A long chatty recipe with notes
I cook dinner every night, but my usual efforts are sleek little dinners that are easy to cook and even easier to clean up. Every once in a while, I get a buzz and decide I need to try something new.
Last week, I bought some frozen New England clam chowder. It wasn’t bad. I added a bit of extra half-and-half (that would be a 50-50 combination of milk and cream) and some za’atar and it was pretty good. But it wasn’t great and for $5.99 for a pint, I figured I could do that. Better and a lot cheaper.
Today we went to the grocery store. We picked up all the stuff I was supposed to buy the last time I shopped but forgot. Then I bought what I needed for the clam chowder.
Let me start by saying — there isn’t a recipe for New England clam chowder. There is a recipe for each person who ever cooked it. Sometimes two or three. After reviewing a dozen or so, I realized that they all included the same ingredients in various amounts which didn’t seem particularly precise:
Chopped onions I diced up one-and-a-half big onions.
Chopped celery About a cup or a bit more.
Bacon (cut into small pieces) It was whatever I had left over from the last time I made a big breakfast … about 6 slices.
3 cups (more or less) of clams with clam juice *
* Long note: All the recipes I found used canned clams. I don’t like canned clams. They taste like the tin they came in. I used frozen, pre-cooked clams. Canned clams come in clam juice. Frozen clams don’t. And I forgot to buy clam broth. To create something liquid and clammy, I defrosted the frozen clams in chicken broth. I figured that soaking the clams in the broth was bound to make it taste clammy. It worked.
2 cups of half-and-half OR cream. Most people use half-and-half to keep from everyone from getting sick from all that fat. Full cream? I wasn’t sure we’d live through the experience, though we would die happy.
An undesignated amount of potatoes, cooked, peeled, and diced. The recipes called for you to boil the potatoes in the clam broth — followed by a lot of comments from people complaining the potatoes were insufficiently cooked.
I hate it when the potatoes are hard. I cooked the potatoes separately, peeled them after they were cooked. This is usually easier than peeling them before cooking, though this time because I was using small golden potatoes, not so much. Then I cut them into cubes.
At this point, I had a big bowl of chopped celery and onions, a bowl of chopped up raw bacon, a bowl of defrosted cooked clams soaking in chicken broth. A jar of chopped garlic. A bottle of za’atar. Sea salt. White pepper. Butter.
I put the pot on the heat, threw in the bacon, added a lump of butter and waited for the bacon to brown, which it didn’t seem interested in doing. I got tired of waiting, so I added the onions and celery. Stirred and waited. More waiting. More stirring.
I turned down the heat to medium. Stirred some more. Eventually, I got tired of standing there so I turned up the heat and added the potatoes and clams. Stirred some more.
The phone rang. Did I know how to clear a used (my used) Roku so my granddaughter could use it? No, I didn’t, but they probably would have instructions on the Roku website.
I took the phone with me to the kitchen making a quick stop to rinse the potatoes off my fingers. Peeling the potatoes was messy.
The phone rang again. Kaity thought she’d found the information on the box in which the Roku came. It sounded right to me and I wasn’t in a good place to start googling how to reboot a Roku.
Meanwhile, I decided to use cornstarch instead of flour as a thickener. I have not had good results using flour as a thickener. Maybe it’s me, but it always turns into a gloppy, lumpy mess. But I’m great with cornstarch. I put a couple of tablespoons of starch into a cup, added a bit of cold water and stirred it. I set it aside for when I would need it.
I added half the clammy chicken broth to barely cover the vegetables, clams, and potatoes. That was when I tripped over Bonnie and knocked the liquid starch all over the kitchen. Not her fault, but still, there was cornstarch everywhere. Cabinets, floor, dishwasher, me.
Garry wiped. I appreciated his wiping.
When everything seemed to be barely boiling, I added the two cups of half-and-half, salt, pepper, and za’atar.
I stirred it and left it to simmer. I put together another batch of starch and water (two tablespoons cornstarch and just enough cold water to mix it). I did not knock this one on the floor.
This was also when I realized I needed to heat up the rolls (nice crusty ones) and I needed Garry to come and taste. He came. He tasted. He said: “Hey, that’s good.” Great praise indeed, though to be fair, Garry is a really good eater as long as it doesn’t contain peas, lima beans, oatmeal, or cut corn.
So I tasted it too. It was good. It is rare for me to make something from scratch without a real go-to recipe and have it come out better than I expected. Usually, my first try is disastrous or at least, not quite right.
I turned up the heat and when the liquid was thinking about boiling, I added the starch and it thickened up. The toaster bell went off. Dinner! I had created some better than average New England clam chowder. We ate. We ate more than we usually eat and it was delicious. A bit heavy. And there’s enough for another meal. I’m not going to do that much cooking for one little meal, after all. But tomorrow night? Frozen pizza. I don’t think my stomach could handle two days in a row of chowder.
We have to make choices, don’t we? Sometimes, the price of something especially yummy is a borborygmus tummy.
Don’t you love that word?
I think I’m going to try and find a non-cream-based shrimp bisque. Shrimp is always available frozen and usually pre-cooked and relatively inexpensive. if I can keep the cream out of it, Garry’s gut won’t explode and I won’t feel like a blimp after dinner.
So far, though, all the bisque recipes are as full of cream as the chowder. There’s gotta be another way! More research!