September 2010 Archives

Spicy Corn Chowder

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summer corn chowder 2.jpgMany years ago when I was going to fashion design school in San Francisco, a friend took  me to a cafe near Union Square on a blustery cold day.  I ordered their corn chowder.  It was better than any corn chowder I'd ever had and I have wished many times over the years that I had been paying attention to my food then the way I do now and taken notes.  It was thick, not runny; it was creamy but not too milky; it was spicy without being heavy with heat.  It had cilantro in it.

That cafe has been closed down for at least 15 years. 

For some reason I've been remembering that bowl of chowder I ate 20 years ago a lot this summer, so I decided it was time to recreate it from distant memory.  After several batches I present to you one of the best things you can make with summer corn.  Chowder sounds like it's meant to only be eaten in the cold weather but corn is at its best in the summer so if you can still get some at your farmer's market, give this a try right away, even if it's still hot where you live. 

My friend Chelsea (a major inspiration for starting Stitch and Boots) suggested I make a stock out of the corn cobs and it was brilliant because the soup had a lot more flavor than when I've made it in the past.  It really isn't too much trouble.  Cook the cobs down while you prep the rest of your ingredients and do some other kitchen chores.  It's well worth the effort make the stock out of the cobs.

corn stack 2.jpgSpicy Corn Chowder
serves 4-6


7-8 ears of corn
3 tbsp all purpose flour
3 tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
30 grinds of pepper (or 1/4 tsp)
1 quart corn cob stock
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
1 med. onion diced fine
1 celery stalk sliced thinly
4 med round potatoes diced med/small
5 cups corn kernels
1 can evaporated milk (or 1 cup milk)
2-3 jalapenos, roasted, peeled, and finely minced
2 tbsp finely minced cilantro

Sour cream for garnish

corn stock 2.jpgMethod:

Bring two quarts of water to a boil in a stock pot.  Cut the kernels off the corn and set the kernels aside in a bowl for later.  Break the corn cobs in half and put them in the pot.  Boil the cobs until the stock is reduced to 1 quart (this takes about 40 minutes for me but times may very).

Remove the cobs and set the stock aside.

In a soup pot prepare a roux using the flour, butter, salt, and pepper.  Pour the corn cob stock slowly into the roux whisking briskly to remove any lumps and once all the stock is poured, let the veloute* thicken.

burnt on purpose peppers 2.jpgHeat up the olive oil in a medium saute pan and saute the onion and celery until the onion is beginning to brown slightly (this adds more flavor to the chowder).  Remove from the heat and add to the thickened veloute.

Add the potatoes, corn, and jalapenos to the chowder.  Stir frequently to prevent the bottom from burning.  Let the chowder cook until the potatoes are completely done, around 30 minutes.  Turn the heat off and add the milk and the cilantro, stirring them in well.  Let it cool a little before serving.

Top with a couple of tbsp of sour cream and serve!

corn chowder chop 2.jpg

Recipe Notes:  You can use a lot more cilantro and the soup will still be great.  I made one batch with a whole bunch of cilantro and though it was good, I wanted the emphasis to be on the corn so the next batch I used just 2 tbsp and thought the balance was much nicer.  You can also garnish with some additional cilantro if you like. 

The chowder is just as good without the evaporated milk (I made it both ways) but a true chowder has milk and I like the flavor it adds so I prefer the version with milk.  A word about the jalapenos- mine were very hot and 3 of them was almost too much but I later bought peppers from a different vendor at the market and they barely had any heat.  So my suggestion is to only use two if your pepper are especially hot this year and you don't want the soup to be super spicy.

One more thing- if you don't have fresh corn on hand and want to use canned or frozen, 5 cups might be an awkward amount (it's the amount I got off of 8 ears of corn).  Don't worry about it.  Use whatever quantity comes closest in canned or frozen without wasting any.  A little difference in quantity of corn one way or the other won't ruin this chowder.

*Technically a veloute is made with beef or chicken stock but when making a vegetarian dish you always substitute meat stocks with vegetable stock so while it isn't a true veloute, this is a vegetarian version of one.

This recipe is vegan if you make the roux with olive oil instead of butter and omit adding the evaporated milk.

Related article:

How to Make a Roux
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How to Make a Roux

roux base 2.jpg
What is a roux?

A roux is a cooked mixture of equal parts flour to fat which is used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups.  Making a roux is very basic and is such a versatile cooking component that every cook should know how to make it.

The flour used is wheat and it works equally well with whole wheat as it does with refined wheat.  The whole wheat will give the roux an earthier fuller flavor while the refined wheat will be more flavor neutral. 

The traditional fat to use is clarified butter but you can use regular butter, rendered fat, or oil.  I nearly always use butter when I make a roux but I recently tried using olive oil because I've heard it works well and my friend Angela uses oil frequently and suggested I give it a try.  I did and it worked just as well as the butter so I can happily recommend that vegans learn to make roux in their kitchens using oil instead of butter.

A traditional roux is simply this:
Equal parts fat to flour, cooked.

That's very simple.  But before I give you the method to making the roux I want to mention that I always season my flour before I make the roux.  I like to mix in a ramekin the following:

3 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 shakes of cayenne pepper

This is the flour mixture I use when I make cheese sauce and I love the kick of cayenne gives to the cheese.  Even when I don't use the cayenne, I always add salt and pepper to my flour.  (If you will be adding hot peppers a dish in which you will be adding the roux, omit the cayenne and only add later if your dish still needs more heat)  

roux 2.jpgHow to make a roux:

Heat up the fat in a skillet (or soup pot) at med/high heat, if it's butter don't let it brown*.  Whisk in the flour (or flour mixture).  When it's all mixed together it should form a thick paste as you see in the picture above. Whisk the paste for two to three minutes. 

It is important to cook it for at least two minutes because this removes the raw taste of flour from the dish you will add your roux to.  I always make a light roux and so never cook it for more than five minutes before adding liquid.  The longer you cook it the deeper the color and flavor.

After a few minutes you either take it off the heat and transfer to another container for use later, or add liquid to create a sauce, gravy, or soup base.

making roux 2.jpg
What to do with the roux:

You can add any liquid to a roux that suits your purpose: water, stock, or milk are the most common liquids to add depending on what you're making.

How much roux you need for a recipe will sometimes vary.  I have found that usually 3 tbsp of flour to 3 tbsp of butter is sufficient to thicken 3 cups of milk for making a cheese sauce for one casserole dish of macaroni and cheese.  I also find that this is adequate for thickening a medium batch of soup that serves 4 -6 people.

When you add your liquid to the roux you need to whisk constantly (and briskly) as you pour it into the pot to prevent lumps from forming.  I generally pour half my liquid in and make sure to get all the roux mixed well.  As soon as I see that the roux is mixed well with no lumps I add the rest of my liquid.  This will take longer to thicken.  It may take up to 20 minutes to fully thicken.

If you use milk (or cream) you want to make sure that you don't let it boil hard.  Watch it carefully and as soon as you see it begin to bubble, turn the heat down to med/low and whisk it frequently to prevent burning. 

Once the roux has thickened your liquid, it's ready for whatever application you intend it for. 

Here are a couple of examples of what you might do next:

If you're making a cheese sauce you turn the bechamel (roux + milk = bechamel sauce) off the heat and add two cups (or more) of grated cheese, stir, then add to pasta.

If you're making a soup you would add your veloute (roux + stock = veloute) to some sauteed vegetables or you would start adding your vegetables to the pot with your veloute. 

Every cook should know how to make a roux and I hope my instructions give a nudge to anyone who hasn't learned to make one yet. 

*Unless you are following a recipe for a brown butter sauce or
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Tomato and Basil Strata Recipe

egg strata 2.jpgThe first time I tasted an egg strata was at my cousin Christa's house in Wisconsin.  It's a great dish to make for brunches because you can assemble it the night before and throw it in the oven 45 minutes before you want to eat it.  It's filling and offers everything in one dish that you should ideally start your day with (protein, grain, and vegetable).

One thing you need to bear in mind when you make an egg strata is that you must let it sit at least for one hour before baking so that the toast becomes saturated with the egg and milk mixture.   

My recipe calls for a lot of eggs and if that makes you hesitant you need to consider that this recipe generously serves 8 people (or can be cut even smaller if you have other dishes to serve) which means that each serving has just 1 1/2 eggs in it.  That's not too many eggs to eat for breakfast!

About the bread.  Most strata recipes call for good quality French bread or a brioche loaf.  I used a great local bread called "sesame white" which has good flavor and no gluey factor.  We usually use whole wheat bread and I would wholeheartedly suggest you use wheat if you have it.  However, I buy the sesame white to make croutons with (because they dry nice and light and not hard) and so this is what I had the first time I made it.  I liked it so much that I bought more sesame white.  Bread comes in all shapes and sizes so how much bread you'll need to toast may vary a little from what I used.  Keep that in mind.  This is a regular sliced sandwich bread size. If you use a french bread the slices may be half the size of what I used.

Egg stratas lend themselves to lots of variations and I encourage you to play with the possibilities!

Tomato and Basil Strata

serves 8

8 slices of good quality bread
1 tbsp butter for greasing your baking dish
12 eggs
2 cups milk
10 large basil leaves (or one small bunch) julienned
1 tsp salt
30 grinds of pepper
6 large tomatoes
2 cups grated jack cheese


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Place the bread slices on baking sheets and toast them until lightly toasted and dried out.  Be sure to turn them over so they get toasted on both sides.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and milk together and then add the basil, salt, and pepper to it and beat a little more to mix well.

Slice the tomatoes in rounds (somewhere between 1/4" and 3/8" thick is good).

toast for strata 2.jpgGrease a 9x13" baking dish with butter.  When the toast is ready layer the bottom of the baking dish with them.  It was helpful with the shape of my bread to break the slices up a bit to fit them in well.

making strata 2.jpgCover the toast with a layer of sliced tomatoes.  Make a second layer of toast and beat the eggs again before pouring evenly over the whole dish. Place a second layer of tomatoes on the top, cover the baking dish, and let it sit for at least an hour.

Twenty minutes before it's ready to be baked, turn your oven on to 350 degrees.  The strata will take 45 minutes to cook.  I don't put the grated cheese on the top until it's been in for a half an hour.  After it's cooked for 40 minutes at 350 I put the broiler on and let the cheese get bubbly and slightly browned, which in my oven takes about 5 minutes.

tomato layer 2.jpgThese are some of the most beautiful tomatoes I've ever seen!  The first layer were all red ones.  I liked the mix a lot.

a corner of broiled cheese 2.jpg
Recipe Notes:  You can use whatever kind of cheese you like that melts well.  Jack is one of my very favorite cheeses for covering casseroles with but a gruyere would also be really nice.  My mom thought I should have used more basil but I didn't want the herb flavor to overpower the flavor of the tomatoes which were at their peak of flavor.  I nearly always use a 2% milk but you can use whole milk or skim if you prefer.  I know some recipes even call for cream.  

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Ricotta Stuffed Tomatoes

ricotta stuffed toms 2.jpgThis is a very simple dish to make.  I always make my own ricotta but you can very satisfactorily use store bought which makes this dish also fast to put together.  If you have the time though, I highly recommend trying homemade ricotta as it has a sweeter fresher flavor than store bought.

I use this ricotta blend for stuffing other things as well, including lasagna.  The secret ingredient is nutmeg.  My mother, who lived in Rome for two years when she was a kid, taught me to put nutmeg in ricotta and though it seems strange- it is delicious!  If you hate nutmeg, leave it out.   

ricotta for stuffing 2.jpgRicotta Stuffed Tomatoes
serves 9


9 medium summer tomatoes (firm)
15 ounces ricotta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 egg
12 big basil leaves, julienned
3/4 tsp salt
3 shakes nutmeg
15 grinds fresh pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the top of the tomatoes off and hollow them out being careful not to rip them up (you can see in the picture that I ripped a couple of mine).

In a big bowl mix all the remaining ingredients using a fork so that the egg gets broken and mixed in well.

Place the tomatoes in a pie dish and fill each one up with the ricotta mixture making sure to heap it up at the top a little.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Then turn your oven broiler on and broil them until the tops turn golden (in my oven this is less than five minutes). 

ricotta stuffing 2.jpgThese make a great side dish or you can eat them as your main dish with a salad for a light dinner.  You can eat the leftovers for lunch.   

stuffed tomato with fork 2.jpg

Recipe notes:  Don't use tomatoes that have already passed their peak and are soft because they'll fall apart.  You can drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes before baking if you like.  I didn't use it for myself because it really wasn't necessary and I like that this dish is pretty light in the calorie department.  Olive oil would definitely add a bit more richness to the dish.   This recipe can easily be halved but I would still use one egg in the ricotta because it would be silly to waste a half and egg and though you can omit it all together, I like including an egg for extra protein and it lends more substance to the ricotta.

This recipe is Gluten Free

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