Fall Frolic and a Warming Ham, Potato and Cabbage “Chowder”

chowder2On a whim, husband and I decided to take a day trip to the mountains last Saturday for some much needed R&R and a romantic picnic. We hadn’t taken a day for just the two of us to get away and relax since, well, you know the story. This was a restoration of the soul!

And though I think the leaves had just peaked, it was a stunning day in the the North Georgia Mountains, and a day filled with contrasts. There was still lots of beautiful color, and our day started off sunny and in the low 60’s with a gentle cool breeze blowing. You’ve seen my posts before on Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Lake Winfield Scott…both located within a 40 mile or so radius of the Dahlonega area of North Georgia. We started off with a stop at Wolf Mountain Vineyards, then headed to Lake Winfield Scott for our picnic, where we had last been on a lazy summer day in early June. Imagine our surprise as a huge and unpredicted cloud came up, the temperature dropped about 15 to 20 degrees, and it started sleeting on us! We ran back to the car, and headed to Frogtown Cellars, another North Georgia vineyard, about 15 miles away. By the time we arrived there it was sunny again and a bit cooler. Such is the Fall climate of the southern Appalachian mountains! Our last stop was in the little town of Dahlonega itself, sweet but a little touristy.

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We are blessed to be so close to the mountains that one can do all of this easily in a day trip—even this time of year when the days are shorter—and be back home in the city just in time to enjoy a warming, hearty and rich chowder for dinner to take the chill off.

The chowder was inspired by a soup that my mom served us on our last visit to see her—a creamy cabbage soup. To be honest, cooked cabbage isn’t one of my most favorite things and the idea of a creamed soup with cabbage doesn’t get my juices flowing, so I was a bit skeptical about this soup until I tasted it…and it was absolutely delicious! It featured lovely chunks of ham, cabbage and other vegetables in a rich cream broth. I procured the recipe from Mom and brought it home…and then promptly lost it somewhere in the house! But I could remember the tastes—the cabbage and ham of course, plus thyme and maybe onion, some celery and carrot. I headed for the store, decided that leeks and potatoes would be a good addition and headed home.

This “chowder” is my result. I did later find the recipe for the soup, but am quite pleased with my version which is thicker and even heartier with the added potatoes than the original was, and reminds me of a chowder and hence its name. Thanks for the inspiration, Mom! We’ve decided this is a new favorite and I will be making it again this winter for sure. It freezes well, too, which is always a bonus.

Absolutely delicious. You really have to taste it to believe just how good it is!

Absolutely delicious. You really have to taste it to believe just how good it is!

Ham, Potato and Cabbage Chowder
Makes 8 hearty servings

3 small leeks, cleaned and diced, white and light green parts only (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery diced, about 1 cup
2 medium carrots peeled and diced, about 1 cup
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 medium head of green cabbage, trimmed and shredded
2 medium Idaho potatoes (or Yukon gold), cleaned and diced with skins on (about 3 cups)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk (whole, 2% or lowfat is fine)
1 lb. fully cooked ham, cubed (I used uncured slow cooked), about 3 cups
1 generous Tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the leeks, celery and carrot, 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Sauté the vegetables until they are just tender, about 5 minutes, then add the chicken broth, cabbage and potato to the pot. Bring the vegetables and stock to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables are cooking, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat in a large saucepan or skillet with deep sides. Add the 3 tablespoons of flour and stir until well blended and no lumps remain, about 1 minute. Slowly add the milk and cream to the butter and flour mixture stirring constantly until well blended, then cook the mixture over low heat until it is thickened. When the potatoes are done in the vegetable mixture, add the thickened cream sauce to the large soup pot and stir to combine. Add the ham, the remaining 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, black pepper and thyme, and stir well to combine. Allow everything to heat through and meld together, about 3-5 minutes more on low heat, taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed, then serve in bowls, garnishing with additional thyme sprigs, if desired.

Our Halloween "Punkitty" and the two kitties that inspire are below!

Our Halloween “Punkitty” and the two kitties that inspire are below!

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Rustic Roasted Potato, Broccoli and Corn Chowda!

I could eat this every day.

I could eat this every day.

While our neighbors to the north are digging through snow, we’ve had warmer temps and rain, rain and more rain down here in the South. Not that I’m complaining because it’s so good for the garden. However, there’s enough of a chill in the air to make you want something warming and comforting for dinner…wintery comfort food, in other words.

Not much to harvest in the broccoli and chives category, but still nice to have something from the garden this time of year.

Not much to harvest in the broccoli and chives category, but still nice to have something from the garden this time of year.

The broccoli harvest from my little winter garden was almost laughable, it was so small. There are still some babies on the stalks so I may see more before it’s all said and done, but for the time being…about 3 or 4 bites worth! I wanted to combo it with something where we both could enjoy its flavor, even if there wasn’t enough for a side dish, and that’s how I came up with this lovely chowder. It’s rich without being too heavy, and you can easily omit the bacon for a vegetarian option, if you want or need to do so. You just can’t go wrong with anything that combines roasted potatoes, broccoli, sweet corn, onions, and a creamy base topped with a little sprinkle of bacon for good measure. You just can’t!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Roasting adds much depth to the flavor of the chowder.

Roasting the potatoes and broccoli adds a ton of depth and flavor to this chowder. Leaving the skins on the potatoes adds a rustic touch!

Rustic Roasted Potato, Broccoli and Corn Chowder
Serves 6

1 lb. red skinned potatoes, washed, scrubbed and cut into bite sized pieces, skin on
1 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, washed, scrubbed and cut into bite sized pieces, skin on
2 cups broccoli florets (I just used my smaller amount, but 2 cups is better!)
1 Tablespoon olive oil + 1 teaspoon
Kosher salt and freshly black ground pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
1 large sweet onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons flour
4 cups 1% milk
1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 Tablespoon fresh chives, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
(Optional) Garnish of 3 slices of applewood smoked bacon, cooked until crisp, drained and set aside

Cover a cookie sheet in foil and grease it with a little olive oil. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the cut potatoes on the foil and toss them with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil, some kosher salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of the thyme. Roast them in the oven for about 15 minutes, then give them a stir, then roast them for about 8 more minutes, or until the potatoes are starting to become tender when pricked with a fork and beginning to brown. Toss the broccoli florets in 1 teaspoon of oil and add them to the potatoes, then roast another 6-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

While the potatoes and broccoli are roasting, melt the butter in the bottom of a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour to the butter and onion and cook the flour, stirring constantly, for about a minute or two, then add the milk slowly, stirring, then the cream, chicken stock and corn. Add the roasted potatoes and broccoli to the pot, then the chives, remaining thyme, cayenne pepper and salt, and bring to a simmer. Allow the chowder to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding a few grinds of black pepper. Serve hot in bowls and crumble 1/2 slice of bacon on top of each serving, if desired.