‘Jilly From Philly’ Wins National Chili Contest With A Pinch of Jewish Flavors

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Jill Gilber won the grand prize at the third annual Riunite Ultimate Chili Challenge for her “Cherry Bomb Chili with Sweet Heat Firecracker Crumbles” (with a dash of Manischewitz).

 

For Jill Gilber, a little Manischewitz goes a long way.
 
In fact, it took her all the way to Phoenix, Ariz., where she won the grand prize for her “Cherry Bomb Chili with Sweet Heat Firecracker Crumbles” at the third annual Riunite Ultimate Chili Challenge. 
 
She became a semifinalist at the regional competition in Washington, D.C., in October, then advanced to the finals in November. 
 
“I’m still on Cloud Nine,” she said. 
 
She won a trip for two to San Francisco in February for the Super Bowl. 
 
Her winning recipe included the basics like peppers, carrots and onions. She threw in Louisiana Hot Sauce and coffee for additional “body and robustness” and soaked pitted cherries in Lambrusco. 
 
“My key really is getting some very good quality spices and understanding how to balance those flavors right there,” she said. “It was a little bit of sweet, a little bit of heat, and I think that’s what made it so popular.”
 
Gilber usually leans toward making a red chili that has an acidic tomato base, but her secret ingredient to make it sweeter is one familiar to anyone who has ever taken a seat at a seder in the United States in the last century: Manischewitz.
 
“That is my secret weapon. And I just revealed it,” she laughed. “I lean on that a lot. It’s fantastic in recipes.” 
 
She also adds grape jelly, her second (somewhat) secret ingredient. No matter the variation of her chili, she always uses those two staples. 
 
“A little trick that my mom taught me was using Manischewitz in my chili. Hand to God, no doubt about it.”
 
Gilber has been competing in food contests “pretty religiously” since 2009, thanks to former Food Network personality Paula Deen.
 
“It just kind of spurred into something, and a friend had suggested this Paula Deen contest,” she said, which was called The Real Women of Philadelphia.
 
Because she’s a Philly native, she decided to check it out. 
 
The contest was actually an eight-week cream cheese contest, but she stuck with it. She submitted weekly recipes based on the categories Deen announced.
 
After that, her competitive career took off. 
 
“I didn’t give up” after that, she said. “I honed in a lot of skills over the past few years but at that time, it was putting my all into it in hopes that something would come of it.”
 
Gilber begin entering more and more contests — and winning. 
 
She’s won contests with Arnold Bread and the Kenmore 100th Anniversary recipe contest. She also competed in the World Food Championships in 2013. 
 
And before earning this national chili title, she won two previous Philadelphia chili contests.
 
Gilber said the key to her success is understanding what the contest is looking for and developing creative recipes around that. 
 
She used different chili recipes than her national one in those initial competitions, even creating a Philadelphia-themed chili that combined iconic Philly foods such as cheesesteaks (she used ribeye), onions, cheese, root beer and her own homemade soft pretzel that replaced the 
traditional cornbread. 
 
She called that recipe “Jilly From Philly Inspired Chili,” which has become her competing name across many food battles. 
 
“I had proven to myself that I could be successful at this. I was starting to win things, and my creativity was sinking in,” she said.
 
Gilber is also using her winning recipes to give back to the community. 
 
After the word spread about her chili title, a lot of people wanted to try it. As part of her volunteer work with Wet Nose Rescue, she offered her chili to people in exchange for donations to the dog rescue. 
 
Gilber’s parents taught her a lot about cooking. 
 
Growing up, her mother would cook full traditional Jewish dishes — roasts and stews — almost every night. Her father stocked their fridge with gourmet ingredients and seafood, and they always had a big Sunday meal. 
 
At a young age, Gilber remembers waiting quietly in the kitchen during her parents’ dinner parties in the hopes that they would invite her in to help with the food.
 
“I would even put an apron on and serve them just so I could taste the food and be a part of everything.”
 
She sticks to the more traditional meals that she grew up with for the Jewish holidays — matzah ball soup, meatballs, lox — but still uses her creativity to put a spin on dishes like latkes, for instance. She doctors them with a cream cheese-and-lox spread on top or makes waffle latkes and mini Reuben latke sandwiches. 
 
Her creativity and inspiration for cooking stems from her food-centric family. 
 
“I will absolutely take on anything,” she said. “I have a bucket list of things that I’ve done over the years and it spoiled my family.”
 
After this chili win, Gilber doesn’t plan on changing her recipe anytime soon.
 
“[The recipe] is hanging on my kitchen wall. I have it in a frame already,” she announced with pride.
 
But that’s not the end for Gilber. She hopes to compete in an upcoming food challenge, the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California next year. 
 
“Find your passion, and to me that’s cooking, no matter how I slice it up. Whether I’m competing or cooking for family and friends, it warms my heart to warm other people’s hearts through food.”
 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737
 
 
Cherry Bomb Chili With Sweet Heat Firecracker Crumbles 
 
1 cup Riunite Lambrusco
2 cups frozen or fresh pitted cherries
3 lbs. ground beef
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
2 large jalapeno peppers, one diced, one sliced thin
3 grinds salt mill
5 grinds pepper mill
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes 
4.25-oz. can diced green chiles 
½ cup cherry jelly or jam
2 Tbsps. Louisiana Hot Sauce
½ cup of strong brewed coffee
15-oz. can cannellini beans
 
Dry spices:
 
2½ Tbsps. ground cumin
1½ Tbsps. oregano 
¼ cup chili powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsps. dehydrated onion flakes 
1 tsp. ground mustard 
2 tsps. salt
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsps. masa flour mixed in 2 Tbsps. of warm water
 
Sweet Heat Firecracker Crumbles:
 
½ 5-oz. bag any variety of Dippin’ Chips, crushed into small pieces
3 Tbsps. light brown sugar
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbsps. chili powder
 
Toppings:
 
small container of sour cream
8 ounces of colby jack cheese, shredded
 
Soak cherries in the Lambrusco for 2 to 3 hours. 
 
In a Dutch oven or large nonstick pot, brown the meat over medium heat. Remove from pan, drain and set aside. While keeping the heat on medium, add the vegetable oil to the pot. Next, add the onion, garlic, carrots, both bell peppers and the diced jalapeno to the oil. Grind salt and pepper as instructed. Cook until softened, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring often. Now add the reserved, cooked ground beef back to the pot. 
 
Add all of the remaining chili ingredients as well as the dry spices to the pot. Be sure to add the soaked cherries. Stir well to combine all ingredients. Cook on low to medium heat for 2 hours, stirring often. 
 
Place the crushed Dippin’ Chips into a gallon-size zip bag along with all of the dry ingredients listed under the Sweet Heat Firecracker Crumbles. Give a good shake to combine. Set aside. 
 
For chili assembly, ladle cooked chili into a bowl. Top with sour cream, jalapeno slice, shredded cheese and the Sweet Heat Firecracker Crumbles. Serves 6 to 8. This was the winning recipe from the 2015 Riunite Ultimate Chili Challenge, riunitetailgate.com.
 
The Apple of My Eye
 
This recipe is so reminiscent of my pre-teen years, with a clear vision of my mother wearing her kitschy floral button down apron with two pockets in the front, one of which always had a wooden spoon sticking out of it. Mom was always so progressive in her cooking, lucky me. We didn’t just eat dinner — we dined, on things like ratatouille and Cornish hens. Desserts, however, were usually store-bought, as Mom was not a baker. One of the few things she was proud of was her baked apples, and for good reason. Who could resist the warm apples generously filled with a buttery, sweet, cinnamon center oozing everywhere? I created my recipe with hers in mind. I too, bake sparingly, which is why my dish is a sweet and savory entree. Imagine, ground chicken perfectly seasoned with fresh garlic, onions and fresh sage combined with butter cracker stuffing all baked inside a lovely red apple and drizzled with a reduction of blackberry wine. Mom, you will always be “The Apple of My Eye”!
 
6 medium sweet red apples (suitable for baking)
4 Tbsps. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch fresh sage leaves
1 lb. ground chicken
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 sleeve of butter-style crackers, broken into small pieces
1 cup blackberry wine, divided
 
Preheat oven to 350˚. Line each individual compartment of a six-capacity (minimum) muffin tin with aluminum foil. 
 
Slice off only the very top of each apple and discard the tops. Core each apple with a melon baller, leaving an approximate ½-inch wall all the way around for stuffing. 
 
Take one tablespoon of the olive oil and evenly coat with your hands the exterior and interior of all six apples. Salt and pepper each apple to taste. Place each apple into the muffin tin and prebake for 10 minutes. 
 
Remove and set aside. 
 
Chop the onion, garlic and two large sage leaves. Set aside. Put the crackers into a gallon zip-style bag. Use a rolling pin or a kitchen mallet to break the crackers into small pieces (NOT bread crumb consistency). In a medium bowl, soak the cracker pieces in cup of the reduced-sodium chicken broth and set aside for later. (All liquid will be absorbed.)
 
Heat remaining olive oil on medium heat in large non-stick saute pan. Add onions, garlic and the two large chopped sage leaves. Cook until softened (approximately 3 minutes). Add ground chicken to the pan and cook until no longer pink, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often. Add the crackers to the pan and combine all well. Next, add cup of the wine along with remaining chicken broth to deglaze the pan. Allow the liquid to reduce by stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. 
 
Place each apple on the muffin tin. Stuff each apple with the chicken mixture equally and drizzle remaining wine equally over top of each apple. Place muffin tin on a baking sheet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. 
 
Apples should be soft to the “poke.” Garnish each apple with sage leaf and serve. 
 
Serves 6. This was the winning recipe for Kenmore’s 100th anniversary recipe contest, 
cookmore.com/recipe/the-apple-of-my-eye. 

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