CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Meatball Chili

No deer hunting camp would be complete without a pot of chili. And it doesn’t matter what it contains, just as long as the chili will warm you up after a cold day in the field or woods.

Chili has always been a deer camp mainstay for me. Back in the day when I hunted North Dakota with the Durkin boys from Inkster, my 10-Alarm Chili was a staple. Although it was pretty hot and spicy, the boys loved it. It was the kind of chili that would warm you up in a hurry.

My favorite chili memory when hunting with Jim Durkin and his brothers was when his dad, R.P. “Ray” Durkin would join us for a bowl of chili. I remember he always used to tell me the chili wasn’t that hot as he wiped sweat off his brow.

This weekend, I’m joining three of my Menard first cousins, Kim, Joe and Tom, and Joe’s two sons, Matt and Josh, for the Minnesota deer hunting opener north of Detroit Lakes. It will be the second straight year I’ve been invited to the Menard Deer Camp. And I’m bringing the chili, albeit not the 10-Alarm type.

One of the highlights last year was the good food that we had to feast on. One night, for example, Kim fixed some delicious pan-fried shrimp. I brought the chili, which we had for another meal, albeit not the 10-Alarm type.

This year, I again made chili, this time with meatballs. It was fairly easy, since I had a couple of dozen meatballs in the freezer for just such an occasion, along with some tomatoes, peppers and onions from my garden.

And the forecast Saturday, with the lows in the 30s and the high in the 40s, chili will be just what we deer hunters will need to rekindle our furnaces. But we won’t be sweating too much, unless someone breaks out the habanero sauce.

Meatball Chili
24 frozen cooked Italian meatballs, partially thawed enough to cut through (recipe follows)
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce  can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup  brown sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
½ tablespoon chili powder
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Shredded Cheddar cheese, to sprinkle for garnish
Cut the meatballs into quarters.
Place the cut meatballs in a large pot. Add all the rest of the ingredients (except cheese). Stir well.
Bring to a gentle simmer.
Cover and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes.
For the slow cooker: Place the quartered meatballs in the crockpot along with everything else (except cheese).
Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or on high for about 4 hours. (All slow cookers seem to cook a little faster or slower than others.)
Serve hot with some cheese on top, if desired.

Italian Meatballs
2 pounds ground chuck
½ pound of ground pork
2 cups Italian-flavored bread crumbs
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup grated cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped very fine
1 onion, minced
½ cup pignoli (pine nuts) (optional)
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix throughly. Let stand ½ hour. Shape into medium-size meatballs. Fry gently in olive oil until lightly browned, or place on foil on a cookie sheet and bake for ½ hour at 350 degrees.

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