Every year in April (with the exception of 2015 when I was 8 months preggo), we go on a big family vacation to Hilton Head, South Carolina, or Moochfest, as we have lovingly nicknamed the trip.
My parents and a couple of my aunts/uncles/close family friends have timeshares in Hilton Head at the end of April. And I believe it was around Christmas of 2007 when my sister, my cousin and I suddenly joked – “Why aren’t we crashing this vacation?”
This used to be our annual family trip when we were kids. But once we all started going to college, we couldn’t exactly take a week off from school a few weeks before finals.
And once we were out in the real world, we quickly realized how much it sucks. And how expensive it is. So we decided to crash, mooch, off our parents’ vacation and thus, Moochfest was born.
They certainly welcomed us with open arms. They are always thrilled to have us there! And this year and last, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the WHOLE WEEK in Hilton Head. (Pre-baby, Mike and I only went for half of the week because he could never get the whole week off from work.)
But when we had the baby and I became a stay-at-home-mom, I figured, why not mooch for the whole week? (Poor Mike still flies back early, but he doesn’t begrudge his appreciative wife and daughter a few extra days to spend with family.)
Izzy wasn’t walking yet at Moochfest 2016, but this year, she was MOVING! Watching her chase the waves and her cousins around all week was simply the best. And all the love she smothered on Grammy, Grampy, Aunt Kerry and Uncle T-man? My heart was bursting.
And besides the typical perks of this family vacation, Mommy enjoyed an additional kind of vacation: A vacation from cooking! I didn’t have to cook a damn thing for a whole week! 🙌 (If you’re a Hater like me, it’s not a real vacay if you still have to cook every day!)
I DID end up making a big salad and a big dessert on two separate nights, but that’s nothing. For me, it was a near-100% vacation from cooking.
Of course now I’m back, and my cooking life sentence has been reinstated until the next trip we take. Sigh…
But anyway, we didn’t stop at the store on the way home from Moochfest. So I had to come up with something on the fly Sunday night.
Which is no problem, because at this point in my life, I have a decently-enough stocked pantry and freezer to come up with plenty of options.
But I wanted to make something NEW, so I began looking around my food supply for inspiration. And then I saw one gigantic sweet potato that I forgot we had.
So I Googled “sweet potato recipe.” Most of the returns were side dishes, and there were a few recipes that sounded good, but I did not have all the ingredients on hand.
Then I saw a recipe for sweet potato chili. I didn’t even click on the recipe before I decided that that was going to be the meal. Not their version, sure. I probably didn’t have all of their recipe’s ingredients on hand.
But I know what goes into basic chilis… And I did have all that stuff. And I really liked the idea of the sweet/spicy combo.
So I got to work.
I had an onion because I always have onions around. I had garlic because I always have garlic around. I had some celery that was still pretty crisp, so I grabbed that. I did NOT have a bell pepper, but I NEVER have bell peppers around because I’m allergic to them. But I did have 4 oz. cans of diced chiles, so at least I had something along those lines. (Feel free to trow in bell peppers if you prefer.)
What else goes into typical chilis? Tomatoes, beans, and maybe some kind of broth, or at least water, for the liquid component. All of which I had on hand (canned tomatoes and beans, of course.)
I asked Mike if he wanted chicken in it, or if he wanted to keep the meal vegetarian, and he voted for chicken. No problem. I pulled some chicken out of the deep freezer to defrost. And I grabbed a cup of frozen corn while I was down there, because why the hell not?
I had (or could improvise on) all the spices I would need for this chili to come together.
So I crossed my fingers and went for it.
Mike and I were pretty psyched about the outcome. He loves sweet potatoes, so I had a feeling this would be a winner for him. We both enjoyed the sweet/spicy combo, and Mike commented on how he enjoyed the smoky flavor.
It will probably be the fall again next time I make this recipe, but it’s definitely a keeper! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 😉
1 big ass sweet potato, peeled, and ½” diced (or two small/medium sweet potatoes)
2 tbsps chili powder, divided
½ tsp thyme
Salt & pepper (smoked sea salt if you have it)
1 small onion, or ½ big onion, diced
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced, depending on your jones for garlic
2-3 stalks of celery, diced, depending on their size
1-2 cans of diced chiles, juice included (or a bell pepper, or any other pepper you prefer, diced)
2 cans of diced tomatoes, juice included
2-3 cups chicken broth (start with 2, add more if needed once everything else is in the pot)
1 cup frozen corn
2 chicken breasts, cooked, shredded*
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼-½ tsp cayenne pepper (depending on how much heat you can take!)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Garnishes: Cheddar cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips
(I bet some cinnamon and/or cumin would be the bomb… I just happened to be out of both of those things. I’ll try that next time 😉)
*Under normal circumstances, this Hater would only make this meal if I already had some shredded chicken on hand. I made an exception because we just got back from vacay, and I had to make something on the fly.
You could also buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the store and simply shred that if you have no intention of cooking chicken from scratch.
Or… ground chicken or turkey would be easier/quicker than cooking/shredding a couple chicken breasts. I just decided on shredded chicken because I already have fave go-to recipes for ground beef/chicken/turkey chilis.
But I personally think poultry would be a better flavor with the sweet potatoes than ground beef, FYI.
Preheat your oven to 350 and trow your peeled/diced sweet potatoes in a baking dish, sprinkling them with some salt (smoked if ya got it), pepper, 2 tsps of chili powder, and ½ tsp of thyme. Drizzle with oil over the potatoes, stir everything together, and pop the dish in the oven, stirring occasionally until they’re a little crispy on the outside, soft on the inside (about 20 minutes.)
If you already have cooked, shredded chicken on hand, GREAT. Move on to the chili. If not, salt & pepper two chicken breasts, cook ‘em in a frying pan, and shred ‘em after they cool off a bit.
While your sweet potatoes and chicken are cooking, you can start grabbing the rest of the ingredients out of your fridge, pantry and spice cabinet, and begin prepping the chili. (But don’t forget to flip/stir your sweet potatoes, and flip over your chicken.)
Dice your onion and celery, heat a stock pot over medium heat with 1-2 tbsps of EVOO, and mince or press your garlic while the pot/oil are heating up. (But keep an eye on that chicken so you don’t overcook it! Just pull it off the burner and set it to the side when it’s done.)
Trow the onion, celery and garlic into the stock pot, and mix around so they get coated with the oil and start cooking. Add a few dashes of salt and pepper (again, smoked sea salt if you have it), and 2 tsps of chili powder, mix it around again, and let it cook for a couple minutes.
Flip/stir those sweet potatoes. Shred your chicken. Stir your onions/etc.
Grab your can opener and open all those cans (diced chiles, diced tomatoes, beans.) Drain and rinse the beans, then set them aside for now.
Add the chiles, tomatoes, and chicken broth to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add 2 more tsps of chili powder, the smoked paprika, and the cayenne pepper (if you can handle it, haha!)
Once simmering, throw in the chicken, the corn, and the sweet potatoes. Simmer the chili for 30 minutes, adding the drained, rinsed beans 10 minutes before the end of the simmer time.
Serve topped with shredded cheddar, a dollop of sour cream, and some tortilla chips on the side (or none of that stuff, if you’re not into it!)
Servings: This makes 3-4 solid adult servings depending on the appetites of the adults involved. Most chilis reheat very well for leftovers, and many also freeze well too, although I won’t be testing that theory till the fall 😉
Time involved: If you already have cooked chicken on hand, this will take an hour. If you have to cook/shred the chicken, tack on 15 minutes.
Haters note: When you hate cooking, one hour feels like FOUR. So I recommend this as a good weekend meal for Haters (or for inexperienced cooks, because it will probably take you longer than an hour.) These days, this Hater might actually consider making this on a week night, but most likely not… And definitely not if I don’t already have the cooked chicken on hand.
Meat Haters note: This could easily be vegetarian, even vegan if you skip the garnishes. Just cut out the chicken and sub veggie broth or water for the chicken broth.
Middle Class Folks note: You know what else I like about this recipe? No weird spices, pretty standard stuff.
I love eating Italian food, American/Irish-American food, Mexican, Asian, Indian – I love it all!
What I DON’T love (and can’t afford) is hundreds of dollars’ worth of spices inventory in my cabinet that would make my dishes more “authentic.” Screw that.
I have a lot of basics, and just improvise whenever I have to. You’ll see that majority of my recipes have pretty standard ingredients. Believe you me, I don’t use herbs & spices that just end up sitting in the cabinet forever.