Not Liveblogging Top Chef: Chowder Time

So there’s no new Top Chef tonight. But don’t worry, here are some options for passing the time: Enter the Forking Fantastic Giveaway. Catch up with last week. Run down the street nude, tossing candy to passersby. (I really just wanted to see if you’d do that last one.) Or keep reading, and see what happens next.

Michelle?  No.

San Francisco photos?  No.

What’s the point, right?  THE POINT: YOU ARE AN ADDICT.

I’m Brian, Michelle’s non-blogging, non-funny, non-chefly partner.  She asked me to post tonight because her job is exhausting and I made dinner.  I’ll say up front that I have tried to be a blogger in the past and failed because I’m a shitty writer and I write about boring things.  There.  You’ve been warned.

One more warning.  I don’t have any pictures of the food I cooked until the very end because (a) Michelle had her good camera with her, (2) I didn’t know I’d be blogging, and (III) I have notoriously shaky hands.  Seriously, someone at my office used to call me Cap’n Shakes because I can’t keep my hands from shaking for any length of time without resting them against something solid.  Maybe I should get a doctor to look at that.

Moving on.

As I’m sure you already know, Michelle spent the weekend in San Francisco for the Blogher Food conference.  And Michelle deserved a good homecoming meal, right?  And you know what says “Welcome home to chilly, damp New Jersey!” best?  SOUP.

I’ve made soup before, so it wasn’t like I was conquering the unknown, but I really wanted to make chowder.  We happened to have a few ears of fresh sweet Jersey corn from the CSA in the fridge, so I thought I’d try to make a corn chowder.  Because Michelle loves corn.  (In fact, over dinner she told me that as a kid, one of her favorite foods was a can of corn heated up in a pan of milk with some salt and pepper.  I’ll bet her Italian mother loved that.)(Ed.: It was her idea, because she thought chowder was too unhealthy.) And I’ve had chowders before so I have some idea of what they taste like and what’s supposed to go in them.

I picked up some milk on the way home and dug through the fridge for some other veggies – potatoes, onions, red peppers, celery – before thinking that I might want to look at a recipe before jumping into this.  As it turns out, Starting with Ingredients has a potato and corn chowder that sounded exactly like what I was about to make, with one key exception – bacon.  Why did I not think of that?  (Ed.: Seriously, why didn’t you? It’s like I don’t know who I married anymore.) And why did we have no bacon in the house?  (Ed.: Another excellent question.) It was raining and I wasn’t about to walk the thirty feet to the supermarket to get some, so I had to find a substitute.  Curiously enough, we had a wonderful substitute on hand.

So I started by dicing up about a quarter pound of pancetta and rendering it in a soup-sized pot.  While that was making the dogs drool all over the place (Ed.: He’s not kidding when he says “all over the place.” If you don’t believe it, you have never been within the near vicinity of a hungry sheepdog.), I husked the corn, wrapped it in foil and tossed it into a 500 degree oven.  When the pancetta was ready (I have no idea if it was actually done rendering, just that I was getting bored and wanted to move on to the next step), I tossed a diced onion, a diced red pepper and about two stalks of diced celery into the pot.

Things started to smell really good, so I figured I was doing something right.  After a few minutes, a pound of potatoes – peeled and cut into half inch cube-like shapes that weren’t very much like cubes at all – went into the chamber of delicious, I poured in enough water to just cover everything, and got the pot boiling.  At this point, I pulled out the corn and cut off the kernels, which were very hot, so if you have nerve endings in your fingers you should wait a few minutes after the ears come out of the hot oven.  I assume a lot of you people are of the chefly persuasion, so you probably don’t have too many nerves left in your fingers.  So you can ignore that bit.

Once the potatoes were soft, I chucked in the corn and the whole thing looked vaguely soup-esque.  So now it’s time to pour in milk and/or cream, which is the step that tuns soup into chowder (in my mind?  in reality?  who knows?) and is also the one part of this whole thing that I have never done before.  It should also be noted that I don’t have Michelle’s ability to determine what two things will taste like once I put them together.  When I was a kid, I once put ketchup on an Oreo because I figured, “Hey.  Oreos are good.  Ketchup is good.  Sounds like a winning combo!”  (Ed.: Dear god. Thank god you married me.) This time I thought I would consult the book again to see what I was supposed to put in and how much of it to use.  According to the recipe and a little bit of math, I figured I’d use a cup and a half of milk and a half cup of cream.   Why did I measure this but nothing else?  In retrospect it seems ridiculous, but it worked out so I’ll probably do the same thing if I ever make this again.  Which I will, because once the milk/cream was in and the salt and pepper were adjusted, this tasted like some kicking potato and corn chowder.  I simmered it for a little bit to get it to thicken up a little and then it was ready for the homecoming queen.

And the homecoming queen decided she wanted to go to a diner for dinner the night she came in.  (Ed.: I’m fickle.)

And then we didn’t have time to eat dinner before leaving the house the next night.

The chowder waited patiently in the fridge for us until tonight, when I made some grilled cheese sandwiches  as if to say,”Hey there, chowder.  Don’t be lonely anymore.  Here’s a friend.”  Also, grilled cheese sandwiches and soup are perfect on the day when the weather decides to drop below 50 for the first time in fall.

Behold!  And now maybe Michelle will leave a comment to describe the flavors and expand on the process and perhaps explain why it’s garnished with chives. (Ed.: It was effing good. And I think we already know about the chive rule.)

13 thoughts on “Not Liveblogging Top Chef: Chowder Time

  1. Mmmmm – I have to make this, soon. A tip: after cutting off the corn kernels, try simmering the denuded cobs in a little water for 10-15 minutes, then using this liquid for the soup. Idiotically simple, but this creates stock that has a surprising depth of corniness, and really ups the flavor of the soup.

  2. Ahhhh…chowdah! We may have to go there this weekend. To avoid the singed fingertips, you can cut off the kernels from the uncooked cobs, and saute them until they start to brown. I agree with boiling the cobs for the stock, too, which you can do while you’re sauteeing the kernels, which you can do right after you sauteed the onions which were right after you sauteed the bacon or pancetta, and right before you throw in the potatos to saute them before you dump the stock over everything, so as you can see, it all times out nicely. I don’t add celery because I don’t effing LIKE celery.

  3. Who told you you can’t write? You make an excellent guest blogger and what sounds like an awesome corn chowder.

  4. Excuse me? You most certainly CAN write! And cook!! I agree with the gently boiling corn cobs as an addition to your chowder, but otherwise: JPY!!* And chowdah always tastes better after marinating for a day or so.

    *Just Plain Yummy!

  5. Everyone: Thanks for the kind words. I AM wonderful.

    Miriam, Kay and Elaine: I’ll definitely boil the cobs next time. Thanks for the tip.

    Jay: Absolutely vile. Don’t do it.

  6. Don’t let anyone ever tell you you can’t write! The chowder sounds delicious; it’s always better for chowder to sit overnight to blend the flavors. Michelle is one lucky woman to have a guy who can sub for her on the blog and in the kitchen!

  7. Made this for my roommates tonight, stellar reviews! The yummiest solution for an extra lb of red potatoes kicking around in the cupboard.

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