Calm Chowder

Clam Chowder

I love clam chowder. I’ve always loved this lovely soup. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t enjoy this fabulous little creation. It is to me the epitome of comfort food.

Want to know the secret a really good clam chowder? Bacon drippings! Obviously you could skip this and just use olive oil, but the flavor of the bacon really enhances the soup. What’s comfort food without a little naughty? And bacon drippings are definitely naughty. Shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone! ;oP

Clam chowder can be made many different ways, and I’ve made various types over the years, but this version is hearty, chunky, and just perfect for a cold winter day! If soup is for dinner, and you like clams, this is the soup for you!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped (Note: I used a yellow onion this go around, but I usually use red onions instead.)
8 stalks of celery, chopped
4 potatoes, cut into bite sized cubes
2 large carrots, shredded
A generous pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 a teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
4 cups of water
3 bay leaves
6 – 6.5 ounce cans of clams in juice, undrained
1 – 8 ounce bottle of clam juice
1/2 a quart of half and half (Note: I usually use the fat free variety, but regular will work as well. If you want to go really crazy you can use heavy cream!)

Add a little olive oil to the bottom of a very large stock pot and place chopped bacon in the pot and saute until crisp. Remove bacon, leave the bacon drippings.

Add onion, celery and potatoes and cook until the onions and celery are just tender.

Add carrots and stir to mix. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Next add flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook for another 2 minutes, but do not let the flour brown.

Next add thyme, salt, pepper and bay leafs, along with the water and stir to mix. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered until potatoes are fork tender, usually about 30 minutes.

Add clams, clam juice and half and half and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes until soup is heated through and slightly thickened.

Remove bay leafs and serve immediately.

You can also store this soup in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to a year.

Notes: You could add in corn too if you liked, for an even chunkier chowder. Leeks would also be a good addition to this soup.

Poor Man’s Microwave Popcorn

Poor Man's Microwave Popcorn

Microwave popcorn is convenient, but commercial varieties have a bunch of crap in them that can cause cancer. Imagine something processed being bad for you? What are the odds?

Anyway…

Of course you can air pop corn, or do the “old fashioned” stove top method, to which I’m partial, but you can also make your own microwave popcorn when you’re short on time. You might think this would be difficult, but it takes about 5 minutes and that includes popping. Not bad for a fast, healthy snack. You control what goes in to the bag, so there’s no gross chemicals or anything.

Not only is this a neat snack, it also is a cheap snack! You can’t go wrong with that! Once you try it you’ll do it over and over again. It’s that easy and that good!

What You’ll Need:
Plain brown paper bag
Popcorn
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil

Take a paper bag and place a thin layer of popcorn on the bottom of the bag:

Poor Man's Microwave Popcorn

Yes it’s not the best picture, but it gives you an idea of how much popcorn you need.

Add in some sea salt. You can add anywhere from 1/2 a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon depending on your tastes. Plus you can always add salt after it’s popped too, but if you pop it with the salt it gives it an overall better flavor.

Put a drizzle of olive oil in the bag, one teaspoon tops.

Fold the top of the bag over a couple of times and lay the bag on its side in the microwave. Pop for anywhere from 2-5 minutes depend on your microwave. It takes about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes in mine. When the pops start to slow down you know it’s time to stop.

Carefully remove from the microwave. It’s hot and the oil spreads in the bag. Carefully open the bag, just as you would a commerical bag, and don’t let the steam burn you.

Place in a bowl and eat!

Note this makes about 2-3 cups of popcorn. If you’re serving more than one you’ll want to make multiple bags.

Poor Man's Microwave Popcorn

Notes: You can make variations of this. To make kettle corn follow the instructions above, but also add a tablespoon of sugar when you add the salt. You could also add in a tablespoon or two of Parmesan during the salt step if you wanted a cheesy snack.

Make Your Own: Ginger Ale

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Ginger Ale

I’m not a big fan of soda as a general rule, but I do like a good root beer or ginger ale! My beef with most commercial varieties of these drinks? You’ve got it…high fructose corn syrup! There are some lovely artisan sodas out there, and I usually have some of those on hand, but occasionally I like to make my own ginger ale

Ginger ale obviously starts with ginger, in this case several pounds of it. This is a very easy thing to make, and you can’t really go wrong. If your syrup ends up a little less gingery, use more of it when you make your final drink. If it has a stronger ginger flavor, use less. Not sugary enough for you? Add more sugar. Too sugary? Add less sugar, or add a bit more sparkling water when you’re ready to drink your ginger ale. This is a very no-fail sort of thing. There are no wrong answers! And you know how I love that sort of thing.

So what’s next? I’ll make my own root beer, but that as they say, is a story for another day!

Let’s talk some homemade ginger ale!

What You’ll Need:
2-3 pounds of ginger, mostly peeled
6 quarts of water
4 cups of organic cane sugar
Sparkling water
Ice (optional)

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Ginger

First you want to scrub your ginger. Usually ginger is presented to you in the store pretty clean, but you still want to scrub. Since ginger is a knobbly beasty of a plant you’d be amazed where dirt can hide in its little nooks and crannies! Look at those monsters in the picture above! Plus who knows who touched it at the store, or in the process of transporting it there, before you and what might have been lurking on their hands.

Next you’re going to need a large stockpot. One that can handle at least 8 quarts of liquid, so you have a little room.

Peel your ginger. This doesn’t have to be perfect. If you leave a little ginger skin here or there, no biggie! Did I mention how many nooks and crannies ginger has? Just get most of the skin.

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Peeled Ginger

Once the ginger is peeled, chop it into rounds or chunks. Again nothing has to be perfect here. Just make sure you’ve got a sharp knife and chop/slice to your hearts content!

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Chopped Ginger

Place chopped/sliced ginger into your big stockpot.

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Chopped Ginger Ready For Water

Add six quarts of water and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered for 1 hour.

Strain liquid through a sieve into a large bowl. Wipe or rinse out your stockpot to remove any debris and then return syrup to the pot and stir in sugar. Place back on your stove top and stir until sugar is melted. Given this has been cooking for an hour, the sugar melts almost instantaneously.

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Ginger Syrup Ready For Jars

Once sugar is melted, pour ginger sugar syrup into glass canning jars. I like to use the ones with wide mouths, because if you leave an inch of space at the top you can freeze the syrup for use later.

Keep in mind that your liquid is hot, so either heat your jars a bit in a 200 F oven for about 10 minutes and then handle with mitts, or let the syrup cool down first or the jars might crack. Let the syrup cool completely if you chose the heated jar route, if not you’re already cooled and ready to go.

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Ginger Syrup

No matter which way you chose to handle your syrup above, now you’ve got your ginger syrup and you can make ginger ale!

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Let's Make That Drink!

Now you get to decide whether you want to use ice or not. I like to do this over ice, but if your syrup and/or sparkling water have been stored in the fridge you can skip the ice if you want.

Place a little of your ginger syrup in the bottom of a glass.

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Ready for Sparkling Water

Cover with sparkling water and stir.

Make Your Own Ginger Ale: Ginger Ale

The amount of syrup versus sparkling water depends on your own personal tastes. Play around with it until you get it where you like it!

What you end up with is a really fabulous, sweet, yet spicy, ginger ale that you can mix up whenever you like.

How fabulous is that?

Makes about 5 quarts.

To store you can place in a cool dark place, in the fridge or even freeze your syrup until ready to use. You could put one jar in the fridge and the rest in the freezer and then use it as you need it. The syrup lasts for weeks in the fridge or a cool dark place, and up to a year in your freezer

If you do decide to freeze your syrup be sure that you’ve left at least an inch of head space at the top of the jar and that your jars are completely cooled before you put them in your freezer. This prevents the glass from cracking as the liquid freezes and expands/cools.

Notes: Keep in mind that ginger has a little zing to it. Some people might not care for this version of ginger ale because it does have a bit of “heat” to it, for lack of a better word. Most of the people I’ve given this to, who were fans of ginger ale to begin with, loved the finished product!

Rustic Vegetable Soup

Rustic Vegetable Soup

I love soup. I’m a big fan year round, but especially in the winter. This soup came about from my wanting to incorporate the vegetables I got from our local CSA like vegetable/fruit delivery service this week. I had an eggplant, some bok choy, some chard, along with some left over black eyed peas from New Year’s Day. Before long this soup was “born”.

This soup is BIG. It makes a lot of soup. It has big chunks of vegetables and is very hearty, all while being healthy too. Pair it with some sour dough or corn bread and a side salad you’ve got a meal. In reality though the soup itself is hearty enough to be a meal, so you can enjoy it as is too!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
2 large carrots, cut into round pieces
1 large red onion, chopped
2 cups of sliced mushrooms
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large potato, cut into bite sized cubes
1 large bunch of Swiss or rainbow chard, chopped
1 bunch of bok choy, chopped
1 large eggplant, cut into bite sized cubes
2 teaspoons of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 quart of chicken broth
2 quarts of tomato sauce
1 – 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 cups of frozen corn
1 – 10 package of frozen lima beans
2 cups of cooked black eyed peas, undrained

First up let me be clear…You’re going to need a very BIG pot for this soup!

In a very large stockpot saute carrots, onion, garlic, mushrooms and potato in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil until tender, stirring often. Add chard and bok choy and stir until just wilted.

Add oregano, thyme, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper and stir to mix.

Next add chicken broth, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Also add corn, lima beans and black eyed peas and stir to incorporate.

Bring to a quick boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring often for at least an hour.

Serve immediately. Left overs are great too and freeze fabulously!

Notes: If you wanted to make this vegetarian/vegan use water or vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. You could also use other vegetables like leeks, celery, white beans, etc. Shake it up!

Make Your Own: Honey Butter

Make You Own Honey Butter

I was talking about making honey butter with some friends a while back and I was surprised to find out that they thought this was an epic culinary undertaking. They were shocked when I told them just how easy it was to make!

I’m a big fan of honey butter, or well honey itself for that matter. My father has his own bees so I’ve always got a ready supply of honey in the cabinet. Honey butter is perfect on warm biscuits, yeast rolls, or even simple toast. Making your own is also a lot cheaper and has less unneeded additives than what you might find in your store.

2012 will bring more of these “Make Your Own” segments, which in reality are what I like to call “semi-recipes”. Everything from herbed oils, to seasonings, to other food items, along with a few household cleaning and beauty items as well. In 2011 I started making my own laundry detergent and cleaning spray. Not only is it cheaper, it’s healthier too. After all isn’t that how most of use want to start out the New Year?

Happy New Year! Here’s to hoping 2012 is a healthier, better year for us all!

Make You Own Honey Butter

What You’ll Need:
1/2 pound of butter, softened (Note: I like to use Kerrygold Irish Butter.)
1/4 to 1/3 cup of honey

In a mixing bowl beat butter until light and fluffy. On low speed slowly add honey and mix until incorporated. Turn to high and beat for one minute.

Remove butter from mixing bowl and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Plus it’s ready to use immediately.

How easy is that?

Make You Own Honey Butter

Notes: If you like your honey butter a little less sweet go with 1/4 a cup of honey. It you like it a bit more sweet then go with 1/3 a cup of honey instead. Honey butter not your thing? Add a couple of tablespoons of cinnamon sugar instead to make another great “fancy” butter to enjoy.