Saturday, 9 February 2013

Clam Chowder

You will be happy as a clam after you taste this meal!

Clam chowder is one of my favourite meals. If I were to be a bit more honest, clams are one of my top favourite flavours period. They are very versatile and easy to cook with. Considering the small amount of meat you get from a clam, they are densely packed full of flavour and wonderful nutrients. 

A chowder can be a very easy dish to prepare, you can mix it up and add your own flavour or method to the process. No matter how you make yours, always remember there is no wrong way to do it. There are many roads that lead to a good hearty chowder, the important part is recognising which road to take based on your available ingredients.


Today's recipe contains the following ingredients : 4 potatoes peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes; 1 can baby clams; 500 ml home made Vermouth clam juice; fried bacon, degreased and chopped; 1 onion finely chopped; 1 celery stick finely chopped; 4+ tbsp flour for thickening; 1/2 tsp finely crushed herbs; 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning; 4+ tbsp butter and cream. 

All my measurements are approximate, I rarely measure exact ingredients because potency of herbs can vary as well as thickness or fluidity of ingredients can change from season to season. Use your nose, ears and eyes and of course your taste buds when cooking, its an art not a science :) 

Clams are a very good food to include in your regular diet. They contain only only two grams of fat and a little more than 100 calories per 85 grams. In addition to being high in protein they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin C. 

If you are wary of eating seafood because of toxicity concerns, most clams are fortunately relatively safe to eat thanks to their low amounts of contaminants. To be on the safe side, refrain from eating raw clams and always cook them thoroughly without overcooking to make sure they are safe.

As with any dish, the ingredients you select will determine the quality of the outcome. I have several methods to attain eye rolling chowder goodness, let me now explain my methods and madness.

Ideally, I would start my chowder off with a couple pounds of fresh in the shell baby Quahogs. These are the same clams used in many pasta dishes. Keep refrigerated with a hole in the bag for air until ready for use. Scrub with a brush under cold water before use to remove any possible grime left on the shell. When the potatoes in your chowder base are almost cooked, throw these in on top and cover the lid for 4 minutes or until the shells have opened. You may remove the clams from the shells while preparing for service or leave them in and let everyone work for their food.

That would be in an ideal world, but seriously how often do we cook with ideal conditions? The fish market is closed or too far to get to in time, maybe there is no fish market at all! Fear not, there are other ways to make the perfect chowder!

Arctic Surf Clams are hands down the best canned clam to do anything with. Their texture, sweetness and robust flavour will make the most feeble attempt at a clam dish turn out delightful. You can leave them whole or chop them down to size, they hold their form well and don't fall apart. These are excellent for stuffing endives, topping canapés, sushi or whatever else you may dream of. The juice in the can is very good and can be used to liquefy and flavour your dish.

The unfortunate thing is that surf clams tend to be pricey, a 142 g (5 oz) can is around 7$. What makes them irresistible for cooking is that you open the can and throw the ingredients into your chowder. You are guaranteed flavour goodness without much fuss. 

Please understand that for myself, canned baby clams alone is not an option for a chowder. I do use them in a hybrid type of recipe that I will show you but I never ever use these without backup support. 

One reason why I never use these alone in a recipe is because I don't use the juice from the can. Usually the juice has a canny taste to it so I drain the baby clams and rinse them in water thoroughly then I Ieave them to set in a bit of salty water while I do the rest of my prep work.

When making your chowder with canned clams, a lot of flavour can be added with one or two bottles of clam juice that can be bought just about everywhere now. As its in a bottle there isn't any canny tin taste to it. This juice costs 3$ - 4$ for a 300ml bottle, so a flavourful chowder could get pricey quickly. 

I have a more "economical" way to get an even richer and more robust clam juice base for my chowders, I make my own! Doesn't that sound fancy? Its not. Basically what I do is I pick up a kilo of fresh steamer clams, it usually costs me 10$. Brush them thoroughly under running cold water to remove all sand and grime.

Place them in a pot, add 3 oz Vermouth turn burner on high and cover. When it starts to boil, set a timer for 4 or 5 minutes. When clams are cooked, remove from heat and let cool a bit. Once cooled, remove clam from shell and dip in a melted butter and balsamic vinegar mixture and eat. Keep eating until all clams are gone and you have a wonderful juice at the bottom of your pot. Pour juice into a freezer container and place immediately in freezer. Keep frozen until needed. It is important to freeze the juice immediately, if the juice is not frozen, I will drink it.

First of all, before you say anything more, I had to eat the steamer clams, they do not work in a chowder. Their bodies are more liquid than other clams and they break up with sometimes unfortunate slimy textures added to your soup. No one wants to see clumps of slime in their chowder, so I had to take one for the team and eat them.

If you are wondering how I get "economical" out of this method, it can be easily explained. For 10$ I had a wonderful feed of steamer clams AND I got 500 ml of concentrated clam juice that is more potent than 4 or 5 of the store bought bottles of clam juice which would cost 15$ or more. Correct me if I am wrong but that is real economics at work! LOL

Before you add your clam juice, hold the bowl up to the light to check for grime or sand. Those dark little dots you see are sand. You could strain it or just pour slowly into the pot and leave the sandy residue in the bowl. The rest of the sludgy material is fine to use, it is merely coagulated material from the clam and it will melt away once added to the hot pot.

Seasoning is a very personal thing and it turns out different almost every time. This time I took dried thyme and rosemary from my garden. Mill it to break it down to a powder if possible so it blends into the mix. Pick out the large pieces so they don't float around on the surface of the chowder.

Bacon is a good ingredient to more than just chowders! Its fatty saltiness mixes well with with the sweet clams. I only buy my bacon at the butcher. The pre-packaged bacon at the store is a complete rip off. Test it yourself, take 1 strip of butcher bacon, fry it up. In the end you have a well fried piece of smoked meat and liquid fat in the bottom of the pan. When you weigh it, you might loose 15% of your weight. However when you do the same test with a packaged brand from the supermarket the weight loss can be 50% or more from water evaporation!

When using bacon, you have two choices. Chop it up and fry it into bacon bits and degrease it before using or you can chop it and add it raw with your butter to the pot as the first 2 ingredients. The first method cuts the fattiness of your dish whereas the latter adds some bacony fullness to the dish.

I don't have many recipes that don't start with a generous amount of butter! To make our thickening roux, we need at least 3 tablespoons of butter and flour. Melt the butter gently then add onion, celery, crushed seasoning and Old Bay mix.

Cover and let simmer gently until onions are transparent but not browned. Then add flour and stir constantly, working the mixture around the pot until the flour starts to turn a golden colour.

Gently pour in the clam juice and stir well to break up the cooked flour. Add the potatoes and a bit of water if necessary to bring the water level above the potatoes.

If it still looks too liquefy, don't worry, once the water warms up, the thickening action will take place. Notice above how the surface is smooth and the potatoes have sunk to the bottom whereas below the ingredients are more suspended in the broth and the surface is less smooth.

Let this whole mixture simmer very slowly until the potatoes are well cooked, 30-45 minutes. Add about 1/4 cup of cream, stir and let sit for another few minutes.

Generally, we don't crave chowder during our warmer seasons, so it goes without saying that the best accompaniment to any chowder is a batch of home made rolls! Turn on that oven, get the house warmed up and fill it with the yummy smell of fresh bread!

Serve up your chowder with hot rolls, butter and some freshly milled pepper. Don't savour your chowder too long because you won't get back in time for any of whats left in the bottom of the pot!

That folks is how I enjoy a good bowl of chowder! Bon appetit!

Final note : Unfortunately, chowder is not the greatest thing to eat after freezing. While the flavours remain intact, the potatoes have a ricey texture to them. Not ideal, but its better than wasting the uneaten chowder if you know if won't get eaten the next day.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Super Caesar!

Caesars are peculiar
It's the cocktail that drinks like a meal

I almost never order them in a bar or restaurant unless it's the house specialty because face it, there is nothing better than a good caesar yet there is nothing worse than a bad caesar. Too much or too little of one of the 10 or more ingredients can put your tastebuds into a tailspin. Yes, 10 or more ingredients. I am making a simple everyday caesar and you can see 7 ingredients yet we are still missing ice, vodka and Clamato

You might be wondering why for 2 glasses there are 4 slices of lemon. The 2 thin ones are for garnish, the 2 thicker ones are to prepare your glass for rimming. For best results, turn hold the glass upside down. Put the thick lemon slice on the rim of the glass, squeeze it gently and rub it around the entire rim. Dip it into your bed of celery salt and work it around. Squeeze the remaining lemon juice into the glass, remove pits with a long stemmed spoon. 


Rimming is a sensitive subject. Some people hate it, some people love it. It can also be an acquired taste. Some people prefer their rimming to be neatly done at the very edge whereas others like their rimming to spill away from the edge inside and out! Most people will take rimming however most will never do it themselves.

If you are of delicate nature or anywhere between disgusted and laughing your ass off right now keep reading. The rest of you, get a dictionary.


Poor celery, so over hated and under appreciated. Its not hard to give it a little wow factor!

I thought I was not a fan of the celery in my Caesar once, then I tried it without and it was merely a Vodka Clamato. For best results, put a few fresh slices into the bottom of your celery stick just before you put it in the drink, the fresh raw flesh will infuse the whole drink with celery flavour much faster.  

Imagine yourself, its toward the end of the month and all your celery leaves are wilted, no more delicate leafy flair on your cocktail. Well take your sharpest knife and try to make little celery juliennes on the first 2 or 3 cm of your celery stick. You will see how easy it is, I was a bit tipsy Saturday night when I sliced these up! Pretty shabby job! 

Throw your celery into an ice bath and stick in the fridge for at least a few hours or overnight, check it, you will see how fast they turn if you are in a hurry. The smaller you slice it, the more curling and the more curls you will have!

Voila! I think we can say this is the first time that drinking and decorating turned out well!

If you absolutely hate celery or want to step it up a bit, use the short glass and replace the celery with a stick of fake crab! Or even better a lobster claw or tail! 

The next step is to throw some vodka on that fire! Please note, no ice yet! 

This is the most personal part of your Caesar journey, this is where you put a few drops of a whole bunch of things to make it completely your own.

Today's recipe calls for celery salt on the rim, a few or more drops of Tabasco, fresh ground pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of horseradish. If you do not have the latter, try a small smudge of wasabi for the same effect.

I have tasted recipes where people put A1 Sauce. Some bartenders add a secret bbq sauce or aromatics to their Clamato and let it steep for days or weeks. Those are all lovely ideas as long as you own your crazy and its drinkable, its the best drink on the planet!

Fill your glass with Clamato up halfway and stop. Take a spoon and mix it up, make sure you break up and incorporate the horseradish or wasabi so you taste it instead of having a sludge at the bottom of your drink.

I added 8 ice cubes and topped the glasses off with Clamato, add garnishes and mmmmmmmmmmm

You may be wondering why I have mixed this glorious Caesar in 2 completely different glasses. Which do you like best and why? Does one look bigger than the other? Yes? Well you are wrong, both glasses hold the same amount of sweet nectar!

Monday, 28 January 2013

"Lip balm addiction" does not exist

You lip balm people out there, you are addicted to a product that makes you need more lip balm! You are being charged a fortune at the same time, surprise, surprise!

I'll explain why you are addicted to the good shit later...

I live with someone addicted to lip balm, so I gave him the shea butter challenge. Let me fill your overpriced lip balm myself. Please note that a "decent" lip balm costs at least 7$ (or more if we are being real) 

You might also want to note that this huge brick of pure, natural, ecological, sustainable shea butter (beurre de karite in french) cost me $16.95 a few months ago. I love Bellapella products for this exact reason! 

So tonight I get to refill an empty lip balm container...

DISCLAIMER: The only flaw with this DIY (do-it-yourself) project is that the tube is (pardon the pun) "exit only"! Do not roll the tube out any further than you need because it don't go back in like those overpriced chemical laden thingys you all buy...

So to get the ball rolling, melt the shea butter on low low low, it will melt if you are not in a hurry. If you are in a hurry and ignore it, it will burn.

Patience, it dissapears eventually...

Once the butter has melted, take a teaspoon and slowly pour a quarter teaspoon at a time into the little tube and wait 5 minutes for the butter to cool. No I am not shitting you, a quarter teaspoon at a time!


On the first pour, no matter how much you pour in, the base will overflow, so you have to let it set and act as a sealant for the following pours. It does not hurt to put each layer in the freezer or out on the patio if you are currently living a Canadian winter!

Aside from wasting product, the other reason for the small pours is that all waxes have a pull factor when they cool, so you always get a whirlpool downward spiral in the middle like this! 

Small suck holes like this are okay but just filling the whole thing up will give you big air bubbles over a smooth surface instead of a solid lip balm stick. 

Funny thing happened, once I got one filled, suddenly there were 4 more empty ones on the counter to fill... I think I have a convert!


Even after filling all of them, there is lots left over to put on your hands, rub it all over wherever you need!

When you are all done with your rub down, you can even spill it back into the brick! When was the last time a beauty company sent you a sample of organic matter and said "oh, we over melted on your lip balm!"

So counting fast in my head, the amount I put in 4 lip balm tubes probably cost less than 50 cents (US or CAN, take your pick)

Once these tubes empty themselves, put them in the dishwasher for a couple cycles, all the extra residue and possible bacteria can get washed out this way.

If you are curious as to why lip balm is addictive, stop fast scrolling now... look at this lovely little tube of lip balm, it explains what it does not have (parabens) plus it even tells you the beneficial side effects from using it and how to use it... how thoughtful of them! After all, you are paying good money, they should tell you how you feel, save you the bother of thinking for yourself...

However, when I turn the tube once more to see the ingredients, my camera's 42x zoom lens starts to have some problems seeing clearly!

Only when I bring in the Hubble Telescope (aka my glasses, left eye) can I see what is written on the freaking little tube! 

As confusing as all of those ingredients may seem (and that is just touching the iceberg on the dangers of moisturizer) you only need to remember two simple rules that even your husband can remember!


Rule number 1.

If it contains alcohol of any type, the final side effect is that it dries your skin. No matter how smooth it feels going on, and even later in the day, IT IS GOING TO DRY YOUR SKIN. You do your own research on your own skin products, you will be horrified.

Rule number 2. 

If it contains a petrolium product of any type, the final side effect is that it dries your skin. No matter how smooth it feels going on, and even later in the day, IT IS GOING TO DRY YOUR SKIN. You do your own research on your own skin products, you will be horrified.

So, I just spent 20 minutes producing 4 organic lip balms for less than 50 cents... the real benefit is that they are not addictive, they are actually beneficial! 

Don't tell me you don't have time to live better and healthier! You don't have time make these 4 things that took me 20 minutes to make the healthy way? Would you really prefer to spend over $20 to buy something full of toxins? The choice is yours.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Fettuccine parmesan cream scallops

 You could eat organic home made like this for FREE!!!

Well, not literally, but almost.

One of the side effects of trying to eat better and healthier meals with a struggling regard to portion control (I hate those words) I have found myself saving things that would have just gone into last Saturday's snack which would now be pulling on the buttons of my dress shirts. Other things I have been saving would have just gone into the trash.

For example, last weekend we had some marvelous Panko breaded scallops. The package came with 12 scallops and lets face it, we can eat! So normally I would have made all 12. However, trying to make better choices and it being January, it goes without saying that I don't need the extra caloric intake if you know what I mean. 

So the adventure begins when I had 4 leftover scallops, I tucked them in the freezer in a little container and figured I would find the right combo for this little treat... so now you see where I got the "free" scallops. What does one do with "free" scallops? One rolls them in a bit of flour and fries them in burnt butter!!!

This here is my other "free" ingredient. We poached cod in the oven with white wine and lemon juice on Wednesday. After the cod was plated, I drizzled off the remains in the pan to a couple of these cute little jars! I love these jars, so much better than plastic, you don't have to wait for the oil or juice to cool and you don't have any of those "plastic" issues with food we keep hearing about.

I am using these jars more and more. Keeping the drippings off of just about anything is a whole lot better for your health than using those "convenient" flavour packs and sauce bases that are full of salt and preservatives. You can keep things for a week in the fridge or throw it in the freezer for a couple months. Labelling is important for freezing, most stuff does not smell when frozen and that white wine clam juice could turn out to be chicken stock! Talk about dissapointment!

So today's 15 minute snack utilizes random stuff in the fridge:

2 fists full of home made fettuccine noodles, dried and frozen, boil for 6 minutes
6 oz leftover white wine and lemon poaching liquid
4 scallops thawed, if you are not dieting you could drag them in flour
A hand full of slightly wilted arugula that won't be good by bedtime, chopped
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Reggiano

Oh and a couple ounces of my favourite secret ingredient...

As you wait for the water to boil for the pasta, fry the scallops in a bit of butter, 4 minutes on each side on med heat. Set aside on paper towel. Then add your poaching liquid to the sauce pan and bring to a slow boil. Reduce liquid by half or so, enough to wet your pasta but not drown it.

Drain the pasta, put it back in the pot and on it's burner which is turned off but still hot. If you have too much juice or if your pasta is a bit undercooked you can leave it set for a minute or two to work itself out. Add cream, a tablespoon at a time until its right for you. The arugula can be added now, it can handle a bit of heat. Lastly add parmesan and remove from burner, mix well, you will notice the parmesan has a bit of a thickening effect.

Voila! The whole thing took 15 minutes, which is less time than one of those package noodle and sauce thingys!

Bon appétit!