Sunday, January 13, 2013

What is Winter Soup?

Recently someone asked us about a winter soup recipe, something along the lines of beef barley.  There's nothing like the smell of a warm hearty beef anything simmering on the stove to warm the house, and I think some kind of beef soup or stew should make a weekly appearance all winter long.  But around this time of winter, two things happen to make me lean toward something else for a winter soup recipe.  First, I'm getting a little tired of the hearty beef yummies I was so excited about two months ago, and second, cold-loving Atlantic shellfish are in high season.  So when I heard winter soup, my first thought was: chowder!  This is a version of a very light but wonderfully filling chowder that we first came up with a few years ago.  The idea of chowder still seems so daunting to me that I rarely make it, but every time I do, I wonder why I was thought that, because at least in this version it's not only easy but fast!  We used a variety of shellfish, including the great treat of oysters; for a less expensive version, skip the oysters and/or the clams and use more mussels instead, or replace one or all of the shellfish with a robust white fish, like halibut.

Seafood Chowder with Croutons
serves 6

12 cherrystone clams
12 oysters
1 lb. mussels
2 slices thick bacon, cut into 1/2" squares
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
1 carrot, cut into 1/2" squares
3 small-medium potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes
4 links sausage (we used 2 pre-cooked frankfurters from Sherman Market (not like any hotdog you've ever had!) and 2 organic beer brauts, also from Sherman, boiled in water for 30 minutes then fried/grilled)
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup whole milk
salt, if necessary

With a stiff brush, clean shellfish under cool water. If any are open, gently tap them on the counter. If they do not close up in a minute or so, discard them. Any that are broken should be discarded, as well.

In a large soup pot, saute the bacon until it renders, stirring frequently (about 5 minutes). Remove and set aside, leaving the fat. 

Saute the onion in the bacon fat until it is translucent (about 5 minutes). 

Add the chicken broth, carrots, and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. 

Add the bacon and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender (15-20 minutes).  

When the veggies are tender, add the clams and oysters. Cover and cook until all have opened, (~ 8-10 minutes but checking frequently). As they open, remove them to a cutting board. Discard any that remain closed. Take out meat and cut into bite-sized pieces. Return it to the pot.

Cut the sausage into 1/2" thinck rounds and toss into the soup. 

Add in the mussels and cover and cook until they open, ~ 4 to 5 minutes but checking frequently. When they are open, turn off heat and leave mussels in the pot, shell and all.  

Add milk and pepper. Taste to see if salt is needed; it probably won't be, as the shellfish release saltwater when they open.  

Serve immediately with croutons (see below). Any mussels that did not open should be discarded.


4 cups bread cubes (any variety of bread, cut into 1/2" pieces)
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 T olive oil
2 tsp. minced parsley
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Toss everything together in a bowl, evenly coating the bread cubes. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake at 350, stirring frequently, until starting to brown (~ 15 to 20 minutes).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In Praise of Fatty Ground Beef

To our great delight, we have finally found a source for fantastic locally raised and butchered beef.  Renée found a farmer in Vermont who would sell us a whole young steer, cut to order.  Even split between four families, that's a lot of beef, but we all have chest freezers and it's fantastically worth it. The flavor is rich and complex with a hint of grass, the texture is dense and wiry but still tender.  It's not aged, but it is well drained (none of the blood bath we got from our first CSA beef).  But when I tried to make meatballs with the ground beef, they broke apart as I sauteed them, and then disintegrated into the sauce as I cooked them.  I thought maybe I had messed up my own recipe, or used the wrong kind of bread crumbs, or something else.  Then Renée said she'd had almost the same problem.  And then it dawned on us: meatballs need fat to hold together, and there is really no fat at all in this beef.  To make meatballs with really lean beef, you need to add fat.  Luckily, meatballs, like meatloaf, really develop their flavor when they're made from a blend of ground meats, and even our locally raised "free range" pork is nice and fatty (other ground meats also add flavor, but not enough fat).  And then just because it's fun to try to add fat, we put in bacon fat and salt pork too.  Now that makes some delightfully fatty and flavorful meatballs, but the bacon fat and salt pork are not necessary. 

Swedish Meatballs

We were asked recently to make Swedish Meatballs for Community Cooks, a group that provides home-cooked meals to local shelters and group homes.  Neither of us had ever eaten them before, but after a little research we realized that there are basically just two things that distinguish Swedish Meatballs: you add nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice to the meat mixture and you cook them in a sour-cream-based white sauce rather than a red sauce.  The spices sounded great, but the white sauce sounded disgusting.  So we decided to make the Swedish spiced meatballs for Community Cooks and ourselves, but to cook ours in red sauce.  But we did have to taste what we were going to serve to others, and to our great surprise, the white sauce is quite good and complements the swedish spiced meatballs quite well.  I'm not going to replace my regular sauce with the white sauce often, but it makes a nice change of pace and I'm definitely going to be adding the Swedish spices to my meatballs in whatever sauce on a regular basis.

Swedish Spiced Meatballs
Serves 4-6

1 onion
1 garlic clove
1 lb ground pork
1 lb lean ground beef
2 eggs
3/4 c bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. bacon fat
2 tsp. salt pork
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated or ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
2 T olive oil

Chop the onion and saute it until just beginning to brown, 5-10 minutes.  Mince the garlic, add it to the onions, and saute another 2-3 minutes.  In a large bowl, mix onion and garlic with all the other ingredients.  Mix well.  Heat two large pans with 1 T olive oil in each.  Form the meatball mixture into walnut-sized balls and drop into pans.  Flip or shake to brown well on all sides, then saute on low until just cooked through, about 20 minutes.  When meatballs are done, put into a large baking pan, cover with sauce, cover with tin foil, and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. 

Swedish Meatball Sauce

2 T butter
2 T flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. gated or ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

In a large pan, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour.  Add the chicken broth 1/4 cup at a time, whisking constantly.  Add the other ingredients and simmer on low, whisking constantly, for 3-5 minutes.  The sauce should be thick but pourable, like a nice thick gravy.

Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with egg noodles.