September 21, 2010

Corn and Zucchini Chowder with Ham and Fresh Thyme

Filed under: Soups — Tags: , — by Carla

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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.

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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.

April 15, 2010

Chocolate Orange Shortbreads

Filed under: Cookies, Uncategorized — Tags: — by Meredith

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One of life’s little luxuries I enjoy the most is afternoon tea. There’s almost nothing better and it’s possibly the best part of being able to work at home. I might eat lunch on the run or at my desk, but I always make a concerted effort to sit down in the afternoon, when the house is quiet, before the kids come home, and have a cup of tea. And of course, what is a cup of tea without a cookie. And really, what is a cookie if it’s not chocolate.

This Chocolate Orange Shortbread, from The Mixer Bible, Second Edition is one I often turn to when I’m looking for a culinary Calgon moment. It’s rich, buttery goodness is ever so slightly cut by a bright note of orange, and the dough comes together so easily. For this recipe, we are making it in a mixer, but it could just as easily be done in a food processor or even by hand.

chocolate-shortbread-0121 Kitchen Counter Point- Although these cookies are great rolled out and cut into rounds, for a different twist, I also like to roll out the dough slightly and then press it into a small (I use a 7-1/2 inch), fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. It takes about 20 minutes to cook and I cut the cookies into wedges with a serrated knife when they are still slightly warm. You will need two tart pans for this recipe, or just keep one half of the dough chilled while the other is baking and then repeat the process. Make sure to thoroughly cool down your pan though before pressing the second batch of dough in. You don’t want to melt it before it gets in the oven.
Chocolate Orange Shortbreads

Makes 2 dozen cookies
1-1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp orange zest, finely grated
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 oz bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Position racks in top third and bottom third of oven and. Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Set aside.

In the mixer bowl, using the paddle, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Stop to scrape bowl down. Add in the orange zest and reduce the speed to low. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and beat until well blended. Gather the dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4-inch. Cut into 2-inch circles and place 1-1/2-inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake shortbread for 5 minutes. Reverse sheets. Bake until shortbread looks dry and feels firm to touch, about 5 minutes longer. Cool on sheets for 1 minute. Remove to racks and cool completely.
Place the bittersweet chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Fit a pastry bag with 1/8-inch plain tips; spoon chocolate into the bag. Or, spoon chocolate into a small plastic bag (cut off 1 tip from each bag). Pipe chocolate
decoratively over cookies. Let stand until chocolate sets, about 1 hour. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight in single layers between sheets of waxed paper.)