Like many of us, when the weather turns cold, Jane Guthrie thinks chili.
When her church, Rivermont Presbyterian, announced a chili contest, she entered a chili recipe with a twist: Country Ham Chili With Cheddar Cheese Grits.
The chili was born of excess. She and her husband, John, were gifted with too much country ham for the couple to consume, so she got creative. "I thought I'd do something different, she said. "I'm not shy about doing that sort of thing."
But chili and grits? Chili is often served with rice, and Cincinnati chili with pasta is nothing new. But I, for one, have never heard of it being served over grits.
The combination of country ham chili with grits just seemed natural, Guthrie said. Everyone knows that country ham and grits go together, she added.
"It turned out very well," Guthrie said. "It was very tasty and definitely different."
The samples she served up for the chili competition had tasters agreeing. Guthrie and her chili partner, Mary Parker, won the Most Original Chili category.
Here's Guthrie's take on chili. See what you think. And be sure to read the recipe thoroughly before you get started -- it's a two-day affair.
Country Ham Chili With Cheddar Cheese Grits
This fills a very large pot.
1 (3-pound) bag yellow onions, cut into small dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (no substitute)
1 whole package celery (with greens) chopped into small dice (may keep celery bottom to flavor chili before removing)
1 package country ham slices (preferably Clifty Farm), cut into small dice (reserve one slice to flavor beans)
2 large cans diced Progresso tomatoes with herbs (not the one that has puree added)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons cumin seed (crush seeds in your hand before adding)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (2-pound) bag mixed white and pinto beans
3 cups White Lily quick grits
1 stick butter (no substitute)
4 cups boiling water
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sauté diced onions in olive oil and butter. Keep turning and sweating onions until they are almost transparent. Add chopped celery with greens. Remove fat from ham slices and dice all but one. Reserve one slice to cook with beans, and add remaining ham and center bones to onion/celery mixture. Stir it all up and cook on low until ham is chewy but not dry to the bite. Add diced tomatoes, sugar, pepper, cumin seed, chili powder and garlic powder. Adjust the herbs to your taste preference. It's a good idea to taste it again after it is cold.
Add enough water to keep everything moist but not very liquid. Then, if desired, add the celery bottom as it cooks for flavor. Refrigerate overnight or up to three nights.
Wash the beans thoroughly and cover with water. Add very little salt. Cut the fat off the ham slice and add to the beans and cook, adding water until the beans plump up. Transfer to a slow cooker and cook on high until beans begin to boil; turn on low and cook all afternoon or until tender. When beans are ready, remove the celery bottom.
Refrigerate overnight or up to three nights, adding water as needed after they are refrigerated.
To finish, combine the beans and ham and reheat in slow cooker. Serve over grits.
Grits: In microwaveable bowl, combine grits, dash of salt and stick of butter. Add boiling water and stir, then cover and microwave for 10 minutes. Stir and return to microwave to cook until most all liquid is absorbed. Add the half-and-half and stir to a mushy consistency. Check for taste. May cook as directed on stovetop if desired.
To serve: Place a ladle of grits in a cup or bowl, sprinkle with cheese and top with a ladle of country ham chili.
E-mail Anne Braly at email@example.com.