The Fallingwater Chef at Home: One Last Shopping Trip

April 10, 2020

Greetings one and all!

Fallingwater Chef Tom Shuttlesworth here again, moving into week four of The Great Quarantine of 2020. Once again, I can't possibly overstate the current conditions on the ground: This is very serious business and I hope everyone is keeping safe, keeping social distance and holding strong.

Recently I decided one last trip for groceries was needed if we wanted to stay sequestered during April . . . a last round of fresh fruits and vegetables, short-lived dairy products, perhaps even a few guilty pleasures. Off I sped to my local ALDI grocery store, DIY mask and nitrile gloves in hand, reusable grocery bags nesting doll-style for a last round of shopping in the time of pandemic.

My normal lifestyle choices generally lean to the side of social aversion, thus this final foray (and, possibly more specifically, the lack of airflow through my mask) pushed me into a state of general disorder, causing me to feel sweaty and short of breath. I barreled through ALDI, moving down my pre-sorted-by-store-section list, and headed back out as quickly as possible.

As I am often wont to do, I immediately began second-guessing my choices of supplies as I drove home. Should I have gone to a “traditional” store with more familiar products and greater selection? Will a bag of mandarins and a bunch of bananas last more than a few days? Why had I not made that long-delayed trip to Pittsburgh’s Strip District for access to its vibrant mix of old-style grocers and gourmet food shops? Should I not already have my favorite rice wine vinegar, aged soy and dumpling wrappers from Lotus Foods? Some nice chunks of cheese and charcuterie from Penn Mac and Parma? What else have I forgotten at this crucial time of home cooking?

Your pantry has potential

Chef Tom's Corn Chowder IngredientsOnce supplies were cleaned and stocked in their correct places at home, I prescribed myself a strictly medicinal highball and started looking through everything available in the pantry, kitchen cabinets, fridge and freezer. A quick round of self-congratulatory cheer! Indeed, I am fortunate in my choices of career and hobbies in this situation.

The pantry is hardly bare; I have canned food and frozen food, jars and sealed bags of foraged items, homemade jams and game from the most recent hunting season. In short, we shall neither go hungry at this time nor lack for variety. Perhaps those pot stickers I’d been thinking of making or my cassoulet recipe I’ve been wanting to perfect aren't in the cards now, but that really is not the prime concern these days.

And here we are at the crux of today's culinary ramble. I will not downplay that I may have a rather large selection and many choices from which to cook over the next months, but I think it's fair to imagine that most home cooks and cooking enthusiasts are equally rich in items bursting with potential.

Take a few moments and browse your own supplies. Think of them from different angles and imagine the new dishes you can concoct with that long-ignored can of beans, those chicken breasts you froze but never used; look at that bag of flour and imagine the possibilities, sweet and savory.

H.J. Heinz Corn Chowder with Biscuits

I am particularly desirous of hearty stews and soups in the crisper, colder months that span a rather long swath of time here in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I was delighted to find I had all the ingredients for one of my favorite recipes in The Fallingwater Cookbook from Elsie Henderson, the longtime cook at Fallingwater for the Kaufmann family. Plus, I had everything for the perfect accompaniment in the form of a simple quick biscuit, all waiting for me to put together for our next repast. Now, will my supplies for strictly medicinal highballs last? Without further ado, here is the recipe lightly adapted from The Fallingwater Cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb of bacon or cured pork (strips are fine, if from slab or large format pork) cut into small dice, approximately 1/3" cubes
  • 1 Tb rendered bacon fat
  • 1/2 C celery, small dice
  • 1 small onion (around 1 C), small dice
  • 2 Tb flour
  • 4 C whole milk
  • 2 C potatoes, cooked and diced approximately 1/2" cubes
  • 2 C canned corn, drained well
  • Fresh parsley and paprika for garnish

Directions

  1. Chef Tom's Corn ChowderFry the bacon until crisp and dry. Strain the bacon, reserving 1 T for the rest of the recipe. If you are using bacon strips, chop into small pieces after it cools.
  2. Toss the bacon fat back into the same still-hot pan, then add the celery and onion and cook until tender over medium heat. Once tender, stir in the flour and cook for 30 seconds before slowly adding in the milk, stirring constantly.  You are looking for a smooth end result.
  3. Finally add the corn, potatoes and bacon and -- very lightly -- bring to a slow simmer over low heat. Keep your heat very low as dairy/milk-based soups have a tendency to break when overheated.
  4. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with parsley as desired. This will make four entree-sized portions.

A few notes on the chowder:

  • I felt an entire half-pound of bacon was overkill, but that is the original recipe. No matter the amount used, you will likely be left with well more bacon fat than needed for the recipe. By all means, reserve that fat and use it for future sautéing or cooking needs. It will add another level of flavor to your cooking.
  • The original recipe calls for “creamed” corn using fresh corn. I expect the corn flavor from fresh ears would be much richer and three-dimensional, but corn is not available this time of year, at least in our corner of the world, and I used canned corn in my iteration with great results.
  • Cooking for two almost always leaves us with leftovers. I can say with no reservations that this chowder was much better reheated when the corn and bacon were able to better “bloom” over time. But, as in the original recipe, be careful of the temperature -- keep it low or it will break; I did in fact break mine when reheating!

Super Quick n' Easy Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tb baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp  salt
  • 4 oz butter, diced small and very cold (shortening can substitute)
  • 3/4 C whole milk

Directions

  1. Sift dry ingredients into an appropriately sized bowl (or, simply whisk them together).
  2. By either simply rubbing between your hands or using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles very coarse sand.
  3. Add milk slowly and combine gently with a fork until the mixture barely comes together into a dough.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, roll or press to 1/2" thickness, then shape into a rectangle.
  5. Cut the dough into 6-8 biscuits depending on desire or need.
  6. Bake in pre-heated 450 oven for approximately 10 minutes.

If you have no or limited amounts of butter, you can use shortening in this recipe, but by all means serve the biscuits warm and buttered!

Recommended wine pairing

If you want to pair wine with this meal, I recommend something with a little more body or richness, but definitely one that's dry, like a Chardonnay or Riesling.

Enjoy and continue to stay safe!

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