Just the Time for Chicken Corn Chowder

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There are few things I love more than when my son asks me to post recipes on here so he can make them at school in Boston. We were talking yesterday afternoon and he said he was looking for “stewy” soups to cook. Well, last week, feeling the first fingers of fall on a typical Southern California October Sunday (yes, 89 degrees outside) I made Chicken Corn Chowder and told him I’d put a recipe up here.

Now, let’s start with this. I don’t like super heavy chowders. If they’re too thick they just leave you feeling lethargic. If you’re in Bangor, Maine in the middle of winter and you can’t open your front door anyway that serves a purpose, but here in Southern California (and frankly in most other places) too much flour in your soup is just, literally, a drag. So my chowders are more soupy than chowdery. (Just so you know).

Onward to the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 6 strips of your favorite bacon, cut widthwise into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • 1 medium brown onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
  • 3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
  • Healthy Pinch of your favorite dried herb mix
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn (1 package)
  • 1-2 cups diced cooked chicken (if you don’t have any just dice a chicken breast or two and saute’ with a little salt and pepper until cooked)
  • Four cups chicken stock (not broth, stock, you want the extra flavor from the stock)
  • 2 Cups Whipping Cream or Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 TBS Frank’s Hot Sauce (or something similar)
  • 6-10 Red (baby) potatoes, diced
  • 2 TBS Non EV Olive Oil or Grape Seed Oil
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese (to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Recipe

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a large stockpot, cook the bacon strips until crisp, set aside the bacon and drain off most of the fat. Add the olive oil (or Grape Seed Oil) and the Mirapoix (Onion, Carrot, Celery) and the bell pepper and stir over medium heat until the onion is translucent and then add the chicken and then the flour and stir until the flour just starts to brown. Add the corn (it’s fine if it’s still frozen) and stir for one minute (two minutes if frozen). Add the dried herbs and stir until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and bring to a slow boil and then reduce heat to simmer and add the cream. Stir in the hot sauce just before serving.

While the soup is coming to temperature salt and pepper the diced potatoes and place in a greased (or sprayed) pyrex or baking sheet and roast, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until just starting to brown (and tender). Add the potatoes to each bowl of soup as it is served. Do not add them to the soup.  (I don’t like them mushy). If you want more texture, reserve some of the corn and saute’ it for a minute and scatter it over the soup as you serve the soup. You can do this with some extra, diced, red bell pepper too.  If you want to put some cheddar cheese (or almost any kind of cheese you might have) on the soup, you can do this, too.

If you’re like me and you like things with a little heat, add a little more franks with the potatoes and whatever else you scatter over the soup when you serve it.  Yum!

Enjoy.

Now – there are people who would say that the corn should be fresh off the cob, that you should reserve the corn milk (the liquid that comes off the cob as the corn is shaved off), that a chowder should be thick enough to stand up a spoon, that you should use half and half, that the potatoes should be cooked in the soup, etc.  All of these things are true.  Those people should do those things.  You should too if they’re important to you. To me, this is a simple, flavorful and easy to prepare soup that still has some texture. Knock yourself out.

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Tuna/Avocado Tartare, Crispy Wantons, Mango Jalapeño Chutney, Wasabi Crema, Yum!

I went to the Hollywood Bowl last night with some good friends.  Someone else was making the entree so I was free to just make an appetizer. We all thought this was pretty damn good …

There is something about Tuna and Avocado that works. There is a part of me that thinks that certain foods were just ordained to be eaten together and this combination is one of them. Make sure you get the best Sashimi grade tuna you can buy at a very good Fish Market.  I buy all my fish at Fish King in Glendale and I will admit to being a little spoiled.

The mango, jalapeño chutney creates needed acidity for this dish and the wasabi cream was an afterthought, but it adds a nice – well – “wasabi-ness” – to each bite.

The wantons, crema, chutney and Tartare sauce can be made well ahead of time and the crema, chutney and sauce benefit from a little time in the refrigerator. Just don’t combine the sauce and the Tuna/Avocado until JUST before you serve the dish or the sauce will over “cook” the fresh ingredients.

Ingredients.

Mango Chutney

  • 1 Mango, diced.
  • 1 TBS red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced (if you like more heat leave the seeds)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp (pinch) Cumin
  • 1 TBS Honey or 2 TBS Blue Agave Syrup
  • 1/2 Grapefruit (optional) all skins and seeds removed, diced
  • 1 TBS Sesame Oil
  • If your mango is very ripe (sweet) add 1 TBS rice wine (or champagne) vinegar for the extra acidity

Tartare

  • 1 lb Sashimi grade blue fin or ahi Tuna (cut into small cubes)
  • 1 shallot or 2 TBS onion, diced very small (minced)
  • 1 persian cucumber diced very small (almost minced)
  • 1 Avocado (Haas are best) diced the same size as the Tuna
  • 2 TBS Best Foods or Hellmans Mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp asian garlic/chili sauce (available in any market)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil (if you have some in the refrigerator or your pantry that is more than a month old throw it out and buy fresh!)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 TBS honey or Blue Agave Syrup
  • sesame seeds for garnish
  • pinch of salt and a few turns of the peppermill

Wantons

  • 1 package wanton skins (any grocery store)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup neutral cooking oil for frying. (not olive oil!)
  • Salt for sprinking

Wasabi Crema

  • 1/2 Cup Mexican Crema (or 1/3 cup sour cream and 3 TBS cream stirred together)
  • 1 TBS Wasabi Powder (Buy it at your fish market)

For the Wantons.

The trick with frying wantons is your oil can’t be too hot. These things are very delicate and they burn in a heartbeat.  I salt and eat the ones I burn.  (and every once in a while burn one on purpose!). I like mine round so I use a larger round cookie cutter to cut mine down. Suit yourself. Use a small frying pan – like an omelette pan, and about 1/2 inch of frying oil heated just hot enough to bubble when you put the wanton in. Turn them quickly with tongs and remove from the oil when they start to brown. Sprinkle salt on them as soon as you take them out of the pan. Let them cool on a paper towel.  Try not to eat them all before you make the Tartare. (It takes a little while to do this right and you want to do it when you’re going to have an extra dose of patience. They can be made well ahead of time and kept in a cool, dry place).

For the Chutney

Combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times to your desired consistency. Taste and adjust flavors as you wish. Cover and refrigerate.

For the Crema

Whisk the crema and the wasabi powder together in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. (The wasabi flavor will intensify over time so don’t use too much).

For the Tartare

Combine everything but the tuna and avocado, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. (make this as long ahead as one day and it will keep just fine).  Letting it cool for a while will meld the flavors.  When your guests are ready to devour this dish, fold the Tuna and Avocado gently into the sauce.

Serving

Stack it!  The Wanton goes on the bottom, then the tartare, chutney and crema. Sprinkle a few of the sesame seeds (black ones look nice) on the top if you want.  Try not to make yummy sounds. Eat this dish in small portions and make it last…

Grilled Peach, Arugula and Burrata Salad

I’m going to start right of with a confession.  I absolutely love peaches in almost any form.  (Well, not canned, but any other form).  Ang and I were recently out to dinner with friends and we had a variation on this salad that was so good that I had to come home and try it myself.  It is comparatively easy and absolutely delicious.

Ingredients

  • Four Ripe Peaches, Halved
  • One Store-Bought Bag of Mixed Greens (preferably a mix containing arugula)
  • One Pint (two medium ‘pillows’) Buratta Mozzarella Cheese
  • ~1/4 Cup plus 3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 TBs High Quality Sherry or Champagne Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat your grill to medium hot.  Place halved peaches in a large mixing bowl and toss with 3 TBs olive oil.  When the grill is hot place the peaches skin side down on the grill.  For fun, watch them dance around.  Grill for approximately 10-15 minutes.  (The grill caramelizes the sugars in the peaches and gives them a deeper flavor). Remove the peaches from the grill and immediately submerge in an ice bath.  (“Blanching” the peaches stops the cooking process and will make it very easy for you to do the next step).  Peel the charred skins off of the peaches.  (don’t worry if you can’t get it all off).  Do this no more than 1 hour before you serve the salad or the peaches will lose their juices and flavor.

Cut the peaches into a rough dice (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces).

In a salad bowl combine the greens and the peaches.  Cut the burrata into bite sized slices (the loose middle will run out and you don’t care) and toss it lightly into the salad.  Dress with some of the olive oil (you won’t need the whole quarter cup) and the vinegar.  Add a pinch of salt and a few turns of your pepper mill and serve.

If you’re into wines, this pairs brilliantly with one of the new style (ML) Sauvignon Blancs from Napa Valley.

Make Your Own Damn Pizza…

One of the early triumphs of any home cook is the discovery that good Pizza needn’t require a phone call, internet order or a trip to some local wood-fire pizzeria.  In fact, you can make damn good pizza yourself.  It’s fun and it has the benefit of letting you make exactly the kind of pizza you like, AKA, your own damn pizza.

Ingredients:

  • Pizza Crust (Trader Joes or whatever kind you want).
  • Pizza Sauce (Any store bought marinara you like)
  • Cheese (Traditionally Mozzarella but can be any time you want – though if it melts its better)
  • Various and sundry toppings
  • Olive Oil
  • All Purpose Flour

The crust.  (this is actually the hardest part).  Tomorrow I will post a comparatively simple recipe for good, homemade pizza crust.  For today I’m going to make it even simpler and say, go to Trader Joes and buy “pizza dough” out of their refrigerated section.  It’s about a buck, ninety-nine for a bag and a bag makes three good sized Pizzas.  (Don’t try to make one large pizza or you will end up with a doughy mess).

Let the dough come up to close to room temperature and you’re ready to roll.

Trader Joes also sells a pretty good pizza sauce but you can really use any store-bought marinara or other sauce that you like.  Remember, this is your damn pizza.  That starts with the sauce.

Typically a pizza is made with mozzarella cheese.  Lactose intolerant?  Fine.  Use goat cheese.  (See “your damn pizza” above).  Like blue cheese?  Use blue cheese.  (If you want to screw up your damn pizza that’s your decision).  A word of caution here, you don’t need as much cheese as you think you do.  When that stuff melts it fills in.  I’m not going to give you measurements because I don’t know how big your pizza will be.

As for other condiments, you can buy a bag of 7,214 precut pieces of pepperoni for $2.  You’re going to use 12.  Put the rest in the fridge for next time.  It’s salt cured and will stay preserved for about 52 months.  I like Italian sausage.  I cut the skins off and toss it in a frying pan and “mash” it into clumps with a potato masher.  Like slices?  (read, ‘your damn pizza’ above).  As a general rule it is a good idea to precook most of the ingredients so all you’re doing when you put the pizza in the oven is effectively heating the sauce and melting the cheese…If you have a 3200 degree wood burning pizza oven you can cook the whole damn thing together.

I like caramelized onions.  I put an onion in a frying pan with a little olive oil and let it cook low and slow until it is nicely browned.  Yum.

If you want to go crazy get some green, basil pesto (or make you’re own if buying it is beneath you).    By the way, your own will be better and it is very easy to make.  Also get some shrimp and some fresh basil leaves.  Use the pesto for your pizza sauce with a mozzarella or mild goat cheese and give the shrimp a quick sauté’ before you put in on the pizza.

OK.  How to Make Your Own Damn Pizza.

Cut the pizza dough into thirds (about a billiard sized ball).  Put a copious amount of all purpose flour on your countertop or other very flat surface and also on the pizza dough.  Either with your hands (like a real man) or with a rolling pin (like me) make your pizza flat.  The thinner the better in my mind but if you like thick crust remember (see “your damn pizza” above).  Just know that it will puff up in the oven and then die back down when it comes back out.

Heat your oven and your pizza pan or baking sheet in the oven to 450 degrees.  If you have a very very good oven then go ahead and heat it to 500.  If you are my son and you are in a tinderbox apartment building that gives me the willies, then 450 is fine.

When the baking sheet and the oven are up to temperature dust some flour on the baking sheet or pizza pan and then lay your already flattened pizza dough on the pan and put it in the oven for about five minutes.  Take it out and coat the top with a little brushed on olive oil before turning the crust over and putting it back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes.

Take the “pre-fired” (a term sure to impress your female guests) out of the oven and put on a thin coat of sauce, your cheese and toppings.  Put it back in the oven and watch through the window as the cheese melts.  When the cheese is melted you’re ready to go.

Take it out of the oven and cut it up (a decent Pizza slicer costs about $5) and serve it to your admiring friends.

Enjoy accolades and fend off friend requests from unknown coeds.

Fun and Easy Appetizer: Little Lasagnas with Grilled Eggplant and Goat Cheese

I don’t like eggplant.  I love this dish.

These require a little assembly so unless you have some help you won’t want to make them for a large party.  I made them last night for a small dinner party and while there were two professional photographers in the house (and me) not one of us took a picture.  That said, they are a crowd pleaser par excellence.  They are too rich to make as a meal, but they make the perfect, surprisingly wonderful mouthful or two as an appetizer.

I must give credit for this dish to Chef Michael Chiarello, founder of Napa’s Tre Vigne, whose current restaurant, Bottega, is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere in the world.  (Yountville, Napa Valley).  He served this dish at a cooking school that I attended (a wonderful Christmas gift from my wife) in Yosemite. The recipe was available through the school but I never picked it up.  I just made it up again when I got home.

By the way, if you ever visit Bottega order Chiarello’s smoked polenta appetizer with aged balsamic…  I don’t like polenta and I’m not a big fan of smoked.  This dish completely floored me.  He should have won top chef with it, but when snippy little James Oseland realized the dish was served on charred pages of Saveur Magazine, a tongue in cheek response to a mediocre review one of Chiarello’s earlier dishes, he marked Chiarello down for taste and Rick Bayless won.  I’ve never touched a Saveur since and I’ve always wanted to see a Iron Chef competition between Chiarello and Bayless, without Oseland.  (BTW – FWIW I like Bayless as well).

Ingredients

  • One or Two Chinese Eggplants.  (long thin – cucumber shaped – lighter purple eggplants available at almost any grocery store).
  • One package very good (soft) plain goat cheese.
  • Either one bottle store bought marinara or one batch home made marinara sauce.  (I’ll put up a recipe for this soon.  It’s quick and easy and it tastes better than anything you can get in the store).
  • Grated parmesan for garnish
  • Balsamic vinegar for garnish
  • That’s it

Recipe (method)

Using a vegetable peeler remove outer skin from Eggplant.  (it will be white in color).  Slice into very thin slices at an angle (so the slices are slightly oval shaped).  Think about how many guests you have and make sure you make one per guest plus just a couple of extras.  To do so you need three pieces of eggplant for each little lasagna.

Take out a Pyrex baking dish and put a paper towel in the bottom of it.  Put some table salt on the paper towel.  (Trust me).  Lay a single layer of the eggplant on the salted paper towel.  Salt the top of the eggplant and cover with another paper towel.  Start over with salt and eggplant.  The salt isn’t to season the eggplant. It is to start the process of getting the squash to give up its liquid.  Make sure you cover the top layer with another paper towel and then weight the top paper towel down with anything that will lightly press it against the eggplant.   (the bag of shredded parmesan cheese for instance).  Set aside and do something else for 20 minutes or so…

When you come back you will be surprised at the amount of moisture that the paper towels have soaked up.  It isn’t magic.  The salt basically leaches the liquid out of the eggplant.  This is an important step because the bitter – off taste that a lot of people associate with eggplant is actually in its liquids.  Discard the paper towels and heat up your grill.  (If necessary, you can use the indoor grill pan that came with your pots and pans that if you are like most people you almost never use).

Working in batches coat the eggplant pieces with olive oil and place on the grill.  You want good grill marks on each side.  It will take about 3-5 minutes per batch to grill the eggplant.  Put is back in the pyrex.  You’re ready to assemble the lasagnas.

Place a sheet of foil on a large baking sheet.  (Big metal thing that you might think of as a rimmed cookie sheet).  Spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Lay out the bottom layer of the eggplant and top with a small piece of the goat cheese (if you freeze it a little it is easier to cut) and one teaspoon of the marinara.  Top with another layer of the eggplant and then another piece of cheese and more marinara.  Top with the third piece of eggplant and then another piece of the goat cheese and marinara.  Dust the top of each stack with a little of the parmesan.

I recommend that you do this a few hours before your party.  These will cook in about 15 minutes once your guests arrive so they are very quick to finish.

Finishing

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and let the lasagnas cook for about 15 minutes.  (until the cheese is nice and gooey).  Place each lasagna carefully on a small plate, garnish with more of the parmesan and put a small drizzle of your best balsamic on the plate.  Serve.  Stand back and receive accolades.