Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekly Menu - week of April 26

Here's the plan for this week. I'm so happy to be back in the kitchen!

Sunday - dinner out

Monday - Clam Chowder, oyster crackers

Tuesday - leftover chowder

Wednesday - Tacos, fruit salad

Thursday - Spaghetti Pie, broccoli

Friday - Beef Stroganoff, green beans

Saturday - leftovers

Baking - sandwich bread, oatmeal raisin cookies, pumpkin bread, chewy granola bars

Clam Chowder

Well, folks, I'm finally back after a crazy long hiatus. This past year has been a roller coaster like none other. We moved to central New York for my husband's nuclear engineering job, bought our first home (an adorable 80-year old Arts & Crafts right in the heart of the city...a lifelong dream come true for me!), and it's been a whirlwind since then. My husband was working long hours, days, nights and weekends, and we didn't see much of him as a result. Then not three months ago we got the shock of our lives when he was called up in the Navy Reserves for a 14-month deployment to Djibouti, Africa. Due to a ridiculous lack of communication from his command, he received only 10 days' notice that he was leaving, so you can imagine the frantic rush of packing, paperwork, planning and running around like chickens with our heads cut off that ensued.

But all is well! The kids and I are happily settled in our cozy house with fabulous neighbors and friends, and we were surprised and delighted to find out a few weeks after Brad arrived in Djibouti that he will be spending his entire deployment working as a Naval Liaison Officer at the US Embassy in Mauritius, a tropical island near Madagascar. We can't believe his good luck! He arrived there this past weekend, has his own apartment and car for the duration, and let's just say that this is a far cry from the deployment he did in Afghanistan four years ago. It sucks that we have to live apart for over a year, but we couldn't be more pleased with how it's all playing out, and we've been tearing up the Skype lines for the past two months. I have great kids, and let me tell you that deployments are a hell of a lot easier when the kids are out of diapers and car seats. I was able to fly down and meet Brad one weekend during his training in South Carolina, and the kids and I drove down to spend a few days with him in Virginia before he departed for Djibouti.

All that being said, with as crazy as the past year has been, I haven't been doing much cooking, let alone blogging. We let our stress pull us down into a spiral of unhealthy, convenience food eating, and we have the waistlines to show for it. Ugh! I'm determined to turn that around starting now. We're cutting way back on all the restaurant food, prepackaged food and take-out. I'm going to start packing lunches for the kids instead of having them buy school lunches, and we're working on removing high-fructose corn syrup from our home. I'm excited to get back into the kitchen again, and the blogging that goes with it!

Another thing that has changed over the past year -- and I hope this won't lose me a ton of readers -- is that we're no longer vegetarian. We were hardcore while we were in Louisiana, but the combination of stress and relocating just threw us off track, and I'll be frank...I don't know if I have the dedication to go back to it again. So you'll see more recipes here featuring meat and dairy.

Hopefully a few of my readers will notice that I'm back, and if so, I thank you for being here! Now, let's kick things off with tonight's dinner: Clam Chowder!

Until this year, I had never made clam chowder at home. It's long been a favorite of mine at restaurants, but for some reason I was a little intimidated to try it at home. But no longer! It uses canned clams and bottled clam juice, and couldn't be easier. One of these days I'll try making my own stock with fresh clams, but for the time being, this works. And works well! The kids scarfed it down and asked for seconds, and we plan on eating the leftovers for the next few days. It's rich, creamy, decadent, comforting and filling. What's not to like about that?

In my recipe research, I learned that traditional New England Clam Chowder does not contain flour or any thickeners, so I followed that rule in my recipe.

Clam Chowder

1/2 lb uncured bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 quart chicken stock
1 8-oz bottle clam juice
2 cans minced clams with juice
2-3 cups water
2 cups fat-free half & half

Cook bacon in a large stock pot over medium heat until crispy. Drain all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease and discard or save for another use. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook until softened. Add potatoes, chicken stock, clam juice, clams and water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat and gently stir in half & half. Serve hot with oyster crackers.