Monday, January 2, 2012

winter classic

The breezes coming off Meadow Lake were positively balmy this New Years day as I strolled through Flushing Meadows Corona Park enjoying the surprising sunshine. It is hard not to interpret the gentle weather as a sign of good fortune for this new year. Hope and good will were buoyed about in the caressing soft gusts. Well, that is how I chose to interpret it!
Can you see the famous Unisphere, a leftover relic from the 1964 Worlds Fair, hidden in the trees?

The holidays have left me exhausted but serene. All the scheduled events went off without a hitch. Rest and restoration is now the plan. Today we are hosting friends and family for a casual, impromptu I insist, Winter Classic 2012 party. My husband is a devoted hockey fan and our beloved NY Rangers are facing off in an outdoor showdown in Philadelphia against their rivals The Flyers.

I leaped at the opportunity to cook up what is left in my fridge after all the holiday entertaining and gift exchanges. There are still cakes, candies and various goodies lurking in every cupboard and it is time to clear the decks to welcome the new year. I am making a big pot of pumpkin chowder to warm the soul and please the palates of the hockey fans scattered in front of our TV this afternoon. The soup is easy enough to make and can be prepared the day before. If you are not vegetarian, consider adding some bacon to add a little smokey flavor to the broth.
Chowders are generally thickened with chunks of vegetables in a milk or cream soup base. I Like to cube up the vegetables for a classic presentation. The body of the chowder is achieved by making a simple butter and flour paste right on top of the softened aromatic vegetables and then thinned with milk or cream. I add a hearty stock to the mixture so it does not get too creamy. The heavier root vegetables are then added in and will simmer to tenderness in less than half an hour.

Pumpkin Chowder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 celery stalk finely chopped
1 red or green pepper finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk or heavy cream
3 cups vegetable chicken stock
2 cups pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 cup potato, cubed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

In a large soup pot heat the oil. Add the onion, celery, pepper and salt and pepper to taste.
On a low flame sweat the vegetables until the onions become translucent, about five minutes.
Add the butter to the pot and let it melt down over the vegetables.
Sprinkle the flour over everything and stir to make a paste of the flour with the butter and the oil. The bottom of the pan will be a bit sludgy.
Pour in the milk or the cream and bring to a simmer stirring continuously to keep the mixture smooth. As the liquid comes up to a boil it will begin to thicken.
Slowly pour in the stock as you continue to stir, mixing thoroughly. Add the potatoes and pumpkin cubes and the dried thyme and bring liquid to a simmer again.
Continue to simmer the soup uncovered for about 20 minutes until the potato and pumpkin are tender and cooked through.
Add the corn and the Cayenne pepper and simmer the chowder for five more minutes. Taste soup to adjust seasoning. Can be made a day ahead.

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