Our daughter works for an agency that’s part of the network of social services in this state. For several years, before it was dismantled by former Governor Pataki, it was a bureau within a much larger Department of Social Services and I was employed there as a Sr. Personnel Administrator for six years before transferring back to a former agency. For this blogpost, the “social services” phrase is key, because it indicates a basic desire to assist those who are unable to fully take care of themselves: the poor, the disabled, those struggling through difficult times. Unfortunately, nowadays that are lots more people in those kinds of situations than when I was part of the workforce. Especially when the holiday season rolls around, no matter how strapped we might ourselves be, there’s always someone else who’s worse off – and one of the best ways to help is through the local Food Pantry.
Every year for I-don’t-know-how-many years, Kristen’s workplace has held a lunchtime chili and bake sale, along with a raffle, to benefit the Food Pantry. They raise so much money that the Food Pantry informed them that they’re one of its biggest cash contributors. A host of employees sign up to cook up chili dishes, which winds up including anything from vegan, vegetarian, poultry or red meat versions. Others volunteer to bake sweeter items for consumption. The raffle is comprised of themed gift baskets filled by several sections within the organization, and the contents of those baskets often include some especially desirable goodies. For instance, Kris’ Systems section theme this year, something like “Cyber Christmas,” included a Bluetooth suitable for many electronics and a $100 gift certificate (to Amazon, if I’m remembering correctly), along with other less pricey items. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to win a basket filled with “rest and relaxation,” including a gift certificate to the Inn at Saratoga, enough for an overnight and a meal for two (we opted to skip the overnight and do the meal, inviting my brother and his wife along—the foodfare at the Inn is awesome!).
For years, I’ve purchased raffle tickets in support of this event. This year, I wanted to do more so I asked Kristen if they needed additional chili. I knew they often ran out before everyone got to the sale room (sometimes Kristen didn’t get any since the meatless ones disappear quickly). She checked with folks and it was a Go. I was told they had lots of vegetarian sign-ups this year, so I opted to make chicken chili. I decided I’d bring a slowcookerful for the sale, plus a separate container for our daughter (ensuring she gets some!). Below you’ll find my recipe.
I loved creating this chili on the Monday before Thanksgiving (sale was the next day), dancing and singing to holiday music playing on the kitchen radio, chopping and dicing, sautéing and stirring. I used the largest metal pot I own and wound up with enough for the sale, Kristen’s “care packages,” and ourselves as well. “Chilghetti” (chili on spaghetti) is one of Bill’s favorite meals, albeit usually with ground beef, so that’s how I served it that evening. Next day, we drove downtown and delivered the heated-up casserole (transferred to my slowcooker) and Kristen’s individual portions to the chili site. People in the elevator, noticing the slowcooker, smiled at us while asking, “Chili?” Later, I was told there were many compliments on it, so I’m providing Kris with the link to this post so she can give it to co-workers who might want to try cooking up a batch themselves.
Last I heard, the total donation for the Food Pantry from the sale exceeded $6,000. Next day, the day before Thanksgiving when not so many workers were around, they still sold leftover hot dogs at lunchtime although, alas, no chili dogs – the chili had sold out. No dessert either, all baked goods having been enjoyed earlier too!
I’m hoping that if you’re in a position to help someone in need during the holiday season, you too will find a way to reach out in whatever way that makes you feel good. If you’re one of those people in need of assistance yourself, please realize there are people who care and do what they can, even if in very small ways. We are all part of a larger community, an entire planet, and we cannot survive without peace, understanding and caring.
Notes About the Recipe:
• I used frozen peppers because I already had them. Fresh are even better. If they’re fresh, however, include them in the initial sauté with the onions
• If you’ve got fresh celery, chop that up and use it (sautéed with onions); I used celery seed. because all the fresh stuff went into soup the day before! The chili included a combo of homemade chicken stock and boxed broth. Canned stock works fine.
• Fresh herbs are always great, but my parsley plants with away along with the warm weather! Remember to use half the amount of dried herbs than you’d use fresh; drying them intensifies their taste/aroma.
• Don’t skip rinsing the beans. It gets rid of lots of the salt in the canned beans so the cook gets to choose her/his own level of salting!
CHICKEN CHILI FOR CHARITY
Makes about 28-30 one-cup servings
4-to-5 lbs. boneless chicken (I used breasts & thighs; could add legs), cut into 1-to-1½ inch size
4 or 5 yellow onions (about 2 lb.), cut in half and sliced or chopped
1 lb. carrots (minis or regular), cut into small chunks
8-oz. frozen green and red pepper strips
½ of a 6-oz. bag of frozen chopped green peppers (or dump the whole bag in, if you like)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
Fresh-ground sea salt (kosher or table salt are ok too)
Fresh-ground black pepper
¼ tsp. celery seed
2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce, plus 8 oz. canful of water
3 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tbsp. cumin
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (regular cinnamon is okay but Saigon is more intense)
⅛ to ¼ tsp. nutmeg (I did fresh-ground but I’m a nutmeg-nut; already ground kind is fine)
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 cups chicken stock (homemade, boxed or canned)
2 additional cups chicken stock, reserved (in case needed)
2 cups vegetable stock
Combination of beans – mine included:
2 15-oz. cans dark kidney beans
1 15-oz can light kidney beans
2 15.5-oz cans cannellini (white kidney beans)
1 15.5-oz can great northern beans
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
2 tbsp. dried parsley
- Sauté the onions and carrots for 2-3 minutes, along with fresh salt and pepper (to taste).
- Add the garlic and peppers; continue to sauté for about 2 minutes.
- While vegetables simmer in pan, begin to sauté chicken in a separate (frying) pan, browning it a bit. You will probably have to do this in a couple batches.
- Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water and tomato sauce to simmering vegetables. Simmer for 2 more minutes.
- Once all chicken is somewhat browned, add it to the pot.
- Pour in the first 2 cups of chicken stock (not the reserved 2 cups) plus the vegetable stock.
- Combine the spices and herbs (chili powders, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme) and add to chili mixture (or toss them in individually—doesn’t make a difference so long as you’re stirring well!).
- Simmer for about 45 minutes, checking regularly to be sure there’s enough liquid. If not, add more of the (reserved) chicken broth.
- After 45 minutes, add the parsley and all the beans.
- Cook for 20 more minutes, again checking in case more liquid is needed. If you run out of broth, a little water will work just as well.
- Serve on its own, or over pasta or spaghetti. Its flavor also tends to deepen overnight, as with all tomato/herb-enhanced dishes. We like it with grated cheddar, parmesan or asiago cheese on top. A dab of sour cream or Greek yogurt is a nice touch too, if you’ve got some in the fridge.