A couple of years ago, I was at a Thanksgiving dinner with a group of friends, and one of the guests announced she’d made a green bean casserole—with homemade béchamel sauce. I heard a few ooh’s and ah’s from the group, then I quickly found myself allied with the one member of the group who volunteered an upward eye roll that could have rivaled an eighth-grader’s. I knew right away from the eye roll—that guest and I had a similar philosophy.
There’s a time for béchamel sauce, and there’s a time for cream soup from a can. If you’re not sure where a green bean casserole falls within those two options, you’re probably not using a layer of frozen onion rings on the top, either.
It took me a while to come to this realization—it’s okay to embrace the art of making a homemade cream sauce (I rarely ever use a packet of powder to make macaroni and cheese), but it’s also okay to march straight down the cream soup aisle and use condensed soup as a base for a recipe. The soup makers have been making cream of mushroom and cream of celery soup for a long time, and they’re pretty good at it.
All of this preamble is designed to release any, and all, guilt associated with labeling this clam chowder homemade. After all, it also says easy, and making a cream sauce base from scratch can hardly be considered easy by anyone, let alone a mother of triplets. It’s okay to embrace shortcuts. The recipe is still plenty healthy, plenty homemade and it scored rave reviews (unlike the green bean casserole with homemade béchamel).
makes six servings
1 onion, minced
2 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 cans (10.75 ounce) cream of celery soup (reduced fat or reduced sodium okay)
4 cups milk (whole, 2% or skim)
1 cup water
2 cans (6 ½ ounce) minced clams, with juice
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Cook onion, carrots, celery and potato over medium heat with a teaspoon of oil for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are beginning to soften. Add soup, milk and water. Stir until creamy. Cook over medium heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft. Add minced clams (including juice), cheese, parsley, salt, pepper and garlic powder, stirring together. When cheese is melted, chowder is ready. Serve with sliced sourdough bread or oyster crackers.