Discounts During Recession...and Clam Chowder

The Fish Enterprise is having a lobster special--a 2 lb. lobster with 2 sides for $29.95! (Wonderful with a glass of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio) It seemed like an affordable splurge so we went out on a weeknight and were pleasantly surprised to find the place packed. In this time of recession, there are many nearly empty restaurants, even on weekends. My heart goes out to restaurant owners because I know how difficult it is to run one in normal times, so this economic downturn must really hurt. Anyway, we did our part and spent some money to help keep the economy growing. My daughter offered me a taste of her clam chowder which I refused, explaining that I never find good clam chowder in a restaurant. It's usually gummy and thick with flour...except for once long ago, when I had clam chowder in a French restaurant in Colorado and it was made with fresh clams, clam juice and real butter. It was thin but oh, so delicious. My daughter rolled her teenage eyes and said "Oh, Mom, only foodies remember a soup they they had in high school!". We had a laugh over that. But, the next day I couldn't keep that delicious clam chowder from the past out of my mind and just had to try my hand at making it from scratch. Fortunately, in Santa Barbara there are several venues to buy seafood right off the fishing boats; I was able to buy live littlenecks. I didn't find a recipe I liked--I didn't want bacon grease or much flour, so I worked on creating a soup, mostly thickened with potato, with the fresh, clean, salty taste of clam unmasked with bacon, and not gummy like library paste. It took me 3 hours total, but was worth the "yum" compliment it received. I had to take more ribbing about my clam chowder obsession, but I reminded my daughter about the recent cake she decorated with fondant. Only a foodie stays up until 4 am to make a cake!
We're all looking for discounts and bargains to save what little money we have left. This week's Online Grapevine is right up our alley: from exotic Spain, fine table wine at a huge discount. You can receive the wine at your doorstep for less than $10 a bottle when you order a case.
3 lb. live clams
tops of a bunch of celery
3 carrots
handful parsley
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig oregano
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 baking potatoes, cut into pieces, for broth
3 red potatoes, peeled
1 small onion, minced fine
1 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 cup half and half
salt and white pepper to taste
chives for garnish
Live clams should be shut and shells intact. Otherwise, they may be dead and will give the soup a bad taste. Soak the clams in water for a couple of hours so they discharge dirt and sand. Wash the celery and cut off the tops, including the leaves, to use for the soup. Peel the carrots if you want to use them later. (I saved them after cooking and pureed them in a blender, then melted some butter and added the pureed carrots, added salt and pepper to taste, then served as a side dish for a different meal, sprinkled with paprika.) Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Scrub the clams then carefully add them and cook for 5-10 minutes until all the clams have opened. Remove the clams and shells to a dish to cool. Add the celery, carrots, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and oregano to the broth and turn the heat down to medium low so the broth is at a low boil. Remove the clam meat from the shells and reserve--put the shells back into the broth. Cook for about 20 minutes, skimming any foam off as it cooks. Add the potato (no need to peel them and the peel adds vitamins). Cook another 30 minutes until the potato is completely soft and falls apart when you push on it with a spoon. Remove from heat and let the soup cool so you can strain the broth through a fine mesh colander into another pot. Pick out the carrots, if you want to save them, and also save the potato to a wide dish. Discard the rest. Discard any potato skin left on the potatoes, then mash them. Stir the mashed potato into the soup. Chop the clams and red potatoes and add them. Turn the heat on low and simmer until the potato is tender. In the meantime, melt the butter over low heat and cook the finely minced garlic and onion in it for five minutes. Add the flour and stir until well mixed. Cook for a minute, then add a cup of the broth, a bit at a time, stirring with each addition until you have a runny paste. Then, spoon it into the broth a bit at a time, stirring with each addition. (Adding the flour/butter mixture directly will create lumps!) Add the half and half and season to taste with white pepper and salt. Garnish with chopped chives. Serves 4 and is good with cornbread and honey and a glass of the 2008 Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Blanco.

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