Cheap family dinner: Wisconsin farmhouse chowder

A hearty soup is a good way to welcome the cooler weather and clear out your pantry

Joanne Ciccarello/CSM/File
A hearty chowder with lots of vegetables is a cheap, healthy option for winter

Each week, I’ll present a low-cost meal (or a meal that demonstrates a lot of options for cutting costs) that my family eats for dinner and enjoys. Many of the recipes will be vegan or vegetarian, with options to add other ingredients for non-vegetarians.

As we slip deeper and deeper into fall, our family is starting to eat more cold weather food – thicker soups and chowders and so on. Hand in hand with this is our ongoing effort to slowly clear out the recesses of our pantry and our freezer by using items that have been in there for a while and largely forgotten.

The result of this is our own homebrewed “Wisconsin farmhouse chowder,” which takes several different ideas from recipes we’ve heard and things we’ve tried in the northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin area. It’s simple to make and I hope you enjoy it.

What You Need
The ingredient list is pretty straightforward. You’ll need:
- 3 1/2 cups of milk, separated into 1 1/2 cups and 2 cups
- 2 medium potatoes, cubed
- 3 or 4 shiitake mushrooms, chopped (morels would also work if you have a source for getting them)
- A bag of flash-frozen mixed vegetables -or- one cup each of corn kernels, diced carrots, and chopped broccoli
- Dashes of a few spices, including thyme, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and salt
- Half of a cup of peas (frozen or fresh, whatever works best for you)
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

The Night Before (or Early That Day)
If you’re using fresh vegetables, it’s always worthwhile to make them the night before, as well as the potatoes. You’ll also want to chop the mushrooms. You might also want to make the mushroom cream as well…

Making the mushroom cream is simple. Simply take two cups of milk in a saucepan, toss in the dried mushrooms, and let it simmer for half an hour. Add a dash of pepper and a dash of salt, then add two tablespoons of flour and stir it until the mushroom cream thickens a bit. You can add more flour if you’d like, but don’t thicken it until it’s solid.

Preparing the Meal
Once you have the mushroom cream, described above, add the remaining milk to it, stir thoroughly, then raise the heat to a low boil (medium to medium-high heat should do it).

Add all of the rest of the ingredients at this point except for the peas, stir thoroughly, then allow it to simmer for fifteen minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the peas at the fifteen minute mark, stir thoroughly, and allow to simmer for about three more minutes. Pull the soup off, allow it to stand for five minutes or so, then serve.

We served the soup alongside the wraps from last week. Many different types of wraps or sandwiches could accompany this soup.

Another option is to simply toss a small handful of shredded cheddar on top of the soup, as shown here.

Optional Ingredients
One simple step would be to replace the homemade mushroom cream with canned cream of mushroom soup, though there may be a flavor degradation here. Since switching to making my own by boiling mushrooms in milk, I’ve never really wanted to use the canned kind. You can also somewhat vary the vegetables according to what’s available to you.

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