Today’s Super Bowl Recipe: Cincinnati-Style Chili

Today’s featured Super Bowl recipe is my sister-in-law Sarah Anstett’s Cincinnati Chili. Chili is the perfect Super Bowl party food, and with its unique blend of spices and serving styles, this chili is truly a standout at any party.

Tony is a traditionalist and loves his Cincinnati Chili served 4-way, while Gio and I love to indulge in a Cheese Coney or two. Whichever you way you serve it, you’ll score a touchdown with Sarah’s recipe!

For more great recipes, check out our Party Dips Page, featuring over 50 recipes from our 2013 Perfect Party Dip Contest.

We’ll be featuring our favorite Super Bowl recipes all week long, and we hope you’ll check back each day to find a new favorite (or two) to make this Sunday!

“Ways” to order Cincinnati Chili
Two-way:     spaghetti and chili
Three-way:   spaghetti, chili, and cheese
Four-way:     spaghetti, chili, onions, and cheese
Five-way:      spaghetti, chili, onions, kidney beans, and cheese

Sarah Anstett’s Cincinnati Chili Recipe

Serves: 6 to 8

2 lbs lean ground beef
4 onions, small diced, divided (some is for the chili, some for the topping)
2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
3 cups water
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1½ tablespoon distilled vinegar
¼ cup chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
5 bay leaves
2-3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup kidney beans (optional)

Brown beef with onions (reserving one cup) and garlic in a large skillet over medium high heat, stirring to crumble, and drain excess fat. Place browned mixture in a large pot and stir in the tomato sauce, water, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, salt, black pepper, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. If using beans, add them now. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Serve over spaghetti with reserved onions, and finely shredded, mild cheddar cheese, or over hot dogs with mustard, onions and cheese. This chili is also great over French fries or baked potatoes.

To store: Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, or freeze for up to two months.

Our Favorite Italian Hotdish: Baked Ziti Casserole

Several years ago, Tony and I hosted a weekly radio show, which included a regular segment called the “Hotdish Hot Seat,” and every week we would feature a different hotdish recipe submitted by one of our listeners. One week, our neighbors joined us in the hot seat and shared a recipe that has become one of our family’s all-time favorite easy meals: Baked Ziti Casserole.

Having grown up in Toronto, Tony was unfamiliar with the regional culinary category that is the vast world of hotdish, and has pretty much shied away from it as a rule. But, while this field may include such dubious specialties as tuna fish hotdish, tater tot hotdish and Fritos hotdish (a personal favorite of mine at any respectable church potluck), the very concept of hotdish could also include lasagna, manicotti and other Italian specialties that are baked “al forno” (in the oven).

A basic hamburger hotdish, or what Tony argues should more accurately be called ground beef hotdish, typically consists of elbow macaroni noodles, tomato sauce, hamburger meat, and some kind of shredded cheese. Some recipes call for a little bit of fresh onion and garlic while others might simply use onion and garlic powders, and some choose to forego this added flavoring altogether. But the core ingredients of pasta, meat sauce and cheese tend to make up the quintessential hotdish.

This week’s recipe is no exception, but due to its inclusion of authentic Italian ingredients like fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, as well as Italian sausage and fresh herbs, Tony has elevated its status to “deluxe hotdish” or what most of us would call a casserole.

The original version of this recipe came from the Food Network Kitchens, and we have made very few changes over the years. We have opted to use mild Italian sausage instead of spicy, and rather than removing the meat from the sausage casing, and then crumbling it, we prefer to use ground sausage which is easier to find fresh in our local stores.

This casserole features ziti noodles, which are smooth tubes of pasta about two inches long, with a smooth surface that makes them ideal for hotdish. An easy sausage marinara sauce is made from scratch, which can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use. I will often double the batch and freeze half of it for later use.

Sprigs of fresh thyme and basil are added to the sauce as it cooks, and then discarded. I haven’t tried dried herbs for this recipe as I feel that fresh is best in this case, but I do end up with a fair amount left over. The basil I can always use before it spoils, but I wash and dry the thyme sprigs, wrap them in plastic and freeze in a plastic bag for up to 2 months.

Half of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese are mixed into the meat sauce, while the remaining half is used to cover the pasta before baking.

Baked ziti casserole is a perfect choice when you need to make a meal for someone in need, and I have brought it to many a new mother, grieving family or sick relative. It freezes beautifully and is hearty enough to serve with a light salad and good, crusty bread. Kids love it, and our ten-year-old son, Giovanni, summed it up best.

“Baked ziti has all the good Italian tastes – meat, cheese, pasta and sauce. It’s a really good hotdish that your family will enjoy forever.”

Baked Ziti Casserole
Gently adapted from a Food Network Kitchens recipe

Serves: 6 to 8

1 pound dried ziti pasta
Kosher salt
3 1/2 cups sausage marinara sauce, recipe follows
1 pound fresh mozzarella, half cut into 1/2-inch cubes and half thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 to 2 tablespoons kosher salt and boil pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process if not using immediately.

Return the pasta to the pot and toss with the meat sauce, cubed mozzarella, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Transfer pasta mixture to an oiled 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Layer the top of the pasta with the mozzarella slices and and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned and bubbly, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sausage Marinara Sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28 oz. can whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (3 ½ cups), roughly chopped
Sprig fresh thyme
Sprig fresh basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Remove and discard the herb sprigs. Stir in the salt and season with pepper, to taste. Use now or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Acquacotta, A Delicious Tuscan Stone Soup

The new year has arrived and our cooler winter weather has given Tony a craving for a Tuscan soup specialty called Acquacotta, which literally means “cooked water.”

Acquacotta (pronounced “aqua-coat-a”) is a comforting vegetable soup with an ancient peasant history, and is said to have originated among the shepherds and coal men of the Maremma area in southwestern Tuscany. These workers were often away from home for long periods of time and traveled only with foods that could withstand the journey.

In those days, acquacotta consisted simply of water, bread, onions, tomato and olive oil, and any other vegetables or herbs that were on hand. It was an excellent way to utilize stale bread, as hearty chunks of old bread would soften and become edible as the base of the soup.

There are variations of a legend surrounding this Italian soup about a poor traveler who arrived in a village with just a stone, but was clever enough to convince the reluctant villagers to contribute ingredients to enhance his amazing “stone soup.” Somehow knowing that there’s a legend attached to it makes this soup taste even better.

A broth-based soup, acquacotta is light and simple, yet surprisingly comforting. It’s also quite affordable, and good for you, which makes it an excellent post-holiday option for a light lunch or dinner.

Today acquacotta is widely popular throughout Italy, and over the years more ingredients have been added to the soup. While the preparations are as varied as the regions of Italy, the use of egg and bread are the unique signatures of this soup and are present in nearly every version.

This recipe is an excellent way to use up old bread, but fresh bread is also fine. We like to use a loaf of good, crusty bread like French or Italian loaves, which we slice along the bias (for bigger pieces) and then toast in a 400-degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes until a light golden brown. The slices of bread should be generous enough to fill the bottom of your serving bowl.

We’ve added celery and carrots (great flavor builders for any soup), as well as red bell pepper, tomatoes and spinach for additional flavor, color and nutrition. While water was the original base for this soup, we prefer to use a low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock instead, which further enhances the flavor.

You can be as creative as you like by adding cannellini or kidney beans, mushrooms, parsley, basil, or whatever vegetables and fresh herbs you have on hand; but, keep in mind that acquacotta is, at its essence, a simple vegetable soup.

Some versions of acquacotta place a poached or fried egg on top of the soup, while others, like ours, use beaten eggs that get mixed in with the broth. We beat the eggs first, then mix them with grated Romano cheese. We place a slice of the stale or toasted bread in each bowl and pour a bit of the egg and cheese mixture over each slice. Then we ladle a hearty helping of the broth on top and serve.

According to Tony, making acquacotta is a fairly simple process. “All you have to do is sauté some vegetables, add the stock and you’re done. That’s it.” Sounds to me like the perfect antidote to a chilly winter day.

CLICK HERE for Acquacotta / Tuscan Stone Soup Recipe

3 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 lb. peeled, chopped tomatoes
1 lb. fresh spinach leaves
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cups water or chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 fresh eggs, beaten
1 cup Romano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Slices of stale or toasted Italian or French bread – slice on the bias for good size

Heat oil in a large stock pot, add onions, celery, carrot and bell pepper and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and cook over low heat until the greens have wilted.

Add the tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Add the water or stock and taste-test for seasoning, simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes.

Mix the eggs and cheese together. Line each serving bowl with one slice of toasted bread and spoon the egg mixture over each slice of bread.

Stir the soup well and ladle into each bowl – enjoy!

15 New Year’s Resolutions for Foodies

It almost goes without saying that most of us begin a new year with the resolve to lose weight and/or eat better. And we share this sentiment, too. But what about taking time to actually think about and enjoy our food? What does that even mean?

Over the past week, Tony, Gio and I have been talking about what we’d like to explore in the world of food for the new year, and we came up with a list of our top 15 food resolutions for 2015. Some are personal cooking goals, but most of them are just fun ways to expand our culinary horizons.

1. Try a new cheese each month

We could have stuck with our original idea of trying a new cheese every week, but what would happen if we missed a week? Our intention is to make these resolutions as reasonable, and achievable, as possible and we think we can manage at least one new cheese every month in 2015.

Fortunately, the new and improved Luna neighborhood café on south University Drive in Fargo has a fabulous cheese counter, and Peter Kelly, formerly of The Green Market, is the man behind it. Ryan Nitschke, the executive chef of the soon-to-be full-service restaurant also knows his way around the cheese counter, and we can’t wait to taste their recommendations for 2015. The fact that Luna is located just one block from our house makes this resolution almost too easy to achieve. :)

2. Eat together as a family more often

Tony, Sarah and Giovanni, in the Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

When I was growing up, my family had dinner together every single night and as I’ve grown older I’ve come to cherish that experience. But with our restaurant schedule, dining together just isn’t a regular possibility for our family and it’s easy to skimp out on preparing a proper home-cooked meal on our days off.

But our 10-year-old son, Gio, loves it when we sit down to enjoy a meal together at home, and we always feel closer as a family when we do. Once a week is a must for this one.

3. Use the good stuff

We have beautiful china that we rarely use, and our goal is to bring it out not just for special occasions, but anytime we dine together as a family. Even if we’re just serving pizza.

4. Try different oils

Extra virgin olive oil and canola oil are the staples in our house, but the world of oil is vast and we’d like to know it better. Tochi Products in north Fargo has a terrific assortment of oils to try, including grape seed, almond, sunflower, sesame and even white truffle oil.

5. Sharpen knives regularly

Sharpening Angle Guide

Photo by Simon A. Eugster (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

You would think that professionals in the food industry would have the sharpest knives on the block, but the knives in our drawer at home could not be duller. Creative Kitchenat West Acres offers knife sharpening services for a nominal fee, and even hosts free events several times throughout the year. This is the year we’re going to get our knives sharpened, at least once. :)

6. Add more fish to our diet

Fish is so good for us, but is often left out of our regular diets – even though we’ve featured some great fish and seafood recipes here on the blog, including Poached Salmon in Leek Cream Sauce, Shrimp alla Carbonara, Parmesan & Pepper Walleye, Fish Cakes, Seafood Linguini and the famous Sarello’s Red Curry Scallops.

We need to take advantage of all the healthy benefits fish bring to our diets, and thankfully our local supermarkets and restaurants have an abundance of great seafood options to keep this challenge interesting and delicious.

7. Try new foods

This could be as simple as sweet pickles or those cute little red peppadew peppers in the olive bar, as interesting as using exotic spices like saffron or turmeric, or as complex as mastering boeuf bourgignon or foie gras, but the goal is to have fun tasting and making new foods.

8. Seek out new food experiences

In 2014 we were blessed to participate in several new food adventures, including our “Italy on the Prairie” dinner last summer at the Coteau des Prairies Lodge in southern North Dakota, the inaugural “Banquet in a Field” farm-to-table event in rural Cass County (ND), and

Tony even traveled to Santa Rosa, CA to enjoy a lark as a contestant on Food Network’s hit show, Guy’s Grocery Games!

These were amazingly fun events and we enthusiastically say “More, please!” For a simpler quest, you could step outside your comfort zone and try a new restaurant, take a cooking class, check out a health food store, visit a bakery, order something different at your favorite restaurant, or visit a town for its famed local specialty.

9. Master Biscuits and Gravy


Photo by Yinan Chen ( (gallery, image) via Wikimedia Commons

Just because we love this classic southern specialty. I’ve made southern biscuits before, but am now in search of the perfect sausage gravy.

10. Bake once a week

Baking is like therapy for me, and I’m seeking some peace and calm in 2015. Baking once a week may be just what I need. I have some staples that I turn to when I just need to bake, like buttermilk brownies, angel food cake, Clipper Chippers (aka, the world’s best chocolate chip cookie) and almond friands, but I’m hoping to add some new items to my repertoire in 2015 and look forward to this challenge.

11. Make time to eat with friends

2010-07-20 Black windup alarm clock face

Food is a wonderful way to connect with others, but we rarely entertain in our home and often turn down dinner invitations, using our busy schedule as an excuse. It’s time for us to make more time to enjoy breaking bread with others.

12. Master a Roast Chicken

Roasted chicken with vegetables

Photo by Phoebe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Gio was looking through a recent issue of Saveur magazine earlier this month and was practically salivating as he showed me a picture of a gorgeous roast chicken. This comfort food definitely needs to be added to our repertoire.

13. Use location for inspiration

Last summer we were challenged to create almost a dozen different appetizers, each one inspired by a North Dakota crop, for the inaugural Banquet in a Field event. We are grateful to live in an area that is abundant with agriculture, which should give us plenty of inspiration for 2015.

14. Drink better coffee

I’ve always wanted to try making coffee from a French press – this may be the year.

15. Use our cookbooks

We have a huge collection of cookbooks but tend to gravitate toward just a few favorites. We’re going to prepare a new recipe each month in 2015, using a different, and previously unused, cookbook each time.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress throughout the year and hope you’ve enjoyed our list. Tony, Gio and I wish you a very happy, and delicious, new year!Happy New Year 2015