Clam Chowder

Memorial Day is fast approaching – the sunny holiday which ushers in the summer season, lots of grilling, time at the seashore, and – for me – clam chowder. Blame it on my New England roots, but slurping down a bowl of steaming hot, buttery rich chowder is right up there with building sand castles and smearing on sunscreen when I think of summer. Chowders are actually quite easy to make, a simple concoction of milk and cream, potatoes, and clams. If you are not feeling the clams, you can add firm fleshed fish such as salmon and halibut and call it a fish chowder. The key is to get a smoky base to the soup with bacon (or in fish chowders, I’ll add warm-smoked salmon), and a little thickness with a roux (which is simply a little flour mixed into the fat from the bacon) and have fun with your vegetables. Potatoes and onion are standard, and I often add leeks or mild root vegetables, such as celery root, or even spinach. When you are selecting clams be sure to choose the smallest you can get your hands on, such as little necks, middle necks, or, if you are on the U.S. west coast, manila clams.

Clam Chowder
Serves 4

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock, divided
1/2 pound small fingerling potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch coins
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
12 manila or middle neck clams or 24 little neck clams
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the bacon in the oil in a large pot over medium heat until the fat is nearly rendered. Add the onion and leek and sauté until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the pot, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until very lightly colored, stirring constantly. Whisk in 1 cup of the stock, stirring to blend the flour. Add the remaining stock, the potatoes, milk, cream, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the clams, partially cover the pot and simmer over medium heat until the clams open, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any unopened clam shells. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot garnished with fresh thyme.

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup – Easy Pho

Chicken Pho TasteFood

Are you a fan of Pho? If you’ve never had it, Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It consists of a mountain of slurp-worthy rice noodles swimming in a rich and aromatic broth fortified with proteins such as chicken, beef, or tofu. The bonus is the garnishes – a cornucopia of fresh herbs, chiles, lime, and sprouts to scatter over the top, with squirts of hot sauce and hoisin for good measure. Pho is intoxicatingly good, highly addictive, and a perfect remedy to fight a cold or simply satisfy a craving for Asian spice and heat. Once you taste it, you’re likely hooked.

The key to an authentic pho lies in its broth, a time consuming affair best left to the weekend when you have the freedom to fill your home with exotic aromas, while a whole chicken or beef bones slowly cook, and the stock reduces to a flavorful soul-satisfying intensity. The challenge – as cravings go – is that sometimes you just want pho – now – when it’s not a weekend, when it’s an hour before dinner on a busy weeknight, when you’ve just arrived home, only leftovers are in the fridge – and the nearest Vietnamese takeaway is in the next county.

Here is a solution – an inauthentic version I call easy pho, or, more cutely, faux pho. Instead of making the stock from scratch, I use a good quality store-bought stock and embellish it with aromatics. It saves a lot of time, and is a perfect quick fix for a simple, healthy, and crave-satiating weeknight dinner.

Easy Pho – Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

This recipe is especially easy to make when you have  leftover chicken in the fridge, otherwise you can pick up a rotisserie chicken from the store, or quickly poach a couple of chicken breasts. Serves 4>

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 (2-inch) knob of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
6 cloves
2 star anise
1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1 pound cooked chicken meat, shredded
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Garnishes:
Sliced red or green jalapeño chiles
Mung bean sprouts
Fresh mint or Thai basil sprigs
Lime wedges
Sriracha and Hoisin sauce

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and sauté until fragrant and the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, fish sauce, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. While the soup is simmering, cook and drain the noodles according to package directions.
3. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Add the chicken to the soup and simmer over medium-low until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more fish sauce, sugar or salt to taste.
4. Divide the noodles between large serving bowls. Sprinkle an even amount of scallions and cilantro over the noodles. Ladle the soup into the bowls.  Serve with the garnishes.

Hearty Chili with Bison, Black Beans, and Barley

bison chili tastefood

This is a chili template. You can follow it and substitute your favorite meat or even make a vegetarian version by skipping the meat step. In this chili I went all in, combining bison, black beans, and barley. If you haven’t tried bison I encourage you to try it. Bison is leaner, lower in cholesterol, and more rich in protein and Omega 3’s than beef. Other proteins such as beef chuck, pork, chicken or turkey can be substituted. If you prefer a vegetarian option, you can double up on the beans instead. Then there is the barley – I had a bag of gorgeous purple heritage barley from the farmers market I couldn’t resist adding to the stew. It adds heft and extra nutrients to this already hearty stew. You can omit the grains and add more beans. You get the idea!

Bison, Black Bean and Barley Chili
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds bison meat, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 cup pre-cooked barley (I used purple heritage)

Garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

Coconut Chicken and Vegetable Curry

coconut curry tastefood

Move over turkey. It’s time for a holiday dinner time-out. This easy curry is a one-pot wonder – warming and spiced, creamy and filling, and simply prepared in 30 minutes. It’s perfect fare for a cold winter day and a welcome dinner option following an afternoon of cookie-baking.

Coconut Chicken Vegetable Curry

The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility. Feel free to switch up the vegetables to your taste. Chicken thighs may also be used in place of the breast meat – just adjust the cooking time accordingly. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, sliced
1 poblano pepper, seeded and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
1/2 bunch lacinato kale, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 red jalapeño pepper, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide pot or deep skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot in one layer without overcrowding. Cook until the chicken colors on all sides, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside on a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot, then add the onion and carrot and saute until the carrot brightens in color and the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the poblano and saute 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, to coat the vegetables and lightly toast the spice. Pour in the tomatoes and coconut milk and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Return the chicken to the pot and stir in the kale. Continue to simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes.
4. Serve the curry in bowls with basmati rice. Garnish with the jalapeño slices and fresh cilantro.

Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

chipotle short ribs tastefood

I won’t lie: These ribs take two days to make. Now, before you click away from this page, just hear me out. I promise that if you make these ribs, you will be a very happy cook. Your family will be eternally grateful. Your guests will be impressed. And you will be rewarded with a deeply flavorful, warmly spiced, tender and rich braise. The only people who might not be pleased will be your neighbors, because they will have to live through a day of incredible aromas wafting from your kitchen window, knowing full well they are not coming to dinner.

Now if that is not enticing enough, here is some more good news: While it takes two days to make these ribs, most of the time you will have little to do in the food prep department, because the ribs will take care of themselves, braising in the oven or sitting in the refrigerator. You will  be actively involved in the beginning, when you brown the meat (a very important step which will make you feel useful), then when you reduce the sauce (which technically your stove will do for you), and then finishing the braise for serving. Your most difficult task will be…waiting. All of the time invested is for good reason: to tenderize the beef to a supple version of itself, and to infuse the meat and sauce with knock-your-socks off flavor. So go ahead and give it a try. Start on a Friday and eat it over the weekend. And feel free to double the amount so you can freeze extras for another day or have a party – it might be a good time to invite the neighbors.

Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

If you have the time (and patience) rub the short ribs with the spices the  night before browning to develop the flavor. The chipotles in adobo will add a nice kick of heat to the braise. Serves 4 to 6.

Dry rub:
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 pounds short ribs, cut into 3-inch pieces

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (750 ml) bottle heavy-bodied red wine
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, chopped with juices
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef stock (or chicken stock)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rub the meat:
Combine the dry rub spices in a small bowl. Arrange the ribs on a rimmed baking tray. Rub the spices all over the ribs. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour (or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.) Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before browning.

Braise:
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches without crowding the pan, brown the ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes. (This step is very important, so take the time to do it well). Transfer to a plate or bowl and repeat with the remaining ribs.

Drain off the fat from the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, carrot, and garlic. Saute the vegetables over medium heat, stirring up any brown bits in the pan, until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, paprika, and coriander and cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste and stir to create a nice slurry. Add the wine, chipotles, and bay leaf and return the ribs and any collected juices to the pot. Pour in the beef stock. If the ribs are not completely covered with the liquid, add more stock or wine to top off the ribs. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven and slow cook until the ribs are very tender, about 3 hours, stirring every hour or so.

Refrigerate:
Remove the pot from the oven. Uncover and let the braise cool slightly. At this point you can remove the bones and cut away any gristle from the ribs or proceed with the bones intact – it’s up to you and how you like to serve the ribs. Cover the pot and refrigerate overnight. (This step is helpful because it will allow the fat to congeal on the top of the stew, which will be easily removed before proceeding. It also allows the flavors to develop overnight.)

Reduce:
At least 1 hour before serving, remove the pot from the refrigerator and lift off the layer of fat on the surface of the stew. Gently reheat the braise over medium-low heat until the stock is liquid enough to remove the ribs. Carefully remove the ribs from the sauce and arrange in a baking dish.

Strain the sauce through a strainer, pressing down on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible, and transfer the sauce to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce is reduced by about half and has a thickened to a rich sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over and around the beef. The beef should not be entirely submerged; if you have extra sauce, reserve for serving. Cover the dish with foil. (The beef may be prepared up to 3 hours in advance of serving to this point. Keep refrigerated until finishing.)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the short ribs in the oven and cook until thoroughly heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve with mashed root vegetables or mashed potatoes.

 

In Praise of Lentils and a recipe for Soup

Lentil Soups tastefood

Why do I overlook lentils? These humble legumes resembling tiny pancaked pebbles are often bypassed in my pantry, as I reach for rice, farro, couscous. When I finally do cook with lentils, I remember how good they taste, how satisfying they are to eat, and how easy they are to prepare. Imminently flexible, they can stand in for a grain, starch, even a protein. They are healthy too – rich in nutrients, high in protein, iron, and fiber, arguably placing them neck and neck with other lauded superstar foods in the nutrition department. They cook quickly and without any fuss, gamely absorbing the flavors and seasoning from their fellow ingredients and braising liquids, adding a hearty, earthy, and rich base to soups, stews, side dishes, even salads. Really, I must eat more lentils – and you should too.

Lentil Soup

This soup is simple, to the point, and deservedly all about the lentil.

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted through
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Madeira or Port wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and sauté until the carrots begin to soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, lentils, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (The soup should be somewhat thick. If desired, thin the soup to your preferred consistency by adding additional chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time.) Stir in the sugar, wine, vinegar, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning. Simmer the soup, partially covered, over low heat to thoroughly heat through and meld the flavors, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with the parsley.  Serve hot.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

green garlic veg soup

In this in-between time of winter and spring, a chicken vegetable soup is appropriately light and soothing. In this recipe, the comfort of chicken stock is enriched with carrots, fennel, and green garlic.  Green garlic is unique to spring. Resembling a thick scallion, the green stalk and bulb of young garlic is harvested before the plant matures and the bulb divides into cloves. In its raw state green garlic has a pungent aroma, yet when cooked it grows tame, providing a mild, sweet and herbaceous backdrop to the chicken stock.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped green garlic, white and pale green parts
Salt
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, fronds trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup orzo
2 heaping teaspoons fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the green garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until the garlic softens and its aroma loses its pungency, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and fennel and continue to sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the vegetables begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, orzo, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, until the orzo is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Stir in the chicken and parsley and continue to cook until the chicken is warmed through.