On busy days, I like pulling out my slow cooker. Being able to prep my meal in the morning, and then run my errands and have dinner waiting is such a great thing! Slow cookers can dull flavors, so I use ample amounts of spices to create a really flavorful chili. Don’t be afraid – it is not too spicy!

Tonight, we’ll be having slow cooker beef chili. Here’s what you’ll need:

A note on the chipotle chiles: I buy a can of minced chipotle chiles in adobo, and then scoop the whole can out in tablesoons onto a piece of parchment paper set on a baking sheet, and then freeze it, 30 to 60 minutes. Then cut the parchment apart so you have little individual frozen chipotles. Place them in a freezer bag and keep in the freezer. Then, anytime you need chipotles in a recipe, pull one out. Chipotles add a sweet and smoky spice to lots of dishes. Mix it with mayo for fantastic southwest turkey and cheddar sandwiches. Add it to scrambled eggs with chorizo and queso fresco with toasted corn tortillas. Puree it with fresh mango and some lime juice for a fantastic fish or shrimp taco sauce. You will love having it on hand!

Start by mashing some bread and milk together to form a paste.

Then mix in the ground beef. This helps the beef stay soft and tender during the cooking, since it will be cooked for a long time in the slow cooker.

Next, saute the onion, garlic, and spices in vegetable oil to soften the onion and bloom the spices. This really brings out their flavors!

Add half the crushed tomatoes and stir around to deglaze any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Transfer this to the slow cooker, and add all the rest of the ingredients.

Then stir in the ground beef mixture.

Cover, and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Serve with cornbread.

 SLOW COOKER CHILI

1 1/2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce

Mash bread and milk together with a fork to form a paste. Mix in the ground beef, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat, and add the onion, chili powder, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute until onion is softened, 5 minutes.

Add half the crushed tomatoes and stir to deglaze the pan. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the rest of the crushed tomatoes, the diced tomatoes plus their juice, the black beans, the soy sauce, the brown sugar, and the chipotle chiles. Stir in the ground beef mixture. Cover, and cook on low 6 to 8 hours.

 SOUTHERN STYLE CORNBREAD

11 1/4 ounces (2 1/4 cups) yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

Heat oven to 400. Place a 10 inch cast iron skillet or 9 inch dark cake pan on the middle rack and let heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk buttermilk and cornmeal together and let it soak until the skillet or cake pan is heated. Add the vegetable oil to the hot skillet and place back in the oven for 2 minutes to heat.

Remove the hot pan carefully and add the butter, swirling to melt it. Pour the hot butter into the cornmeal mixture, and whisk to combine. Whisk in all remaining ingredients, and then scrape into the hot pan. Bake on the middle rack 12-15 minutes, then let cool 5 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool 10 more minutes.

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