Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chili contest

The contenders. My entry is
in the second cup to the left of the spoon.

People seem to think that because I write about food I must be a good cook.

I'm not.

I follow recipes pretty well -- if they're easy. And I do get it in my head to try things. That comes from reading fabulous food blogs and thumbing through the 125 or so interesting cookbooks I have. But I can't say everything turns out edible.

Yet there I was last night, a participant in the annual Big Timber Toot, Snoot, 'n Hoot. The "hoot" stands for the hysterical original musical comedy, the "snoot" refers to the consumption of alcoholic beverages (believe me, the evening is plenty fun without this), and the "toot" is the famed chili contest.

This ambitious 4-hour program was conceived ten years ago and is still written and directed by Gwen Petersen, a charming (sorry, Gwen, but it's true) and colorful character who has ranched, written cowboy poetry and humor, and done everything imaginable to live her life to the fullest. A true role model. That is, if you don't read some of her poetry too closely. Here's Gwen posing as she samples the chili.

Anyway, there I was. I had to arrive early with my entry for the chili contest, so I ended up helping cut bread into bite-size pieces for palate cleansers between bites of chili, munching on corn chips, and taking photos of the activities.

I also enjoyed Tumblewood Teas, which were available for those who enjoy a more genteel alternative to "snoot."

There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes of a cooking contest, including mundane tasks such as sharpening pencils to mark the ballots.

Contestants' hearts began beating with anticipation as the chili was set up at the starting line. (Mine is second from the right.) We also helped serve.

As people lined up for chili samples at 5 pm, the entertainment got underway. Elvis was there to get everyone in the mood for the main show at 7 pm, which this year was called "They Came from Beneath the Bandstand."

The eight chilis tasted completely different, including one very hot and one very sweet (mine). Apart from the vegetarian version, each was made with a different meat: beef, venison, buffalo, pork, even pepperoni. The crowd increased as the dinner hour passed and soon two chilis were gone (mine included). Finally, we were scraping the bottom of the cookers and letting latecomers enjoy a single bowl of mixed chilis. Even the dessert table was reduced to crumbs.

The excitement mounted as Gwen called the contestants onstage to briefly describe their chili. The three winners deserved their awards, and I vowed to try again next year and win one of the coveted medals (not to mention the prize money).

Kate, Big Timber librarian,
proudly wears her second-place medal

The evening ended with two hours of side-splitting laughter as the Wild West Posse, comprising professional musicians and talented amateurs, followed Gwen's script and sang, danced, and acted crazy. Among featured acts were the Beach Bums, the Ink Snots, Hot Mama, and Patsy Decline.

There's a DVD of the performance, so just let me know if you'd like to relive the evening with me. I'll bring the chili.

My chili entry

Recipe note: This took me less than 30 minutes to make, which included slooowly browning a pound of frozen meat over medium heat, opening countless cans, and stirring everything together. If the meat is thawed, it takes about 15 minutes. You can easily make this vegan by omitting meat and using maple-flavored vegetarian baked beans.

The following is my version for the cook-off; substitute ingredients as you wish and create your own award-winning chili.

Quick Chili

1 pound ground buffalo meat
3 28-ounce cans Bush Maple Cured Bacon Baked Beans
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
11.5-ounce can of V8
11.5-ounce can tomato juice
2 1.25-ounce packets McCormick Original Chili Seasoning Mix

Brown meat, and stir in everything else.

I told you it was quick -- and easy!

This makes a lot, maybe 20 servings. Who could say for sure? It depends on how hungry everyone is. And how many late-night snacks you need. If you have leftovers, you can freeze them and/or give them to neighbors who have been nice to you -- or neighbors you hope will be nice to you in the future.


  1. OH, Yummm! Love Chili can not wait to try it. Thanks for sharing all the fun you are having. The quick tips are great, too.

  2. You don't have to be a good cook to be a good eater. That's all that's really important. Though the chili recipe looked quite yummy.