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Local weatherman Chip Chapman says the forecast calls for cold weather — and hot chili, a dish that comes alive when the temperature plunges and we all begin looking for something that will warm us up from head to toe.

Do you like your chili served over rice or, perhaps like they do up north in Cincinnati, poured over a bowl of pasta? Maybe you like yours with chili beans or prefer it the way they do in Texas: with no beans at all.

Chili is one of those versatile foods that can be adjusted for heat and other preferences. It can be created with ground beef, ground pork or chopped steak; even shredded brisket, chicken and, hold everything, seafood.

"Chili is a great imagination food. Let your imagination run wild when it comes to both cooking and consuming," Chapman says. "Chili is great for a standalone meal or served as a side dish. It's the perfect companion to a grilled cheese sandwich, on top of a hot dog, or even on pasta. Yes, pasta! Don't knock it until you've tried it. It's fantastic with the right type of cornbread."

Chapman co-chaired the Chattanooga Chili Bowl for several years. A fundraiser for Toys for Tots, the competition was heated as folks from near and far met to see who would take home the coveted crown of Chili Bowl champ. Not all were traditional chilis. Chapman says one of the most unusual passed around the judges' table was made with white beans and ground turkey formed into tiny meatballs — interesting, but not a winning combination. Another chili cook made his with venison and boar meat, which, Chapman recalls, made for a delicious combination.

"I was most definitely impressed with the different ways people made chili," he says. "Next to barbecue and barbecue sauces, I think chili is the most proprietary food there is. I mean, everyone has a chili recipe, often handed down from generation to generation. I know people who freely give out their recipe, and I know some who guard their recipe tighter than Coca-Cola guards theirs.

"Plus, most folks I know will only cook their chili in one specific pot, and on one specific eye on the stove. In the world of competitive cooking, you'll find a lot of superstition. And it gets even crazier. I know some cooks will only start their recipe on certain days of the week and will only wear a certain outfit while cooking."

Whether it's a simple beef-with-beans recipe or a complex vegetarian chili, when done right, the end result is always hearty, flavorful and comforting. Just what we want this time of year.

If you're ready to take your chili game to the next level, try these recipes — then make them your own.

"I think when you have strict cooking rules, you're somewhat limiting the creativity of the cooks," Chapman says. "And don't skimp on your ingredients," he advises. "Use good, high-quality ingredients. Don't get the cheapest beef or spices. It's like so many other dishes: The more you put into it, the better the end result.

"And by all means, if you've found a recipe that works for you, stick with it, but don't be afraid to experiment or try to improve it."

 

Chili with Beans

Chapman says to use your imagination when making this — his favorite — chili recipe, adding optional ingredients like bacon, garlic, jalapeno peppers and/or beer.

What you need:

1 pound or more good quality ground beef, browned and drained

2 quarts of your choice beans (such as kidney or black beans)

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 finely chopped onion

1/2 cup chili powder, or more, to taste

Crushed red pepper, to taste

Water or other liquid to desired reach consistency

Red pepper flakes, to taste

What you do:

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and let simmer on the stove or on a smoker grill. Low and slow is the key. It's best if you let the finished product cool completely, then slowly reheat and serve the following day.

 

Beef and Pork No-Bean Chili

Local architect Anne Butler won first place in Artech's annual chili contest with this recipe.

What you need:

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 large onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1-2 tablespoons flour

2 (28-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup chili powder (more or less, to taste)

Salt, to taste

Cumin, to taste (optional)

1-2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

What you do:

1. Brown meats together in large chili pot with onion and green pepper. Drain grease and stir in flour, then add remaining ingredients, starting with 1 can tomato sauce. If it seems too thick, thin it out with more tomato sauce.

2. Simmer for at least 1 hour. Serve with toppings, such as sour cream and shredded cheese, if desired.

 

Chicken White Chili

Chattanoogan Sandy Zitkus makes this chili when the weather turns cold. Seldom are there any leftovers.

What you need:

4 boneless chicken breasts (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cans whole green chilies, chopped (see tip at end of recipe)

3-4 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (see note at end of recipe)

2 teaspoons cumin (add more if you like the taste of cumin in your chili)

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 to 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 to 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

Additional chicken broth, if needed

What you do:

1. In large pot, add chicken breasts and completely cover with water (4-6 cups). Simmer with basil, salt, onion and garlic powder, thyme and parsley until completely cooked.

2. Remove chicken from broth and let cool. Reserve seasoned broth for the chili. Once chicken is cooled, chop and set aside.

3. In a large stockpot, add butter and olive oil, and sauté onion, celery and bell pepper until vegetables are translucent. Add chopped chilies and 2 cans cannellini beans. When mixture is warm, mash beans with a potato masher.

4. Add 2-3 cups of reserved broth, plus chopped chicken, cumin and 1-2 more cans cannellini beans. Let simmer 30 minutes to an hour. If mixture becomes too thick, add more broth.

5. Add sour cream, heavy cream and fresh cilantro, and stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings, such as salt and cumin. Just before serving, stir in grated Monterey Jack cheese and ladle into serving bowls.

Tip: You will get a better quality if you buy whole chilies rather than chopped chilies.

Note: Progresso brand provides a better-quality bean that holds up well as the chili simmers, and you should only need three cans. If you use another brand and find that the beans are disintegrating as the chili simmers, add a fourth can.

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