FARGO — My husband, Tony, is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, which means that the only thing we usually get to cheer about in our home during NFL football season is, you guessed it, the food.
And last Sunday, my Easy Cheesy Chili Dip had everyone cheering as we watched the Fish eke out a win over the Tennessee Titans.
This recipe was inspired by a popular dip that seemed to be everywhere in the 1980s, which was made by combining a can of chili with a brick of Velveeta cheese. I loved this dip as a teenager, but as an adult I wanted to see if I could create a made-from-scratch version that would replicate the wonderful creamy, cheesy nature of this dip without using any processed ingredients.
Instead of using canned chili, I make a simple, quick chili that takes just 15 minutes to cook and is every bit as satisfying. You can make this recipe using just one dish — an ovenproof skillet — which keeps the dishwashing at a minimum and helps the dip retain its heat better throughout serving. Or, you could cook the chili in a regular frying pan and then transfer it to a pie plate or baking dish to finish in the oven.
I begin by cooking ground beef with aromatics like garlic, onion and jalapeno pepper in just a bit of oil, which imparts deep flavor into the dish and intensifies the meatiness. This chili is best when the ground beef is broken down into small, crumb-like pieces, and I use a handy meat chopping tool to achieve this, but a potato masher or wooden spoon will also work.
Tomato paste, water and a blend of spices and seasoning are added next to round out the chili, with cayenne pepper providing just a touch of heat. For a creamy finish, I stir in four ounces of cream cheese, which gives the chili a lush and velvety texture that makes it firm enough to hold on a chip. We prefer this chili without beans, but red kidney beans could also be added at this stage for a chunkier version.
Once the cream is thoroughly incorporated, I cover the top of the chili with a generous sprinkling of shredded cheddar jack cheese and then bake it in a 375-degree oven until the cheese begins to bubble and brown. For an extra golden brown and cheesy crust, I finish the dip by broiling it on high for two to three minutes, watching it carefully to keep it from burning.
I love the simplicity of this chili, which can be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for up to two months before adding the cheese and baking, which makes me love it even more. When serving, I prefer hearty, restaurant-style yellow corn tortilla chips, which are strong enough to hold a generous mouthful of cheesy goodness.
My Easy Cheesy Chili Dip is like having a plate of super-deluxe nachos without the hassle of soggy chips, which is always touchdown in my book.
Sarah’s Easy Cheesy Chili Dip
Serves: 6 to 8
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ cup yellow onion, small-diced
½ jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
6 ounces tomato paste
1 cup water
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more for extra heat)
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar jack cheese
2 Roma tomatoes, diced into ¼-inch pieces
3 green onions, finely chopped
¼ cup black olives, sliced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a 9- or 10-inch oven-safe skillet, heat the oil and add the ground beef, garlic, onions and jalapeno pepper. Cook over medium heat until the beef is fully browned, and the onion is soft and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Use a meat chopper, potato masher or wooden spoon to break the beef into small, crumb-like pieces. Drain the excess fat and return the skillet to the stovetop.
Add the tomato paste, water, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cream cheese and stir until fully incorporated, then stir in the kidney beans, if using. Smooth the top and cover with the shredded cheese.
Bake in a 375-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and browned. For best results, finish by broiling on high until the top is a rich, golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Use a pot holder or handle cover to remove skillet from oven and sprinkle the top with an even layer of the diced tomatoes, green onions and black olives. Serve immediately with your favorite tortilla chips. Leftovers may be refrigerated for up to 3 days and reheated in the oven or a microwave-safe dish.
• If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, use a frying pan to make the chili, then transfer it to a 9- or 10-inch pie plate or baking dish and cover with the cheese.
• For extra heat, use the whole jalapeno pepper and/or increase the amount of cayenne pepper.
• Fresh cilantro may also be sprinkled on the top just before serving.
• For best results, serve with hearty, restaurant-style yellow corn tortilla chips.