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Eric Akis: Chili warrants a second bowl

I’m a Blue Jays fan and when planning to watch one of their games the other day, I decided to make a TV-style dinner to enjoy while doing so.
Bison and bean chili is served with cheesy chili cornbread muffins. ERIC AKIS

I’m a Blue Jays fan and when planning to watch one of their games the other day, I decided to make a TV-style dinner to enjoy while doing so. I settled on chili, something served in a bowl that would be easy to eat while I was nestled into my comfy living- room chair.

I had some frozen ground bison thawing in my fridge that I had initially planned to make burgers with, but I switched things up and used it in my chili instead.

To make it, after the ground bison was cooked in a pot and crumbly, vegetables and spices were added. After they cooked a few minutes, the rest of chili’s ingredients went into the pot, including two types of beans, canned tomatoes and stock (or beer), and the chili was simmered awhile.

When making that chili, I remembered why I so enjoy doing so. The process is not arduous, the aroma of the chili cooking is marvellous, and when you ladle it up and eat it, it is always hearty and delicious, and tasting like you should have a second bowl.

Another thing I like about chili is that it goes well with one of my other favourite foods, cornbread. The type I made was in the form of a savoury muffin, where the cornbread batter used to make them was flavoured with jalapeño-flavoured cheese, and smoky chipotle peppers.

My recipes yield six large servings of chili, and 12 medium-sized cornbread muffins. If that’s too much for you, any chili and muffins leftover, once cooled, could be frozen for another time.

You’ll find frozen ground bison for sale at some supermarkets and butcher shops. But you may want call where you plan to shop to make sure they stock it. To thaw a pound of it, I set the package of ground bison on a plate in the fridge for 24 hours.

Bison and Bean Chili

This hearty, flavourful chili is rich with lean ground bison, two types of beans and a mix of vegetables. Serve it with cheesy chili cornbread muffins (see recipe below).

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 60 minutes

Makes: six large servings

1 lb. ground bison

1 medium onion, diced (cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes)

1 large green bell pepper, halved, seeded and diced

1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded and finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp oregano

1 (28 oz./796 mL) can crushed tomatoes

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can diced tomatoes

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can black beans, drained, rinsed, and drained again

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can red kidney beans, drained, rinsed, and drained again

1 cup beef stock or beer

3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 Tbsp brown sugar

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• sour cream, to taste

• cilantro sprigs, for garnish (optional)

Place bison in a medium to large pot (mine was 8-inches wide, and 6-inches tall) and set over medium, medium-high heat. Cook and stir bison until crumbly and cooked through.

Drain excess liquid from the pot. Now add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano to the pot and cook and stir four to five minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, beans, stock (or beer), corn and sugar to the pot and mix well to combine. Bring chili to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Gently simmer chili, partially covered (don’t completely cover; steam needs to escape) for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until thickened and delicious. Taste and season the chili, if needed, with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle chili into bowls, top with a dollop of sour cream, and garnish with cilantro sprigs, if using.

Cheesy Chili Cornbread Muffins

Savoury cornbread muffins flavoured with smoky chipotle peppers, and jalapeño-flavoured cheese.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 18 to 20 minutes

Makes: 12 medium-sized muffins

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (about 100 grams) grated jalapeño-flavoured havarti cheese (see Note)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (see Eric’s options)

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 or 3 chipotle peppers, finely chopped (see Note)

• vegetable oil spray

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in the cheese and cilantro.

Beat the egg in a second medium bowl. Mix in the buttermilk and oil until well combined. Now mix in the chopped chipotle peppers.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Grease a 12-cup non-stick muffin tin with vegetable oil spray. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until muffins spring back when gently touched in the centre.

Let muffins sit in the pan five minutes or so, and then remove from the pan and serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: Blocks of jalapeño-flavoured havarti cheese are sold in the dairy and/or deli section of supermarkets. Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapeño peppers. They are sold in cans in the Mexican foods aisle of supermarkets. Unused peppers can be stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Eric options: If you don’t care for cilantro, replace it with 1/3 to 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.