Chili with Beer Bread and the Rooting Reflex

One of my favorite parts of working in the newborn nursery is checking primitive reflexes. Rooting reflex is when the newborn turns his head toward your finger when you touch his cheek. Sucking reflex is when the newborn sucks on your finger when you touch the roof of his mouth. These are primitive reflexes which reflect the health of the baby brainstem, which do fade during development, and should be absent at around 3 to 6 months of age. Should these reflexes return later in life, the return of the primitive suggests a degenerative neurological process. This evidence, however, has not been tested specifically in a cohort of people exposed to my chili and beer bread. Although it has no documentation in the literature, allow me to attest that I’ve seen grown men rooting toward this dish—and have personally experienced olfactory seizures as the chili fills the kitchen with spicy scent.


Chili with Beer Bread and the Rooting Reflex

2-3 lbs. ground beef

1 large sweet onion, chopped

1-2 TB. minced fresh garlic

½ tsp. salt, to taste

½ -1 tsp. ground pepper taste

1 15-oz. can light red kidney beans, drained

1 15-oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained

2 15-oz. cans black beans, drained

1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 24-oz. can pizza sauce, any tomato marinara

1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, fire roasted are best

2 TB. dijon mustard

2 TB. Worcestershire sauce

2 1/2 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp cumin

dash hot sauce

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 12-oz. bottle beer, I used KP’s lemon coriander batch from last spring

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef, onion, garlic, salt and pepper until nicely browned. Drain well and place in a slow cooker or soup kettle with lid. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cook on low for at least 4, but 6 hours ideally. The flavor will only improve with extra time. If you are cooking on the stovetop, keep the heat low and stir every half hour or so. Watch for rooting.


Beer Bread

Adapted from Penzey Spice catalogue

3 Cups flour

¼ cup corn meal

¼ cup flax seeds

1 TB Italian seasonings (I didn’t really measure, threw in random pinches of rosemary, oregano, and thyme)

3 TB sugar

1 ½  TB. baking powder

1-2 tsp. salt

1 12-oz. can beer, room temperature, I used KP’s homebrew of lemon coriander

1/4 Cup butter, melted (for topping, optional—I didn’t do this, but you would pour it over the top of the loaf when it comes out of the oven.)                               

Preheat oven to 350 if using a metal loaf pan. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and stir to mix. Make a well in the center. Pour the beer in the well and then mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into a lightly greased loaf pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Let cool before slicing.

I noticed the crust seemed to be rather addictive for my guests. I made this bread as a last minute idea an hour before my dinner party arrived, some time ago, to complement the main course which was a steaming vat of chili (apparently I did not photograph said chili). The bread, with the hint of cornmeal and lemon coriander from the beer, disappeared in haste. Guests would, ever so sly, brush past the oven, maybe dusting the stovetop surface to look busy, allthewhile locking eyes with the beer bread, and then, quick!, snap off an extra nibble of crust before leaning into the corner toward the library to munch their spoils in peace. Primitive reflex? Hoarding?

Want to give a shoutout to my Awesome Neighbor Janelle who last night gave me a couple servings of her own special chicken chili—so again, though, it hasn’t been documented in the academic literature, I am an anecdotal witness to the existence of Chili Karma. To whom much has been given, much will be required. To whom gives, many gifts shall return.

4 thoughts on “Chili with Beer Bread and the Rooting Reflex

    1. Sure is more cozy with a bowl of chili steaming under your face…but this spring is very much a Seattle spring to me right now– mist and cold rain.

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