VFW Soupmaster To Bowen shares his love of cooking
When I recently highlighted recipes from members of VFW Post #7234 at Quillens Point in Ocean View, I met Chef Tom Bowen, who prepares meals Tuesdays through Saturdays all year ’round. I asked him to share some of his recipes with us.
He’s a delightful guy who loves to talk food. He makes fantastic soups that are big-time favorites at the VFW. His recipe for Maryland Crab Soup has been handed down through three generations.
“When people come in, if I don’t have my Maryland Crap Soup or Clam Chowder, they really let me have it,” he said with a laugh.
Tom makes everything fresh.
“You won’t find my food lined up on a buffet table,” he said.
Lucky for us, both soup recipes are in today’s column.
Tom was born in Baltimore but grew up in Pasadena, Md., where his parents still live. He was a curious kid and asked his dad to teach him how to grow flowers and vegetables.
“I remember when the Guinness World Record people came to our garden and my dad showed them his huge home-grown tomato. They said they were impressed, but it was not quite large enough to be the winner. My dad didn’t cook often, but when he did, he did! My favorite was his Rockfish with Red Sauce,” said Tom. “I was only 10 years old, but I loved it. It was learning how to make that recipe that started my love of cooking.”
Tom isn’t the only one who is curious. I noticed that his right hand (his dominant hand) was a bit bent out of shape and I saw lots of scars. Since I shattered my own wrist back in 2008 and boast quite a few scars of my own, I figured we had something in common, but Tom’s story trumps mine by a long shot.
He was a super baseball player in high school — so super, in fact, that the New York Mets scouted him and planned to sign him after graduation. However, that winter, Tom and some friends went sledding on a piece of sheet metal and crashed. The sheet metal severed Tom’s right hand at the wrist. The doctors reattached it and wired him back together in a wild configuration. This was the first time that this procedure successfully resulted in individual movement in all fingers and the thumb.
When the story hit the papers, the Mets came a-calling. They withdrew their offer, deciding that Tom would never regain the movement necessary to play pro ball. With the intricate butchering and knife skills that Tom has developed, I think the Mets made a huge mistake, and you can tell them that Marie said so!
Tom has held many interesting jobs in the food industry. For instance, he spent months on a boat as a swordfisherman, cooking three meals a day for 10 to 14 days for four men.
“After a few months, I’d take some time off and cook for a paycheck,” he said. “Although I’ve never been to a formal cooking school, I’ve taken many classes to learn how to sauté, butter, bake, etc., but I learned that the secret to cooking for a large number of people is preparation — being prepared and learning how to follow a recipe. Back in the 1980s, I attended a class paid for by a former employer where I learned all about seasoning. What I learned in that class has played a major role in my cooking ever since.”
Tom is also a master butcher and taught his skills to others, including when he worked at the Fuddruckers — World’s Greatest Hamburger franchise.
Aside from Tom’s parents, he has one brother and two sisters, but the newest member of the Bowen family is his wife, Michelle.
“We were married in August,” he said with a wide smile.
In Tom’s spare time, he enjoys landscaping and planting flowers and vegetables.
“I also like old Chevys and enjoy working on them,” he said.
Now that October is upon us, the meal schedule at the VFW has a new look. Lunch is served from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Dinner is served from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and Saturday from 5:30 to 8 p.m., with live music every Saturday night.
When I interviewed Tom, he treated me to a yummy crabcake sandwich on a fancy croissant roll.
“Our crabcakes are 100 percent gluten-free,” he said. (Of course, the delicious roll is not.)
Thursday is now Taco night and, along with regular tacos, Tom is adding his twist on fish tacos and big flounder wraps, too. He gave me a taste of his Corn Chowder, which is also on the Thursday-night menu. Deelish! You could make a meal on any one of Tom’s soups.
Tom knew that Friday Steak Night would be a big hit, and he was right on the money.
“We serve New York strips, 7 to 10 ounces, cut and cooked to order,” he said. “I flame-cook the steaks, which makes a huge difference in the taste.”
For more information, check out the VFW’s Web site at www.vfw7234.com or call (302) 539-9981.
Tom’s Bruschetta mixture is convenient; pre-mix and refrigerate until guests arrive. Slice a loaf of French bread and top with the tomato mixture.
? 4 tomatoes, diced
? 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
? 1/2 of a red onion, minced
? 1 teaspoon salt
? 1 teaspoon black pepper
? 1 tablespoon oil
? 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
? 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Method for Tom’s Bruschetta:
Mix all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.
Tom’s Parmesan Cheese Bowls are versatile: 1) Eat the bowl with no need to refrigerate; 2) Fill them with salad or salad dressing; and 3) Simply put chopped bell peppers or other salad fixings into the bowl to serve next to your salad.
Parmesan Cheese Bowls
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
? 2 pounds fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
? 1/4 cup dried basil leaves
? 1/4 cup dried oregano
Method for Parmesan Cheese Bowls:
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray. For each cheese bowl, measure 1/2 cup of the mixture and place on sprayed pan; smooth out into a 3-inch circle. Allow 2 inches between cheese circles.
Before baking the cheese circles set out enough soup cups for the amount of circles on the pan; turn cups upside down.
Bake cheese circles at 350 degrees until golden brown – about 3 to 5 minutes; watch carefully to prevent burning. Remove from the oven and quickly place a melted circle on top of a soup cup; put next cup over top of the circle and top that cup with another melted cheese circle. Repeat until all circles are stacked. Yield: 15 to 20 cheese bowls.
According to Tom, Burger King fast-food restaurants serve a popular tangy sauce. Tom created his own Zesty Sauce which he believes is better than Burger King’s.
Tom’s Zesty Sauce
? 1 cup mayonnaise
? 3 teaspoons ketchup
? 3 teaspoons horseradish
? 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
? 1 teaspoon lemon juice
? 2 teaspoons ground cayenne red pepper
Method for Tom’s Zesty Sauce:
Mix all ingredients well and refrigerate.
Thanks Tom, for sharing your two most popular soup recipes with Marie’s Kitchen readers. Tom is used to cooking for crowds, so both of his soup recipes serve 20, or 20 to 25 people. But in this recipe for Maryland Crab Soup, as well as the Clam Chowder recipe, I did the math and in parentheses I have listed the amount for a 4 to 6 serving yield. The “method” for each soup is the same; simply reduce the amount of ingredients. Math is not my best subject, but I think between my handy-dandy calculator and my measurement cheat sheets, I’ve come pretty close.
Tom knows that jumbo lump crab meat is best for crabcakes, but in soup, he claims the best flavor comes from claw/backfin crab meat. He recommends adding the crab at the very end, after the soup has simmered for two hours.
“And please, please do not forget to remove the bay leaves after the soup has finished cooking,” he added.
Maryland Crab Soup
? 2 pounds claw or back fin crab meat (8 to 10 ounces for 4-6 servings)
? 1 32-ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables (8 to 10 ounces for 4-6 servings)
? 2 cups diced celery (4 to 6 ounces for 4-6 servings)
? 2 large onions, diced (1 large onion for 4-6 servings)
? 1-1/2 gallons water (40 to 50 ounces for 4-6 servings)
? 4 tablespoons seafood or clam base (1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons for 4-6 servings)
? 2 whole bay leaves (1 bay leaf for 4-6 servings)
? 46 ounces diced tomatoes (15 ounces for 4-6 servings)
? 23 ounces tomato juice (6 ounces for 4-6 servings)
? 1/2 cup dried thyme leaves (6 to 8 teaspoons for 4-6 servings)
? 1/2 cup dried oregano (6 to 8 teaspoons for 4-6 servings)
? 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce (1 to 1-1/2 ounces for 4-6 servings)
? No more than 1 cup of Old Bay Seasoning (4 tablespoons for 4-6 servings)
Method for Maryland Crab Soup:
In a large soup pot, mix all ingredients except crabmeat. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and simmer the soup for 2 hours. Remove bay leaves. If serving right away, add the 2 pounds of crabmeat and let simmer for a couple more minutes before serving. Yield: 20 servings (or 4 to 6 servings with ingredients in parentheses).
Tom’s Clam Chowder recipe also yields 20 to 25 servings but, as I said above, in parentheses I provide the reduction amount to serve 4 to 6 people. Tom says that, if you’d like to make Seafood Chowder, simply mix 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of your choice of seafood along with 1 can of clams and clam juice. Tom adds the clams at the very end of the cooking time, just like he does the crabmeat in the recipe above.
Tom told me that you can buy 46-ounce cans of chopped clams in clam juice at Hocker’s grocery store on Atlantic Avenue in Clarksville. I like to do my homework to save readers’ time, so I went to check this out. I couldn’t locate the product, so I checked with Manager Ron Holloway, who told me that they no longer carry the large cans because they didn’t sell well and the use-by date came and went. However, he suggested that I check next door at Hocker’s Grocery & Deli (by the gas station) and talk to Lois, because she uses that size can to make her own Clam Chowder.
Thanks to Lois, readers, you can purchase the 51-ounce cans (not 46-ounces) of chopped clams and clam juice from her; cost at this time is $10.49 per can. Per Lois, “We always have plenty on hand, because our Clam Chowder is also one of our most popular soups.”
? 3 slices bacon, diced very small (1 slice for 4-6 servings)
? 2 onions, diced very small (1 onion for 4-6 servings)
? 4 stalks celery, diced very small (1 stalk for 4-6 servings)
? 1 large carrot, diced very small (1/4 of a large carrot for 4-6 servings)
? 4 cans (46 ounces each) canned clams, drained, but reserve juice from one of the cans (One can should do it for 4 to 6 servings.)
? 1-1/2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning (1/2 teaspoon for 4-6 servings)
? A couple dashes of fine black pepper (to taste)
? A couple dashes of celery seed (to taste)
? 1/2 gallon heavy cream or milk (1 to 1-1/2 cups for 4-6 servings)
? Equal amounts of all-purpose flour and butter mixed to form a roux for thickening the chowder.
Method for Clam Chowder:
Note: Tom advises that, whenever you are making a cream soup, do not leave the pot, or you’ll end up with a curdled mess.
In a large fry pan, sauté bacon, onions, celery and carrot until translucent. If using all clams, drain 3 of the 4 cans, but save the juice from 1 of the cans. When the vegetables and bacon are translucent, add the juice from the 1 can of clams to the vegetable mixture, along with Old Bay, pepper and celery seed. Bring to a boil and add heavy cream or milk, stirring continually. Continue to stir as you begin to add the roux, until the chowder reaches your preferred thickness. When it’s just right, reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the clams. The chowder will be hot enough to cook the clams. Yield: 20 to 25 servings (or 4 to 6 servings with ingredients in parentheses).
Tom ended our interview by telling me how much joy cooking has brought to his life.
“I love trying new things, and I’m happy when people are pleased with the food that I cook for them. And I will tell you this,” he added, “I could not do all that I do here at the post without the help that I get from volunteers. They are amazing!”
And I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for Bartender Bob Malatz. Bob makes a to-die-for spicy Bloody Mary. In fact, the story goes that people come from all over the country to belly up for this libation. If you order one, tell him Marie sent you!
(Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)