The $800 Chili (and the Cheesy Jalapeno Corn Bread ain’t bad either)

by Sarah on October 23, 2009

When Zane was in 6th grade (12 years old!  7 years ago!) he had an opportunity to go on a trip to New Zealand and Australia.  The down side was that the trip cost $2500.  At the time, I was a single mother with 2 youngsters, working full time, making about $17 per hour, and paying $1200 a month in rent.  He really, really, REALLY wanted to go.  He was such an awesome kid, and always got perfect grades, there had to be some way to make this happen.  We did fund raisers galore, begged family members, babysat, whatever it took to raise that dollar dollar bill, y’all.

The most successful fund raiser was a chili and beer party we had at our house, with the assistance of my awesome friend Lori (holla!).  $20 per person for all the food and beer you could consume.  It helped a lot that a friend worked at a brewery and brought us tons of free beer and root beer (Thanks again, Norm!).  I went to town and made 10 tons of chili and 25 pans of cornbread.  I don’t even know how many people came.  We gave out fliers to friends, family, acquaintances, and random people in midtown Sacramento.  Thankfully I had an enormous back yard, so people ended up spilling outside.  Zane calmly went around and asked people for their donations, toting his decorated coffee can.  One kind soul (we still don’t know who it was) gave him $100 and said “keep the change, kid”.  Every once in a a while, he and his friend would hole up in the bedroom and excitedly count the money.  At the end of the night, I heard from a very excited boy that he had something like $830 in his coffee can.  More money than he had ever seen, I’m sure.  And it got him a third of the way toward his goal.

Needless to say, the version of chili I made that night has become a family favorite.  No, it’s not very gourmet, not very authentic, not terribly complicated.  But we like it.  It tastes good and it certainly brings back a lot of fond memories, especially for this guy:

Here’s most of the stuff you need.  I forgot a couple of odds ‘n ends.
Chop the onion, slice the carrot into thin coins and mince the garlic.  Do you ever smash your garlic?  I like to put the knife right on top of it–unpeeled–and smash it with the side of my fist.  It loosens the peel, makes it easier to chop, and it works out some pent up aggression.
Heat up about 3 Tbsp oil and saute the onion for a few minutes, just until they’re softened.  Add the garlic and carrots, and saute for a minute.
Add the ground chuck and stir it around, breaking up the big clumps.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the meat is mostly cooked through.
Here’s where there should be a lovely photo of all the spices in little piles, all on this plate like a spice flower.  Somewhere between taking it and downloading it, the photo disappeared.  Oh well.  Here’s the photo of me dumping the spices into the pot.
I had some flat iron steak that the Mr. grilled a couple of days ago that didn’t get used so I chopped it up and tossed it in.
Pour in 3 small cans of tomato sauce.
Next comes about half a carton of beef broth–1 1/2 to 2 cups.

Now it’s time for apple cider vinegar.  Yes, we’re putting vinegar in it.  Don’t be shocked, it will taste good.

About 3 Tbsp should do it.
Now toss in about 1/2 can of tomato paste.

And a small handful of brown sugar.
Stir it all through.
Cook on low heat, covered but just cracked a little, for about an hour.
Add in the kidney beans and green peppers.
Season with salt and pepper.
Viola!  This is even better if it sits around a while.  Put the lid on it and reheat at dinner time.
Chili undoubtedly needs a mate.  Cornbread.
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.
In another bowl, combine the melted butter, milk and 3 slightly beaten eggs.  Pour it into the dry mixture and stir it through.  Don’t overmix or the cornbread will get tough.
The batter is kind of lumpy, but that’s how it’s supposed to look.
Don’t worry about it.
Grate your cheese.  I usually use an extra-sharp cheddar, but I didn’t have very much.  I ended up with a scant cup of grated sharp cheddar and a full cup of grated farmer’s cheese.  If you go with a softer cheese like farmer’s cheese, you might want to freeze it for about 10 minutes because it doesn’t grate very well.  I learned this the hard way.
Add most of the cheese (reserving about 1/2 cup), the chopped green onion (reserving 1/4 cup of the green tops) and the chopped jalapeno.
Fold it all through.  I added a tiny bit more milk here because the batter was really thick.
Now comes the naughty part.  A spoonful of bacon fat and a Tbsp of soft butter.
Spread it around the pan with a paper towel.
Pour in the batter and push it into the sides and smooth the top.
Sprinkle with the reserved cheese and green onion tops.

Bake at 350* for about 35-45 minutes.  Admire its browned top and cheesy and oniony glory.

Put them together and it’s a match made in heaven!
The dinnerware is Dansk “Brown Mist”, courtesy of my Auntie Anne.  I love it.
Yep.  $800.



The $800 Chili


  • 3 medium-smallish onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots, sliced into thin coins
  • 3 lbs ground chuck + leftover steak or roast if you've got it
  • 1/4 cup ancho chili powder
  • 1/4 cup regular red chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. paprika
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 small cans (10 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/4 cup (about half a can) tomato paste
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped


  • In a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven or other heavy Dutch oven, heat oil and add onion. Saute for about 3 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and carrot, and cook for another minute.
  • Add the chuck, stir, breaking up the large clumps. Cook the meat for about 10 minutes over moderate heat until mostly cooked through. Add the spices, stir through and cook another minute. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, vinegar and broth.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered (but with the lid barely cracked), stirring occasionally for about an hour. Add the kidney beans and green peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer another 15 minutes or until peppers are tender.
  • Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.


Cheesy Jalapeno Corn Bread


  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 heaping cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups milk, plus 2 Tbsp to loosen batter when mixing
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 sticks melted butter
  • 2 cups grated cheese--sharp cheddar is best
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pickled jalapenos, drained and chopped


  • Preheat oven to 350*.
  • Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine butter, milk and eggs. Pour into the flour mixture and stir together gently. Don't overmix. Mix in 1 1/2 cup of the cheese, the jalapenos and the green onions, reserving 1/2 cup of the green tops.
  • Grease a 9x13 Pyrex pan with softened butter, bacon grease or a mixture of the two. Pour batter into the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle on the cheese and onion. Bake for 35-45 minutes, you can check it's doneness with a toothpick.

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