a beacon in the night chowda’

This is recipe makes me think about a cold rainy Summer day in Cape Cod. Let me set the scene; It was the 80’s and my family had decided to go to the Cape for our annual vacation. I had a ‘totally mint’ new pair of flashy red sunglasses, Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” was playing nonstop on the radio that Summer (and I sorta new all the words) and my favorite partner in crime would be joining us on the trip. Good times were clearly on the horizon! And then the bottom fell out…

First I discovered that we’d be camping on the Cape— I hate camping. Secondly my cousin who had planned to come along got sick and bailed, so it was just pre-teen me and my parents. Ugh. And then it rained.

Rain is never fun on vacation. Rain when you’re camping on the Cape is even less fun, take my word for it. Rest assured we made the best of it and continued to sightsee and explore just as we would if the sun had been shining. (“What can I tell you? Let’s just make the best of it.” was such a frequently used phrase in our house I should have had it printed on a t-shirt.) However those damp Summer days actually did hold two bright spots for me; The first was finding an old-fashioned penny candy store where a couple of dollars could still buy you a boat load of sugary goodness and the other was a truly no-nonsense lunch we stumbled into one afternoon.

We had clearly spent the morning out in the elements ‘making the best of the situation’ because I remember being cold, wet and unhappy in a sulky pre-teen kinda way. We then piled back into the truck, destination unknown, when my father abruptly decided to steer the car down to the end of one of the docks, just to see what’s there. That’s when we found a tiny dockside shack that made and sold steamy cups of soup. New England, Manhattan and whatever the fisherman had caught that day Fish Chowda’. The rain drizzled down and seagulls swooped from piling to piling while we ordered and quickly took it back to the truck to stay dry. And then suddenly the clouds lifted, the sun shone through and like a beacon in the night or manna from heaven the soup instantly warmed us and lifted our spirits! (Okay so it wasn’t actually that dramatic. It in fact continued to rain and I was sandwiched between my parents eating soup out of a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon. But… the soup was seriously delicious and it did warm my chilled body and make the remainder of my soggy day more tolerable. And frankly, that says something.)

So the moral of this story could be something like: It never hurts to try and make the best of a situation; don’t be afraid to suddenly take a new road or it is possible to find simple, delicious, perfection in a little styrofoam cup!

Fish Chowder with Bacon and Butternut Squash
This reminds me of summer at the Cape and works perfectly well with either haddock or cod.

cod chowder

5 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced small
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup cream sherry
3 cups fish or chicken stock
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 lbs. skinless haddock or cod fillets
1/2 cup heavy cream
cayenne pepper, for garnish

  1. Dice the bacon, add to a large stock pot and cook until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced onion, celery and thyme to the bacon fat and cook until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add the flour to the pot and allow to cook until golden brown. Then add the sherry to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any stuck on bit from the bottom.
  3. Stir in the stock, clam juice and butternut squash and allow to come to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the squash is just tender 10-12 minutes.
  4. Cut the fish fillets into large bite sized pieces. Stir in the salt, pepper and smoked paprika. When the squash is tender add the fish to the pot, cover and simmer until it flakes apart easily, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the cream and allow to cook for 2 more minutes.
  5. Serve with a hearty sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

*inspired by epicurious

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smoked beer can chicken soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the chill in the air; I love the contrast between the bright blue sky and Mother Nature’s muted colors; I even love the cool, earthy and slightly damp way the world smells. Around this time each year I’m typically elbow deep in end of the season garden veggies; namely peppers, tomatoes, onions and eggplant. But not this year. This summers garden was a serious bust. I gave it just as much love as I ever do and the meager amount of veggies it produced was beyond disappointing. Sure my cucumber plants grew so voraciously we were eating cucumber with nearly every meal, but I got exactly two habanero and six bell peppers, the yellow and acorn squash flowered but then nada, the radishes and beets were nothing but greens and the tomato plants grew taller than me but only offered up a few handfuls of fruit. It broke my heart. What did truly flourish and produce in abundance were the tomatillos. The plants were so tall and willowy they resembled trees and each was covered stem to stern in little paper-thin green lanterns that would later be filled with the tomatillo fruit. It was the bountiful harvest I had been longing for. So you may be wondering, what did I do with all those lovely tomatillos? Well… I ate them sliced in salads and as a garnish for tacos. I made an insanely spicy Salsa Verde and I threw a handful in with some heirloom purple tomatoes for a kooky homemade pasta sauce. And I made soup.

Ours is a house of soup eaters, in fact my daughter is so crazy for soup that she’ll frequently request the leftovers for breakfast. No problem… In my mind there’s nothing like a warm comforting bowl of some homemade goodness to make a chilly Fall day (or morning) seem downright toasty. Believe it or not I’ve actually been planning for my first pot of Fall soup for a few months now. I know, seems a little crazy right? But it’s not really. You see my husband really honed his smoked beer can chicken technique this past summer. What started out as a good recipe in June turned into a killer recipe by August. It was so good that beer can chicken was the meal requested by my son’s friend the night he slept over. (And you know when a super picky 10 yr old requests one of your recipes it must be good!) Anyway, to ultimately get to this poultry of perfection recipe he made beer can chicken fairly frequently— sometimes as often as two weekends in a row. Mind you I’m not complaining, just explaining that we had a considerable amount of leftover chicken in the house and one can only eat so many chicken salad sandwiches! So, I decided to quietly squirrel away some of the leftover bits in the freezer in anticipation of that first pot of soup.

Fast forward to a chilly day in September, a day that begged for soup. Into the pot went some onion, a green pepper and a bunch of those lovely tomatillos. Out of the freezer came my carefully rationed chicken and an hour later… into our belly’s went some of the tastiest soup ever to come out of my kitchen.

And yes, my littlest love did in fact have a bowl of it for breakfast the next day.

beer can soup

Smoked Beer Can Chicken Soup
Any sort of leftover chicken will do but the smoked beer can really brings a nice flavor to the party.

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. tomatillos, husked, washed and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
3 cups frozen corn, defrosted
2 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock
4 cups leftover beer can chicken, cut into bite size pieces
Sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro, avocado (optional garnish)

  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat warm the oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add the onions and cook until they become transparent. Then add the garlic, tomatillos and peppers. Season with salt and let cook until the tomatillos break down and become soupy.
  2. Add to the pot the spices, corn, black beans, stock and leftover chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and enjoy garnished with sliced jalapeño, fresh cilantro and avocado if you like.

cucumber à la julia child

This week would have been the 102nd birthday of everyone’s favorite food maven and former spy Julia Child. Julia was a firm believer in following your heart, stepping outside of your comfort zone and embracing life regardless of the obstacles placed in front of you. In honor of her and all she has given to a world of home cooks and great chefs alike, I have decided to reblog my post about Julia from last August and my (her) recipe for Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup.

Until next post I’ll leave you with these wise words from the beloved Julia Child:

“The measure of achievement 
is not winning awards.
It’s doing something that you appreciate,
something you believe is worthwhile.”

Well said Julia, I couldn’t agree more…

Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.

My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.

Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia, thank you for being you!

Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.

cucumber soup3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish

  1. In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
  4. Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

porcine aplenty pea soup

Since last Sunday’s dinner we’ve eaten leftover ham in every fashion imaginable and yet I still had plenty of leftovers and a ham bone sitting in my fridge. You too? Yeah I thought so. Typically when we have ham for Easter someone ends up taking home the bone and returns sometime later with a few containers of split pea soup. This year I decided to take the “boar” by the horns and make it myself.

Frankly I’ve eaten enough pea soup over the years to know exactly how I like it; super thick, with plenty of carrots (potatoes optional) and I prefer the ham diced rather than shredded. With those factors in mind I forged ahead and created an “almost as good as my mothers” split pea soup. (Although she actually makes hers with smoked turkey and not ham, so perhaps mine is actually the winner in the smoked porcine category!) Either way it turned out so good that I decided to share it with you. So good in fact that no one grumbled about dinner, questioned how many bites were required or feigned fullness just to get the meal over with. And frankly in my world, that spells total dinner success!

Split Pea Soup with Smoked Ham
This is the perfect recipe to use up holiday ham. Perfect!

pea soup

2 lbs. split green peas, rinsed
1 ham bone
4 large carrots, diced
4 stalk celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water

2 tsp. Kosher salt 
1 tsp. ground black pepper
4 cups leftover smoked ham, diced
8 oz. baby carrots, steamed and diced

  1. Put the split peas, ham bone, carrots, celery, onion, thyme, bay leaves, chicken broth and water in a large stock pot and stir to blend. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower to a simmer, cover and cook until the peas are tender, about 1 hour.
  2. Remove the ham bone, thyme stems and bay leaves and using an immersion blender, puree the soup to the desired consistency. Add to the pureed soup the diced ham and steamed carrots and allow the soup to come back to a simmer. Adjust the seasonings and serve with crusty bread or cornbread.

tomato soup and scooby-doo

Grilled cheese and tomato soup; it’s the ultimate comfort food combination. No matter who you are or where you’re from I’m betting you have some memory directly connected to this classic combo; for me it’s cozy weekend lunches as a kid. I’d set myself up with a tv tray smack in the middle of the living room, turn on one of my favorite shows; perhaps Scooby-Doo, Josie and the Pussycats or Schoolhouse Rock and settle in with a piping hot bowl of tomato soup and a good ‘ol grilled cheese. Simple. Classic. Perfect.

Flash forward 30+ years and nothing has changed. Sure the show on tv is probably SpongeBob, Fairly Odd Parents or Uncle Grandpa (Unfamiliar with this one? Count yourself lucky.) The soup is Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque and the sandwiches are Grilled Rosemary Ham and Muenster on Marble Rye; but the cozy, comforting perfection is just the same.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque
You can also make this soup with canned whole tomatoes and it will be perfectly good, but nothing beats fresh.

tom soup2

2 1/2 lbs. fresh Roma tomatoes
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup low-fat half and half

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, cloves, salt and pepper. Slice the tomatoes in half and place cut-side up on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle each half with olive oil then sprinkle liberally with the brown sugar mixture.
  2. Roast in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until the tomatoes begin to soften and collapse. Transfer the roasted tomatoes to a blender. Add the vegetable stock and blend until smooth.* Transfer the puree to a medium pot and heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute. Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

*To make ahead: Follow the directions up to this point, then pour into a storage container and refrigerate. When ready to use heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute, then serve.

*adapted from injennieskitchen.com

closer to “home” clam chowder

I like food. All kinds of food prepared in all kinds of ways. In fact I’d like to think there aren’t that many food-realted absolutes in my world; sure I like my coffee strong, my chocolate dark and my curry spicy. I hate fast-food, I’m not a big fan of pb&j’s and I can’t stand pancakes. I am however willing to consider an exception to all those rules, if it’s the right exception. Where things become hard and fast is when we start talking about dishes connected to my Connecticut childhood.

My family was the car trip type; gas on up, pile on in and move on out. Whether it was driving for hours on our way to a fun-filled vacation or just going out for a drive because it was a beautiful Sunday without pressing plans— my parents were always up for it. We met a wide range of people on our travels and the opportunity to experience an endless array of different foods was always part of the adventure. It was fun, it was eye-opening and I’m pretty sure it was the basis for my love of food. I saw a considerable amount of the country from the backseat of our station wagon, but it was the time we spent traveling through the New England countryside that was always my favorite. This is no doubt the reason I have such a longing to move back and such an unflinching opinion on how some of the foods I associate with New England should be enjoyed. For example; In my book Lobster Rolls are carefree summer food meant to be eaten out of little paper trays, preferably at picnic tables with squawking sea gulls nearby. They should never be considered fancy restaurant food that costs a small fortune. French Fries taste the best cut thin and doused with salt and malted vinegar, not ketchup. (And take it from me, they taste even better if you happen to purchase them from a booth at a local country fair.) And Clam Chowder should never be anything but creamy and white. Sorry Rhode Island, but your permission to call the seafood soup you’re famous for clam chowder should be revoked. And don’t even get me stated on Manhattan.

Until recently I had never made New England Clam Chowder, but I figured there was no time like this snowy winter to give it a shot. I knew my son had grown fond of it while spending time in Connecticut with my parents, my husband I were already fans and my daughter was a soup lover from way back— so why not? The thing that made me hesitant about clam chowder, or any cream based soup for that matter, is its lofty calorie count. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t normally do things like count calories, avoid carbs or drink spritzers just to shave 100 calories off my day. But if a lighter version of something can appear, taste and satisfy the same way the full fat version does, then I’m all for it. So I decided that if I was going to make New England Clam Chowder I would try to make a “lighter” version. I did some recipe research and spoke with my dyed-in-the-wool New England mother (who frankly was aghast when I suggested possibly adding celery, garlic or a bay leaf to the recipe) and finally worked out a creamy, delicious but not overly guilt inducing recipe. A recipe that makes New Jersey seem a little closer to “home”.

New England Clam Chowder
This chowder is delicious with a thinner more traditional broth, not pasty, gloppy and heavy like clam chowder can sadly sometimes be.

clam chowder2

1 cup white wine
2 8 oz bottles clam juice
2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and diced large
3 slices bacon, minced
1 medium onion (about 2 cups), diced small
4 6.5 oz cans chopped clams*, drained, juices reserved
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 cup low-fat half and half
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1-2 tbsp. ground arrowroot powder
oyster crackers, for serving

  1. Drain the canned clams, reserving the juice and set aside. Add to a large pan the white wine, bottled clam juice, reserved clam juice and diced potatoes and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
  2. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until it gets crispy and brown and render its fat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions to the pot and sauté until they’re translucent, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and gradually whisk in the milk and half and half.
  3. Bring just to a simmer, then stir in the clams, bacon and potato mixture and bring back to a simmer, stirring frequently. Allow to cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the black pepper and arrowroot powder (1-2 tablespoons depending on how thick you want the chowder) and serve with plenty of oyster crackers.

* When I set out to make this recipe I fully intended to use fresh clams however, the selection at the three stores I went to was pathetic! So instead I bought the best “gourmet” canned clams I could find and omitted any additional salt from the recipe. I still plan to try this recipe with fresh clams, but until then…

grandma’s minestrone

There’s a market about 10 minutes from my house that’s a grocery shopping adventure unlike any other. A trip there is a total sensory experience; from the Benetton ads worth of languages being spoken, to the enormous varieties of produce being sold (some completely exotic and unfamiliar). From the olive bar, fish market and cheese counter (which on any given day may include a sweet little old man making fresh mozzarella) to the fresh “you name it-they’ll make it” smoothie stand and united nations of a bread aisle. And let us not forget the bakery and chocolate department; an enormous chocolate fountain, hand dipped fruit, and chocolate Easter eggs the size of a small child’s head— Yeah they have it. Sounds like a crazy place, right? It is, but it’s also such an interesting no-two-visits-are-the-same kinda place that my kids actually jump at the chance to go. Even the NY Times has written about the experience of shopping there: “It’s mid afternoon, and as usual, Corrado’s is thronged with customers. In front of the deli counter, two women chat in Italian as they wait to buy sausage. A woman in a diaphanous pink sari prowls the spice aisle. In the produce section, a young Chinese man examines huge papery heads of garlic. ‘We cater to everybody and everybody comes to us,’ said Joe Corrado of Corrado’s Family Affair, one of the Northeast’s largest ethnic markets.” Don’t you wish you lived near me? Anyway, on to the point of my story…

Corrados has an entire aisle dedicated to pasta and grains. Seriously, an entire aisle! I’ll be honest with you, typically when I buy pasta I buy the brown rice type— it is after all the healthier and less filling option. But when I’m at Corrados all bets are off. You’ll find pastas there in shapes, sizes and varieties that you never imagined existed. How could I possibly walk away from such an amazing selection?!? On a recent shopping trip I loaded my cart with enormous rigatoni, spaghetti the thickness of no. 2 pencils and a couple of bags of pearled Italian Farro. In case you’re unfamiliar with Farro I’ll give you a quick primer: Farro is an ancient grain that’s steadily gaining in popularity. It can be made into hot cereal, served as a cold or warm side dish, turned into a risotto of sorts and even be served as a warm dessert with a little crumbled fresh ricotta and a drizzle of honey. However when I bought those bags of Farro I didn’t really have any of those uses in mind. In fact I didn’t really have anything in mind, I just thought I’d buy it now and figure things out later. The Farro sat in my cabinet for a while just waiting to be used until one day I found myself thinking of my little Italian grandmother. Not for any particular reason or of any particular memory, just thinking of her.

Grandma Perrone was the littlest of ladies, sweet and soft spoken and an amazing cook. She could take the simplest of ingredients and turn them into a feast. I can’t think about her without remembering the delicious soups she used to make; pasta fagioli, chicken with pastina and tiny meatballs and a hearty minestrone… and suddenly I found my inspiration.

Minestrone with Chicken Sausage + Farro (á la Grandma Perrone)
This is a wonderfully hearty soup that works equally well with escarole, kale or spinach. And while I prefer to use chicken sausage you can certainly use spicy pork if that’s more your thing.

farro soup

7 oz. pearled Italian Farro
2 tbsp. olive oil
14 oz. chicken sausage, broken up
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 cups diced onion
4-6 garlic cloves, grated
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
2 14.5 oz. cans fire roasted tomatoes (with their juice)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups low-sodium beef broth*
1 medium head fresh escarole, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for garnish

  1. The night before you plan to make the soup place the dry farro in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water and allow to soak overnight. The following morning drain, rinse and set aside.
  2. In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the sausage pieces and allow to brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add to the pot the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook 5-6 minutes or until everything begins to soften. Add the mushrooms, salt and black pepper and cook until the mushroom have released all their liquid.
  3. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Then add the tomatoes, broth, farro and reserved sausage. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 15 minutes. Add the escarole and crushed red pepper and allow to simmer for 3 more minutes or until the escarole is tender.
  4. Adjust seasonings and serve garnished with additional crushed red pepper and a healthy sprinkle of grade cheese.

*I realize this seems like a lot of broth, but the longer the soup sits the more liquid the farro absorbs.