Saturday, October 6, 2007

Culinary Quick Stop - Potato Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder, heavy on the potatoes.

We have made a pact, my husband and I. It is one of clear understanding, hashed out early on in our relationship when we were still just dating. Scott, like many men, hated to shop; I, like many women, loved to shop, and subscribed to the philosophy that if you find a sweater you can’t live without, better get one in every color. In my case, though, I’d crammed in so much shopping since my teen years that I was burned out from the ritual. I wanted to expand my life beyond the endless pilgrimage of going from one store to the other looking for that “perfect” whatever-it-was that I had to have, but never saw again once it found a niche in the closet.

So, we don’t “go shopping.” We buy things, as we need them, but we don’t go to stores for entertainment. (Well, bookstores are the exception, but that’s it).

We are very happy with our agreement since it rewards us with much more time to pursue our many common interests in each other’s company rather than the company of hoards of strangers all looking for that “perfect” whatever-it-is that they have to have. This marriage policy is especially effective when we go away on vacation. Outside of having to stop and shop for the obligatory little gifts to bring home to family, we eschew all retail in favor of kicking around our destinations for local color, sightseeing, history and dining, all the reasons why we travel in the first place.

And why we travel back to the same places. After spending a glorious honeymoon last year on the rock-bound coast of Maine, it was clear we had to return to recapture the savage and serene elements of nature as well as explore and discover the trails and vistas that eluded us the first time around. Rooster Brother The Store for Cooks, in Ellsworth, was distinctly not on the itinerary. In fact, I didn’t even notice it last year when we made our daily pass through town to get to Acadia National Park. Perhaps it wasn’t there last year. Perhaps they didn’t doll up the expansive plate-glass windows with riotous rows of Le Creuset and Fiesta Dinnerware, colors clashing and flashing like the Vegas Strip. Perhaps I was too giddy in love and it was another six months before I would start food blogging, when my world would be re-programmed, always with the next post in mind.

My camera lens pressed against the shop window.
Fiesta Dinnerware.

As fate would have it, we never traveled through Ellsworth during business hours; we were either always too early or too late. The days passed by, the car passed by, and I felt like life was passing me by. I wouldn’t see my kitchen for a week; I wouldn’t be blogging for longer still. If only there was a way to poke around all that great gear jeering at me from the window without compromising our time in the even greater outdoors. On our last day, I casually approached Scott, suggesting we double back to Ellsworth for lunch and make a short run through Rooster Brother. There was no quarrel. The store carried a large stock of specialty coffees; we could always use more coffee, we rationalized. We weren’t buying tchotchke; we were buying coffee.

A half hour later, we carefully loaded a shopping bag full of assorted sundries, comestible and collectible, into the car trunk. I prided myself on my practicality and frugality, only allowing the purchase of one small sunny yellow Fiesta bowl to feature my favorite seafood soup, New England clam chowder, for an upcoming post.

Once we got home and unpacked our treats and treasures, I was overwhelmed with buyer’s remorse. I looked at my adorable little bowl, heaving with regrets. I knew I should have gotten one in every color.

New England Potato Clam Chowder - (my own version of a vacation favorite, thickened with mashed potatoes instead of flour)


1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 stick butter* (or reduce for calorie/fat restricted diets)
6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2-3 cups milk, half and half or light cream (or combination of these)
3 undrained cans (6 1/2 ounces each) chopped clams in clam juice or 2 dozen freshly steamed clams, chopped, reserving 1 cup of clam juice**
1 rounded teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper


In a large skillet, gently melt butter over low heat. Add onion and celery, sautéing without browning, for approximately 12 minutes or until vegetables are soft but not mushy. Stir in dried sage. Meantime, boil cubed potatoes in a very large pot of plain water until tender but holding their shape, approximately 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and remove half of them to a large bowl. Rice or mash these potatoes, slowly adding milk until completely smooth and loose. Return mashed potatoes to cubed potatoes in the pot, stirring slowly to combine. Add clams in their juices, the onion and celery, and enough milk to thin the soup to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat through without boiling. Serve in cups or bowls with oyster crackers. Serves 4-6. --

* For additional fat reduction, you can substitute the butter with 1 tablespoon flavorless oil or cook the vegetables in a 1/2 cup of water until softened.

** If using fresh clams, only steam them until the shells open. Do not fully cook them or they will become rubbery. Once they are added to the chowder and heated through, they will be thoroughly cooked but of the right texture.

This post is being submitted to Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging for Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, the creator of this weekly food event.


Sharmi said...

my eyes were all over those dinnerwares:)) very colorful and lovely!

Kalyn said...

You are too funny. I'm afraid I'm often guilty of the "one in every color" philosophy, especially when buying dishes for the blog! When it comes to other areas though(not for the blog) I must say that I'm not nearly as obsessed with shopping and acquiring things as I used to be. Maybe I finally have "enough" stuff!

Love the sound of the clam chowder! I often visit my sister and her family for Christmas and we make this every year.

Simona said...

That bowl is really nice and I understand your feelings about the other colors. I must admit I have never had any clam chowder: I hope your recipe will change the situation.

Mishmash ! said...

Starting from your marriage policy to that cute li'l pretty bowl, I enjoyed the suspense and innocence of your post :)I have tasted clam chowder a couple of times and loved it for its richness and creaminess :)


Maryann said...

OK, that yellow bowl is so beautiful. I can see why you would want one in each color.The clam chowder looks yummy too. I love clam chowder.

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - I greatly appreciate the thought that has gone into this post. I love the tying in of the Fiesta-ware with buying items of every color, visually mimicked in the colorful plate upon which your sunny yellow Fiesta bowl sits.

I have never been one for every color...I'm one of those annoying people that deliberates, weighing up all the choices for the perfect "one". I do shop with Eric though, so he is a great help: "That looks cuter on you" or "that would look better with X appliance". Sold.

No Old Bay in the clam chowder? I love the floury potatoes and would probably replicate this without the clams. I love the apparent unctuousness of this soup. Almost too warm for that here now...

Kelly-Jane said...

Such a pretty little bowl, the shape, the colour... and the soup too.

You'll just have to go back next year for some more, um, coffee =)

I try to keep the shopper within me in check a lot of the time (not saying successfully but I do try), but on holiday I can go a bit bananas. Though actually I get a lot of pleasure using dishes that have come from other places, and that bring back happy memories...

Maybe Roosters have a website?! ha ha :) :)

Rosa said...

I love Fiesta dinnerware! All I have is a set of two espresso cups in a lovely shade of salmon-apricot (don't know how to describe it!), but oh, how I long to have more. Oh, and I love clam chowder too - thanks for this recipe!

Cynthia said...

You should have gotten one in every colour.

I envy you all that live abroad and can have such variety in tableware, we get stuff here but not in those varieties and they are often pricey. When I travel, I always want to buy tableware but have to keep myself in check because it means having to hold them in my hands and pray that they don't break or chip.

Sylvia said...

You are so funy ,Susan ,and I agree.
When I bought my new copper roller pin my husband ask me " Do yo really need this?" I answered: " For sure"
And, I think, after this made a tactical deal If I want I bought roller pins ,all colors bags(I'm made about)and you (my husband) bought watches and see all soccer and rugby championship.
I really appreciate your clam chowder I want to try your recipe.

Anh said...

These bowls are super cute, indeed! Look like I have to adopt your policy for my future marriage. :D

Valli said...

My chowder is definitely heavy on the potatoes!!! Everyone should have mix 'n' match, with one in every colour!!!

Sandeepa said...

Lovely dinnerware and equally lovely clam chowder. Bar Harbor too had some good shops with beautiful stuff on window display. Had to restrain myself :)

Foodie Froggy said...

Hi Susan,
Thanks for your vacation recipe !
I have noticed that you will host WHHB soon. I think I will participate .
A bientôt,

sra said...

Susan, Feedblitz is playing hookey - I came over from the WHB round-up.
I still go shopping for entertainment but don't buy unless I need (well, 'want' would be better word) it. Or unless the product haunts me - I usually don't buy it in the first trip if I can do without it. And when I'm going back for it I tell myself when I go back, if it's still there, I am meant to have it, otherwise it wasn't meant for me anyway.
It's been a long time since I went shopping and came back with bags and bags of stuff. Now the blog even overrides my love for clothes, and I have shopped a tiny bit for it, but have come to the conclusion that for a one-year old blogger, plain white accessories are enough to experiment with. Of course, this is not to mention the super expensive Nikon and Olympus SLRs I checked out yesterday.

Padma said...

Lovely looking chowder, have not tasted clams so far. It must be somewhere close to lobster or crab meat? my faintest idea!

Is there anything that I can replace clams in this chowder? LMK, would love to try this!

Harrison Ferrone said...

hi, i noticed that you have a lot of authority, and i'm new at this so i was wondering if you could tell me how to link to other peoples sites to get authority. do you just add a site to your link list, or do you have to do something else? any help would be greatly appreciated. thanks.

TBC said...

Oh Susan! Your pics are beautiful! I love your cute little yellow bowl...almost like sunshine in your kitchen.
As for the dish itself, well,let me just say that I am almost tempted to eat that(and that's big coming from me 'cos hubby & I are pure vegetarians);-)

Nanditha Prabhu said...

As I was reading the first half , I felt as if it was a carbon copy of my life style too. The only stores we shop with out guilt are the book stores!
loved your post ..., the tablewares and your vacation recipe

Christina said...

Using mashed potatoes to thicken the soup is a wonderful idea. This is a technique I'll definitely apply in my kitchen.

sunita said...

My husband is the same, and I too have become less passionate about shopping than I use to be...not to mention the kitchen accessories of course;) But yes, I would rather spend my weekend with my hubby and kids than jostling among strangers, trying to find that' something perfect'.

The chowder looks very comforting, and the bowl is cute.

Sharmi said...

hey Susan, did you bake? no news of that??!!

Susan said...

Sharmi – I couldn’t keep my eyes off those dishes, either. There in lay the temptation!
Kalyn – I have to admit that to buy for the blog is much more fun than all the clothes I rarely wear anymore now that I’m out of corporate. There is a certain freedom that comes from appreciating all the goodies in the marketplace, but having the courage and peace of mind to walk on by.

Clam chowder is one of the easiest, most satisfying of soups. I’m glad you share it with your sister at Xmas time.
Simona – There are two chowder styles typical in the East, the creamy New England and the tomato-based Manhattan. Since you’ve never had clam chowder before, I would suggest the New England with a buttery broth that keeps the clam flavor in check. If you like it, you can always adjust the measurements for a more authentically nautical taste. The original, historic recipes for New England chowder were more broth and less rich and dense.
Thanks, Shn. Clam chowder can certainly be rich and creamy. I’ve had it with twice the butter and heavy cream; it would keep us going all afternoon hiking in the mountains.
Hi, Maryann. I was drawn to all the Fiesta colors, but that little bowl kept catching my eye over the others. It was an inexpensive purchase, but will be a perennially enjoyed investment.
Hey, Shaun. You're right. There was great thought that went into this post, but I wasn’t even aware of the colorful plate representing all the Fiesta colors I passed up. That was unconscious on my part, and a good catch on yours. I let go of my quest for perfection a while ago – too analytically exhausting. Sometimes good is good enough, particularly since perfection is a concept.

Old Bay in New England chowder? No way! Old Bay is a southern herb blend, a staple of Chesapeake seafood. Great in its own right, but definitely regional. Of course, you could use it, but I was going for more of the purist batch of chowder.
Thanks, Kelly-Jane. Yes, Rooster Brother does have a website, but I think it specializes more in their gourmet foodstuffs rather than kitchenware. There are many other online sources of Fiesta Dinnerware, but I tend to avoid those sites; they have some “retired” colors that probably would make me “loose it.”
Rosa – I think that salmon-apricot shade is called "Persimmon." And yes, it is lovely, dreamy and romantic. I am a huge fan of Apilco and Pillivuyt, but that occasional burst of Fiesta color really can spark up an open display cupboard or table spread. I can just imagine how pretty an inky brown espresso looks in those cups, a little retro, a little modern hip.
Cynthia – Next time you travel, you’ll find that some gift shops will ship anywhere world wide, securing your delicate purchases in bubble wrap to ensure they get to your home in one piece. You could also limit your purchases to the huge selections of kitchen textiles available, no breakage, but so many colors, designs and textures.
Sylvia – I don’t own one piece of copper except for a decorative mold hanging on my kitchen wall. The idea of a copper rolling pin is hard to put out of my mind. I’ve seen all the copper soup cauldrons, saucepans and skillets – frighteningly expensive and difficult to maintain, but they are breathtakingly beautiful.
Thanks, Anh. Our buying style works for us – it could well work for others. It takes some adjusting, but there are benefits, too. ; )
Hi, Valli. While there is no substituting for a traditional roux in some recipes, this chowder was an unexpectedly nice experiment. I’ll make it with lots of potatoes again. It had plenty of butter and cream for flavor; the flour wasn’t missed. It’s fun to decorate a table with mix & match dinnerware, but hell to find a place to store it all. !!!
Sandeepa – Thanks so much. We drove through Bar Harbor twice and refused to get out of the car. Freeport, Maine, where we stopped for lunch enroute, was even more retail crazy. Not only is it the base for L.L. Bean, but every conceivable name brand outlet store, hundreds of them. Yikes!
Hi, Anne. Would be great if you could contribute to WHB. French fare is ALWAYS welcome! Thanks!
Sra, you may have better luck subscribing with a Feedburner email subscription. Shn recently had the same problem which the Feedburner option resolved. Ah, technology. :\ What is it about blogging that pushes out all those former leasures? Perhaps it’s a more true form of creative expression and connection with others. I’ve got my eye on a Nikon SLR, too, but we’ll see what happens in December for Xmas and a birthday. Prices will be much more discounted by then.
Hi, Padma. Clams, a member of the bivalve/mollusk family (like mussels and oysters) have a different sort of taste than lobster and crab, less delicate, more robust and sometimes briney. Chowders can be made with any shellfish, but tender lobster, crab and shrimp are particularly well suited to bisques. I’ll find a recipe and send to you.
Harrison – I think I’ve answered your question now. Hope it helps.
Thank you, TBC. That is high praise indeed, but your recent vegetable/potato stew is a marvel of vegetarian flavors and textures. It is on my list of great blog recipes to try in the near future.
Thank you, dear Nanditha. I’m crazy about bookstores; a world of knowledge, ideas and aesthetics which I cannot give up, but the spending is still prudent. I’m glad you understand. Somehow I knew you would. : )
Christina – Thanks. Potatoes have so much comfort and nutrition going for them, I like to incorporate them in recipes when I can.
Hi, Sunita. Thank you. Oh, I still love my kitchen things, too, but time is the most precious and valuable commodity, so easy to squander. I must say I love to shop for groceries over anything else. It is the only household errand that doesn’t feel like drudgery, even when I have to drag the bags up two flights of stairs. : )

Suganya said...

Ain't that true...Like the latest Target commercial .... Little bit more, little bit more :D

Sandeepa said...

But tell me when you are stressed or depressed, doesn't a prospect of buying colourful cofee mugs at Pier1, uplift your mood ? Mine does, but I love buying more of the smaller knic-knack kind of things. Pleasure with less price :)

My prev comment didn't do justice to my retail therapy mind set ;-)

Susan said...

LOL, Suganya! I haven't seen the Target commercial. Thanks for the warning! : )
Sure does, Sandeepa! I'm not living nor advocating being deprived of the little luxuries that do indeed uplift the mood. Pier 1 is one of my favorite stores (!), but I'm trying to strike a balance. Oh, I still have my weaknesses: dishes and spices. In fact, I have a similar future post brewing in my head about another recent retail experience. : )

Wendy said...

This looks so nourishing.
We have a similar soup here in the north of Scotland called Cullen Skink. You've inspired me to make it soon. Thank you!

Meghan said...

this looks SCRUMPTIOUS!

Susan said...

Thanks, Wendy. I love that name "Cullen Skink," sounds like a Dickens character.
Meghan - Thank you. It certain was good eating. I'll be making it again.

Lucy said...

Well, you know how I feel about shopping.

And yet kitchen equipment, props and the like? Mmmm...I too would have had trouble holding back faced with such beautiful colours.

I'm so pleased your break continues to inspire kitchen-wise. I reckon another's due soon. Melbourne, maybe???? ;)

Neen said...

I happened on your site because I'm hunting for a clam chowder recipe to serve tonight, and I love your blog. And the honeymoon in Maine...that's totally a fantasy of mine.