September 21, 2010

Corn and Zucchini Chowder with Ham and Fresh Thyme

Filed under: Soups — Tags: , — by Carla


It’s already beginning. That subtle yet noticeable change is in the air. Summer is waning and fall is moving in to take its place. By about this time I’ve usually grown bored with summer meals of cookouts and salads. I actually look forward to fall because now is the time to start thinking about making soup.

Aren’t you excited to unpack the sweaters, light the fire pits and cook up food that warms from the inside out?  My favorite early fall soup is not only hearty but it makes the most of the last gasp of the corn and zucchini season. Though corn can be a little starchy this time of year for eating off the cob, those starches and sugars add up to a delicious bowl of chowder rich with milk and cream, chunks of green zucchini and potatoes, fresh thyme from the herb patch and pink cubes of salty, smoky ham. The finishing touch is a whisper of spicy cayenne over the top of each serving. You’re going to love it. Especially with a nice loaf of crusty ciabatta bread and a glass of chilled Riesling.

To make this chowder even more luscious, I like to smash it up a little bit once it’s cooked to make it thicker and creamier. To accomplish this task I employ one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, the immersion blender. I love this little device because I can stick one end of it into the pot on the stove and pulse it a few times to just blend the soup enough to give it the texture I’m looking for…still chunky but definitely thicker. It’s a cool tool to have if you make a lot of soup and much easier than blending a portion of the soup in a processor. For a lower tech version you can also mash it up a bit with a potato masher. It isn’t quite as much fun, but it gets the job done.


It seems like such a long time ago that Meredith and I were in the trenches writing 300 Sensational Soups, our fourth book in so many years. That was a lot of soup to cook, but one of the most healthy and satisfactory of meal times for our families. No, we didn’t lose weight (it could have been the great bread and dipping oils that accompanied most of these meals) but our families were undeniably happily fed. One of the best things about a pot of soup is the leftovers which  freeze up for a no hassle future meal. My dinner challenged adult children used to love raiding the freezer whenever they’d stop by. It even became a little competitive (Soup Wars), but that’s another story.  So, go on and say good-bye to summer by making a pot of this heavenly chowder which is apparently worth fighting over.

Kitchen Counter Point: To make this soup even cornier (and what could be bad about that?), I like to add the de-kerneled naked cobs to the soup while it cooks. It is amazing how much corn essence ekes out of the cobs after a short cook. Plus, you can pat yourself on the back for extracting extra flavor from something that most cooks would have just tossed in the compost heap.

Serves 6

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 grinds of pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ears corn, husked and corn cut from the cobs, reserving cobs
2 large zucchini, cut into 1-inch dice
1 large potato, cut into 1-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups cooked ham, diced
1 cup half-and-half or more if desired
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more for sprinkling
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon sherry or rice vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat and melt the butter. When the butter is hot, add the onion, salt and pepper and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes or until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the corn, zucchini, potato, thyme and parsley and cook for another 3 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the chicken stock, ham and corn cobs and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the soup, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs and discard them.

Pulse the soup with an immersion blender or pulse 1/3 of the soup in a blender or food processor and return it to the pot. You can also just mash the soup in the pot a few times with a potato masher to thicken it up.

Add the half-and-half, cayenne, nutmeg and vinegar and reheat over medium heat if necessary. Avoid boiling as the cream will curdle. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if desired. Ladle into heated bowls and garnish with a dusting of cayenne pepper on top if you like a little more bite to your chowder.

Variation: This chowder recipe just begs to be messed with, so if you have some sausage lying around, go ahead and substitute it for the ham. Just cook it up with the  onions. Likewise with the herbs. Chives, oregano and basil all work with the corn and I wouldn’t mind a little red bell pepper sautéed up with the onions for a little color. The point is to use what is freshest at the market or what you have in the fridge that needs to be used up.

March 23, 2010

Fiery Thai Beef Salad

Filed under: Salads, Stews, Uncategorized — by Meredith


I pride myself on being a hardy soul. Someone that never gets the winter blues. But I have to admit, with the sun shining and warm weather on the way, I’m happier than usual that Spring has sprung. This is the time of year I’m ready to put away my beloved, hard working Le Creuset and fire up the grill, even if my neighbors think I’m crazy. Apparently they don’t find 40 degrees to be short sleeve weather. It is to me though. Especially after months of 20 degrees and lower. This is exactly the time when I need to heat up from the inside out with something bright and fresh like this Fiery Thai Beef Salad.

They say that the heat from chiles, or capsaicin, prompts the release of endorphins, those “feel good” opiates naturally released in the body. If that’s true then my, oh my, does this salad feel good!

Light and refreshing, flank steak is nestled with lemongrass and mint on a bed of romaine and drizzled with a lime-chile vinaigrette. If you’re a chilehead, this is the dish for you and feel free to add as many chiles as you dare. This is the perfect dish for those trying to cut back on fat, because the steak is lean and the dressing is fat free.

0141Kitchen Counter Point: When working with fresh lemongrass it’s important to use the tender part of the inner stalk. When you trim the root end, you should be able to see rings. If you still see a woody center, you’re not far enough up the stalk. Once you trim the root end, you should have about 4 inches of tender stalk before you get to the tough section towards the end.

Fiery Thai Beef Salad

Serves 4

1 pound lean flank steak
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cilantro plus additional for garnish
2-4 Thai bird or Serrano chilies
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1-1/2 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/3 cup lime juice
6 cups romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
16 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 stalk lemon grass, tough outer leaves removed, finely chopped (see tip)
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Season the steak with salt and pepper. Prepare grill or broiler. Place steak on grill rack or broiler pan and cook 5 minutes on each side or until the meat is a medium rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine cilantro, chilies, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice in a blender. Blend until smooth.

Cut steak thinly across grain.

Mound the lettuce in the middle of a serving tray. Drape the beef slices on top of the lettuce and surround with the tomatoes, lemongrass, onion and mint. Drizzle with the dressing and garnish with additional cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

January 23, 2010

Short Rib Chile with Ancho, Chipotle and Creamy Polenta

Filed under: Stews — by Carla

shrot-rib-chile_0551Last weekend my daughter, Jessica, asked me if I had any ideas for a new version of chile. A group of friends were going to hold a chile cook-off and she wanted to bring something to the party that was a little out of the box, but still satisfying in that chile, spicy sort of way. We figured, who doesn’t love short ribs? So after tossing some ideas around, we built a chile recipe using luscious short ribs instead of ground meat. After a good slow cook, the bones give up lots of gelatin for a rich and velvety sauce and the meat is melt in your mouth tender and moist. For the chile quotient, we decided to boost the flavor of store bought chile powder with freshly ground ancho and chipotle peppers, cumin, coriander, paprika, clove and cinnamon. The out of the box part of the recipe is canning the beans (no pun intended) and serving this cold weather staple with creamy polenta. Polenta is an intuitive partner since south of border dishes prominently feature corn. The end result is a smokey, rich and spicy stew with origins to the chile we all grew up with, but with oh, so much more sophistication. If the chile as usual compares to a comfy pair of old jeans, an icy cold beer and a football game, this new version is a cozy cashmere robe, a glass of pinot noir and Philadelphia Story…a still comfy classic which definitely has its place.

short-rib-chile_0561Kitchen Counter Point: It is a good idea to begin making this chile a day or more ahead. It takes a good 3 hours to cook the short ribs to the falling off the bone stage and an overnight in the frig allows the flavors to mellow and balance. I love to serve dishes like this for company or even a busy weekend family dinner because I can focus on the many other facets of hosting or visiting with friends and family instead of slaving to pull dinner together.  If, like my daughter, you’re transporting this dish to someone else’s house for a party and don’t want to stand over the stove for 15 minutes,  turn the polenta into polenta cakes. Just cook the polenta a little longer than the recipe directs and pour it into a buttered 8-inch square pan. Let it cool and firm up then chill. Cut it into 6 squares and brown the polenta cakes in a few tablespoons of butter. Transfer the cakes to a sheet pan and keep at room temperature for a few hours or refrigerate overnight and just reheat in a 350ºF oven when you get to the party. Their crispy outsides and creamy interiors will be sure to sway even the most ardent traditional chile fan.

Serves 6

4 dried ancho chiles, about 2 ounces, seeded, ribbed and torn into pieces (see tip)
1 cup boiling water
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo (see tip)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 15-oz can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes (see tip)
4 slices bacon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lbs beef short ribs
2 medium onions or 1 large
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
12 oz pale ale or beer
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced

Creamy polenta (recipe follows)

In a medium bowl, soak the ancho chiles in the cup of boiling water for 20 minutes or until softened. Weight the chiles down with a small saucer if the water doesn’t cover.

In a blender jar, add the ancho chiles and liquid, chipotle, tomato paste, honey and balsamic vinegar. Blend until smooth. Add the can of diced tomatoes and reserve.

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon until it has rendered its fat and is crispy. Remove the bacon and transfer to a plate.

Pat the short ribs dry and salt and pepper them.  Saute half of them in the bacon fat over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, about 9 minutes. Transfer to a plate and brown the second batch and transfering them to the plate as well . Turn the heat down if the bottom of the pan begins to over brown or turn black.

Pour off all but a few tablespoons of the remaining fat and sauté the onion, red pepper and garlic until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the chile powder, cumin, salt, coriander, paprika, pepper, clove and cinnamon and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the chile-tomato mixture and cook for 2 minutes or until it simmers. Add the beer and short ribs and bring back to a simmer again. Cover, reduce the heat and cook at a low simmer for 3 hours or until the ribs are tender and falling off the bone.

When the ribs are done cooking, remove the meat from the braising liquid, cool and tear it into shreds. Discard the bones.

Degrease the sauce in the pan with a large spoon and discard it (there will be lots of grease floating on top). Bring the sauce up to a simmer and cook it for about 5 minutes or until it reduces somewhat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, pepper, balsamic, chipotle or honey. Return the meat to the pan and reheat. Serve the chile over creamy polenta and garnish with the cilantro and reserved bacon, crumbled.

Creamy Polenta

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil over medium heat. Whisk in the cornmeal in a steady stream and continue to whisk for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat and stir with a wooden spoon every now and then until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and pepper and adjust the seasoning to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Tip: Ancho chiles are dried poblano chiles. They are brownish-black and wrinkled (see photo) and should be pliable and leathery. They’re mild to medium-hot and provide a sweet chile flavor to adobo sauce, enchilada sauce and commercial chile powders. The chipotle is a smoked jalapeno which has a medium heat. They can be found dried or canned and packed in adobo which is a spicy, vinegary tomato based sauce in the Mexican section (freeze the remaining peppers to use at another time). Ro-Tel is a diced tomato product with green chiles which you might find in the Mexican section as well. If you can’t locate it, just substitute a similar sized can of Mexican-style diced tomatoes.

November 11, 2009

Sweet Potato Chowder with Browned Butter and Crispy Sage

Filed under: Soups — by Carla


 As a chilly November rain fell yesterday, I decided it was a good day to stay home and  forage for ingredients “in house” for our supper. While rummaging around in the potato/onion bin in the garage, I found a few home grown sweet and white potatoes a friend had dropped off. I’d also just been poking around at the sage in my herb patch, wondering if I would be able to use it up before the big winter frost. And that, my friends, is how we came to dine on sweet potato chowder with browned butter and crispy sage leaves. The freshly dug potatoes were so velvety smooth and sweet.  It wasn’t much work  to make the soup taste fabulous.  As for the fresh sage, herbalist and chef Jerry Traunfeld of the Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington thinks that it has a much better flavor if cooked first in a fat before added to a dish and I heartily agree. I just adore sage when it is fried in a little butter (or a lot) and it makes for a lovely garnish as well. But, what to do with the remaining sage flavored browned butter? So simple yet delicious, it would be a crime not to just drizzle it over this plush chowder.

Kitchen Counter Point: One of the basic skills taught in cooking school is how to season soups and sauces. The usual suspects such as kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper play a large role, but soup can go from good to sublime with the addition of a touch of nutmeg, cayenne, acid and fat. I keep a whole nutmeg and a grater close to the stove so that I can grate it fresh. It adds spice and a warm nutty note which makes a huge difference in soups that contain dairy or greens. A touch of cayenne, not so much that you make the dish hot, but just a dash, will add interest. The acid can be in the form of lemon juice, sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, wine, etc. It doesn’t take a lot, just a teaspoon or so, but the acid helps to elevate or bring up the flavors. Notice in this recipe that I’ve used a bit of sherry (acid) and reduced it early in the recipe and then added some lemon juice (acid) at the end. Fat helps to carry flavors, so when making a vegetable soup I often add a touch of heavy cream, butter or olive oil at the end just to make the flavor of the basic ingredients sing. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, acid and fat one ingredient at a time and taste with each addition. It’s a good way to teach your palate to taste and you will be amazed by the increased depth of flavor in your dishes.


Serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
18 sage leaves, 10 thinly sliced and 8 left whole
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry sherry
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock or a blend of the two
2 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the sliced sage leaves and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the sherry to the pan and cook until it has reduced somewhat, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, potatoes and salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Transfer about 2 cups of the potato to a bowl, mash it and return it to the soup to thicken it. Season the soup with the lemon juice, cayenne, nutmeg and pepper. Add the heavy cream. Taste again and adjust the seasoning with more salt, pepper, nutmeg or cayenne pepper.

Just before serving, heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter sizzles, add the sage leaves and cook them in the butter on both sides until crispy and browned, about 1 minute. Transfer the sage leaves to a paper towel lined plate and pour off the browned butter into a heatproof bowl (so that it doesn’t over brown).

Ladle the soup into heated bowls and top each with a drizzle of the sage butter and two fried sage leaves.


September 16, 2009

Chilled Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto Swirl

Filed under: Soups — Tags: — by Meredith


With food, as is true with most things, timing is everything. Now that summer is waning and fall is whispering in our ears, there is no better time to enjoy tomatoes in all their glory and no better way to do it than with a bowl of this deeply flavorful soup. Think of this as a slightly sweeter, more intense version of a gazpacho which is made with uncooked tomatoes. The roasted tomatoes, along with the garlic, rosemary and thyme give this soup a big bold flavor that holds up well when chilled and a colorful swirl of pesto adds a lovely bright note right at the end.

Serves 6

3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon (or more) dried crushed red pepper
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
1/4 cup pesto store-bought or your favorite recipe

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Transfer tomatoes and any accumulated juices to processor. Pulse until slightly chunky.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, rosemary, thyme and dried crushed red pepper. Add chicken stock; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until soup thickens slightly, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes to allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Taste again to adjust seasonings if necessary.

Ladle the soup into chilled serving bowls. Top with a spoonful of pesto and gently swirl into the soup with the tip of a knife (or a soup spoon). Serve cold.
Make-ahead: This soup can be made 2 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. Garnish right before serving.

March 17, 2009

Rich Lobster and Roasted Corn Chowder

Filed under: Soups — by Meredith

Rich Lobster and Corn Chowder

Decadent is the best word to describe this luxurious chowder. Fresh lobster is paired with sweet and toasty roasted corn for a unique and memorable taste sensation.Serves 6

3 cups fresh or frozen yellow corn kernels
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
4 bacon slices, chopped
2 cups chopped onions
Pinch cayenne pepper
1lb red-skinned potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces
2 8 oz. (250 g) bottle clam juice, plus 3 cups chicken broth
5 cups fish stock
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1-lb cooked lobster tails, meat removed and cut into bite-sized chunks
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Pour the corn kernels onto a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Stir the corn and redistribute into an even layer. Continue to roast for another 10-15 minutes or until the corn is lightly, but evenly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

Sauté bacon in large pot over medium heat until brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon with slotted spoon to paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from pot. Add onions and sauté until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the cayenne; and continue to cook for another minute. Add potatoes, clam juice, broth and remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in corn and whipping cream and continue to simmer 5 minutes.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add lobster; sauté until heated through, about 1 minute.

Ladle soup into heated serving bowls. Pile some of the lobster onto each serving and garnish with the bacon and chives.

Easy Chipotle Chicken Soup

Filed under: Soups — by Meredith

Chipotle Chicken Soup

Perfect for a busy weeknight, this fast and easy soup will warm you up in less than 20 minutes. We use store-bought rotisserie chicken and tortilla chips when time is short and tummies are growling. Chipotle chiles are jalapeños that have been smoked and then drenched in a tomatoey sauce. Look for them in a small can on the Mexican aisle at the grocery store. Freeze the leftover chipotles in an ice cube tray and then transfer to a freezer bag to use the next time (and there will be a next time) you want to spice up your taste buds.Serves 6

6 cups chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1-2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 15 oz (425 g) can garbanzo beans, drained
3 cups chicken, shredded into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
Crispy Tortilla Strips
1 lime cut into wedges

Combine the chicken stock, garlic, chiles and pepper in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Add the garbanzo beans and chicken and season if necessary with salt.
Divide among 6 soup bowls. Garnish with the cilantro, avocado and crispy tortilla strips and serve hot with wedges of lime on the side.