We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Creamy Paleo Chowder

by Michelle

   This recipe always takes me back to the year when Maddie and I lived in Guerneville, California for a year with Linda. The three of us were shoehorned in a very small summer cottage near the Russian River in the heart of wine country in Sonoma County. The reason I call it a summer cottage is because I suspect the house was not meant to be inhabited during the winter. I'm still not positive that the house had any insulation at all. It was surely the coldest winter of my life. Even when I was inside the house, I was bundled up in layers of clothing beginning with thermal underwear and topped with fleece-lined athletic wear. Sandwiched in between the layers, I wore a sleeveless down vest for core warmth. As a last desperate measure, I wrapped a cashmere scarf around my neck and sported Ugg-type boots on my feet to stave off the cold. I even considered wearing ear muffs—it was just that cold for my poor Arizona acclimated body. In the mornings, I'd wear fingerless knitted gloves while I drank a steaming mug of coffee, that would keep the top of my hands comfortable and allowed me to type at my keyboard while I consolidated years upon years of emails between my sisters and me into a Word document in preparation to write a true-life novel based upon our correspondence and combined personal writings.

The summer season in Guerneville was a delight.
Linda used an old planting table outside on the deck, that we could
easily set up as an outside bar venue for parties.
   The supposed central heating for the house was a propane wall heater. At the time, however, propane gas was very expensive, and it was not affordable to run the heater, even for a short period of time. And, with the lack of insulation in the walls and roof, the heat would need to stay on non-stop to keep the cold at bay. As ridiculous as it seems, we kept candles burning 24-hours each day to heat up the house. Yes, that really works. Cooking and baking would also heat up the small space, especially if we kept the two bedroom doors closed. Fortunately for my daughter Maddie, the heat would rise and settle in the loft area where she would be comfortably warm while she completed her homework.
   When we watched a movie or Dancing with the Stars, Linda, Maddie and I would all sit close together on the leather couch and we'd throw faux-fur lap blankets over us. Linda would turn on a small electric heater in the living room and we'd be snuggly warm together huddled under the blankets. On especially cold nights, Linda and I sipped hot toddies which helped to keep the internal fires stoked. Maddie would warm up with her favorite hot chocolate made with Lake Champlain cocoa.

   On Saturday's, the three of us piled into the car to explore the beautiful area from the Pacific ocean to the interior of wine country and down to San Francisco and up to Bodega Bay. On one such outing, while Maddie was in school on a Friday, Linda and I drove to Point Reyes to have lunch at a restaurant that Michael Pollan wrote about and highly recommended. One of my favorite things to do is to wander around a book store, browsing the titles, and flipping through pages looking at gorgeous photographs. This particular book store on the State Route 1, which runs through the middle of the town of Point Reyes, is bright inside, with polished wood floors, and featured books from the area, including the South Bay. One such title that caught my eye was The Big Sur Bakery Cook Book.
   I so badly wanted to buy the lovely book, but I was broke, broke, broke and living on a restrictive budget while I aspired to write for a living. Linda eventually purchased the book and this creamless chowder was the first recipe I prepared from the colorful pages. The steaming chowder warmed both the kitchen and our bodies. We were grateful for both.

Maddie (photographed here in 2010)—loved the clam chowder that is 
served up at Spud Point Crab Company at Bodega Bay.
   Big Sur always holds a beautiful memory for me. Not long before I moved to Tucson, when I was still living in the Bay area, Linda and I took a drive down the coast and stopped in Big Sur at Nepenthe. We knew it would be one of our last impromptu day trips for the foreseeable future. On such a day, one strives to weave every last emotional thread into a tapestry that we can roll up and carry with us as we journey on down the road of life, sometimes apart, but always emotionally connected.
   On that day, as we drove down Highway 1 with the suns rays frosting the waves with glittery light, and marveling at the redwoods touching the sky, I assured myself we were making a memory that I would wrap up inside myself, like a gift and keep forever. Every time I pull the Big Sur Bakery Cook Book from the shelf, not only do I fondly recall a lovely afternoon in Point Reyes, but I also get to dig a little deeper and remember a day filled with laughter driving down the California coast from San Jose to Big Sur. That's why I love buying books, especially cook books, while I'm on vacation or on a day trip. The volumes that sit on shelves throughout my house, when opened, act as time capsules that catapult me back into a memory, as if in a dream, to relive the experience once again. Preparing a favorite recipe can induce the same mental state but with more tangible effects. It is far better, in my opinion, to savor chowder from a spoon than to just dream about its creamy, satisfying, warming goodness. All it takes to complete the journey from stove top to a steaming bowl set before you is a little adventure in the kitchen.

Creamy Paleo Chowder

Maddie in 2010, hanging out on her cot in the loft in the Russian River cabin.
   While the intent of this recipe was to provide a creamless clam chowder base, I think the comparison did a disservice to the recipe. The thick blended vegetable soup is fine base for any number of ingredient pairings, and it doesn't suffer from adding a bit of cream as the finishing touch. To help accommodate my busy schedule, I prefer to cook once and have leftovers. Therefore, the ingredients for the "base" are doubled. Sometimes I freeze half the completed, blended creamless base for an easy dinner in the future. Leftover roasted vegetables are a great addition to the chowder. This recipe is based upon one found in the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson with Catherine Price. The book provides a glimpse of what it takes to run a restaurant day-in-day-out throughout the seasons with special attention given to showcasing Big Sur's local vintners, farmers and fisherman who supply the restaurant with exceptional ingredients.
   Since I am a desert dweller, it is not easy to locate fresh fish locally. I have made a creamless clam chowder in the past using high quality canned clams. Fresh clams, are of course, wonderful in this soup and the cookbook provides detailed directions for you. If you use canned clams, considering using the drained clam juice in the stock (just refrigerate the clams until ready to add to the chowder). Check out this cook book—it's one of my favorites from 2009.

For the creamless stock (makes about 2-1/2 quarts):
the green leaves from one large leek, cleaned well (reserve white bulb for chowder)
1/4 cup coconut oil or olive oil
1 small to medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 pound white button mushrooms roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
8 garlic cloves, smashed or roughly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken broth, vegetable broth, or fish broth

For the chowder (double the ingredients if using all 2-1/2 quarts of the creamless stock):
6-ounces thick-cut bacon
white bulb of reserved leek, washed well, and sliced into half moons
3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, core and seeds removed, diced
1/2 pound white button mushrooms, roughly chopped
about 1 pound protein of your choice such as cubed ham, chicken, cooked crumbled sausage or 4 cans of clams, drained
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 tsps freshly minced rosemary
2 tsps freshly minced oregano
2 tsps freshly minced thyme
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
freshly squeezed juice of one medium lemon
1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

shredded parmesan
crispy pancetta bits

Soup for breakfast? Why, yes. Warming and filling and not chock full of sugar like most cereals.
1. Start with the base: Cut off the dark green end of the leek, leaving behind its white bulb and the beginnings of its green stem. Slice it into thin half-moons, and thoroughly wash them in a bowl of cold water. Drain off the water, wash them again, and drain well.

2. Heat a large pot over medium-low heat and drizzle the oil into it. Add the leeks, onions, fennel, potatoes, mushrooms, celery, and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally until they are soft, about 25 minutes. Add the stock simmer for about 25 minutes.

3. Puree the base mixture with a stick blender until smooth. For a super silky mixture, let the mixture cool, then whirl in a high powered blender for a couple of minutes. If it is too thick, add some additional broth, or water. Set it aside - this is your creamless base.

4. At this point, if you like, you can put half the soup in a cambro. Let cool, refrigerate and the next day put it in the freezer. At some point in the future, you will have a very easy dinner. Simply defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours before continuing with the recipe. With the other half, you can immediately proceed with making chowder, or cool the base, refrigerate and make the chowder the next day for lunch or dinner.

5. Start the chowder by cooking the bacon  in a soup pot over medium low heat until the fat is melted and the bacon is nearly crisp and golden brown,, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and put it on a plate lined with paper towels. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and reserve for another use.

6. In the reserved bacon fat, sauté the leek, carrots, celery, red bell pepper, and mushrooms over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

7. Pour the creamless base into the pot and add the bacon; warm over medium high heat. Add protein of your choice or clams. Stir in the nutmeg and freshly squeezed juice of one medium lemon. Stir in heavy cream if you like. Taste for seasoning; add more salt and pepper, if necessary. 

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