Fall means different things to different people. To me, it’s always brought to mind orchards brimming with perfectly ripe apples and pumpkin patches ready to yield a bounty of Jack-O-Lanterns. Now that I’m living in the Midwest again for the first time as an adult there’s something new on my list – college football. I know you might be saying to yourself, “Well of course Kelly, fall is synonymous with college football, don’t you know ANYTHING?”
Except that I went to a university that didn’t have a football team. And then graduated and lived in a city where the sun seemed to rise with the Red Sox and set with the Patriots, so naturally the idea of college football got lost in the shuffle.
So until I moved to Chicago, I’d forgotten that for much of the US, it’s kind of a big deal. Now the weekends serve as a constant reminder as I stroll by bars, each with their own team affiliation and find them shockingly (at least to me anyway) packed in the middle of the afternoon, catering to game watching and day drinking.
And while I cannot say I fully understand or embrace it, if there is one thing I do get excited about it’s game day food. And I get especially giddy over bar food with a bit of a twist or a hint of sophistication.
For me, chili falls neatly in line with that. Sure I could make a classic variation, but I find it so much more fun to tinker. I love to see how far I can push my own personal recipe, while still having it retain that homey, comfort food quality. Last year, I put my own spin on chili with delicata squash and sweet corn. This time, finding corn sadly out of season, meaty mushrooms seemed more appropriate as did chunks of Fairytale Pumpkin. And thus, this slight adaptation of my original recipe came into being. In general, I love constantly playing with even my most tried and true recipes because every round provides an opportunity to play and perfect.
And with this recipe, I’m glad I did. The pumpkin and mushrooms play well together, and form a perfect trio with the ground beef. I also love them because adding them into chili is another great way to ensure I eat less meat by stretching a pound of ground beef pretty far. But practical justifications aside, this chili is fantastic. The spices blended together add great layers of flavor and the hearty texture of the mushrooms is spot on. I love enjoying this on a cool fall day with a generous sprinkling of cheddar cheese and a little sour cream, but if you want to enjoy it with some football I bet that would be tasty as well.
-1 pound ground beef
-2 slices bacon, diced
-1/2 cup chopped onion
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil
-8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, roughly chopped
-2 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder (I use Rapunzel, which is my absolute favorite)
-1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder (Note: this yielded some pretty hot chili for my taste buds so if you’re looking for something mild to medium in heat I would recommend halving this)
-1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
-1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-1 tablespoon brown sugar
-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-One 28-ounce can tomatoes, chopped and in their liquid
-1 cup low sodium beef broth
-1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard
-1 6 ounce can tomato paste
-1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed pumpkin
Cook beef, bacon, onion, and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until beef crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain well.
Add oil to the dutch oven. Cook mushrooms until tender and caramel in color, about 5-7 minutes.
Return the beef mixture to the pot and add the next 12 ingredients (through tomato paste) and stir the mixture well to combine. Add the pumpkin and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 minutes more or until pumpkin is tender and chili is thick.
What about you? What does fall bring to mind?