Beef and Bean Chili with Cornbread Croutons

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This is one of my go-to dinners, especially when the weather dips below 70 degrees here in the Sunshine State. It makes me feel all cozy to have a large pot of chili bubbling on the stove. Light a three-wick candle, slip on some fuzzy slippers, and get into the festive spirit of Florida winter with me.

Beef and Red Bean Chili with Cornbread Croutons

For the chili:

8 ounces ground beef

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 (15-ounce) can dark red kidney beans

1 (15-ounce) can light red kidney beans

1 (15-ounce) can black beans

1 (15-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup water, plus more as needed

For the cornbread:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 large egg

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square or round pan.

Make the chili: Brown ground beef in a large pot until mostly cooked through. Stir in tomato paste and let cook for about 30 seconds.

Add all beans and diced tomatoes, and stir to combine well. Add paprika, cumin, garlic powder, salt, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.

Add water and bring mixture to a boil. Stir, then reduce heat to low and let mixture simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Make the cornbread: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Stir in cheese.

In another bowl, whisk together milk, melted butter and egg. Add liquid to the flour mixture, stirring until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Leave oven on. Using a large knife, cut cornbread into 1-inch strips, vertically, then do the same thing horizontally, so you have 1-inch cubes.

Place cubes on a baking sheet, drizzle honey and butter over top, and bake for 10 minutes.

Taste the chili, and adjust any seasonings to your liking. If too watery, cook for another 10 minutes. If too thick, add a bit more water and stir well.

Spoon chili into bowls. Top with a handful of croutons per bowl and a handful of shredded Cheddar cheese. Serve.

Serves 4.

Source: Michelle Stark, Times food editor