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 Austin360 Eats

Kraft Heinz embraces Momofuku Sauce in bid for foodie cachet

Kraft Heinz Co., struggling with sliding sales and a falling stock price, is partnering with celebrity chef David Chang to generate some buzz. The ketchup maker will use its expertise in food production and distribution to help Chang take his Momofuku Ssam sauce national for the first time. The condiment, which has been served across the chef's restaurant...
Recipe of the Week: Michael Symon’s skirt steak tacos with red onions
Recipe of the Week: Michael Symon’s skirt steak tacos with red onions

Michael Symon — Iron Chef, co-host of “The Chew” and chef/owner of Mabel’s BBQ, a “Cleveland-style barbecue restaurant located in downtown Cleveland” — has a new cookbook to showcase his love of fire, smoke and meat that spans American regions. The book features dry ribs from Memphis, wet ribs from Nashville...
As E. coli outbreak grows, here’s why Consumer Reports, CDC are clear: “Don’t eat the lettuce.”
As E. coli outbreak grows, here’s why Consumer Reports, CDC are clear: “Don’t eat the lettuce.”

It’s rare that Consumer Reports and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for customers to completely avoid a product. Romaine lettuce is the suspected culprit of a recent E. coli outbreak, and health officials are so concerned about it spreading that they recommend throwing away and not buying romaine...
Rain spoiling your grilling plans this weekend? Make Maudie’s enchiladas and feel better
Rain spoiling your grilling plans this weekend? Make Maudie’s enchiladas and feel better

With rain and thunderstorms in the forecast, you probably won’t be doing much grilling outside this weekend, but what about making Maudie’s chile con carne enchiladas? These chile con carne enchiladas are a dish you’ll find at Maudie’s and many other restaurants in Austin, but with Paula Forbes’ ...
Here’s your chance to learn about herbs at American Botanical Council’s East Austin headquarters
Here’s your chance to learn about herbs at American Botanical Council’s East Austin headquarters

Herbs are fascinating plants. They season our food, they scent our homes and, with the right application, they can heal our bodies. Since 1988, the Austin-based American Botanical Council has been sharing research and educational resources about beneficial plants. Contributed by the American Botanical Council. Medical plants...
More Stories