Monday, October 5, 2015

Hanging Out with My People
What’s cooking? Two great cocktails and a Tropical Smoothie

I started writing this at 32,000 feet, on my way back from a conference for bloggers in Seattle. The International Food Bloggers Conference 2015. Yes, even the Kitchen Goddess can enjoy hanging out with a group of like-minded souls for a few days.

I’m never really sure what I’ll find as I head into such adventures. I arrive at the hotel, and the questions that burn in my mind are... “Who ARE these people? And are they MY people?”

Not surprisingly, it’s a fairly eclectic group, and yes, they are my people. I mean, who else could spend three days talking about food and photography and food styling? But, as always, I’m intrigued by the subculture phenomenon.

On just about any topic, you can find a large group of people who’ll happily spend days on end discussing aspects of related minutae that would cause a “normal” person to run screaming from the room. Back in my single days, for instance, I was introduced to the world of tournament bridge. (The card game, not the giant steel structures.) Three times a year, the American Contract Bridge Association holds a national tournament at which many of these aficionados spend 10 days straight doing nothing but playing bridge. Sure, sign me up. And when these people go to dinner, they mostly discuss bridge hands. And at the end of the day, having spent their waking hours playing anywhere from 26 to 78 hands, they retire to the bar where the talk shifts to... bridge hands.

You can find subcultures of flower arrangers, crossword puzzlers, antique car owners, bonsai tree artists (you know who you are), ...even writers. And the great thing is that, within these subcultures, the qualities that in the “normal” world would cause a person to stand out, don’t. The hierarchy of values that makes George Clooney or Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah Winfrey a star is turned on its head. In the bridge world, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates – who both play the game – are unremarkable participants, and many of the “star” players would strike a non-bridge player as odd or even unpleasant.

Among food bloggers, the stars are the photographers, food stylists, and cookbook writers. In Seattle, in a workshop on taste trends, one woman told us about a recipe of hers for dill pickle soup. Yes, I know, dill pickle soup. Apparently it went viral and she got like a million hits. And when she reported this episode to the crowd, you could almost hear the low murmur ripple through the room... Holy shit... a million hits. That’s the stuff of rock stars in the food blogging world.

Among the many treats of the weekend was a Culinary Fair [read: dinner] featuring goodies from various Seattle restaurants and conference sponsors. As I wandered the room, I noticed lots of people sipping really pretty cocktails. Turns out they were offerings of the Stonyfield Yogurt Company, and not a drop of yogurt in them. Who knew yogurt people could be such fun? In fact, the cocktails were creations of Rebecca Rice, of Highball Custom Bar Catering, inspired by Stonyfield yogurts. That’s all I know about Rebecca except that she had some very fine ideas.

So in honor of the Stonyfield Yogurt folks, here are two of those yogurt-free cocktails – tested and approved by the Kitchen Goddess and her hubby, who pronounced them “mighty tasty” – and a breakfast treat for the next day.

The Cooler takes a little work, but well worth it for the gorgeous layered look and the fresh and complex taste – like a salad that’s simultaneously fruity and herb-y and you can’t quite decide which. Make a batch of the pear-ginger juice and the cucumber juice and serve these to your guests with hors d’oeuvres. Only one per guest, unless, well,... you know.

In case you missed it, I’m going to repeat: this Gingered Pear and Cucumber Cooler, with the layer of green drifting into the layer of golden yellow like a rainbow, is beautiful, and would make a great start to a dinner party. Very sophisticated. The Kitchen Goddess doesn’t even like gin, but she finished hers. Yes, sirree.

Gingered-Pear & Cucumber Cooler

Inspired by Stonyfield Organic Gingered Pear Oh My Yog! Yogurt, and adapted from Rebecca Rice, Highball Custom Bar Catering

Makes 4 cocktails.

For the drink:
6 ounces pear juice (I used pear drink from concentrate; or make your own if you’re really crazy or have a juicer)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1½ large cucumbers (not the seedless variety)
3 ounces lemon juice
7 ounces good quality gin
4 teaspoons sugar (superfine sugar dissolves best; use less sugar if you prefer less sweetness)

For the glasses (martini glasses work well):
lemon wedges (for wetting the rims)
pink flaky salt (if you can find it, or kosher salt if not)
cayenne pepper

Stir the ginger into the pear juice and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Strain out the ginger before serving.

Cut 12 thin slices of cucumber (3 slices per drink). Set aside on a plate, covered so they don’t dry out. Chunk the rest of the cucumber into a juicer (if you have one) or blender and process to get as finely pulverized as you can. Strain the pulp from the juice to get at least 3 ounces of juice. Refrigerate the juice until ready to serve.

Cucumber juice --isn’t it pretty?

Run the lemon wedges around the rims of the glasses to wet them, and roll the edges of the glasses in a saucer of salt (pink salt is nice but not necessary) mixed with a dash of cayenne.

In a glass jar or cocktail shaker of ice, combine 4 ounces of the gingered pear juice, 3 ounces lemon juice, 7 ounces gin, and the sugar, and shake until thoroughly chilled. Strain into the four salt-and-cayenne-rimmed glasses.

Float 3 cucumber slices in each drink to cover the surface. Pour ¾ ounce of chilled cucumber juice over the back of a spoon in a layer over the cucumber slices.

The spoon is essential, to keep the cuke juice from torpedoing the cuke slices.

* * *

The Blueberry Mojito is a lot simpler and adds a nice fruitiness to the classic mint drink.

Kitchen Goddess note: The following drink calls for Minted Simple Syrup. I have touted this syrup as a staple for your fridge on more than one occasion. And here it is again. But the KG is a patient woman, so in case you still don’t have any... In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar and 1½ cups mint leaves, and bring to a simmer, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Simmer 2 minutes and strain. Put the syrup into a jar and label it; it will keep indefinitely.

Blueberry Mojito

Inspired by Stonyfield Organic Quebec Blueberry Oh My Yog! Yogurt, and adapted from Rebecca Rice, Highball Custom Bar Catering

Makes 4 cocktails.

1 pint blueberries
1 small bunch fresh mint
7 ounces white rum
4 ounces fresh lime juice
3 ounces minted simple syrup [See KG note above.]

Put a small layer of crushed ice in the bottoms of 4 highball glasses.

Add a layer of blueberries (10-12).

Add a layer of mint leaves.

Repeat with layers of ice, berries, and mint.

In a glass jar or cocktail shaker with ice, combine the rum, lime juice, and minted simple syrup. Shake until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, and strain into the four glasses. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

* * *

Tropical Smoothie

Inspired by Deborah Harroun (check out her very attractive Taste and Tell blog)

Makes 4 servings.

12 ounces 100% pineapple juice
2 large ripe bananas, cut in ½-inch pieces and frozen
6 ounces Stonyfield Organic Plain Greek Yogurt
1 cup coconut water
1 cup crushed ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and process until smooth. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

¡Viva México!
What’s cooking? Albóndigas Soup

Speaking of celebrations – I was just speaking of celebrations, wasn’t I? – today is a most important day to remember our neighbors to the South. That would be in Mexico, where today is the official Día de Independencia. (And for those of you who are noting that you’re reading this on September 17th, I want it also noted that I actually hit the Publish button before midnight. Enough with the smart remarks. Just make the soup.)

A Historical Note (I know, I can’t help myself): Mexico’s War of Independence began in the tiny town of Dolores, in the state of Guanajuato, on September 16, 1810. Spanish colonial officials had uncovered a plot to overthrow their government; and when the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who had been part of the plot, learned the news, he had to act quickly. He ran to the center of Dolores, rang the church bell, and delivered an electrifying speech calling for everyone to take up arms against the Spanish Crown. The large and disparate mob that assembled marched with Hidalgo toward Mexico City, sparking an uprising against Spanish rule that finally achieved victory 11 years later.

As with its U.S. counterpart, the day is now most often referred to by its date (Dieciseis de Septiembre) rather than its name (Día de Independencia). According to the International Times, the celebration actually begins at 11p.m. on the evening of September 15, with the President of Mexico reenacting the “Grito de Dolores” (the Cry of Dolores). He rings the bell of the National Palace in Mexico City, then repeats a patriotic cry and shouts, “¡Viva México!” three times, before waving the flag of Mexico.

* * *

For the Kitchen Goddess, the Dieciseis de Septiembre is a great excuse to make one of her favorite soups: Albondigas Soup. Not because it’s an elegant gourmet dish – it’s not. In fact, it’s a delightfully mundane sort of dish – not unlike the hodgepodge of rebels that initiated the revolution. It’s a dish filled with the bright primary colors of Latino celebrations, a dish that’s fun to make and stars the basic elements of good, earthy Mexican cuisine. Also a great excuse to buy a bag of tortilla chips.

So without further ado, here it is. Albondigas – which means “meatballs” in Spanish – is a traditional Mexican soup featuring spicy (not hot) meatballs, swimming in a flavorful stew of fresh vegetables and herbs. It’s good the first day, and good the second day if you can make it last that long. I first saw this version in a skinny book of soups from Williams-Sonoma, back in the days when you could buy something from W-S for less than $20. I’ve loved it from the beginning. You can make it with pork or turkey if you want an alternative to beef.

Albóndigas Soup

Adapted from Soups, in the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library.

Serves 8-10.

For the meatballs:
1 pound lean ground beef
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
¾ cup crushed tortilla chips
¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the soup:
7 cups beef stock (low fat if possible), or chicken stock
1 16-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup carrots, in ½-inch dice
¾ cup celery, in ½-inch dice
1 cup onion (1 medium onion), in ½-inch dice
1 bay leaf

To make the meatballs: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and mix well. Cover the bowl with cellophane wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Form the meat mixture into small balls about 1 inch to 1½ inches in diameter.

Kitchen Goddess note: The process of forming all those little balls is a lot easier if you set out a bowl of water to moisten your hands while you work. When your hands are wet, the meat won’t stick to them. Also, it’s helpful to have a spoon to use for keeping the size of the meatballs consistent; the KG uses a teaspoon to gauge the amount of meat mixture for each ball.

Set the finished meatballs on a plate or plates while you work your way through the mixture. Refrigerate the finished meatballs while you ready the soup.

In a large soup pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), combine the stock and tomatoes, using a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes or a knife to cut them into coarse pieces. Stir in the sugar and Aleppo pepper (or pepper flakes), then add the carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, then adjust the temperature to a simmer.

Remove the meatballs from the fridge and gently roll them into the simmering stock. Once all the meatballs are in the soup, return the stock to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer the soup gently for 20-25 minutes, until the meatballs and vegetables are cooked through.

To serve, remove and discard the bay leaf. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with chips or warm tortillas and a salad.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

For Your Post-Labor Day Celebrations
What’s cooking? Summer Fruit Rosé Sangria

The Kitchen Goddess has worked herself into what in the South we call a “tizzy” over this post. It was supposed to be short and easy – a simple sangria for the Labor Day celebration. And now of course, Labor Day is over, but do not tell me you can’t find a way to celebrate something. The weekend? The still-warm weather? The start of football season?

Back to the sangria, the KG found herself overwhelmed with choices. For starters, which wine? Red felt too hot. White? Well, the KG had already posted her favorite white sangria, which you’ll find here. That left rosé. Over the years, rosé has unfairly gotten a reputation for being a sweet wine, but there are literally hundreds of really nice, dry rosé wines, and many are very nicely priced for this purpose. So that’s what we’re going to use today.

A tiny tidbit of trivia: According to Wikipedia, rosé may actually be the oldest type of wine. Evidence of winemaking goes back as far as 8000 years ago, in ancient Georgia (the country, not the state, though my friends in the state may claim to have been drinking that long). As I understand it, the earliest methods left the skins in contact with the juice for up to 3 days. And that, my friends, is how you make rosé.

So you have the wine, and now you have to add something. Again, too many choices. Your basic sangria contains wine, fruit, and some type of liqueur (most often Triple Sec or Cointreau). Beyond those, I found any number of other liquids in what the authors called “sangria”: rum, gin, port, brandy, various fruit juices, and simple syrup. Some also threw in cinnamon sticks, mint, or citrus rinds to enhance the flavor. Finally, some recipes added sparkling water at the end. The mind reeled...

I did find an interesting recipe – which I’ll share here – but once I made it, my hubby pronounced it “too alcoholic.” Hrmph. Probably because of the gin. I’ve tasted it today – after giving it a night in the fridge – and it’s really quite good; but there is the gin. Even after adding a bit of sparkling water, the Kitchen Goddess noticed a kick. So if you think you’d prefer a version that won’t have your friends falling asleep on your couch, I’ve come up with another, simpler concoction with more fruit and no gin.

First, the recipe with gin. I’ve already modified it because it called for Campari, which I don’t like. And the mixologist serves it with fruit juice ice cubes, which I found to be a little too precious – also too much work.

Kitchen Goddess note: Both of these recipes call for simple syrup. In fact, many cocktails and most sangrias call for simple syrup. It’s so simple, you should just keep some in your fridge. It’s also useful for sweetening iced tea or lemonade – no need for extended stirring to get the sugar to dissolve. To make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar with cold water (measuring by volume, which is reasonably accurate, you want ½ cup sugar to ½ cup water, or 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water, etc.) in a small saucepan. Set over medium-high heat and stir just until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture reaches a simmer, turn off the heat and set the pan aside. Pour the mixture into a sterile jar and it will keep in the fridge for at least a month. (Remember, sugar is used as a preservative, so if your jar is clean, it should keep indefinitely.)

Rosé Sangria

Adapted from Troy Sidle, a bartender and bar designer based in New York City, as seen on the food site,

Serves 6.

½ cup gin
3 tablespoons St. Germain liqueur (or Campari, if you prefer)
8 slices of peel from a grapefruit, 1 inch wide and 2-3 inches long (use a vegetable peeler)
8 slices of peel from a lemon, same as above
½ cup raspberries
1½ cups strawberries, hulled – ½ cup quartered and 1 cup sliced into rounds
2 tablespoons simple syrup
1 bottle dry rosé wine (750 ml)
1 nectarine, thinly sliced
Sparkling water
Garnish: mint sprigs

In a small bowl, stir the raspberries, the quartered strawberries and the citrus peels into the gin and the St. Germain. Muddle (crush) the berries to add their juices into the other liquid. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Once the fruit-infused gin mixture has had time to mellow, strain out the berries and peels and add the remaining liquid to a large pitcher along with the 2 tablespoons of simple syrup and the wine. Cover with cellophane wrap and allow the ingredients to get to know each other overnight in the fridge. Stir in the sliced strawberries and the nectarine. Serve over ice with a splash of sparkling water.

Kitchen Goddess note: The above mixture is relatively high in alcoholic content, so you may want to suggest that your guests treat it as a cocktail instead of a wine punch, drinking sparingly. Alternatively, you can go with the following, which is fruity and refreshing, yet lower in alcohol.

Summer Fruit Rosé Sangria

Serves 6.

1 ripe peach, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon juice and 8 slices of peel (about 1 inch wide, 2-3 inches long) from 1 Meyer lemon
2 tablespoons St. Germain liqueur
2 tablespoons simple syrup
1 bottle dry rosé wine (750 ml)
1 sliced nectarine
½ cup sliced strawberries (hull removed)
Garnish: mint sprigs

In a small bowl, muddle together the peach, the lemon juice and the peel with the St. Germain liqueur, and set aside for 2-3 hours.

Separate the lemon peels and reserve, then strain the muddled peach from the liqueur. (There’s no further use for the peach, but I’m sure you can find something to do with it. It’s quite yummy.)  In a large pitcher, stir together the simple syrup, the wine, and the peach-infused liqueur. Add the peels to the wine mixture, along with the nectarine slices and the strawberries. Refrigerate 2-3 hours and serve over ice with mint garnish.

The Wines

I used two wines for these concoctions, one from Italy and one from France. The first was a rosato from Tuscany, Salcheto’s 2014 Obvius.

 The second was a 2014 Cœur Estérelle Côtes de Provence rosé. Both were dry and somewhat fruity; both cost less than $14.

And now the KG is off to enjoy the fruits – and spirits – of her labors. Happy Wednesday, all!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Adventures in the Emerald Isle
What’s cooking? Plum-Blackberry Compote on Broiled Peaches

The Kitchen Goddess has not deserted you. She’s in Ireland, getting her fill of crusty brown bread and Irish soda bread and fresh trout and some fabulous cake with a caramel sauce whose name I can’t remember. So posting has been a bit of a trial, but here I am at last.

One of my responsibilities as a grandmother is to send my granddaughter postcards from my travels. She’s 3½, so she loves getting the mail, which is how I found myself at the post office in Ennis, Ireland, yesterday.

It’s a tiny affair with a prison-cell decor, and barely large enough for the 15 or so people who stood patiently in a line that snaked almost out the door. Only one service window was open, and with nothing else to do while I waited to buy stamps, I checked out the other customers.

Directly in front of me, a young man, maybe in his late 20s, chatted quietly with a slightly older woman, in a language I didn’t recognize. She handed him the pile of post cards she was mailing. As he rifled through them, I noticed they were all addressed to Poland.

He bent affectionately toward her as he talked, and I heard, “[Polish Polish Polish]...six stamps to Poland.” He handed her back the stack of cards and repeated, “Six stamps to Poland.”

She shook her head, obviously embarrassed, and responded, “[Polish Polish Polish],” as she tried to get him to take the cards back.

He refused, and the debate continued. Each time he gently insisted, “Six stamps to Poland,” she shook her head “No.”

As their turn at the window approached, I couldn’t stay silent any longer. I tapped her on the shoulder, and said, “You can do it. Six stamps to Poland.”

She smiled nervously, and he nodded. He turned to me and said, “She comes every year and I try to learn her some English. But no.” Then he added, “She learns Russian, but not English.”

Finally, it was her turn. They walked up to the window, and as she pushed her cards over to the postal clerk, she leaned in and I heard a soft, “Six stamps to Poland.”

They were both grinning as they walked out into the afternoon.

* * *

Cooking and food can present much that same sort of challenge. All too often, when you come across a new technique or a new taste to master, you may have a tendency to say, “I can’t do that.” Phooey. Of course you can – it’s only food. The Kitchen Goddess encourages you to join her as she shouts, “Six stamps to Poland!” and go for it.

Most recently, the challenge I faced was nothing more than an overstuffed fridge and a vacation deadline. “What’ll I do with all this fruit?!” I asked myself. That would be 3½ pounds of sugar plums on the verge of overripening and four small containers of blackberries. Yikes. (Don’t worry, I’ve cut the quantities down to more manageable portions for you.) I could have made jam, but decided instead that what I really wanted was compote.

So first I had to look up “compote” to make sure I had the concept right. Yes, it’s just what I thought – a sort of dessert topping made from whole or chunked fruit in a simple sugar syrup. Very light and fruity without being jammy. Then you put it on ice cream or pound cake for dessert, or stir it into your morning yogurt, or serve it as an appetizer with goat cheese and crackers. Very flexible, and simple as pie – really much simpler than pie.

And just to show you what a swell person the Kitchen Goddess is, I’ve also included a summer fruit dessert – broiled peaches – that uses the compote. What a great way to celebrate summer!

Plum-Blackberry Compote

Makes about 3 cups.

¾ cup sugar
1½ pounds plums (any type of plum should do – I had sugar plums), seeded and cut into quarters if small, eighths if large
zest of ½ lemon
2 cups blackberries
1½ tablespoons lemon balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic vinegar plus ½ teaspoon lemon juice)

Put the sugar into a large saucepan with 1 cup water, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Boil 5 minutes then add the plums and lemon zest. Cook the plums at a low boil for 5 minutes, then add blackberries and vinegar and simmer another 5 minutes.

Serve as dessert, warm or chilled, over ice cream or Greek yogurt or pound cake. Also works for breakfast with yogurt, or as an hors d’oeuvre with goat cheese and crackers.

Or serve it as dessert over broiled peaches, like this. (The Kitchen Goddess loved the extra kick of flavor from the sesame oil, but the butter is also terrific, so use whatever pleases you.)

Broiled Peaches with Plum-Blackberry Compote

Step 1: Brush with butter or sesame oil.
To serve 4.

2 large peaches, peeled and seeded, cut in half
1 tablespoon melted butter or toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat the oven on broil. Lay the peaches cut sides up in a square Pyrex casserole dish lined with crumpled foil. (The foil will keep the peaches from sliding around, and will minimize clean-up.)

Brush the cut sides of the peaches with the butter or sesame oil. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top. Broil 4½-5 minutes, until the sugar caramelizes.
Step 2: Sprinkle on brown sugar.

Serve with fruit compote and a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche or plain Greek yogurt.

Step 3: Broil 4-5 minutes.

Then save some as gifts for friends!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Tale of Two Italys
What’s cooking? Clam & Corn Chowder

Most people, when they think of Little Italy in New York City, picture a tiny area in lower Manhattan, nestled next to Chinatown, featured in The Godfather, and the home of the famous Festival of San Gennaro. But the neighborhood population peaked (at 10,000) in 1910, and the physical area has since been under constant pressure, crowded by growth on the west from the artists in SoHo and celebrities in TriBeCa, by new highrises in the creeping gentrification of the Lower East Side and the Bowery, and wrapped on all sides by tentacles of Chinatown. Even NoLIta (North of Little Italy), a section once firmly part of the corpus of Little Italy, now commands its own identity with the yuppies that call the area home.

So where does one go to find the merchants and residents who once occupied that space? Come with me to visit Arthur Avenue, in the Fordham section of The Bronx.

A short aside: If you’re limited to Manhattan and want a great Italian shopping and eating experience, check out Eataly, the emporium opened in 2010 by Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich. It’s 50,000 square feet of food courts and shelves of dried pastas, jams, sauces, olives, 100 different kinds of olive oil, and pretty much anything produced in Italy, as well as counters for fresh pasta, salumeria, espresso, and chocolate. According to Wikipedia, “Batali has described the place as a grocery store with tasting rooms.” It’s on Fifth Ave at 23rd Street, and well worth a visit. But it’s expensive, and it’s not Arthur Avenue.

This is Arthur Avenue.

The Kitchen Goddess made her first trip to Arthur Avenue last summer, and was immediately smitten. What you get with a trip to Arthur Avenue is the old world charm, tree-lined streets, and the sense of a neighborhood that’s completely committed to the best of a culture, culinarily speaking, of course. They have bakeries for every kind of Italian cookie, and different bakeries for crusty Italian breads. Open air markets with barrels of olives, and cheese shops with fresh mozzarella. Salumerias with huge displays of Italian cured meats, and butcher shops with fresh hot and sweet sausages as well as rabbit, pheasant, and wild boar. And, of course, shops for fresh pasta.

But my favorite stop was the fishmonger, Consenza's. There are other fishmongers on Arthur Avenue, but Cosenza’s was the only one I saw with a stand-up raw bar out front. The Kitchen Goddess made a little piggie of herself over the fresh clams and oysters, right there in the great outdoors.

And the bins inside had more gorgeous fish and shellfish than I think I’ve ever seen in one place before – all smelling like it just came out of the water.

I succumbed to the need for more clams, and took home a 2-pound bag (about 50 clams) to make a truly excellent clam chowder the next night. There is hardly a better dish in the world.

Kitchen Goddess note about fresh clams: Whole clams in their shells are sold live, usually in porous bags of net or burlap. The smaller clams are the tenderest, and you want to store them in the fridge (but not on ice), in a bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel. DO NOT keep them in a plastic bag, as they’ll die from lack of oxygen. Really fresh clams will last a few days, but if you buy them at a grocery store, you should cook them within 24 hours.

Before you cook them, take them out of their bag and put them in a bowl of fresh cold, unsalted water to cover, for 20-30 minutes. This’ll give the little buggers time to clean themselves of unwanted salt and sand on the inside. Then lift them out of the water (so you leave the sand behind), and scrub them with a soft brush or plastic mesh scrubber, to get rid of any sand on the outside of the shells. Now they’re ready to cook.

Clam and Corn Chowder

Adapted from Shelley Wiseman in Gourmet magazine, August 2007

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

3 slices bacon, cut into pieces about 1 inch long
5-6 small scallions, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts), or ¼ cup shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
corn sliced from 3 ears (about 2 cups)
1 pound small-to-medium boiling potatoes (red or white skins), cut in ½-inch cubes
16 ounces bottled clam juice
½ cup water
¼ cup dry white wine (optional)
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
2 pounds small hard-shelled clams, well cleaned
1½ cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

In a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven) over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring, until slightly browned but not crisp. Add the scallions or shallots and garlic, along with 1 tablespoon butter. Cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add the corn, potatoes, clam juice, water, wine, pepper, and thyme, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, uncovered. Add the clams and return the mixture to a boil. Cover the pot and cook, checking and stirring occasionally, until the clams are just opened wide, about 7-8 minutes. Discard any clams that haven’t unopened after 8 minutes, as they probably weren’t alive on the way into the pot.

Reduce the heat and add the half-and-half and the chives/parsley, as well as the remaining tablespoon of butter. Cook, stirring, until the chowder is heated through, but don’t let it boil. Adjust chowder seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with toasted French or Italian bread and a green salad.