All of Beth Velatini's chili recipes used to turn out like soup.

But the Cary woman was determined to get one right. With her Best Buffalo Chicken Chili, she did. The slow-cooker recipe, a favorite of her friends and family, recently won a contest that netted her a $10,000 prize split with a hunger-fighting organization of her choice.

Velatini chose Common Threads, a national organization that teaches children in under-served communities how to cook healthy meals.

The SparkPeople's Split-the-Pot contest accepted recipes nationwide as a way to celebrate the re-launch of the cooking website, Fifteen finalists were narrowed down to a winner in December, after judges actually cooked and tasted the finalist recipes.

"I was like, 'What? That's crazy,'" Velatini remembered of the day she learned she'd won. "I can't tell you how many people have used the recipe at chili cook-offs at the office or block parties and it always wins because it's just a different chili, I think."

The key to the recipe, Velatini said, is the ground chicken.

A fan of "buffalo anything," she came up with the recipe in January of 2010 and posted it on her blog, It immediately was a hit.

"Most people use ground turkey and I was like, 'Why can't you just use chicken?' It's kind of like the same flavor as chicken wings," she said of the recipe.

"For the longest time, I could not make chili to save my life. . . It was the first time when it actually looked like chili and tasted like chili."

Velatini had been reading food blogs and recipes for years before she started blogging in 2008. Along with sharing recipes, the blog allows her to leave something behind for her future grandchildren.

"How interested it would be for them to read about me from age 40 until now. I post every day, the ups, the downs, the whatever, the recipes, everything," she said. "I think it's kind of interesting my future family can look and read about my life."

Velatini started becoming more interested in cooking as her daughter grew older and expanded her interests in food. The family had relied on a simple menu, such as spaghetti, tacos and burgers, before Velatini decided to try more things.

"If I don't eat them, she's not going to eat them," she said of her daughter, who was 8 when she started blogging. "We got into the kitchen and started making more things. The more you do it, the better cook you become."

Velatini, who works as a legal secretary in South Barrington, where blogs daily, spending about 30 minutes every morning on her blog. She does her meal planning on Friday nights, grocery shopping on Saturdays and prep work on Sunday.

The Best Buffalo Chicken Chili recipe contains Velatini's favorite Frank's Red Hot Sauce, but she said it can be dialed back spice-wise depending on taste.

"It's perfect for the Super Bowl," she said.

Best Buffalo Chicken Chili

Start to finish: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Number of Servings: 10

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 large carrots

3 stalks celery

1 large red pepper

2 15-ounce cans no-salt added tomato sauce

1 15-ounce can no-salt added diced tomatoes

1 15-ounce can no-salt added black beans, drained

1 15-ounce can chili beans in sauce (do not drain)

5 cloves garlic

5 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce

Salt and pepper to taste 

Heat your slow cooker on high. Add in olive oil. In a food processor, grind up the chicken until it is coarse like ground beef. Add chicken to slow cooker and cook for about 10 minutes. Rinse out the food processor and add in the carrots, celery and red pepper and process until slightly chunky. (If you don’t have a food processor, simply chop up the chicken and veggies.)

Add the vegetables to the slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients except salt and pepper and cook for 2 hours. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. (Frank’s hot sauce usually has enough sodium for me.)

Serve with cilantro, sour cream, cheddar cheese or tortilla chips on the side.

For more recipes and information on Velatini,