Monday, April 14, 2008

Clam chowder, and potato chips

First, lets talk about potato chips. I grew up eating Cape Cod chips, which are so crunchy and perfect and indescribable. I’d go to school and buy a bag of Lay’s or some other brand and I’d eat them, but my heart was never in it. Those other chip brands were flimsy, or ruffled, too thin or too salty. No chips were perfect, except Cape Cods. Then, later on, I discovered (by discovered I mean my mom started buying) their russet chips. Dark, a little heavier in taste, I’d eat the whole bag in one sitting. Their chips never needed dip or weird flavors to make me want to eat them. They were just right how they were.

Fast forward a few years. I stopped eating chips, because Cape Cod chips stopped being everywhere. It wasn’t a conscious thing, they just faded from my life. I almost never bought potato chips. Why bother? I forgot I loved Cape Cod chips, and was totally uninterested in any other kind. Then something happened, I forget when or where, or why, but I bought a bag of chips. They weren’t Cape Cod, they were Utz. Utz brand chips do my favorite thing – they write “this is a gluten-free food” right there, underneath the ingredients. So when you go to read the ingredients, you see that. Potatoes, salt, oil. Gluten-free. Hooray! They also have a gluten-free list on their website. Utz, which is a local Pennsylvania company, makes a kettle-cooked chip that’s very close to Cape Cod. It’s not buttery and perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. Now chips are back in my life. I’ve tried other brands of “kettle-cooked” chips, none, except the Utz ones, compare to Cape Cod. Apparently kettle-cooked is how cape Cod makes their chips, and it’s the way of cooking them in small batches instead of huge scary vats of oil. It puts a better image in my mind. Finally I contacted Cape Cod to find out if their chips were gluten-free, even though I’ve eaten a few bags anyway. They got back to me promptly, which was nice since their website has almost no information on it except how to get to the factory. All their chips are gluten-free except their Beachside BBQ ones, hooray! Cape Cod, how I love you.

Now on to another Cape Cod/New England thing- clam chowder. I don’t eat much seafood, because (I’m sure I’ve said it before) when I was tested for food allergies a few years ago, I tested positive for all seafood. Fish, shellfish, the works. But it was never a problem because I never liked seafood, ever. As a kid, the only seafood I’d ever eat was tuna salad and crab cakes, which were mostly filler anyway. But the last couple of years I’ve been wanting to eat seafood. So I’ve been trying it, carefully. When we went to Maine on vacation last year, I licked a few pieces of lobster. Then I had a few little bites. I didn’t love it, but I wasn’t allergic to it. A few months ago I made crabcakes. Same thing. I tasted a little, then a little more, and I was fine. And fish sticks. Meaning Pollack is safe, and tuna. I accidentally ate Yellowtail a few times, that was ok. I tried oysters at Thanksgiving. They were good. I tried mussels recently too. Yum. Alex LOVES seafood, but doesn’t eat it much, since I cook dinner almost every night and I hardly ever have seafood. I feel bad because every so often he talks about how he wants to eat seafood.

I was at work the other day, and on the TV in the breakroom, someone was watching Martha Stewart. She had some guy from Nantucket (island off the coast of Massachusetts) making clam chowder. I watched, thought “I can do that”, so I decided to. I bought a container of fresh-frozen chopped clams from the seafood department (I didn’t know how many clams I needed, and clams are rather expensive if you need a lot of them) and some potatoes. I stopped at the Italian Market on the way home and picked up a dozen littleneck clams, because I wanted fresh clams too.

I brought them home, cleaned them up, defrosted the frozen clams, and set to work. It was easy, made the house smell great, and was delicious. Plus, it made Alex super happy. He knows that when I make seafood it’s especially for him, and he likes it. You could skip the fresh clams, or use more fresh and omit the frozen. If you skip the fresh clams, buy clam juice. Clam Chowder
1 container frozen, chopped fresh clams, about 2 cups
1 dozen fresh clams in their shells
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes (approx)
6 slices bacon, chopped up
1 T butter
2 T flour
1 medium onion, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
2 bay leaves
1 cup cream

Thaw your frozen clams, and clean your fresh ones. While you prep your vegetables, steam the clams. Put them in a pot with about 3/4 of a cup of water, bring to a boil, cover, and steam about 10 minutes. Let cool enough to handle. Remove the clams from their shells and chop, then add to the frozen clams. Line a strainer with a couple coffee filters, and strain the clam broth to remove any sand. Cook the bacon with the butter, when browned add the onions and celery and cook to soften. Stir in the flour, then whisk in the clam juice, add potatoes and bay, and enough water to cover. Cook until your potatoes are cooked, about 20 minutes. You have two choices now, you can either roughly mash some of them in the pot to make your chowder extra thick, or leave all the chunks whole for a chunkier chowder. Next, add in the clams, cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then stir in the cream. Cook on low a few minutes more, then remove bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, and serve.


  1. I grew up in Pittsburgh and fondly remember Utz's chips and pretzels. YUM!

  2. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Having grown up on Cape Cod, I'm right there with you about Cape Cod potato chips. That was one of the first things I checked on when going gf. The salt and vinegar is the best.

    I'll have to give you chowder recipe a try - it looks excellent. My mom digs her own clams all summer. talk about fresh! another fond memory...


  3. steve- Yum! I love any company that writes "gluten-free" on their product. I know you do too.

    karen- Oh, if only I had liked fresh seafood when I lived on the South Shore! I only recently started liking it, now that I live in Philly, where I dont think we have any fresh fish.

  4. Anonymous12:52 PM

    I just called Cape Cod to check (while I was at the grocery store) and was told they've stopped manufacturing the BBQ so the line/room is now dedicated gluten-free. The customer service rep checked the date and lot no. on the bag to verify - so if the date's after Oct. 17 of '08 it seems like it should be fine. :D Yay!
    --also gluten-free in Michigan