MANHATTAN SHRIMP CHOWDER – Marilyn Armstrong

All that cream and milk didn’t make Garry’s tummy happy, so I decided to try a different chowder. I didn’t have more clams, but I had frozen shrimp. You can make this same chowder using any seafood from shrimp to haddock. I think shellfish is easier and less likely to fall apart, but it’s entirely a matter of your taste — and what you can find in the freezer section of your grocery. Unless you know a fisherman.

I have almost as many problems with tomatoes as Garry has with lactose. I can sometimes get away with eating it once in a while … so I figured I’d give it a try.

Aren’t allergies and sensitivities fun? Sometimes cooking for a family gets to be like tiptoeing through a minefield. He’s allergic to carrots. The other one is lactose-intolerant. I can’t eat anything acidic.

That one over there has diverticulitis and his wife recently had a gastric bypass, so she probably won’t eat anything. I want to serve it all with a good crusty bread, except someone is bound to be on an anti-gluten diet.

Of course, shellfish allergies are common, so before you serve it, check and make sure you aren’t going to make someone horribly ill. One horribly ill guest can totally ruin an otherwise good dinner.

It’s one of the things I do NOT miss about a larger family. Garry and I have enough eating issues. Add a few more people and I’d give up cooking.

I ultimately created the simplest recipe I could. It is hellishly hot here. My kitchen is the warmest room in the house. After I start boiling stuff, it becomes a steam room, so simpler is better. The shrimp is pre-cooked. The hardest part of this recipe is chopping up the vegetables.

The chopper I bought based on Judy Brown-Dykstra’s recommendation is turning out to be one of those “how did I live without it” goodies. All my diced vegetables are perfect, exactly the right size, including the potatoes. It’s a miracle!

My entire life of cooking I have suffered from unfortunately chopped vegetables. Whatever I chop first is fine, but for each subsequent veggie, my chopping becomes more erratic.

With this lovely little chopper, it’s so tidy and organized. The only thing it won’t chop is celery. It refuses.


INGREDIENTS:

1 pound shrimp – cooked, shelled, with tails removed
1 large onion, diced
1 medium pepper (pick your color)
1 cup of chopped celery
2 potatoes, washed, skins on, boiled 15-18 minutes, drained
1 teaspoon crushed thyme
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
hot sauce to taste (green or red, whatever suits your palate)
2 cups Clamato juice
1/4 cup smoky steak sauce
1-14 oz can of diced tomatoes, including juice
4 slices bacon, cut small and fried almost crispy

Note: Vegetable amounts are all “more or less.” You can use more onion, less pepper, more pepper, carrots, corn. It’s entirely up to you and will not change the way it tastes very much.


Because I was using cooked shrimp, all I had to do was defrost it and remove the tails, then put it back into the fridge.

I scrubbed two Idaho potatoes, sliced and diced them and put them in a pot to boil. While they were cooking, I diced up the onion, pepper, and chopped the celery. I put it all in a bowl. I measured out the Clamato juice, the steak sauce, pulled 4 pieces of bacon from the fridge, chopped it up and put it in a pot to fry. When it was mostly done, I threw in all the chopped vegetables and cooked them in the bacon fat for about 10 minutes. Then, I added the garlic.

In between each addition, I washed whatever was dirty because I really hate a messy kitchen. Even if I’m not doing the cleaning, I still hate the mess. I’ve cleaned a lot of horrible kitchens and I may not be the best cook in the world, but I am absolutely the neatest, cleanest anywhere.

A couple of minutes later, I added the Clamato juice, tomatoes, and steak sauce and brought it all to a boil. I added the thyme and just for kicks, threw in some Za’atar because it has become my “I can’t cook anything without it” spice mix. I added a bit of salt, a splash of white pepper and stirred. Tasted it.

I grabbed my favorite Arizona Gunslinger Smokin Jalapeno Red hot sauce. Tasted. Added a half a dozen drops more.

Ahh.

Brought it back to a boil. Garry had brought home some focaccia bread and I turned on the toaster oven. It was just waiting for my “go” signal.

I added the shrimp. With one minute remaining on the toasting bread, I yelled “DINNER!” and all the dogs came running. I always wonder about that. Do they believe I’m doing all this cooking for them? Or is it some inherent DNA-based optimism given to all dogs?

I yelled louder and Garry stopped watching baseball and came to the kitchen to claim his dinner.

Dinner was a success, or as we put it around here: “So far, so good.” No one’s stomach has erupted. Yet.

The dogs are still waiting for their servings and lucky dogs, there is enough left so they can have at least some of the soup with their kibble tomorrow. Maybe I’ll let each one have a shrimp, too.

What didn’t I use?

The original recipe calls for an additional 1/2 pound of miscellaneous seafood such as mussels, clams, scallops, squid, or even haddock. I didn’t want to make that much food. When you add the extra 1/2 pound of seafood, you also need an extra cup of Clamato juice.

The full recipe should feed six, with second helpings. The way I made it, it will feed four. As an appetizer, six or eight probably. I have a very full quart of leftovers for tomorrow.

I used fresh diced tomatoes rather than stewed because I prefer them. I left out the carrots because I was tired of chopping and my wrists were beginning to hurt.

I didn’t use red pepper flakes because I like my own hot sauce. I think you could probably use fish broth rather than Clamato juice, but then you’d need maybe half a cup of tomato paste. Clamato juice seemed easier and it comes in a bottle with a screw-on lid. Also, you can buy it in a spicy version.

NOTE: Many people like Clamato juice mixed with iced vodka, so your alcoholic preferences could affect your choice of Clamato juice.

Good crusty bread is the winning complement to the chowder.

You can change the recipe to suit allergies, personal taste — and what you happen to have on hand. Aside from the chopping, it’s easy. Get the little chopper and it’s about 50% easier.

If you want this to be a bisque, run it through a food processor. Voila, bisque!

NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER – Marilyn Armstrong

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?

Editorial addition:

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!

FOOD QUESTIONS – THANKS TO WHOEVER IT WAS I COPIED THE QUESTIONS FROM – Marilyn Armstrong

The QUESTIONS:

1. Do you enjoy food from countries that are not your own?

Absolutely. Most American food is boring. It is particularly boring locally. I have learned to cook Chinese, some West Indies dishes. Italian. Some Creole and French cuisine.

We both love Japanese food, but it’s expensive and most of the other food you can buy locally is awful. It’s not only not worth the money, it isn’t worth leaving home and going somewhere to eat it.

2. When you prepare a salad for yourself, do you rip your greens (lettuce, spinach, etc), or do you cut them?

It depends on how I feel at the moment. I’ve done both. But I do like the pieces small and tearing them seems to make them bigger than I find convenient.

3. There’s a saying that goes: “Life is short, eat dessert first.”  What do you think of that advice?

I think you are going to get fat that way.

4. Have you ever thrown spaghetti against the wall to test for doneness? — If it sticks, it’s done (so they say) — What other such kitchen habits might you have?

Yes. It turns out, it’s not the best way to test for the doneness of spaghetti, but it’s more fun than burning your fingers and getting a piece into your mouth to taste. Best way?

Time it. How long it should take is printed on the back of the bag or box. I like it NOT al dente, so I add a minute. Timers are great!

When it goes “ding,” it’s done. Remarkably, it works. No spaghetti stuck to the wall, no burned fingers or tongue. And the spaghetti or pasta is exactly the way you like it all the time.

5. How often do you eat fish?

At least two or three times a week. It depends on what is available at what price. It has been getting more and more expensive and if we keep polluting our oceans, fish may become a real delicacy.

6. When purchasing food for yourself, do you check the nutritional label? If so, what are you checking for?

No, because I buy raw food. I don’t buy almost any packaged food except for bread and pasta.

7. How often do you eat salad as a meal?

Almost never. I have it on the side, but too much roughage makes me sick.

8. Do you have any food quirks? For example: do you arrange a particular food in a certain way before eating? Or eat certain foods in a particular way every time? (i.e.: bite the heads off of gummy bears).

I don’t like anchovies, olives, or okra. I’m not overly fond of chocolate. I like vanilla and I like dessert sometimes. But I don’t need it and I don’t feel deprived if there’s no dessert.

9. When boiling water for pasta or whatnot, what are your “tricks” for keeping the water from boiling over?

Umm … don’t fill it up so high that it boils over?

10. Are there any recipes that have been passed down through the generations in your family? Have you passed them to anyone outside of your family? or are they a closely guarded secret?

No. My mother was an awful cook. Her best legacy was making it easier to learn to cook than eat her cooking. I bet that was the idea, too. She didn’t like cooking and by the time we were 10 or 11, we could all make our own meals. Anything but mom’s cooking.

11. In general, how do you feel about “diet” foods? Meaning: foods with artificial sweeteners or alternative fats in them. For example diet soda or low-fat muffins.

I use Splenda in my coffee. Otherwise, I don’t use any artificial sweeteners. It doesn’t help you keep thin. I have been my fattest when I was eating the most “diet food.” That stuff is evil.

12. Have you purchased food online? What do you think about that idea?

I buy spices online because I can buy large packages and it saves a ton of money. I also get better quality. Sometimes I buy fancy jams or marmalade from England, but that’s a special treat.

 

I also buy dog biscuits and dog food online because some of it isn’t available any other way. I can get larger quantities for less money — AND they deliver. I love delivery.

13. When cooking for you and yours, what kinds of experiments have you tried?

I try different kinds of spices, but I’m pretty good about knowing what goes with what, so it’s not much of an experiment. More like deciding how I want it to taste.

14. Do you now, or have you ever, grown or raised any of the food you eat?

No.

15. Are you a vegetarian? If not, has the idea of becoming one ever crossed your mind?

I’ve thought about it, but haven’t done it. I probably never will, though we eat a lot less meat than we did.

16. When arranging the food on your plate, does everything have to be separated, or is it okay for your food to touch?

My pasta bowls

I don’t mind if food touches other food, but I hate mixing it all together. If I wanted it to taste like a stew, I would have cooked it that way.

17. When eating out, what foods on the menu might push you out of your comfort zone? (For example, pineapple on pizza makes some people twitch).

I just ate pineapple on a pizza. It was a first. It was okay. It’s not really my idea of pizza, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Just skip the olives, okra, or anchovies.

18. Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, what kinds of foods generally satisfy the craving?

I love dried fruit. And fresh fruit mixed with yogurt.

19. What foods (if any) do you like to mix that other people might find strange?

Nothing really. I like some things other people might not like, but that doesn’t make them strange. We all have specific taste and not liking — or liking — something different isn’t odd or strange. Unique maybe.

20. When eating out, at what kind of restaurant do you prefer to dine?

Sushi.

21. In general, how do you feel about organic food?

Nice when affordable. All our locally grown food is organic. It’s a valley “thing.” I think it’s because the water table is very high and everyone has a well. Fertilizer and insecticide are bad for well, river, and all water. I suspect that we are organic because we don’t want to poison our water.

22. What foods (if any) do you eat when you are happy or unhappy?

I sometimes forget to eat if I’m really happy. But I don’t eat for soul satisfaction anymore. My eating habits have changed a huge amount over the years. If you’d asked me these same question 10 or 15 years ago, you’d have gotten entirely different answers.

THINLY SLICED – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP #14 – JULIENNE

Yellow peppers
Julienne?

That’s about as Julienne as anything gets in this house. Actually, Julienne is almost always a preview to dicing, but I love the way it looks, all neatly stacked in a pile on the cutting board.

I use red, green, orange, and yellow peppers in a wide range of dishes. Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten good at cutting them. I’m also really fast. That’s probably why I tend to slice off my fingertips, too.

Oh well. It’s my sacrifice to the gods of cooking!

RDP #13 – SMORGASBORD – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP #13 – Smörgåsbord

Finally, I can spell it! This is one of those words that has permanently escaped the grasp of my spelling.

I don’t have much to say about it, especially since the places that used to serve it seem to have disappeared. These days, we have “buffets,” also known as a huge table full of food, much of which I don’t like.

So I will pass on what my father said about “smorgasbord.”


Go for the expensive food first. They always put the cheap, filling food — potatoes and rice and such — at the beginning. By the time you get to the good food at the end of the table — where they have the shrimp and roast beef — you are already full. Eat the good stuff first.


I always go for the good stuff first. Just as well. I fill up really fast!

PLACATING THE FURRY PEOPLE – Marilyn Armstrong

Placating the furry friends

They want food. It doesn’t matter if they are hungry. It doesn’t matter if they consumed an entire meal a minute and a half before. They figure if we are in or even near (which is to say, on our feet and moving) the kitchen, they want something. Anything. Literally anything — except pickles. It’s the only food they won’t eat, even on a bet.  Note to self: Buy more pickles.

Boinnie

Why? It’s probably our fault. They are absolutely sure that any movement on our part indicates a treat in the works. It can be a big treat — “That leftover half sandwich would work for me,” says The Duke — or a little crunchy, tasteless thing from a big jar of little crunchy tasteless things.

Recently on Amazon, I found a version of tasteless crunchies from Milkbone that declare them to be “the guilt-free” treat for over-treaters.

I think we are probably over-treaters. We are easily guilted. A stern look from eager dogs makes us sad. We feel, after all, that can get anything we want from the fridge or cupboard, but our poor pathetic (beefy, overweight) dogs depend on us.

Gibbs

So as soon as we finish up the approximately 20 pounds of stuff already bought and in closets, I’m going for the guilt-free stuff. Really, they are only big boxes of very small biscuits and we probably will wind up giving them two or three of them, even though I know for a fact that it’s the idea that counts with dogs. They really don’t notice if it’s a big lumpy thing or a tiny little thing. It’s all about the concept.

Duke

I had never realized how much guilt dogs could stir in a human heart. I think I had the same problem with cats if I remember correctly.

I have toughed it out with the plants, though. I do not water them no matter how much I want to.  At least plants don’t bark or meow at me if I don’t water them.

They merely wilt. Frankly, I find that difficult enough.

AN INKLING OF GREAT DINING — ELSEWHERE

If you are looking for a great meal and a fantastic place to eat it, the Blackstone Valley isn’t IT.

We can find a few diners that are good and at least one interesting hot dog joint in Worcester … but otherwise? Let me give you a hint — an inkling — of great dining you won’t find here. Or anywhere in the area, including Boston.

Rich’s post today on his home blog brought me waves of nostalgia about food in Jerusalem. When I first moved there, I was lost. I couldn’t cook because I didn’t recognize the packaging and things were usually just a little different that they had been back in the States. Eventually, I worked it out and became a better cook than I’d been at home because I no long relied on prepackaged ingredients. I learned to make everything “from scratch.”

When I first got to Israel, I didn’t even know what good food meant. Eventually I discovered a million tiny restaurants tucked into neighborhoods all over the city, all with the name “Mother” in title.

Sure enough, Mom was the head cook. She had a few daughters and maybe a niece or two working their way up — as well as half a dozen sons and nephews handling the serving, busing, management, shopping … and cleaning. Restaurants — the good ones — were family affairs and ALL of them were good.

Dishes were some version of Middle Eastern Jewish — meaning no pork or dairy in it, but that was no problem. Muslims don’t eat pork either and dairy isn’t generally a part of dinner anyway.

The absolutely best food EVER was served by friends and neighbors on Shabbat.  Our Moroccan neighbors with whom Owen played could cook. I don’t know if every family were quite as brilliant as those neighbors on Hebron Road, but … OH my LORD.

Owen got to eat out pretty much every Friday night. His friends mothers loved him. “Look at that tall skinny kid — doesn’t anybody FEED HIM?” They could feed him to death and he’d roll home and tell us about it. I’d drool.

Middle eastern food is labor intensive to a degree that is hard to explain. It takes days to make all those little chopped up dishes that are wrapped in couscous or grape leaves or some light yet delightfully crunchy cover. Served plain — with a sauce — or as part of a soup.

We called those skinny roll-ups in thin filo dough “cigarettes” which they resembled in form, but too delicious to describe.

Everything was chopped, seasoned, sometimes cooked, sometimes semi-raw or entirely raw, and  wrapped. Then there were the sauces ranging from red (hot) to green (blow your head off hot). Owen learned to love ALL of it. I never quite made it to the green stuff, but I loved the red sauce.

It’s a very short hop to vegetarian or Vegan cooking, too. Meat isn’t the big issue in any of these dishes. In these native lands, meat was in short supply, which is why is was shredded and chopped. A single chicken could serve a lot of people that way.

There were some other foods, too. Israel adopted a bunch of Vietnam boat people who had nowhere else to go, so they took over opening oriental restaurants. Some were pretty good, some not so great, but at least it was different.

Italian was popular:  Kosher which meant meatless because the cheese was more important than the meat — or non Kosher. But it wasn’t as good as Italian restaurants in New York. Then again, few Italian restaurants are as good as they were in NY, unless you went to Italy where my mother assured me you would find the BEST food in the world. She used to diet in advance of traveling to Italy because she always came back 10 pounds heavier.

In Israel, though, the  great food was “tribally” local. Moroccan, Tunisian, Syrian, Persian, Algerian and sometimes Kenyan or generally Arabian — everything was GREAT. Also expensive. Eating out was surprisingly expensive, so getting an invitation from a neighbor was like getting invited to the best restaurant in town. Better, really.

I miss the food. I can make just about the best humus you’ve ever eaten, but the rest of it the food requires mother and three well-trained daughters — and about a week to prepare it. You don’t see that around here. Maybe in other cities, but not in New England.

We settle for good Japanese food. Sushi and tempura and anything that comes in rolls. But so far, not very good Chinese. There were some wonderful Chinese restaurants in Boston, but not out here.

That both Garry and I have eaten some amazing food in amazing places probably explains why we find most of the local eateries uninspiring, to say the least. Other than a couple of Japanese places, we haven’t found anywhere worth the price. Food is bland and the preparation is uninspiring. As for Italian, try mine. Much better. For that matter, try my son’s. His is much better, too. We do not live in great dining out territory.

I’m told there are good Indian places in Worcester and in Providence, but we don’t like a lot of traveling for dinner. I don’t mind going, but when we’re full of food, we don’t want a long trip home.

Retirement, you know?