Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Comfort in a bowl

comfort foods, not diet foods, ideal for cold winter weather, potato bacon soup, clam chowder

The falling snow this week has brought my mind back to winter and with it, a need for comfort foods. Comfort foods seldom scream “diet” but always are filled with rich flavours, warmth, and satisfying ingredients that stick to the bones and warm the spirits during our cold winter months. Often they are foods we were served as children and often they evoke feelings of happiness and satisfaction not otherwise brought easily to mind.

Both of today’s recipes  include potatoes, bacon and cream. They’re rich, full of flavour and most satisfying as a full meal or as a special start to any meal. The potato soup is a favourite for me at home as well as with the soup kitchen (when it’s our turn to serve on Saturdays). Even though I never experienced clam chowder as a child, I’ve grown to appreciate its amazing flavours as an adult and for many people, especially those raised near the sea, clam chowder is a true comfort food. So let’s simmer up something special this week, without judgement, and simply enjoy a special treat.

Thick and Creamy

Potato Bacon Soup

1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon, cooked until crisp, and chopped

2 – 3 tbsp. bacon drippings

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

5 lbs. russet or red potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes

32 oz. chicken stock (approx.)

1/2 pint heavy cream

1/8 lb. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon using preferred method, until crisp. Allow to cool and chop or crumble into small pieces. Reserve several tablespoons of drippings (add more bacon drippings if onions look dry. This will depend on size of pot and particular onion).

Place a large soup pot or heavy casserole over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp. bacon drippings and cook onions, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring often. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes. When everything is sizzling nicely, add enough stock to just cover potatoes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Mash potatoes roughly with a potato masher. Scoop out about half of the remaining mixture and purée in a blender (in batches) or food processor. (Or if you’ve got an immersion blender, go for it with that.) Make sure to leave a good bit of the potatoes chunky, for texture.

Add butter and heavy cream. Stir to combine well. Taste for seasoning and add more stock if soup is too thick for your liking. When consistency is right for you, stir in bacon and bring to just a simmer, stirring often.  Serve hot. Garnish with additional crumbled bacon, some chives or green onions. Share and enjoy!

New England Clam Chowder

4 slices bacon

1/2 cup chopped onion

4 potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup bottled clam juice

1 cup half-and-half

2 (6 ounce) cans minced clams

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

In large saucepan over medium high heat, fry bacon until crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, reserving the bacon fat in the pan, crumble and set aside. In same saucepan with the bacon fat, sauté onion and potatoes 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well to coat. Pour in clam juice, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add half-and-half and minced clams and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Finally, whisk in heavy cream, if desired. Allow to heat through, about 5 minutes. Garnish with the parsley and crumbled bacon. (Note: do not boil if adding cream.)

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.