Tag Archives: Reggie Graves


This is my sixth post about chili, although three of those have been about chili competitions. Why, you are probably asking. am I writing another?

First, it is the beginning of chili season. Around our house, the groves of aspen are beginning to color the mountainsides with great patches of golden-yellow. Closer to home, the chamisas (aka rabbit brush) are a matching golden-yellow, and the shrubs fill the country side. Unfortunately, they also elicit a characteristic allergy season. Purple asters fill in the bare spots between the chamisas while spikes of purple gay feather brag in clumps around the yard and the trailsides. Purple and gold are a beautiful combination of color that makes autumn around here so spectacular, never mind the reds and bronzes of the sumacs and the deciduous trees.

Second, the Terlingua chili competitions are only a month or so away. I’m sure my friend, Reggie, has been cooking in contests all summer long so that he has enough points to enter the competition. I hope that he plans to go because he has so many friends and fellow chili cooks who go to the big celebration

Third, there must be an infinite number of chili recipes, and I believe that the home cook can never have too many chili recipes. This, of course, excludes the entire mystique of Cincinnati two-way, three-way, four-way and the ultimate five-way chili. This recipe is particularly simple. Except for the meat and the onions, it is simply a matter of opening cans and dumping them all together. I admit that I made things a little more complicated by buying the best grade of stew meat I could find and cutting it into ¼ inch pieces. That’s what competition cooks did many years ago until someone using ground beef won the Terlingua contest. Since that tectonic event they have almost all switched to ground beef. You can do that, too, and then the recipe becomes even easier. I have used three different beans (definitely NOT a component of competition chili) to make the visual effect of the finished product more interesting. The seasonings are only a guide. In particular, use as much chili powder – 2 or even 5 tablespoons – to suit your taste and your tongue.


Open-a-Can Style Three-Bean Chili


  • 1 pound beef stew meat
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (15 ounces) beef stock + more if needed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) white chili beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder (not ground chiles)
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cut the stew neat into ¼ inch cubes. Sauté in the oil in a large, heavy bottomed soup pot over high heat, cooking until released water is boiled off and the meat is browned. Remove the meat to a plate and return the pot to the stove over medium heat.
  2. Sweat the onions in the heated oil, covered, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Return the browned meat to the pot.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Stir in the tomato sauce, beef stock, beans, chili powder, oregano, and cumin.  Bring the mixture to the boil and then reduce heat to the simmer. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add more beef stock if the chili becomes too dry.
  4. Simmer for 1 hour. Serve while still hot.




Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes


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


Filed under Food, Travel


Reggie Graves, one of our best friends from our days in Louisiana, recently paid us a visit. Reggie is well-known for his championship chili – I have written about it in the past – but he is an excellent cook besides that.  Whenever we have a chance to visit with Reggie, you can be sure that there will be good food and lots of talk about food.

We were definitely not disappointed on this visit. Reggie brought us a huge bag of shelled pecans and the promise to make his favorite microwave pralines.

During one evening of reminiscing about old times, we talked about a famous praline shop in the New Orleans French Quarter on Decatur between Jackson Square and the French Market. I am not sure that the shop still exists, especially after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The memory lingers on, beginning with the fragrance of caramel and roasted pecans drifting out onto the street for blocks around the shop. The accompanying visual is of a huge woman hovered over an equally huge copper pan filled with bubbling caramel and pecans. The woman would stir and stir the mixture until it was just right, and then she would ladle dollops of the blazing hot mixture onto a cool marble table. When the pralines had cooled, she would wrap them in squares of waxed paper, ready for sale to the many tourists who had lined up to watch her. Of course, the taste memory is biting into a golden brown praline filled with pecans and cooked so perfectly that the caramel was soft and chewy without any sugary texture.

Making pralines at home can be a challenge. First, you probably don’t have a big copper vat. Then there is the matter of getting the caramel cooked just right so that it is creamy without a trace of sugar crystals. That means that many home cooks – this one included – prefer to buy their pralines from a good candy store.

Those challenges are what makes this recipe so great. You can make perfect pralines in just a few minutes using your microwave. The biggest problem is to make certain that the time of cooking is tied to the wattage of your microwave oven. This recipe is designed for a 1000 watt appliance. To make it a general recipe, I tried to see if there are tables or graphs to suggest how you should adjust cooking time according to oven wattage. Indeed, there are lots of tables available, but I found most of them confusing and difficult to use. Instead, I developed a simple formula which you can use as a beginning guideline. You will probably need to experiment to find the ideal time for your oven, but a beginning point is to divide 1000 by the wattage of your oven and multiply the cooking time in this recipe (12.5 minutes) to find the approximate correct cooking time for your oven.

The other essential secret is to use a large enough (eight cups at least) microwave-proof bowl to boil the praline mixture.

With that, here is the recipe:



  • 1 pound light brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups shelled pecan halves
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • enough softened butter to grease a large baking sheet


  1. In the large microwave-proof bowl or pitcher, combine the brown sugar and cream.
  2. Using a 1000 watt microwave oven with turntable, cook the brown sugar and cream mixture on High for exactly 12.5 minutes
  3. Using a hot pad, transfer the bowl with the cooked mixture to a heat-proof surface.
  4. Stir in the pecan halves and the butter,
  5. Working quickly, when the pecans are completely coated and the butter is melted and incorporated, form the pralines
  6. With a soup spoon or tablespoon, ladle spoonfuls of the mixture onto the buttered baking sheet.
  7. Cool enough before eating so that you don’t burn your tongue, but pralines are delicious warm or cold.
  8. If you get tired of eating just the pralines, try crushing them before sprinkling them over dishes of vanilla ice cream


Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes