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Celebrating the Gulf with Shrimp and Corn Chowder

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Some of my fondest childhood food memories involve shrimp and crab boils.  What an amazing creation – food that you not only got to eat with your hands, but you get to be as messy as you want.  Glorious!

I was so disappointed when I had to miss the Gulf Coast Disaster Relief Benefit at the Hotel San Jose last week; a giant shrimp boil with great music, all to benefit the victims of the gulf oil spill.   To lend moral support, I decided to make a shrimp and corn chowder for family dinner Saturday night.

Saturday morning I shopped at the Cedar Park Farmers Market with my friend Beth Ann and was delighted to find a seafood vendor at the market.  Originally I had only planned to buy shrimp, but they also had blue crabs from Kemah and I couldn’t pass up the chance to add them to to the mix.

I was pleased that I was able to buy everything except the garnishes – avocado, cilantro and lime – from the farmers market or my Farmhouse Delivery box.  I was even able to use the shrimp stock I made from the shrimp shells I saved from a dinner earlier this year.  I felt like I was doing my part to stretch my little piece of the Gulf even further.

Gulf Shrimp & Blue Crab Meat

I researched a number of chowder recipes and most called for one to two cups of heavy cream.  We are trying to substitute fat wherever we can in our family so I decided to experiment a little.  I used a cup of milk and then made a puree from some canned corn that I had leftover from the food bank challenge.  The puree helped thicken the soup.  Adding the crab gave it some additional lusciousness that would have been missing without the cream.  If you don’t want to go to all that trouble, use cream instead.

The chowder turned out to be a great way to celebrate our Gulf Coast seafood traditions.  If you are concerned about the future of the Gulf and all of those who have depended on it for their livelihood, I highly recommend reviewing the new booklet from the Renewing America’s Food Traditions alliance to learn more about the effects of the spill on our wildlife and future.  If you’d rather have a hard copy, I picked one up at the Downtown Farmers Market.

See you at the seafood stand!

Shrimp & Corn Chowder

Gulf Shrimp & Corn Chowder
2 tbsps butter

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 large poblanos, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 lb new potatoes, cut into quarters (or 1/8 depending if they are large)
3 cups broth, I used shrimp but you could use chicken
1 can corn, processed in food processor with 1/2 cup of liquid
1 tbsp salt
1 cup milk
2 lbs shrimp peeled and deveined – chopped
2 lbs crabs boiled, meat removed
1 avocado, sliced
a handful of cilantro, chopped
1 lime, sliced for garnish

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large pot.  Add the onions and poblanos and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the corn kernels, potato, pureed corn, 1 tbsp salt and the broth.  Cook for about 10 minutes, until the flavors begin to meld.

Lower the heat, add the milk and cook for another five minutes.

Add the shrimp and cook another five minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and top with a small handful of crab and a slice of avocado.  Serve with cilantro and lime as garnish.

Note:  If crab meat is not easily available or affordable, you could substitute a few of grilled shrimp as a topper for the chowder.  I suggest grilling them in their shells and then removing the shell before you serve to make it easier for your guests to enjoy the dish.

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A Piping Bowl of Spring: Lettuce & Asparagus Soup

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Until I ate grilled Romaine at Odd Duck Farm to Trailer a few months ago, I don’t think I’d ever had cooked lettuce before. I always think of lettuce as a salad base and I was surprised how much flavor the cooked lettuce had.  I was intrigued.

Shortly after that meal, I saw a recipe for lettuce soup.  I simultaneously thought “that sounds weird” and “I have to try and make that.” Then, this weekend Mark Bittman of the New York Times ran a lettuce soup recipe.  Coincidence?  I think not.
So, last night as I dug through the veggie drawer trying to figure out what to make before my Farmhouse Delivery arrives today, I saw a half full bag of mixed lettuce from Montesino Ranch and a head of Bibb lettuce I bought from Bella Verdi Farms this weekend.  Clearly, it was time to make lettuce soup.
First, I needed some broth. For the last couple of months, I have been saving broccoli and asparagus stalks, freezing them in plastic bags so I could use them in a veggie broth.  I tossed them in a pot them with a couple of chopped carrots, a bunch of chopped leeks, green onions, shallots a bay leaf and some thyme and simmered it all in water to cover for about an hour and a half.  It made a terrific broth and now I have some room in the freezer again.
With the broth ready to go, it was time to get to the task at hand.  I studied a number of different recipes; some called for just lettuce, some for lettuce and potatoes, some for lettuce and peas.  I didn’t have a potato or peas, but I did have asparagus so I used that instead. I also substituted sour cream for heavy cream to make it a little lighter in the calorie count.
The soup was deep green and delicious with a bright Spring flavor. I ate it hot with a chunk of sour rye bread from New Bread Rising at the Barton Creek farmers market, but the soup would have been just as delicious served cold.  
I’m excited to have a new way to use lettuce, particularly lettuce that is nearing the end of it’s salad days.  After all – waste not, want not.


Lettuce & Asparagus Soup
1 large head lettuce or a bag of mixed lettuce greens
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bunch of asparagus, chopped
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup sour cream

Rinse your lettuce and, if you are using a head of lettuce, chop the lettuce.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add lettuce and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally.


Add asparagus, broth, water, salt, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. At this point it looks like unappetizing seaweed, but stick with it.

Purée soup in batches in a blender with dill and cream.  (Note:I initially tried blending the soup with my immersion blender as this tends to be a little less messy for me since I am a total klutz.  Unfortunately, because I used mixed lettuce that had small stems, I ended up with a stringy tangle of lettuce around the blade.  Use the blender and save yourself from having to de-string your immersion blade.)


Garnish with a dab of sour cream and a sprig of dill.  It would also look nice with a curlicue of carrot on top.

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Taming the Pantry with Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup

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I recently found myself with an overabundance of butternut squash.  We made ravioli one weekend, but I still had 3 squash left. When I mentioned my plight to a friend, she suggested a white bean and butternut squash soup.  This sounded perfect as it solved two problems for me; I also had a pack of Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye Beans from my trip to San Francisco that kept attacking me every time I opened the pantry.

13010_1When I initially bought the beans, I thought they were related to black-eyed peas. After a little research, I learned that they are a cousin of the white bean and can be used as a creamier replacement for Navy or Great Northern beans. Perfect!

I added turnips to the soup balance out the richness of the squash and chose rosemary as the herb, inspired by a black-eyed pea dish seasoned with rosemary that my friend Zack made for a New Year’s dinner. If you’d like to add a touch of green to the soup, Spinach or Kale would make a nice addition.

This recipe makes an enormous batch of soup, about 10 servings. I froze it and have been eating it for lunch with a side salad. It reheats nicely and is delicious!

White Bean and Butternut Squash Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks or 1 onion – peeled and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 large turnips, peeled and chopped
2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
13010_216 oz dried white beans or substitute (like Yellow Eye Beans), soaked over night and drained (if you are substituting with canned beans, use 3 cans of drained beans)
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
2 tbsps fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the other vegetables and saute for another 5 minutes to sweat the vegetables and let the flavors come out.

Add the beans and 1.5 quarts of the stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cover and let the soup simmer for about an hour, adding stock as needed. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper and cook for another 15 minutes.

I garnished with a little extra fresh rosemary, but I would skip this step if you don’t like a strong rosemary flavor.

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Warm My Chilly Bones Chicken Posole

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With the weather reports atwitter about the upcoming cold snap, I have been thinking about soup, and posole in particular. 
On the Saturday morning of the FoodBuzz Festival in San Francisco, we descended on the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. For a farmer’s market girl, it was like I had died and gone to heaven. There were so many things to try and things that we don’t have in Austin that I couldn’t stop myself from buying a “few” things.

One of the more enticing booths for me was Rancho Gordo, a company that sells dried heirloom beans, corn, spices and other staples. I bought a couple of different types of beans and a bag of posole. When the first resemblance of a cold snap came through Austin in November, I headed straight for the bag of posole.

Because I wanted to make a chicken posole, I made my own broth which is an easy way to cook the chicken and have broth for the soup. If you need a shortcut, you could use canned posole, a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and store bought broth (but it won’t taste as yummy!)

Chicken Posole

For the broth: 
a 3-4 lb chicken, cleaned and dried
2 turnips, cut into 4 pieces
1 onion, cut in half
2 large carrots, roughly chopped – you don’t need to peel them
1 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
Several sprigs of thyme tied together in a bundle

For the posole: 
½ onion, uncut 

1 lb dried posole 

For the soup:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 peppers, roasted, seeded and peeled (I used Hatch Green chiles because I had some, but you could also use Anaheim or Poblano peppers)
Oregano, 2 tbsps dried or 1 tbsp fresh
2 tbsp cumin
Salt and pepper
Shredded chicken from a 3-4 lb bird
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Prepared posole
10 cups chicken broth

For garnish: 
½ bunch of cilantro chopped
¼ cup of cabbage, chopped

To prepare the posole: 
Place the posole in a bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight. Drain the posole. Place it in a saucepan with fresh water to cover generously. Add 1/2 onion, bring to a simmer, cover partially and cook at a gentle simmer until the corn kernels are tender, 2 to 3 hours; many will split open. Season with salt and cool in the liquid. Drain the posole. This step can be done the day before.

To prepare the broth: 
You can do make the broth a few days in advance. Place the chicken in a large stock pot with the vegetables and fill the pot with water, just enough to cover. You don’t want to add too much water or your broth will have a weak flavor. Add the bay leaf(ves) and thyme.

Bring the chicken to a boil and then lower the temperature to simmer. Cook for about an hour and a half. You’ll know it is done when the chicken almost falls off the bone when you try to handle it.

Remove the chicken and set on a plate to the side to cool. Skim any fat off the top of the broth. Pour the broth into another bowl or pot through a strainer, removing the vegetables and herbs. Set the broth to the side.

Remove the meat from the chicken. Discard the skin and bones.

To make the soup:
Heat the olive oil in a stock pot. Add the onions, garlic and peppers and sauté until the onions are just tender. Add the oregano, cumin, salt and pepper to coat the vegetables.

Add the remaining ingredients and then cover with chicken broth, about 10 cups. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes to let the flavors meld and warm through.

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