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When it’s cold outside, have some Chili

Good Times chili cookoff Feb. 23

February 15, 2013
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville Daily News

Good Times Bar at 511 First Ave. S. in Estherville will hold its annual chili cookoff Saturday, Feb. 23.

Cut-up is at noon with judging at 3 p.m. Entry fee is $10 for one- or two-person teams.

Anyone interested in entering may call Good Times Bar at (712) 362-9084.

Following are some chili-cooking tips based on some of the comments you might hear from cookoff judges at various judgings.

Don't scald the judges' mouths

Heat (spicy, that is) is fine. A lot of judges say the hotter the better. But the sort of heat that takes a layer or two of skin off a judge's palate probably isn't going to win you a lot of points with the judges.

Fact Box

Mike's chili

By Michael Tidemann

Staff Writer

I won't guarantee that this recipe will win a chili cookoff for you. However, I will guarantee that it will coerce the most fastidious gourmand into obscene gluttony.

This recipe originated from my mother's recipe and evolved over the years and includes some of the flavors I fondly recall from a little Greek diner in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Three cans of dark red kidney beans, drained.

Two pounds of lean ground beef.

One small onion (or a half onion, if you prefer less), chopped fine.

One large can of tomato sauce with an equal amount of water.

Three to four bay leaves.

One tablespoon chili power (or to taste).

One tablespoon cumin (or to taste).

One tablespoon brown sugar (or to taste).

Salt to taste.

Brown meat until it has an even, brown color and place in a crock pot. Brown chopped onion in meat juice, drain and add.

Add tomato sauce with an equal amount of water then add brown sugar and spices.

Turn crock pot on low, mixing ingredients several times. Continue on low for three hours.

Serve, with your choice of sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream or guacamole.

Budget tip: Stretch your chili out by using it as a baked potato topping.

And don't forget the grilled cheese

Grilled cheese and chili go together like Mom and apple pie.

Everyone knows how to make grilled cheese, right? Well, for those unfortunate few of you who don't, here's how:

Butter one side of a piece of bread and put butter-side down on a medium-warm skillet. Place a slice of medium or sharp cheddar on the bread. Top with another piece of buttered bread, butter side up.

Flip when the first side is golden brown, browning the other side to equal color. Serve alongside or topped with chili.

Tip: Also goes well with tomato soup.

Watch the booze

Some chili chefs like to put alcohol in their chili. Some put in beer while some put in Jack Daniel's - a lot of Jack Daniel's.

This was probably not a real good idea the first time it was done and it probably still isn't a real good idea. Chili judges like to have a warm, fuzzy feeling in their tummies after judging a cookoff - not get soused.

Measure your ingredients

And how many really good chili chefs cringe at this one? A lot of people say they never like to measure and that every batch of chili tastes different. The tragedy of that is if you should make a chili that's out of the ballpark you might do it only once in your life. And that's very, very sad.

It's fine to experiment - in fact, all spices should be used "to taste". But measure out those spices so you can determine what your favorite taste really is - and then be able to make it exactly the same way again.

Find test subjects

Find a friend who loves spicy food and one who hates it, along with a couple in between. If they all love your chili, you've got a winner.

Strive for balance

A great chili is one of a complexity of flavors. No one ingredient or spice overpowers the others. A chili that tastes entirely like tomato sauce is probably not going to get as high of a score as one that has myriad flavors or tastes.

Think of it this way. A great chili is like a great wine - with a flavor more like a symphony than a soloist.

Look for color

Color is another factor that chili judges consider. While this can be an entirely subjective consideration, a lot of judges' eyes pop open (in a good way) when they see a dark chili with an equally robust flavor.


Runny is a big no-no as is gloopy. A good chili is somewhere in between. Tip: If your chili is consistently runny, try adding a little corn starch. Just put say a teaspoon of dry corn starch in a cup, add just enough cold water to make a paste, and stir thoroughly until you feel a bit of a drag on the bottom of the cup. Then add it to the chili about 15 minutes before you're ready to serve.

Strive for complexity

The best chilis often have a "secret ingredient" that is next to impossible to get the chef to reveal. This ingredient often lends to the complexity of the chili. You know you have a winner when judges taste the chili then taste it again and again to determine where they've tasted something similar.

Again, like a fine wine, a fine chili is very complex.

Remember the meat

Some people make vegetarian chili. Yes, you heard right. Vegetarian.

This is a terrible idea and will guarantee you last place in every chili contest that you ever enter - unless of course someone else was also foolish enough to make vegetarian chili and managed to mess it up worse than you did.

Use fresh ingredients

This is very, very important. Using fresh ingredients will add greatly to your chili's body and complexity.

Practice your cooking time beforehand

Every cookoff has a range of time between cutup (when the chefs start their preparation) and judging. Similarly, every chili tastes best after simmering a certain about of time.

Determine what the best cooking time is for your chili and make that part of the recipe.

Don't cook your chili too short or long of a time

Chili has to simmer so the flavors intermingle. And that takes time - an hour at a bare minimum. A chili that doesn't have enough simmer time is going to taste like a bunch of ingredients thrown together - but it won't taste like chili.

And don't burn, scald or cook your chili until it resembles textured concrete.



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