To a large pot or Dutch oven, add the ground beef, heat over medium high, breaking down into small pieces. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and saute until golden brown. Drain off any excess fat.
While the ground beef mixture is cooking, break up the tomatoes by hand, squishing them. If the top portion, near the stem is hard and unpalatable, remove and discard.
Add in the chili powder, salt, celery salt, cumin, cayenne, basil and bay leaf. Stir to incorporate the spices. Heat for a minute.
Add in the tomatoes and juice along with water. Bring to a boil, adjust to a simmer and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thickened to desired consistency, about three hours, stirring now and then. Stir in the beans if desired.
note: I use 1 1/2 cups water and simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. A good long simmer is important to meld the flavors.
Keywords: Beans, Bell Peppers, canned tomatoes, Chili, Dried Beans, Family Recipe, Freezes Well, Ground Beef, Mexican or Southwestern, Soup, Tomatoes