Finding inspiration from simple ingredients


Several years ago, I traveled with my cousin for the first time. It was illuminating, as we had never spent so much time together — a week — outside of family gatherings.

I always knew she loved to entertain, but one of the big takeaways from our trip was that she is a really good cook. And she has a knack for finding inspiration from seemingly mismatched ingredients and putting together a tasty dish.

I was in awe as we made our way through the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle. As she eyed fresh produce and seafood, and with the assistance of a smartphone, she picked out ingredients for a butternut squash galette and other savory dishes for a farewell dinner for our host. (My cousin is the type who whips up a feast to say “thank you for letting us crash on your sofa-bed.”)

I like to cook, and I like watching people enjoy the food I make. But I don’t necessarily have the confidence to go to a store and craft a dish based on what’s available, like my cousin did. When she came to visit me here, she repeated the feat at the State Farmers Market, and we had a lovely sweet potato-carrot soup made from the biggest carrots I’ve ever seen.

My cousin recently reassured me she only can do this with a recipe in hand. That made me feel better.

Still, I don’t always have the time, at least during the work week after a long commute home, to make anything too involved. Sometimes takeout is just more convenient, but I know that’s not the healthiest or most economic way to make dinner.

When I’m game for cooking, I try to find recipes that require little prep work, or those that you can make and have enough leftover for lunch the next day. I like the dishes to be flavorful, but if there are too many ingredients, or too many that I’ll never use again, I make adaptations.

Today, I picked a quinoa corn chowder, a recipe from singer-turned-cook Trisha Yearwood. Yearwood has a show on the Food Network, and I spotted this in a recent Food Network magazine. It sounded manageable. Most of the prep work is cutting up potatoes and onions. While the recipe calls for bacon as a garnish, I skipped that step. I know. All of you bacon-lovers might be surprised, but I wanted to enjoy the flavors of the sweet corn and shrimp, without the smoky bacon getting in the way.

I liked that quinoa is an ingredient. I’m always hearing how I should incorporate it into my diet, but the times I’ve made it, it’s ended up bland. Here, it soaks up the broth flavor — chicken stock, cream and Old Bay seasoning. It also adds texture to the soup, as if I had mixed in a big box of grits.

This dish also met at least one of my parameters. It produced enough chowder for follow-up meals. Note, however, that it’s helpful to have extra chicken stock around. The chowder absorbs the broth overnight. If you want more of a soupy chowder, rather than a hearty, less-soupy one, add more broth when you reheat it.

I’m looking forward to experimenting more with cooking. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to head to a farmers market and find inspiration.

———

QUINOA CORN CHOWDER

This recipe is from “Trisha’s Table: My Feel-Good Favorites for a Balanced Life” by Trisha Yearwood (Clarkson Potter 2015).

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons salted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup golden quinoa

2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed (or kernels from 2 to 3 large cobs)

5 cups chicken stock (have extra available for follow-up meals)

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered

2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

4 ounces bacon (about 6 slices, optional)

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

4 green onions, finely chopped

In a large stockpot set over medium heat, heat the oil and butter, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the quinoa and corn, and saute for 3 minutes more.

Add the stock, cream, potatoes and Old Bay. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the quinoa and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

If using bacon as a garnish, use kitchen shears to cut the bacon into small pieces and add to a medium skillet set over medium heat. Cook until brown and crispy, about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Set aside.

Add the shrimp to quinoa mixture and cook until they are pink and opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Just before serving, add the parsley, green onions and bacon.

Yield 6 to 8 servings.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Food

There soon will be new ways to know if your wine is environment friendly 
There soon will be new ways to know if your wine is environment friendly 

More and more of us are looking beyond the wine in our glass and demanding to know how the wine is made. Whether we want wines that are "natural," biodynamic, organic or sustainable, increasingly we want to know that winemakers are doing their best to protect the environment and not relying on chemicals to ripen their grapes. And the wine...
The morning after Thanksgiving, let them eat . . . cookies
The morning after Thanksgiving, let them eat . . . cookies

A handful of fresh cranberries, part of a can of pumpkin puree, extra chopped nuts and a lone apple that didn't make it into pie - after hosting a holiday feast, it's inevitable that you will wind up with tasty odds and ends like these. But instead of throwing them out, contributing to the shocking 27 million tons of food wasted each year (as per a...
The ultimate guide to a budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner
The ultimate guide to a budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner

Does Thanksgiving make your mouth water, dreaming of your favorite pumpkin or sweet potato pie recipes? Are you ready to pull out your crowd-pleasing stuffing recipe or are you a cautious cook easing into the kitchen for the first time?  No matter what your culinary skill level, it's easy to make a delicious Thanksgiving meal on a budget. Just...
6 easy side dishes anyone can make for Thanksgiving Day
6 easy side dishes anyone can make for Thanksgiving Day

Although the turkey will surely take center stage at your Thanksgiving table, a few unforgettable side dishes can't hurt. These simple sides won't take very much time or effort to pull together, but look (and taste) like a million bucks. This Thanksgiving Day, give your family a feast they won't forget by including a few of these easy-to-make dishes...
The stuffed-pumpkin dish that will make vegans and everyone else happy
The stuffed-pumpkin dish that will make vegans and everyone else happy

If you're cooking for vegetarians at Thanksgiving, it's hard to resist the stuffed-pumpkin idea. The vegetarians have their main dish, everyone else has another side, and all is right with the world. As tempting as it is to stuff a single large pumpkin, though, the degree of difficulty rises along with the poundage. A jack-o'-lantern-size specimen...
More Stories