Food Columnist Judi Leaming gives us a taste for Barbecue Bean and Cheese Chili, Debdoozie's Blue Ribbon Chili and Chili Seasoning Mix.

For years I bought the envelope of French’s dry Chili Seasoning mix, browned hamburger and added the other ingredients called for on the French’s seasoning packet and that’s what I thought of as chili con carne — shortened in our family to “chili” because I always make it with meat.

As we started traveling more around the country I came to realize that chili in Delaware doesn’t mean the same thing as chili in Texas … or even Ohio. Did you know that in Cincinnati, Ohio, chili is served over cooked and drained spaghetti and that the kidney beans are served over the top?

Recently chili-cooking competitions have started to pop up all over the country. This is one type of competition that I shy away from judging because I am definitely NOT a hot-and-spicy food aficionado. When we came up with the first Chili versus Chowder Competition that is held each year during the Delaware State Fair, I felt sure that chili would win the competition. Wrong! In the three years that the competition has been staged, chowder has won out over chili.

I was intrigued recently when featured a recipe for Barbecue Bean and Cheese Chili. We’ve been judging a number of BBQ competitions on recent weekends so I decided to put this recipe to our own test. Spicer and I both gave this high scores for appearance, taste and tenderness, and we confidently recommend it to you.

You have the opportunity to personalize this to suit your own taste because you choose the style of barbecue sauce that goes into this, as well as the style of the baked beans that you use. (Had you realized how many flavorings of each of these are on the shelves?) I cut this recipe in half when we tested this for you. You may want to do this too or you can divide individual portions into freezer-weight plastic bags that you fill and lay flat on your freezer shelf to quick-freeze and store easily.

When featured Debdoozie’s Blue Ribbon Chili as one of its recipes of the day, I decided that this recipe needed testing, too, and that led to another http://allrecipes search for the chili seasoning mix that was called for – Chili Seasoning Mix II.

I’m sure you could use one of those French’s or McCormick’s chili mix envelopes, but I prefer to make my own. That allows me to leave out the minced garlic that so many recipes call for. By whisking together your own dry mixes you also will have the opportunity to make use of all those bottles of spices that have accumulated on your shelf and you’ll save money. The original recipe calls for adding 1 tablespoon crushed pepper to the seasonings, but Spicer recommends NOT doing that and serving the crushed pepper on the side for those who want really spicy chili.

Barbecue Bean and Cheese Chili
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided usage
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (28-ounce) bottle hickory barbecue sauce
1 (28-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (28-ounce) can barbecue baked beans
2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
Sour cream

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a heavy, large pot over medium-high heat. Brown ground beef for 8 to 10 minutes, breaking ground beef up into pieces as it cooks; season with salt and pepper. Remove browned beef with slotted spoon and discard drippings. In same pot sauté onions, chili powder, cinnamon and cumin in remaining 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add barbecue sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, baked beans and drained black beans, and stir to mix well. Simmer over low heat. Add prepared ground beef.
If desired, just before serving stir 1 cup of the cheese into the chili and allow to melt. When ready to serve, ladle chili into bowls. Place remaining cheese into a small bowl and offer as a topping along with the chopped red onion and sour cream.

Debdoozie’s Blue Ribbon Chili (adapted)
2 pounds lean ground beef or 2 pounds beef stew cubes, cut into small pieces
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 to 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (*)
1 cup thick and chunky salsa
4 tablespoons dry chili-seasoning mix (see below)
1 (15-ounce) can light red kidney beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained

In a large skillet over medium heat, combine the beef and onion. Sauté for 10 minutes or until meat is browned and onion is tender. (If using stew beef, cook a little longer to allow meat to release juices and stir in it’s own juices.) Stir in flour to combine and brown lightly. Add black pepper, tomato sauce, salsa, chili seasoning mix and kidney beans. Mix well; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for at least an hour over very low heat, stirring several times. If desired serve over cornbread and topped with sour cream and shredded cheese.
Makes at least 8 servings. Can be frozen.
(*) Recipe tested with beef cubes and diced, drained tomatoes instead of tomato sauce.

Chili Seasoning Mix II (adapted)
4 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
Salt to taste (1/2 to 1 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Stir together to mix well. Use in recipe above – Debdoozie’s Blue Ribbon Chili — or with any recipe calling for 2 pounds beef.