For the longest time, I was never a huge fan of soups. Having been in Florida for many years, the thought of pulling myself up to a bowl of piping hot broth was less than desirable 95% of the time. And I despised that tinny flavor canned soups possessed.
That changed when I moved to Seattle and moved in with two soup obsessed roomies. Soup was the perfect food for so many reasons. While it is obvious that the damp, cold winters lend themselves to warm comfort food, my roommates taught me the other values of a good homemade soup.
Like how chopping vegetables is cheap therapy after a bad day at work.
Or how you can make soup from just about any variety of leftovers and pantry staples when the grocery budget runs out early.
Or how there is always plenty leftover for lunches and dinners later in the week.
And how easily a bowl of soup transforms into a complete meal with the addition of homemade bread.
Even though I am back in Florida, and the weather often doesn't cooperate with my new found love and appreciation of soupy goodness, sometimes I just have to crank up the A/C, throw on a sweater, and get to chopping and brewing.
Inspired by my Massachusetts office mates, I set out to make a New England Clam Chowder this week. I should warn the chowder purists out there, I probably broke all sorts of chowder rules in the making of this soup, but in my mind, that is the beauty of homemade soups/stews/chowders. The discovery of a lack of ingredients, or the sudden craving of a particular flavor can transform it into something it wasn't meant to be, but something still equally satisfying.
I started (as I often do) with chopping therapy. The stresses of the week beautifully laid out across my chopping block. (sidenote: I love how it looks when I am preparing a mirepoix...it's like a foodie flag, with it's orange, green and white) For the chowder, I chopped a sweet onion and a couple stalks of celery, including the leaves.
The onions were tossed in the pot with a generous helping of chopped bacon. When the bacon was looking sufficiently "crackly" and the onions slightly translucent, I mixed in the celery and added a bottle of clam juice, along with the the juice from the canned clams (yes, yes, I know - canned! But this is Central Florida - good fresh clams aren't exactly available around the corner).
Now this is where I took a huge step away from what you should do when making a proper seafood chowder. In all honesty, I don't like things that are especially fishy tasting. I didn't have time to make a proper fish stock, and didn't trust purchasing one from any local stores. So I used chicken broth. It's what I had in the house. So sue me. I then tossed in three chopped up Russet Potatoes and a few sprigs of thyme and let it all simmer for about 15 minutes - enough that the potatoes were softened but far from mushy.
Once I was satisfied with the potatoes, I added some half and half (2 cups maybe? I don't measure things...) 2 cans of clams as well as some crab meat, which probably makes this more of a seafood chowder then a clam one. That simmered very briefly and was finished off with a few splashes of cream sherry.
As the chowder was finishing up, the house filled with the smell of a homemade loaf of Guinness bread.
The soup turned out very tasty, perhaps a little oilier than it should have been (I blame it on the generous amount of bacon and the chicken stock), but delicious.
Since baking does actually require that you pay attention to things like measuring, here is the recipe I used for the bread:
1 bottle of Guinness (room temperature)
2 tbsp veg oil
3 cups flour
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 packet of active dry yeast
Thanks to a friend who was tossing stuff before a big move, I have a handy-dandy breadmaker to do the work for me on this. Toss in wet ingredients, toss in dry, turn on breadmaker. Three and half hours later, the house smells of fresh bread. Guinness bread has a pleasant bitterness to it that pairs nicely with a hearty soup, or a generous slather of butter.
Cuddled up with my chowdah and Guinness bread, I looked out the window at our yard covered in white gravel (the in-progress patio the hubs is building...more on that later) and almost felt like I was snowed in for the evening.