Tag Archives: guacamole


This was the weekend for the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) world championship in Terlingua, Texas. Around 300 competition chili cooks from all over the country were there along with their families and friends. I was not there. It is an invitational event, and all of those cooks have been entering cook-offs all year-long to collect enough points for an invitation. I am home. We have returned from California, having enjoyed the California Chili Cook-Off Championship and then an extended visit with our family in the Bay Area. It should be apparent by now that I did not win anything at the cook-off, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. On top of that I learned a lot about chili competitions if I should ever decide to enter another one. This post will include lessons learned along with a chili recipe based upon my non-championship chili  but made milder for my good wife who has no tolerance for spicy foods. The recipe also will contain the greatest of heresies – pinto beans and tomatoes. Those and the garnishes cut the piquancy of the dish and make it a family favorite. If you want a hotter chili, just double all of the amounts of chili powder. You can order these specialized chili powders on line from Pendrey’s Spices in Fort Worth, Texas or Mild Bill’s Spice from Ennis, Texias. If you don’t want to go to that bother, you can just use store-bought chili powder. You can even try a combination of the stand-bys: McCormick’s, Gebhardt’s, and Mexene. LESSONS LEARNED 1. Don’t be too ambitious. It rapidly became obvious that on my second attempt, it was foolish to enter contests for the best salsa, the best guacamole, and the best chili. That clearly wound up being too many balls in the air. 2. Try not to have anything to chop. Cutting up avocados, green onions, and tomatoes for a half-gallon of guacamole is nearly a full-time job in itself. Besides, having sharp knives anywhere in the vicinity of the booth is dangerous. A sliced finger will send you to the first aid station or the emergency room. 3. Grease is the challenge of the chili cook. A pool of glistening red grease floating on the top of the turn-in cup is probably the surest way to be disqualified. It presents a paradox that even the most accomplished cooks wrestle with. Most use 80/20 ground beef. That is, 80% meat and 20% fat. The fat definitely enhances the flavor, but it is also unattractive and needs to be removed. Some champion cooks make huge meatballs and boil them in water for 30 minutes before they add them to the chili mix. That gets rid of the grease, but it reduces the amount of umami savor from the Maillard reaction developed with browning of the meat. Some cooks brown the meat and pour off any extra grease, but they are still stuck with a lot to deal with. Compromise solutions include browning the meat balls before boiling or boiling and straining the meat after it has been drained. It seems to me that both of these approaches sacrifice some of the umami. Another alternative would be to blot the browned meat in a clean kitchen towel. An approach all good cooks undoubtedly use is to skim any grease that rises to the top during cooking, using a small spoon or ladle or a wad of paper towel. There is a final mop-up of the sample ladled into the turn-in cup. Whatever, it is a problem to be dealt with. 4. Be sure to bring plastic bags for trash and a container to hold discarded liquids. You would be surprised at how much trash one generates just cooking one pot of chili. It may easily fill up a household trash bag, so be sure to bring plenty. Another problem is what to do with all the production liquids, including the water for boiling meatballs, drained grease, and skimmings. It is considered bad form to pour any of that on the ground. And you are responsible for cleaning your booth. 4. Camp stoves are not the same as kitchen stoves. I practiced several times making chili on the stove at home, but it was an entirely different experience on a butane camp stove. The flame kept going out, and it seemed like it was either on – burning things – or off – not cooking as I had thought it was. Fortunately, my friend, Reggie,  had brought a butane fire lighter or I would have used up a box of kitchen matches. However, the experience pointed out the need to practice on a camp stove under challenging conditions. 5. Visitors can be distracting. While we were busy cooking our competition chili and worrying about the deadline, crowds kept coming by to sample our chili, guacamole, and salsa. It was fun to meet all the different people, but it certainly increased my anxiety level. 6. You will need a lot of luggage. When you travel to chili cook-offs, you need to have everything you need. Of course, that means your ingredients, your utensils, and your stove. There are other things to worry about: the contest sponsors may or may not furnish a table and chairs. You need both. An umbrella or other cover is handy to shield you from the sun and rain. If you are entered in the showmanship contest, you will need all of your props along with lots of giveaways and your pirate costume if that is your theme. Clearly, at least one and maybe two of the largest suitcases you can find are important. Unless, of course, you do what many fierce competitors do. They buy a motor home so that they can pull up next to their friends on the circuit, spend the night, have space for all of their gear along with a refrigerator well stocked with beer and/or wine.


Spice Packs

First “dump”


  • 1½ teaspoons Fort Worth Light chili powder
  • 1½ teaspoons RT-Rio Tejas chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
  • 2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½teaspoon monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • 1 packet Goya Sazón with cilantro and annatto (con cilantro y achiote)

Second “dump”


  • 1½ teaspoons Fort Worth Light chili powder
  • 1½ tablespoons San Antonio Red chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 2½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 5 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 packet Goya Sazón with cilantro and annatto )con cilantro y achiote)

Third “dump”


  • 1½ teaspoons San Antonio Red chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon turbinado sugar


  1. Measure ingredients into three small plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.
  2. Have the containers ready so that you can add them, one at a time, at the appropriate time during cooking.

Non-Championship Chili


  • 2 pounds 80/20 ground chuck
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 3 ounces pork stew meat
  • 3 fresh Serrano chiles, pierced several times with a sharp knife
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce
  • 14.5 ounces canned beef broth
  • 14.5 ounces canned chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 15 ounce can pinto beans, drained
  • 15 ounce can, petite diced tomatoes, drained
  • spice packs
  • chopped white onion (for garnish)
  • grated Cheddar cheese (for garnish)
  • Frito original corn ships (for garnish)
  • sour cream (for garnish)


  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef in the vegetable oil, stirring frequently to break up any clumps of the meat and to prevent burning. When the meat is well-browned, remove from the heat, drain in a colander, and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Set aside.
  2. Wipe the pot clean with a paper towel or kitchen towel. Return to the heat. Add the pork, Serrano chiles, tomato sauce, beef and chicken broths, and the first spice “dump”. Stir until well combined. Bring to the boil and boil for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat. Then remove the pork and the chiles, squeezing their juice into the pot. Return to the heat, add the cooked ground beef, and cook over a low flame for 1 hour.
  4. At the end of the hour, return the mixture to the boil for 10 minutes. Stir in the ketchup, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
  5. Stir in the second spice “dump”  and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. At the end of the 15 minutes, stir in the third spice “dump”. Continue at a slow boil for 20 minutes.
  7. Stir in the beans and tomatoes and simmer until completely heated, about 5-10 minutes.
  8. Serve with garnishes


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The 2014 California Chili Cook-off Championship has come and gone, and I didn’t win a thing. But I had a lot of fun and learned about chili cook-offs. (This was my second, the first one being in New Mexico over ten years ago.)

The event was held at the Woodbridge Winery near Lodi, California. I had never been to that part of California, and was pleasantly surprised by Lodi. It is not Napa or Sonoma and sits on the edge of the Central Valley. It reminded my wife of Lubbock, Texas “with hills”. That said, the downtown turned out to be charming with lots of wine-tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops. The fields surrounding the town are almost completely taken up by vineyards.

The Woodbridge Winery is the elephant in the room. It has 300 acres of vineyards, and a large bottling operation that bottles 27 different brands of wine. It ships millions of cases of wine each year (One source says over 6 million compared with 500 cases or fewer by local family operations.)

Woodbridge was established by Robert Mondavi, but is now owned by a huge conglomerate that bought out Robert Mondavi a number of years ago. Still, it feels committed to the local community and makes a point of sponsoring a number of community-oriented activities throughout the year at its park-like headquarters space.

For 12 years it has put on a combined chili cook-off and car show. The cook-off serves as the California state championship with the winner entitled to go to the CASI (Chili Appreciation Society International) World Championship  in Terlingua, Texas. That’s sort of the chili equivalent of the Burning Man in Nevada. This year the contest attracted entrants from all over California as well as from as far away as Illinois and Kansas. The reigning world champion along with two former world champions were cooking.

The car show was huge. There were hundreds of cars of all ages, makes, and models. They were all in mint condition.

There were other things to do as well, so that the crowd was in the thousands, most of whom were anxious to taste chili, guacamole, and salsa that were prepared for respective contests.

I tagged along with my friend,, Reggie Graves, who is himself a champion chili cook who has won many contests throughout Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. We decided to enter all three contests. Reggie was in the Top Ten chili cooks. I was not. And we also didn’t win in the guacamole or salsa contests. That’s just the way it goes.

Here’s an image of some of the winners:


some of the winners

some of the winners


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Daughter Sarah surprised us with a short visit, so we cooked up some of the favorites of her childhood. One of the breakfast specials was huevos rancheros. The real version takes some effort since you need to make the ranchero sauce from scratch along with a base of refried beans.

This version can be cooked up in a flash using items from the pantry like bottled salsa. You may not be able to find blue corn tortillas – they seem to be sort of a New Mexico specialty – but any kind of corn tortilla will do. We had some guacamole left over from the night before, but fresh avocado slices also make a good garnish.

Blue corn tortillas

Blue corn tortillas


Green chile sauce

Green chile sauce

Huevos Rancheros


  • 2 blue corn tortillas (yellow, white, or any other color will do)
  • 2 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons chopped white onion
  • 2 eggs
  • butter
  • green chile sauce, heated
  • 3 tablespoons guacamole


  • Heat the tortillas on a dry hot skillet until they bubble a bit and are lightly covered with brown flecks. They should remain soft and flexible
  • Place one tortilla on a plate. Arrange half the cheese and onions on top. Cover with the second tortilla topped with the remaining cheese and onions.
  • Heat the plate in an oven at 200° or in a microwave for 20 seconds or so until the cheese is melted.
  • In the meantime, fry the two eggs in a skillet with butter.
  • When the eggs are cooked to your preference, transfer them to the stacked tortillas
  • Surround the eggs with the heated green chile sauce and garnish with guacamole.
  • Serve immediately.
Huevos rancheros

Huevos rancheros

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When our son, Peter, was in graduate school, he stayed in a run-down house with a number of Colombiano students. The house was on Hillmont Street, so they named the house “Casa Hillmont”. During his time at Casa Hillmont, Peter’s Spanish skills improved markedly, but he also learned to cook Colombian comfort food. One favorite was and is tostones. Tostones are the one way I know of to use plantain. This banana relative usually sits neglected in the produce section of the grocery store. Neglect those plantains no longer because tostones are easy to make,  delicious as a snack, and a great substitute for corn chips with guacamole.

Plantain slices ready to fry

First frying of plantain slices

Smashing a cooked plantain slice with a can

Tostones ready to serve

Guacamole is a Central American dish which has been imported to the American Southwest and eventually to the whole world. Probably that’s because it is easy to make The mellow flavor of the obligate avocado balanced against citrus and chile accents is hard to resist, especially with a corn chip and cold margarita in hand. According to Diane Kennedy, the legendary Mexican cookbook writer, the word comes from two Nahuatl (Aztec) words, ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (mixture). Other authorities say that the word ahuacatl actually means “testicle” referring to the shape of the fruit and its tendency to grow in pairs. More than that, the Mesoamericans reportedly believed that eating the fruit contributed to sexual prowess. Those interesting facts aside, it is easy to eat a bowl of fresh guacamole by oneself.

Ingredients for my version of guacamole

There are probably as many recipes for guacamole as there are cooks who make it. Most traditional recipes include chopped tomato. For me, the version which tends to be favored in Santa Fe is the best. It uses coarsely mashed avocado, lime juice, a little chopped onion, salt, and pepper. Garlic and cilantro are acceptable additions, and chile depends upon your tolerance for heat. I do balk at one addition that you sometimes see – mayonnaise. The Aztecs never used mayonnaise! Honestly, I prefer guacamole with a kick, but because my wife has zero tolerance for chile, I make it without any zest and then sneak a little chile into my portion.

Guacamole in a molcajete ready to serve

The recipes to follow should be enough for two people. For larger groups, just increase proportions accordingly.



  • cooking oil
  • 1 ripe plantain, unpeeled and cut in ½ inch  slices (about 12 slices)
  • salt
  • Add the oil to a ½ inch depth in a heavy pan and heat over a medium-high flame. Do not let it smoke
  • Peel the plantain slices and place them in the heated oil. Brown lightly, turn, and brown the other side
  • Remove the slices to absorbent paper, and using the flat end of a large can, smash each of the cooked slices
  • Immediately return the slices to the heated oil and continue frying them until they are browned on both sides
  • Remove again to the absorbent paper, sprinkle with salt, and serve while still warm



  • 1 large, ripe avocado
  • juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and chopped finely
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped (optional)
  • cilantro leaves, chopped (optional)
  • hot sauce (eg Tabasco or Cholula) to taste (optional)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)


  • Place the avocado flesh in a medium bowl and mash coarsely with a table fork
  • Add the lime juice and combine with the mashed avocado.
  • Stir in the chopped scallions, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve
  • Add optional ingredients according to your own taste


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