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Chili Five-O

So you're seeking a panel of judges for your chili contest.

It's a good idea to find a firefighter and a detective – a firefighter to extinguish any four-alarm fires, and a detective to scrutinize the ingredients.

And, of course, someone who absolutely loves those exquisitely hot – did I say hot? HOT! – jalapeno peppers.

That's exactly what happened at the 2011 Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, held Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Riverview School, Rio Vista. Toni Tucker of the Rio Vista 4-H Club pulled it all together.

The judges: Detective Vicki Rister of the Rio Vista Police Department, Assistant Fire Chief Dan Schindler of the Montezuma Fire Protection District in Rio Vista, and Chef Riccardo Bahena Antunez of the Taqueria Mexico Restaurant in Rio Vista.

They all know their way around a kitchen. They do, indeed. For instance, Detective Rister began preparing meals for her family when she was only 7. She  worked her way through college (criminal justice, Sacramento State University) by waitressing and cooking.

The judges scored 10 dishes prepared by 4-H'ers in Dixon, Vacaville, Suisun, Rio Vista and Vallejo. This was not for the weak-hearted; the teams sported such monikers as "The Red Hot Chili Peppers," "Howlin' Hot Chilimakers," "Chili Banditos," "Super Awesome Chili" and "Cool Beans" (so hot the 4-H'ers had to cool down by wearing sunglasses).

The judges easily detected the subtle flavors: coffee here,  cocoa there, and oh, yes, isn't that a touch of semi-sweet dark chocolate?

Less than an hour later, a winner. The Chili Five-O team from the newly formed Wolfskill 4-H Club in Dixon.

Five-Oh? Because they've been dreaming of vacationing in Hawaii.

“We can't afford to go to Hawaii, and besides, we don't have time – we’re too busy with 4-H projects,” said team member Hannah Crawford-Stewart. “So we thought, why not make a chili based on food from the tropics?”

They did. They created a chili chunked with pineapple and laced with coconut milk and named it “Chili Five-O.”

Hannah, 13,  and her fellow cooks Kaylee Lindgren, 13, Madison Pitto, 9 and Spencer Currey, 15, wowed the judges with their tasty chili studded with ham, sausage, fried and diced pork, and two kinds of beans, kidney and pinto.  "We tested it about 10 times before the contest." Hannah said.

They thought of every detail. They wore Hawaiian attire. They decorated their table in an island motif. They greeted the judges with “aloha!"

The crushed macadamia nut topping was optional. The smiles were not.

“The chili was awesome,” said Rister. “They tested it, tried it and came up with something different. It’s a great recipe.”

Schindler and Antunez agreed.

The judges praised the  “nice kick” and  “good finish” of the chili and the friendliness, enthusiasm and knowledge of the “aloha” team.

Here's the wining recipe:

Chili Five-O
By Hannah Crawford-Stewart, Kaylee Lindgren, Madison Pitto and Spencer Currey of Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon

2 cups ham, fried and diced
1 pound sausage, cooked
1 pound pork, fried and diced
2 cups diced onions, cooked to translucent
13.5 ounces coconut milk
15 ounces carrot juice
16 ounces crushed pineapple and juice
5 cups carrots, diced
1 cup celery, diced
5 cups dried pineapple, diced (small)
Two 16-ounce cans kidney beans
One 16-ounce can pinto beans
5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
1 tablespoon garlic, minced

Cook meat and onions. Combine with liquids and mix well.  Add spices, carrots, celery, pineapple and beans. Cook over medium heat to soft boil (5 minutes). Reduce heat and simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally. Serves 12. Optional topping: crushed macadamia nuts.

* * *  *

You won't forget to eat your vegetables in this dish.

Eat-Your-Vegetables Chili
By “Howlin’ Hot Chilimakers” Kiara Madden, Riley Currey and Daniela Setka of the Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon

3 cups French onion soup
1-1/2 cups northern white beans
1-1/2 cups kidney beans
1 cup chickpeas
1 cup lentils
1 cup red, green and yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup carrots
2 cups summer squash (zucchini and crookneck squash)
1-1/2 cups eggplant
1/2 cup portabella mushrooms
1/2 cup onion
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons coriander
2-1/2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
6 ounces root beer
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup masa flour
5 strips of bacon, crisp

Broil eggplant and mushrooms. Dice all vegetables. Cook beans and lentils in French onion soup. Add all ingredients except bacon and cook for 45 minutes on high or crock pot for 4 hours. Crisp bacon and chop. Mix in right before serving. Serves 15.

Don't be surprised if Super Bowl Sunday turns into a "Souper Bowl of Chili."

Chili Five-O
Chili Five-O

Championship Chili Five-O Team answers questions from chili judge, Detective Vicki Rister of the Rio Vista Police Department. The team (from left) Kaylee Lindgren, Madison Pitto, Hannah Crawford Stewart, and Spencer Currey, all members of the Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Howlin' Hot Chilimakers
Howlin' Hot Chilimakers

THIS TEAM, the Howlin' Hot Chilimakers from the Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon, impressed the judges with their "Eat-Your-Vegetables Chili." From left are Kiara Madden, Riley Currey and Daniela Setka. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Winners and the Judges
Winners and the Judges

WINNING CHILI TEAM poses for a photo with the judges. In front (from left) are Hannah Crawford-Stewart, Madison Pitto, Spencer Currey and Kaylee Lindgren. In back (from left) are Assistant Fire Chief Dan Schindler of the Montezuma Fire Protection District, Rio Vista, and his assistant, son Mason Schindler, 8; chef Riccardo Bahena Antunez whose family owns the Taqueria Mexico Restaurant, Rio Vista; and Detective Vicki Rister of the Rio Vista Police Department. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8:10 AM

Color, color and more color

When my daughter was a young swimmer, she wanted to collect a ribbon of every color. Picking up on this, my husband and I encouraged her to eat many colored fruits and vegetables as a game. Red strawberries, green kiwis, and hmmm, what kind of fruit is white? Bananas! Then we have green cucumbers, red peppers, purple eggplant. You get the picture. 

We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, so why not make it a game? If you had an orange with your cereal for breakfast, have a spinach salad with red onions, mushrooms and sprinkle of bacon for lunch and blueberries on yogurt for your afternoon snack. Let’s see, that covers orange, green, red, white and blue. I guess we’re having a spaghetti dinner! It’s interesting that much of the nutritional value of a particular vegetable can be found by just looking at the color of it.

  • Red — lycopene, anthocyanins — Heart and circulation health, urinary tract health, memory function
  • Yellow/orange — carotenoids, bioflavenoids — Vision health, healthy immune system, heart health
  • White — phytochemicals — Cholesterol levels, heart health
  • Green — indoles, lutein — Healthy bones and teeth, vision health
  • Blue/purple — anthocyanins, phenoles — Healthy aging, urinary tract health, memory function  Phenol

Now that we know what the colors do for us, let’s make sure to keep all the nutrients we can. After planning, shopping and preparing, you don’t want to cook the health right out of your veggies! Of course most people eat their fruit raw, which, in general, is the best thing to do with all fruits and vegetables. An exception is tomatoes. Heat processing actually enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing the lycopene content that can be absorbed by the body, as well as the total antioxidant activity. The best way to cook veggies is to steam or stir-fry for the shortest time possible. If you can avoid it, don’t boil your vegetables as their nutrients leach into the water.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that keep you and your family healthy and thriving. Try adding more colors to your diet today starting with this delicious recipe from Family Fun magazine.

Chicken Lo Mein

The best part about this colorful dish is its versatility -- you can pick and choose the vegetables you include to accommodate your family's tastes.

  • 1/2 pound angel hair pasta
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 4 to 5 shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced


  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sugar snap pea pods, halved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Chinese baby corn, drained and cut in thirds
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size strips
  1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions until just tender. Drain out the water. Rinse the noodles with cold water, drain them well, and then set them aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, chicken broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Then set the sauce aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large wok or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the ginger for 30 seconds. Then add the onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and carrots and stir-fry 2 minutes more. Finally, add the broccoli, pea pods, and corn. Stir-fry the vegetables for 2 more minutes, then transfer them to a plate.
  4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pan. Add half of the chicken and stir-fry it until it's no longer pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer it to another plate. Stir-fry the remaining chicken, then return the first batch to the pan. Add the cooked noodles, vegetables, and sauce. Turn the heat down to medium.
  5. Using two spatulas or wooden spoons, lightly toss the mixture until heated through, about 3 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 8:13 AM

Stomach share

What would you think if someone told you that they were fighting for a “share” of your stomach?  Bring to mind organ harvesting? Invasion? Theft?

I first heard this term a month ago when I took part in a gathering of food experts. Someone recalled recently overhearing soda company executives brainstorming how they could increase what they referred to as “stomach share.” They were seeking to expand their product lines (from sodas, to juices, waters, and exercise drinks) to make sure that whenever someone drank a beverage, any beverage, it was theirs. What was particularly disturbing, he recalled, was how little the consumer figured in the equation. The goal was to get product into stomach, as often as possible.

The story reminded me of another phrase I’d come across in my research for my book Empty Pleasures — “prosperity stomach.” Coined in 1966 by Henry Schacht, an executive from a diet-food company, and mentioned in his talk that year to newspaper editors called ‘How to Succeed in Business without Getting Fat,” the phrase referred to a troubling problem faced by the food industry. Because people (at least the middle class) did less manual labor and could easily (and cheaply) purchase abundant food, they had begun to worry about weight gain — and count calories. This was causing sales to decrease, and, in turn lowering the profits for food companies and marketers. Schacht’s answer? Diet Foods. By developing more foods with fewer calories, the industry could sell more by promoting it as less.

“Stomach share” and “prosperity stomach” — terms invented nearly 50 years apart — remind us that there are real reasons why it is so difficult to consume only when we are hungry.  Given their resonance, the wonder is not that our stomachs have expanded, it’s that they have not expanded even further.

Companies vie for space in consumers' stomachs.
Companies vie for space in consumers' stomachs.

Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 8:18 AM

Getting to know persimmons

On a wet and gloomy winter afternoon, there are few sights more cheering to my eyes than a persimmon tree loaded with its brilliant fruit, hanging from dark boughs like a mass of orange lanterns. But if you come across this bright spectacle on a winter's walk, don't rush to take a bite of that tempting fruit unless you're sure you know what's what.

See, there are persimmons, and then there are persimmons.

The type of persimmon that you can eat right off the tree is the Fuyu variety (left), a firm-fleshed, yellow- to orange-skinned fruit that is flat on the bottom and wider than it is tall—sometimes twice as wide. You can eat the fresh, sweet fruit like an apple or cut up in salads or you can dry it on the stem or cut in slices for a home dehydrator.

The fruit of the other main variety, Hachiya (right), is far from sweet when its flesh is firm. Hachiyas are orange to almost red, often somewhat pointed at the bottom, and about as tall as they are wide, sometimes taller. If you bite into one of these before it ripens, your mouth may stay puckered for week. If you can wait until the flesh is soft, though—almost as squishy as a water balloon—you will find something inside that's almost like ready-made jam. Just don't eat any of the peel if you don't want a pucker. You can dry Hachiya persimmons, hung from a cut-off bit of stem, or bake the fresh, ripe fruit pulp in a variety of recipes. Here's one:

Aunt Pat's Persimmon Cookies
This recipe for Hachiya persimmon cookies has been in my family for generations and is always a special treat in the cold months. The cookies have a moist, cake-like consistency and can be eaten fresh or bagged up by the dozen and stored in the freezer. They're quick to thaw and they taste great. We usually make a double or triple batch just to take advantage of the fruit's availability, so cookie storage can be an issue.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

1 egg

1 cup Hachiya persimmon pulp (about 3 ripe [very soft] persimmons)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Drop the dough in generously rounded teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a pre-heated 350° oven for 12 to 14 minutes.

More on Persimmons

Check out these links for more information on preserving, preparing, and growing persimmons:

(Photos: Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:53 AM

UCCE nutrition educator is eating on a Food Stamp budget

A TV report about eating on a Food Stamp budget compelled UC Cooperative Extension nutrition program manager Kathleen Nolan into action.

“The reporter was reaching for a processed meal in a box, and I was yelling at the television, ‘You can’t buy anything in a box!’” Nolan said. “The reporter couldn’t survive on the budget, but I know that I can.”

To prove her point, Nolan decided to take her own Food Stamp challenge. For the month of January, she is eating healthy on a Food Stamp budget and blogging about her diet on Facebook. Nolan writes about menus, shopping lists, recipes, nutrient analyses, cost analyses and the personal impact of changing the way she eats.

To size up the budget, Nolan used the USDA’s online calculator, starting with a typical low-income person her age, living alone with no assets. She also calculated the benefit for a family of six with a typical farmworker income and rent. The average benefit was $5 per person per day.

USDA’s Food Stamp program was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2008 to more accurately reflect its purpose. The benefit is not really meant to cover all food expenses, but to buy supplemental groceries. In California, the program is called Cal-Fresh.

Whatever name is used, Nolan said there are recipients trying to feed their families for about $5 a day per person or less. She believes it’s doable, and could even be healthful.

“It’s not difficult, but it’s challenging emotionally and culturally,” she said. “I’ve had to change my expectations about food.”

To begin with, Nolan is cutting way back on meat.

“Meat can be viewed as a garnish or a flavoring,” she said. “For a lot of people in the world, that’s how they eat.”

In addition to modifying her food preferences, Nolan is taking a hard look at how she shops. Some people have suggested discount grocery stores and even the dollar store. Nolan believes that with careful planning and attention to in-season produce and store specials, the local neighborhood grocery store need not be off limits.

“I start by building a shopping list based on nutrition needs - how many portions of grains, or vegetables and fruit, or protein-rich foods will be needed for the week? I match up those needs with advertised bargains and make a list.”

On the first day of the challenge, she purchased whole-grain hulled barley in bulk.

“I never really ate barley this way before,” Nolan said. “I thought of barley as something to add to soup.”

Nolan mixed ½ cup cooked barley with shredded zucchini, a little cheddar cheese and eggs to make a frittata.

“It was very satisfying,” she said.

Nolan also turns to alternative sources of food, such as friends and neighbors. In one post she wrote about an elderly woman on her block who shares produce from her garden.

“Her late husband made a special shelf on the fence where she puts lemons from her trees so that passersby can help themselves,” Nolan said. “The neighbor to the north has rosemary in her yard - so why would anyone buy it at the store?  In turn she gets apples from me and I get collards from a fellow farther down the road. Isn’t that the way life should be?”

By documenting her Food Stamp budget experiences on Facebook, Nolan is hoping to inspire others to eat right and spend less on food. She hopes to further the effort after her January challenge ends by enlisting volunteer families to try to eat on a Food Stamp budget and share their experiences online.

Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 8:00 AM

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