Craving Warmth – Shrimp and Corn Chowder

January 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

It truly pains me to admit this but I have finally, maybe, still-fighting it, come to the realization that perhaps I’ll never move to a winter climate again. I spent the better years of my childhood in Chicago and have envisioned moving back there for years – living in a condo, walking everywhere, enjoying the many cultural attributes of the city, not to mention unbelievable food options. But alas, sometimes we must grow up and realize what we are and are not willing to do. After several trips this year to Washington DC, Detroit, Philadelphia, and yes, even Chicago, I come back home each time more and more relieved to return to my comfortable 60 degree weather.

Last week that wasn’t the case though – there were no 60 degrees to be had even in Florida – I returned home from a frigid Detroit where just 5 minutes standing in the snow storm waiting for a shuttle bus had left me slightly frozen for the better half of the week. Walking to my car back home at the Orlando airport, I expected to find myself able to remove my jacket – but no, I was met with a windy 40 degrees that encouraged me to leave it on. (I do realize that my friends living anywhere North of Orlando right now are probably calling me a big wimp if they are reading this – but it is what it is – apparently I’m quite wimpy when it comes to weather.)

All week I had a need to fill my body with a warm and satisfying something – something that would fill my stomach with warmth and spread to every last centimeter of my body – no fingers or toes to be left behind. Actually, this need started even before I’d left for Detroit and I attempted to make a lentil soup for the very first time on a cold Sunday evening. I’d been inspired by reading an incredible article on a spicy, thick lentil soup by Molly Wizenberg in Bon Appetit. In the end, the soup turned out ok – definitely hearty – but missed the mark and left me craving something comforting all week. So Friday night, I just couldn’t take it, enough was enough – I was determined to make a delicious soup that would do the trick. As I wandered through the supermarket looking for inspiration, I remembered a chowder my mom makes with crab and shrimp. I used to make a vegetarian version all the time but for one reason or another, hadn’t made it in some time. Seeing that shrimp was on sale, I figured it would be as good a time as any to give it another go and see if it could cure me of my need for warmth. It had probably been 2 years since I made this soup – thus, I was working from memory on how I actually used to make it but it turned out just as comforting and delicious as I remembered!

As I said, I’ve made this soup many times vegetarian without any seafood and its simply delicious. If you do like shrimp, it adds just a hint of sweetness and substance to the dish. This soup offers amazing depth of flavor – the slight spice of the bell peppers, sweet carrots, hearty potatoes, plump shrimp, and just a touch of cream – all make it truly luxurious. This soup is actually quite simple, really, and could easily be made on a cold weeknight. As with all soups like this, no hard-fast recipe is needed, just estimate as you go and feel free to experiment.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large stockpot. Meanwhile dice the potatoes into bite size pieces – you want to use a delicate skinned potato so you don’t have to peel them. Add the potatoes to the boiling chicken broth and reduce to medium heat.

Dice the onion, celery, and carrots. I slit the celery down the center and then dice and I just dice the carrot whole so I have pretty little orange circles. Add these veggies to a sauté pan over medium heat with enough olive oil to lightly coat, minced garlic, some salt and pepper, and sauté. Dice ½ a red and ½ a yellow pepper and add to the pan once the onions have become soft. You could add the vegetables right to the potatoes after chopping and skip this step for an easier recipe but I find sautéing them gives the best flavor.

Add all the veggies to the potatoes and allow to cook a few minutes and for the flavors to incorporate. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it reaches your desired texture. I like it to be about half blended so I see some flecks of color from the diced veggies. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can spoon out the desired amount and blend in a blender.

Add your desired amount of corn and a touch of cream for a luxurious texture. The cream can easily be left out if you’d rather not have the extra calories but it does add a beautiful silkiness to this soup.

Cut the shrimp in half and dispose of tails and add to the soup. It will take just minutes for the shrimp to cook – once they are pink, they’re done and the soup is ready. (Note: if using frozen shrimp you’ll need more cooking time.) Add chopped scallions and reserve some to serve on top as a garnish.

Ingredients

4 14oz. cans of low-sodium chicken broth
5 potatoes
1 yellow onion
4 ribs of celery
5 carrots
½ red bell pepper
½ yellow bell pepper
2 cups frozen corn
¼ cup heavy cream
½ Ib. shrimp
2 cloves garlic
4 scallions
olive oil
salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large stockpot. Meanwhile dice the potatoes into bite size pieces. Add the potatoes to the boiling chicken broth and reduce to medium heat.
  2. Dice the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté in a pan over medium heat with enough olive oil to lightly coat, minced garlic, some salt and pepper.
  3. Dice ½ a red and ½ a yellow pepper and add to the pan once the onions have become soft.
  4. Add all the veggies to the potatoes and allow to cook a few minutes and for the flavors to incorporate. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to desired texture.
  5. Add corn and cream.
  6. Cut the shrimp in half, dispose of tails and add to the soup. It will take just minutes for the shrimp to cook.
  7. Add chopped scallions and reserve some to serve on top as a garnish.

Update: See how I made this vegan with my vegan corn chowder recipe

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They Called Me Martha – The Perfect Roast Chicken

January 16, 2011 § 9 Comments

A perfect roast chicken starts with a delicate, crispy skin and ends with moist, juicy meat inside and this recipe achieves both. The skin is beautifully golden in color and flavor by brushing the chicken with a little melted butter before roasting and the pan juices from the chicken, sweet carrots, fennel, and onion keep the meat moist upon serving.

This recipe is from Ina Garten, whom I just love. Almost any recipe I make of hers is a sure win – and what’s better, she eats mostly chicken so she always has some inspiring recipe for me. I’ve now made her Perfect Roast Chicken several times and I can say, it is actually quite perfect. In fact, I recently hosted a holiday party for my girlfriends and when I pulled out my two beautiful roast chickens from the oven, one of them even called me “Martha” – as in the infamous Martha Stewart.

What makes this chicken so perfect is not only the tender, juicy meat it yields, but the simplicity in making it. Aside from chopping up some vegetables and applying easy seasonings, it requires very little effort. I think my favorite part of this dish is the fact that you stuff the chicken cavity with lemon and garlic without even a need to chop, peel, or squeeze! A simple cut in half and if it fits, it works. This chicken calls for a lot of fresh thyme, which adds a very perfumed flavor to the vegetables and sauce. If you’re not a fan of thyme you could easily substitute with rosemary or a combination of herbs of your choice.

Now, I will say – one area where Ina let me down: directions on cooking time. I am one of those “is the chicken really done?” fanatics. You’d think with as much chicken as I eat and cook I’d pretty much know when a chicken is done, but sadly I do not and I end up having to cut my chicken breasts in half when cooking to ensure they are really cooked through. So, when I watched Ina make this on TV, she made it sound so simple to determine if the chicken was done – just cut between the leg and the breast and if the juices run clear – voila, its done.

Or not… In Ina’s fairness, her recipe calls for a larger chicken so I had assumed using a smaller chicken would significantly cut down on cooking time. Thus, when I made this the first time for my family, they arrived hungry and eager, I pulled these impressive looking chickens out and they all “oohed” and “awed”. I made the cut as Ina instructed and once I saw that it was only clear juices running out, I happily covered it and let it rest for 20 minutes while waiting anxiously to try it. When I went back to carve what I was sure would be my new masterpiece, I was devastated to find nearly raw chicken at the bone. Back in the oven it had to go and my family was left waiting for another 40 minutes for dinner. In the end though, it was a delicious chicken worth the wait.

I’ve made this chicken multiple times now so I’ve pretty much got the cooking time down but the lesson learned is: Stab your chicken! No, not really. But I do like to make several cuts around the chicken just to be sure – better safe than sorry, especially when entertaining. The reason this is so important is because you really want the chicken to rest 20 minutes, so you’ve got to know its finished cooking. Once you do have the cooking time down on this chicken though, it’s indeed worth it. As I said, it takes minimal effort and yields a very elegant meal perfect for a quiet dinner at home for 2 or for entertaining for several friends. If you’re feeling really motivated, you could serve with crispy roasted potatoes or garlicky mashed potatoes, which would be a nice accompaniment.

For this recipe I have found a 3 pound chicken to work best. If I’m cooking it just for me and my husband I’ll do one chicken but if I want leftovers or cooking for several, I’ll buy two chickens. This is a great recipe to do with 2 chickens (double the veggies) and have extra leftover for a chicken noodle soup or enchiladas the next night. What’s even better is I’ve found a little market near my home where I can buy all my ingredients for about $10 – that’s for 2 chickens and all the veggies – you can’t beat that!

Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse the inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with a good bunch of fresh thyme. Once the cavity is stuffed, tie the legs together with twine. Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter. Once melted, brush the outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.

Peel and chop 4 carrots, 1 yellow onion, and 1 bulb of fennel. If you’ve never worked with fennel before, it’s got almost a licorice-like smell and adds a nice flavor to the sauce. Cut the top of the bulb so that you’re left with something that resembles an onion. I like to remove the outermost layer then just cut as you would an onion.

In your roasting pan mix all the chopped veggies with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Note: If you don’t have a roasting pan, you could put this in anything that will hold it, such as a large casserole dish or lasagna pan. Now, a word on the thyme – if you don’t mind it being really rustic, you could just throw a handful of thyme in whole with the veggies. My husband isn’t such a fan of this method so I skim the leaves off the stems and chop it up. Finally, add the chicken on top of the veggies.

That is it! Your chicken is done and ready to go into the oven for about an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it that the skin doesn’t burn – if the skin is getting too brown you can cover with aluminum foil. Baste a few times while it’s cooking to add flavor to the skin.

When you’re sure the chicken is done, remove from the oven and cover the pan with foil to let it rest for 20 minutes. After resting, carefully remove the chicken and lift vertically to let all the juices inside the cavity come out and into the pan. If you love lemon, you can pull out the lemon from the cavity and give it a squeeze into the sauce – be careful as it will be exremely hot.

To carve the chicken, start with the legs and wings and remove. Then cut at the center near the bone and follow your knife down the bone to remove the breast. Slice the breast as desired. Make sure you pour the sauce from the pan over the chicken as that is the key to keeping it moist and giving it unbelievable flavor. Serve hot and enjoy!

Ingredients

1 3Ib. fryer chicken
4 carrots
1 yellow onion
1 fennel bulb
20 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp. butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Rinse inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with half the fresh thyme. Tie the legs together with twine.
  2. Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.
  3. Peel and chop 4 carrots into bite size pieces, about 1 inch long. Cut 1 yellow onion and 1 bulb of fennel in slices. Add vegetables to roasting pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, and remaining thyme.
  4. Place chicken on top of vegetable mixture in pan and roast in oven for an hour and a half or until done.
  5. Remove and cover chicken with aluminum foil for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with pan sauce over the chicken.

For the original recipe from Ina Garten, click here.

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