Creamy Chowders Warm Body and Soul on Cool Winter Evenings

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Traci Howard's New Englad "Chowdahhh"Controversy is not usually my cup of tea. (I'm more of an Earl Grey gal). However, I am compelled to make an exception when the subject at hand is one near and dear to my heart: chowder. That's right, chowder! Folks from all corners clearly have deep-rooted feelings about what is "proper" and "traditional" when it comes to their chowders of choice. From tomato-y broths to creamy, eat-it-with-a-fork stew, my demand is simple: It's just got to be tasty!

Traci Howard is a California gal who is bucking the geographic limitations on delicious New England Clam chowder. Her aptly named "New England Clam Chowdahhhh" gives a serious nod to what is, perhaps, the most traditional of all chowder varieties by utilizing potatoes, clams and heavy cream. For years a favorite of her friends and family, Traci's "Chowdahhh" is lauded to be even better when served the next day. The Kitchen Crew and I have yet to corroborate this story, however, as we have not once had any of this delicious chowder left over. If you can do it, let us know if it's true!

Innovation seems to run in the family for Wilmington, NC cook Selena Parisher. Her recipe for Grandma Ruth's Inspired Oyster Stew takes a modern day - but delicious - departure from more traditional clam chowders. It all started with some kitchen experimentation a few generations back. "My Grandmother invented [this stew], my Mother improved upon it, and I perfected it," smiles Selena, who goes on to challenge other cooks to add their own twist to the dish. The Crew and I were thrilled to take that challenge and ended up substituting heavy cream in place of half the milk called for. We also added just a pinch of red pepper flakes towards the end of cooking to add a bit of zing. The end result was out-of-this-world.

Chowders aren't just for seafood lovers these days either. In fact, potato and corn chowders have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Chef Bec's Kickin' Corn Chowder was one of the very first Blue Ribbons that the Crew and I ever awarded, and the recipe stands as one of our all-time favorites. The chowder, from Appleton, WI cook Becca Heflin, gets the bulk of its flavor from thick-cut bacon, fresh thyme and ample sweet corn. Thickened by heavy cream and just a touch of flour, Becca's recipe is truly comfort in a bowl. "Growing up in the 'frozen tundra' of Wisconsin taught me early on to become a lover of foods that warm the body," she says. "Creamy chowders like the one I've created not only warm my body...they warm my soul, too!"

And speaking of heating things up, Karen Hambrick of Clarksville, TN has just the ticket: Poblano Chicken Chowder! "Poblanos are my new favorite pepper!!" she says. "I'm not a big fan of green peppers because of their strong flavor. Too overpowering for me! [But] these are just right!! My mom, who does not like things spicy, loves this chowder and did not sense any heat!" The wonderful flavors of Mexico - cilantro, cumin, garlic - really shine in this dish and add a light freshness to an otherwise divinely rich soup. Karen's use of chicken in the recipe turns an otherwise yummy soup into a hearty meal. Served with a few slices of bread and a glass of tea, this is one seriously comforting chowder.

I just love seeing home cooks adding their own unique spin on traditional recipes. Thank you to all these wonderful chowder-making gals... and everyone else who shares a part of themselves with the Just A Pinch family. It's an honor to serve... your recipes!

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