Guys, Griddles & Grub and a Chili Cookoff

I get a lot of interesting email. Besides the usual spam, I get a lot of PR pitches (some of them awesome, some of them… not so awesome), I’ve gotten a random resume (for the record, I’m not hiring), but I got one email recently that stood out.

Dan Mess, wanted me to judge a chili cookoff, along with James Heller-Jackson from Take the Cake, and a musical artist who ended up not being able to show.  The Boyfriend, gem that he is, pitched in to help at the last minute.

The chili cookoff was for the Western College Alumni program at Miami University.  Apparently, alumni have been conducting chili cook-offs on the west coast for years, and it was a tradition at the Western College but this was the first cook-off for local alumni.  I was honored to be asked, and it was a lot of fun to participate.

About half of the chili was vegan or vegetarian, and half involved meat.  All were delicious, but a couple of them stood out.

Our overall winner was Shirley Phillips’ vegan Java Chili, which also won “most unique” chili.  It had a really interesting undertone of coffee, and was the favorite between the three of us. Here’s the recipe:

Java Chili

1 1/2 cups TVP (textured vegetable protein)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos, finely chopped
4 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup strong brewed coffee
2 cups water
3 cups dark red kidney beans
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
salt, fresh-ground black pepper and hot sauce to taste

Reconstitute TVP according to directions; set aside. Heat the oil in a large chili pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapenos, cover and heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cayenne, cumin, coffee, and water. Add some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and then add the reconstituted TVP and kidney beans and simmer 40-45 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro and simmer for another five minutes. Salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste.

Our best vegetarian chili was Dan Mess’ (and no, we didn’t know whose was whose, but it was a pretty laid back chili contest, to be honest).  Terry couldn’t tell it (or the Java Chili) were meatless, which to me is a sign of a great vegetarian chili!

SEMI-WORLD FAMOUS BLACK BEAN CHILI (adapted from the “Black Bean
Chili” recipe in Anna Thomas’s “The New Vegetarian Epicure”


1 lb dried black beans
pinch of baking soda
1 whole onion, peeled
2 whole cloves garlic
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp salt, more to taste
5 ancho chiles (whole pods, dried)
2 chipotle chiles (whole pods, dried)
4 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
2 tsp dried epazote (epazote is a lightly grassy Mexican herb that
reputedly helps reduce gas from beans.  If you don’t have any, dried
marjoram is a great substitution. more oregano also works.)
4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2-3 tbs. corn oil or olive oil
3 yellow onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1/2-1 tsp. salt
1-2 Tbs. wine vinegar (I prefer red)
2-3 Tbs. chopped roasted green chiles)

1. Rinse dry beans and pick out the bad ones.  Put them in a pot with
peeled onion, whole garlic cloves, baking soda, and cinnamon stick,
and add water to cover plus two inches more.  Bring water to a simmer;
shut off burner and put lid on pot.  Soak overnight.
2. The next day, drain the beans and remove onion and garlic cloves.
Put back in pot with cinnamon stick and enough water to cover plus an
inch.  Simmer until almost tender, stirring every once in a while.
Add 1 tsp. salt and continue simmering until beans are completely
tender, making sure to always keep them covered with liquid.  Add
water if needed during simmering.  Depending on age of beans, this
will take 1-4 hours.
3. While simmering is happening, soak the dried chiles in hot water to
cover for 20 minutes.  They will be soft and pliable at the end – take
them out of the water, remove stems and as much of the seeds as you
easily can, and then put into a food processor with the soaking water.
Puree.  Press the puree through  a medium strainer into a saucepan
and discard the skins and seeds.
4.  Toast the cumin seeds in a small skillet on medium heat until they
begin to release their aroma, about 2-3 minutes.  Add dried oregano,
epazote, paprika, and ground cinnamon, remove skillet from heat, and
stir together in the skillet for a minute.  Then pour mixture into a
mortar  and grind it until it’s a coarse powder.  Add the ground
spices to the chili puree and mix.
5.  In a saute pan, heat the oil and then on medium saute the onions
and minced garlic in it with the bay leaf just until the onions begin
to color.  Stir in the puree, the canned tomatoes with their juice,
the 1/2-1 tsp of salt, the vinegar, and the chopped green chiles.
Heat through, then add to the beans once the beans are completely
6. Simmer the whole mess on low, stirring occasionally, until the
chili’s at the consistency you prefer.  Serve with whatever condiments
you prefer – chopped tomatoes, cheese, sour cream / yogurt, lime
wedges, etc.

NOTE: to make a quicker (but not quite as tasty) version, you can skip
steps 1 and 2 and just use 3 lbs of canned black beans.  Follow steps
3, 4 (doubling the ground cinnamon), and 5, and add everything to the
canned black beans in the pot.

I couldn’t get the spaghetti chili recipe in time for this article, but as soon as I get it, I’ll pass it on.

Dan, and a lot of other men in town, are participating in an amateur chef competition called “Guys, Griddles, and Grub”, tonight at the Community Shares building.  It is Community Shares’ big fundraiser, and Dan will be representing GLSEN.

Here are the details:

It is Community Shares’ big
annual fundraiser, helping to support over 25 local progressive
organizations.  Community Shares’ website is at

Date:  Saturday, August 7, 2010
Location: Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency (Plaza Level)
1740 Langdon Farm Road
Cincinnati, OH 45237

Time: 7:00 – 10:00 p.m.
Cost: 1 Regular Ticket $35.00, $45 at the door

– Dozens of amateur chefs (all male!) present their culinary creations.
– Guests sample and vote for their favorite dish in each category:
appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, side dishes, desserts and NEW
Local Best.
– Great musical entertainment and premium wine raffle.
– Silent auction filled with enticing artwork, jewelry, gifts and
special theme packages.

Tickets are available at .

Here’s what Dan will be making:

Locavore Appetizer trio consisting of:

-chilled local honeydew and basil soup shooter
-mini local lamb turnover with rosemary
-roasted local beet crostini with lemon-thyme goat cheese, local honey,
and sea salt.

Other participants include:

Here’s the Facebook invite and ticket link if you’re interested in attending.  It’s for a great cause!

Thanks so much for having me, Dan!  Hope to join again next year.