I'm a big fan of Mark Bittman's articles ("The Minimalist") in the New York Times food section. He's a good writer and also a nice counterpart to the overly fussy world of many food writers and bloggers. Recently I bought his book "How to Cook Everything: the Basics". Granted, I don't need another general cookbook, but it had some good recipes and step by step instructions and pictures for each one. Given that my other general cookbooks are from Cook's Illustrated, a simpler alternative is nice to have.
For those of you who are chemists, cooking from Cook's Illustrated is like doing a synthesis from Inorganic Syntheses. Everything is checked multiple times and if you do it right and are relatevely experienced, it works very well for that specific dish. Cooking from the Bittman book is more like doing something from a freshman chemistry lab. It's designed to be relatively straightforward and hard to mess up, and there are lots of pictures.
The recipe for corn chowder caught my eye. I've only seen recipes using a lot of cream and sometimes potatoes. This one used a broth made from cooking the corn cobs, milk, some scallions, a roux of flour and butter, and cheddar cheese. No onions, no potatoes, no heavy cream. It's not exactly Weight Water zero points soup, but it's reasonable entree - tasty and filling but not excessively rich. I was intrigued. It's corn season here, and other than the green onions, it was all items that I usually have.
I'm not going to repost the recipe here, so go look it up if you're interested. I followed the recipe, sort of. It was messy but well worth the fuss. I made three alterations - I didn't put the scallions greens on top, I added a small (7 oz) can of green chiles, and once it was done I blended up a blender full to make for a thicker soup and then returned it to the pot. It cooked up pretty much as described, but I was probably being too careful with simmering it so it took a but longer than described. The recipe says it's 4 servings but I will probably get 6 or 7 servings out of it (damn thyroid!).
Anyway, I don't often go into superlatives but this was amazing. The corncob broth really took it to the next level. The flavor of the corn, cheese and chiles blended perfectly, and the corn retained a lovely fresh taste. It was rich and tasty and did not suffer from the lack or cream or potatoes. I forgot about the rest of my dinner as I scarfed it down. I am already plotting to make more while corn is in season and freeze it. ( I'll probably scale it up slightly (1 1/2 x) since my pot can handle it)
It will taste damn good on those winter nights when it's snowing I don't feel like grocery shopping.
Someday I'll try one of the richer recipes and see how it compares, or add a bit of heavy cream or more cheese to this recipe, but it's hard to beat perfection. Likewise, it could probably be lightened somewhat with less butter and skim milk without sacrificing too much flavor. (I would probably cook the corncobs longer and process more of it in the blender to make it thicker.)
Postscript, one week later: I got about eight servings out of the soup. Some were main dish servings, and others were side dish servings. It stayed tasty all week. I made another, slightly bigger batch tonight and it came out even better. I'm freezing half of it now and will freeze more if I get bored with it during the week.