Corn and Potato Chowder

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I am not a vegetarian. I love meat. But I also love moderation. I am perfectly happy going meat-free a couple times a week, and I’ve made it a normal part of my family’s routine. Going meat-free isn’t just good for our health, it’s good for our budgets and our planet.

I started seeing “meatless Monday” popping up on various social media sites and I think I read about it in a few magazines, but I had no idea what a big deal it really is; it’s an actual movement. “Meatless Monday began in 2003, launched in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In May, 2009, Ghent, Belgium, became the first non-U.S. city to go meatless. Shortly thereafter, Paul McCartney introduced the U.K. to Meat-Free Mondays.” Check out the website for more info, and make it a part of your weekly routine if you haven’t already.

This soup is a great way to start. I modeled it after my grandma’s recipe, (She actually makes tuna chowder, which I love, and this is really that recipe minus the tuna). She usually makes it with evaporated milk, and you can absolutely substitute the half and half for evaporated milk–it is so old-fashioned; I love it. I just always have half and half for my coffee, so I throw it into recipes.

It sounds funny, but the “secret” ingredient really is the celery. Celery seems so insignificant, but it makes all the difference in chowders. My French ancestors were really on to something with their mirepoix, and I’m happy to carry on the tradition. This is a great base for any kind of chowder. Try tuna, clam, chicken… and of course, feel free to start the recipe by crisping some bacon as long as it’s not meatless Monday.

Finally, I am a big believer in dunking things in soup, so I serve it with something toasty, and usually cheesy… I can’t help myself.

Here’s how I made the soup, and the cheesy dunkers:

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Corn and Potato Chowder

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts vegetable broth
  • 2 cups half and half or evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes (I used 5 medium sized potatoes)–peeled and diced
  • 3 cups corn kernels (I used frozen, but in the summer time you must use fresh corn–so good!)
  • 1 medium yellow onion–chopped
  • 1 carrot–peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery–diced
  • 1 garlic clove–peeled and gently crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • Chives or parsley to garnish (optional)

To Prepare:

In a large pot melt the butter, and add diced onions, carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaf with a big pinch of salt–about a teaspoon, a few grinds of black pepper, and a teensy pinch of cayenne, if using. Sauté over medium heat until the onions are translucent.

Add flour and stir to combine, cook for about a minute.

Add wine and stock and bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and add potatoes. Cook for about twenty minutes until potatoes are just tender. Add corn and half and half, bring back to a very gentle simmer until heated through. Don’t boil! Taste and adjust seasoning. The salt you add will depend on your stock, so it is very hard for me to give an exact measurement. Just add what tastes good!

Garnish with chives or parsley and enjoy!

*One of the benefits of evaporated milk is that it can withstand boiling, so if you use it you don’t have to be quite as concerned about curdling as if you use half and half.

If you want to serve it with a dipper, here’s how I made my most recent version:

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Parmesan Toasts

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 loaf of italian or french bread
  • 1/2 stick soft butter
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

To prepare:

Smear bread evenly with butter, sprinkle evenly with cheese, place under broiler and watch carefully until the cheese gets brown. Don’t walk away! This happens fast! Slice and serve alongside the soup!

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Crispy Potatoes with Pancetta and Herbs

I get really excited about these potatoes. I’m excited right now just typing about them. I wish I had some… And I’m really excited to share them with you! They are obviously meant to be a side dish, but I made them the other day just because–all by themselves. It seemed like the right thing to do, and it was. Once you make them, you’ll understand why. They are crispy and salty, but the insides are still soft and pillowy. They can accompany anything–fish, chicken, beef, even eggs. (I just thought of the egg/breakfast/brunch possibilities!)

My friend introduced this recipe to me and I was hooked at first taste. Of course I doodled around and made it my own, ’cause that’s just what I do. That’s the fun of cooking; you can adjust any recipe to suit your tastes, your mood, or your whim. I call these “with herbs” because you can really use any hearty herb while roasting them: bay, rosemary, thyme, oregano or a combination. And you can toss on any soft herb just before serving: chives, parsley, or dill. You pick! And if herbs aren’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with just salt and pepper. The spicing and herbing is completely up to you. Be creative and use what you love! I grew up eating my dad’s rosemary roasted potatoes, so I have to add it, and I add bay leaves and garlic anytime I boil potatoes–whether for mashed potatoes, potato salad, or these wonderful babies. It really adds something, but again, this is totally up to you.

The technique is really neat, too. Besides being really fun, the shaking breaks up the potatoes, and coats them all in a thin layer of mashed potato, so when they roast they get really crispy on the outside.

This is how I made mine.

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Crispy Potatoes with Pancetta and Herbs

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs small potatoes; I prefer yukon gold, but any “new” potatoes will be perfect
  • 8 ounces diced pancetta (or bacon–whatever salty,porky goodness you prefer)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2-3 whole peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (from 1-2 sprigs)
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 375.

Slice the larger potatoes in half, and if you have smaller ones leave them whole, even if they are all the same size, leave a few whole. Add potatoes to a large pot that has a tightly fitting lid (the lid will come into play later), cover with water so that potatoes are covered by 1 inch. Salt the water generously (like you’re cooking pasta), add bay leaves and garlic cloves, and bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place pancetta or bacon and herbs on a sheet tray and roast while potatoes are simmering.

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After ten minutes, remove sheet tray from oven and raise oven temp to 425.

Drain potatoes in colander, return to pot, and with oven mitts or a towel, carefully and firmly grasp handles and lid of pot. Make sure it is tightly closed and shake vigorously for 5 seconds. You should have some pretty mashed up looking potatoes when you’re done.

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Add potatoes to the sheet tray, and with a wooden spoon or spatula, gently press down on the whole potatoes, so they pop under the pressure (this is very satisfying, and now you will understand why I told you to leave a few of them whole). Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon salt; keep in mind the saltiness of the pancetta/bacon), toss to combine and roast for another 20-30 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the skins get crispy.

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Serve alongside anything. Or just pile them into a bowl and enjoy. No judgment here.

*Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Foolproof cookbook.