Wherein I am Not Mary Poppins. Or Martha Stewart. {Fish Chowder}

On any given day in our house you’re likely to find piles of laundry, kitchen counters with food dried on them, cat and dog hair gathered in the corners of the common rooms and dirty dishes piled in the sink.  It’s not pretty, but it’s our life.  Two growing boys, two working parents, and a multitude of furry pets does not always an idyllic household make. I’d like to tell you that I have a cleaning scheduled that I adhere to, and that my children are conscientious about picking up after themselves and putting their dirty clothes in the hamper regularly (rather than tossing their dirty socks haphazardly in the air, allowing them to land wherever they may).  I’d like to appear to have it all together, but that would be a lie.

The truth is, sometimes I’m a mess.  I stress out when I know people are coming over, worried that they’re going to judge me and my disorganized house.  I long to be Mary Poppins – to just snap my fingers and have everything go back to its rightful place.  My mother used to joke that, as her only child, I was “practically perfect in every way.”  Sadly, that description does not come with a magic carpet bag full of delightful tricks and the ability to sing your cares (and your cluttered play-rooms) away.  fish chowder1

I’ve come to realize, in my almost 40 years, that we all have our strengths.  While some of us are excellent housekeepers; others of us are decidedly not. I, clearly, fall into the latter category. However, I am not completely devoid of domestic talents.  I may not have the ability to decorate impeccably or organize seamlessly; but, by God, I can cook.  fish chowder4

This fish chowder has found its way into regular rotation at our dinner table.  It’s super simple to put together, and the flavor is incredible.  It’s adapted from this Martha Stewart recipe.  I may not have all of Martha’s talents (or, rather, those of her staff), but I can certainly recognize a good recipe when I see one.

fish chowder2

Fish Chowder

Prep time: 10 Minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups stock (chicken, vegetable or fish)
  • 1 1/2 pounds of russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 wild-caught flounder fillets (or other flaky white fish)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk (you can also omit the cream and use 1 cup of milk instead)
  • salt and pepper to taste

fish chowder3

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan
  2. Add celery, onion and garlic.  Saute until softened
  3. Add the flour and stir to coat with the butter.  Cook until it starts to smell nutty (do not let it get too brown)
  4. Add the stock and stir to combine.  Allow to come to a boil.
  5. Add the bay leaf and the potatoes and reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.
  6. Add the fish and simmer until it’s cooked through and begins to flake apart when stirred
  7. Add the cream/milk and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Enjoy!

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup

And so my first week of work has begun.  I’ve jumped in with both feet, welcoming the adult interaction and the intellectual stimulation.  I’ve already got projects to work on and I’m being challenged beyond what I thought I’d be.  It’s nice.

At home, we’re busy decorating and planning.  The tree has been lit and decorated and the lights have been strung about the outside of the house.  The children are all atwitter with the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, and the ornaments dangling from the fragile branches of the tree are almost too much for the youngest to resist.  He’s just so curious and excited all of the time, eager to touch and explore everything.

We’re talking about the meaning of Christmas. We have a small wooden nativity that the children are allowed to touch and manipulate.  We talk about the different members in the scene, and my oldest takes care to gather all of them around the tiny baby in the manger.  He wants them all arranged just so – in a tight circle, gazing down at the swaddled infant.  He’s very particular, and gets quite agitated when his brother decides that the various figures need to be scattered about the house.  I spend  a good amount of time fishing them out from under the sofa and from between the cushions.  At least they’re interacting with them and curious about them – right?  It gives us ample opportunities to share the Christmas story.

Amidst the joy and the lights, and the work obligations, I’ve been a little bit remiss in my cooking duties.  Luckily, my work schedule is only part-time, so I do still have some time available during the week to focus on food.

As I sat home on Tuesday, thinking about dinner and dreading the inevitable battle of wills that has become the standard with my two-year-old at the dinner table, I decided soup would be my best bet.  It has been unseasonably warm over the last few days, but the dreary, rainy  weather welcomed the idea of warm, nourishing soup.  I’d been to lunch with a friend over the weekend (she’s hilarious, and she writes about food – of course we’re friends) and we’d both ordered soup and salad.  I chose a wild mushroom number and she went with an onion soup.  Both soups were cream based  (much to my friend’s surprise), and they were both hearty and flavorful.  I really wanted to replicate that same rich creamy texture and deep flavor at home.

This isn’t really a recipe per-se.  It’s more of a bunch of stuff I had in the fridge that I threw together on a whim.  Sometimes, those are the best meals, though – for some reason the stars align and the seas part and you’re left with a perfectly satisfying meal that took very little effort and actually helped you clean out the fridge a little bit.  This is one of those meals.  I imagine you could use just about any vegetable here – just roast the heck out of it, and then whir it up with some broth and half-and-half.  I’m trying to think of a vegetable that wouldn’t work here, and I’m drawing a blank.

In this case, I had a pound of mushrooms in the crisper, along with about two cups of broccoli florets and a bunch of asparagus that our neighbors gave us before they left for a cruise (lucky ducks!).  I decided to roast them all at 400F until they got good and brown and toasty.  I just tossed them with some olive oil and salt and pepper and spread them out on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.  They roasted for about 35 minutes.

While that was going on, I caramelized a thinly sliced onion in some butter in an enameled stock pot on the stove.  Once they were nice and golden brown and sweet and buttery-delicious, I added about 1 1/2 quarts of turkey stock (because I had some left over from Thanksgiving.  You could also use vegetable broth or chicken stock).  To this I added the roasted veggies, and I pureed it all using my stick blender.  I topped it all off with about a cup of half-and-half, and added half a cup of parmesan cheese.  Then I tasted it for seasoning and added salt and pepper.

I loved this soup.  And what’s better, my kids actually liked it.  No complaining, no moaning and groaning about how many more bites they had to take before they could be done.  Just quietly eating and cleaning their plates.  Broccoli and asparagus soup.  Who’d have thought?  It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but it sure did taste good.  And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

While it’s not really a recipe, here’s my estimation of the amounts I used and how long it took:

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 45 minutes
serves: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 lb. asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 1/2 quarts stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

I think this one might become part of our regular repertoire.  What are some of your favorite autumn and winter soups?