“Dan” Good Chili

Ever since I began publicly writing about cooking and food, my husband Dan has been urging me to share his chili recipe.

My answer is always the same: ‘But dear, you don’t have a chili recipe. You make it up as you go!’

It’s true. Dan has run the gamut when it comes to chili ingredients- from beer to ground sausage to limes to coffee to chocolate – but over the past few years, he has refined his recipe to the point where the same ingredients are consistently used and the end result is the same each time- a thick, fiery bowl of beefy chili that has just a hint of sweet to balance out the flavor. And so, since Dan has finally put pen to paper and ironed out his base chili recipe (and he promises he didn’t leave out any secret ingredients), I thought it was high time to share because people truly do love it. This recipe makes a giant pot (we use a 8.75-quart Le Creuset dutch oven) that freezes well, but we typically don’t have much for leftovers. When our friends and family hear Dan is whipping up a batch of his famous chili, they rush over!

The beauty of chili is that it’s so versatile – ingredients can be swapped out based on what is in your pantry, and there is no need for exact measurements. It’s an art, not a science. If you don’t like your chili with a kick, tone down the Sriracha and add more honey or brown sugar. Hate smoked sausage? Leave it out. Serving vegetarians? Bump up the vegetables and add more beans.

This recipe does call for fresh tomato puree as we have the luxury of dozens of quarts of frozen vine-ripened tomato puree thanks to my dad’s abundant garden, but if you don’t have garden-fresh tomato juice on hand, you can substitute plain old tomato sauce or tomato juice. If you have a garden and aren’t using a tomato press to process your excess tomatoes, I highly recommend it- it’s easy to freeze and is a wonderful addition to soups, stews, pasta sauce and Bloody Mary mixes.

Like any soup, chili develops more flavor the longer your let it simmer, so it’s important not to rush it. You want to ensure you have given the chili enough time to let the flavors meld so you don’t taste raw spice and the flavors have had time to build.

Serve this hearty chili with all of the fixings – sour cream, chopped green onions, freshly-grated cheddar cheese, avocado and corn chips – and enjoy!

Dan Good Chili

Ingredients
2 lb. ground chuck beef
1 lb. smoked kielbasa sausage, chopped
2 onions, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped thinly
15 oz. can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
22 oz. can grill-style steakhouse baked beans
30 oz. chili-style beans
28 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 c. fresh tomato puree (or tomato juice)
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. cumin
2 tsp. salt, to taste
2 tsp. pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2-4 Tbsp. Sriracha, to taste
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Directions
In a large Dutch oven, brown hamburger until done. Drain if desired. Add chopped onions and sauté until softened. Add celery and sauté a few more minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir and let simmer uncovered for 2-4 hours or until flavors have developed and celery is softened. Taste, and adjust spices to your preference. Let simmer again until flavors have melded. Serve with all the fixings- sour cream, chopped green onions, freshly grated cheddar cheese, avocado and corn chips.

A Farmer’s “Ladies”

Right now, my husband is obsessed with other women. One hundred and nine of them, to be precise.

Of course, I should probably point out that the other women in his life are of the bovine variety, so there’s not much reason to be jealous. Still, ever since our surprise Christmas calf arrived much earlier than expected, Farmer Dan’s bred heifers and his cows are constantly on his mind. His “ladies,” as he lovingly calls them, are the first thing he checks on in the morning and the last thing he sees before bed. If he’s not with them, he’s talking about them and sending me pictures of them. My phone is full of photos of cows that look exactly the same, though he assures me that once you know them, it’s easy to tell them apart.

Although we are still a few weeks away from the first due date of his new bred heifers (first time mamas), Dan’s concern for his ladies has been escalating with the plummeting temperatures. On the farm, the extra chilly conditions mean more feed, bedding and attention for the herd, which translates into more time spent outside in the bitterly cold weather at all times of the day and night.

Now, I’m no stranger to a South Dakota winter, but when you work in an office all day, you tend to forget how cold it really gets outside. It was good for me, then, to get a small dose of reality the other day when Dan’s feed wagon got a flat tire and needed to be towed back to the shed or risk not being able to start in the morning. With only two of us living on the farm, I got tapped to get behind the wheel and steer as Dan’s larger tractor worked to pull the smaller tractor and feed wagon out of its awkwardly stuck position. I did my best to remember what the clutch did, where the brakes were and when to put the tractor into gear – it’s harder than it sounds, trust me! – and with a little luck and only a few choice words, we got the equipment put away for the night.

This small breakdown, though hardly noteworthy on the farm, made me pause and appreciate the amount of sacrifice and work that goes into being a livestock farmer. I spent fewer than five minutes shivering outside in the cold wind as Dan prepped the tractor with chains, and it was painfully, miserably cold. But that’s the thing I’m learning about the farm – no matter how unpleasant the task, some things can’t be put off. Someone’s got to do them, and when you’re a small family farmer, 99 percent of the time that person is you.

As Dan’s new bred heifers begin to calve later this month and into March, I know that many freezing, sleepless and stressful nights loom in front of him. (Lest you think I am not willing to help when it comes to farm chores, I have seriously offered my assistance to help take on a few of the night shifts. However, I’m not sure Dan thinks I’m quite familiar enough with all of his farm jargon to be of much help yet. When he asks if a heifer is “springing,” he does not mean walking with a spring in her step because she’s so happy to give birth. The same goes for “bagging up.” Before Googling these terms, remember that some things cannot be unseen!)

Is it difficult to watch Dan head out in layers upon layers in the middle of the night and come back to bed chilled to the bone? Yes, it is. Farming is not an easy job, no matter how much you love it, and it can be thankless at times, especially when things inevitably happen – a newborn calf dies, or a cow refuses to take care of her calf. But there are few things my farmer talks more fondly of than his ladies, and that’s how despite it all – the snow, the stress and the sleepless nights – I know it’s all worth it.