Chili with bacon + mushrooms

As I type this, the winds are screeching around my house like a kindergarten class on a sugar high running from a swarm of bees. (Take a moment to soak in that imagery — I swear, that’s what it sounds like, but I don’t want to look out the window, in case sugared-up children are actually being chased by scary clowns, and, knowing thusly, I would be expected to rescue said children. But in the case of scary clowns, it’s every woman for herself, man. Zombies, I’ll grab up all-y’alls’ kiddies and stab the undead in the forehead with my Shun chef’s knife, but clowns, they’re on their own.)

Every once in a while, the lights flicker, but hold (thankfully … thinking about my freezer full of summer preserves). Hard, crunchy leaves from the nearby mighty oak tree hit the west-facing windows with loud !PINGs! as they’re ripped from their branches and hurled outward. Far and away, Superstorm Sandy is showing New Jersey and New York what hurricane hospitality is all about, and the wind storm here that is torturing the nerve endings of everyone in the household is rushing eastward to hook up with her, promising snow on Tuesday. It’s a crazy night in the eastern half of the country.

And so, October makes a dramatic exit. And comfort food hits the menu, big time.

A cold, breezy Saturday called out for something stewy and spicy, like chili. Coincidentally, with the farmers’ markets prepping to close down for the season here, it’s time to stock up on both winter storage vegetables and local, grass-fed beef, pork, and poultry.

Now, I follow a mostly vegetarian diet — the only meat I ever crave is in the form of a really good smoked turkey sandwich (especially when smeared with Boursin and topped with a tangy cranberry sauce — hello, Thanksgiving leftovers!), but I do purchase meat and feel tons better about it when I know the animals were well-cared for, roamed grassy fields, and fed a proper animal diet. (Tyson, Perdue, Smithfield — no, thank you — they and their Big Ag ilk are why I went vegetarian to begin with).

I like all kinds of chili, truth be told — with beans, without beans, with tomatoes, without tomatoes, with or without chocolate and cinnamon, with beef, pork, turkey and/or chicken, and, of course, no meat at all. What I really wanted on Saturday was a great big mish-mash of flavors — a nice cut of fresh chuck, smoked bacon (both local), simmered with juicy cremini and porcini mushrooms.

Aaanddd … the spices. “Chili” is not chili without spices. That’s what “chili” means, dontcha know: chili, as in, chili pepper. No chili of mine leaves its pot without a big blop of homemade chili paste and frequent doses of ground spices. Chili paste is super easy: rehydrate a handful of your favorite dried chilies — I prefer smoky chilis, like guajillos and anchos and New Mexicos, over hot chilis — and blend ‘em up in the blender with a bit of the chili water or tomato juice.

In the photo above, left, the chilis I used are (clockwise) guajillos (2), chipotles (2) and one big ancho. In the photo above, right, I mixed up a batch of sweet paprika, smoked paprika, cumin, and salt, and seasoned the chili throughout its two hour cooking time.

Between the chilis, the spices, the hint of bacon, and the super-savory-beefy mushrooms (which replaced 1/4th of the meat normally called for), this chili really hit the spot — flavorful and perfectly seasoned.

Karen xo

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Chili with bacon + mushrooms

When you look at the list of steps, don’t panic. :) Many of them are very quick, and you’ll be able to move from one to the next with ease. Really great chili takes a bit of prep – it’ll be worth it in the end. If you’re just not up to dealing with the chili paste, use your favorite chili powder, or – better – stir together your own blend with ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, and ground cumin (in addition to the paprika blend).

Also note here that I never use ground beef for chili – I always, always by full cuts and slice into 1/4″ cubes (kitchen shears make quick work of it). The next time you have a few extra minutes to prep the meat yourself, you should try it – the difference is amazing.

Ingredients:
4 – 6 dried chili peppers (I used 2 guajillo, 1 ancho, 2 chipotle)
1 dried bay leaf

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup hot water

1 beef boullon cube or 1 teaspoon Better than Bouillon paste
1/2 cup boiling water

2 teaspoons olive oil
5 slices uncooked, thick-cut smoked bacon, chopped into 1/4” pieces
1 medium onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper or poblano pepper, diced
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, chopped

2 teaspoon peanut oil
1 1/2 pounds chuck roast, trimmed, and sliced in 1/4″ pieces (buy extra to account for the removal of fat and connective tissue, about 2 lbs)
8 – 12 ounces lager beer (can or bottle)

1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes (I use petite cut – you can also use crushed)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Prepare the dried chili peppers: slice off the stem ends and shake out the seeds (cut open the peppers with scissors for easier access to the seeds). Break or cut them into 2” pieces and place them into a bowl of hot water, along with the bay leaf. Set aside to soak for at least 20 minutes.

3. Prepare the dried porcinis: break the mushrooms into 1” pieces and add to 1/2 cup of water hot water. Set aside to soak.

4. Prepare the beef stock: In a small bowl, dissolve the beef cubes or paste in a 1/2 cup boiling water and stir. Set aside.

5. Prepare the spice mix: Mix the paprikas, cumin, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

6. Cook the bacon, vegetables, and mushrooms: Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a 4-5 quart dutch oven over medium until shimmering. Add the bacon pieces and cook until the fat begins to render and the meat edges tinge with gold. Stir in the onions and cook until nice and soft, about 8 minutes. Add the diced peppers and cremini mushrooms and stir to mix everything well. Cover with a lid. Cook until the mushrooms have given off their liquids and are brown and soft. Remove the lid and add the rehydrated porcini mushroom pieces to the pot, reserving the liquid.

7. Strain the reserved porcini liquid into the beef bouillon – you should have about a cup of very flavorful broth.

8. Brown the chuck: Season the chuck generously with about a tablespoon of the spice mix, reserving the rest for later. Heat 1 teaspoon of peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high until shimmering (this will happen quickly, so be ready). You’ll need to work in batches. Add meat to the skillet in a single, loose layer. Don’t crowd the pieces, or they’re more like to boil and steam than develop that nice flavor-boosting crust. If the meat gives off a lot of fat as it cooks, carefully drain it to keep the pan fairly dry.

9. When the first batch is browned, add it to the bacon-mushroom mix. If there are browned bits stuck to the browning pan, pour in a bit of the beer to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the bits and juices. Add to the bacon-mushroom mix. Repeat with the remaining batches of meat. Add the cup of beef/mushroom bouillon to the chili pot and stir to mix everything well.

10. Make the spice paste: transfer the now-rehydrated peppers and bay leaf to the jar of a blender. Top with a bit of the chili pepper soaking liquid and tomato juice from the can of diced tomatoes. Blend well. Scrape the paste into the chili pot. Use a bit more of the tomato juice to help rinse any stubborn bits of paste in blender jar. Add the tomatoes.

11. Give everything one last good stir, cover with an oven proof lid (or wrap tightly with foil) and place in the oven. Allow to cook for a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours (longer won’t hurt). About one hour in, stir in the remaining spice mix, plus the apple cider vinegar (replace the cover).

12. Before serving, remove from the oven, uncover, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Ladle out individual servings and top with your favorite garnishes: sour cream, cheddar cheese (I used an aged gouda), cilantro, green onions.

Prep Time: 60 minutes       Cook time: 2 to 3 hours       Yield: 4 servings


Comments

  1. This looks great! I have never put mushrooms in my chili before, such an interesting idea. It sounds like you are okay from Sandy. My neighborhood here in NYC got ravaged and damaged quite a bit, but not nearly as badly as some others, thankfully. I didn’t lose power. It’s a mess though. As always, love your blog!

  2. Did someone mention bacon?

    I don’t buy as much meat these days either; the local, grass-fed ranches get my business and my conscience is less troubled.

    I’m glad your hatches are battened down and your freezer stocked. Fingers crossed the electricity stays on. The chili sounds wonderful and perfect for right now because I am cold. Since a liberal application of bacon (very similar, as my bomb-squad friend says, to the liberal application of explosives) improves any situation, my immediate future is looking bright and tasty. Thanks!

    • All we had here was a windstorm from out west, unrelated to Sandy, and some – gasp! – snow Tuesday morning (didn’t stick on the roadways). Funny, though – ever since Hurricane Ike (a couple of years ago), I no longer assume I’m safe from hurricanes. Even though I’m far, far inland, Ike whacked us good – not a drop of rain but tons of wind damage, sustained gusts over 80 mph. My ‘hood was without power for 5 days (although, fortunately, my little stretch of street lost power for only about an hour). By day three, Target was up and running on generators. Of course, that’s nothing compared to what East Coast folks are dealing with right now, but it just goes to show the power of hurricanes. They can reach all the way to Ohio!

      (And yes, there was bacon. Lots of bacon.)

  3. So relieved you’re spared from the brunt of Sandy. I’m in LA and we are all paying attention and realize that Mother Nature is always in command, regardless of where one lives.

    Can’t wait to try your chili recipe. I’ve never ground up dried chilis, never even thought about where chili powder comes from…I know not why. But like you, when I eat meat which is very rarely, I need to know about the farm and the animals. We’re on the right track, don’t you think?

    As a newbie to your site, I appreciate your flair and I’ve used quite a few of your recipes already. Keep it up!

    • I think we are on the right track. Small and local. The world ate that way for a very long time – and not so very long ago: in my grandparent’s generation – and I have to frown hard at the people who scream that the world’s populations will starve without Big Ag’s large industrialized installations (or that organic farming is unsustainable – again, once upon a time, all farming was organic).

      I’m glad you stopped by to comment – love hearing from folks!

  4. That storm was a B___H. The only good thing she did was blow the neighbor’s immense leaf blanket away from my yard… And it’s very tough to watch the news from Downstate and other areas that took the brunt of it.
    On another note, I can’t look at a clown or go over a storm drain without thinking of Steven King’s book “It”. Total shivers…
    A bowl of chili sounds perfect for a howly kind of evening. Stay warm.

    • That’s totally where I got my thing about clowns from, the book. Then, the movie – Tim Curry in clown drag will forever haunt my storm drains. Actually, I have reactions to balloons, too. ;) Stephen King! {shakes fist}

      I can’t even imagine being in charge of executing that clean-up. Some of those areas look like they were hit by bombs. Where do you start? Where?

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