I thought I didn’t like clam chowder.

It turns out I just don’t like canned clam chowder. We have two Lenten birthdays in the Mackerelsnapper household. No matter what we do, those birthdays will always be in Lent. One year when we were dating, Mr. M’s birthday fell on a Friday, so I invited him over to my apartment to make him dinner. I was just starting my cooking career, and it was so long ago that I couldn’t go to the internet to find recipes, because it was mostly AOL chat rooms and X-Files fanfic and whatnot. Anyway, I went to my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook to find a dinner that would be easy yet elegant, romantic but not overbearing, and special enough for the agnostic steak-lover but meatless enough for me to eat alongside him.

“What is this?” he asked as I served him his dinner.

“Salmon mousse in puff pastry,” I replied, waiting for him to voice his admiration.

Salmon mousse?” ┬áHe bust out laughing. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“Kill you? What are you–? Oh! Oh no!”

::facepalm:: I never made him salmon mousse again.

Anyway, many years later, and this was another year in which his birthday fell on a Friday, only this time around he and all of our brood are Catholic. There are three ways that practicing Catholics may approach a Lenten Friday birthday.

  1. Say, “I’m sure God won’t mind if we celebrate such a special day!” and make steak.
  2. Say, “It’s Lent, and you’ll have another birthday another year. Bread and water for us sinners.”
  3. Say, “It’s Lent, but it is your birthday. Let’s break out something that is meatless but slightly luxurious.”

We went with #3. We made bread bowls directly from this recipe,though we did skip the cornmeal and egg wash bits. We also halved the recipe and shaped them into five bowls instead of four. They held up well to the hollowing-and-filling process. We filled them with clam chowder. We used this recipe as a starting off point but made a few changes, even beyond the leaving out of the bacon slices.

Clam Chowder

2 T olive oil
5 T butter, divided
2 onions, finely diced
1 8oz bottle of clam juice or 1 c clam broth (you can make that by treating clam shells like the vegetable trash in veggie stock)
2 10oz cans of minced clams, drained, juices reserved
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 c half and half, divided
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 T flour

In a large stock pot, soften onions in olive oil and 2 T butter over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes (you want them translucent but not quite brown). Add bottled clam juice and the juice from one of the cans of clams, then add potatoes and salt. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes or until potatoes are nice and soft.

Meanwhile, pour 1/2 c of half and half into a shaker bottle and add flour and black pepper. Shake until blended and smooth.

Once potatoes are ready, add half and half, clams, remaining clam juice, and remaining butter. Heat over medium, but don’t allow it to boil. Once heated through (butter has melted), add reserved half and half/flour/pepper liquid, and stir over medium heat until thickened, reducing heat as needed to avoid boiling. Serve immediately.

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Adding the black pepper to the thickening flour & cream may just be a quirk of mine. I find that the pepper helps to break up the flour and makes for a smoother thickener, with fewer lumps to be worked out in the final product.

I made clam chowder for the Birthday Honoree, because Mr. M loves clam chowder, but I am not a fan. Or, at least I thought I wasn’t. I am, however, a fan of this stuff for sure. Next time his birthday falls on a Friday, I have even more reason not to think about making salmon mousse.

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