The Chili Cook Off Challenge
Happy Columbus Day and National chili month! This past weekend I tasted nearly 30 different bowls of chili and Brunswick Stew at the annual Brookhaven Chili Cook Off. Luckily, I was judging the professional chef division which included some of the best chili in the Southeast. I’ve never seen so many different kinds of chili, from venison and veal to Wagyu, brisket, prime rib, turkey, smoked chicken, barbecue pork and even wild boar! And the toppings were equally creative, my favorites being a fiery cilantro habanero crema and a rich Wisconsin sharp cheddar spread that I’d love to slather on just about anything.
Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be craving chili again anytime soon. Despite hooking my family up with VIP tastings, my husband was so busy running after our girls who were not exactly on best behavior on Saturday that he was left craving some good chili. Lucky for him, I keep our favorite chili in the freezer, so lucky for me, I get to take a holiday from cooking today. Here it is, the winning chili, well, it would have been had it been entered in the competition!
Comfort Food for the Soul
For me, it’s all about the texture of the meat, the vegetables, the meat to bean ratio and most importantly, the thick savory sauce bursting with complex layers of flavor and spice. And the way it warms your soul. Oh, and did I mention I need to get this on the table quickly to feed my hungry guests so I can enjoy the party too? Chili tasting is subjective and everyone seems to have a strong opinion on just what makes the perfect bowl. Take it from this newly self-professed chili expert, the tastiest, healthiest chili you will ever try is right here.
The Big Chill
This chili is even better the next day (if you have any leftovers) when the flavors have really had a chance to meld and explode. It also freezes well so don’t be afraid to make an extra big pot. My husband loves homemade chili and hot dogs for a quick weekend lunch so I always keep single servings for him in the freezer.
You could almost call this “pantry” chili because it’s made with ingredients that I regularly stock in my pantry. And thanks to an easy and inexpensive “secret” ingredient, it always leaves my guests guessing and begging for more. My secret is using Baked Beans (I like Brown Sugar and Bacon but any will do) along with the usual Chili Beans. I told you it was easy.
There are so many complex flavors and textures going on in this ridiculously easy dish. With minimal preparation time and inexpensive, but quality ingredients, this flavorful chili magically comes together in my cast iron pot with little to no help from me. But it’s nearly impossible to go within 10 feet of the kitchen and not sneak a peek and taste. After all, we need to make sure the pot is working it’s magic and every once in a while I do need to spice it up just a bit. But while you’re in there tasting, could you do me a favor and give it a quick stir? This is one of the few chili bowls I have ever tasted that didn’t need a little dollop of this or that to complete it. Since it’s made with lean ground beef and doesn’t need sour cream or cheese added to it, I guess you could say it’s a pretty healthy chili bowl too!
Suggested Wine Pairings
This sweet and spicy beef and bean chili calls for a wine that can stand up to its bold, complex flavors, like a California Zinfandel, Shiraz, Malbec or Côtes-du-Rhône.