Friday, December 2, 2016

Creamy New England Clam Chowder

Who doesn't love a good hearty soup when the colder temperatures in the Fall and Winter months set in? In my opinion, there's nothing like it to warm you up inside, when the damp and the cold are chilling you right through to the bone. When you live in some Northern areas of the country, even Spring can be a very unpredictable season and we certainly have our share rainy periods where the dampness can make a 55 degree (Fahrenheit) day seem bone chilling as well.

Being from the Northeastern part of New York State and only a 30 minute drive from the Vermont border, the folks here in my neck of the woods have always considered ourselves to be New Englanders, so it just stands to reason that one of our family's favorite soups has always been New England Clam Chowder. And why not? It has everything you could want in a 'warm your belly and your soul' kind of way. It has butter, rich cream, potatoes, onions and just the right amount of savory herbs, like thyme. And let's not forget the true stars of the show - those sweet, tender clams. Oh, and around here, it just wouldn't be complete without a generous sprinkling of crispy, smokey, crumbled bacon to top it all off.

Even after years of eating (and thoroughly enjoying) the clam chowder at home and at restaurants all over the Northeastern coast, I realized on a weekend trip to Boston - way back in the early eighties, that I hadn't really ever had the pleasure of what I believe to be the ultimate "chowdah" experience.

I refer to it as an experience because, well... that's the best way that I can think of to describe the unique and somewhat quirky atmosphere at the famous (or maybe I should say "infamous") Durgin Park Restaurant in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Massachusetts.

To this day, I stand firm in my belief that it is the best clam chowder (yes, that includes my own) that I have ever eaten. Now, I feel that it's important for me to explain that the chowder is not the menu item that the restaurant is most famous for, (that would be their "Boston Baked Beans") but, that being said and based on who you happen to ask, the answer to that question could be as varied as the the snowflakes that fall all around me each Winter. And now, after dozens of tweaks to my own recipe over the years, I feel like this is as close as it gets to Durgin Park's famous New England Clam Chowder.

This rich, creamy chowder can be made on a weeknight because the ingredients are simple and if you're an enthusiastic home cook or "foodie", you'll most likely already have the majority of what you need in your pantry and fridge. (IMHO if they're not - they should be) At the very least, they're all ingredients that you can easily find at most grocery chains across the country - so go on out and get you some,'K? 😉

Creamy New England Clam Chowder
(Serves a crowd. Approx 3 & 1/2 Quarts/18 Cups)
  • 3 8oz Bottles Clam Juice + Juice From The Canned Clams
  • 1 8oz Bottle of Clam Juice (optional/if needed)   
  • 4 6.5oz to 7oz Cans Chopped Clams, liquid reserved
  • 1 Qt Half & Half
  • 1 Pint Heavy Cream
  • 2 8oz Bricks Cream Cheese
  • 1 12oz Pkg Center Cut Bacon, chopped
  • 2 Lg Russet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 Lg Yellow Onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tsp Thyme Leaves (heaping)
  • 1 & 1/2 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp Celery Salt
  • 2 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper

First, dice your onion, peel and cube your potatoes and chop your bacon. Set these all aside in separate bowls.

As anyone who's been cooking for a long time will tell you... Always do your "prep work" first and things will go a heck of a lot faster when it's time to put it all together!

A good sharp peeler, just like a good sharp knife, can save you time and save you from having to raid your band-aid stash. If yours is old and dull, toss it into the trash and pick up a new one. They're generally not very expensive and a decently made peeler can easily be found in any large grocery store these days.

Try to keep the size of your potato cubes relatively the same. They don't have to be perfect, but you want them to be close so they'll cook as evenly as possible. You can keep your cubed potatoes in a bowl of very cold water, while waiting to add them to the pot. This will keep hem from oxidizing and turning brown. Just drain them well and blot them a bit with clean paper towels before adding them.

Bacon will slice much more easily if it's really cold, or even better yet, a little bit frozen. A really sharp knife is essential too, of course.

Speaking of that... I know that I mention this pretty frequently, but I can't stress enough how important it is to keep your knives as sharp as you can. Just like the vegetable peeler mentioned above, a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp one. It's so worth the initial investment to purchase a decent 10" Chef's knife, a 7" or 8" Santuko blade and at least one 4" to 5" paring knife. Also, look for knife blades that are made from carbon steel, since they hold an edge better and can be sharpened and honed easily at home in order to keep that edge.

Pre-heat a heavy bottomed large stock or pasta pot over medium to medium high, for roughly 60 to 90 seconds. You don't ever want to heat a dry metal pan to the point where it's literally "smoking" hot, but you do want it to be hot enough to hear that lovely sizzling sound as soon as the bacon hits the pan. (If you don't have a pot that has a solid heavy bottom, you might want to add a teaspoon of a light olive, or vegetable oil to the cold pan and swirl it around enough to coat the bottom in order to prevent sticking)

Add the chopped bacon to the pot and cook until it's nice and crispy, stirring or turning the pieces frequently. (approx 4 to 6 minutes)

Once the bacon is all golden brown and crispy, remove it with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a couple of sheets of paper towel to drain. Set it aside.

If there's more than a healthy tablespoon (give or take) of bacon grease left in the pan, remove any excess and dispose of it - OR - store it for future use.

(I strain mine into - and save it in - a Ball pint jar in the fridge, to use when I'm making homefries, frying eggs, sweating a mirepoix for stocks, soups & sauces, etc. Let's just say that bacon grease has a plethora of other uses where it can add amazing flavor to a finished dish!)

Add the onions to the reserved bacon grease and turn the heat down to medium (if it isn't there already). Cook them, stirring often, until they begin to soften and are pretty much translucent. They'll probably take on a browned or caramelized appearance pretty quickly if there's a fair amount of browned bits (fond) left in the bottom of the pan from cooking the bacon - and that's a very good thing.

Once the onions are softened, add in the cubed potatoes and give it all a good stir to incorporate everything. If, at this point, your mixture seems like it's starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, you can add a little bit of vegetable or light olive oil - or that bacon grease, if you've saved it!

You only need to saute the potatoes and onions for about 5 minutes, because they're going to cook through completely in the liquids that will be added.

I usually won't shake bottled clam juice if I see what looks like darker or sand-like deposits that have settled at the bottom. There will almost always be at least some amount of sediment in bottled clam juice. As long as the residue is a white-ish gray color and isn't gritty or sandy looking, then go ahead a give it a shake. That is just an accumulation of fine particulates from the meat of the clam, left over from the shucking process.

Even if you make it a point to buy only the most expensive brand(s) of bottled clam juice, you're going to get a bottle here and there that has some amount of sediment in the bottom. It's just the nature of the beast, if you will. Clams spend the majority of their lives buried in the sand and it just stands to reason that at least some of that sand is going to stick around, even after they've been through the processing plant.

Of course, you could be really ambitious by going out to your local fishmonger, buying a bushel of whole clams and shucking them yourself. (being careful to save all of the liquor that comes out during the process) But keep in mind that even those clams will need to be soaked and rinsed, to make sure the majority of the sand is expelled. Then you'll need to make clam stock or broth, to take the place of the bottled clam juice.

As you know, I'm all for cooking from scratch... but this is meant to be an easy, pot of hearty soup that you can throw together on a weeknight. So let's get back to it, shall we?

Next, pour in the three bottles of clam juice, being careful to pour slowly and making sure to try and leave any of the sandy looking residue in the bottle. If a tiny bit gets into the pot, it's not the end of the world. As my dear old mother used to say, "You've gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die." I'm not really sure who came up with that quote, but I don't know if I want to learn the reasoning behind it. LOL

If you don't have enough to cover the potatoes, add a fourth bottle of clam juice (mentioned above as optional in the ingredient list). If you don't need it and you haven't opened it, you can store it in your pantry or cupboard until the "sell by" or "best by" date on the bottle.

Allow the broth to come up to a simmer.

I was at my daughter's house when I made this particular batch of chowder and she has a glass topped stove, so I didn't worry much about the heat. But, if I'm making this (or any other "dairy heavy" soup) on my gas cook top at home, I'll use one of those metal ring diffusers once the dairy has been added.

Once the soup has simmered for a minute or two, add your quart of half & half...

Your seasonings...

And your reserved clam "liquor" from the cans, *after straining if necessary.

*I find that the "Snow's/Bumblebee" brand is usually pretty good about making sure that there's not much sediment (if any) in their canned clams, but I have used other brands in the past when I couldn't find these and found that there was a fair amount of grit in each can. If you do happen to find a bit of sand or grit, you don't have to worry. As I mentioned re: the bottled juice, it's a perfectly natural thing for clams to have a bit of sand or grit in the shells. Some companies just do a better job at straining them before packaging than others. Just use a fine mesh strainer, lined with a bit of cheesecloth, if needed.

(I do not work for Snow's/Bumblebee and this is not a sponsored post. Any thoughts or comments about the quality of their products, are my personal opinion.)

Bring the chowder back up to a low simmer and continue to cook it at that same low temperature until the potatoes are just fork tender, stirring occasionally.

You want the potatoes to be tender, but be careful not to overcook them. You can see in the photo above that the potato cubes are still intact at this point and that is important because there's still a little bit more cooking time ahead.

Once the potatoes are just tender, add in your softened cream cheese, one brick at a time, stirring until the first one has melted before adding the second. You can cut the cream cheese up into cubes, but to be honest, I've found that as long as it's at room temperature, it will blend in just as quickly either way.

At first, it's probably going to look a bit lumpy and separated and you're going to wonder if you've made a mistake along the way, but trust me... every bit of it will dissolve and the soup will become a nice cohesive mixture.

The only "lumps" at this point, should be the potatoes.

Once all of the cream cheese has melted, add in your heavy cream and stir well.

Bring the chowder back up to a simmer and once you've reached that point, you can add in the drained clams. Again, you don't want cream soups to come up to a full boil. This can cause them to separate and become a bit of a mess. It can also cause the dairy products to scorch and that will definitely give it a "burnt" flavor.

When the chowder has simmered for another 5 or 10 minutes, it's time to serve! Remember - the clams don't really need to cook. You're just making sure that they're heated through. I always use chopped or minced clams in my chowder, but you could use the whole baby clams if you'd like to. I just find that there are fewer clams in the cans, ounce for ounce, and you tend to get more bang for your buck with the chopped/minced variety.

Make sure to give it a taste to check for seasoning before serving and if needed, add a bit more salt & pepper to taste. It's best to turn the stove off before serving because you don't want what's left in the pot to reduce too much further, or for the clams to get tough. Just slap the lid on the pot to keep it warm for anyone who might come back for seconds. (Around our house, they usually do!)

All you really need to make this creamy chowder a meal (at least in our house) is a big tossed green salad and a loaf of crusty bread and everyone will be as happy as a clam. (I know.... that really was pretty lame, but sometimes, I just can't help myself. I'm a total cornball! LOL) Oh, and don't forget to serve the crispy bacon, for folks to sprinkle on top of the chowder and/or the salad!

When I'm keeping things super casual, I just lay everything out buffet style and let people serve themselves. But if you're using this soup as a starter for a nice dinner party, you can certainly dish it up into smaller bowls and serve it to each person at the table. Just add a sprinkling of fresh parsley and a few pieces of the crumbled bacon on top of each bowl to make it look a bit more "up-scale". :)



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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Women In Food ~ Anne Burrell's Bolognese

Welcome to the 2nd installment of Women In Food! Back in the early days of this blog, I'd planned on doing a monthly feature that would showcase one of the incredibly talented women, who are boldly and deliciously paving the way for new generations of female chefs, food writers and industry entrepreneurs.

My plan was (and still is) to provide you with a little background, some video and loads of delicious recipes from some of the best and brightest female chefs in the world. I really wanted to make Women In Food a regular feature, but as my 1st (and only other) installment would indicate, life (and Lupus) got in the way and that never really happened.

As you'll see by the date on my first post showcasing Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, HERE, it's been a very long time since I hatched this little plan. But...

In the future, I really do hope to do better when it comes to paying homage to these incredible female chefs, who are making their mark in what is still a mostly male dominated field. (If you'd like to know a little bit more about why it is that I admire these ladies so much, just click HERE)

So, without further ado, this installment's Woman In Food is...

Chef Anne Burrell

Host of the Food Network & Cooking Channel shows

Anne's Books

Anne's Website

Anne's Bolognese
  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 3 cups hearty red wine
  • Water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing

In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.

Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat.

(At this point in the video Anne tastes the sauce and adds more salt to the pan. As I say ~ in just about every recipe that I post on this blog ~ tasting the food and adding seasoning, if needed, is an integral part of cooking because each step or addition to a recipe can completely alter it's flavor profile as you add more ingredients, or as the different flavors begin to concentrate.)

Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will).

(I love Anne's personality. She's bright, funny and she truly loves what she does for a living. Not all of us can say that, can we?)

Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time.

Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce.

Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn't matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned.

When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package.

While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced.

Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously.

Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl.

Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

Here's a short video of Chef Anne making this version of bolognese. I get such a kick out of her fun, slightly quirky personality and I find that watching her actually prrepare her recipes, just adds to the overall experience. Enjoy!

A Short Bio from the Food Network

"With her trademark spiky blond hair and pumped-up personality, Anne Burrell has worked at some of the top restaurants in New York, studied the culinary landscape and traditions of Italy, and battled alongside Mario Batali as his sous chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. Anne makes restaurant dishes accessible and reveals concise, easy-to-master techniques for the at-home cook on her Food Network series Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. On her show Chef Wanted, Anne helps top restaurateurs find candidates with the right experience and creativity to become executive chefs. On Worst Cooks in America, Anne joins Tyler Florence in mentoring teams of hopeless home cooks from around the country, putting them through culinary boot camp.

In 2011, Anne published her first cookbook, Cook Like a Rock Star, which gives home cooks the confidence and support to be rock stars in their own kitchens. Her cookbook earned a place on the New York Times Best Seller list. In fall 2011 Anne starred in her own right on Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs.

Growing up in upstate New York, Anne developed a passion for food and cooking at an early age. After obtaining an English and communications degree from Canisius College in Buffalo, she pursued her interest in the restaurant business by enrolling in the Culinary Institute of America. Following graduation, she spent a year in Italy attending the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners while working at La Taverna del Lupo in Umbria and La Bottega del' 30, a Michelin one-star restaurant in Tuscany. During this year, Anne grew to truly appreciate and understand the philosophy of Italian cuisine and culture, which left a lasting impact on her culinary point of view.

Upon her arrival in New York City, Anne was hired as a sous chef at Felidia, working with Lidia Bastianich. She then served as a chef at Savoy, where she cooked over an open wood fire and created flavorful menus inspired by Mediterranean countries. Here Anne developed her personal culinary style: rustic food made with pure and simple ingredients with intense flavors.

Anne then took the opportunity to spread her culinary knowledge and passion as a teacher at the Institute of Culinary Education. After three years, Anne went back to the restaurant business, serving as the executive chef at Lumi. Shortly after, she joined the Batali-Bastianich empire by accepting a job at Italian Wine Merchants. The job also included salumi production and traveling to off-site events with Mario Batali. When Mario became one of Food Network’s esteemed Iron Chefs, he knew exactly who to enlist as his sous chef: the talented and dynamic Anne Burrell.

As the executive chef at New York hot spot Centro Vinoteca from its opening in July 2007 through September 2008, Anne served up her "creative-authentic" Italian menu of small plates (piccolini), antipasti, pastas and main courses accented by her trademark bold, pure flavors."



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