From the food editor: Beef and Red Bean Chili with Cornbread Croutons

The hearty meal will keep you warm and full this season.
Beef and Red Bean Chili with Cornbread Croutons. [MICHELLE STARK   |   Times]
Beef and Red Bean Chili with Cornbread Croutons. [MICHELLE STARK | Times]
Published December 4 2018

There are generally two kinds of cooking in my kitchen: aspirational and functional.

The first kind is when I try to make something I never have, something out of my cooking comfort zone, usually an elaborate layer cake or something with an uncommon ingredient. I love that kind of cooking because I learn so much from it, and it’s fun to point something glamorous and say, “I made that.”

The second kind of cooking is everyday cooking, the workhorse recipes I turn to in order to sustain me and my husband. I don’t share those kind of recipes as often, because to be honest there rarely are recipes; it’s more of an adjust-as-I-go approach.

This week’s recipe is squarely in that realm: a standard beef and bean chili that uses canned beans and powdered spices and warms us through and through. It’s basic, but necessary.

The real star here are the cornbread croutons that top the chili.

I love a good homemade cornbread with chili (though that box of Jiffy mix really does get the job done), but a giant square of the stuff on the side doesn’t do it for me. I need my cornbread in the same bite as my chili. I’ve taken to crumbling it on top sometimes, but that gets soggy and mushy real fast, ruining that great textural contrast between soup and sturdy bread.

So this time, I cut the cornbread into cubes after baking it, placed the cubes back in the oven on a sheet pan, and cooked them just till they were a little browned on the exterior.

That crispier edge helps them hold up better in the chili, and this way, I can get a piece of cornbread in every bite.

This is a rockstar dish for cooler nights. Plus, we’re going to need something hearty to soak up all the sugary treats coming at us this month. In this week’s cover story, you’ll find a collection of such holiday recipes.

When one of my colleagues challenged me to create from scratch those ubiquitous Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes, I got to work and made the sweet cakes you see on the cover. I will definitely make them again for my personal Christmas collection, the cute treats being a fun alternative to cookies.

There’s a classic Italian cookie from our new correspondent Lorraine Fina Stevenski, who adapted the recipe from one she found in her mom’s recipe book. And a twist on panettone, another Italian treat.

I share my grandma’s recipe for Holly Wreaths, green-tinted cookies she used to make using a cookie press. I inherited the baking tool, and dug it out to make a couple dozen of these cookies. The memories came right along with them.

I remember my grandma serving these at her house in New Jersey, the couple of times we traveled there during the holiday season as kids. And when she and my grandpa would winter in Florida, she’d still make her signature cookies, snapping the lid off a round tin to reveal the green wreaths.

We hope that whatever kind of treats you’re baking this holiday season, they inspire some beloved memories.