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Pumpkin Chili offers a savory meal perfect for fall

Oct. 25, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Fall is traditionally a busy time in the Hill household. Our daughter is busy with school assignments, soccer and cross-country. College football dominates our spare time on Saturdays -- usually while my husband, John and I, are grading papers. Not to mention trying to fit in regular workouts during the week for the grown-ups of our house, keeping up with the neverending flow of laundry, as well as groceries, cooking, cleaning, yard work. Well, you get the picture, I'm certain.

It would be so easy to fall (pun intended) into the trap of eating convenience food and fast food. Yet, I refuse to give into that on a daily basis. Instead, I look for recipes that are easy to cook, gentle to our budget and can be doubled for an extra meal during the week, or freezable for the next week.

It was pure serendipity when I discovered this seasonal recipe for "Pumpkin Chili." Our friends, Jan, Kevin and Jared Wilkes invited us over one Saturday evening for dinner after both of our kids had run in a Cross Country meet that morning. It had been one of those typical fall days in which the morning temperatures dipped into the 40s and a breeze was pumping in a change in the weather. Although the sun was shining gloriously in the sky, the temperatures never reached above 50, at least during the meet.

As we were preparing to leave the meet, Jan asked if we liked chili. Our faces lit up!

"Oh, yes, we love chili, especially on a day like today." Jan explained she had a new recipe she was preparing for us. "It is from a friend who eats healthfully and limits sugar and white flour in her diet." This was no problem with us. If she was cooking up a new chili recipe, we were the people to try it!

Walking into the Wilkes' house later that evening, the scent of chili lingered in the air. Jan had a tray of fresh fruit and berry cream cheese dip set out as well as fresh veggies with a ranch style dip for appetizers. Plus, she had one of my favorite munchies -- which I truthfully had not had in years -- peanut butter stuffed celery! Yum! While we talked and caught up on the events in each other's lives, we noshed away on those simple but terrific appetizers, all the while smelling that aromatic chili.

Eventually, we pulled the boys away from college football long enough to serve up the chili. We weren't certain what to expect with pumpkin in chili. However, my mom has always made her chili with cinnamon; and, this chili certainly smelled similar to my mom's. Jan made her chili sans beans. It was fabulous, we all agreed! She offered us sriracha hot chili sauce as well as tortilla chips, saltines, guacamole and sour cream to add or eat along with our chili. After one bite, I was already asking for the recipe.

My family found this dish to be the perfect "in-season" recipe. What says "fall" better than pumpkins and chili? Plus, as I previously mentioned, I love that this recipe is easy on the budget, uncomplicated when it comes to preparation, and can easily be doubled for another meal. I would suggest that if you are not used to cinnamon in chili, start with only adding one teaspoon, rather than a full tablespoon, to see if you like that flavor in chili. You can always taste it and add one to two more teaspoons if you find you like it.

PUMPKIN CHILI

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 pound ground, low-fat beef or ground turkey

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (14.5 ounce) can fire roasted tomatoes

2 (4 ounce) cans diced green chilies

1 can (15 ounce) pumpkin

1 can (14 ounce) chicken stock

1 tablespoon cinnamon (or start with 1 teaspoon if you have never had cinnamon in chili before to get used to the taste)

1-3 teaspoons chili powder (taste until reach desired strength)

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

Optional stir-ins: 1 can black beans (or your favorite style bean), drained and rinsed; 1 can chili hot beans; 1 can Castleberry's American Original Hot Dog Chili Sauce

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium high heat

Chop onion, green pepper and garlic, and then add to pan. Toss in ground meat.

Continue to cook meat and veggies, stirring and breaking apart meat until no pink remains in meat. Drain fat.

Reduce heat to medium and begin adding the rest of the ingredients, one at a time, stirring after each ingredient.

If you like a chili with beans, feel free to choose all or one of my suggested ingredients to stir in as well.

Cover and allow to simmer (bubble) for 20-30 minutes, occasionally lifting the lid to stir to prevent sticking.

Serve with the usual chili toppers if desired, such as sour cream, cheese and so forth.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.

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