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Hot competition

Area chili cook-offs lead to

Sarah Sherwood, dressed as Lucille Ball, shows off her five-bean chili during a United Way benefit at Hotstart in Spokane. (Dan Pelle)

On a recent Saturday, patrons at the North Spokane Library checked out more than books. A smoky, spicy aroma wafted all the way out into the parking lot courtesy of the first Firefighters vs. Librarians Chili Cook-off.

Spokane County District 9 firefighters and Spokane County librarians went head-to-head in a taste challenge to see who makes the most mouth-watering chili.

Librarian Ellen Peters heard about a similar competition while attending a library conference. “I thought it would be fun for our community members and give us a chance to partner with another local agency,” she said.

Indeed, the folks milling around the meeting room sampling spoonfuls of chili seemed to be having a great time. Firefighter Bobby Tobiason expressed confidence in his entry, “I tested it on the guys last week,” he said.

Gwendolyn Haley, youth services manager at the library, also seemed sure her chili would rate well. “I think my chili stands on its own,” she said. “But it did turn out kind of spicy today.”

In the end, Tobiason’s It’s Got Heat chili made with ground turkey and green chili salsa, proved to be the voters’ choice.

But Haley’s Fahrenheit 451 chili, featuring coffee and a can of Guinness beer, garnered a respectable number of votes.

Though this was the county library’s first event, chili cook-offs abound across the area. These contests can be a fun way to create community or raise funds for a worthy cause.

Chili cook-offs often create heated competition. What is it about a simple stew of meat and chili peppers that inspires such rivalry?

Even the definition of chili is fraught with controversy. Chili purists, (especially those from Texas) insist “real” chili cannot contain beans or tomatoes, while others (especially vegetarians) proclaim beans are essential to any recipe.

At the library cook-off, entries ranged from white chili made with chicken to a meatless lentil and corn concoction.

Whatever the ingredients, competition champs work hard to perfect their winning recipes. For the past five years, employees at Hotstart, a Spokane business that manufactures diesel engine preheaters, have held a chili cook-off as a way to raise money for United Way. “It’s something our employees really like,” said accounts receivable supervisor Shelly Rawley.

Winners of this year’s chili cook-off remade their entries last week for an Oktoberfest celebration. Employees were dressed up for Halloween during the festivities.

Eric Olsness, two-time champ and this year’s first-runner-up, enters a new recipe each year. “Fresh ingredients make a difference,” he said. He purchased his beef at Egger’s Meats and used tomatoes plucked from his garden.

“I’m very picky about food,” said Olsness. “Chili is my type of cooking. Good chili is like candy. I can eat it over and over.”

He also said presentation matters. “Usually people dish up chili and throw some cheese on it.” In contrast, the Beef and Black Bean Chili he made for the competition is topped with toasted cumin crema and avocado relish.

Franklin Elementary’s A.P.P.L.E. parents used to host a soup and bread dinner, but three years ago they decided to hold a chili cook-off, instead. “It’s really increased family involvement – especially with dads,” said Tonya Karunaratne, co-chairwoman of the school’s harvest festival. “They love to show off their chili recipes.”

“People take their chili seriously,” she added.

A.P.P.L.E. parent Tania Olson has won the past two years. “I use this recipe when people stop by on Halloween or to bring to a soccer party,” she said. “It is meaty, thick and best made spicy.”

Spicy or mild, meaty or vegetarian, chili can be the perfect way to warm up on even, the uh, chilliest, autumn nights. No contest.

It’s Got Heat

From Bobby Tobiason, Spokane County Fire. Tobiason’s award-winning chili was the voters’ favorite at the first Firefighters vs. Librarians Chili Cook-off.

2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 (15-ounce) cans of dark red kidney beans

2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans

1 (14.5-ounce) can chicken broth

2 (4-ounce) cans of green chili peppers

1 (7-ounce) can green chili salsa

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon cumin

2 teaspoons oregano

1 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons chili powder

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound ground turkey

1 pound mild sausage

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 each red, green, yellow peppers, seeded and chopped

3 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped

3 to 4 red chili peppers, seeded and chopped

Combine tomato sauce through salt in a 5-quart slow cooker. Brown turkey and sausage in separate pans. Add onion, garlic and peppers to the turkey toward the end of browning to sauté the veggies. Add turkey mixture and sausage to the slow cooker and simmer on low for 3 to 5 hours or high for 2 to 3 hours.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Fahrenheit 451 Chili

From Spokane County librarian Gwendolyn Haley.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

1 pound beef sirloin, cubed

1 (14.5-ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes with juice

1 (12-ounce) can Guinness (or other stout beer)

1 cup strong brewed coffee

2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste

1 (14.5-ounce) can beef broth

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon salt

2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans

4 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and chopped

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onions, garlic, ground beef and cubed sirloin in oil for 10 minutes, or until the meat is well browned and the onions are tender.

Mix in the diced tomatoes with juice, dark beer, coffee, tomato paste and beef broth. Season with brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, oregano, cayenne pepper, coriander and salt. Stir in the four cans of the beans and hot chili peppers. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least 2 hours.

Note: Hayley said, “I like to let it simmer all day, and I only use one chili pepper when I make this for my family – my daughters can’t take the heat.

Yield: 8 servings

Spicy Steak and Black Bean Chili

From Tania Olson, Franklin Elementary A.P.P.L.E.

2-3 pounds steak/roast, cubed small (see notes)

1 large onion, diced

1 (28-ounce) can or 2 (15-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

2 (28-ounce) cans or 4 (15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes

3 (15-ounce) cans drained black beans

Ground black pepper

4 packets taco seasoning (2 hot, 2 regular, see note)

Grated pepper jack or cheddar cheese, for serving

Sour cream, for serving

Chopped cilantro, for serving

Lime wedges, for serving

In a skillet, sauté beef and onion.

Combine browned steak and onions with remaining ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, high for 4-6 hours or let simmer on the stove for at least an hour.

Serve with grated pepper jack/cheddar cheeses, a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Some like it served over steamed rice. Chips to scoop or corn bread are tasty alongside this hearty chili.

Notes: Most cuts of meat will do since the beef tenderizes in the slow cooker. Increase or decrease the spiciness by adjusting the kind of taco seasoning (mild, regular, spicy).

Yield: 12-16 servings

Beef and Black Bean Chili with Toasted Cumin Crema and Avocado Relish

Eric Olsness, senior buyer at Hotstart, earned first-runner-up in this year’s competition with this recipe from the Food Network’s Bobby Flay.

1/4 cup olive oil

2 pounds beef, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large red onion, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons ancho chili powder

1 tablespoon pasilla chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 bottle dark beer

5 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken stock, or water

1 (16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained and pureed

1 tablespoon chipotle pepper puree

1 tablespoon honey

2 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Toasted Cumin Crema, recipe follows

Avocado Relish, recipe follows

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper, and sauté until browned on all sides. Transfer the meat to a plate and remove all but 3 tablespoons of the fat from the pan.

Add the onions to the pan and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ancho powder, pasilla powder, and cumin and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the beer and cook until completely reduced. Return the beef to the pot, add the chicken stock, tomatoes, chipotle puree, and honey, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the beans and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the lime juice, and adjust seasonings.

Serve with a dollop of Toasted Cumin Crema and Avocado Relish.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Toasted Cumin Crema

1 tablespoon cumin seed

1 cup Mexican crema or crème fraiche

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the cumin in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Toast until lightly golden brown. Place in a small bowl. Stir in the crema and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Place in a squeeze bottle.

Avocado Relish

2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and diced

1/2 small red onion, finely diced

1 jalapeno or serrano chile, finely diced

Lime juice

Chopped cilantro leaves

Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients.