At work, I received a mass-email inviting me to participate in a big chili cook-off, a fundraiser of some sort. I ignored the offer because even if I like to cook, that doesn’t mean I’m very confident that strangers might like my cooking or even prefer it to other strangers’ cooking.
But then the emails kept coming. And coming. And coming. Finally, I figured that they were low on entrants and actually needed people. I liked those odds, so I typed up a reply email, hovered over my mouse for about 10 minutes, and finally hit “send.”
First step was coming up with a good name. I’d heard from other people at work that the name was key because people’s votes could be swayed by a clever name. I asked around for help because I was hopeless – I just call my recipe “chili.” I vetoed anything that had my name in it, because let’s face it, “Jolie’s delicious chili” is a stupid name. Finally, hubby grinned with a triumphant look as he calmly said “Call it ‘First Time’ chili.” I was confused but wasn’t sure if I wanted to admit that I didn’t get it. “First time chili?” I finally asked. “Yeah, because it’s the ‘first time’ you’ve had chili this good!” Ding ding ding, I had my name.
I felt confident that my recipe is unique. It’s my own combination of two different recipes: my mom’s, typed up and emailed, and one on allrecipes.com. Even my mom’s is never the same, as you could tell in her email: “a bunch of tomatoes, fresh or canned or smooshed," etc. Basically, what I ended up doing a few years ago is combining mom’s spices with the base ingredients of the recipe I found online to find one that suited my idea of what chili should be.
I start off with a green pepper and an onion. I like to chop them up pretty finely, since I don’t think that huge chunks of either really belong in chili.
Then brown some ground beef with chopped garlic. God,I love this deep skillet. I think it’s the one pot that I use most often.
Cook until browned, then drain. Add the onion and green pepper, and cook it until the veggies are tender.
While it’s cooking, drain and rinse some red kidney beans and pinto beans.
When the veggies are soft, transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Neither original recipe says to do it this way, but I have found that the longer it simmers, the better the flavor is, so I always plan to take a full day for this.
Add diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.
And the beans.
And then all of your spices and seasonings, which includes cayenne pepper, brown sugar, oregano, black pepper, salt, cumin, chili powder, cloves, and cocoa powder.
Stir it all up..
And cover it and leave it alone.
It simmered all day while I was at work, chilled overnight, and then simmered the whole next morning at work. I made two batches for the competition (borrowed an extra crock pot) and almost all of it was gone by the time the cook-off was over.
There were some pretty interesting chilis there. There was one with beer and honey and venison, one that was Asian-inspired, one that tasted like Louisiana-style red beans and rice, and one that was vegetarian.
I had typed up a list of ingredients for people to look at when they tasted mine. I have no weird compulsion to protect my secret recipe, and I figured people might appreciate it more if they knew what was in it.
Someone pocketed the list. Deliberately. This padded my ego.
And in the end, I won third prize and my very own apron. Woo hoo!
Okay, yes, the competition was in 2010. I have since changed jobs. But that recipe is still called "First time chili” and it is still my personal favorite chili recipe. I took all these pictures a few months ago and never got around to posting. Writing this up is making my mouth water and now I want to go to the store for some ground beef and green pepper.