Chef Geoff's Souper Bowl

From the beginning, I'll plead "guilty" in employing an overused pun in the title of this column. I'm hopeful that the Observer readers will forgive my indulgence, but when one considers such things as my rabid fanaticism for the Cleveland Browns, Red Right 88, the Drive, the Fumble and the distinct probability that the only Super Bowl I'll ever be involved with will be spelled "souper," perhaps they'll understand. So, with the caveat as to the title out of the way, on to the main course.

Winter on the North Coast can be a daunting experience. The Hol idaze are over, and the bright lights, garland and warm feelings we enjoyed in December give way to the cold dark days of January. Certainly there are a great many enjoyable winter activities to experience: skiing and snowboard ing, skating and sledding, and maybe even some deep snow winter camping (more on that subject later). But, even with wintertime's recreational distrac tions, the reality of cold, dark and wet is enough to bring even the most opti mistic of us to the very brink of cabin fever. As the weather forces us to remain indoors, boredom and malaise set in that even a 24-hour marathon of "Proj ect Runway" can't lift. It is at times like this that the smells from our kitchens bring us comfort and release. And even more so if the winds are howling out side, which only tend to magnify the comfort of our own cozy hearths. I'll confess to a weekly mood swing that is probably fairly common. I generally slowly slip into a slight depression on Sunday nights, fueled principally by the fact that the weekend is over, and in short order I will be plunged into Mon day morning, my least favorite time. A dreary winter Sunday can only serve to heighten the slip towards feeling a little down. I have found that, sometimes, cooking a pot of hot, steaming soup, accompanied with a loaf of freshly baked bread does wonders for your mood. No matter how dark and dreary it looks outside, somehow the warmth from my kitchen and a large tureen of soup spreads into the psyche.

So, after all the football is over (at least for us in Cleveland), and the Holiday decorations are down, I turn my culinary attentions to creating a cauldron of delicious warmth on Sun day nights, and baking a crusty loaf of some substantial bread. Coupled with a salad, it's really all you need for din ner. Of course, soups can be simple, straight-forward affairs like Chicken Noodle, or they can be somewhat more complex, like Chinese Hot and Sour. But whether simple or complicated, virtually every soup is merely a stock, with added ingredients.

We can, of course, make our own stocks. It is actually a simple process, adding browned beef bones, a chicken or turkey carcass, meat scraps, and vegeta bles to a large heavy pot, covering with water, and simmering for a few days. Indeed, those large heavy cast iron stock pots were designed so that items could be added on a daily basis, and the pot could continue to bubble away all week, with the stock ready for use on the weekend. It's a very effi cient and economical way to make use of item that would otherwise go into the disposal or garbage. There are also a good number of commercially produced stocks (or broth) which would allow you to avoid the work of creating your own. But, once you have your stock, whether homemade or store bought, it's a simple matter to add some chopped vegetables and create vegetable soup, or mushrooms and heavy cream for cream of mushroom.

In the cold of a Cleveland winter, I tend to favor a creamy, thick chowder. Thick, not because you added flour to create a wallpaper paste, but thick with spoonfuls of meat, vegetables, and creamy broth. The recipe is quite simple, and provides a basic Chowder recipe that can be used as foundation for anything from Clam Chowder to Corn Chowder. You may choose to add some finely diced red sweet red peppers, or perhaps some sliced leeks, or leftover julienned ham. As with so many of my recipes, think of these as guidelines, and please feel free to add, delete, and substitute.

North Coast Clam Chowder (serves 6)

4 strips roughly chopped bacon (not maple flavored!)
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
2 6-oz. cans of chapped clams, undrained
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups potatoes, unpeeled, in 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup green pepper, diced (if desired)
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seafood seasoning
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

In your soup pot, brown the bacon. Using the bacon fat, saute the onion until translucent. Add the carrot and celery, and saute until celery is translucent. Add the chicken broth, clams and juice, potato, and green pepper, if desired. Bring t oa simmer, add the Bay leaf, Old Bay, and thyme, and cook covered, until the potato is soft, 45 minutes or so. Add heavy cream and milk, stirring to heat through. do not boil. Salt and pepper to taste, serve with a load of crusty Honey Wheat or Dill Rye bread and fresh sweet butter.
Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 2, Issue 2, Posted 09.39 AM / 24th January 2006.