Three Little Piggies Chili (2017 chili cook-off recipe)

I’ve posted a lot of chili recipes over the years and I like every one, but some have greater mass appeal than others. Judging by my successes and failures at the annual chili cook-off at work, the common factor in my most popular chilis is bacon! My co-workers fall all over themselves for a taste of anything with bacon in it. So as easy as it is to whip up a batch of chili that I’ll enjoy, this year I challenged myself to make something that folks would absolutely love. Of course was going to include bacon, but why stop there? I started with the general concept of my bacon chili, but I replaced the ground beef with ground pork. However, there still seemed to be something missing. Two kinds of pork just wasn’t enough! So in order to turn this recipe up to eleven, and also make the texture something different from my usual chili, I decided to add some delicious homemade carnitas. The spices in the carnitas are complimentary to my chili seasoning so it seemed like the perfect fit. So I ultimately ended up creating this triple pork chili, aptly named Three Little Piggies chili by my friend Anjanette, to take to work for the cook-off and the rest is history! Second place in the judge’s favorites was a much better showing that I ever expected. Not bad for a mild chili. I’ll have to come up with something even crazier next year!

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 lb maple-flavored bacon
1 lb ground pork
1 medium bell pepper, diced (I like to use a red one for color uniformity)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
3/4 lb carnitas

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cocoa powder) and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. Cut the bacon into 1/2 in pieces. In a large pot (I have an aptly named chili pot that I love), cook the bacon over medium heat. Use a splatter guard if you have one because that bacon grease is hot! Once the bacon pieces are crispy (watch carefully because they can burn quickly!), remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside for later. Add the ground pork, diced onion, and diced pepper to the pan with the leftover bacon grease and cook over medium heat until the pork is cooked through. Add the bowl of spice mix from earlier and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and reserved bacon and stir to combine. Finally, add the carnitas and stir to combine. I am not exactly sure how much I added, but I’m guessing about 3/4 lb. Add more or less to your taste. Bring the chili too a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave it propped open a bit so steam can escape. Cook for 90 minutes, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on My Amazing Bacon Chili and My Cincinnati-Style Chili.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (NaBloPoMo day 15)

On November 1st I flew to Orlando for my Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend adventure, but back in August a surprising opportunity presented itself. I was looking at the Disney World website and realized that the very last Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party of the season was being held at the Magic Kingdom the day I arrived. I was willing to move heaven and earth to be able to attend, but would it be enough? The party was starting at 7 PM which was the same time my flight was scheduled to land. However, the celebration lasted until midnight so even if I got there a couple of hours late I would still have plenty of time to enjoy the festivities. There was hope! So I optimistically purchased a Halloween party ticket and prepared myself as much as possible for my busy November 1st schedule. First of all, I tagged my suitcase so that Mickey’s Magical Express bus service would pick it up from baggage claim rather than waiting for it myself. That saved me a little time. Second, I checked in to my hotel online so I could skip the front desk. And third, I slept quite a bit on the plane so I could more easily stay up late and savor every minute of the Halloween party.

I ended up walking through the Magic Kingdom gates a little after 9 PM. As much as I love Disney World, the main reason I wanted to go to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party was to see the seasonal fireworks, parade, and Hocus Pocus live show. Before picking a spot to watch the HalloWishes Fireworks I did a little trick or treating. There were several spots around the park where cast members dole out handfuls of candy so it didn’t take long for my little bag to be completely full. It took me the rest of my trip to finish all of it! I grabbed a salad for dinner to counteract the sugar rush, and then I made my way back to Cinderella’s Castle for the fireworks t 10:15 PM. Disney World sure knows how to put on a show. As a Disneyland native I wasn’t expecting the fireworks to come from so many different locations! It was really amazing. Next everyone crowded around the castle for the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular at 10:45 PM. This show was worth the (relatively high) price of admission. The actresses were great, there were a lot of laughs, and the music gave me goosebumps, especially “I Put A Spell On You.” It was incredible There were a lot of reasons that going to the Halloween party was impractical for me, but when I saw the Hocus Pocus show I knew I had made the right decision. Take a look at a short video I took of the finale to see what I mean. The last Boo-to-You Halloween Parade of the night took place at 11:15 PM so I hung around the castle for that after Hocus Pocus was over. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the Halloween season. Before leaving Magic Kingdom I walked around the park some more (and I’ll confess to gathering some more candy) to drink it all in. I finally got on the bus back to my hotel around 12:30 AM very happy with my decision to go to the Halloween party and make my November 1st as insane as possible. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Halloween 2017 (NaBloPoMo day 10)

Halloween is always a busy holiday, but this year it was even crazier than usual. Not only did I have the annual chili cook-off at work, but was I leaving to go on vacation the next morning. I didn’t have a free minute all day. I got to work really early that morning to start warming up my chili which had been in my fridge since I cooked it a couple of days before. In addition to my own I was in charge of heating up a co-worker’s chili as well because he was out of town, but still wanted to be in the competition. I also wanted to be able to get some actual work done before the duties of the chili cook-off coordinator got too overwhelming. My chili this year was called Three Little Piggies chili, as named by my friend Anjanette, because it contained pork in three forms – bacon (maple bacon, even, which made it Whole30 non-compliant), ground pork, and carnitas. I didn’t get a chance to taste it until just before the chili cook-off judges started their deliberations, but I thought it was delicious. And thanks to my Whole30(-ish) experience ending the day before, I took advantage of no food restrictions and ate a lot of chips between breakfast and lunch.

The chili judges I recruited (actually, two of then volunteered for the job a year ago!) made their rounds at 11 AM and used a very systematic, math-based method to choose their favorites. Then at 11:30 AM I opened up the buffet of 15 chili entries and all of the other food that people brought to the general public for lunch. The chili cook-off seems to grow in size every year so I was running around like crazy making sure that everything was going smoothly. I got in line for food pretty late and most of the Crockpots had already been practically licked clean, including mine. I still got to try a couple of chilis that weren’t too spicy and they were both delicious. I also sampled a piece of the pumpkin sheet cake that I made and it was scrumptious. The white glaze on the pumpkin cake worked out really well. I will remember that for next time, but I’ll make sure to get some higher quality sprinkles! After everyone had eaten and voted for their favorite chili I announced the winners of the popular vote as well as the judge’s vote. Surprisingly, my chili managed to bring in 2nd place on the judge’s list! It just goes to show that adding bacon to a dish makes it infinitely more popular. I also tied with two others for 3rd place in the popular vote. Not bad for a mild chili since the top prizes usually go to the spicy entries.

I wanted to go home at 5 PM in order to watch Game 6 of the World Series to see if the Dodgers could win and keep their season alive, but my workload had other ideas. I ended up staying until 7 PM while periodically checking in on the baseball game on ESPN GameCast. By the time I got home and turned on the TV to finish watching the game I knew there was no way I’d have time to go for a run that night. It was already late and I still had a lot to do. First of all, I washed all of the dishes from the chili cook-off as well as everything left over from making the pumpkin sheet cake the night before. That was a lot of work, but I didn’t want to leave them sitting in my sink for a week! And then I had to pack my suitcase for my trip to Orlando. I hadn’t done a very good job preparing for my vacation ahead of time so I had my work cut out for me, but at least all of the clothes I needed to take with me were clean. The Dodgers did manage to win the baseball game and force a World Series Game 7 so that was good, but I didn’t get to bed until bed around midnight. Phew! It was quite a Halloween this year!

Carnitas (NaBloPoMo day 7)

Before I can write about my prize-winning Halloween chili I first have to share this carnitas recipe because I put some if the pork in the chili. I don’t want to diminish the importance of this recipe, though. Not only is it Whole30-compliant due to being sweetened only with fruit juice, but it’s also incredibly simple and delicious. I ate this meat for many lunches during the month of October with roasted sweet potatoes and vegetables on the side, but it would be delicious in tacos if tortillas and cheese are included in your diet. When you don’t have a lot of free time your Crockpot can be your best friend. Slow cook a batch of carnitas either on the weekend or one day while you’re at work and you’ll have protein for days. Now that my Whole30(-ish) experiment is over I might add some BBQ sauce to the leftovers I have in the freezer for a little change of pace. I get tired of eating the same thing more than two days in a row so variety is important. I encourage everyone to customize this recipe any way they see fit.

INGREDIENTS:
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
3-4 lb pork shoulder (or pork loin, which I used instead)
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 onions, quartered
3/4 c orange juice
2 limes juiced

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, paprika, and pepper. I did this the day before to save time. Once you’re ready to put the pork roast in the slow cooker, rub the spice mixture on all sides. I cut my roast into two pieces to make this easier and to have more surface area for the spices. Put the onions into the bottom of the slow cooker, place the pork roast in next, and evenly distribute the garlic cloves on top. Pour the orange juice and lime juice over everything. Cover and cook on low heat for about 8 hours.

Remove pork shoulder from the slow cooker and shred the meat in a large bowl, removing any large fat deposits that remain. Add some of the cooking juices from the slow cooker if you want. I did this because my batch would be refrigerated and reheated for lunches and I wanted to keep it from getting too dry. Add additional salt and pepper, if desired. I added a tiny bit of salt to my lunch portions and it was divine. Enjoy!

Based on Damn Delicious’s Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas.

NaBloPoMo 2017

November means that it’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) once again. Luckily, all of my
Whole30(-ish) blogging in October was the perfect segue into NaBloPoMo 2017. I’m already in the habit of updating my webpage every day which is a plus, but November has traditionally been an extremely busy month for me. Case in point, I’m at Walt Disney World right now for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend which means that my normal routine has been thrown out the window. I’m sitting down to write this post in my hotel room before an early bedtime in order to be ready for the Fall Feast 5K at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning. It’s my first of three pre-dawn race mornings. Not the kind of thing most folks would sign up for on their vacations, but we runners are a little bit crazy! This morning I went to the race expo and picked up my race bibs and shirts for the three races. Actually, I slept in and barely rolled out of bed in time to get to the expo when it started. Last night I went to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom and I stayed until after the park closed at midnight. Very uncharacteristic for me, but the party was amazing and totally worth the effort it took to get there after my flight landed yesterday. I’ll write a separate post about that later. I spent most of the afternoon at Hollywood Studios visiting a few rides that are no longer at Disneyland, like Tower of Terror and Muppet Vision 3D. So much fun. But now it’s time for me prepare for the 5K early tomorrow morning. I have big plans for the rest of this runcation and I need to be well-rested to fully enjoy it!

Ultimate pumpkin bread

After the usual ordeal of preparing for air travel I finally made it to LAX and sat down at my gate with my laptop expecting to be able to connect to wifi and update my webpage. Due to several factors yesterday was just too busy, and by the time I was able to think about blogging it was really late and I needed sleep a little before my flight today. However, when I got to the airport today my laptop wasn’t recognizing the LAX wifi connection for some reason. And then I discovered that internet access on my flight was $24! Needless to say, I didn’t pay that hefty price. So that brings me to the present, sitting in my Disney World hotel room for a few minutes to charge my phone before heading to Magic Kingdom for the Halloween party. After such a long day I’m taking advantage of this brief window of down time to publish this post.

All throughout October I knew how busy Halloween was going to be for me. Not only was it the day of the annual chili cook-off at work, but I figured I’d be scrambling to finish getting ready for my trip to Disney World. Add a 12-hour workday on top of that and I barely had time to eat dinner last night! I’ll write more about that tomorrow. The point of this little rant is to explain why I planned ahead of time to share this year’s pumpkin bread recipe on Halloween rather than writing a more extensive post. So here it is!

I mentioned this pumpkin bread last year, but didn’t deem it worthy of a formal recipe post at the time. This year I’ve used it twice and it’s absolutely the most delicious pumpkin bread I’ve ever made. The amount of spice is perfect and the combination of the pumpkin puree and pudding mix makes this bread incredibly moist. I took half a bundt cake to my Galloway running group’s end of the season breakfast a few weeks ago and they devoured every single crumb. Since I was doing Whole30(-ish) at the time I shared the rest with my co-workers and it disappeared in record time. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like pumpkin bread, and this recipe is so easy to make and perfect for fall and winter. Just remember to grease the bundt pan or, as I learned firsthand, your cake will be ruined!

INGREDIENTS:
5 large eggs
1 1/4 c canola oil or extra light olive oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
2 packages (3 oz each) cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp baking soda
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c granulated sugar (or half white sugar, half light brown sugar)

DIRECTIONS:
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Add the oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, pumkin pie spice, cloves, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and salt and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla pudding mix and baking soda and beat until combined. Lastly, add the flour and sugar and beat until combined. Pour the batter evenly into a 12 cup bundt cake pan with every nook and cranny coated with cooking spray. This is important because you don’t want the cake to stick! (This happened to me the last time so I speak from experience.) Bake at 325 deg F for about 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before inverting the cake onto a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Taste of Home’s Delicious Pumpkin Bread.

Day 30 – ‘Twas the night before Halloween

‘Twas the night before Halloween and the last day of Whole30(-ish)! And the people rejoiced! Actually, my current mood is pretty frazzled getting ready for the chili cook-off. I’m still looking forward to all of the excitement of tomorrow, but I would be even more enthusiastic if I didn’t have a sink full of dishes to wash, a to do list a mile long, and a suitcase I still need to pack for my pending vacation. And my house is a wreck too. So basically the typical state of things during the holiday season! I should just get used to my life being like this for the next two months. It’s certainly not a bad thing. I’ll gladly take a little disruption in my normal routine in exchange for experiencing my favorite time of the year. All I can do it try to enjoy the festive chaos to the fullest extent possible.

I celebrated both the arrival of Halloween and the departure of my month-long diet experiment by baking a pumpkin sheet cake when I got home from work (while watching the traditional October fare – “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Hocus Pocus”). I didn’t eat any of it because it’s for the chili cook-off, during which I will sample a wide array of desserts that have been off-limits to me for the last 30 days. For most potluck scenarios I would make an always crowd-pleasing chocolate sheet cake, but Halloween requires something more specialized. I know pumpkin spice has fallen out of favor recently, but it’s still a surefire winner when it comes to baked goods. I’ve made this pumpkin sheet cake before, specifically for the chili cook-off back in 2013, but that recipe included cream cheese frosting. This time I topped the cake with a white glaze (the frosting portion of my white Texas sheet cake) because I wouldn’t have to refrigerate the whole thing that way. Finding space in the fridge for such a huge pan would have been challenging. I also added some Halloween sprinkles (pumpkins and witch’s hats and brooms) for good measure. I’m sure it will be delicious, like so many other things at the chili cook-off. I’ll have a full report tomorrow.

I have so much more to say, but it’s extremely late and I need to go to sleep ASAP. I hope everyone has a lovely Halloween!

Today’s meals:
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with hot dog slices (cleaning out my fridge!)
Snack #1 – Apple, cashews
Lunch – Carnitas, roasted broccoli and carrots, and roasted diced sweet potato
Snack #2 – Banana with almond butter
Dinner – Tomato soup with Italian sausage

Day 28 – Halloween is coming!

Halloween is three days away and, as of this morning, what you see in the above photo was the extent of my 2017 decorating endeavors. Pathetic! Honestly, I haven’t been able to enjoy October as much as I’d like so far. It’s been a busy month at work, race season and training are kicking into high gear, and my Whole30-ish diet has been sucking up every remaining free moment. There just hasn’t been enough down time for me to relish the holiday season. Along those lines, I was supposed to go to work for a while this afternoon after running with my Galloway group and then picking up my bib for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles half marathon at the convention center (in dreaded downtown LA) this morning. But after I got home, showered, and started doing some of the usual weekend chores around the house, the day pretty much got away from me and it was 5 PM before I even thought about work. And then it was time to watch Game 4 of the World Series! So I decided to stay home for the rest of the day and decorate my house for Halloween. Right now I’m sitting on my couch, watching the Dodgers and Astros, and basking in the glow of my jack-o’-lanterns. The perfect late October night, especially with the blessedly cool weather. Work will have to wait until at least tomorrow. But then, in addition to the half marathon in the morning, I have to make a pot of chili for our annual chili cook-off at work on Tuesday. I did a lot of prep today, including slow cooking a pork roast (I’m trying something different this year), but it will still take at least a couple of hours to complete the process tomorrow afternoon or evening. Let’s just say it’s going to be a busy day.

Speaking of cooking, I did quite a bit of it today – broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes – all healthy components of the meals I’ve been eating this month. It’s funny to be making so much food when my vacation starts on Wednesday (I’ll write more about that later), but I needed to make a lunch for Monday, and then the rest is going into the freezer for when I get back. Having diet-friendly foods at my fingertips will make it easier to avoid the pitfall of fast food as soon as I get back to Los Angeles. Just so you know, today is another one of those days where I won’t be sharing my meals. It’s safe to say that I ate more than my fair share of carbs (mostly in the form of bread) in preparation for the half marathon tomorrow morning. I felt pretty terrible running only three miles today with my group so I knew I needed more energy to run 13.1 miles tomorrow. Let’s hope it works!

Halloween 2016

The annual chili cook-off at work wasn’t the only thing I had planned on Halloween. (I tend to oversubscribe myself during the fall/winter holidays because I’m afraid of missing out. This is my favorite time of year and I’m determined to enjoy it as much as possible!) Since it was a Monday I had a welcome day off from running, but I still wanted to get to the gym before my evening obligations. I was ambitious and signed up for a 4 PM boot camp class which meant I had to leave work an hour beforehand to drive home, change clothes, and get to the gym on time. Note to self: Leaving work early on the day of the chili cook-off is a bad idea! As much as I try to keep the cook-off from affecting my productivity, I always spend a lot of time configuring the conference room tables and chairs in the morning and deconfiguring them in the afternoon. It requires more effort that I’d like to admit. Luckily I was able to successfully leave work and make it to my 4 PM class at the gym. And it’s a good thing too because I really stuffed my face at the chili cook-off. In an effort to not blow my diet too badly I started off with a small bowl of chili (3 different kinds I wanted to sample, including my own) and some salad, but eventually went back for chips and desserts. I couldn’t help myself! The delicious food my co-workers made was just too hard to resist. I also had my first sugary soda since September 10th (more about that in another post), but it was an incredible specialty cherry cola and worth the calories. Fortunately I felt better after an hour of resistance training at the gym.

After boot camp concluded I drove home as quickly as possible and jumped in the shower. I was due at a friend’s house to trick or treat with a few families and their kids at 6 PM so I had to rush. In an effort to make it there on time, after my shower I simply threw on the same clothes that I had worn to work that day – jeans and my Mickey Mouse Halloween hoodie (see above photo). I bought the sweatshirt at Disneyland when I was there with a friend back in September, but it had been too hot for me to wear it until the last few days of October. Much to my delight it was gloriously cool and fall-like for Halloween this year. The last three years summer has lasted until early November so it was really lovely to have a comfortable Halloween for a change. Trick or treating with the kids – dressed as Harry Potter characters, superheroes, Star Wars icons, and Disney cartoons – was a lot of fun. They were so excited that they dashed from house to house like they were already hopped up on candy! I was actually a little chilly being outside for so long, even in my hoodie, but the kids weren’t affected at all. All they wanted was to fill their buckets with treats. I was completely wiped out when I went home at 9 PM, but trick or treating with the kids was the perfect way to end Halloween.

Halloween recipe variations

On Monday we had our 5th annual chili cook-off at work. It’s a Halloween tradition! It’s also one of my favorite days of the year (maybe second to the annual holiday potluck) and I’m happy to say that even though it was a lot of work it turned out really well. Due to being on the Nutrisystem diet since Labor Day I didn’t get a chance to make any test batches of chili before the cook-off. What a shame! So on Sunday night I simply combined a couple of my favorite old recipes, crossed my fingers, and hoped for a decent outcome. I figured mixing and matching successful recipes couldn’t go wrong! In order to please several non-carnivores at work I promised to make something that was vegetarian friendly. I started with my vegetarian chili recipe, but substituted the spices from my Cincinnati style chili that I made for last year’s cook-off. To my surprise it was absolutely delicious, and actually came in fourth place out of 16 chilis in the popular vote. So in the spirit of Halloween, making a Frankenstein’s monster-style unholy mashup using pieces from different chili recipes can result in something better than the sum of its parts!

Speaking of unholy mashups, the pumpkin bread I made for the chili cook-off got a similar treatment. I originally planned to make a sheet cake, and I even bought some new Halloween sprinkles to decorate it, but some of my co-workers requested pumpkin bread instead. On the plus side it’s easier to throw together, and I already had a can of pumpkin puree in my cupboard so that’s one less ingredient I had to purchase! But which of my favorite recipes to use? The one I posted in September was the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted, but when I tried something different a couple of weeks later I got even better feedback from the taste testers. What a conundrum! In the end I used the recipe from September (mostly so I could avoid buying buttermilk which I never managed to use all of before it spoils), but with a couple of key changes. First of all, I substituted half of the white sugar for light brown sugar for a richer flavor. But more importantly I used a different spice combination:

2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt

The result was absolutely incredible! Not only did my co-workers gobble it up, but I loved it too. I’ll have to remember that for next year. The moral of today’s story is that experimental cooking can sometimes turn out even better than you could possibly imagine. So be brave and try something new! I am going to try and keep that in mind with the rest of my holiday baking. ‘Tis the season to be bold!