14 October 2009

slinging hash: corn chowder

I don't know what my children have against soup. Aside from miso or the occasional bowl of chicken noodle, the mere suggestion of soup leaves them mortally offended. But because hope springs eternal, I am thick-headed, and I just like making soup,  I persevere.

Last week I had a hankering for corn chowder when a recipe for Cheddar Corn Chowder in the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook caught my eye. I began to get my hopes up. My children like corn; they like potatoes. Maybe this will be the soup that wins them over. And that was foolish of me, because in child rearing, as with many human pursuits, logic does not prevail.

I would make a terrible recipe tester, because I am incapable of following a recipe to the letter. Except when it comes to baking, for me, a recipe is more of an idea than a blueprint. You should not necessarily trust me if I tell you I made something from so-and-so's book and it was awful, because in reality, I am not that good at following the directions. But this is the beauty of soup; it is easy, and takes well to improvisation. You saute some aromatics, add vegetables, liquid, herbs, spices, or other flavorings, and simmer away. 

When my children asked what was for dinner, and I brightly replied, "Corn chowder!" I was met with the predictable mix of skepticism and disdain, although Sacha won a prize for originality when he shook his head and said, "I don't like corn showers."

Did they eat it? Of course not. But seeing as David and I enjoyed it, and I got a week's worth of lunches for about 45 minutes of effort, it was worth it.

Corn Chowder
serves 6-8

In keeping with my improvisatory nature, this recipe, and the directions are a little loose. I'm sorry if it drives you crazy. But soup is very forgiving, and subject to individual taste. Measurements for half and half and cheese are approximate; truthfully, I don't pay that close attention. My motto is start with less, add more as you go. You can always add more of something, but you can't take it away.

Ina Garten's recipe calls for bacon. As Jews, we are generally not people of the pig, so I omitted it. But since little is not improved by bacon, you can saute some and serve as a garnish. 

People often think you need stock to make a decent soup, which is not true. Stock gives soup a different quality, but is not at all necessary; most of the time, I use water. When I use stock, I like Better Than Bouillon. I don't reconstitute it before using, but instead, stir the paste into the onions, and then add water.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 chopped yellow onions
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
3 cups (2-3 medium sized) potatoes, cut in medium-dice
6 cups chicken stock or water
2 bags of frozen corn kernels
1/2-1 cup half and half
8 ounces (approximately 2 cups) grated cheddar or cheddar jack cheese, optional

Heat butter and olive oil in a stockpot or saute pan on medium high heat.

Add onions, salt and pepper, and saute until onions are translucent.

[True confession: often, I walk away at this point, to put in a load of laundry, or some such, and come back to find my onions not quite burnt, but well past translucent. C'est la vie; it still tastes good.]

Add water or stock, and potatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. How long this takes will depend on how small you cut your potatoes. When the potatoes are tender, mash some against the side of the pot, and incorporate, to add body to the soup.

Add corn, half and half and cheese, if using. Cook about five minutes more, until cheese is melted.

Adjust seasoning before serving.

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