Fall marks the beginning of the cold-weather gathering season. It begins with festivals and football games, and before we’re ready to let go of that blissful time when it doesn’t yet hurt to be outside, the holidays are here for a new season of gatherings.

I kicked off the season with friends, food and a fire pit, followed by the Carthage Maple Leaf Festival chicken pageant, dog show and chili cook-off. The upcoming weekend will be just as fall-full with a parade, craft shows and gatherings with friends and family.

So far, I’m nailing fall. At this rate, I should have enough fun stored up to make it through my winter hibernation.

With the pie contest coming up this Friday at the Carthage Senior Center, plus all the inspiration from the chili cook-off, my days are even more about food than usual. I’m perfecting a top-secret pie and tweaking chili for the weekend.

The only problem so far is the top-secret pie only exists in my head. I know one thing for sure: There will be peanut butter involved — maybe in the chili too. Why not? If a goober burger (a burger slathered with peanut butter) is so delicious, why wouldn’t chili be the same?

I didn’t participate in the chili cook-off, but maybe I will next year after perfecting my peanut butter chili. Stay tuned. Either way, it was fun to taste all the chilis and talk to the people who made them. Several of them had never participated in a cook-off before; it’s serious business. They arrived at Central Park early in the morning and had to cook everything there, outdoors with no electricity, to be ready for tasting at noon. Impressive.

The chili that won was in my top two favorites, but honestly, they were all good enough to enjoy a bowl full. Some included beans, most were made with ground meat, and a couple included shredded pork and steak. One was particularly smoky-tasting, one was served with pickled peppers and a couple had some serious spicy kick.

That’s the beauty of chili: Everyone has a different recipe, but they’re all still chili. And chili of any sort is pretty darned good.

As the temperature drops and the leaves fall, gather with your favorite folks and share food. If you’re hosting, try these main dish recipes and have the crowd bring the rest.

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Seriously, the best healthy turkey chili

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

1 pound ground turkey or chicken

4 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes

1 1/4 cups chicken broth

2 (15-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15-ounce) can sweet corn, rinsed and drained

Optional toppings: cheese, avocado, tortilla chips, cilantro, sour cream

Place oil in a large pot and over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in ground turkey and break up the meat, cooking until no longer pink. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper and salt; stir.

Add tomatoes, chicken broth, kidney beans and corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until chili thickens and flavors come together. Taste and adjust seasonings and salt as necessary.

Recipe adapted from www.ambitiouskitchen.com.

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The best sloppy Joes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 to 2 onions, roughly chopped

2 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2/3 cup smoky barbecue sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper

8 to 12 rolls or buns

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until they start to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until it is finely crumbled, the liquid boils off and the meat begins to brown, about 10 minutes.

Drain the grease off the meat and onions. Stir in the tomato paste, until the meat is coated. Add the barbecue sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire, soy sauce and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve the sloppy Joes hot with warmed rolls.

Recipe adapted from www.melskitchencafe.com.

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Slow cooker chicken baked tacos

5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 bottle Italian dressing

1 1/2 tablespoons cumin

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Tacos:

1 can black beans, drained and mashed

12-15 crunchy taco shells

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Grape tomatoes, sliced in half

Jalapeno, sliced and seeded

Cilantro, chopped

Avocado, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons green salsa

3 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon milk

Place chicken breasts in slow cooker. Pour the full bottle of salad dressing over the chicken. Sprinkle cumin, paprika and garlic over the top and mix with a spoon. Cover with the lid and cook on high for 4 hours. Remove chicken breasts from and let cool. Shred and move to a glass bowl; pour most of the liquid over the chicken and set aside.

Make guacamole sauce by mixing the avocado and green salsa together. Pour the guacamole mixture through a strainer until smooth and transfer to a squeeze bottle. Cut the tip off the lid of the squeeze bottle to make the opening more wide if needed.

Make the sour cream sauce by mixing the sour cream and milk together until thinned. Transfer to a squeeze bottle.

In a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish, fill all 12 to 15 taco shells with a layer of beans, cooked chicken and shredded cheese. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. While still in the dish, top tacos with tomatoes, jalapeno and cilantro. Finish with a drizzle of guacamole and sour cream.

Recipe adapted from www.nobiggie.net.

Amanda Stone is a food and gardening columnist for The Joplin Globe. Email questions to amandastone31@gmail.com or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

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