Some of the more militant food writers published a do-not-order list that was featured on America Online's splash page today, and their objection is based on the two major sins committed by the restaurant industry: poor ingredients and shortcuts.
It is the old story: substituting shortening for butter--particularly noticeable in pastries--powders and concentrates for stock and store-bought breads, and the overall restaurant tendency to mask off-flavors with hot pepper or salt. It has created a new paradigm: today restaurants are divided into the really good and the really bad. If you want to get very good food, you will pay for it both in price and in calories from the deep-fat frying and sugary/salty recipes. You end up with the paradox that the food may taste good, but it can be loaded with anything from MSG to high-fructose corn syrup to aspartame.
I consider it madness to take chocolate, which is delicious in and of itself, and combine it with something like cayenne pepper so that the customers who don't like spicy food are blindsided with the unexpected burn inside their mouth. The only thing I can say about it is that I do appreciate a menu that warns me beforehand.
I don't understand why restaurants skimp on things like flour to thicken soups, but they do substitute cornstarch, which doesn't have the same effect. I mean, flour is pretty cheap, right? You would think that there isn't much you could do to spoil a simple recipe like clam chowder, but it can be done, if I can judge from the photos that accompanied the article.
The recipe for clam chowder is about as basic as it gets: clams, potatoes, bacon and cream. I actually don't like clams myself, but clam chowder is very good as far as even I am concerned, although it is too heavy on the dairy for me to eat it. But if you want to make it you can be assured that your chowder is going to surpass that of most restaurants.
CLASSIC CLAM CHOWDER
4 slices bacon, diced
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
1-1/2 cups filtered water
4 cups peeled and cubed potatoes
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Ground organic white pepper to taste
3 cups table cream, light cream or half and half
3 Tablespoons butter
2 (10 ounce) cans minced clams
Place diced bacon in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Cook until the bacon is almost crisp; add the onions and cook 5 minutes longer, until the onions are tender.
Stir in the water and potatoes, and season with the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender.
Stir in the cream and the butter. Drain the clams, reserving the clam liquid; stir the clams and 1/2 of the liquid into the soup. Cook for about 5 minutes longer, or until heated through. Do not boil the chowder. Before serving, taste for seasonings.
Clam chowder is a wonderful foundation for a winter dinner, and it is complemented with a rose wine and crusty bread--my favorite side dishes. A green salad would also go well with it, and you will still have some room for coffee and perhaps some pretty Valentine's Day decorated cookies.