Central Kansas eats: the good, the weird, the local.

Where I come from, you eat your chicken and noodles atop a pile of mashed potatoes.

Also, where I come from, you serve chili with cinnamon rolls on the side. And if you go to a church basement potluck, you are likely to see green Jell-O with pears inside and cheddar cheese grated up on top.

When my sister lived in Cincinnati, they put spaghetti in the bottom of the bowl, underneath their chili.

And if you live in Texas, your barbeque doesn't come all saucy like it does in Kansas City.

Tonight, Mr. Meat and Potatoes decided he was beginning a quest to create his own "World Famous Chili" recipe. It just so happened that I was in the middle of making up a batch of quick cinnamon rolls, and I thought that he'd arrived upon his chili-making mission because he's been inspired by the sight of my tray of gooey rolls, waiting to go in the oven. I thought he'd had visions of the lunch ladies in his grade school, dishing up those giant cinnamon rolls aside a bowl of beefy chili on a divided tray. Because that was the only lunch I would eat at school. My mother had to pack my lunch EVERY DAY - even in high school - unless it was chili and cinnamon rolls day.

But I was wrong. When I suggested we invite a couple of friends over to enjoy our "chili and cinnamon roll throwback night" Mr. M and P looked at me crazy. Because he, apparently, never once was served chili with a cinnamon roll relaxing next to it. His chili quest had nothing to do with my cinnamon rolls.

Still, simple coincidence? I think not. I think his subconscious knew that there would be no better complement to a rack of gooey homemade buns than a bowl of spicy goodness.

I can't publish his recipe for chili here because A) he hasn't perfected it yet, and B) he'll be wanting to keep it secret when he does. But I can publish mine, because I'm not so vain as to think it's going to win any contests, at least not first place. Once, at a job I had years ago, it took third. I still think I was robbed. They never did like me at that joint.

Third-Place Award Winning Chili

1 can hot chili beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 lb sirloin steak (or round, or whatever's on sale)
1 lb ground beef
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 can corn
2 cans diced tomatoes (use Muir Glen)
1 C water
2 T masa
1/3 C good chili powder
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 pkg dry ranch dressing mix
1 T butter

Step 1) Cook your meat. I like to cut my steak in cubes and cook it in the butter. Salt and pepper it liberally as you cook, and don't get it completely done. Brown the ground beef, and remove from the fat. Leave the fat in the pan for later use.

Step 2) Cook your onion, jalapeno, and peppers for just a few minutes in the reserved fat from the meat. Transfer meat and the softened veggies to a large stock pot.

Step 3) Add the rest of the ingredients to the stock pot, increasing the water if you think you'll need more liquid, and simmer it just as long as humanly possible.

But it won't be right if you don't have that cinnamon roll on the side, and that won't be right if it's not homemade... or at least sort of homemade.

Cheater Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

1 loaf of frozen bread dough, thawed
3 T butter, melted
2/3 C brown sugar
2/3 C granulated white sugar
2 T cinnamon

2 C powdered sugar
2 T milk

Step 1) Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface. This stuff is hard to roll out. I usually need to stretch it with my hands to help it along. You want it to be about 1 inch smaller than your cookie sheet on all sides.

Step 2) Mix the sugars and the cinnamon together in a bowl.

Step 3) Brush the butter all over the rolled out dough, all the way to the edges.

Step 4) Cover the buttered dough with the cinnamon/sugar mix liberally.

Step 5) Starting with the long end farthest away from you, begin to roll the dough forward toward you.

Step 6) Move the log to a cookie sheet or a cutting board, and slice into pieces, about 2 inches thick.

Step 7) Arrange slices spiral side up on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 for 20 minutes or until toasty on top but not too brown.

Step 8) Mix up the powdered sugar and milk, and drizzle icing over the tops of the rolls and eat them while they are still hot. With your chili.

Step 9) Deny to everyone you know that you used frozen dough.

So tell me, gentle readers. Did you get cinnamon rolls with your chili in grade school? What other idiosyncratic foods or combination did your locale serve up that we might not know about? I am all about trying the bizarre and best of other local food traditions. And, maybe we can make up some of our own. Like, maybe one day Lawrence will be known for serving pickles with our pork chops, or corn chips with our crown roast.


bloozman 13 years, 2 months ago

The chili-cinnamon roll pairing was very widespread back in the day. I know people from all corners (and the middle) of the state whose school lunch programs did it. Still happens at the grade school where my wife teaches. And it was virtually always the best-liked menu item.

Another favorite, back when schools received commodities through the USDA, was pizza with home-made crust.

lori 13 years, 2 months ago

I hope you served your chili with carrot sticks and pickles, in addition to the cinnamon rolls.

And I'm assuming you also had bierocks at school? I wonder if there is some correlation--schools that served bierocks also served the chili/cinnamon roll combo?

Luke Walters 13 years, 2 months ago

I grew up in central kansas in the 80s and 90s, and still have fond memories of chili and cinnamon rolls. The chili was pretty average, but the c-rolls were awesome. We also had bierocks regularly, which were also great.

Marcy McGuffie 13 years, 2 months ago

I did most of my growin' up, here in Lawrence. I completely forgot about the cinnamon roll/chili pairing. They also had tostada day - again, with the cinnamon rolls....and corn. Yum! No bierocks on the menu, though...

I've never been a big cinnamon roll fan, but I suddenly have a hankering for it...and I do have chili in the fridge...

rivercitymom 13 years, 2 months ago

I couldn't concentrate on your recipes today because I got stuck back at the first paragraph: "chicken and noodles atop a pile of mashed potatoes."

A friend who grew up in Downs makes that! REALLY GOOD and it involves chicken, lots of broth, Reames noodles and cream of chicken soup (to thicken it, I guess). I try to make it and its okay (my kids love it), yet, still, I strive to do better.

So, anywhooo, I'd love to see your recipe sometime.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 13 years, 2 months ago

Yes! Cinnamon rolls and chili--although our school never served bierocks. They did, however, serve something they called a po'boy, which was kind of like square slices of greasy, cheesy pie. Damn, I miss those things. I may be the only person who's gone to New Orleans and gotten the real thing and been disappointed that it wasn't the fatty, heartburn-inducing imposter I'd grown up with.

suggestionbox 13 years, 2 months ago

You had me at school cinnamon rolls. Really - you you have even had me at "school rolls" - just the plain white rolls...some kids would steal them from each other. They were that good. They sure did right by the startches! We also had that chili combo with carrots. Sometimes I will join my son at school and not surprisingly, the meals haven't really changed all that much. Still one of the best meals around. Thanks for the memories!

linswri 13 years, 2 months ago

Your people must come from the same place as my people...because not only do we have chili with cinnamon rolls, I never knew anyone did chicken noodles without mashed potatoes until I moved here. :)

Megan Green Stuke 13 years, 2 months ago

Yes! Beirocks! I think that was one of the few other meals I would eat at school. And yes, suggestionbox: I loved the plain white rolls too.

We also had something called "sombrero hats" which amounted to a piece of fried bologna with an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes on top of it, and cheddar cheese sprinkled on top of it all.

Rivercitymom: here's my chicken and noodles recipe. It's nothing fancy, but it's how we did it at my house growing up. We all love it in it's perfect simple goodnes.

SarahM1984 13 years, 2 months ago

I've lived in Kansas my whole life (Topeka and Lawrence). We always had cinnamon rolls with our chili at school and at home. I'm a teacher now in Lawrence and that's what we have at school. My best friend is from Illinois and they always had their chili with peanut butter sandwiches. I thought it was totally weird, but I tried it and it's not that bad. Still, cinnamon rolls is by far the best chili side dish.

ilovelucy 13 years, 2 months ago

We also had maple sticks with our chili at my grade/jr/sr high.

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