The Recipes of Madison County



As we near the middle of February and the snow piles higher and higher around us, Hamilton’s weather has finally beaten me into submission. Leaving my apartment has become a daily battle against the sheer forces of nature, and I am afraid to say that I have lost the will (and the creativity) to go out searching for culinary enclaves along the winding roads of central New York in blizzard conditions. However, a girl still has to eat and, in these tough times, cooking a hearty, warm and tasty meal has never felt more satisfying.

One day this past week, nestled snugly in the comfort of my apartment, with snow gathering outside and thinking about dinner, I knew that my meal would have to contain ingredients I had on hand – clearing my car of snow for the fourth time was just not an option. I remembered the pound of ground beef I ordered from Central New York Bounty, and knew that this was destined to take center stage at dinner.

As an aside, for those of you who have yet to experience all that is Central New York Bounty (you haven’t lived until you’ve ordered from, it’s a coalition of local growers and producers that sell their goods online, from meat, cheese and eggs to fruits, vegetables and tofu. With a minimum order of $35, they will deliver your food right to your door every Wednesday. During the dark days of winter when the Farmer’s Market is absent from the village green, Central New York Bounty is the best way to get local produce that is far superior than anything you’ll get from the supermarkets in town.

With visions of tender, local beef in mind, I took stock of my pantry: canned tomatoes and beans lined my shelves, and I knew I had onions and garlic in the fridge, just as my mother taught me. Using the simple ingredients I already had, I realized smoky, spicy chili was the nature choice on this particularly cold and snowy night.


Olive oil, enough to lightly coat a large pot

1 onion, chopped

At least 4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 pound of ground beef

About 3 tablespoons of tomato paste

Chili powder

Ground red pepper

Smoke House ground pepper, or ground black pepper and a few dashes of liquid smoke


2 28-ounce cans of diced or whole tomatoes

2 15-ounce cans of kidney beans, rinsed (I used red and white, but use what you have. Black beans would also work well, or a combination of the two)

Sour cream and/or shredded cheese for serving

1. Heat the oil in the large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring every once in a while until tender and starting to sweat, about five minutes.

2. Add the beef and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink, about five more minutes. Add the tomato paste and the chili powder, ground red pepper, and smoke house pepper (or ground black pepper and liquid smoke). I didn’t give any specifications for the spices because, truthfully, I never measure them and I don’t think anyone else does either. Start with a few dashes of everything, taste, and then adjust. Taste your spices first, though, so you know what you’re working with.

3. Add the tomatoes with their juices (if using whole tomatoes, break them up before with your hands or with a wooden spoon once they’re in the pot) and the beans and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chili has thickened, about 15 minutes. Once the chili has thickened, taste and adjust your spices, and add salt as necessary. Serve with the sour cream or shredded cheese, or both.

Contact Jen Lauro at [email protected].