Call me old fashioned if you like, but in my book “hacks” are cab drivers and “hackers” are people who manage to remotely break into things – like private stuff on-line that they have no business “hacking” in the first place. Neither of these terms has anything to do with cooking. Cheats and shortcuts, now those are words I understand. But that’s just the opinion of an old gal who barely manages understand the concept of writing on walls.
Sometimes cooking from scratch isn’t always completely from scratch. Case in point, pasta sauce. Sometimes we take a jar of prepared pasta sauce, add a little of this and a little of that to the base and presto – homemade pasta sauce. The same can be done with soup. When it comes to that initial base, I like Progresso Soups over Campbell’s for soups to actually eat (as in a bowl of soup). For cooking, creating sauces and such, then I’ll reach for that convenient can of Campbell’s. Even so, when it comes to soups, I like to add a little something to the pot and let it simmer all day until all those wonderful flavors come together in a magical, slow-cooker sort of way.
Many, many years ago, while on our honeymoon, Hubby and I stumbled upon what had to be the best clam chowder that was generously served up in a tiny, whole in the wall joint along the California coast. The red paint of the old, weather-worn building was peeling, and the rickety wood steps that lead to the second floor restaurant made you question the integrity of the entire structure. Inside was a warm little establishment with white linen tablecloths, dark wood furnishings and floor to ceiling windows with breathtaking views of Monterey Bay. Years later, while driving along the coast, we stumbled upon the same little place. The paint was still worn and the stairs creaked as they had in the past. Nothing had changed – not even their awesome Chowder with carrots and all sorts of yummy things such as hints of tarragon and thyme with a whisper of garlic. We don’t get out to the coast nearly as often as we would like, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying a satisfying bowl of clam chowder.
Cheater’s New England Clam Chowder
3 Cans New England Clam Chowder (I like Progresso, use whatever is your favorite)
½ Cup Onion, chopped
3 Stocks Celery, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, pressed
2 Cups Peeled, Cubed Potatoes (Yukon or red are best)
1 Carrot, diced (or a handful of baby carrots)
½ Teaspoon Thyme
¼ Teaspoon Tarragon
1 Bay Leaf
1 Small Can Clams, chopped, if desired
4 Small Sourdough Bread Bowls
Soft butter for bread bowls, if desired
Cracked Black Pepper, if desired
Begin by gathering all the ingredients. This will make it quick and easy to toss everything together.
Chop onion and celery. Set aside until ready to use.
Peel and cut potatoes and carrots. Toss into a large capacity slow-cooker.
Dumb onions and celery over potatoes and carrots, giving a quick stir.
Empty contents of soup cans into a pot. Add additional clams, if using. Season with thyme and tarragon. Gently stir to blend everything together. Cover, set on low and let simmer all day, about 8-10 hours or so.
Remove lid, raise to HIGH and let soup thicken, about 20 minutes.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut tops from sourdough bread bowls, and set tops aside. Hollow out bread bowls, reserving the bread. You’ll want the side and bottom of the bowl to be about 1/4 inch thick. Brush cut side of tops with a little softened butter. Brush rim of bowl with butter. Place tops and bowls side by side on a rimmed baking sheet. Pop bowls in the oven to warm and “crisp” slightly, about 8 minutes. Transfer warmed bowls to a large plate.
Ladle chowder into bread, place top angled against bowl and surround with reserve bread. If desired, add fresh cracked pepper – about two turns on the coarse setting of pepper mill. This makes a lovely presentation, with soft bread for dipping.
Serve and enjoy. (Note: the chowder may appear “thin” but the bread bowls will begin to soak in the liquid, leaving behind a thicker, chunkier soup. Oh, and if the soup wasn’t enough to fill you up, don’t forget to eat the bowl.