Chile con Carne del Congelador*

March 7, 2012

*Title Translation: “beef chili made from freezer finds”

I came home from work last Thursday with a burning determination to continue my New Year’s resolution. With hardly a hello to my family, I began ruthlessly pulling stuff out of the freezer to thaw. “Use it or lose it!” I told myself, even when the pile became so large that I knew I was condemning myself to a weekend spent slaving over a hot stove.

The funniest thing I found:

Yes, a Lego minifig head frozen in a jar.

The yummiest thing I found:

a mini-ham from Choux Choux!

This past six weeks has been a blur of endless long days of work, weekends of recipe testing for an upcoming new Spanish/Moroccan cooking class, and children begging for my attention in the small chinks of time I have left. Dinner has been either a) something quick, usually involving eggs or pasta or b) an elaborate Spanish or Moroccan feast of too many strange things. My Operation Use-it-Up became something of a joke as I piled the freezers full of things like Spanish Fish Stock and Moroccan flatbreads, and stuffed the pantry with various types of olive oil and paella rice.

One ray of hope in this murk of plenty happened when my assitant returned from Vancouver with my order from South China Seas Trading Company. New spice jars! Giant bags of my favourite ground chiles! Ceylon cinnamon quills! We spent several hours re-vamping my spice shelf at home and my spice bin for work. Please allow me a moment to gloat and admire my spice shelf in all its re-organized glory.

Well, the beautiful jars of ground New Mexican chiles and Ancho Chiles inspired part of my selection from the freezer on Thursday. I knew I wanted to make my delicious Chile con Carne, at the very least. And I did. Tender stew-sized chunks of chuck roast simmered with various types of ground chilis and freshly ground spices in my mom’s garden tomatoes. YUM. The recipe, by the way, is below.

Things I have so far managed to use up from Thursday’s freezer pull:
~One package of sausage rolls from Choux Choux, eaten for dinner on Thursday (I am not sure if I am ready to admit that they were purchased Christmas of 2010)
~One 2 lb mini-ham from Choux Choux, dinner on Friday night, lunch on Saturday
~One 4 lb grass-fed chuck roast, one litre of pureed garden tomatoes, and two bags of frozen Silver Rill corn, to make chili on Saturday (bonus: this also used up one pound of black beans from my pantry and two bulbs of winter storage garlic that is starting to sprout)
~One litre of frozen strawberries in syrup for pancakes on Sunday
~One half-pound of organic bacon for breakfast on Sunday (aside – this pork belly still had the skin attached – yikes!)
~Four freezer-burned (ahem) salmon steaks, grilled and made into salmon salad for lunch on Sunday and Monday. Really, it’s amazing what some mayo and onions will do to revive some freezer-burned fish.
~Two half-full bags of rhubarb. Galette, anyone? I made this late on Monday, and it very handily helped me to also use some of the toasted pecans I have had sitting around since Christmas.

Things I have so far not used from Thursday’s freezer pull:
~One small jar of tomatillo salsa. Tacos might just be on the menu later this week. Bonus – if so, we will use up frozen ground beef and frozen corn tortillas!
~One and one-half cups of organic chicken fat (will I actually use this up? I don’t know. I like to cook with chicken fat under certain circumstances, but ….)

Anyway, I call that an Operation-Use-It-Up a success. Here’s hoping I can keep it up.

Chile con Carne y Frijoles y Mais (Beef Chili with Beans and Corn)
Serves 12, or a family of 4 for many days
If you want to use ground beef in this recipe, feel free to use sub it in for the stewing beef. If using commercial chili powder (which I do not recommend), use 6 tablespoons of it. The ground chiles can be purchased at Market on Yates and Mexican House of Spices in Victoria, and at South China Seas Trading Co in Vancouver.

This recipe also freezes very well after you have finished cooking it. Not that I said that out loud.

spice mix

3 Tb New Mexican chile powder (made from grinding dried New Mexico chiles)
3 Tb Ancho chile powder
2 Tb cumin seeds, toasted and ground (I use a coffee grinder) – OR 2 Tb ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground – OR 1/2 tsp cround coriander
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano, crushed by hand
1 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 cup olive oil or bacon fat
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
½ green bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, chopped
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
spice mix, above (yes, all of it)
2 tsp salt
1 28 oz canned diced or whole tomatoes, pureed in the blender (include juice)
3-1/2  to 4-1/2 lb beef from the chuck (shoulder)
2 cups dry black beans, pinto beans, OR kidney beans, cooked (or 5 cups canned)
4 to 6 cups of frozen corn niblets
(optional) masa harina, to thicken

cilantro leaves
minced sweet onion
crumbled sheep milk feta or queso blanco
creme fraiche, yogurt, or sour cream
grated mozza, for the kiddos
chopped avocado

1. First, start cooking the beans. Pick out any discoloured or otherwise lame-looking beans. Also pick out any rocks or clods of dirt you may find. Rinse the beans well. Place them in a large pot with ample water to cover (about 8 cups) and at least one teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that you see rise to the surface (a very important step to help with digestion). Reduce the heat to low, and let simmer very gently, partially covered, for 1 to 2-1/2 hours, depending on the age, size and variety of your beans. Beans should not split open – that means they are over-cooked. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool in their own cooking liquid. DO NOT soak the beans beforehand, in case you were wondering about that.
Take my New Ways with Beans class if you want to know more :)

2. While the beans are cooking, start prepping everything else. Chop the onions and other veggies, puree the tomatoes, and cube the beef chuck into small stew-sized pieces. You can also use beef stew chunks that you already purchased cut up (but these often come from different parts of the animal, all jumbled together, so won’t always cook evenly).

3. Measure out, grind and mix together all the spices to make your spice mix. Set aside.

4. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil or bacon fat (or a combo) over medium heat. Saute the onion until translucent, about 6 to 10 minutes. Add the green and red peppers and saute several minutes more, until softened slightly. Add the garlic and saute about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the spice mixture (yes, all of it) and saute for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the pureed tomatoes with the salt and stir everything together.

5. Add the raw beef directly to this sauce. Whether you are using cubes or ground, add it in. Stir it all up. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat to very low and cover. Cook this very gently at a very gentle simmer for 2 to 3 hours (if using cubes) or about an hour (if using ground). If your pot is oven-safe, even better is to put it in a 300 degree oven for the duration of the cooking time. It’s very important that the beef cubes have enough time to become tender, but you don’t want to boil the chili at too high a temperature or you will lose the flavours of the spices.

6. About 30 minutes before the end of cooking, drain the beans, discard their cooking water, and add the cooked beans to the chili. Return chili to a boil, reduce heat to low again. Keep cooking until the 30 minutes is up. Stir in the frozen corn niblets and cook a few minutes until they are thawed and heated through.

7. Taste for salt. Serve immediately, with any or all of the optional garnishes. Leftovers keep for up to 5 days in the fridge and freeze very well.

Comments (5)

  1. thank you for writing this blog – you have inspired me to go through my freezers and cupboards and do something with all of the food that is gathering there and use it up. Might have to make a trip to Granville Island on my next trip to Vancouver now and visit the South China Seas Trading Company. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  2. Certainly looks tasty with rich flavor, all the herbs and spices! What type of restaurant will have this in their menu? Very eager to try it out.

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