Friday, July 29, 2011

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup Garnishes
Tortilla soup is one of the earliest dishes I learned to make... so early, in fact, that my favorite recipe is nowhere to be seen on this blog. Scandalous! So in an effort to rectify that I whipped up a batch this week... and whipped up is the right word, as this is definitely a solid week night meal option. Except for the garnishes, which can be pulled together along the way, there really isn't a whole lot of prep or fancy knife work here...  just some simmering, food processor-ing (not a word, I guess), and straining. Easy and delicious.

There are actually even easier recipes out there, like this quick classic from Rick Bayless, but what I like about this particular recipe is that you punch up some store bought broth during the process of poaching the bone-in thighs. So obviously if you've got your own homemade stock then, by all means, go the quickie Bayless route... but no matter how many times Ruhlman and Bittman exhort the miraculous culinary powers of homemade stock, roasting a chicken every week in a household of two (where one of the two is a vegetarian!) is not super practical. Don't get me wrong, I love to use homemade stock when I have it, I just don't have it in my freezer that often... and I think this Cooks' Illustrated method is a very nice compromise.

Note that if you have some spare corn tortillas, then feel free to fry them up, but I sort of feel it's not generally worth the effort since they soak up the soup and become soggy almost instantaneously... so I go with those tortilla strips they sell for salads or chips unless I have some corn tortillas I need use up. Clearly freshly fried tortillas will make for a sexier presentation than I achieved, so your call.

The original Cooks' Illustrated recipe is here (sub required). You can also find it in the March 2005 issue of their magazine. I've slightly adapted it to my preferences, but the general outline is the same.

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds), skin removed and well trimmed of excess fat
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 very large white onion (about 1 pound), trimmed of root end, quartered, and peeled
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, peeled
  • Table salt
  • 8 to 10 sprigs fresh cilantro (or 1 sprig of epazote if you can get it - I can't and am jealous of you)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 1 medium jalapeño chile, stemmed
  • 1 chipotle chile en adobo, plus 1-2 tablespoons of adobo sauce according to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Tortilla strips or chips (if chips break them up a bit)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • 1 avocado, diced fine
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • 8ounces cotija cheese, crumbled, or Monterey Jack cheese, diced fine
  • Minced jalapeno pepper
  • Mexican crema (or crème fraiche or sour cream) 
Tortilla Soup

  1. Bring chicken, broth, 2 onion quarters, 2 garlic cloves, cilantro, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boil over medium-high heat in large saucepan. Note that you are only using half of the garlic an onion here, the rest is for the puree.
  2. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is just cooked through (roughly 20 minutes).
  3. While the chicken is poaching, puree tomatoes, 2 remaining onion quarters, 2 remaining garlic cloves, jalapeño, chipotle chile, and 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce in a food processor until smooth and set aside.
  4. Once the chicken is done, transfer it to large plate to cool and pour broth through fine-mesh strainer, discarding solids.
  5. When it's cool, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces and discard the bones.
  6. Heat the vegetable oil in heavy bottomed pot over high heat until shimmering.
  7. Add the reserved puree and a dash of salt, cooking while stirring frequently, until the mixture darkens in color (10 minutes).
  8. Stir your strained broth into the tomato mixture, bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until flavors have blended (15 minutes).
  9. Check your seasonings, and add up to 1 tablespoon additional adobo sauce if you likes the hot and smokey stuff.
  10. Add your shredded chicken back in and simmer until heated through (5 minutes).
  11. Ladle your soup into bowls and pass around the garnishes.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Clambake Guides

New England Style Clam BakeClambakes are a nice seeming New England tradition that I have never participated in... similar in some respects to the crab feasts I grew up with in Baltimore, but with the added "cooking on the beach" vibe. Bittman provides a "recipe" (with diagram!) and some advice:
Do not underestimate your firewood needs: enough to fill the trunk of a midsize car is not too much, and any less than that might not be enough. If the beach you select doesn’t look as if it has enough, bring it. You need a very hot fire.

You also need kindling, newspapers (not virtual ones) and plenty of matches or a lighter. Other must-have items that you won’t have in the kitchen: a shovel or two to dig the cooking pit, several heavy-duty garbage bags for the seaweed, a bucket for seawater and a large canvas tarp to cover the fire. (Thick blue plastic — the stuff used in roofing — will work, but it’s not as nice.) Bring flashlights, even if you’re planning to eat before sunset — clambakes tend to run late, and cleanup in the dark is a huge hassle.

Don’t forget the usual beach and eating equipment, especially (here I name things I have forgotten): insect repellent, drinking water, a colander, potholders, dish towels, more dish towels, tongs and knives. I use cheesecloth and string to make little packages of shellfish and vegetables — they are cute beyond belief — but you can use aluminum foil (easier, cheaper, uglier) if you prefer. Also remember that lobsters don’t crack themselves, though you can smash them with rocks if you forget the nutcrackers.
Wow that's a lot of stuff to handle/keep track of. Pretty intimidating I'd say, but he also adds this sage wisdom:
Get all the help you can. Try to relax. And don’t start drinking too early. Unless you’re a veteran, something is likely to go wrong; you can roll with the punches more easily if you’re at least partly sober. Trust me.
I can speak from experience that just having a couple beers while cooking can dull your ability to react to mishaps and correct mistakes... at a mammoth undertaking like a clambake that involves open fires and white hot stones I think I would abstain until at least the food was cooking.

However, what if you want to experience a clambake without starting a fire on the beach? Well Bon Appétit has you covered with a one pot clambake, though it's a really big pot (30 quarts!). But if you cut the recipe in half to serve four then you're down to a more manageable 8-10 quart stockpot (x2).

There's still plenty of summer left for these types of cooking adventures, but they're a little beyond my ability to plan and organize methinks.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What To Do With Vegetable Scraps

From the New York Times article on chefs trying to be more "stem to root" with veggies comes a bunch of suggestions on how to use vegetable scraps:
CARROT, CELERY AND FENNEL LEAVES Mix small amounts, finely chopped, with parsley as a garnish or in salsa verde: all are in the Umbelliferae family of plants. Taste for bitterness when deciding how much to use.

CHARD OR COLLARD RIBS Simmer the thick stalks in white wine and water with a scrap of lemon peel until tender, then drain and dress with olive oil and coarse salt. Or bake them with cream, stock or both, under a blanket of cheese and buttery crumbs, for a gratin.

CITRUS PEEL Organic thin-skinned peels of tangerines or satsumas can be oven-dried at 200 degrees, then stored to season stews or tomato sauces.

CORN COBS Once the kernels are cut off, simmer the stripped cobs with onions and carrots for a simple stock. Or add them to the broth for corn or clam chowder.

MELON RINDS Cut off the hard outer peels and use crunchy rinds in place of cucumber in salads and cold soups.

PEACH LEAVES Steep in red wine, sugar and Cognac to make a summery peach-bomb aperitif. (According to David Lebovitz’s recipe, the French serve it on ice.)

POTATO PEELS Deep-fry large pieces of peel in 350-degree oil and sprinkle with salt and paprika. This works best with starchy potatoes like russets.

YOUNG ONION TOPS Wash well, coarsely chop and cook briefly in creamy soups or stews, or mix into hot mashed potatoes.

TOMATO LEAVES AND STEMS Steep for 10 minutes in hot soup or tomato sauces to add a pungent garden-scented depth of tomato flavor. Discard leaves after steeping.

TOMATO SCRAPS Place in a sieve set over a bowl, salt well and collect the pale red juices for use in gazpacho, Bloody Marys or risotto.

TURNIP, CAULIFLOWER OR RADISH LEAVES Braise in the same way as (or along with) collards, chards, mustard greens or kale.

WATERMELON SEEDS Roast and salt like pumpkinseeds.
Since we live in an urban apartment with no composting options, we dispose of a fair bit of vegetable waste. Not something I feel great about, but you don't usually hear too many recipes calling for corn cobs or tomato scraps. Nothing earth shattering, but some interesting ideas. Still seems the best way to use these many of these scraps remains just use them to make a stock.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Soft and Hard Herbs

Baby Herbs
I'm not a gardener by any means, so this information from Ruhlman was new to me:
Herbs are roughly divided into two categories, “hard” and “soft.” The soft herbs are herbs with soft stems, such as parsley and tarragon. The soft herbs are best used fresh; they’re fine dried, but they lose their magic, all the beguiling qualities that make them so powerful a la minute.

The hard herbs, those herbs that when allowed to grow develop tough woody stems, are fabulous dried. The best as far as I’m concerned is thyme, also one of my favorites fresh. Oregano and marjoram are excellent as is sage, which I have a forest of now.
Kind of intuitive I guess, but good to know. Unfortunately We were negligent this year with our window herb garden, forgetting to start it until it was too late to be worth it... but we don't get enough sunlight for excess herbs to really be an issue. Next year we'll hopefully go through with the plan to mount our window boxes on the railing of the fire escape... thus exposing them to a bit more time of direct sunlight... to theoretically grow a little better.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Two Corn Recipes

I've got corn on the brain for some reason, and nothing ready to post, so here are two recipes for corn dishes I've been eying: charred corn tacos from Smitten Kitchen and a corn and black bean salsa from Homesick Texan.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Food52: Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto and Preserved Lemon Cream

Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto and Preserved Lemon Cream

Not an example of my best food photography, and not a dish I have a whole lot to say about... but it was surprisingly tasty, so I thought I'd still post it. For us the main attractions were 1) an excuse to use some of our preserved lemons, and 2) using the the George Foreman grill meant not turning on the stove in the middle of a heat wave. Loved the flavors of the lemon cream and the spinach/thyme pesto, and while we certainly didn't get the same quality grilled bread you'd get on an actual grill, I still think it came out well... and was quite easy to execute.

Recipe from food52, and certainly recommended.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Charles Square Farmers' Market

So my computer is back up and running with a new hard disk drive (though sadly it looks like I've lost some data - frequent backups kids!), but I've been so busy with it that I really haven't done much interesting cooking this week. We did do the "Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto and Preserved Lemon Cream" from food 52, but I haven't had time to even look to see if the pictures came out, let alone write it up. So what does that mean? Time for a slideshow of one of the two or three local farmers' markets we regularly stop at. Here we have the Charles Square Farmers' Market, located at the Charles Hotel courtyard in Harvard Square (map here).

The market is open on Sunday from 10AM to 3PM and Friday from 12PM to 6PM. Obviously Sunday is pretty popular and is when we normally visit to pick up veggies for the week. We're well into the high point of farmers' market season here New England, so now is definitely the time you want start going if you haven't already.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dietary Salt Intake

SaltOnly have time for a couple interesting links from Scientific American I saw via Ruhlman. The first is the case against salt having much of an effect on blood pressure by Melinda Wenner Moyer and the second is an interview with Marion Nestle the other side. In brief: 1) intervention studies show little effect of low salt diets 2) but certain people seem to be very sensitive to salt while it doesn't effect others 3) and given the prevalence of processed foods and restaurants, are truly low salt diets even possible (1500 mg is less than a teaspoon of table salt)?

I don't have any answers of course, but I tend to think it's not something to obsess over unless you have hypertension or family risk factors for it... but in either of those cases diet is the first thing I'd go after (with the approval of my doctor of course). Certainly cooking more meals at home is the safest way to go, even if you don't think salt's a big deal.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Computer Down

The hard disk drive on my home computer died a painful death, so posting might be sparse while I wait for a replacement.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ideas in Food: Macaroni and Cheese

Ideas in Food - Mac and Cheese

If you're not familiar with the blog Ideas in Food, you probably should be. They're not your typical food blog, in that they don't really post highly detailed posts about the execution of recipes (though there are recipes)... they post most often about, well, ideas about cooking. Ideas that can be a little bit weird to the average home chef, like this post about watermelon breast, or this one about a corn omelet. Not stuff I'd necissarily ever want to replicate (though Michael Natkin has a really interesting riff on that seared watermelon idea), and many of their experiments are directed more towards professional chefs who are pushing the boundaries, but it's still quite interesting to see the thought process laid out. However, not everything they do requires an immersion circulator and a centrifuge...  they also bring their culinary knowledge to bear on humble classics like macaroni and cheese, a recipe for which you can find in their recent book, Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work (the recipe is also available in PDF form here).

So what exactly can highfalutin fancy pants food science bring to a dish as seemingly "settled" as macaroni and cheese? It's just cheese, cream, and pasta... what else do you need? Well they have two big ideas in play in this recipe. The first of which is soaking pasta:

Soaking Pasta

Yeah, I know, right? You soak beans, not pasta... so what's going on here? Well it's related to that Harold McGee article about how you don't need a giant pot of water to cook pasta. As long as you have enough to hydrate the pasta, you can cook it in much less water than is traditional, so your pasta takes less time and energy to make, but you have to keep stirring it so that it doesn't stick... so not necessarily a trade off that seems worth it. Aki and Alex handle this by separating the hydration and the cooking with a cold water pre-soak of the pasta. While the soaking takes an hour or two, it gets the pasta to a "just before al dente" phase that really speeds up cooking, which you can drain and keep it in your fridge for a 2-3 days... and since the starch has been washed off of the surface of the pasta you don't need to worry about it sticking together. In other recipes they take this a step further and use the soak to infuse flavors into the pasta (like bbq sauce), but in this one it just gets your pasta elbows to the perfect state of doneness for use in macaroni and cheese without ever boiling water. It was perfectly cooked when it came out of the oven, and really quite impressive. While I don't know how often I'm really going to set aside an hour to soak pasta, I still think it's pretty awesome how well it works.

The second big idea, which I've mentioned before, is using a can of evaporated milk instead of cream as the dairy element. As someone who has curdled some dairy dishes (see the link above), I think this idea is fairly genius. You're getting a fraction of the fat compared to heavy cream, but it's just as stable and resistant to curdling. In addition, the slightly caramelized flavor of evaporated milk really works in this application, pairing nicely with the cheese and cayenne. I'm a big fan

So a pretty cool recipe, and a pretty cool cookbook. Would I make this macaroni and cheese again? Probably not exactly, but I learned a lot in the making and I'll certainly use these ideas moving forward... and what more of a cookbook can you ask than that? Expect to see a couple more posts about my experiences with their recipes in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eater: Boston Heat Map

I've eaten at none of these places, which tells you how hip and plugged in to the food scene I am... though we've been meaning to make reservations for Bondir for ages, and Area 4 sounds interesting.

Save the Environment: Eat Invasive Fish

Lionfish portraitThere was a Slate article about this topic a few months back, though it focused solely on the lionfish. Now the New York Times reports the "if you can't beat 'em, eat 'em" approach seems to be going mainstream for other invasive species. However there still seem to be some hurdles in getting the culinary world on board:
Cookbooks do not say much about how to filet an Asian carp, which has an unusual bony structure. And even if one developed a taste for, say, European green crab soup, there is nowhere to buy the main ingredient, though it is plentiful in the sea.

To increase culinary demand, Food and Water Watch has teamed up with the James Beard Foundation and Kerry Heffernan, the chef at the South Gate restaurant in New York City, to devise recipes using the creatures. At a recent tasting, there was Asian carp ceviche and braised lionfish filet in brown butter sauce.

Lionfish, it turns out, looks hideous but tastes great. The group had to hire fishermen to catch animals commonly regarded as pests. Mr. Heffernan said he would consider putting them on his menu and was looking forward to getting some molting European green crabs to try in soft-shell crab recipes.
There is at least a lionfish cookbook. It's easy to be skeptical of this kind of thing, but it would be pretty sweet if we could harness our ravenous appetite for fish to actually help the environment for a change.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mansell Mountain Hike, Redux

Mansell Mountain: Perpendicular Trail to Great Notch Loop at EveryTrail

So after having my first lobster roll we headed to Mansell Mountain for a quick hike before our 7pm dinner reservations in Bar Harbor. Mansell was the scene of one of the first hikes I ever blogged, but it was before I was doing the GPS thing so I thought it worth a trip back... especially since circa 2008 me seemed pretty enamored with the trail. Unfortunately I would have to say that 3 years of hiking around Acadia later that I don't think it's quite that awesome anymore. Perpendicular trail is still pretty strenuous and a fair bit of fun, but there aren't a whole lot of beautiful views and the hike gets quite easy after you reach the top... that may sound banal, but many decents are actually quite strenuous... and this is not one of those. A big part of the problem was that we missed the trail head for Razorback and ended up going down Great Notch, so if we did what we set out to it might have been a more satisfying hike.

That said, it's hard to really complain about any hike in Acadia, and the absolute best thing about Mansell is that hardly anybody goes there. Hard to believe we only ran into one other couple in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday in July. While I think there are better 3 mile loops out there, this is a pretty good one that will get your heart rate up over the first mile or so and is barely trafficked. It's got a similar feel to the Norumbega Goat Trail Loop we did last year (i.e. hard at first and easy thereafter) but it's not quite as pretty.

Monday, July 11, 2011

My First (and Second, and Third, and Fourth) Lobster Roll(s)

Lobster Roll - Thurston's Lobster PoundDespite living in Boston or Cambridge on and off for the better part of 17 years (gasp! has it really been that long?)... and going up to Maine fairly often... I had actually never eaten one of New England's famous lobster rolls. Part of this is dating a vegetarian, since lobster pounds and seafood restaurants generally come second only to steakhouses in their inability to comprehend that some people only eat vegetables... but the biggest reason is that I was pretty sure I despised mayonnaise until fairly recently, and even though I dig the mayo in fullness these days... I've still been a little slow to really embrace dishes, like a lobster roll or potato salad, where it's a central component.  A side issue is that as a Chesapeake Bay boy, my first love in the subphylum Crustacea is the blue crab... and so eating lobsters feels a little like being unfaithful. But the fact that lobsters are really, really tasty has helped assuage any guilt.

So being that I've made it for well over a decade without feeling the need to eat a lobster roll, why catch the bug now? Well it started with Kenji's post over at Serious Eats about how to make the perfect lobster roll. I was intrigued, and thought it would be a great summer cooking project to blog about... but wait I minute, I had never even had a lobster roll, so how would I be able to judge whether my efforts were any good or not? I mean, certainly I've made various ethnic cuisines without ever having sampled a paragon of the style, but I live in freakin' Cambridge not Kansas... I have access to the best lobster rolls in the world: so why not sample some before severing any lobsters' central nerve ganglia? Seemed prudent, and Serious Eats answered the bell with their "17 Lobster Rolls We Love in the Northeast"... but unfortunately, their list only covered Southern Maine, so I had to ask for recommendations for options more Down East. The name that came back most frequently was Thurston's Lobster Pound over on the quieter side of M.D.I. in Bass Harbor, and since we were already planning a hike up nearby Mansell Mountain, it seemed like a pretty obvious destination for lunch (for me at least - Anna ate beforehand and got some corn for a snack).

So what did I think? Well, it was pretty awesome to be honest. I was shocked at how key the freshly buttered and toasted (still hot) roll seemed to be to the experience. The light level of mayo also seemed perfect. But I was just at some random lobster pound (though recommended by SE) and had no experience with lobster rolls, so what did I know?

I will say to the Yelp!ers that it's a lobster pound: so don't expect ambiance. You're eating under a big yellow tent at picnic tables and you order at a window, though the view out into the harbor is nice. Just thought I'd throw that out there after looking at some of the reviews.

But after the hike, we had dinner at one of the best restaurants in Bar Harbor (I believe at least) in Cafe This Way. I enjoyed the earlier lobster roll so much I ordered their "Lobster Roll Trio" (Traditional, Asian, Southwest)... and I would have to say, that while good, they weren't even close to what the humble lobster pound produced. They used brioche that was cold... I guess expecting the inherent butteriness of the brioche to compare to a buttered hotdog bun, and that with a cold lobster salad hot bread does not matter... it did not, and it does. The mayo was also too heavy, overwhelming the lobster to some extent. The "Asian flavors" (sesame/soy) were interesting, but the Southwest action seemed to consist simply of corn added to the mix, which I found odd.

Anyway, I had my first, second, third, and fourth lobster rolls all in one day... but I think I begin to understand why native New Englanders are so passionate about the issue.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Off to Maine Again

Long Lake 2
Just for a quick weekend, alas... but we should get a hike in on M.D.I. (possibly Mansell, which we've hiked already but I've never GPSed), maybe my first(!) lobster roll, and definitely dinner in Bar Harbor.

I feel pretty caught up, so I hope to resume normal posting on Monday.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tom Colicchio on Vinaigrettes

From the LA Times a "Master Class" on the vinaigrette:
Consider the vinaigrette, which I rate as the most under-appreciated sauce in existence. It is a sauce, after all, and relegating it to cold salads ignores its vast potential with fish and meat, where it can work as a marinade, as a braising medium and as a finishing sauce. Likewise, limiting yourself to the same old combination of red wine vinegar and olive oil misses out on the huge range of flavors achievable in a vinaigrette.

Let's start with the basics. A vinaigrette is a mixture of acid, liquid fat and seasonings. Most herbs and spices are fat-soluble, which means their flavors really bloom in the presence of oil. Fat also provides the body necessary to help a sauce cling to the surface of foods. The function of the vinegar, in addition to dissolving aromatic compounds found in herbs and spices, is to brighten up a dish, adding a tangy counterpoint to earthy, rich or spicy flavors.

A traditional vinaigrette is a temporary emulsion — a finicky mixture of one liquid dispersed in another (in this case, oil in vinegar). The challenge with an emulsion is to combine two liquids that do not dissolve in each other. One way to do this is mechanically: use the force of a whisk or, better yet, a blender, to physically break the oil into millions of individual droplets.
Colicchio provides lots of information and options for spicing up a sauce that's really easy to make, but yet I almost never do. Something I should rectify.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I've got a midterm for a stats class due on Friday and then I'm going up to Maine this coming weekend, so it's unlikely I will cook anything fun before then... if I see any interesting food news/writing I will post it, but expect things to be a little slow in this space.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Developing a Vegan Clam Chowder

Vegan Clam Chowder
At Eater, Dave Arnold answers a reader question on how he would develop a vegan version of clam chowder. It's a long response that is very difficult to excerpt (click through and read the whole thing, which includes instructions on how to make your own nut and rice milk):
First, choose what kind of chowder we are aiming for: Manhattan or New England. Both start by cooking bacon, then sautéing onions in the bacon fat. Clam juice, diced potatoes and sometimes celery are added next. To this mélange, Manhattan chowder folk add diced tomatoes and tomato juice, while New England chowder folk add milk, cream, or some combination thereof. Clams are added last to prevent overcooking.
The essence of clam juice is the sea. For taste of the sea we will use seaweed. I suggest a combination of kombu dashi (giant kelp broth) and crumpled nori (the sheets of laver wrapped around sushi rolls). Kombu will serve two functions here: 1. Provide seafood flavor. 2. Provide umami.
The two most obvious ingredients to provide the chewy, meaty nature of clams are sautéed mushrooms and seitan, or cooked wheat gluten. I’d use both. Mushrooms have a great texture and are also high in umami. I’d sauté them and add them to the seaweed broth (along with some dried mushrooms if you’d like) to make a seaweed/mushroom-stock combo. Seitan is a dough made with vital wheat gluten that’s poached in a flavorful liquid (I recommend using your seaweed/mushroom stock).
Next we need to add the smoky notes of bacon. You can either smoke a component of the soup — the potatoes, the seitan, etc — or add liquid smoke. Believe it or not, liquid smoke is not fake — it’s made from real smoke that has been treated to remove potential carcinogens and other nasties. Industrial food producers have access to some very high quality liquid smokes that taste quite good (I’ve tried them).

Unfortunately, most supermarket brands have been altered to the point that they provide a monotonic, very obvious “liquid smoke” flavor –think of them as skimmed smoke (PS. That is a jab at skimmed milk, which I hate). You can buy a high quality smoke powder made by spray drying liquid smoke from Terra Spice. Use powdered smoke sparingly; just like real smoking, if you go too far your food will become bitter.

If you are trying to make New England vegan chowder you will also need to emulate the mouth-feel of milk and cream. I’d use fresh nut milk — almond or cashew, or rice milk, or a combination of the two. Coconut milk would work (and taste great), but the coconut flavor definitely doesn't say “New England.”
I find this sort of thing to be very interesting, since I am still very much a recipe based cook... and seriously wonder if I'll ever get to the level of competence and confidence where I could rattle off something like this. It also makes me wish that on a show like Iron Chef they would show you when they're brainstorming what dishes they're going to make (clearly they don't just make them up on the spot)... though I suppose that would ruin some of the suspense.