Clam & fennel chowder

Mother Nature must like Chicago in the world of winter, so the idea of a big bowl of chowder remains a great weeknight option even as we approach the middle of April

The foundation of any good soup is a mire poix (onions, carrots and celery) that is well-cooked to bring out the flavors which in turn flavors the soup

In my version of Clam Chowder, fennel bulb replaces the celery, but less you think “Mr. Celery” has gone mad, fresh celery leaves are included in the saute and the chowder is garnished with the same

If you don’t have rendered bacon fat on hand, cook 3 slices to get 4 tablespoons of fat; then, if desired, garnish the chowder with the diced bacon

Ingredients
4 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup diced carrot
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
1/3 cup fresh celery leaves, plus additional for garnishing
4 cups peeled and diced boiling potatoes
1 quart clam juice, warmed in a saucepan
8 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
2 cups Half & Half
3 cups cleaned and trimmed chowder clams, about the same dice as the potatoes
Pinch of cayenne, optional

Method
Heat the bacon fat in a large Dutch oven until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent. Add the fennel, carrot, thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the simmering clam juice and celery leaves and stir to incorporate. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine and cook for 3 minutes. Add a ladle-full of the stock to the roux (the butter-flour mixture) and whisk to incorporate. Add the roux to the soup and stir to incorporate and simmer until the chowder has thickened, 2 minutes

Add the Half & Half and the clams (and cayenne if using), stir to incorporate and simmer for 2 minutes. Taste for salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne

Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with fresh celery leaves

Tip of the Week

Ganache

When making a ganache it will come together more quickly if you melt chopped chocolate with the cream rather than chocolate chips. Chocolate chips have stabilizers in them that actually prevent them from melting; therefore you will spend more time waiting for them to melt than if you chopped an equal weight of a quality chocolate bar … or use chocolate buttons (available in kitchenware stores and online)

Mocktail Friday: Virgin Mojito

The traditional flavors of a Mojito, the popular Cuban rum drink, can still be enjoyed in this alcohol free version based loosely on a Dirty Mojito

Ingredients
4 fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup lemon lime soda
Chilled club soda

Method
Add the mint, brown sugar and lime juice to a Collins cocktail glass. Muddle the ingredients with a muddler or the back of a spoon, breaking up the mint and melting the sugar

Fill the glass with ice. Top with lemon lime soda and stir together with a bar spoon or swizzle stick. Top with club soda

Serve immediately

Japanese linguine bowl

Traditional Italian pasta turned into a non-traditional noodle bowl

Feel free to add a few pieces of leftover cooked fish or poultry to the bowls before ladling over the soup

Quantities here make 4 bowls

Ingredients
For the pasta
80 Linguine (see Note)
1/3 cup House salt

For final plating and presentation
8 ounces sliced button mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
2 cups diced butter lettuce
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Chili oil
10 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups prepared white miso soup per serving (see Note 2), prepared according to the package directions, kept hot

Method
For the pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is fully submerged. Bring to the boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Drain and keep warm

Meanwhile, add the chopped mushrooms and butter to a small saucepan, add a touch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook over medium high heat until the mushrooms have softened and are glossed with the butter, 10 to 12 minutes

For final plating and presentation
Divide the linguine, mushrooms and butter lettuce (and any leftover cooked fish or poultry if using) to individual bowls. Ladle in 1 1/2 cups miso soup and season with 1 tablespoon soy, 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon chili oil. Garnish generously with sliced scallions

Serve Japanese linguine bowls piping hot with chopsticks and a big soup spoon

Note: About 20 noodles per person is a good balance between the pasta and the other ingredients

Note 2: You can find white miso paste in plastic tubs in the International aisle of most supermarkets

Prosciutto & Swiss stuffed chicken thighs

Classic Cordon bleu recipe using boneless skinless chicken thighs instead of the typical bone-in chicken breast. The flavor combination cannot be beat and it is almost impossible to over-cook chicken thighs, unlike chicken breasts
 
Boneless skinless chicken thighs are typically found at the supermarket in packs of 6 which fit snugly in an 8 x 8 baking dish, which s what this recipe calls for. If you do not have 6 or cannot procure 6 fresh thighs from the butcher, keep the thighs snug in the dish by putting a ramekin or other small baking dish in the pan to keep everything snug
 
If you haven’t seen Italian panko breadcrumbs, look for them near the canned tomatoes or substitute plain panko
 
Ingredients
Cooking spray, for the pan
6 fresh boneless skinless chick thighs
House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
Dry rubbed sage
3 slices Prosciutto di Parma
1 1/2 cups shredded aged Swiss cheese
1 cup Italian panko breadcrumbs
6 pats butter
 
Method
Place oven rack in center position and heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray an 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray
 
Line the work surface with wax or parchment paper. Unfold the thighs completely and lay them out, what would be skin side down, on the paper. Sprinkle the thighs lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper and season with a big pinch of dry rubbed sage. Pull the Prosciutto slices in half lengthwise and lay 1 half along the long side of each thigh. Divided the cheese evenly among the thighs and then fold them in half, tucking the filling in
 
Place the thighs in the prepared pan (they should be snug) with the all of the seam sides facing in the same direction. Season the thighs with a touch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the thighs and top each thigh with a pat of butter
 
Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil from the pan and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown
 
Serve Prosciutto & Swiss stuffed chicken thighs very warm
 
Leftover, if there are any, are wonderful cold. Slice into 1/3 inch slices and arrange atop a dressed salad

Steakhouse creamed spinach

Potatoes are not my favorite steakhouse side, my version of my favorite steakhouse creamed spinach is

Not only great with grilled steaks, but grilled pork, grilled chicken and heartier pan-seared fish … heck, even as a great filling in vegetarian tacos with rice and fresh-chopped vegetables topped with cilantro, parsley leaves and thinly sliced radish

Ingredients
2 pounds fresh curly spinach, coarse stems discarded and the leaves washed well and drained
1/3 cup minced shallot
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup half & half
3 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1/3 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill

Method
Bring a large kettle of water to the boil. Slowly add the salt followed by the spinach. Reduce the heat to medium, submerge the leaves and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Drain the spinach in a colander under cold running water. Drain completely and squeeze out any excess water. Transfer the spinach to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade. Pulse the spinach 5 times in 1 second intervals then let the machine run until all of the spinach is uniformly pureed

Heat a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add the  butter, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan and reduce the heat to medium. When the foam from the butter has subsided, add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Whisk in the flour, whisking constantly, and cook 3 minutes

Slowly whisk in the milk, bring to a boil reduce to a simmer, whisking constantly, and cook for 3 minutes until thickened. Reduce the heat to medium low

Add the spinach puree, sour cream, freshly grated nutmeg, lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Heat, stirring, until heated through

Creamed spinach should be served hot

Leftovers, if there are any, keep up to 2 days

Dessert Monday: Eton Mess

Dessert Monday: Because you have to have something to look forward to on Monday

Eton Mess is a classic English dessert (“pudding”) created by student rugby players at Eton College where it is, to this day, traditionally made at their annual Cricket competition against Harrow School

The dessert consists of meringues, heavy cream and, typically, strawberries, though versions with berries and even bananas have been known to exist. It comes together in a matter of moments making it a terrific last-minute dessert

The first time I ever had meringues I hated them. I found out later it was because the person who made then for me made it improperly. I missed out on many meringue desserts because of that initial singular incident. I actually like meringues (the cookie, not the stuff that is usually piled way too high on a lemon tart … for which I whip cream if I top it with anything) and this is one of my favorite applications … strawberries and cream with meringues

Ingredients
3 cups strawberries
1 cup raspberries
3 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons kirsch
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 meringue cookies

Method
Hull and core the strawberries and cut them into quarters. Tumble them into a bowl with the raspberries, sugar and kirsch. Give everything a big stir and let the fruit macerate at room temperature

Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and whip to incorporate

Break the cookies into pieces, shards and dust into the whipped cream. Add most of the macerated fruit and some of the juices, leaving some behind to top each serving

Gently fold everything together then mound in rocks glasses or Champagne saucers or juice glasses. Top each mound of Eton Mess with a few berries and the juices

Serve Eton Mess immediately

Hey, Tom! Cast iron ‘must have’?

Hey, Tom!
I noticed in your comprehensive kitchen essential list at tomsaaristo.com that cast iron cookware is not mentioned.  While certainly not essential, would you recommend cast iron cookware to be included in the home chef’s collection?  I’ve personally avoided it for decades because it’s a bit scary.  Seasoning, rust, the sheer weight of the cookware…the mind reels.  If you recommend adding cast iron, is there really a difference between brands (I have heard Lodge is the hold standard but don’t know if that’s true)?  What is proper maintenance?  Also, I’m not ready to commit to a full set, what would be a good “get your feet wet” piece to acquire?
Thanks, luv
Krisan

Dear Krisan,
The first piece of cast iron I ever bought was an enameled cast iron grill pan, about 15 years ago. Sadly it didn’t survive the move to the space I currently live in …i.e. I think one of the movers thought cast iron was something everyone should have too

I never did replace it, but too-much-binge-watching America’s Test Kitchen somehow convinced me that I needed a cast iron skillet. Like you, I’d heard the Lodge brand get plenty of accolades, mainly because you can buy a pan that has already been seasoned, something that most Yankees don’t know the first thing about. In the same vain, most Southerners who are serious about cooking would never buy a new cast iron pan, seasoned or not. If they don’t have their grandmother (or great grandmother)’s cast iron pan that has been used for the last hundred or more years then they don’t actually cook

I mostly blame the fact that I was born and raised in Michigan and not Alabama for not including a cast iron pan on my ‘must have’ list. I actually don’t believe everyone ‘must have’ a cast iron pan (I think I used my skillet once last year and I can’t even tell you for what!). They are heavy and can be a challenge to maintain … and you can’t put them in the dishwasher. There is also a laundry list of things you should never cook in them … and you’ll never get a sear on sea scallops in cast iron like you can in stainless steel … the true ‘must have;

Thank you for your question! I hope my answer was helpful!

Do you have a culinary question I can answer for you? Let me know by commenting or sending an email to me at tom@tomsaaristo.com

Cocktail Friday: Lemondrop Martini

Cocktail! Because Friday!

The Lemon Drop was developed at a now defunct San Francisco bar called Henry Africa’s. Reminiscent of Lemonheads hard candy, this sweet and lemony drink came into vogue during the 1970s and is an America classic

Ingredients

For rimming the glass
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 wedge lemon

For the cocktail
1 1/2 ounces Grey Goose lemon vodka
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon simple syrup

For final plating and presentation
Long, broad lemon twists

Method
Pour the superfine sugar onto a small plate into an even layer. Rub lemon wedge around the rim of a martini glass and press the rim of the glass into the sugar

Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice. Pour in the vodka, lemon juice, orange liqueur and simple syrup; secure the cover and shake vigorously for 30 seconds

Strain into prepared glass. Garnish Lemondrop Martini with a lemon twist and enjoy

21st Century 3 bean salad

I did not care for the 3 bean salad from my youth mainly because the dressing was too rich with oil and it contained more, seemingly, wax beans than anything else

I prefer my vinaigrette more assertive, and you won’t find any wax beans here

Ingredients

For the salad
15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
15 ounce can cannellini, rinsed and drained
15 ounce can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 celery stalks, finely diced (include fresh leaves)
1 clove garlic, grated on the large holes side of a box grater
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
Zest of 1 lemon

For the vinaigrette
4 tablespoons red or champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon House salt, then to taste
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Method
In a large bowl, mix together the beans, celery, red onion, red pepper and lemon zest

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, garlic and oregano. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper (and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Whisk again and taste for seasonings)

Pour the vinaigrette over the beans and vegetables, toss to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour