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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.


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