Fall is a great time for things like hay rides, square dancing, flannel shirts, carving pumpkins and Church Chili Cook-Offs. New Hope Community Church has been hosting an annual Chili Cook Off since before I was a member. I could ask the farmer exactly how many years, but he's not around. Anyways-for a long time. I never ate chili growing up (my mom hates it) let alone cooked my very own batch. But, for some reason, when you're a Spielman you just automatically want to do everything (or maybe it's just me?) Seriously, I always want to do everything-would that be considered a character flaw?
Anyways...I got married in the summer of 2007 and that very fall, I entered my first Chili Cook-Off @ NHCC. That year I'll admit, I sort of cheated, I just browned some ground beef and added a whole bunch of cans of "Hunt's Chili Sauce" it had all the tomatoes and seasonings right there for ya, just pour it in and let it simmer. I added some elbow macaroni to give it my own little twist, but that was about it! Surprisingly I got like the "Unofficial 3rd Place". Technically there's only 1st & 2nd awarded, but I had the next most votes. Not bad for never having cooked chili in my life! At the tender age of 21, a newly wed and fresh off a move to our 2nd home-- I was very pleased with my success.
Then 2008 rolled around, we were in another new house, I had one year under my belt and I was feeling good. I actually got a recipe this time and made the chili from scratch. The title of the recipe was "No Beans About It" I hated beans so that sounded wonderful to me! This year I added some corn for color and headed off to the chili cook off. I don't recall how many votes I got that year-2008-2009 kind of blend together in my memory. Anyways...it was a good time just as years past - great chili, good friends, square dancing and fellowship.
Then 2009 came. Now I had not one, but TWO years of Chili Cook-Off experience. I was like an old pro. No lie, we were in yet another new house (!) and this year my secret ingredient was bacon. Who doesn't love bacon? I mean really, bacon makes everything better. That should be pig farmers' slogan- "Bacon makes everything better. Period." I added some beans this year to give it texture and I was happy with the results. And for the second time I got "Unoffical 3rd" but again, I was satisfied. I only cook chili once a year, and this was only the 3rd year I'd ever made chili in my life-so for 3 times, not bad.
And 2010. (finally, same house) The year it all came together. I tried another new recipe this year. Bacon was good, but didn't do the trick. The canned stuff was fine, but still - not champion material. I needed something new, different. So I went to the only place I knew of to inspire greatness....GOOGLE. I googled chili recipes and poured over recipe after recipe. Then I found it. I was going over a recipe when in the comments section I read "I used this in my local chili cook off and won 1st Place." Done. That was the one I was going to use. It had salsa as the "secret" ingredient. MMmm, that sounded delicious. And that folks, was all it took. Some salsa, black and pinto beans and some 80/20 ground beef (and some seasonings of course). I took home the Chili Trophey last year and going into this year's Chili Cook Off I am the reigning Chili Queen!
And today (yay! still same house), I have 3 crock-pots full of chili simmering in my kitchen, my table decorations and accessories all packed up and I'm ready to head to my 5th Chili Cook Off. It's funny because we're so not chili eaters, the Chili Cook Off is literally the only time of the year we eat chili and it gives us our chili fill for the entire year! I'm not overly excited about my chili this year. I sort of just made up my own recipe -- since I have waayyy too much confidence in my chili cooking capabilities (winning will do that for you) and to be honest, I'm not too impressed with it. If I get some votes, I will be happy. I really don't think this year's chili is 1st place material. Oh well, I guess there's always next year.
I wonder what it would be like to just go to the chili cook off, and not cook chili - just eat everyone elses? Hmm, that would probably be way too easy.
Wish me luck!