Chili cook-off: Lessons learned

Our local run store, Run In, hosted their first annual Chili Cook Off on Saturday afternoon. We could not pass up the opportunity to use our crock pot (and make our house smell yummy) so we entered the cook-off with our "Meat - ain't no body got time for that" chili (vegetarian).  

My only role in making this chili was soaking the bag of mixed beans/lentils over night. 
Not too hard of a job! 

Karel took care of the rest as he always makes a GREAT vegetarian chili for us to yum over.
As you can see from the picture above, he includes the traditional chili recipe ingredients, like peppers, onion and beans but in addition, celery root, parsnips and leeks (very European). He uses a mix of spices for flavor but the key is sauteing and cooking all the veggies on a skillet (with olive oil) first before letting the crock pot take over with the beans. Cooking the veggies on the skillet brings out a lot of flavor. 
While this may not be your typical chili recipe, we absolutely love the flavor and "meaty" texture with each bite. Plus, like any chili, it's very filling.  

16 bean soup mix (about 3/4 bag used, soaked overnight in water)
Peppers - yellow, red, cubano
Celery root

While this was a great opportunity to bring together our great community of runners in and around Greenville (chili makers and chili testers), I learned a lot from this chili cook off. 

1) Chili takes a long time to get right. You can't rush through it and hope it will taste good. Chili needs time for all the flavors to come together so you have to plan ahead and cook in advance. 

2) Chili is so versatile. Similar to stews and soups, it's hard to get bored of chili as there are so many different combinations. For example, at this cook-off, there were 9 different Chili recipes! 

3) Chili requires that you taste it. You can't eat it fast and it always tastes better the next day. It's a meal you want to savor as your taste buds always pick-up new ingredients with each bite. I love eating chili and thinking about the ingredients that I am tasting, as I am eating it (vegetarian recipes of course). 

4) Chili brings people together. Chili is one of those meals where you want to share the goodness with others. It's a very comforting meal that is best yummed over in a group setting. 

5) Chili leaves you satisfied. You don't have to eat a lot of it to feel very comfortable inside your belly. 

With so many lessons learned, it got me thinking that for any individual who is struggling to adopt healthier eating habits, you should participate or plan a chili cook off. Encourage your work to have an office chili cook-off or organize a cook-off with your training buddies or a local training club.. Chili cook-off's can be as simply as having an opportunity to enjoy a variety of chili recipes but you can also encourage monetary donations for tasters in order to help out a local organization or an animal shelter.

I feel there is so much to appreciate, learn and to enjoy in regard to making your own meal, sharing it with others or enjoying a creation that was proudly made by someone else.

If you are interested in hosting your own chili cook off, here are some ideas to get you started:

-Create a fun evite (with the date/time of the cook-off) and invite participants/guests to bring in their best chili creation in a slow cooker. The chili should be hot and ready to serve. Don't let your guests forget to bring a serving spoon/spatula.

-Be sure to have extra extension cords and several plugs for the crock pots to stay warm (you may want to consider your participants to bring an extension cord).

-Encourage chili categories (these will be used for awards): Meat, vegetarian, extra spicy, guess the surprise ingredient, semi-homemade, all fresh, etc.

-Provide bowls, small cups and spoons for tasting. Make sure you have a large enough (sturdy) table or counter top for the crock pots.

-Provide water, milk and orange juice (and cups) to cleanse the palate between tasting.

-Ask your guests to provide information before the cook off for you to print off and set-up by the crock pot of the respective creation: Name of chili, category (meat, vegetarian, etc.), heat level (mild, spicy, very hot).

-Provide toppings - chives, cheese, crackers, sour cream, corn chips, etc.

-For a side dish, offer corn bread or encourage a cook off for the best corn bread.

-Provide ballots for each taster to select the best tasting chili based on the category (and corn bread). Make sure you have a box for collecting the ballots.

-Announce the winners at the end of the cook-off. Awards can include a kitchen utensil kit, a gift certificate to a cooking store, a wooden spatula, an apron, pepto (for the very hot winner).
There are many more ideas on Pinterest.

Who's ready for a chili cook off??