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

Ham Bone (Bean) Soup

This is another one of those recipes that’s difficult to attribute to one grandma or the other, because both of them made it regularly. Frankly, this soup is best made by little old ladies – members of the Grange or the Lions Club or the Moose or Elks or the Fire Company or the Lutheran Church – cooked for hours in giant iron kettles and served up at community festivals such as carnivals or parades, or weekend church supper fundraisers where you can take it to go if you bring your own quart jars along.

I myself am neither little nor old, nor a member of any of those groups, and I do not own a giant iron kettle. Nevertheless, I cooked me a half-ham last Thursday, and my dear husband knows me well enough to have saved the ham bone because he knew I would want to do something with it.

This is very simple recipe, and because it appeared in print, here is Grandma Losch’s version:

hambonesoup

When I say “in print”, I am referring to the Faith Lutheran Church cookbook, circa 1976, and believe me when I say, this is one cookbook I keep going back to. My grandma’s recipes are well-represented, as are those from my aunts, cousins, as well as many lovely folks from the church in which my own mother grew up. The contents are priceless, and frankly, so is the cover photo:

faith-cookbookCheck out that kitchen, people! The harvest gold countertops! The dark wood cabinets! The orange linoleum! Such a period piece!

Sorry, got distracted there. Some of Grandma Losch’s “greatest hits” are in this cookbook, and you’ll see many more of them here in future installments. But for now – where was I? – oh yes – Ham Bean Soup. Or, as it’s listed herein, Ham BONE Soup. And I suspect it was bone rather than bean because Grandma was a child of the Great Depression and she was as thrifty as the day is long.  She could make a good soup out of a bare bone and whatever else was in the fridge. This is the woman who reused plastic bread bags. She made us rewash styrofoam plates and cups and plastic cutlery.  I used to be embarassed by how “cheap” she was, but now I realize she was simply trying to “reduce her carbon footprint.” She made “Dandelion Gravy”, which, frankly, I couldn’t get over because I watched her walk out and literally pick grass (dandelion leaves!) from the yard, then cook to drippings and a sweet/sour sauce.  FRUGAL was her middle name! Actually, her middle name was Margaret, and that’s what my mom chose as my first name, and my middle name is the same as my other grandmother’s, and… well, now you understand, don’t you?

WHERE WAS I? Oh yes, the Soup! It’s a simple recipe. I took pictures! And, I had to make emergency substitutions and embellish a wee bit.  If you want to go Old School, follow what’s pasted above. But here’s how I did it, using the leftover baked ham and the other stuff I had in my pantry:

1. RE-COOK HAM BONE IN WATER. For, like, a couple / few hours.

hambone-in-pot

2. SOAK SOUP BEANS OVERNIGHT. Grandma’s recipe calls for “soup beans”, where “soup beans” equals those dried navy beans, I think. However, all I had was some dried pinto beans, and I had not had the forethought to soak ’em overnight (who can remember?), so I threw them into a pot and boiled them for, like, a couple of hours, which is pretty much the same thing as soaking overnight:

soak-beans

Once the ham bone is cooked and the beans have boiled until soft, you are ready to rock ‘n’ roll with the rest of the ingredients, where “rock ‘n’ roll” equals throw ’em all into a pot and cook, cook, cook:

ingredients

A couple of points about how my other ingredients vary from what’s called for in the recipe: First of all, I don’t know why she lists “tomato juice” because my soup was pretty watery and tomato juice wouldn’t have helped me there. Also, tomato juice is something I never have just laying around, and if I do, I’m saving it for Bloody Marys. So, I substituted a small can of tomato paste, and that worked great.  Plain tomato sauce would work, too. But it has to be PLAIN, not, like, Ragu or some other flavored sauce, OK?

See those clear bags of Celery Flakes and Bay Leaves? I had no fresh celery (actually, I did, but when I went to get it out I discovered it had partially frozen, and celery frozen is just nasty) so I used some dried celery flakes from my favorite spice store, Penzey’s. (Have you shopped Penzey’s? They mail order, and also have retail stores, one of which happens to be within 8 miles of my house. [Be still my soul.] The spices are excellent quality, and less expensive than what you can get in the grocery store. If you like to cook, you need to shop Penzey’s!) Well, my grandma didn’t have Penzey’s, but she had the next best thing – she lived next door to my aunt and uncle, who ran a small country-crossroads grocery store at the bottom of their hill, and she could call down and just ask “Troupie” to bring something up for her. Like celery and tomato juice. And an onion, too, please. If it’s not too much trouble.

Bay Leaves: I threw in a couple while the soup was cooking. Why? I thought it’d make it better. Grandma’s recipe doesn’t call for them, but I threw caution to the wind and snuck ’em in there. (Also, I’m trying to find ways to use them up, because I got pretty excited and bought that huge bag of them at Penzey’s.)

Lastly: Grandma’s recipe calls for chopped hard boiled eggs. I seriously have no recollection of her putting eggs into her soup… so I don’t put ’em in. I give you permission to buck tradition – like I did – and just skip the eggs. But – shhhh – don’t tell anyone, OK? About the added bay leaves OR the omitted eggs.

OK, so you put all of that into the pot with the ham broth and the beans and keep on cooking it, again, for maybe another hour or two.  Stir it occasionally to keep the beans from burning to the bottom. OR, throw it into the crock pot at this point and let it cook all afternoon. You’ll also want to add the extra ham here, too, and pull out the bone at some point and clean it off and add that ham to the soup as well. 

Ideally, your soup will thicken into a hammy, beany, salty stewy soup. Mine did not; I carelessly used too much water.  But it tasted good, and heck, if you add enough saltine crackers, any soup will thicken right up. Here’s what it looked like right before Middle Son (a.k.a. The Boss) inhaled his:

hamsoupincup

You can freeze this soup, or just keep it in the fridge and reheat it over and over for, like, days on end. It gets better every time.

In further proof that I am my grandmothers’ granddaughter – aside from the wicked hammertoe that appeared when I turned 40 – I offer this: Soup Husband Curt and I are sitting at the table eating this soup, and he says, “Good soup!” To which I reply, “meh, it’s watery, and it doesn’t taste ‘hammy’ enough.” And he was all, “OKAY Mary Losch, quit selling yourself short!”  – because any of you readers who were lucky enough to know Mary Losch know that nothing she made was ever perfect. The pie was “weepy” or the crust wasn’t quite flaky enough, or… something. But I couldn’t help it; the soup wasn’t perfect. It just wasn’t! But it was good, and it reminded me of the grandmas and that’s all that matters, right?

Right.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash out a breadbag…