WESTON - Stephanie Ringler's church recently hosted a chili contest and hers came out on top.
|Stephanie Ringler with her prize-winning chocolate chili. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
"We had the real spicy, the mild, a couple white chilis" and even a Cincinnati-style chili, says Ringer of the nearly one dozen entries in the hard-fought competition.
But what she brought to the table, literally, was something many folks had never tasted before. It was called chocolate chili.
Ringler is quick to point out that this chili is not what you might expect from the name. It certainly doesn't contain any milk chocolate candy bars, or anything like that.
Instead, the name chocolate chili comes from the clever inclusion of three tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder in combination with 10 other ingredients, some traditional for chili and others decidedly not.
"But if you taste it, you don't realize it's chocolate."
Instead, what that cocoa powder does is give the chili a gorgeous rich brown color.
"I like easy recipes," said Ringler, a wife and mother of two boys with a full-time job and a second, part-time job.
"I have a crazy schedule and am hardly home. I co-own a shop in Grand Rapids" called Just For You "and am also filling in at Miller Insurance for the secretary, who is on maternity leave, plus have two boys and a husband who is working the night shift for a couple of months. Needless to say, we eat a lot of chili and crock pot meals."
She first heard of a recipe for chocolate chili from Sandra Lee, who has a cooking program on the Food Network.
"But I made quite a few changes to it. I left some things out and added some - like the garbanzo beans. Because I like them. They get a bad rap sometimes" which Ringler doesn't understand.
She didn't actually catch the television episode that featured the chocolate chili. Rather, she saw the recipe in a copy of Lee's cookbook "that came into my store."
Just For You, which Ringler co-owns with Joe Schroeder, is a resale shop that features collectibles, antiques, housewares, clothing and baby items.
"We've been in business 10 years," having moved the shop from Weston to Grand Rapids about five years ago.
The recipe immediately caught her fancy.
"I thought 'oh yeah, quick and easy.'
"It's kind of sweet with some heat. Of course, it's got the brown sugar for the sweetness, and the chiles for that punch."
The resulting flavor is full and rich, particularly since this chili calls for ground pork rather than ground beef.
The pot of chili that won the contest was made using all pork, but when Ringler made up a new batch for the Sentinel-Tribune photographer, the grocery she visited had only one package of ground pork left in the meat section.
"So I made it half-and-half, ground pork and ground beef" and it tasted fine.
The recipe specifies merely "taco seasoning mix." Ringler usually uses Ortega brand.
"I love that. It's all in the packet; you don't have to have five different spices. It makes it easy."
Sandra Lee, the TV chef, called for red wine. "I did not put that in 'cause, well, I don't have that hanging around my house."
Lee's original recipe also called for all pinto beans, instead of Ringler's much tastier switching of garbanzo for half the pinto beans.
And finally, Lee suggested using chipotle Pace salsa "but I just used the regular Pace salsa. I just thought the chipotle would be overpowering, plus, not all stores carry the chipotle version" of the salsa.
Finally, this chili has a garnish of sour cream, scallions and more cocoa powder, but it's optional.
"I'm not that fancy, but it does look good," Ringler admitted.
One thing that's not optional, as far as she's concerned, is the cinnamon. Because cinnamon, besides tasting wonderful, is very healthy.
"I don't like to cook," Ringler insists. That's probably because of all the irons she has in the fire. Besides her work schedule she volunteers in son Syler's kindergarten classroom at Otsego Elementary and heads up the Wood County Humane Society's annual garage sale at the fairgrounds.
But for someone who says she doesn't like cooking, she's endlessly creative in the kitchen and very interested in serving her young family the best meals she can manage.
"I'm trying to really steer clear of the processed food and frozen entrees. "We have chickens now, that we get eggs from.
"I get my ground beef right in Weston - raised locally, organic" at Zulch Family Farm.
I'm slowly trying to get back to the non-processed foods. But it's hard with our lifestyles nowadays."
1 1/2 lbs. ground pork
1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans, drained
1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans, drained
1 jar (16 oz.) Pace salsa
1 cup chopped onion
1 can (4 oz.) diced mild green chile peppers
3 Tbl. unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey's)
3 Tbl. packed brown sugar
3 Tbl. tomato paste
1 packet taco seasonings mix
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. In a large skilled, cook ground pork over high heat, breaking up clumps; drain off fat.
2. In a slow cooker, stir together pork and rest of ingredients. Cover and cook on low setting for 4-6 hours.
3. Spoon into bowls. Garnish with sour cream, scallions and additional cocoa powder (optional).