Autumn-Spiced Beef Chili

I love red meat. There, I’ve said it. I actually didn’t used to – I found hamburgers to be dry; my mom would make half of her lasagna with just cheese, just for me; and I never truly appreciated the beauty of a well cooked steak. My only true weakness was a classic Philadelphia cheesesteak, which at one point in my life I probably ate on a near weekly basis. Now, though, perhaps because I’m afforded the opportunity to eat red meat so much less frequently or perhaps simply because taste buds change over time, I’ve realized how much I do genuinely enjoy a well executed red meat dish every now and then.

Ever since making the choice to only eat grass fed beef, my red meat consumption is almost exclusively limited to its ground form. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to steal a spot at L’s dinner table when his mom is cooking boeuf bourguignon or some completely aromatic lamb dish, but really, if I’m eating red meat these days, it’s ground. I’m really ok with this; I mean, I’m still surprisingly underwhelmed by even a perfectly made steak, and I think ground meat is some of the most versatile you can come across.

Once last year, I had some cooked ground beef in the freezer, and a lot of leftover ingredients in the fridge. I threw them all into a skillet, and this dish was born. The beef was seasoned with sage and rosemary; the pan was deglazed with just enough apple cider to coat the bottom; a scant tablespoon of cream cheese was added to create a thicker, creamier sauce; vegetables like corn and spinach were cooked in; and it was all served over a baked sweet potato. It was nice, a beautiful contrast between sweet and savory. But in all the hub-bub of this impromptu lunch, I forgot to take a picture, so I knew I needed to make it again.

The second time around, I didn’t have plain ground beef, but I did have leftover beef chili, so I threw that into a pan with some bell pepper strips and whole cranberries. Pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin found their way into the dish, and took it to a new level entirely. There were two layers of spice – one traditional kick from the chili and a warm, fall-themed one from the cinnamon. The cranberries offered a bite; the pumpkin lent a creaminess to the dish without the cream cheese. I ate it alone for a relatively low carb meal, but feel free to eat it as a more traditional stew-type dish by adding in bread or a potato (or stay low-carb but amp it up with a nice side salad).

Either attempt could have added some tofu, beans, or even chopped mushrooms to replace some or all of the beef if you’re looking for either a less meat-centric or completely vegetarian meal. But if you do eat meat, give it a try with the beef – there’s something wonderful about autumn spices and beef together. If you’re going the route of beans, I would say black beans would pair well with the flavors, but really anything you have will do. I believe the second attempt was more successful, so I’ve included that as the recipe below, but feel free to incorporate any of the elements that I mentioned from the first part. In particular, the spinach would be nice, as would a dollop of greek yogurt (as a healthier proxy for the cream cheese).

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Autumn Spiced Beef Skillet
Yield: 2 servings

The Ingredients
1 cup (approximate) beef chili

½ - ⅔ cup mixed bell pepper strips

½ cup fresh cranberries

½ teaspoon (approximate) cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ - ½ teaspoon (approximate) cumin

½ cup pumpkin puree

(2 heaping tablespoons plain greek yogurt)

(1 cup fresh spinach, torn)

The Method
Cook the chili according to instructions, or use leftovers.1 To use leftovers, add the chili, red pepper strips, and cranberries to a pan coated with nonstick spray. Season with all of the spices. Once warm, stir in the pumpkin, yogurt, and spinach, heating over low heat and stirring frequently until the spinach has wilted.

1If cooking from scratch, blend the two recipes. Follow the link to the beef chili and add the ingredients for this meal in the following way: add the bell pepper strips, cranberries, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and cumin along with the garlic and onion in the chili recipe. Stir the pumpkin puree, yogurt, and spinach in with the tomato sauce and hold at a low temperature until warm and the spinach is wilted.

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