Thursday, January 27, 2011

New England Clam Chow-Duh!

with Buttermilk Biscuits. 


We got a nice 6" of snow, and sleet in the Annapolis area last night, so a warm bowl of delicious was in order.

I have been craving New England Clam Chowder for a few weeks, so I decided it was a perfect opportunity.

I grabbed the ingredients and started cooking at 11am. For the next few hours I was inside cooking, Chris was outside beer-ographing in the snow. It was wonderful.

I started off by sauteeing about 1/4 of diced thick smoked bacon. Once it was ready I pulled it from the pot and added some mixed mushrooms, a pat of butter, a pinch of salt and my favorite spice, fresh thyme. I let the mushrooms brown up and peeled 2.5 lbs of golden potatoes in the meantime. When the mushrooms were finished I pulled them out and put them to the side. I then sauteed 4 stalks of diced celery, 1 diced carrot, 1/2 a diced medium yellow onion, 5" finely chopped leek, a large shallot, and a bit of olive oil to keep it all from burning.

As soon as all of the aromatics (ie onions, shallots, leeks) started turning translucent I began to pick out the carrots to keep the soup from turning too muddy or orange. I suppose you could omit them all together but I can always taste the difference. I then added the potatoes and allowed them to begin to brown. Once a nice fond formed on the bottom of the pot I poured in 8oz of clam broth and a can clams that had been strained and washed, and allowed the whole mixture to boil and reduce for a minute or two, stirring as I went.

In a separate pan I melted a pat of butter and enough chicken broth to fill about 1/2" up the sides of the pan. You could also use more clam juice, or even white wine. In this pan I steamed 4lbs (shells and all) of fresh cherrystone clams in batches. As the clams opened I put them aside to pick for later.

When the clams were all cooked I added about 26oz of chicken broth. As soon as I poured it in I realized I had made two small mistakes. First, I realized that because it was not homemade, it had a very strong color to it from the carrots that cooked in it! Not such a major problem, and no going back so I had to accept it. I also realized that I had meant to sprinkle flour over the veggies before adding the liquid in order to thicken the soup, and allow the raw flour flavor to toast up. This problem was solved by taking two tbsp of flour and a glass of the hot soup liquid together to make a thick slurry, and pouring that back into the soup. I allowed that to all cook for about 5min while I picked the clams. I reserved the broth, planning to add it back into the chowder, but somehow it was too salty (even though I added no salt). I put the clams and bacon and mushrooms in the fridge and added about 2cups of Half and Half,  a pinch of cayenne pepper, a pinch of crushed red pepper, and 3/4-1tsp of black pepper. I reduced the heat to barely simmer and also added 1 cup of crushed oyster crackers, and 2 tablespoons of lightly chopped fresh parsley. I let the whole mixture cook for around an hour.

While that finished I threw together some super simple Buttermilk Biscuits ( I use Alton Brown's recipe)

2cups ap flour
4tsp baking powder
1/4tsp baking soda
3/4tsp salt
2tbsp cold butter
2tbsp shortening
1cup chilled buttermilk (plus tbsp for brushing on biscuits)

Preheat over to 450ºF and clean a small space on your countertop. Pull out your cookie sheet, and a pastry brush, and an object to use as a cutter, or an actual cutter if you are that fancy.

Chope butter into small dice, be careful not to let melt or warm.

Stir all dry ingredients together in a big mixing bowl.

Use a fork to "cut" in the buter and shortening till the mixture looks crumbly.

Make a well in the center and pout in the buttermilk. Stir dry into wet until a thick sticky ball just BEGINS to form. Turn the dough onto a floured worksurface. Flour your hands and quickly knead the dough into a ball.

You must make everything as fast and as cold as possible to avoid melting the fat. This causes dense biscuits.

Flatten the dough till its about 1"thick but press gently, nothing should be perfect, just barely together. Use the cutter to cut biscuits and place on a cookie sheet so they just touch. Brush the top with buttermilk, or an egg water mixture to encourage browning.

Cook for 15min and serve with honey.

While the biscuits are cooking add the bacon, mushrooms, and clams to the pot and allow to warm through.

Seve and savor.

Side Note: I think next time I will try adding some jalapenos to the pot right at the end. A fresh crunch of green flavor would have really lightened the meal up. I also would recommend being more carful about letting the mixture boil as my half and half separated. This doesn't hurt flavor, mostly appearance, and the chowder has a very SLIGHTLY grainy texture. I added a bit of extra cool half and half right at the end which did help a tad. Maybe with cream I wouldn't have had that issue.

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Social Safeway, DC & Bastille, Alexandria

Last night was an unexpected adventure. The best kind if you ask me. 

My intention was to plan to go but not actually go to the "Social" Safeway event in Georgetown, but instead go home and go to bed. I have been sick for 3 weeks and my cough shows NO signs of letting up. Luckily, though I feel like death, my stomach and oral accoutrements have suffered not. I am having no trouble tasting and smelling, mostly.

Just before I finished at work I texted my friend Christine, who is always up for a good meal, to see if she could join me... basically be an excuse for me to have a fun night. 

Meet Christine:

Case in point. Christine likes food. And so do all of her friends. (p.s. Sorry for the lack of photos. I am snowed in away from my own computer so I can only get photos I have available online.)

So... she said yes, and also invited me to join her and a friend for dinner in Old Town, Alexandria. I trust Christine's taste buds so I agreed without a thought to the location.

First up was "Social" Safeway. Basically it sounded like a beer and cheese pairing event... in a Safeway. I was skeptical for a zillion reasons, not least of all being traffic, parking, Georgetown, sleepiness, and the fact that it was an event inside a Safeway. But how bad can can beer and cheese be?  I went and I am so glad I did. 

It turns out that my old coworker from my cheese training days at Tastings Gourmet Market, Treva Stose is Madame Fromager at Safeway and she is the hostess with the mostess. Seriously, she has beer, AND cheese! GOOD beer and GOOD cheese. 

Christine and I made our way through three tables of 6 cheeses, 6 beers, and a surprise! Plus we ran into a friend who, surprisingly enough, was GROCERY shopping. He heard an announcement about free beer and cheese over the loud speaker, and decided to join in for happy hour. Talk about a good shopping experience. 

First up was Flying Dog, a local brewery from Frederick, MD.

Their Snake Eyes was paired up with a lusciously delectable oozing piece of Bonne Bouche. I had never had Snake Eyes so a new beer always impresses me. Snake Eyes I am told, is named after Hunter S. Thompson's (one of the brewery's founders) coke dealer. It is the same recipe as their Raging Bitch, an American IPA, with a Belgian east strain added in, then dry hopped with Amarillo. For the Snake Eyes, its just an American IPA. Bonne Bouche is from Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. and is a bloomy ash covered goat's milk cheese. 

We also had the Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale with a piece of Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar from Fiscalini Farmstead in California. I am a big fan of all bandaged cheddars because of the inherent qualities of a bandage wrapped cheese. That is to say, cheeses are bandage wrapped to protect them from contaminates, and allow them to age longer by creating a semi-permeable barrier for air to pass through, coated in lard. The longer the cheddar ages, the more the proteins crystalize and the more caramelly it tastes.  Plus, adding lard to anything makes it better. This is the type of cheddar I love. You may remember prior ravings about the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar I used in my Mac and Cheese at Thanksgiving. Ahhh. The Pale Ale was a nice contrast with the big citrusy Cascade Hops. 

Up next was the Sam Adams table, which I considered skipping altogether. But new beer is new beer, and they were showcasing their Imperial Series, which I had never seen before. The first paring was Pico, a bloomy rind goat cheese from France, with Imperial White. I am happy to admit that Boston Beer Company surprised me. I have never liked the Sam Adams Seasonals, or their classics. They just don't have a lot of flavor or character to me. But I am supportive of them because they are the largest American craft brewery...

"This was a big reason for the recent change in the Brewers Association rules; an increase from 2 million barrels to 6 million barrels when designating what is a 'craft brewery'.  It will allow Boston Beer Company to continue to be considered a craft brewery (with current annual sales of 1.8 million barrels and climbing) once they hit the 2 million barrel mark.  That will prevent the statistics of craft vs. crap from being skewed... essentially keeping the divisions of market share accurate." - quote from Chris @ BEERsimple

Anyway, they poured two beers from their Imperial Series, and I had anice taste while chatting with the Safeway Account Manager, Patrick O'Laughlin. The White was medium bodied with a flavorful sweetness. Patrick also had a cool little surprise. To get the tasters' tongues wagging, he brought along little cartons of the 5 varities of noble hops. He told me that Sam Adams uses only Noble (German) hops in their beer, a strange fact considering the Patriotic face of their company. I always assumed they used American hops.  Second at the Sam table was a taste of the Imperial Stout with Petit Sapin. Petit Sapin is a godly cheese that I can't imagine living without. I absoultely reccomend it. Problem with it is it is VERY mild so you should really eat it by itself, if you ask me. It is a brie style cheese wrapped in a piece of spruce bark. The spruce imparts a delicious, slightly smoky flavor that is obvious yet subtle at once, and it's exciting to taste. I felt that its slight sweetness overpowered the subltetlies of the smoke.

Patrick also told me that Sam Adams will be releasing a new beer in Ferbruary and revamping their packaging again to help battle some people's misconception that Sam Adams is a 'big' beer company like Anheuser or Miller, rather than a craft brewery.

When we made it to the Clipper City table, after 10 minutes of rushing from one cheese to the next, two beatiful beers were awaiting. The friendly Baltimorian "bartender" poured these from a bottle while we perused the cheese and tried to trick him into larger pours. We began with Lambchopper and the Lager from the Clipper Original Fleet. The Lambchopper tasted better than I remember. It's a vegetarian friendly sheep's milk cheese from Cypress Grove, another great California cheesemaker. 

The last beer on the table was the Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, a triple hopped brew, with epoisse. This beer contrasted the epoisse's stinky wash-rind bruitishness pretty well.  I love epoisse and this specimen was no let down. I still remember the day Treva decided to sauté the epoisse in a pan of liquor, maybe whiskey, I don't recall. Whatever it was, it was incredible.

We found that if we were nice enough to the pouring person at Clipper City/Heavy Seas, we got to try a third, 'secret' beer; their newest seasonal release, Black Cannon, a black IPA made with chocolate malts. Black Cannon had a beautiful and balanced, smoky, chocolatey bitter punch.

After that we ran out the door and booked it to Old Town for dinner at Bastille.

I had never heard of Bastille before but it was amazing. It was a perfect date night. I was too excited about beer to pay much attention to the pricey wine list at the restaurant but I easily found a glass of red to satisfy me.

We all did out best to order different items off the $35 Restaurant Week menu.

My appetizer of mixed duck charcuterie wasn't all that impressive with the exception of the duck confit, which was great. I didn't feel there was a bright or strong flavor to pick up from the fat.

Christine had the paté with lentils that were herbed to perfectly complement each other.

Ally ordered the Rock Shrimp Beignets which had a great mayo dip and a pop of spice which I loved.

For entrées, Ally ordered the Free Range Chicken because she had heard it was good. I judge restaurants based on their chicken and dessert. You should NEVER make chicken if it isnt going to be delicious, and believe me this was. It was served in a Riesling creme fraiche sauce with glazed shallots, carrots, and cabbage.

I ordered the special butter bacon flavored scallops with a turnip purée. This isn't the real title, but these scallops just tasted sweet buttery and bacony... like happiness. I was in love.

Christine had the pan-seared salmon with red wine beet sauce and more yummy lentils. The salmon was a bit dry, and I had a small portion, but I was so focused on my scallops I could hardly look up from the plate. I only know what Christine's looked like because my entrée came to the table a moment later than the other two ladies.

Of course, we shared the cheese course... a "French blue", the VA local, Grayson, and I can't recall the third. I love Grayson, but it was't the most exciting cheese course after all we had earlier in the evening.

For DESSERT... Ally and I had the apple tatin and Christine had the creme caramel. I actually preferred Christine's because the pastry on mine was too thin and rubbery, and the apple too thick. No complaints on flavor, however.

Either way, I definitely recommend Bastille. It was a nice, relaxing and enjoyable meal.

That's all for tonight. I am off to enjoy the snow and research clam chowder recipes for tomorrow. I've never made it before. Wish me luck.