Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chili Cook-off heats up winter night

2/27/08 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

There’s nothing like a heaping bowl of “red” or chili con carne to warm body and soul on a cold winter’s eve. The evening of January 19, the good cooks at Delight Valley Church of Christ warmed up a whole roomful of folks at their chili cook-off.

Pastor Bob Friend introduced the judges for the event, beginning with representatives of the fire department — Howard Schesser and (later) Joe Raade. It was felt that they might be needed in case things got too hot! As it turned out, Joe was late due to some fire department business. Fortunately, his wife Lynn was able to step in for him and they later combined notes.

I was the third judge to be put on the hot seat and my husband Chuck rounded out the panel. When one gentleman playfully offered me a bribe, Chuck immediately stuck out his hand, changed hats and became my business manager!

Each of us was given a clipboard with a judge’s work sheet attached, leaving room for comments. Then, we trooped into the serving area and filled a tray with 11 numbered paper cups. The cooks hopefully filled our cups from their slow cookers and the tasting began.

While we were working hard at our job of tasting and choosing, the other guests were chowing down and making their choices for the People’s Choice award. They helped themselves to as many bowls as they could eat and topped them off with a variety of condiments: pungent diced onion, zesty salsa, smooth sour cream or freshly grated cheese. Hot corn bread was also served and ice cream was the final course to cool everyone’s tummies.

It was intensely quiet at the judges’ table as we began our task. To make an informed decision, some of us were even forced to go back and get second helpings. The ingredients were similar (beans, meat, tomato sauce, spices) but the results were diverse. One cook added mushrooms and another prepared a chicken chili with a clear broth.

I had brushed up on some terms to use in case I needed to validate my opinion. My favorite phrase was “It has a nice after-burn.” I used it a lot in my notes but no one seemed to care. In fact, I was the loser all the way around. The pastor made my favorite chili. It had a nice, almost smoky taste but I cast the lone vote in his favor.

The other judges were overwhelmingly in favor of Linda Bailey’s chili. It was made with cubed beef, had a strong chili flavor with a mild after-burn (isn’t that a wonderful word?) and a slight sweetness to balance out the chili. Linda is wisely not sharing her recipe because she plans to compete in the October Chili Cook-Off in downtown Cottage Grove.

The judge’s second choice was Donna Meyer’s chili. It was nicely balanced with a variety of ingredients that melded together into a tasty blend of meat, beans and veggies. A genuine meal in a bowl.

The judge’s third choice was Arlene Macauley’s chili. This chili is a simple blend of hamburger, kidney beans, tomato soup and spices. She’s what I call a “cook by the seat of your pants.” She doesn’t measure and just adds ingredients “until it tastes good.”

The People’s Choice awards reversed the judge’s first and third choices; they eliminated Donna Meyer’s chili and added Jim Horton’s. So, the People’s first place winner was Arlene Macauley; second place was Jim Horton and third place was Linda Bailey.

Jim, another free spirit cook, said that he doesn’t have a recipe. He just threw his ingredients together and the result won him a second place ribbon. And just for the record, my notes say that his chili had “a nice after-burn.”

Donna Meyer’s Favorite Chili

1-pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cans (15-ounce, each) kidney beans, drained
1 can (15-ounces) black beans, drained
1 beef bouillon cube
1 package chili seasoning (Durkee)
1 cup water
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) stewed Mexican tomatoes

Brown meat in large skillet on medium heat; drain. Add onions, garlic and bell pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until tender.

Add beans, tomatoes, water, chili seasoning and bouillon cube. Mix well. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Arlene Macauley’s Chili

2 pounds of hamburger
4 cans of red kidney beans
1 can of tomato soup
Brown sugar
Cayenne pepper
Monterey Jack Cheese

Brown hamburger and drain. Add the remainder of ingredients and simmer. Taste periodically and add more of whatever seems to be needed.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

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