Thursday, December 30, 2010

clam chowder

I love soups and sauces, as the disproportionate number of them on this blog attests. If I go to a restaurant, I usually gravitate towards them first on the menu. Some of the more memorable ones I've tasted include a spicy green tomato and applewood smoked bacon soup with shrimp on top from G Restaurant (r.i.p.) in Birmingham, a creamy leek bisque I had at a fancy, last-evening-of-the-trip gala dinner at One Whitehall Place when I went to London with my parents back in 1997, and finally, that marvelous cream of mushroom soup I ordered at Mythos Restaurant in the Universal Studios Theme Park last summer, which I mentioned in a post earlier this fall. I used to feel simultaneously delighted and frustrated when I would eat these delicious bowls of awesomeness, completely mystified as to how chefs (and even canned food companies) managed to cram all kinds of flavor into a simple soup, until I watched enough cooking shows to learn about reducing broths in order to concentrate their taste. That's the secret to this chowder: lots of reducing and cooking things in clammy liquid.

However, I should begin by admitting that this dish has not been entirely perfected yet. It has come out differently both times that I've made it, in terms of its consistency (crazily thick the first time, a little too soupy the second), and a thick chowder is one of D.'s must-haves. This time when we made it, it required straining out the potatoes and clams, returning the broth to the pot, and boiling it for a while longer until it reduced and thickened some. I think the current proportions of liquid and solid in the soup are finally just about right, but you can tinker with it a bit in the same way we did, depending on whether you like your chowder thinner or thicker.

Regardless, trust me when I say that the flavor has not been problem in either batch of the soup. It's such a nice combo: it tastes ocean-y like clams, with a little freshness from the onion and celery, richness from the potatoes and half-and-half, and faint smokiness from the bacon. As a last note, I guess I should also confess that I had never even tried clam chowder up until several years ago, when D. let me taste a bite of his at a restaurant, so I allow the distinct possibility that my recipe might offend the palates of some chowder connoisseurs. Still, I suspect at this point that I may have joined their ranks. :) 

Hope you enjoy...

alabama clam chowder

2 small cans minced clams, drained and juices reserved
2 bottles clam juice
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into a half-inch dice
1 large garlic clove, minced
half a large white onion, minced
1 large rib of celery with leaves, minced
2 small bay leaves
2 slices of bacon, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. flour
1 generous cup fat free half-and-half, warmed (but not boiled)
2 cups chicken broth

Add one bottle of clam juice to a large, heavy Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce liquid by half. Add one cup of chicken broth and the reserved juices from one can of the drained clams. Boil diced potatoes uncovered in broth and clam juice mixture, just until tender. Remove to a bowl with any remaining liquid.

In the same unwashed pot, heat olive oil. Add bacon and sauté for a couple of minutes until it's a bit browned. Add bay leaf, onion, garlic, and celery, and cook over medium heat for several minutes until they have softened.

Add flour and stir until it's completely coated with the oil and drippings. Cook for a minute or two, just until the floury taste goes away.

Add the second cup of chicken broth, the second bottle of clam juice, and the drained liquid from the second can of clams to the pot. Let it come up to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Simmer until slightly thickened and reduced.

Add half-and-half to the pot. Simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened and heated through. Finally, add canned clams and potatoes back to the pot. Heat through. Remove bay leaves.

Serve with baguette halves brushed with olive oil and toasted under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

turkey tetrazzini (or thanksgiving, part II)

Today's posts are earmarked from last month, but somehow it seemed appropriate to post them now. Hope your holidays are merry and bright!

November 26, 2010

Yesterday marked one of my favorite days of the year. I worked out early so that I could veg out for the rest of the day with D and Esme in front of the TV, drinking beer, napping, eating, and watching football. I took two naps yesterday. It was heaven.

Anyway, while D was cleaning up after his evening workout, I threw together this recipe from some of the ingredients we had leftover from the big meal on Thursday: turkey breast, half a bottle of white wine, some half-and-half, a can of mushrooms, a couple of shallots, and some fresh herbs. I always keep homemade sourdough breadcrumbs in the refrigerator because they're so much better for you than the kind you buy ready-made (lots of hydrogenated oil in those), and well nigh anything tastes good breaded with them.

I once made a version of turkey tetrazzini for my family during the holidays, and when we ate this batch, D and I agreed that it should become a tradition for the day after Thanksgiving.

turkey tetrazzini

1 package angel hair, cooked and drained
1/2 stick of butter
1 medium to large shallot, finely diced
3 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, warmed
1 cup chardonnay (or other dry white wine)
1 1/2 cups half-and-half, warmed (I used a combo of fat-free & regular)
a couple of cups of diced leftover turkey
1 large can mushrooms, drained
1 tbsp. chopped fresh chives 

1 tbsp. stripped thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 cup (plus reserved 2 tbsp.) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta to a couple of minutes shy of the package directions - it will cook the rest of the way in the oven. Drain and reserve.

In a large, heavy pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until it’s beginning to brown. Add flour and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until floury taste is gone. Whisk in hot chicken stock. Bring to a boil and add wine. Boil for a minute or so to let it thicken. Reduce heat, add half-and-half, and heat through. Turn off the heat. Add mushrooms, turkey, herbs, 1/4 cup of Parmesan, and pasta. Stir gently until everything is incorporated.

Spoon pasta mixture into a buttered 9-x-13 pan. In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, reserved 2 tbsp. Parmesan, Italian parsley, and olive oil. Scatter over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until bubbly. Crank the heat up to broil for the last couple of minutes so that the breadcrumbs get a bit browned on top.

Finally, here's to you: with a beer in my hand, wearing PJs with a cat asleep at my feet, I'm toasting the efforts of every Thanksgiving cook who made it to the finish line this year, no matter how many mishaps you had in the kitchen. Hope you enjoy your leftovers as much as we did ours.

Mmmmmmm... Zzzzzzz...

happy (belated) thanksgiving!

the spread
I love Thanksgiving. To be frank, ever since my sister died on the day after Christmas fourteen years ago, my family has always, to some extent, tended to limp a little through the holidays. You have to admit that even without those memories, Christmas is already a bit loaded: if you look forward solely to the presents, the holiday always tends to be anticlimactic. If you focus on being with your family, things turn out much better, but you still can't really avoid the profound case of the blues that sets in the day after. These days, I'm practicing being in the moment more, something that my brother Jeff has always been good at; that tends to pan out more happily than borrowing trouble, which I'm excellent at doing. :)  Anyway, Thanksgiving is so different from Christmas. It's about the food, sure, but it's also a time when all you have to do is hang out with your family and friends, eat, and feel grateful. I can get behind a holiday like that.

This was the first year I ever cooked for more than just D and me. We invited my parents, Jeff, D's parents, and his Grandma down for Thanksgiving dinner so that they could all see the new house, some of them for the first time.

The first Thanksgiving meal I ever cooked was three years ago when we lived in NYC, and I made a whole feast for just D and me in our tiny studio apartment kitchen, which was so small that I had to open the refrigerator door in order to get the oven door open. We were both terribly homesick, knowing that we wouldn't be able to go home until Christmas. D's parents were kind enough to transfer some funds over to his account so that we could go out to eat for our Thanksgiving. We got dressed up and went to Orsay, a French restaurant on the Upper East Side that had a prix fixe menu. The plates that arrived at the table had beautiful, harvest-colored daubs of turkey and vegetable on them in various combinations - very French and fancy. While we were walking home, we stopped in a little newsstand and petted a skinny, elegant black cat with a heart-shaped charm on her collar that, appropriately, had "Paris" engraved on it.

Still, it didn't seem quite right not to have some of the specific dishes we associated with our families - sage-heavy cornbread dressing, standard roast turkey, broccoli casserole, pumpkin pie, et cetera - so I made a meal for us, too. And I wheeled our 13-pound turkey home to our apartment, a dozen blocks down Fifth Avenue, in my "bag lady" cart.

That was a great Thanksgiving, if a bit lonely. This one was bittersweet in its own way: we've lost some important people this year, but I'm so happy that we got to spend Thanksgiving with our families.

just look at that pretty bird!
As for food, this year we decided to do Alton Brown's recipe for turkey because I'd been seeing commercials for it all month. Apparently, it's the most popular Thanksgiving recipe on the Food Network website, and when I looked it up, it had over 2500 reviews and ratings. That's a crazy number of people all making the same kind of turkey.

So, it's wonderful. If you have the time, energy, a few obscure ingredients like candied ginger and allspice berries (plus the extra refrigerator space for a brine-and-turkey-laden 10-gallon bucket), it is so worth it to make this turkey. The guy has figured out how to cook an entire bird so that it hits its various recommended internal temperatures simultaneously and thus stays moist, not to mention making sure the skin gets beautifully fried and golden brown. 

Anyway, here is the rest of the menu from Thanksgiving:

      Paula Deen's Mushroom Canapes (also delightful with some artichoke hearts thrown in)
      Alton Brown's Roast Turkey and gravy
      Claire Robinson's Add Thyme for Whipped Potatoes
      classic Campbell's Soup green bean casserole
      my Nana's broccoli casserole
      Sîan Griffiths's sweet potato soufflé
      my great-grandmother's cornbread dressing
      D's Granddad's cornbread dressing
      roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic reduction
      D's mom's pecan pie
      apple stack cake
      pecan pie

Happy holidays, y'all.