Looking Back: Fifteen years ago, in the search for a more excellent way, I entered a cooking contest in Alaska sponsored by the Alaskan Brewing Company. The only requirement of the contest was that you use one of their products in the making of the recipe. A good friend, and an investor in the company, suggested we enter as a team: he would provide moose meat if I would make chili.
I knew I couldn’t compete by making “Texas chili”. Although I love chili made without beans and tomatoes with the only red coming from the red chilies, I just didn’t think it would work in Alaska. So, I created a new recipe that did have beans, tomatoes, and a lot of other stuff, including especially Alaskan Amber Beer, the flagship beer of the brewery.
We didn’t cook on site, but were under oath that we made the dish ourselves and hadn’t bought it somewhere. The competing dishes were displayed around the huge metal tanks in the working part of the brewery. Contestants and onlookers were allowed to taste the various offerings. There were some good dishes, and even several varieties of chili, but there were some truly awful dishes. I remember one bread pudding made with Alaskan Stout that made me want to throw up.
My partner and I won the contest. He got the jacket because he had provided the meat and because I didn’t know how it would look for a pastor to be wearing a windbreaker with “Alaska Brewing Company” on the front and back.
A year or so later in July 1996, my wife and I moved to Fairbanks. When I saw a piece in the local paper about the “Culinary Capers” competition in the Tanana Valley State Fair, I thought what better way to meet new people than by entering the contest. Reluctant at first because she’s not keen on making a fool of herself, she finally acquiesced and we entered the competition. Connie is an excellent cook, but since a part of one’s score was to be based on “presentation” it was her artistic eye that was critical. Her judgment was also critical in what we named it: “Alaskan Gourmet ‘Road Kill’ Chili.”
We made the chili on site and offered it to the judges on a four place setting complete with a centerpiece made up of peppers, onions, and cilantro used in the chili. Oh yes, there was also Connie’s hot baked cornbread that she could have entered on its own. We were told that this was the only entry where the judges asked for seconds. Yes, we won the First Prize, Class Champion, and Grand Champion awards.
We’ve never entered another competition, but have on occasion cooked the dish for gatherings of friends. A year ago, a good friend here in central Oregon asked us if we would cook a pot for his birthday party.
Looking Ahead: This January my friend asked if we would do it again. Of course, we said. But something down inside of me didn’t want to just repeat the recipe. These are different times and called for something new. Since I have only lately learned about chipotle peppers (smoked jalapenos that you buy in a can) and the unique flavor they have, I thought it was time to create something new out of the base of the old recipe.
We decided that if the recipe was well-received by the assembled throng—basically the same people at the party a year ago—we would name it in honor of our friend. Last night, it worked! So we have a new chili recipe: “Juan’s Chipotle Chili.”
This one is made to serve 15 people, the number of people at the party. Try it and let me know how it tastes.
Ingredients and Preparations:
3 tbs Canola oil, Olive oil, or Margarine
2 medium-sized onions, chopped
3 Sweet Bell peppers, chopped
1 Anaheim pepper, chopped
½ - ¾ cup of canned chipotle peppers and sauce
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 lbs ground meat (this time, turkey and beef).
In a large saucepan or iron pot heat oil or margarine. Add onion, peppers, and garlic. After veggies are coated with oil, add the meat and brown.
2 28-oz cans of tomatoes, cut up
2 14-oz cans of Pinto Beans
2 14-oz can of Black Beans
2 14-oz can of Red Beans
2 4-oz can diced green chili peppers
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
2-4 cups beef broth
2 tbs chopped chipotle peppers with sauce
4-5 tbs bottled hot sauce (more or less depending on how long the meat was on the road before you got it)
3 tbs chili powder
2 tsp. Salt, or as desired
1 tbs dried Basil, crushed (fresh is best)
2 tbs dried Oregano, crushed (fresh is best)
Half a bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 tbs Cumin seed
2 tsp Allspice
2 tsp Coriander
2 large Bay leaves
Stir in undrained tomatoes, drained beans, drained chilies, vinegar, hot sauce, salt, and spice bottle contents. Bring mixture to boiling; reduce heat and just barely simmer, uncovered, for 3 hours.
1 12-oz can of beer
1 ¼ cup of Cashews
2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
The other half of the bunch of cilantro, chopped
Stir in beer. Simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes or more, or to desired consistency. Remove bay leaf. Before you stir in the cashews, check to see if any of the potential eaters are allergic to them. They can be added bowl by bowl. Sprinkle cheese atop each serving, and then top with chopped cilantro. Makes 15 servings.