Slow Cooker Recipe: Three Bean Chili Deluxe. This recipe has won chili-cookoffs all over the country!   |   Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey of Café Johnsonia.

We are exactly 7 months into our new life in Oakland, and frustratingly, we are still trying to get a handle on our family schedule. Coming up with dinners continues to be one of our biggest challenges — and I know that’s not unusual for families everywhere. In fact, I get emails almost weekly asking for tips and suggestions about weeknight meals and menu ideas. And I get it. So often at our house, we find ourselves looking at our clock and saying, “Dinnertime already?!” At which point, we cross our fingers that there are spaghetti ingredients in the cupboards, or order out for pizza, or hit the drive-thru.

But the whole family is pretty discouraged with the last-minute meals at this point, so Ben Blair and I have vowed to do better. Over the years we’ve gone through crummy eating phases now and again, so this isn’t the first time we’ve had to regroup. Luckily, at this point we know the big trick that works for us: We decide on the dinner menu before we start work that day.

This works for us because we aren’t caught off guard when meal time rolls around, and we can also note if any early prep needs to be done during the day (like marinating something), and work it into our schedule. It’s also a chance to check that we have the needed ingredients, and if not, we can also plan a stop at the grocery store into our daily errands. I don’t know if this trick works for all families, but for us it’s magic!

Slow Cooker Recipe: Three Bean Chili Deluxe. This recipe has won chili-cookoffs all over the country!   |   Design Mom

In addition to deciding the dinner menu first thing in the morning, we’ve also been making use of slow-cooking techniques. Yes, it’s great to have dinner decisions made when mealtime rolls around, but it’s even better to have dinner cooked and ready to go! So I thought it would be fun to share a series of slow-cooker recipes that our family loves. Most will be longtime family favorites (like today’s recipe), and some will be new-to-us recipes we’re trying out.

I’m super excited about this new series! I hope it will be helpful to you, and I hope you’ll share your own tips and suggestions on every post. As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you in a recipe rut? Any particular foods you hope I’ll cover? Thoughts on the series in general? Let me know!

One more note before we jump into the recipe: I don’t actually use an electric slow cooker! Since we work at home, and aren’t leaving the cooking food unattended, we typically do our slow cooking on the stove top in a heavy pot (as described here). But these recipes will work for any type of slow cooking — crock pots included!

And now, without further ado, the first recipe in this new series: Award Winning Three Bean Chili Deluxe!

Slow Cooker Recipe: Three Bean Chili Deluxe. This recipe has won chili-cookoffs all over the country!   |   Design Mom

The Blair family chili recipe has become legendary — it has been entered into chili-cookoffs all over the country. By us, by friends, by Design Mom readers. And it has won many, many times! It’s a pretty fantastic chili for several reasons, including how easy it is to make. It’s recipe my family has been making (and loving) for 14 years!

Three Bean Chili Deluxe

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 heaping teaspoons chopped garlic (about 3-4 cloves)
3, 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
2, 16 ounce cans light kidney beans (do not drain)
2, 16 ounce cans dark kidney beans (do not drain)
2, 16 ounce cans black beans (do not drain)
1 entire packet of powdered Ranch Dressing mix
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 spoonfuls of the secret ingredient (which is cream cheese)

1. Have a large slow cooker ready. In a skillet, brown the ground beef with the onion and garlic. Drain the fat. Transfer to slow cooker.
2. Add the remaining ingredients. Place lid on slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4 hours.
3. Ladle into bowls and top with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and green onions. (Bacon is also delicious if you have any on hand!)

We also think this chili is just right thickness for chili-cheese hotdogs. Yum!

Slow Cooker Recipe: Three Bean Chili Deluxe. This recipe has won chili-cookoffs all over the country!   |   Design Mom

– If the chili seems like it’s getting too dry while it cooks, add a little more tomato sauce or water. It’s supposed to be pretty thick, but you don’t want it to burn on the bottom.
– This chili just gets better as it sits and the flavors meld. You can make it several days in advance.
– This makes a big batch perfect for a big family or group. You can freeze the leftovers or keep them for about one week.
– Our recipe isn’t very spicy. If you like a spicier chili add more chili powder and cumin, or add some cayenne pepper, to taste.

P.S. — Need lunchtime menus? Check out this super helpful series of 23 lunch box menus your kids will love!