29 October 2009

Wintertime Classics: Chowder & Bread

Technically, autumn lasts for nearly two more months. But since it's been snowy and below freezing here for the last two days, I'm going right ahead with the winter comfort foods.

The corn chowder is adapted from the world's greatest slow-cooker cookbook, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow-Cooker. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Go buy it. Now. But if you'd rather go ahead & make some dinner, you can use this recipe.

This is the second time I've used the French bread recipe, which is adapted from one I found on allrecipes.com. You've gotta love that site, because any recipe that's four and a half stars after nearly 400 ratings is probably going to work out pretty well for you.

Unfortunately, the bread I baked last night turned out to be a little, how you say... dense. Excessively solid, if you will, especially for French bread. That's what I get for trying to bake while dealing with stress; a professional baker once told me your emotions always come out in your bread, and over the years he's been proved right every time. Kids, don't bake angry. Or sad and stressed, as in my case. Or if you do, expect the result to be less than perfect.

But, y'know, it still looked pretty, and it was still good to dip in the soup and eat. It just wasn't the awesome I was hoping for. Anyway. Enough of my bread woes.

I'm also going to include my oft-requested recipe for seafood chowder, which I made up using a a few keys from a base recipe on cooks.com, and can say with no modesty meets unanimously with rave reviews. This is a Carolina-style chowder, which is to say it's broth-based. It's still nice and creamy, while being lactose-free. The secret is to stir mashed potatoes into your broth. Oh yes. Mashed potatoes make everything better; what, you doubted? You don't really need bread with the seafood chowder; it's extremely hearty and filling. It has that key seafood chowder quality, so wisely noted by my brother, of a high seafood-to-chowder ratio.

A similar technique is used in the corn chowder, which is also lactose-free but still nice and chowdery. I like this recipe because it's simple and satisfying. Enjoy, and stay warm.

Slow-Cooked Corn Chowder

1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 c vegetable broth
1 large russet potato, peeled & diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
3 c frozen (or canned) corn
1/8 - 1/4 c flour
salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, stir to coat with oil, cover and cook for about five minutes. Put the broth, potato, bell pepper, corn, salt and pepper in the slow cooker. When the onions are done, add those to the soup. Cook 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high.

Ladle most of the solids into a food processor, blender or food mill and puree; stir back into the soup. Add flour as needed to thicken the soup - start with less and keep stirring it in until the soup reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust the salt & pepper; garnish with fresh herbs like chives, if you want. Serve immediately, ideally with fresh-baked French bread. Serves 4.

Easy French Bread

Makes two loaves; if you don't want that much, it's easy to halve the recipe. You can make this with a hand mixer using dough hooks, if you don't have a stand mixer, but I think it'd be kind of a pain to make with any less equipment than that.

If you're trying to time this so it's fresh from the oven when the soup's ready, the bread takes about 3 hours.

~6 c flour (I recommend unbleached organic flour)
5 tsp (2 packets) yeast
2 tsp salt
2 c warm water (110-115 degrees F)
1 Tbs cornmeal
1 egg white, mixed with 1 Tbs water

Put 2 cups of the flour, the yeast and the salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the 2 cups of warm water (make sure it's pretty darn close to hot, if you don't have a kitchen thermometer) and stir with a wooden spoon. Put on the stand mixer with a dough hook and mix on low until well blended, about 2-3 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the stand mixer and stir as much of the rest of the flour in as you can, using the wooden spoon. Your dough should be smooth and elastic.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead with your hands for a few minutes, adding in a little more flour as needed to deal with any sticky spots. Don't knead more than 5-7 minutes. Form into a ball and put in a large, oiled bowl (I use olive oil), turning once to coat. Cover the bowl with a thin kitchen towel and - if you're a fellow high-altitude dweller - place in the fridge to rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes. If you live below high altitude, place in a warm place to rise.

Turn the dough back out onto the lightly floured counter and divide it in half. Cover with a towel and let it rest for 10 minutes. (Dough is easily upset, okay? Give it a break.) If each half is not already roughly a 3D oval, make it so, and then roll it out til it's about 10-12 inches wide. You don't want the oval shape to be too pronounced, once it's rolled out, but you want tapered ends. (Now realizing I should have taken some pictures of the process, sorry.) Start with one of the long sides and roll it up, sealing the seam with water and by rolling it back and forth a few times. Tuck the ends under a little and make it look pretty, y'know, like a loaf of French bread is shaped. Grease a large baking sheet with a coating of butter and sprinkle the cornmeal over the sheet. Place your loaves on the sheet, mix up the egg white and water, and brush the mixture onto the loaves. Place the thin kitchen towel over the loaves and put it back in the fridge (or warm place, whatever your altitude) and let rise, about another 30-45 minutes or until roughly double.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Take a sharp knife and make 3-4 diagonal cuts in the tops of the loaves, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, then pull from the oven and brush again with the egg-white mixture. When you put the loaves back in the oven, turn the pan around 180 degrees so they bake more evenly (unless you're blessed with a perfectly-heated oven, which I sincerely hope you appreciate and I totally don't even want to hear about). Bake for another 15-20 minutes until they test done (they'll sound hollow when you flick them on the underside of the loaf). If they're browning too quickly, just put a loose sheet of aluminum foil over them. Remove from oven & cool on a wire rack.

Voila les baguettes!

Ann's Fabulous Seafood Chowder

This makes a ton of chowder. Have a party of, say, 6-8 friends over. Everyone will love you.

4 c vegetable broth
2 8 oz bottles clam juice
4 Tbs olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced
between half and a whole bottle of Bac-o's (or the equivalent of another form of fake bacon or real bacon. I like Bac-o's, what can I say.)
2 medium-large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1-2 large carrots, diced
34-40+ oz seafood. I like to use 2 cans of baby clams, 2 cans of premium crab, 2 tins of smoked or regular oysters and a jar of lobster in water that I think is 12-16 oz (this latter is pricey, but oh, sooooo good). You could also throw in some canned salmon if you wanted. You can vary this up according to your preference & make it all about the clams, clams & crab, whatever floats your boat. (Ha! Boats! Chowder! ...Sigh.) The key is to make sure you have a whole lot of seafood, in whatever combination.
salt, pepper & cayenne to taste

Using a medium pot, set the potatoes to steam or boil for 15-20 minutes. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium. Add the garlic, onion and carrots, stir to coat, cover and let cook for 5-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the broth, clam juice, bacos, and seafood. Add salt, pepper & cayenne to taste. Bring to a low boil, then reduce to simmer and cover. When the potatoes are ready, mash them with about 1/2 T butter and stir them into the soup. Cover again; simmer for an hour total, until the carrots are soft and all the flavors are nicely blended. Taste and adjust salt & pepper as needed.

Using a medium pot, set the potatoes to steam or boil for 15-20 minutes. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and carrots, stir to coat, cover and let cook for 5-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the carrots are fairly tender.
In the meantime, put the broth, clam juice, bacos and seafood in the slow cooker. Add the garlic, onion & carrots when they're ready. Stir in the mashed potatoes. Add salt, pepper & cayenne to taste. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.


Cheese Boy said...

How do you manage to add mashed potatoes to the broth and yet keep it suitable for dipping the bread? Seems like a paradox.

Also, what seafood would you recommend witholding from chowder, assuming it were tasty otherwise?

ann said...

The mashed potatoes just sort of dissolve, it's amazing. They just thicken the broth up a bit and make the soup a little heartier & more filling.

I tend to omit shrimp and fish from the chowder, when left to my own devices. My hubby loves having shrimp in it, but it doesn't do much for me. And I've had some great fish-intensive chowders, but I really prefer to keep this one shellfish-centric. It's definitely a matter of personal taste, though. If I had to narrow it down from what's listed in the suggested ingredients, I'd say the clams and crabmeat are key. A chowder with just those would probably still be awesome.