Meg’s New England-Style Clam Chowder

I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING: More soup recipes??! But I LOVE making soup! I make it a lot. And of all the soups I make, my boys request this one over and over. It’s easy to make and I almost always have the ingredients on hand. This might not be a true New England recipe, but it’s creamy and it’s delicious and that’s what I’m calling it, so there.

Also? Please know that this is not as much of a recipe as it is an account of Here’s how I did it. Ingredients are in bold. As such, I suggest you read it the whole way through before starting to make it.

Next time I’ll try to remember to take photos…

Slice half a package of bacon into squares. Bacon Hack: By “Half” I mean a horizontal half – not half of the total number of slices. Whut??! Start at one end and cut across ALL the slices in squares, halfway across the length of the package. What? There is no rule that says you can’t do this. I checked. You’re welcome. Place bacon pieces into a stock pot and cook over medium to med-low heat till crisp, stirring every couple of minutes.

In between stirs, peel 2-3 potatoes (2 large, 3 if they’re smaller) and finely dice them (pieces no larger than a regulation Las Vegas die, preferably smaller). Place them into a saucepan with around 4-5 cups of chicken broth (or water + chicken bullion, and I’ll let you do the math on how much bullion to water because I just dumped some in). Bring to a boil and stir every so often. The potatoes will be soft in like 10 – 15 minutes, give or take. I know you’re not surprised that I didn’t time this.

By now – or very shortly – your bacon should be crisp. When it is, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and set it on a paper towel to drain. You’ll add it back to the soup later, so try not to eat it while it sits there. (If you expect to be weak in this area, maybe cook more bacon.) Leave the delicious bacon grease in the pot.

Take 2-3 ribs celery and chop them very fine. Do the same thing with one small onion. Throw these into the bacon grease and saute over medium-low heat, stirring every couple of minutes, for 5-7 minutes total, until they start to soften.

Are the potatoes soft yet? Once they are, you may – but are not required to – coarsely mash them by smooshing with a potato ricer just a few times. If you’re in a hurry, or don’t feel like having to wash a whole other utensil, then you may skip this step. It’ll still taste good.

Back to the stock pot. Add 2-3 Tbsp of flour and stir to soak up the grease. Then pour that broth with the potatoes right into the stock pot and stir to blend. Bring up to gentle boil. Season with black pepper. If you used low sodium bacon, you might want to add a bit of salt, but do proceed with caution. Optional seasonings here, if you wish to add them (but don’t go out and buy them if you don’t already have them in the house): a sprinkle of dried thyme, a small dash or two or Worcestershire sauce.

Open 2 cans of minced (or chopped) clams and dump them, juice and all, right into the pot. Cook for a couple of minutes, till clams are heated through. The chowder should be thick-ish (especially if you smooshed the potatoes). If it’s too thick, you can add some more water or chicken broth. If it’s not thick enough, have patience  – it’ll cook down. Next, add ½ – 1 cup of heavy cream (or half and half or milk or whatever you have).  Heat and stir, but don’t let it boil too hard.

Remember the cooked bacon?  Give it a coarse chop, then toss whatever you haven’t already eaten it into the pot along with some minced fresh parsley (or a smaller amount of dried parsley).  If you’re using fresh parsley, save some out so you can sprinkle on top of the bowls/cups when you serve it. Extra bonus points if you save out some some crumbled bacon to also use as garnish, along with a generous dash of freshly ground black pepper.

If you want to eat this without those tiny oyster saltine crackers, be my guest, but please understand I will have to act like I don’t know you the next time I see you in public. To my way of thinking, one of the primary reasons for clam chowder is to act as a Cracker Delivery System. (Just me??)

Enjoy!

Creamy roasted tomato soup

THIS IS NOT ONE OF MY GRANDMA’S RECIPES. At least, not that I can recall. Rather, this is something I just whipped up for lunch after having been inspired by a similar recipe posted on Pioneer Woman’s blog. I read it and thought to myself, Self? You have everything in the house right now to make this soup, and you have two ripe tomatoes, too. Why don’t you roast those maters and use that instead of tomato paste?

So that’s just what I did.

Just like in my last post for green turkey chili, this isn’t so much a recipe as it is a description of how I did it. Soup recipes are very forgiving – they practically beg for the cook to improvise.

FIRST: I sliced two ripe tomatoes in half and cut out the hard center. I didn’t totally scoop them out. I placed cut side up on foil on a cookie sheet, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and placed in a 275 degree oven for about 2 hours. It should have been longer, but my inspiration didn’t happen until mid-morning and I wanted this for lunch. I also would have used exclusively these, if I’d had enough tomatoes in the house. But this was a use-whatever’s-in-the-kitchen exercise. If I were making it with just these, I probably would have needed 7-10 tomatoes.

(A note on roasted tomatoes. If you haven’t done this before, you totally should. Roasting intensifies the flavor. And makes your kitchen smell great. Depending on how long you cook them, you can use them in pasta sauces, or as a substitute for tomato paste. You can make them ahead and store in your fridge, too. Check this feature on 12-hour tomatoes from the Washington Post and bookmark or Pin it for reference next summer when you’re all, what do I do with all these tomatoes??)

NEXT: I peeled and finely diced a carrot, diced half an onion, cut up four of those mini sweet bell peppers (yellow, red, and orange), and coarsely chopped 4-5 garlic cloves. I tossed that into a saucepan with maybe 1/4 cup olive oil (PW used OO + butter) and sauteed over med-low heat for maybe 10 minutes. Then I tossed in my four roasted tomato halves and stirred them around for a few minutes. Next, I opened a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes and tossed them in, along with 3/4 of a can of water and a heaping teaspoon of chicken bullion. (PW used vegetable stock, but I didn’t have any of that. Those desiring a vegetarian soup could easily sub vegetable stock here.) Lastly, I added a generous sprinkle of Italian seasoning blend, because it’s January and I don’t have fresh basil, but if I did, I totally would have added some sliced basil. Because, mmmmm basil. Oh, and a pinch of sea salt. You could add black pepper, or even a pinch of cayenne.

I turned up the heat to med-high, covered it, and let it boil for like 15-20 minutes. Then, I removed it from the heat and pureed it with my stick blender. (I love my stick blender. Do you have one? If not, you could also let the soup cool slightly, then puree it in your blender. Or, just get yourself one. You won’t regret it. I have this one, except mine isn’t two speeds.) I gently whirred it until it was smooth-ish – not as smooth as the canned tomato soup, but no actual chunks.

Lastly, I like my tomato soup creamy, so I stirred in some half and half. Cream would have been better, but like I said, this was an exercise in making lunch from what was already here. And OK, fine, I admit it – I also added a pat of butter. Because, mmmmm butter.

PW served hers with homemade parmesan crostini, which sounds great, except that I had neither the cheese nor the bread to make them. Croutons right outta the bag would have been good, or, you know – saltines. I had a cup and a half, then I scooped out another bowl, and there’s about enough left for one more small cup. So, it’s not a big recipe. But it was just what the doctor ordered on a chilly, rainy January Monday:

This soup runs circles around that congealed stuff from a can.
This soup runs circles around that congealed stuff from a red can.

 

Green Turkey Chili

WHEN I COOK, I don’t often strictly follow recipes. I do when I bake, but not when I cook. (If that makes sense.) This is especially true whenever I make soups and chili. I always make it in about the same way, but I usually just kind of throw everything into the pot and it almost always turns out good.

This fearless, winging-it method of cooking is how my Grandma Losch did it. I think many of us have grandmas who cooked like that. I wish I’d spent more time at her side, taking notes and learning how she made things. Oh, for her to be alive NOW – I could record videos with my wee iPhone and post them to this blog!

Recently, I saw on some website a recipe for a green (white?) chili that used tomatillos instead of tomatoes, ground turkey, and white beans instead of kidney. But instead of printing out the recipe, I was inspired to make it my own. I have yet to turn this into a quantifiable recipe, but I’m going to describe it here and will add pictures from the process next time I make it.

This is not something my grandma would have made, but I’m posting it here because (a) I want to capture it, and (b) it is made in her style of cooking.  So without further ado, here’s how I do it. (Warning, this is going to be really long, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. Stick with me.)

INGREDIENTS.

Tomatillos. Those little green tomato-looking things. If you have an ethnic grocer with good produce nearby, get ‘em there. If not, some traditional grocers carry them. Get, say, 3 pounds or so? Depends on how much you want to make. they also make them in a canned sauce, but to really do it right, get the fresh ones.

Peppers. You’ll want a variety of green-colored peppers. I like to mix up sweet bell peppers with cubanelles, banana peppers, poblanos, and a couple of jalapenos (more or less depending on how much heat you like). Say, two or three of each?

Onions. For the onions, you will want to chop at least one big yellow or white onion.  Last time I also used shallots because I had them. And, you’ll want at least one bunch of scallions too, for their oniony flavor and their green tops. These will either go in at the end or on top as a garnish.

Garlic. Depends on how much you like it, but you really should use fresh cloves (not that minced stuff in a jar). I love buying the already-peeled ones at the Asian grocer, but you can get a whole bulb and do it old school. Last time I used, oh, 7 or 8 cloves?

Cilantro. Either you can’t get enough of it, or else you fall into the “that vile weed” category. If you and your people are the former, I would add some when you cook it and add more as a garnish. If you are the latter, skip it. It’s YOUR soup.

Limes. while you’re in produce, grab a fresh lime or two. You’ll squeeze some lime juice into the mixture and / or can use lime wedges as a garnish.

Beans. I like a small white bean, such as Navy beans. You can use canned (say 2 or 3 regular sized cans or one of those big cans), or dried beans that you soak and soften (which is super easy to do overnight in a crock pot). Last batch I made I used a whole small bag. One can each of black (drained and rinsed) and white (undrained, unrinsed) would also be a nice variation. Or pinto beans.

Ground turkey. Or ground chicken. Or shredded chicken would be good too. But I’m really liking ground turkey with this recipe.

Chicken broth. Or vegetable broth. Buy it pre-made, or use your own chicken stock that you have in the freezer from when you cooked down that last roast chicken you made (am I the only one? please say no). Or throw some together with bullion. You’ll want about 4 cups, give or take. You can also throw in some beer to add liquid and flavor (the alcohol cooks off)… I’d use a lager as opposed to a hoppy IPA.

Other canned goods: I like to add one-half to one chili from a can of chiles in adobo sauce. It adds a nice, smoky flavor. It also adds flecks of red to your otherwise green mixture. You can get this in the “Mexican” section of most grocers. This is optional; if this is the only thing you’re missing, I wouldn’t make a special trip out just to buy it. Also, a small can or two of chopped green chiles. In keeping with the theme.

Optional – a jar of salsa verde. All this is, though, is a tomatillo-based salsa, and that’s what you’re making anyway. But if you have it and you need to add volume, this works.

Spices. You’ll want some chili powder (a smoky chipotle or adobo one is nice, such as the lovely variations available through Penzey’s, but the regular stuff works, too), ground cumin, a bit of ground coriander. Dried oregano if you have it. Kosher salt. Maybe a squirt of the green tabasco or other hot sauce? You decide. If you like to layer your flavors (and who doesn’t), you could add some garlic and/or onion powder. But that’s pretty much it. The flavors of the ingredients stand strong on their own without a lot of spices.

HOW TO.

Line a cookie sheet with sides (like a jelly roll pan) with foil. Remove the papery outer husk of the tomatillos (it’s a little sticky and feels kinda weird). Slice them in half vertically, place them cut-side down on the cookie sheet till the sheet is full. Slide them under your broiler and let them get soft and burned on the top side… maybe 10-15 minutes?  Seriously, let them get good and browned. Those flecks make this concoction good. When they’re done, pull ‘em out and let ‘em cool a bit. But leave the broiler on, because you’re going to do the same thing with the peppers.

Now, take all those peppers, cut off the tops, cut them in half vertically, remove the seeds and membranes, and place them cut-side down on another cookie sheet that’s been lined with foil. Slide those babies under your broiler and let ‘em get good and brown. This will soften them, too. Again, don’t be shy with the browning. When you’re tempted to pull them out, give them 3 more minutes. When they’re done, pull them out and let ‘em cool.

Back to the tomatillos. When they’re cool, carefully transfer them (they’re soft and juicy now) into your blender. Ideally, your quart-sized blender will be almost full to the top. (If not, we’ll supplement later with the canned stuff and/or a jar of salsa verde). Whir them till you have a smooth liquid. See those black flecks? Good work! Set that aside.

When the peppers are cool, you’ll line ‘em up on a cutting board, make thin vertical slices, then chop them across the other way, till you end up with a fun mixture of finely diced / minced peppers. If you’re using the chile in adobo sauce, pull that out and finely mince it. Set all of that aside.

(Note: You could roast the tomatillos and peppers a day or two ahead of time and keep them in the fridge until you get ready to make the soup. Just sayin’.)

Get out your big ole stock pot. Splash some olive or vegetable oil in the bottom. Brown that ground turkey… it doesn’t really “brown”, but you know – cook it through until there’s no pink.

While the turkey’s cooking, finely dice that onion and/or shallots and garlic. (We’re saving the scallions for later.) Now you have a decision to make. You can either saute them for a few minutes in some oil in a separate pan, or just throw them in with the turkey and let them soften in there. I’ve done it both ways, and it almost always comes down to whether or not I feel like washing an extra pan when I’m done.  If you do use the separate pan, use enough oil and low enough heat so the garlic doesn’t burn. Burned garlic is gross. Don’t be the person who burns the garlic.

After about 5 minutes or so, you’ll want to add the onion/garlic saute to the turkey. If they’re already in there, then throw in your chopped peppers and the can or two of diced green chiles. Stir it around. Then add the tomatillos from your blender, and if you’re supplementing, the canned tomatillos and/or salsa verde.

Now add the stock and/or some beer if you think it needs it.  Next, add the juice of one or two limes (start with one, taste it, then decide whether you want to add more).

Now you’ll want to add those beans. I would also add some of the liquid – don’t drain cans of white beans, or if you’ve cooked your own, add some of the liquid you cooked them in.

Stir it up good. Doesn’t it look nice? Now you can add the spices, and here’s where I really wing it. Proportionally, I would add about the same amount of chili powder as cumin, and about half as much coriander. I’d start with, say, a heaping tablespoon each of chili powder and cumin, half that of coriander, and see how it tastes. Salt and hot sauce to taste as well. Black pepper if you feel like it. (White pepper if you have it!) Maybe a teaspoon or more of ground oregano (optional). Here’s where you’d add some chopped fresh cilantro if you’re using it – as much or as little as you like (if I were making it for people who, like me, love the stuff, I’d chop half a bunch and add now, and chop the other half and use as a garnish when serving).

Stir it all up, bring it almost to a boil (stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot), then throw the lid on and turn down the heat and let it simmer.  Taste it when you stir and adjust seasonings if necessary. Let it cook for another, oh, 30 minutes or so? You know – till it’s READY.

If you use my quantity guidelines, you’ll have around 4-5 quarts of this hearty goodness. Give or take.

Right before you serve it, I’d stir in a bunch of chopped scallions. You don’t want them cooking down – they add flavor and a pop of green color. You could also stir in more chopped cilantro here. OR, you can serve the scallions and cilantro as garnishes. A dollop of sour cream is a nice garnish here, as is a wedge of lime. And if you’re really feeling spunky, you might like to crush some tortilla chips into the bottom of the bowl and ladle the hot soup on top, or use crushed tortilla chips on top to add flavor and texture.

That might sound exhausting, but trust me, it’s worth it. It ends up looking like this:

Image

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. You guys, I’m absolutely floored that several of these posts continue to receive lots of hits! Apparently, over 700 of you found your way here the weekend before Christmas when you were searching for the recipe for Sand Tarts! Thank you for your comments and your interest.

Most sincerely,

Meg

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 57,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 13 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. I would like to thank everyone who ended up here – most of you were first-time visitors, searching the internet for Hog Maw or Sand Tarts or Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken pot pie. I appreciate that you all took the time to comment, sharing your memories or your gratitude that you found a recipe that was just like one your own grandma used to make.  I hope to add more posts to this blog in 2012.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 29,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.