Chili con Carne and Buttermilk Cornbread

Chili con carne with tortilla chips, cheese, and sour cream.

Fall and winter suppers beg for chili.  Hearty, warming, and versatile, chili is a one pot wonder perfect for brisk nights that begin to get dark as early as 4:30pm, casual get togethers with friends and family to watch a game in front of a roaring fire, or coming in from the cold after time spent raking leaves or shoveling snow.  Of all evenings, Halloween is the ideal night for chili, shoring up your stamina (as well as that of any goblins or ghouls spooking you) for a night of trick or treating. Whether you are out in the neighborhood or manning the candy bowl at home, a warm bowl of chili before or after a night of haunts will keep you going and be an excellent antidote to all the sugar consumed.

Depending on your preferences chili can suit a wide variety of eaters… vegetarians or vegans at your table? Skip the meat and add more vegetables or beans. Offer an interesting assortment of toppings and sides like cheeses, cornbread, tortilla chips, avocado, and sour cream (I use greek yogurt) and let your family and friends build a complete meal around your chili base.  And, like most stews and soups, making chili ahead of time allows it to become even more delicious.  Chili only gets tastier as it “ages.”

Chili powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, chipotle, and dijon mustardThis recipe is my own. Most of the ingredients are typical, but there are a few surprises. Dijon mustard adds a wonderful brightness and tang; the chipotle peppers in adobe sauce add a subtle smokiness, while the cinnamon delivers a hint of sweet warmth. It is also very easy to play with this recipe. Please experiment to suit your taste. Love bell peppers? Add more. Need more spice? Add a chopped jalapeño. Can’t stand onions? Eliminate or reduce the amount. Don’t like beans in your chili (I’m talking to you, dear husband!), then don’t add them. Play with your food and have fun!

The buttermilk cornbread is adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook. Kathleen King owned Kathleen’s Bake Shop in Southhampton, NY in the 80s and 90s. One summer, I was fortunate enough to visit the bakery and in addition to the cookies I bought (which were quickly consumed), I also purchased a copy of her cookbook, a lasting souvenir. It was a wise purchase. My copy of the small spiral bound book is splattered, tattered, and torn- all signs of an excellent cookbook. The book practically opens itself to certain recipes, like the Devil’s Food Cake I use for birthdays, in addition to the recipe that inspired this cornbread.

CornbreadIn Kathleen’s intro to the original recipe, which was for corn muffins, she explains how the recipe has changed since she first received it. Her baker altered the formula by adding half-and-half instead of milk; I’ve tweaked it again by using buttermilk, instead of half-and-half or milk. In any case, the choice is yours… buttermilk, half-and-half, and regular milk all work just fine. The buttermilk lends a wonderful tanginess that seems a natural counterpart to the sweetness of the bread; the half-and-half produces a really rich cornbread, while using regular milk leaves you with a lovely straightforward cornbread. Another occasional adjustment I make is to add frozen corn kernels to the batter, maybe a handful or two. The kernels contribute a wonderful texture to the cornbread and add pops of sweetness too.

What are your favorite sides and toppings for chili?  Do you have a go to dinner for Halloween night?

Chili con carne with tortilla chips, cheese, and sour cream.

Chili con Carne

  • Servings: 6-8
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1lb ground beef or turkey
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 bell peppers, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 chipotle chili in adobe sauce, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 28oz can of whole tomatoes, with juice
1 16 oz can kidney beans or black beans, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until beginning to turn golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Add finely chopped garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add ground meat, and cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until cooked through.

Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in chili powder, chipotle chili, mustard, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds or so.

Add beans and tomatoes with juice, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Stir well, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with accompaniments such as rice, tortilla chips, cornbread, shredded cheddar or Monterey jack, sour cream and chopped avocado.

*This is the perfect dish to make ahead. Like most soups and stew, the longer it sits the better it gets. Just reheat when needed.



  • Servings: 16 squares
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*adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal or corn flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and mix until crumbly. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two knives, a fork, or even your fingers.

In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk and egg. Fold liquid ingredients into flour mixture, folding just until combined. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Whisking flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
Whisk dry ingredients together.
Pastry blender cuts butter into flour.
Cut softened butter into flour mixture.
Rubber spatula folds buttermilk and egg mixture into dry ingredients.
Fold buttermilk and egg mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.
Cornbread batter in greased baking dish
Pour batter into prepared baking dish and bake at 400°F for 25 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Cornbread just out of the oven.

Focaccia BLT

Focaccia BLT

Tomatoes on the vineWith Labor Day behind us and the kids back in school, summer has come to an end. Well, not officially. We still have a couple of more weeks before fall takes over the calendar and thankfully, Mother Nature is not hastening the transition. The temperatures are still steamy and, more importantly, the tomatoes are still coming in. Loads of them!

There is no comparison to fresh local Tomatoes on the vine in the gardensummer tomatoes and what is available the rest of the year. In winter, I’ve been fooled too many times by perfectly round, ruby red, “vine ripened” tomatoes for sale at the grocery store. They are tempting and they look gorgeous, a sight for sore eyes especially in the dead of winter, but inevitably I get them home, onto the cutting board, and slice into a mealy mess. Nothing but disappointment. It just means that as soon as the real tomatoes start coming in during the summer, I enjoy them any and every way I can: raw, baked, roasted, simmered, and grilled, in all sorts of salads, soups, sauces, pies, or straight off the vine, warm from the sun, with a sprinkle of salt. And don’t forget sandwiches.

An easy dinner this time of year is the classic BLT. Perfect for those nights when after school activities and homework seem to be all consuming- dinner needs to be quick, filling, maybe even portable. This BLT comes with a few twists and is always a hit, focaccia instead of sandwich bread, avocado replaces the mayo, and the bacon gets baked in the oven (hassle free bacon- no splatters!).

Deconstructed BLT with avocado
The makings of a beautiful BLT…

Bacon cooked in the oven is the way to go… whether for BLTs or Sunday morning breakfast.  This method is hands free which means no standing at the stove patiently turning the bacon over and over while hot grease splatters and blisters your hands (and stovetop).

Raw bacon slices on a foiled lined sheet pan.

Simply line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a metal cooling rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the bacon on the metal rack in one layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes, but start checking after 10 minutes. Some people like their bacon fatty, while others want a nice crunch.

Cooked bacon on foiled lined sheet pan.
The bacon is done and clean up is a breeze.

This focaccia is well worth the time… if not for a BLT, then to be enjoyed another way.  The recipe yields quite a bit, perfect for making once and freezing half to be pulled out in a pinch for appetizers, sandwiches, soups, or just enjoyed on its own.  For lunch I toasted leftover focaccia, spread the halves with pesto, and topped with sliced tomato. Heaven.



  • Servings: 16
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*recipe adapted from Marcella Hazen

For the dough
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
6 ½ cups unbleached flour
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon

For baking the focaccia
Heavy duty rectangular metal baking pan, about 18”x14”
Extra virgin olive oil for smearing the pan
A baking stone (optional)
A mixture of ¼ cup extra virgin olive, 2 Tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon salt
A pastry brush

Dissolve the yeast by stirring it into ½ cup lukewarm water, and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Combine the yeast mixture and 1 cup of flour in a bowl, mixing them thoroughly. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, ¾ cup water and half the remaining flour. Mix thoroughly until the dough feels soft, but compact, and no longer sticks to the hands. Put in the remaining flour and ¾ cup water, and mix thoroughly again. When putting in flour and water for the last time, hold back some of both and add only as much of either as you need to make the dough manageable, soft, but not too sticky.

Take dough out of the bowl, and slap it down very hard against the work counter several times, until it is stretched out to a lengthwise. Reach for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance toward you, push it away with the heel of your palm, flexing your wrist, fold it, and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. Rotate the dough a one-quarter turn, pick it up and slap it down hard, repeating the entire previous operation. Give it another one-quarter in the same direction and repeat the procedure for about 10 minutes. Pat the kneaded dough into a round shape.

First rise- Smear the middle of the baking sheet with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, put the kneaded, rounded dough on it, cover with a damp cloth, and leave it to rise for about 1 ½ hours.

Second rise- After 1 ½ hours, stretch out the dough in the baking pan, spreading it toward the edges so that it covers the entire pan. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°. If using a baking stone, put the stone in the oven and preheat for at least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake.

After the second rise, keeping the fingers of your hand stiff, poke the dough all over, making many little hollows with your fingertips. Beat the mixture of oil, water and salt with a small whisk or a fork for a few minutes until you have obtained a fairly homogeneous emulsion. Use a pastry brush to spread the mixture all the way out to the edges of the pan. The liquid will pool in the hollows made by your fingertips.

Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Check the focaccia after 15 minutes. If it is cooking faster on one side, rotate the pan accordingly. Bake for another 7-8 minutes until golden brown all over. Lift the focaccia out of the pan using spatulas and set on a wire rack to cool.

The focaccia is best enjoyed the day you make it, but can also be frozen and reheated in a hot over for 10 minutes.

Focaccia dough stretched out to fill a sheet pan.
After the first rise, stretch the dough out to the sides, completely filling the pan.
Focaccia dough after the second rise.
After the second rise…
Dimpled focaccia dough
Dimple the dough using your fingertips.
Brushing the dough with olive oil
Using a pastry brush, gently brush the dough with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, water, and salt. The oil will puddle in the dimples.
Focaccia squares on a cutting board.
Cut the focaccia into sandwich sized servings, then slice again horizontally through the middle to form top and bottom crusts.