Monday Meal: A Secret, Game-Changing Ingredient

So my colleague, Heidi, and I were chatting at work and she mentioned that she was fixing chili for dinner.

I groaned. I don’t like chili–at least the kind with ground beef and kidney beans and red sauce. My apologies to my mom (a wonderful cook!) who would occasionally make it when I was growing up; it was one of the few foods I just didn’t have the taste for. Now, her corn bread muffins that went with it were amazing and well worth chili night!

Last week, Scott, hearing that the weather was going to dip down into freezing, thought that a warm bowl of chili would be perfect.

“I LOVE chili on a cold day,” he told me. “With chunks of cheese melting all over the top.”

“Have you noticed that in the last 13 years of marriage, chili is the one meal I’ve never fixed?”

“Yeah. . .now that you mention it.”  He bought ingredients and a mix and after telling me to leave the kitchen because I was hovering and giving (I guess) unwanted advice, he excitedly fixed up some. (He also rather insulted me when he compared him being in the kitchen to me cutting grass. I pretty much vowed at that point to not like the chili even more than I was already not going to like it.)

I made him make the corn bread muffins to go with it. He did but my “I LOVE ICE CREAM JUST A LITTLE LESS THAN GOLF” husband cut the sugar in half! So for dinner, I felt like a little kid as I pushed chili around in my bowl and took unhappy nibbles of the unsweet cornbread.

“You’ll have to try my chili,” Heidi said to me today after I told her my story. “It has chocolate in it.”

WHAT?! Chocolate in chili? I didn’t believe her so I googled it and sure enough there was a recipe for Chipolte Chocolate Chili. I committed to giving chili another try.

When I got home this afternoon, I started to assemble the ingredients, which I surprisingly had. But, as I was looking for the kidney beans for that recipe I came across this discounted bag of Cajun Red Beans. My chili recipe was instantly sidelined for this one buck beauty.


I added everything (beans, a can of tomatoes, water, frozen ham bone, seasoning packet) to the pressure cooker and set it for 30 mintues. I had some sausage in the freezer that I cut up and fried separately with a diced onion and minced garlic. After the beans were done, I added the sausage and onions and then I added my secret ingredient:


YEP. About two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa for that “depth of flavor” .  I also added a splash of red wine vinegar.

I served everything on white rice and added grated cheese.

IT WAS AMAZING! Four out of five kids CLEANED.THEIR. PLATES. I made everyone guess what the secret ingredient was. Someone said pumpkin because I’ve been known to add a little to recipes this time of year (AND THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A GOOD IDEA for this recipe, too!). But they never guessed unsweetened cocoa.


No, the kids didn’t have any wine with theirs.

One of my favorite phrases of my mom’s is, “Well, I hate to brag. . .” And then she’ll go on to tell us about this amazing meal she put together. So, like mother like daughter. . .I hate to brag: but for  $3.00 (I also had bought the sausage on sale) I put a meal on the table that was so good. . .everyone ate it, except for Will who would only eat the sausage. I froze the extras for our next cold snap or for an evening when I need dinner on the table FAST.


One other thing to remember from mom–and this is very important as the holidays draw near–NEVER THROW OUT THE HAM BONE. (I’ve been known to collect a neighbor’s ham bone when she said she was going to THROW IT OUT–which, where I come from is cooking blasphemy.) Just put that ham bone in a freezer bag and pop it into the freezer. The next time you fix beans, add that bad boy to the pot. Finally, here’s mom’s corn bread muffin recipe. If you are planning on having a ham this year, these muffins go great with it. . .or Red Beans and Chocolate. . .or, I guess, chili.

Mom’s Corn Bread Muffin Recipe

1 c. corn meal

1 c. flour (sometimes I use whole wheat flour)

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 c. sugar (please, don’t mess with the sugar)

a sprinkle of cinnamon

Add these the dry ingredients:

1 cup of milk

1/4 c. soft margin (I think I’ve used olive oil here, but I don’t remember)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix until everything is wet. Fill muffin cups about 1/2 way. Bake 425 degrees for 15 mins.





I am a mother of two sets of twins and a singleton. I explore the wild world of multiples and provide resources for other parents of multiples.
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