Hands down, this has to be the best time of the year. Snow on the peaks, colorful leaves blowing in the wind and a bite in the air. Dark, chilly mornings and incoming afternoon storms make me want to cook a hot pot of soup or stew and bake something tasty.

Leek and Salmon Chowder

Leek and Salmon Chowder is a perfect weeknight meal that cooks in about 35 minutes and is great with a side salad and dinner roll.

Ingredients:

3 cups vegetable broth

1 12-ounce salmon fillet, pin bones removed and skinned

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

4 slices of bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 medium leeks, white part only, thinly sliced

2½ cups whole milk, warmed

½ cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

Prep:

Bring the broth to a simmer in a large skillet. Add salmon, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove salmon to a plate, reserving broth. Break salmon into small pieces. Mix butter and flour into a small bowl until well blended. Cook bacon in a large saucepan until crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel to drain. Add leeks to the bacon drippings and sauté 3 minutes. Add potatoes and broth to the leeks and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add milk and bring mixture to a boil. Whisk in the flour mixture, reduce heat and simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Stir in cream, chives, salmon and bacon, simmering until heated through. Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: make a complete meal out of this by serving in a sourdough bread bowl.

This next recipe was shared with my co-worker and friend Joan Bonney. Joan has some dietary restrictions, so she really likes to flavor her meals with lots of herbs and spices. When she shared this chowder and said it needed to be tried, I believed her.

Bacon Corn Chowder with Shrimp

Bacon Corn Chowder with Shrimp can serve either 6 people as a first course or 4 people as an entrée.

Ingredients:

6 slices center-cut bacon, chopped

1 cup onion, diced

½ cup celery, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh chopped or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 garlic clove, minced

4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels, thawed

2 cups chicken broth

¾ pound medium uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

¹/3 cup half-and-half

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

Dash of Old Bay Seasoning

Prep:

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add bacon to the pan and sauté 4 minutes or until the bacon begins to brown. Remove the equivalent of two pieces of bacon and drain on a paper towel. Add onion, celery, thyme and garlic to the pan and sauté for 2 minutes. Add corn and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth, bringing to a boil. Cook for 4 minutes.

Place 2 cups of the corn mixture in a blender and secure the lid, minus the middle section to allow steam to escape. Cover the hold with a towel to avoid splatters. Blend until smooth. Return the pureed corn mixture to the pan and stir in the shrimp, cook 2 minutes or until the shrimp are no longer translucent. Stir in the half-and-half, pepper, salt and Old Bay Seasoning. Cook until heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls and crumble the reserved bacon on top before serving.

Carribean Seafood Stew

Caribbean Seafood Stew is for those who appreciate a little heat. Coconut milk softens the burn of the jalapeno pepper in fish and shrimp stew.

Ingredients:

1 pound skinless red snapper, cod or haddock fillets, fresh or frozen is fine

8 ounces uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lime juice

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped, leave seeds for more heat

1 14½ ounce can of diced tomatoes, undrained

½ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

¹/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

2 cups hot cooked jasmine rice

Prep:

Thaw fish and shrimp if using frozen. Rinse well. Cut the fish into 1-inch cubes. In a medium bowl, stir together a tablespoon of the olive oil, lime juice, salt and black pepper. Add cut fish and toss to coat. Set aside.

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic and jalapeno pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes or until the onion is tender. Add the undrained tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Add shrimp, fish mixture and cilantro. Return to boiling before reducing heat and simmering, uncovered, 5 minutes or until the fish flakes easily and the shrimp turn pink. Serve spooned over hot cooked rice.