My Chili Story - A Very Long Journey to First Place (recipe included)

So a few weeks ago there was an e-mail at work regarding a staff chili cook off to raise money for Relay for Life. Our school does a lot of community/charity work and I donate when I can and in areas that I think I can be most beneficial. This was one of those areas. I didn’t think that my chili making skills were advanced by any means, but I thought that I was well passed the novice stage that I would give it a whirl. I mean, it was to raise money for a good cause.

So I committed. It is probably worth noting that I have never made chili the same way twice. Every time I make chili, I “eyeball” it and throw in whatever is laying around the kitchen or that I find interesting at the grocery store/farmer’s market. I should also add that I don’t like chunks in my food, and I don’t care for beans at all. When I eat chili, I’m interested in the hamburger and tomato-based, spicy sauce in which it sits, and that’s really it.

The Night Before

The cook-off was on a Wednesday, so it required making chili mid-week which I suspected would be problematic with Patrick. I was right. Patrick had a rough day overall with Dan and didn’t nap much in the evening for me to give the chili the true attention that it deserved. However, I was able to throw something together. I started off with browning the meat. I ripped off the plastic and turned the tray upside down to hear a crash into the pan. The 2+ pounds of meat was still frozen. Ugh. I tended to it and chopped up the meat the best that I could. I got the veggies and spices in, and got it to simmer. Ideally, the chili would have been dinner for Dan and I. I didn’t feel like having any by the time we were eating (sometime after 7). Dan had some, and he commented that the chili was sweet, but didn’t live up to the claim of zesty in its name. (I had to make a sign for my entry, so I called my dish Sweet & Zesty Chili. Being me I made a fancy sign with scrapbooking paper and tools.) I was exhausted but knew that the chili needed to continue to simmer, so I took a nap on the couch waiting for Patrick to wake up for his feeding. To my knowledge, the chili was simmering away on the stove.

Around 10:00pm I woke up and decided to put my chili away for the next day. I turned off the stove and uncovered the pot. I was shocked that it wasn’t steaming. In fact, it was cold. Though the knob (and the light) were on, the burner decided to quit working at some point after Dan had dinner. Ugh #2. There wasn’t anything I could do, so I pulled out the crock pot and dumped the chili in. Now, I intentionally made a double batch so that I would have more chili than my crock pot could hold (based on previous experience). However, after dumping the chili in, my crock pot was barely half full. Ugh #3. What was I going to do? I was going through all of this trouble for charity and then I didn’t have enough for the competition. I was too tired (and sick) to deal with it, so I put it in the fridge and went to bed.

Competition Day

In the morning, I pulled out the crock pot and added an extra can of tomatoes as well as beans to increase my volume. I was concerned how this would affect the distribution of flavor/sauce and the other ingredients. So, I chopped up some chipotles and brought them along with my spices to work.

I put the crock pot in my cart with wheels so that I could drag it into school. I was very careful to keep it as upright as possible. However, by the time I got to my room and took the pot out, I saw that chili had leaked out of the pot, all over my extra shirt, and on the inside of my cart. Ugh #4. I plugged it in my back room, put it on high, and I’d have to deal with it during block 2.

After homeroom and teaching block one, I thought that the chili would at least be warmed through. In the past, putting this crock pot on high meant it would be really hot fast. During block 2, I was ready to taste my chili, make my final adjustments, and turn it in. I dipped my spoon and… it was stone cold. Ugh #5!!! If they were serving chili in only another hour, there was no way that this was going to work. With the chili being cold, I knew that the flavor profile was off- it would be different when it was warmed through. So, I just dumped some extra spices in to account for the extra canned goods added in the morning, I gave it a stir, and I wheeled in my entry.

Apparently mine wasn’t the only cold entry because I heard that the wonderful FACS teachers warmed up our entries in pans in the oven before the competition started. During my lunch wave I went down and gave my donation to try the entries. I tried half of the chilis, including mine. Of course, a try was a chunk of meat in the sauce. I pushed the beans and other stuff out of the way. I did have a little more of my own, but since I went through all of the trouble listed above, I felt entitled to it. ☺ I voted for myself (naturally) but didn’t think that I had any chance in winning. I figured that people were looking for more hot flavors than I had.

The scoring was based on some “celebrity” judges, the popular vote, and the sign/ingredient list that you had to provide. It was nice to see that the judges thought that my chili could be in a restaurant. However, they wrote positive comments on everyone’s entry, so I still didn’t think that I really had a chance.

I win?!

During the last block of the day, I was being observed by the assistant principal. I missed my last required observation when I was on maternity leave, so it ended up being that day. Toward the end of the block, when I had dismissed the kids to clean up and get ready for their busses, the classroom phone rang. The secretary from the office congratulated me on winning. (An e-mail had gone out but with being observed, it wasn’t something I was looking for.) I couldn’t believe it! After meeting after school about my observation, I checked the e-mail. Low and behold, I did win. How exciting! After supervising detentions, I went to claim my crock pot and prize. I got a medal and restaurant gift cards. That was nice- I was only expecting prestige.

So, as promised to many, here is the recipe. While making the chili, I kept some notes as to the amounts of what I was using. My skills come form watching many, many hours of Food Network and the theories of layering flavors. Something must have been working. Ha ha! Earlier I mentioned that I had added stuff at the end. In this recipe, I have accounted for the additional items and placed them in the recipe where I would have normally cooked them. Enjoy!

Sherree’s Sweet and Zesty Chili


  • Approx. 2-1/3 pounds ground sirloin (87/13)
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, grated
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, only 2 seeded but all 3 finely chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon smoked sea salt (found at the Spice Mill in Manchester)
  • 3 tablespoons dark chili powder
  • 1 12-oz can of tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef sirloin stock
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes, one drained and one with liquid
  • 2 14.4-oz cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 11-oz can Green Giant Extra Sweet Corn Niblets

Recipe: In a big stock pot, brown the ground meat on medium heat. When no longer pink, remove the meat to paper toweling with a slotted spoon. Remove all but about 1 tablespoon of the grease. Lower the heat on the burner to medium-low. After the grease has cooled some, add the onion and stir. Sweat out the onions for about 20 minutes. (They will get sweet and translucent by cooking low and slow.) You will have to stir them every few minutes. When they are almost translucent, add the garlic, chipotles, and spices. Cook for 3-5 minutes stirring often. Add the tomato paste and stir well. Cook for about 10 minutes stirring often.

Pour in the beef stock and stir to dilute the tomato paste and scrape up all the goodness on the bottom of the pot. Add the brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, and ground meat. Mix well and simmer for hours (at least 6) stirring occasionally. Before serving, add the beans and corn with enough time to heat through.

Serving suggestion: We like to top our chili with shredded extra sharp cheddar and chopped scallions.

Share Your Thoughts ( Comments Already)


Powered by the Patrick theme and Movable Type Advanced!