Sunday 18 January 2009

NCR How My Chowder Fed the Dalek!

Did anyone else think it a bit contradictory when the ‘global financial crisis’ hit at the end of last year and we were encouraged to spend, spend, spend and there were calls to prop up the car manufacturers for the good of the nation? It was puzzling to see how it sat with our governments’ ‘commitment’ to combating climate change and carbon emissions.

Oh yes, the whole environmental movement is a complicated business and at times seems a cynical exercise. I often wonder if supermarkets encourage us to use recycling bags (that they sell us) rather than plastic bags because they believe it will make a better world or a larger profit margin. While some of my lifestyle decisions, such as being vegetarian and living close to a bike track and public transport, are consistent with the green movement, I am by no means a role model in such things. Although in an ideal world I would make more changes, the reality of my life at the moment means that I shop at the supermarkets more than farmers markets and I don’t always remember to take my own bags.

One small thing I can do to improve the environment has been on my wish list for a while: a compost bin. I have lived with them in previous households but not for some time. Our small unit has a small concreted backyard. Not only does this mean that we don’t have the garden to use broken-down compost, but I am told that the open base of a compost bin needs to sit above soil so food scraps break down in the first place. Why can’t these things be simple?

We bought a compost bin a while ago but had to work out how to sit it in soil in a concrete backyard. E has no clue, having lived in flats for a lot of his life. My parents have always kept their food waste. When I was small it went to the chooks in the backyard. Once we moved into Geelong and left the chooks behind, it went onto their large garden (pictured) which would welcome as much composted mulch as anyone could produce. In fact, they don’t have a compost bin so much as a compost system. There are about three compartments for the compost depending on what stage of decay it is at. My parents love their garden and my dad, in particular, loves the sort of challenge that our backyard presents.

There have been discussions with my dad about constructing trays and grills for the compost to breath but last week he sorted our compost bin by sitting it on some foam underlay topped with soil. Finally our food scraps are going to breakdown in the backyard rather than being landfill. You can see a photo of the compost bin which we call the Dalek because it looks short, squat and threatening. It has been moved to a quiet corner of the yard where it can't cause any smelly mischief.

The best thing about having a compost bin is that I am keen to use fruit and veg that will contribute waste to the bin. So when Lisa and Holler called for vegetable soups for this month’s No Croutons Required (NCR) event, I thought it an ideal opportunity to generate some food scraps.

This may sound like a strange motivation to make soup but I don’t make so much soup in summer, especially when the weather really heats up. We had a scorcher on Tuesday of 37 C. Not good timing for thinking about soup! Having a surplus of milk, I thought I could make a creamy soup. I decided on a chowder but it really didn’t sit well with the heat and I ended up using the ingredients to make a corn salad instead.

Luckily I had bought quite a few cobs of corn and the weather cooled late last week. It cooled so much that when I went to lunch with a friend we optimistically sat outside but went inside when it got so windy that chairs were being blown into the road! So I made my chowder after all.

I looked at quite a few recipes on the web for inspiration and then settled on my own version. The mention of basil in chowder appealed. A touch of the Mediterranean seemed guaranteed to bring some of that sunny summery charm that we have glimpsed in the weather last week. I also added some mustard, lime juice and parmesan.

It was quite tasty, with sharp and sweet flavours. The milk didn’t make it heavy as I had feared. My main criticism was that it needed just a little extra salt. E, as always, added a few drops of Tabasco. Both of us found it very filling and I probably could have done without the bread I served with it.

Even better was that the chowder gave the dalek a good feed because corn on the cob generates quite a bit of waste. (Unfortunately the only corn in the supermarket was packaged in a polystyrene tray which seems unnecessary and frustrating when corn comes in its own packaging.) I wouldn’t usually give you a photo of the food scraps from a meal but I couldn’t resist with the excitement of having our own functioning compost bin. It is a small gesture towards a world where we recycle more and need less.

Potato and Corn Chowder with basil and mustard
Serves 2-3

2 tsp olive oil
1onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 medium potatoes, diced
kernels of 3 corn cobs
1 cup water
1 cup low fat milk
1 tsp stock powder (I used chicken-style)
1 tsp mustard powder
1 bay leaf
1 large handful basil, chopped
Juice of half a lime
40g parmesan cheese, finely grated

Fry onion, carrot, celery and garlic in oil in a large saucepan over medium to low heat for about 5 minutes. Add potato and fry an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently so potatoes don’t stick to the pan. Add corn kernels, water, milk, stock powder, mustard powder and bay leaf. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes or til potatoes are soft. (In some recipes they said not to let the milk boil, mine did have a little skin or scum on top but I just stirred it in and it seemed ok.) Take saucepan off the heat. Remove bay leaf. Stir in basil, lime and parmesan. Check seasoning before serving.

On the stereo:
Desert Island Selection: Brian Eno


  1. I have been suffering a lack of motivation for this month's NCR, because of the soup requirement! It's just been so warm, above 40C and so on, and the idea of soups is not fantastic.

    Yay for your composter!

  2. So strange to see a corn showder recipe without corn in it!

    Well done on the composter.

  3. It's freezing cold here! I could use a blast of scorching heat. Thanks for your submission! Love the combination of basil and mustard.

    By the way, did you send us an email? I don't see one in the inbox.

  4. Good for you Johanna! I am glad you figured out how to set one up. Your mum and dad's garden looks like a bit of an oasis.

    The chowder sounds delicious! It is just as well it got a bit cooler or we all would have missed out on this recipe. I think Lisa & I sometime forget that not everyone is suffering from bitter weather or maybe we are trying to block it out in a fit of jealousy ;)

  5. Johanna, your parents garden...I thought it was Ceres in Brunswick for a mo...beautiful!!

    Composting is good for your soul. We reduced our household rubbish to 1 small bag per fortnight in one fell swoop.

    Yes. Soup. I keep trying, but coming up with naught. Well done you!

  6. Thanks AVAT - 40 C is not weather for soup! hope you get some relief from it!

    thanks Nathalie - I have amended the recipe to include the corn - bit of a mental black spot there!

    thanks Lisa - sorry to hear it is freezing there but hope the soups bring the needed warmth - I will send an email later today (internet connections and time have worked against me)

    thanks Holler - my mum and dad despair about keeping the garden alive in the drought but they do a good job! And I understand that when you are freezing it is hard to believe in summer (but let me tell you it still does exist)!!!

    thanks Lucy - my dad has a yen to see ceres because he has never been there so maybe I need to tell him just to look in his backyard :-) I wish that composting would give us such a lovely backyard but I will settle for a happier soul :-)

  7. Great idea Johanna! I've always wanted a composter :) The soup looks lovely, I like how it kills two birds with one stone!

  8. Congratulations on the new compost bin! I'm jealous (yes, I really am!). I so badly want a veggie garden and I feel sad every time I throw food scraps in the bin :(

    Your Chowder looks great (so glad the heat wave is over)! (and yes, don't you hate those useless polystyrene trays they seem to put everything in these days?!?!)

  9. Thanks Lorraine - I'll be interested to see how this compost bin works - am still getting used to not throwing food scraps in the regular bin!

    thanks Vegetation - I know the feeling of lots of veggie peelings and wishing to have a compost bin for them - I have started with some herbs and citrus trees but a veggie garden would be lovely - feels a long way off still! (re the heatwave, unfortunately it is 39 now and summer seems to be here well and truly!)

  10. Lucky dalek! You'll get some great quality compost from it if you continue to put that kind of 'waste' into it!

  11. Thanks aforkful - now we just need a garden for our compost (or else we will be making donations elsewhere!)

  12. Glad you got the dalek sorted out ok - it sounds as though your parents have all the garden know-how you could desire! Our composter is even more dalek-like as it's round, but it also lives out of sight behind the shed to keep its noxious fumes to itself.

    I don't usually like milk in soup but the chowder sounds nice. I know it sort of defeats the idea of the whole composting thing but used corn cobs can make a good base for stocks - especially for corn soups. I have to admit I've never yet got round to trying it myself though...

  13. Thanks Lysy - my parents are very helpful with gardening - and I like your tip about corn cobs in stock - must try that some time!

  14. LOL - we also have a dalek and it truly is amazing how it just eats up food waste! We have had it for well over a year and the earthworms have seen to it that we have never had to take anything out - they jsut recycle it all back into the earth!


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