Thursday, July 11, 2013


Growing up in Nebraska, there was always one day on the school's monthly lunch calendar that everyone looked forward to: Chili Day. Even in the middle of spring, most of my classmates and I would ditch our sack lunches or the other "hot food" option to enjoy this delicacy.

Oh, the chili itself wasn't anything special. It had tomatoes, beans and ground beef – everything you would expect and want in a traditional chili. What had all of us kids excited was what came with the chili: a cinnamon roll. This sweet and gooey carb perfectly partnered with the hearty soup to make a delicious meal.

My mom's chili and cinnamon rolls were always a hit at home. Coming from a family of four children with four different tastes, there were few universally liked meals. But when Mom made chili, no one complained. How could you when you were going to get a side of cinnamon roll? It was basically like having dessert for dinner.

It wasn't until I graduated from college and began to travel the country that I discovered chili and cinnamon rolls were not a universally accepted marriage of foods. Oh, I knew some people liked their chili with cornbread or Fritos, while others served it on top of spaghetti (Cincinnati Chili – another Chapman family favorite). But I assumed people chose those options when they didn't have cinnamon rolls. 

So, today I’m pleased to share a meal that is both a Chapman favorite and a Nebraska favorite: Chili and cinnamon rolls.

In preparation for this post, I reached out to my mom. When it comes to cooking, and just about anything in life, she’s the smartest lady I know. In addition to giving me a couple of her recipes, I hoped she could give me some insight into the world of chili and cinnamon rolls.

Here's how our exchange went:

Me: When did you first have the cinnamon roll and chili combo? I can't remember my first time, because it's what we always ate.

Mom: I think I first had chili and cinnamon rolls when we moved to Oxford. At school, we always had cinnamon rolls and chili together and ham and beans and cornbread with honey butter. 

(Quick note: Yes, my mother is an Oxford woman. Granted, she's from Oxford, Nebraska, rather than England, but it's a point of pride. I like to think she was kind of a big deal in her small town. She won a beauty pageant – Queen of Turkey Days. But that's a story for another day.)

Me: Do you know why it is we Nebraskans do this?

Mom: I think Nebraskans do this because it tastes good and Nebraskans like to eat food that tastes good, especially if the nutrition value is questionable.

Me: How did you come up with your recipes?

Mom: From my mother’s example.

Me: What made this such an appealing meal for us to have countless times over the years? Was it because it was a crowd pleaser in our house? Was it easy to make? Did you just really like it? 

Mom: We had  it so much, because we really liked it. And why not, it is good.

My mother's right. Think what you like, my non-Cornhusker friends, but this combo is completely delicious. Give it a try, and I'm sure you'll agree.

Cinnamon Rolls 

I asked my mom for her recipe, which she says came from her mom. As my investigation ensued, I realized Grandma and Mom took their recipes from Betty Crocker and other cookbooks. I know, scandalous. In any case, here’s one of the easier to make recipes. If you’re like me, you don’t have hours and hours of time to burn. You also probably don’t need six dozen rolls, which is what the other recipe yielded. Yikes!

2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 cup warm water
1 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
7 to 7-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, softened
5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
Confectioners' sugar

Add yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and water into a large bowl. Heat milk and butter on the stove. Add mixture to yeast mixture. Stir in 3 cups flour, eggs, salt and remaining sugar. Add remaining flour in 1/2 cup increments until dough is soft.

Place dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Once doubled, divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 15- by 12-inch rectangle. Brush with softened butter. Combine the cinnamon and sugar; sprinkle evenly over rectangle. Roll up tightly. Slice each roll into 12 pieces. Place in two greased 13- by 9-in. baking pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool. Frost with icing. Serve warm. Makes two dozen.


Friends, let’s step into the circle of trust for another bombshell. (Deep breath) I've never followed an exact recipe for chili. I usually throw together a bunch of ingredients that sound good. When I asked my mom about her recipe, she said, "I don’t really have a chili recipe, I just open a lot of cans." My older brothers do the same.

So, the official Chapman family chili recipe is we don’t have a recipe. Or (see cinnamon roll recipe above) we borrow it from a cookbook or magazine.

But, because I can’t send you off into the world of cinnamon rolls and chili without something, I have a few chili-making suggestions.

If you're a meat eater, brown a pound of ground beef in a pan on your stove. As a pescetarian (I'm going to let you look up that one, but know it's a dietary practice, not some new religious sect), I'd use soy crumbles or a can of corn (strained). Once it’s done, drain the meat and put it in a large pot or slow cooker.

Next, add four cans of beans. This is where you can get inventive with your recipe. I use four different types of beans (chili, kidney, black and pinto), because I like to live dangerously. If you’re not into thrill-seeking, stick to chili or kidney beans.

Go ahead and toss in a chopped onion (or don’t if you’re one of my siblings who doesn’t like onions, which is weird, so I say do it), two cans of diced tomatoes with their juice, a small can of tomato paste, salt, pepper and a pepper of some kind. I hate jalapenos and habaneros, so I suggest a bell pepper or two for color.

For fun, I like to add half a cup of beer. I don’t know if it adds much flavor, but drinking the remaining bottle sure perks me up. If you’re a prohibitionist, add a can of water and have half a bottle of beer less fun than I’m having. Oh, who are we kidding? I’ll probably finish off the rest of that six-pack before the night is done.

In some places, people add about twenty other spices and ingredients, but at this point I suggest leaving your chili alone. We Chapmans are a pretty simple bunch who like to keep our food simple.

Cover the pot, let it simmer for a couple of hours – or better yet, put that soup in a slow cooker first thing in the morning, set it on low and eat it for dinner that night.

So, if you’re following at home, here’s a list of ingredients:

1 pound of beef or fake meat
1 diced onion
4 cans of beans
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
1 pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Six-pack of beer (1/2 bottle for cooking, the rest for drinking)

Once it’s done cooking, serve it with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese and a cinnamon roll. By the time you eat all of this, and polish off that sixer, I’m sure you’ll agree we Nebraskans know what we’re doing when it comes to chili.

LAURA CHAPMAN is a blogger and soon-to-be published author of women’s fiction. A 2008 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Laura studied journalism, English and history. She spent four years in corporate journalism, traveling the country as a writer/photographer, and currently works in marketing and communications. Born and raised in Nebraska – in a city, not on a farm – she is a devoted football fan, lover of British period drama and frequent bar attendee. Her debut novel, Hard Hats and Doormats, and a holiday novelette will be released later this year.

Contact Laura

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  1. I have never had chili and cinnamon rolls together. But, I do love both very much. My favorite way to eat chili (made with beans and ground beef, yes some people in Texas believe beans don't belong in chili, but I love it). I like it over rice loaded down with cheddar cheese on top. Ooey gooey goodness.....

    1. Cheese is an absolute must. My brother (who is a vegetarian) likes to put the rice in instead of the corn I like. And it's delicious. Great tip!

  2. What an interesting combination! I've actually never heard of the two paired together but I think it sounds fabulous since I am such a big fan of both!! Now I want cinnamon rolls!

    1. One of my brother's friends and I fantasize about making a cinnamon roll bread bowl to try our chili in. :) I hope you'll give it a shot this winter!

  3. O-M-G! I love this! I am originally from Nebraska and I totally agree. Chili and cinnamon rolls made the best school lunches - EVER!

    And I love the part about beer as an ingredient and a beverage as you are cooking. It reminded me of a story about my dad. He hardly ever cooked but about once a year he would make his 'famous' chow mein. It would take him all day!

    After I got married, I got the recipe from him, started it in the morning (for our evening meal), but finished it in just a couple of hours.

    The ingredients he forgot to mention, and didn't occur to me, were all the tomato beers and friends who stopped by to 'help' him cook.

    Thanks for the nice stroll down memory lane. Good luck with your book, Laura. I'll keep an eye out for it.

    And Go Big Red!!

    1. I didn't know you were originally from Nebraska! Go Big Red, indeed! Thanks for sharing your story, too. I loved it.

  4. Oh Laura Chapman, how wonderful is this? "One pound of beef or fake meat" might be the best line, but there are so many ("Queen of Turkey Days" is another and just means I wish I knew your mom!). So, chili with cinnamon rolls. Yep, that's a new one for me. I know we New Englanders don't know our chili as well as our friends west and south of us, although my Texas friend couldn't wait to show off her recipe. That's where I learned about the Fritos at the bottom of the bowl. This one I'm going to tuck away for cooler weather, and then I'm going to live a little bit of your life for one evening. Thanks, Laura! And thanks as always to terrific Tracie for her excellent blog. :-)

    1. I'm glad you liked it. :) My mom is an awesome lady. I adore her. In addition to being named Queen of Turkey Days (which was a beauty pageant) she also won Miss Congeniality, which goes to show she's both sweet and beautiful.

      Let me know how your cinnamon roll and chili experience goes. I just love it.

  5. Laura - I am starving now! I adore both cinnamon rolls and chili. Not from Nebraska, but Upstate New York definitely shares a similar climate! (Oh ... and I love the six-pack of beer ingredient! Too funny :)

    xx, Lauren

    1. It's always a party if food and beer are involved. :)

  6. Queen of the Turkey Days?? That sounds like the title of a novel I'd like to read. And I love your mom's comment about Nebraskans loving food with questionable nutritional value. Great post!

    I never heard of this combo, but I'd be totally willing to try! I make the Trader Joe's corn bread when we have chili and it's very sweet, so I love sweet w/ chili. And I put a little cinnamon and some nutmeg in my spaghetti sauce, so the cinnamon part sounds good to me too!

    1. Mom made an excellent point -- if there are carbs and refined sugar involved, it's probably on our menu.

      I love cinnamon and nutmeg in chili when we add cocoa powder and serve it over spaghetti.

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  8. Love this post! :) Not only did I discover a new food combination (which I definitely need to try one day) but I'm now craving chili, cinnamon rolls AND Fritos.

    1. Glad you liked it -- thanks for reading!