The wee hours of Christmas morning last year found my extended family in an airport. We were trading visions of snowflakes and sledding for sand and sea breezes, as my parents had organized a special vacation to the Caribbean.
Our typical Christmas mornings begin with everyone congregating at the top of the staircase, waiting for the inevitable straggler to brush his teeth or put his contacts in. Once everyone’s ready, we descend the steps together to see if Santa did, in fact, make an overnight appearance.
As much as we all like to unwrap things, I talked to my sons about how last year’s trip offered a new way of celebrating. It was a chance to trade the traditional trappings for new experiences and special time with cousins and grandparents.
Before we boarded the plane, I gave each son a single gift to unwrap–a new book topped with a pack of gum for the plane and a scratch-off lottery ticket for a little extra fun.
As much as I adore our usual Christmas traditions at home, I savored the lead-up to this particular holiday in a whole new way. My shopping list was slashed and I had nothing to cook for the big day. My husband and I agreed not to buy a single thing for each other, and we chose experience-type gifts for some of our other family members so we could enjoy good times together in the new year.
But even when they’re simplified, the holidays are always a busy time. Holiday concerts, office parties, and cookie exchanges fill our calendars. And as we decorate, bake, shop, wrap and party hop our way through December, sitting down to a home-cooked meal often becomes the exception instead of the norm.
A handful of key pantry items on the weekly grocery list, however, is all that’s needed to facilitate fast meals that taste great. The following recipe combines a pound of ground meat and familiar spices with five basic canned goods for a hearty yet wholesome bowl of chili. It goes from stovetop to table in less than 30 minutes yet rivals its long-simmered counterpart.
Leftovers can be reheated and served as is or bolstered with a few additional ingredients to create easy classics like taco salad, chili-stuffed potatoes, and chili mac. With any of these options, toppings like shredded cheese, chopped avocado, minced onion, salsa, and crushed tortilla chips lend extra flavor and crunch.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 pound ground beef or turkey
- 1-1/2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes*
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 2 (15-ounce) cans beans, rinsed and drained (I usually use one can each of black beans and kidney beans; may vary according to preference or what you have on hand)
- Optional toppings: shredded cheese, chopped green onions, avocado, crumbled tortilla chips, sour cream, cilantro, etc.
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the ground beef or turkey and cook until browned, stirring frequently and breaking it up as you stir. Drain any excess grease, and then stir in the chili powder and cumin and cook for 30-60 seconds more. Add the remaining ingredients (including the juices from the tomatoes), stirring to combine. (Tip: I add 1/4 to 1/3 cup water to one of the tomato cans and swish it back and forth a few times among all 3 tomato cans. This way, you can get every last drop out of the cans.) Bring the chili to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Serve with optional toppings, as desired. Cornbread, rice, or a crusty roll pair well, too. The chili may be made earlier in the day and reheated, is excellent leftover, and freezes well.
- You may substitute one can of tomatoes with an equal size can of diced tomatoes with roasted garlic and onion. All of these options add a hint of extra flavor over plain canned tomatoes.
- I don't add any salt to this recipe. If you use no-salt tomatoes or sauce or make substitutions from the options above, you may wish to adjust the seasonings to taste.
- To make this in a slow cooker, simply brown the meat on the stovetop and then add it and the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook the chili on low for 4 to 6 hours.
- For an extra bit of spice, I sometimes add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.