25 August 2008

New Englad Clam Chowder

I am a soup lover, and clam chowder is probably one of my top 5 favorite soups. I love all cream-based soups, but I feel guilty about how bad they are for me. So, I was thrilled when I got the October 2008 issue of Eating Well in the mail today. This month, the mag published an easy clam chowder recipe that subs out most of the cream, as a 'makeover' for the traditional fat-laden chowder.

I made this delicious clam chowder tonight, and it did not disappoint. See my pictures and comments in the recipe below.

Makes 6 servings, generous 1 cup each
2 teaspoons canola oil
4 slices bacon, chopped (I used six slices!)
1 medium onion, chopped (I had two small on hand, so that’s what I used)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried (I went with dried)
1 medium red potato, diced (I used 4 small)
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
1 bay leaf (I omitted this)
3 cups low-fat milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces fresh clam strips chopped, or 3 6-ounce cans chopped baby clams, rinsed (I used canned clams)
2 scallions, thinly sliced (I subbed fresh parsley)

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer half of the cooked bacon to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Add onion, celery and thyme to the pan; cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.

Add potato, clam juice and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the vegetables are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Whisk milk, cream, flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add to the pan and return to a simmer, stirring, over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add clams and cook, stirring occasionally, until the clams are just cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
3. To serve, discard bay leaf. Ladle into bowls and top each serving with some of the reserved bacon and scallions.

As you can see, I made plenty of substitutions based on what I had on hand and what I like best. I used the salt called for in the recipe but found that my bowl needed more. Just do what works for you - use the recipe as a guide and add or subtract ingredients based on what makes you happy.

You can view the recipe on Eating Well's website here.

Ciao Italia - The Feast of the Assumption

One of my very best friends came to visit me the weekend of August 14-17. Erin and I have been close since high school, and she is the first of my Connecticut friends to make the trek out since I moved to Ohio. Erin’s visit coincided with the Feast of the Assumption – always a time for celebration in Little Italy’s all over the country, and Cleveland is no exception. During the four day “Feast”, over 100,000 people travel to Cleveland’s Little Italy to pray, shop, and EAT. They close Murray Hill for the duration of the four days, and all the local restaurants set up tables lining the avenue.

We went to the Feast on Friday night, and feast we did. Before we met up with the rest of our party, I had devoured a bowl of penne pesto and Erin had eaten a bowl of cavatelli marinara. We met up with Ann, Vern, Jimmy, and Katelynn, and proceeded to Feast! While Erin and I took a breather, Jimmy chowed down on a lamb wrap, Katelynn balanced a huge bowl of pasta with meatballs, and Andrew and Vern went in search of sausage sandwiches, but changed their mind when they saw the stromboli tent. Andrew, Ann, and Vern opted for the strombolis – by far the longest line at the Feast – beautiful “stuffed sandwiches” made from dough wrapped around various toppings. The guys took a break to smoke cigars while us girls ventured into some of the galleries and little shops lining the street.

I am a huge fan of corn on the cob, as anyone who knows me can attest, so I jumped at the chance to wolf down an ear of roasted corn. It was perfectly buttered and salted by a man who, when I apologized for having to break a $20 on a $3 ear of corn, told me “Being beautiful means never having to say you’re sorry”.

Ann and Erin were thrilled with their waffle ice cream sandwiches – two Belgian waffles stuffed with a brick of delicious vanilla ice cream – and Jimmy and Katelynn opted for a gigantic elephant ear. On the way out, we indulged in gelato – I chose lemon, Erin picked raspberry, and Katelynn opted for the watermelon. Homemade gelato is getting easier to come by as it gains popularity in the US, but this was some of the best gelato I've come across.

It was great fun to show Erin around Little Italy...all in all, the Feast was a fab time, as usual. It’s always a crazy crush of people, difficult parking, and scary toilets, but the food makes it worth the trip!

Restaurant Review: Goat

This weekend we spent two days on Put-In-Bay, also known as South Bass Island. Our party consisted of Andrew and I, his brother Jimmy, and his dad & stepmom (Vern and Ann). We had been to PIB a couple times before, but Andrew and I had never spent a night on the island. We had a fantastic time shopping, eating, and of course drinking! The boys rented bikes and rode all over the island, but Ann and I spent our time tooling around in a golf cart. Check out Put-In-Bay on their official website.

One of the highlights of the trip was Goat, a restaurant that advertises its "soup and whiskey". While we had neither during our meal, it was an excellent dinner and a definite must visit. Goat is in the location of Dailey's Tavern, a bar that was previously owned by Pat Dailey, an entertainer famous in the Great Lakes area for his Jimmy Buffett-esque music.

The evening was warm, but we opted to sit outside on the covered patio. Goat also boasts an indoor open air bar, dining room, and downstairs coffee house and ice cream parlor. We started our meal with a plate of nachos, a caprese salad, and a 1/2 lb of boiled shrimp. The nachos were loaded with house special green chicken chili and all manner of toppings. The caprese salad was made with fresh mozzarella and island-grown red and yellow tomatoes, that were perfectly ripe. Goat grows their own herbs, and the basil chiffonade decorating the plate was verdant and fresh. The shrimp were huge, fresh, and delicious – which foreshadowed good things to come, as both Jimmy and I had ordered entrees with shrimp.

We were all pleased when our entrees arrived – Vern had a fish basket of fried walleye and Andrew had a philly steak sandwich. Jimmy ordered the blackened shrimp alfredo - the seasoning on the shrimp infused the mild alfredo sauce, which is made to order, giving it a spicy kick that wasn't overpowering. I had a beautiful grilled shrimp Caesar salad, and Ann ordered the “beer plate”. This was the most original of the meals we ordered – it was listed on the appetizer menu, but was more than enough to feed one person for dinner. The plate consisted of salami, two different cheeses, a variety of olives and peppers, and club crackers and was meant to accompany beer drinkers as a snack. Also on the menu was a “wine plate” which included soft cheeses, hummus, pitas, grapes, and prosciutto.

We all agreed that Goat was somewhere we would head to on our next trip to Put-In-Bay, and we recommended it to everyone we ran into on the island. Their ingredients are local, every sauce and dressing is homemade, and the atmosphere is light and fun - very fitting of the island's lifestyle. If you have ever have the opportunity to visit PIB, make sure you head over to Goat.

09 August 2008

Gratuitous Puppy Photo

Thought I'd post a few shots of our sweet pup, Finn. Enjoy!

And one old puppy photo of Finn and I, just for good measure:

Sangria! Part II

I created my own sangria recipe this weekend, and it is (in my opinion) much easier than the previous recipe I posted. It could be made with red or white wine, though we used red both times we made it. A fruity Cabernet worked well in this recipe - if you wanted a white sangria, I would recommend a sweet Riesling or a fruity Pinot Grigio.

1 bottle red or white wine
1/2 c. brandy
1 c. simple syrup
1 green apple, cut into chunks
1 nectarine, cut into chunks
1 pint blackberries

To make simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup each of plain white granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. When sugar is completely dissolved, remove pan from heat.

In a pitcher, combine wine, brandy, and simple syrup. Add 12-16 cubes of ice, stir. I like to float the fruit in the individual glasses, but you can add it straight to the pitcher if you prefer.

This recipe was so easy and tasted so good! The simple syrup makes a big difference, so don't skip that step. All the spiciness of the brandy is highlighted by the sweet acidity of the wine and the delicious crunch of the fruit.

Super Sides: Homemade Mashed Potatos and Parsley Peas with Onions

Tonight's dinner was all about comfort food: roast chicken, mashed potatos, and peas. We were feeling lazy and did not want to turn on the oven, so we bought the roast chicken from the grocery store. Though it's not the same as roasting one at home, I don't like to bake chicken at home during the summer because it requires my oven to be on for so long!

So, the stars of the meal were the homemade sides. Here are my simple recipes:

Mashed Potatos

5 medium Idaho potatos, peeled
about 1 cup skim milk
4 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. cream cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Chop the potatos into small chunks and place cut potatos into saucepan filled with cold water (water should be at least 3" below top of pot) and cover. Bring water to a boil, remove lid. Let potatos boil for 10-15 minutes or until very fork tender. Drain potatos and return them to the hot pot. Add all remaining ingredients and beat to desired consistency. You may need to tweak the amount of milk, salt, and pepper to your liking.

We prefer our potatos creamy, so I added more milk at the end and stirred it into the already whipped potatos. This is such an easy recipe, it's a cinch to make any night of the week.

Parsley Peas with Onions

2 small yellow or white onions
1 bag frozen peas
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Slice onions into thin half moons. Saute in 1 tbsp. olive oil until translucent and slightly carmelized. Lightly salt the onions to "sweat them out" - that is, get them to release their juices and soften.

In the meantime, defrost peas by placing in a colander and running under cool water. You may want to break them up with your hands so there are no chunks of ice in the peas.

Add the peas to the saute pan and heat through. When peas and onions are fully heated and combined, add parsley, salt, and pepper.

I like to saute frozen veggies rather than boiling them. It prevents them from getting soggy, and at the same time, prevents the nutrients from being sapped out into the cooking water.

Our lovely meal:

And the hungry little mongers trying to steal some chicken:

I did feed them some scraps, but further efforts to mooch off our dinner were thwarted.

03 August 2008

Chipotle Pretzel Chicken with Southwest Corn Saute

One thing I will say for myself is that I am inventive! When it comes to pulling together dinner with very little direction, I can usually come up with something delicious. All I knew I wanted for dinner tonight was chicken, so I thawed two boneless skinless breasts. I didn't want to do another herb rub, so I thought I'd bread them, but I wasn't too keen on typical bread crumbs. I spied a bag of pretzel rods in the cabinet, and my recipe developed from there.

Chipotle Pretzel Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 pretzel rods, crushed
1 tbsp. chipotle seasoning
1 tbsp. Adobo seasoning
2 tbsp. dried minced onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix all ingredients (excluding the chicken breasts) on a small plate. Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towel. Rub chicken breasts with olive oil and dip in the pretzel "breading" mixture. Press the pretzel crumbs into the chicken if they do not properly adhere. Place on baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

This was an experiment that turned out very well. The pretzels created a great crunchy texture, and the chipotle gave the chicken a big kick. If you don't care for the spice, you could easily reduce or eliminate the chipotle.

Southwest Corn Saute

crushed red pepper flakes
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 tbsp. Adobo seasoning
1 bag frozen corn
olive oil

Lightly coat the bottom of a medium saute pan with olive oil over medium high heat. Add red pepper flakes and let simmer for 2-3 minutes to infuse the oil with pepper. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add garlic and Adobo seasoning and cook until garlic is soft. Without defrosting, add corn to pan and cook until fully heated through.

The lingering heat from the chipotle was enhanced by the salty crunch of the pretzel coating. The spice was unexpected, but delicious. The corn saute is a favorite of mine - I love to use frozen vegetables in creative ways. I served the chicken on a bed of wild rice pilaf, framed by the corn saute. The mild rice was a nice backdrop to the spiciness of the other foods. The low heat from the chicken and the spicy heat of the corn were well balanced by this simple rice side. This was easy to put together, impressive in looks and flavor, and definitely something different to do with chicken!