Corn Chowder


It’s time for a tribute.  The Brentwood corn stand had its last weekend at the farmer’s market until next May.  That might not seem very important, given that other stands are still selling corn here, but the Brentwood corn is special.  The line is always long, and they always sell out.  Some days they have yellow corn, some days white corn, and some days they have peaches and cream corn.  You just never know.  If they have more than one type on any given day, they’re more than willing to tell you what you should buy, after determining your need.  The corn is sweet, crunchy, and fresh as can be.  In our house, there won’t be any more corn on the cob this year, because if it’s not fresh Brentwood corn, what’s the point?

I did buy extra corn on that last day, and froze a bit of it.  It’ll be a great reminder of what will surely come again next summer.  Until then, I made this soup to honor the Brentwood corn guys – you’ll be missed this winter!


Cut the corn from the cobs first, a few hours before you wish to make the chowder.  Then use the cobs to make the broth.  The sweet rich corn flavor makes the extra step worthwhile.

Corn Chowder*

6 Cups Vegetable Broth (method follows)

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 Cup diced celery
1 Cup chopped onion
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
8 – 10 oz. small red potatoes, washed but not peeled, and then chopped
Fresh corn kernels, cut from 2 large ears of corn, reserve cobs for broth (or 3 cups of frozen corn, but the chowder won’t be as sweet)
½ Cup light cream or evaporated milk
1 Teaspoon salt, or more, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil.  Once the olive oil starts to shimmer, add the celery, onion, and garlic, and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, approximately 7 minutes.  (Turn the heat down a bit if the vegetables start to brown.)  Reserve 1/4 cup corn kernels for garnish.  Add the rest of the corn to the pot and cook another 3 minutes.  Add the potatoes, vegetable broth, and salt to the pot and bring the chowder to a boil.  Once the chowder boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and let the mixture cook 20 to 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely soft (and possibly falling apart).

Carefully purée the mixture in a blender in batches.  Hot liquids expand, so do not fill your blender more than 1/2 full each time, and make sure you hold the lid securely on top!

Return the puréed chowder to the pot over low heat and add the cream or evaporated milk.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with raw corn kernels.  (We served ours with a tiny dollop of créme fraîche, as well.)  (I also got chewed out a bit for not making more of this soup.  I think my family would have gladly eaten it for several meals in a row!)

Kitchen Notes

*True chowders usually have bacon in them.  Over the years, I have learned we like our bacon as bacon.  Or on BLTs.  But not in anything.  If you like bacon in things, you might chop some bacon and begin the chowder by cooking the bacon in the pot first.  You could then leave in the fat and skip the olive oil.  Or you could garnish the chowder with the cooked bacon.  Or both.

I like to use red potatoes because the skin adds bits of color to the chowder.  If you use another type of potato, you might wish to peel the potatoes.

I make my own broth because the flavor is always better than the canned or boxed kinds. If you purchase broth, be sure not to add salt until the end of the cooking process, and then only to taste.

It’s hard to screw this up.  Use the best corn you can find, even if that means Trader Joes’ frozen corn.  Make sure the potatoes are cooked until they are soft enough to blend easily.  The rest is easy and forgiving!

Vegetable Broth

This is a method, not a recipe.  I usually keep carrot, onion, and celery (and other vegetable) trimmings in the freezer so that I can make broth whenever I run out of homemade frozen broth.  This time, however, I made the broth from the exact following ingredients.  Use them as a guideline; there’s no need to go out and buy a zucchini just for this!

Throw some chopped celery (2 stalks), the reserved corn cobs, a couple of chopped carrots, a quartered onion, a bay leaf, 3 peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 small chopped zucchini in a large pot.  Add water to cover, about 8 cups.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat.  Simmer 2 hours, then strain.  (If you have a small amount leftover, freeze it to use another day.)


October 16, 2009 at 5:09 pm Leave a comment

Multigrain Struan Bread Extraordinaire


Back when I lived in Sonoma County, and Brother Juniper’s Bread was a way to “eat local” long before anyone actually said those words, Peter Reinhart’s (Brother Juniper) Struan Bread was one of my favorite breads to buy at Food 4 Thought Natural Foods Grocery Store (which of course got bought by Whole Foods long ago).  I know.  Pretty soon I’ll be telling you how I walked to school, barefoot, in the snow.  Except that I grew up in sunny Southern California.

I digress.  This week’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge bread was the new and improved version of that same struan bread.  The improvement being made by Peter himself.  And it is soooooo good!  Has anyone told Peter that I love him, yet?  Once I got over thinking he was a hippie, anyway.  His Struan/Multigrain bread is impossibly chewy from the brown rice, quinoa, and oats, crunchy from the millet and polenta, sweet from the brown sugar and honey, and tangy from the buttermilk.  In other words, it’s a loaf of bread holding the tension of the opposites.


The dough gets started by making a soaker of the grains and some water one day before you wish to make the bread.  Simple, right?  Also, make sure you cook some brown rice that first day, because you need 3 tablespoons of cooked brown rice for this dough.  And let me tell you, some people have had success using the microwave to make a small amount, but me, not so much.

On the second day, the soaker is thrown in with the other ingredients, and it all gets kneaded until the dough is silky smooth.  A normal 90 minute rise (although my kitchen was warm and the dough doubled in 60 minutes that day), then the dough gets shaped into a loaf and plopped into a 9 x 5 loaf pan.  Another rise, and into the oven it goes.  After baking and cooling, you’ll have a loaf like no other.  If anyone had told me back in the day that I’d be making struan bread, as good as Brother Juniper’s, at home someday, I would have laughed.  For a really long time.  Too bad we ate it all.  I could use a piece of toast right now!


You can find the recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice here.  I didn’t use the poppy seeds on top, obviously, because I prefer the bread without them.  And I used 1 tablespoon coarse cornmeal (polenta), 1 tablespoon millet, and 1 tablespoon quinoa instead of using 3 tablespoons of coarse cornmeal.

October 8, 2009 at 3:57 pm 5 comments

Food Bloggers: Lovers, Not Fighters


At the end of September, I went to BlogHer Food 09.  An entire day-long conference at the St. Regis in San Francisco just for food bloggers.  I didn’t encounter a bad attitude all day.  How many conferences have you attended where you could say the same thing?  It was incredible: smiles, hugs, laughter all around.  Maybe it was the fact that it was a warm sunny day in the city.  Or maybe it’s that all these people really love what they do.  Either way, I was somewhat stunned by all that niceness in one place.  Let there be no doubt: the food blogging community is one seriously generous group of people!

I decided to sleep in (it was a Saturday!) and skip both breakfast and a welcome meeting.  I hopped on BART at a reasonable hour and then walked three blocks to the hotel.  I noticed a huddle of policemen standing right outside the St. Regis.  Oh great, I thought.  Food bloggers must really be rowdy; am I going to like this at all?  Not even 9am, and the police have already been called!

Heading into the hotel and walking quickly toward the elevators, I was told to STOP PLEASE by a firm hotel employee.  Startled, I looked up to see a small crowd moving through.  Speaking a foreign language and dressed in suits to-die-for, it was clear these were high-level dignitaries, bodyguards, and various attendants.  It happened so fast.  They moved into waiting limos, the police dispersed, and elevator doors re-opened.  The employee apologized to me for the inconvenience.  Whew.  Food bloggers weren’t causing the ruckus!

Stepping out of the elevator onto the second floor, I walked right into the only person I knew at the entire conference, the amazing Cheryl Sternman Rule, who just might be the funniest writer I know.  She introduced me to several smiling food bloggers and the day spun out of control.  We cornered David Lebovitz for a moment.  I sat next to Zoe Francois of Zoe Bakes.   I laughed with Todd and Diane of White on Rice about fighting urban critters for cherished homegrown backyard fruit.  The Gluten-Free Girl’s baby gave me the biggest smile.  Did I mention that everyone was so nice?

I attended morning sessions with White on Rice, and with Heidi Swanson and Matt Armendariz on photography.  I’ve learned so much about my little embarrassing camera and how to use it since I listened to their advice and read my camera manual.  Just a little detail I had previously overlooked.  I will say that I pulled out my (Kodak!) camera once, and the blogger I showed it to was so mortified to be standing near me (with the Kodak in my hand) that I stuck my camera back in my bag for the rest of the day.  (Therefore, no pictures for you!)  Apparently it is cool to use expensive cameras, very expensive cameras, or a Polaroid or iPhone, but not a Kodak Easy ShareWho knew? That’s my camera and I’m sticking to it, however uncool it may be, until I can stop dropping cameras in wet bread dough.  Because at that point I really do stick to it.

Then came lunch.  You can read about our Bertolli lunch, the big stir, and the commentary during it – oh my, not what you would think – here and here.  I met so many wonderful writers and bloggers and photographers – famous ones, great ones, and brand new ones – at that lunch and during the breaks.  I watched Elizabeth Falkner convince otherwise socially acceptable people to put latex gloves on their hands and dig in chocolate boxes for corn nuts, cake, and pretzels covered in marshmallow and dark chocolate ganache.  You read that correctly: latex gloves, digging in chocolate, corn nuts.  I think you had to be there.  (But if you weren’t, check out this post.)

There was also a surreal cocktail party on the glam roof terrace (warm evening in SF!), with sumptuous cocktails, and with appetizers using Campbell’s Soup.  You cannot make this stuff up – all conferences need sponsors, okay?  Which is about when I gave out.  I hugged a few people, grabbed my swag bag full of Scharffen Berger Chocolate and other assorted goodies, tucked the business cards of my new blogging buddies in my pocket, and headed back to BART.  Yes, this is what I call work these days.  Read it and weep.

New Friends (in no particular order):

Black Girl Chef’s Whites

lettuce eat kale

In Erika’s Kitchen

brownies for dinner

Whining ‘N Dining

World on a Plate

Cook 4 Seasons

Eat Local Challenge

Gluten-Free Organics

Dana Treat

The Veggie Queen

October 6, 2009 at 7:48 pm 4 comments

Marbled Rye Bread



Oh my, Marbled Rye Bread for the BBA Challenge is so ridiculously fun to make.  You see, I’m the kind of person who loves two-tone anything.  Zebra-wood is a favorite.  Use the colors of chocolate and vanilla in a room and I swoon.  This bread was made for me.  And I’m the one who made it!   Yes, I’m tickled.  And thrilled that it has just enough body to avoid being pillow bread, while still managing to be soft.  Delighted that it has light rye flour in it, but doesn’t taste like any rye bread I’ve ever known.  Which means my family has been eating it up.  (I like hearty pumpernickel rye bread, but I’m the only one in the family who does.)


The light rye flour used in this recipe looks almost like unbleached wheat flour.  And the only thing that makes the brown dough different from the beige dough is a big spoonful of dry caramel coloring.  (Yes, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what dry caramel coloring is made of – the label and website just says 100% caramel color.  Hmmm.)  I was concerned when mixing the brown dough, because it behaved completely differently than the beige dough.  Reading The Bread Baker’s Apprentice carefully, I learned that rye flour’s specific protein profile makes it prone to “gumming up,” and that’s what I was dealing with.  Peter says to proceed, anyway.  So I did, and I’m awfully glad, though I was very worried about the way the dough felt.  Kind of slimy.  Not appetizing, to be honest.  (Actually, I did the opposite of what the side notes say to do: I kneaded the dough forever and it finally came together beautifully.  You are not supposed to knead rye flour for long periods of time.  Guess nobody told my rye flour that because the bread was dreamy!)




The shaping was my favorite part.  I separated the dough into equal (by weight) pieces.  I rolled the dough out with a rolling pin and layered pieces to create one spiral sandwich loaf and two bulls-eye batards.  As pretty to me as a layer cake!



We ate a bulls-eye loaf with the first soup of fall, and we made turkey reubens from the sandwich loaf (as well as toast and other sandwiches, of course).  There was no flavor difference between the two colors of dough, although there would have been a slight bitterness if I had chosen to use coffee or chocolate to color the dough – they just don’t make the color contrast as striking.  I also chose not to use caraway seeds, which is an option, as my family won’t go near that flavor, but I think I would have loved it that way – you can trust your own instincts on that.

If you want to learn to make amazing bread, get The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and start baking with us!  Peter Reinhart’s book shares so much knowledge that you can’t help but become a better baker.  Also, you can follow along on Twitter, by using the hashtag #BBA to find us.

October 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm 7 comments

Roasted Tomato Sauce


Do you have a few sad looking tomatoes left on your vines?  How about a farmer’s market table piled high with heirlooms?  In a pinch, a store-bought basket of cherry or pear tomatoes will do.  Last year, I slow-roasted halved cherry tomatoes and went to heaven.  This year, in spite of a cool summer and a soil-borne disease or two, I managed to pick a few juicy tomatoes off our vines each week.  But the end is near, and the harvest dwindles.  I wanted to cook something that would honor those last survivors, hanging bravely on the vines, toughing out cold night winds.  I found the perfect solution at In Praise of Leftovers.

It’s the simplest recipe for a sauce ever, and I promise you it will not disappoint.  Follow her directions and you will end up with a silky-rich, sinfully-intense reduction, the very essence of late-season tomatoes in a bowl.  Toss it with some pasta that has ridges or curls so that the sauce sinks into every curve.  Make sure you have some bread handy to sop up any droplets that cling to the bowl.  Yes, it’s that good.


It’s more of a method than a recipe.  Throw an assortment of tomatoes in a baking dish.  Add a handful of fresh basil, thyme, and a little rosemary.  Some kosher salt, a pinch of sugar, minced garlic, and a generous amount of olive oil.  Thrown it in an oven for a really long time.  Pick the tomato skins and herb stems out after it’s cooled a bit.  Toss with hot, cooked pasta, top with some grated hard, dry italian cheese, and you look like a genius.  You’ve spent a total of 10 minutes in the kitchen; the oven’s done the rest.  No one needs to know it’s that easy!

October 1, 2009 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

Light As A Cloud Wheat Bread


If you’ve been following me, you already know that I’ve been doing the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge for almost 20 weeks now.  Peter Reinhart’s Light Wheat Bread recipe was a perfect chance for me to gauge exactly how much I’ve learned in the process.  I first made this bread in February of this year (long before the Bread Baker’s Challenge began), following the recipe and instructions given on Smitten Kitchen’s blog.  The photo below shows the result:


I certainly made a visually passable loaf of bread that time.  But the texture was so heavy that I ended up making bread crumbs out of most of it.  To the recipe’s credit, it was still a much better loaf of bread than most breads I had made with whole-wheat flour in them.  But my family wouldn’t eat it.  The slices felt more like slabs.  Toasting them made them worse; they simply became dried-out slabs.  I went back to baking bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  (By the way, I happily met Zoe Francois – one of the authors of that book – at BlogHer Food last weekend.  She has a giant genuine smile and very sweet energy.)

Fast-forward 7 months, with 4 months of weekly bread baking and 180 pages of reading under my belt.  (And a whole lot of learning from my fellow bakers!)  The same recipe made a loaf of bread so light that I’ll swear it had angel wings.  Toast made with it was the perfect crunchy vehicle for the apricot-vanilla bean jam I made this summer.


I’ve learned that everything makes a difference when you bake bread.  Weighing the flour, rather than measuring the flour by volume.  Having a loaf pan with the correct  dimensions.  (Notice the shape of the bread in the first photo and then in the second.)  The incredible flavor profile a pre-ferment can add.  How much moisture does the air in my kitchen have today?  How much moisture is in the flour?  What’s the difference between sticky and tacky?  How do I know, by feel, when I’ve reached the perfect ratio of flour and liquid?  When is the kneading process done?  When is the dough finished rising?  How do I keep from over or under-baking the bread?  I know not only the questions to ask, but how to adjust my baking process to reflect the answers!


Almost half-way through this challenge, I realize I’ve learned a lot.  And I’ve only just begun.  Rye bread is rising in the kitchen right now.  Did you know that rye has glutelin instead of wheat’s glutenin?  Neither did I.

September 30, 2009 at 7:27 pm 6 comments

Wine Grape Sorbet


Here in Northern California, some of our hottestwarmest weather happens in the early days of fall.  (The temperature where I live will be in the 90s this weekend.)  I’ve spent a lot of time in vineyards, shivering in the chilly morning air, only to be sweating while nursing a migraine in the sweltering afternoon.  I worked for an estate winery for more years than I care to count.  So many years, in fact, that I planted some of the original vines at GlenLyon Vineyards and Winery.  Even though I no longer live in the Sonoma Wine Country, I am still attuned to the rhythms of the grapes, and I’m still very attached to GlenLyon.  I can’t help it; after all those years, it’s in my blood.





Now, my contact with ripening grapes is limited to the unknown variety of red wine grape that graces my arbor.  (Well, that and the already-made wine that I drink!)  Since I have no desire to make wine at home, I needed to find something to do with the grapes that manage to elude the grasp of our resident raccoons.  We can only drink so much grape juice.  I don’t like grape jelly.  The grapes are too small and filled with seeds to eat out-of-hand.  What to do?


So this year, I made a simple grape sorbet, at the suggestion of fellow blogger Lucy Vaserfirer.  Stemming the grapes is literally the hardest part.  This method of making grape sorbet in the blender, with the seeds and skins, results in an earthy grown-up taste.  The tannins balance the sugar.  It tastes more like a wine (without the alcohol, of course).  There is absolutely no resemblance to the grape juice you buy in the store.  Ultimately, the nuances of flavor will be determined by the kind of grapes you use, by how ripe they are, and by how much sugar you choose to add.  I used slightly tart grapes (had to get them before the raccoons got all of them!)  and therefore added a bit more sugar than the recipe requires.  The only way you can figure out how much sugar to add is to taste, taste, taste the juice until you are happy with the flavor.  Start with less than the recipe calls for and then add and taste again.



If you are lucky enough to live anywhere near vineyards, I urge you to see if you can go pick your own grapes from what wineries call the “second pick.”  When wine grapes are harvested, there are always some unripe clusters left on the vine.  It’s very expensive to go back and harvest those grapes for such a small yield.  Often the grapes are left on the vine to rot or be eaten by birds.  So get brave, talk to a vineyard owner or manager, and ask if you can harvest just a couple of pounds, after the main harvest is finished.  What have you got to lose?

Sometimes, wine grapes are also sold at farmer’s markets.

Wine Grape Sorbet

3 pounds of red wine grapes (or deep red or purple grapes with seeds if wine grapes are unavailable)

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar (more or less, to taste)

Wash grapes and let dry in a colander.  Stem the grapes.  (Wear dark clothing, as grape juice stains!)  Purée grapes (including seeds and skins) in the blender until mostly smooth.  You will probably need to do this in a few batches.  Pour the liquid through a fine mesh colander or sieve into a bowl.  Press the solids to extract any extra juice.  Discard the solids.  Stir the sugar into the grape liquid.  Keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Taste, and add more sugar if needed.  Chill overnight.  Freeze in an ice cream maker.  Put mixture into an airtight container (mixture will be very soft) and freeze at least two hours before serving.

September 25, 2009 at 4:19 pm 3 comments

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