Monday, July 30, 2012

Chowder near a sea of corn

         My granddaughter Shannon and I spent a day recently strolling through the crowds on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
            A highlight of the day came at lunchtime when we sat on a restaurant patio eating soft and chewy sourdough bread, a wonderful bowl of clam chowder, mussels in spicy tomato sauce and crab legs baked in buttery garlic sauce.  We washed it all down with a woody amber ale then spent the rest of the day walking away the added pounds as we watched the sea gulls and various artists selling their wares or talents.  Once, we stopped to watch a ragged juggler toss balls and other objects around his person as he jabbered a constant stream of foolishness that kept us laughing.
            Shannon, a traveling nurse, spent five months working at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.  She drove out alone this past January, so when it was time for her to return, I decided to fly out, spend a day sightseeing and then accompany her on the drive home.  The best part of the trip came from spending one-on-one time with a special child who turned into a beautiful, caring young woman—a little grandmotherly bonding time.
            Her mother, daughter Teresa, gets most of the credit for Shannon’s wonderful character, but our friend Darcy and I take a bit of the credit since we gave her our undivided attention for two years while her mother completed college.
            I flew into San Francisco on a Friday night so Shannon gave me the grand tour via car through China Town, Little Italy and other historic parts of this city built on hills where trolley cars provide a historic mode of travel.
            We ate that first evening at a restaurant that specializes in Russian and Thai cuisine, ordering a mixture of h’ordourves like Herring, which fell flat on both our pallets, pickled vegetables that left a bitter aftertaste and a lovely chicken liver pate.  We followed with a beef Stroganoff that I feel certain would have cost any chef working for Count Pavel Stroganov his head.  Shannon and I both agreed that we paid for the “experience.”
            Lunch the next day at Fisherman’s Wharf exceeded or “experience” expectations beyond delicious starting with the clam chowder and ending with the succulent baked crab legs.  I wanted to go home and try making them all.  Alas, finding seafood of any quality in the middle of the Great American Dessert, especially in a town of less than 1,000 people is near to impossible.  Even ordering over the Internet is out of the question with a per pound price of between $30 and $70 before you tack on the overnight shipping.
            I thought I might try replicating the chicken liver pate, but here again I ran into a problem with availability.  I cannot remember the last time I purchased a whole fryer chicken that came with giblets inside.
            “Okay, seafood and chicken livers are out,” I said to myself.  “But what do we have plenty of, especially this time of year, in the High Plains of Colorado?”  Sweet corn, of courseWhy not make corn chowder?  Came my mental response.
            Down to our local grocery story I went, hope in my heart, only to find that others beat me to every ear of corn in the store.  What next?  Surely not frozen.  Never fear.  Tomorrow is another day and this time of year, there are always farmers’ markets or a new delivery of fresh sweet corn to the grocery story.
            This recipe for corn chowder takes a little extra work, but I think you will find it well worth the time and effort.  Add a slice of toasted sourdough bread on the side and it is as close to San Francisco as you get in Colorado farm country.

Yummy Corn Chowder
3 ½ Cups milk (whole or low-fat)
3 Ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and cleaned
1 Bay leaf
1 small carrot, diced (1/3 cup)
1 Stalk celery, diced (1/3 cup)
1 Small or ½ medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 Slice bacon
1 Medium Yukon Gold or Russet potato, peeled and diced (1½ cups)
¼ Cup chopped red bell pepper
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Teaspoon sugar
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ Teaspoon pepper
½ Teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/4 Teaspoon dried)

1.     Pour milk into a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
2.     Meanwhile, cut the corn off the cob using a sharp paring knife.  Place in bowl and set aside.
3.     Break the cobs in half and place in simmering milk along with the bay leaf.  Turn heat to very low and allow the corncobs and bay leaf to gently simmer for 30 minutes.
4.     While cobs simmer, chop remaining vegetables and fry the bacon slice in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat until crisp.  Discard the slice of bacon (I eat mine).
5.     Lower the heat to medium and sauté the chopped onion in the bacon grease for 4-5 minutes.  Add the chopped carrot and celery and sauté 6-7 minutes longer.  You want vegetables soft but not browned.
6.     Scrape cooked vegetables into a dish and set aside.
7.     Remove the corncobs and bay leaf from the milk and add the potato and bell pepper.  Bring milk back to a simmer and cook until potato is tender, 30-35 minutes.  Do not boil.
8.     Melt one tablespoon of unsalted butter in the skillet, add corn kernels and sauté, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
9.     Stir together sugar, salt, flour, pepper and thyme in a small bowl.  Add to corn and sauté one minute longer.
10.  Add corn mixture and received vegetables to soup and simmer 5 minutes longer.  Serve with croutons or a slice of toasted sourdough bread.