. Pour the batter back into the hot skillet and bake until the cornbread is almost, but not quite, firm in the center (about 20-25 minutes). You want it a bit custardy, as it will continue to cook as it cools.
Serve hot, with plenty more butter.