4th of July Party Fun!

July 6, 2010

Wow, what an awesome weekend.

I have to say, I’m a little exhausted today. Party prep included hours and hours worth of yard work, pool, food and chili contest prep and lots of running around.

We have lived in our house for 8 years. We went for 5 years without a backyard – just waist-high weeds that we would whack down before every 4th of July to lower the risk of rogue fireworks setting our yard/house on fire. We saved  money to do our yard right. One Saturday afternoon we drove to Manteca, CA on a whim to tour through a pool builder’s showroom. We decided to put in a pool that day. We are research people, we always have a plan… not that day – it was definitely out of the norm for us. I am so happy we made the decision to put in the pool. It’s led to hours and hours of enjoyment, some pretty kick ass parties and our backyard is beautiful. For the past 3 years we have hosted my Dad’s birthday/4th of July.

This year we decided to do a chili cook-off. Our block did one a few years back and it was a lot of fun. I did a little research online and found that Rachael Ray had  a chili cook-off page on her website. She had a downloadable judging sheet as well. Being Ms. Graphic Designer, I wanted our judging sheet to match the invites and 4th of July theme. I re-designed them using Adobe Illustrator. Rachael’s is on the right, mine is on the left. Wasn’t quite sure why Rachael’s sheet said to rate on a scale of 1-5 and the numbers only went to 4 – whatever, ours worked great – minus the oversight of leaving off the word “heat” in the 4th category – would have been helpful since some of the entries were smokin’ hot.

I also designed tent cards to place at each chili station.

I put down leather placemats to protect the kitchen desk from the crockpot heat. I also gave everyone a spoon and small plate to set it on. The chili started arriving and it was fun to see the different crockpots. We had everything from stainless to floral. I bought small plastic tasting cups and spoons for the judging. Each party guest grabbed two score sheets (I did a second one that contained the letters D, E, F) to accommodate the amount of entries.  I set up a card table and had the dining room table and kitchen counter for people to sit at.

Dan started off the judging. It was hysterical to watch how people went about it. Some lined up all of their tasting cups and labeled them with a sharpie, others did one at a time. Some people ate Fritos and drank beer in between tastings, others had more cheese in their tasting cups than chili. Some of the recipes were super spicy, others were more tomato based. There was a nice variety of meats and beans. I just wish I had taken pictures during the tasting. My Uncle did, but I was too busy tasting myself.

I spent many hours online researching different chili recipes. I ended up tweaking my usual one and I thought it turned out really good.

Foo’s Chili Recipe

3 Tablespoons Salted Butter
1 lb. Boneless Beef Chuck
1 lb. Ground Sirloin – mixture of 10% and 20% lean
1 Large White Onion – I used a white Spanish sweet onion
2 Garlic Cloves
5 Ounces Guinness Beer
1 Tablespoon Flour, 2 Teaspoons Cornmeal and 2 Tablespoons warm water mixed well.
1 28 Ounce Can of Crushed Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Large Jalapeño – Seeds and veins removed – 1/8 inch diced
2 15 Ounce Cans of Red Kidney Beans
3 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Tablespoons Cumin
1 Teaspoon Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Coriander
3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar
2 Cups Beef Stock plus 1 Additional Beef Bouillon Cube
1 Tablespoon White Pepper
Salt to Taste

Heat butter in large sauce pot or dutch oven over medium high until very hot. Add diced beef chuck and cook until seared and browned around the edges. Add the ground sirloin and cook until all of the beef is browned. I added some salt during this process. Remove the meat and set aside, draining off only 3/4 of the fat – leaving the rest in the pot. Add diced onions, garlic and 2 tablespoons of the chili powder and cook until soft. Add the meat back into the pot. Then add the Guinness and let boil for several minutes. Then add the flour, cornmeal and water mixture to create a thick paste. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, jalapeño, kidney beans, remaining spices, brown sugar, cocoa powder and beef stock. Bring everything to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 1 hour – stirring occasionally. Then turn the heat down to super low, cover and simmer for another 2-3 hours. I let the chili cool down, put it in the fridge overnight and then got it into the crockpot the next morning at around 11:00 AM on the lowest setting. The judging happened around 4:00 PM. I never once needed to add water or more beef stock – it was a nice consistency.

After all of the judging sheets were tallied, my recipe won 3rd Place.

Dan and I went to a local trophy shop and bought a gold, silver and bronze medal and had them engraved on the back with the date and name of the event. Everyone loved that little touch. My girlfriend Deede won 1st place – her recipe and photo to be included in another post – she had to work yesterday, so didn’t get a chance to send me the photo or recipe – so stay tuned.

My brother took second place. His chili was awesome. He didn’t use a recipe, he just added as he went – he was even in and out of my spice cabinet throughout the afternoon. His was sweet and then had a serious kick at the end. He let on that one of his sweet secrets was “maple syrup” – Deede and my brother definitely went the spicier route – mine was more tomato based. I’m guessing that could be tweaked by not adding the tomato paste or by adding less crushed tomatoes.

The rest of the 4th of July Party menu consisted of the following:

  • Beef Sliders made with garlic, caramelized shallots and fresh thyme – served with Havarti cheese, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce/Mayo combo on Hawaiian Rolls
  • Roasted Baby Potatoes with an extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, bay leaf and butter marinade. I used tri-color potatoes, so they were red, white and blue/purple.
  • Fuji Apple and Napa Cabbage Slaw
  • Fruit Salad
  • Cheesecake Shots

The cheesecake shots were so much fun. I knew Deede was bringing a homemade Martha Stewart Stars and Stripes Cherry Pie, so I didn’t want to do traditional birthday cake on top of that. I toyed around with some ideas, but found a photo on google images of the cheesecake shot glass dessert and knew I wanted to do those in a 4th of July theme. The bonus is that my Dad also loves cheesecake and after all, it was his birthday.

I went to Beverages and More and purchased 18 shot glasses for the party. I have a bunch, but not short and stubby or matching ones. Pier 1 informed me that they will be getting dessert shot collections for fall – awesome.

Cheesecake Shots – serves 18-24 – depending on shot glass size

4 packages of 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1.5 Cups Sugar

4 Teaspoons lemon peel
1 Sleeve of  graham crackers – crushed into crumbs
4 Tablespoons Red Raspberry Preserves
1 Tablespoon Raspberry Syrup
Blueberries and Raspberries for toppers

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and lemon with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Spoon graham cracker mixture into bottom of shot glasses. I used a glass to crush the graham crackers and a mock pastry bag (Cut Ziploc) for the cheesecake filling. Add a layer of cheesecake filling on top of the crushed graham crackers, then add the raspberry preserves/syrup mixture, another layer of crushed graham crackers and then fill with more cheesecake mixture and top with berries and an American flag 😉 – Everybody loved them and darn, I have some leftovers in the fridge.

The house was decked out with the 4th of July decor I’ve gathered over the years.

I had a nautical/beach theme going on…

I just love hosting holidays and am so grateful and happy to be surrounded by an amazing family and such great friends. I would definitely call the 4th of July Birthday Bash a success – what did you do to celebrate?


  1. great idea and i love the invite & scorecard designs! very ms. graphic designer indeed! and the decorations are spot-on as always – very nice… =)

    • Thanks Jodi. Being a fellow designer, I know you would do the same. Ms. Design her own save the date and wedding invites. Can’t wait to see baby announcements :o) not to mention all of your home improvements and decorating. Dang, wished you lived closer – we could definitely do some damage together.

  2. It definitely was a total success! Everyone had a wonderful time and the weather even cooperated pretty well.

    It was very obvious that you went to a lot of work, but you sure as heck impressed everyone and they certainly did appreciate all your efforts.

    As you said, all in all……..a wonderful birthday/weekend.

    Thank you so much honey…….Lots of love and hugs, Mommers

    • Thanks Mommers – I had a blast and appreciated all of the dish help – you rock!

  3. Wow your party looked awesome! The chili contest sounds like a fun idea. I wish I was in your neighborhood. LOL

    • Thanks Gina – The house next door is for rent ;o) – hah!

  4. Sounds so fun! We do a chili cookoff around Halloween. We also carve pumpkins. So fun

    We went into town to watch fireworks. Lots of fun. The girls enjoyed playing games on the blanket and eating lots of sugar!

  5. This looks incredible! What an awesome party idea. I’m so impressed how you planned this whole thing and the touches you added. I think you should be a paid party planner. I’d hire you, if you lived in AZ :o)

  6. Forgot to add that your chili recipe and the cheesecake shots look fantastic! I’m going on a shot glass hunt this weekend, what a great idea for a party!

  7. I’m so glad that everything turned out so well….and that you found those shot glasses! 🙂

  8. What a wonderful website/blog! Reading all those recipes and looking at the pictures of food, made me have to take a break and go eat a snack of almond butter on a Wasa rye cracker (to stop the drooling!). Thank you for inviting me to puruse your site. I will definately use some of your posted recipes.

    Hugs, Bon

  9. This looks like it was tons of fun. Hopefully you didn’t have a bad case of “rim-fire” the following day!

    Congrats on winning a bronze!

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