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Kentucky Chili

Bleak Midwinter

Midwinter can be a hard season. The charm of cold weather, the hope of snow and the cozy picture of the togetherness that brings, has worn thin and a more practical taste of lingering reality settles in. The winter rains turn the gray skies grayer, make the short span of daylight shorter and shroud the few brave blossoms that dare to show themselves on my Witch Hazel tree. This winter, like many, really isn't all that cold nor is it all that pretty. It is more like a damp gray stretch of limbo.

In this post holiday space of winter we tighten our belts to pay off the holiday bills, chastise ourselves for not working harder to lose weight or get fit, and look for signs of impending spring. We put our heads down and trudge on taking care of business. We crave practical comforts and simple down to earth amusements.


The country seems to huddle around the TV in January to watch football, or in our case, Netflix movies and "24". In the kitchen I cook family favorties: I roast chicken or stir up a creamy sauce for Macaroni and Cheese. I also think back to my childhood for recipes that are practical and breathe an aura of warmth and comfort.

One of my favorite dinners as a child was Chili. The chili I grew up with was a recipe handed down over the years. My cousins tell of my grandmother making a big pot of chili for them to eat when the arrived at her house for weekend visits. I don't remember my grandmother but my Aunt Hen made chili regularly and I remember it as an expected part of my mother's weekly menus.

Regional Variation

The kind of chili I grew up with was called Homemade Chili in a local Homemaker's Association Cookbook. It might better be called Kentucky Chili or Bluegrass Chili as it seems unique to the region. It is unlike any chili I ever had in Texas, and while it is similar to Cincinnati Chili in seasoning and the inclusion of spaghetti, it is still very different. The way I remember it, and in the recipes I've seen, it is a thin brothy chili made with ground beef and beans. Spaghetti is added to the pot shortly before serving, rather than the chili being served over it.

I have rediscovered this chili in the past few years. It makes a very practical meal, stretching a pound of ground beef to feed a crowd. It is a great chili to serve for a superbowl party or anytime your budget is tight or you simply crave a bowl of old fashioned comfort food. At the very least it will add a touch of spice to a bleak midwinter.

Kentucky Chili
adapted from "Come Cook With Us"

1 lb. hamburger
1 large onion, chopped (approx. 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 46-oz. can tomato juice
2 15.5-oz. cans red beans (I use chili beans)
2 Tablespoons chili powder
4 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
3 qts. water
½ lb. spaghetti, broken

Brown the hamburger, onions and garlic in a large soup pot or dutch oven.

Add remaining ingredeints, except for the spaghetti. Bring to a boil and simmer at least 15 minutes but up to two hours.

Add spaghetti. Cook until spaghetti is tender.

Serve and enjoy!


Cindy said...

spaghetti in chili? a great idea! This is a chili I could get my family to eat.

Last week when my backordered down-filled jacket finally arrived, I was reminded that the vision of a snowy winter was most likely behind us. Bummer! But on the bright side, spring will be here before we know it.

pam said...

I've never had chili like this, but I am always willing to try new versions of chili!

MaryBeth said...

WOW...this looks wonderful, I love the noodles in it. It looks so thick and hearty, great for a cold wet Beaverton night.

grace said...

the only time i've ever seen spaghetti with chili is in cincinnati, so it's good to know that it's a kentucky tradition too. chili is the quintessential winter food as far as i'm concerned. :)

noble pig said...

Reminds me of a Cincinnati but still, completely different and very nice family tradition, a must try for sure.

Hannah said...

I love the idea of putting the pasta in the chili! The whole recipe looks so easy, too. Do you think it would work with a gluten-free grain like quinoa, perhaps?

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

I love hearing about regional variations of food I know. This definitely different from the thick chili I'm used to but I'm a big believer that noodles make everything better, so I love the spaghetti added!

Unknown said...

Chili with spaghetti is the only way I eat it! I'm from Cincinnati and while we occasionally enjoyed Cincinnati style (Skyline) and still do, my mom's chili was very much like yours, with cooked spaghetti added at the last minute. Cheese on top. Yum! My kids prefer theirs (my mom's recipe) with Fritos, but I love the spaghetti.

JMCD said...

yep....looks just like my mom used to make, only we never had fresh garlic in the house.
jamie in lexington, ky

JMCD said...

ooops. just reread your recipe...cloves....not cloves of garlic :)

Robin Sue said...

We usually serve our chili over pasta but to put it in there is a good idea too. This seems like a chili soup. I think it is so interesting that there are so many variations of chili.

Debbie said...

This looks like something fun to try.
Maybe this weekend, I think it's going to rain, (again). :-)

Lisa said...

Thanks for all of your great comments!

I really like the spaghetti in this chili. It serves to thicken the soup somewhat and adds a contrast in texture. Just be sure to break it up a bit before adding it to the pot.

Hannah - I'm not sure about the gluten-free grain. It wouldn't have the same thickening quality but would still fill out the chili. I think it's worth a try!

JMCD - We never had fresh garlic when I was growing up either. We used only garlic powder and we didn't use that often.

Debbie - sounds like a great weekend for Chili!

Theresa said...

I am sure this will be a hit in the contest!

Zupan's Markets said...

Also another hearty meal! Looks like it'd be great for a rainy, cold day with some fresh cornbread on the side.

theUngourmet said...

This looks so fun and yummy! I've been wanting to hop over here for a few days now. Finally I found time!

Hope you are having a great week!

Personalized Pens said...

Wow.. im so hungry right now. just the picture of it makes me drool..

smilinggreenmom said...

Yum yum yum! I love chili and this looks great! I would love to use Kamut Khorasan Wheat pasta because our family is hooked on it! It is so soft and fluffy and nutritional and way better than even whole wheat pasta! Thanks for sharing this with us!

Catpurrson said...

In 1958, when my family moved to Louisville from Pennsylvania, the "lunch room" ladies served chili-spaghetti like this. It seemed very strange because I never had chili fixed like this before, but I grew to like it a lot. I have recently been searching for the recipe and this one looks very much like the way they fixed it when I was small. Thanks!

Mary said...

Its not Kentucky Chili without some peanut butter sandwiches or crackers and peanut butter!

That's the way I grew up eating it.

I like chili any way its fixed.

Anonymous said...

I am a transplant from Kentucky to Michigan. I grew up eating chili with broken up little pieces of spaghetti in it. Also the peanut butter sandwiches with it. Most people here think its weird to put spaghetti in chili, but I have converted all of my Michigan family. I wouldn't eat it any other way. Otherwise it just seems like a bowl of meat.

Anonymous said...

I've only had family chilli this way also. When someone handed me a bowl of chilli with meat and beans I didn't know what to think. My family has passed away now and I'm a guy who likes to cook now, but didn't when they were here because I didn't have to lol. Do you have a recipe that your family uses?

Unknown said...

Peanut butter sandwiches, you say? Definitely a KY thing!!!! I live in Louisville, growing up chili was mostly always served with peanut butter sandwiches, I think they started pairing it with grilled cheese when my kids were in school.