Chili has never been my go-to for comfort food, but I spied a recipe in the Canadian Cowboy Cookbook that got me to thinkin’ how good a bowl of this spicy stew would taste and feel. It’s been a long cold month and I just wanted a little warmth in my life. I think it was the picture of the cast iron pot hanging on a log over a campfire that did it. 

I had three of the eight ingredients, but now I was determined, so I rooted through my pantry and fridge and came up with some excellent substitutes—and, this is the point of this post: most recipes can be altered if the ingredients you’re substituting stay within the same property profiles, so don’t be afraid to think outside the recipe box.

The original recipe calls for ground beef, onions, garlic, a can of diced green chilies, chili powder, cumin, red kidney beans, and a jar of salsa.

Instead of ground beef, I used a boneless blade roast. Instead of canned salsa (which didn’t appeal to me because there’s not one out there that I like), I used canned San Marzano tomatoes and added a 1/2 of a small can of tomato paste, a diced Serrano chili, onions and garlic and spices (I didn’t have  chili powder and cumin, so I used Ancho chili powder and Chipotle chili powder instead). I did use one can of red kidney beans plus I added one can of black-eyed peas. I also added about a cup of beef broth because the blade roast pieces needed liquid in which to slowly cook.

Also, the Canadian Cowboy recipe requires 30 minutes of cooking time. I cooked mine for almost two hours on low because 1) I wanted the big guys  (chili powders, onions, garlic to really get to know each other) and 2) a boneless blade roast has a fair amount of connective tissue attached; leave some on to help keep the pieces tender. By slow cooking, that tissue will break down adding flavour and the beef will be nice and tender.

What I didn’t do is take pictures all through the cooking process. I’ll blame that on the wine and the music—two other ingredients that are necessary when cooking.  I like to sip and sing, which means I sometimes forget about taking pictures. What matters is that the end result was spectacular; in fact, this is one of the best chilis I’ve ever made.

So, get creative, experiment, substitute, and go for it. If you fail, you can always turn the stew in to some kind of soup.