How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Snow Day...Pi Day!




I recently learned about something called our "aspirational selves". These are our selves who put foreign films and documentaries on our Netflix list, but never feel like watching them; or buy nicer clothes than we would normally ever really hope to wear; or perhaps save that rather complicated recipe intending to make it when you have more time. Your aspirational self really wants to believe that you will watch those cerebral films, and that you will be the sort of person who gets invited to some shin dig where you can don your fancy duds, and just knows that someday you will make that souffle.

Stella (the snowstorm, not character in the famous Tennessee Williams play) hit New England on Pi Day, so we got a day off of work, and I took the time to assess my culinary aspirations. One of the things I notice is that James and I like the idea of fresh fruits and vegetables more than we actually like to eat them. Sometimes I pick recipes based on ingredients we have so that I can use what we bought but didn't eat, and sometimes I pick the recipe and then buy only the ingredients I need so that we don't end up with a lot of stuff we really don't intend to eat. Recently we fell victims to my sister's aspirations. When she arrived for a much anticipated visit we went to the store to buy food she would like -this included carrots and celery. I am no stranger to the carrots and celery aspiration. I have bought both on several occasions with the full intention of cutting them into smaller sticks and then snacking on them, rather than Doritos, when I wanted something crunchy. I have learned my lesson, many times over, that I really just want salty chips when I come home from work. However, these were for my sister and they were purchased and put in the refrigerator where they stayed for the duration of her visit. I ended up using some (but not all) of the celery in the Succotash Chowder and so when I found myself with a "bonus" day off I decided that I would try to make something out of all of the produce I had sitting around. 

First up was carrot/raisin salad: shredded carrots, mayonnaise, raisins, and lemon juice. Prepared on Tuesday and eaten on Wednesday for lunch. I did not use all of the carrots, however. I actually did cut some into sticks to feed my dog who, my sister discovered, would eat them! Who knew? Maybe she won't be so fat now!

I made a Waldorf Salad with the celery and apples that had been waiting too long to be eaten. I used essentially the same recipe from several years ago but with raisins instead of grapes. We had this as a side dish for Wednesday's pizza dinner.

Our Pi Day creation "Pear and Goat Cheese Tart" came from Teeny's Tour of Pie: A Cookbook. We already had some goat cheese and bought some pears the day before especially for the recipe. For good measure I included one of the apples as well. As one can tell from the name of this dish this is not so much a pie as a tart. However it is round, and pie-like (see photo above), so we give it a pass for Pi day. The sliced apples and pears (mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and corn starch) were placed on top of the crust and the crumbled cheese was added, then the edges of the crust were folded up around the fruit and chÄ—vre and baked for about half an hour. Sweet and savory Teeny says this "is one of the easiest recipes in the book". We bought Teeny's book on Pi day a few years ago, but I think this may be only the second time we've used it. My aspirational self will try to use it again before next Pi Day. 


Monday, March 13, 2017

Succotash Chowder



James and I each picked a recipe from the vegetarian classic The Moosewood Cookbook this week. See James' post here. 

Until recently my only experience with succotash was strictly audible as an overused expression (sufferin' succotash) from the Saturday morning "Bugs Bunny" cartoons of my youth. This past fall I tasted a Three Sisters  succotash (made with corn, beans, and squash) for the first time and so this recipe caught my eye as a good nueva receta to try this week. This one uses potatoes instead of squash, and was more of a soup than the other one I had. I liked them both though. This is rather simple and only took about half an hour to make. I made two changes to the recipe: I used frozen lima beans instead of dried (making it a lot quicker than it would have been otherwise); and I used a mix of milk and cream, which made the chowder nicely rich. It made for great leftovers as well.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Crunchy Yummy Spinach Rice


The first thing I need to point out is that the timing estimate at the top of this Moosewood Cookbook recipe is correct, and that it needs to be read carefully 40 minutes PLUS 40 minutes. Brown rice takes the better part of 40 minutes to cook, and the chef needs to spend most of that time preparing the dish. So this is a good weeknight dish if started early in the evening. I ended up rushing it just a bit.

That said, I will jump right to the punchline and say that this is a great meal. It scores very high on the delicious-nutritious-easy-cheap trade-off matrix, scoring high on all four measures. Some time is involved, and a lot of bowls are used, but this still qualifies as easy.

I decided to scan the full recipe, since it has a lot of details but conveniently fits on one page. My variations were two: one intentional and one otherwise. First, the otherwise: I somehow mis-read the rice proportions and only used one cup of dry rice with 2 cups of water. I should have used 2 cups of rice and 4 cups of water. I also did the trick we usually use in our kitchen now -- sauteeing the rice in a bit of oil for about a minute before adding the water and bringing to a boil. Incidentally, I used 2, 10-ounce bags of spinach instead of 2 full pounds. This filled our dutch oven at one point, but of course reduced to a manageable amount before I needed to mix everything together.

Second, the intentional: rather than topping this with just sunflower seeds and paprika, I mixed those with about a cup each of shredded cheddar and panko crumbs. This made the best casserole topping I have ever encountered.

The entire recipe -- click to enlarge.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Monger Simplicity

"What's char?" I asked, as I noticed something new in the Kyler's Catch fish counter. The young fishmonger's eyes lit up: "Delicious!" and "I'm not quite sure." She had been asking her manager about it, and could only recall that it is some sort of "cross" between a salmon and a trout. That did not sound quite right to her as she said it, but it seems to be not far from the truth. She could tell me that she had been enjoying a lot of it lately, and that customers to whom she had recommended it had come back happy.
Image: Fish Choice
As she handed me the wrapped fish, I asked how she prepares it. She said that the flavor is so good that she just uses a little salt and pepper. She said perhaps some minced garlic as well, but I decided to try the simplest option first. I even eschewed Old Bay, which I'm usually tempted to sprinkle on everything. I pan-fried the fillet in olive oil, skin-side down until mostly cooked through, and then turning it. The fish is quite delicate, and flaked apart somewhat as I did this.

Last night I looked up char on my phone, learning just enough to confirm that the monger's impression about the fish is generally correct. This morning I took a closer look online and found that Fish Choice describes char as "closely resembl[ing] salmon in appearance, but are closer genetically to lake trout." I also learned that its high fat content means that it is well-suited to broiling, baking, or smoking. I will be exploring these options in the near future.

I will also be exploring the Fish Choice web site, whose goals are similar to the Cod & Country cookbook we have cited on this blog several times. It is intended for the fish industry but is accessible to general readers, providing a good combination of ecological and culinary information.

For a simple, quick evening meal, this basic char was perfectly paired with some Aunt Annie's mac & cheese (made with cream instead of milk) and a nice bottle of, you guessed it, Malbec.

Finally, a word about fishmongers. We enjoy supporting local businesses whenever we can, especially those such as Kyler's that are mentoring young workers who take pride in learning their industry.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lots of Chocolate Flay-vor


Mmmm...chocolate

My big sister recently came for a visit. I had seen this recipe for Stuffed Mexican Hot Chocolate French Toast with Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Chocolate-Maple Ganache  show up on my Facebook feed just days before her arrival and determined that it would be the perfect sister activity for her stay. The recipe says it takes an hour to prepare, which may be true if only one person is working on it, but we had three very willing participants (my sister, my husband, and me) for this one. My sister prepared the ganache while I made the batter, and my husband whipped the cream and (natch) made the coffee - you will want plenty of black fair-trade, organic coffee to pair with this very rich breakfast. Anyway, we cut the prep time to about 25 minutes by having each of us working on a different part of the meal. We cooked some bacon to go with it so that we would also have a bit of protein with our victuals. This is a fun, dessert-for-breakfast, special-occasion, many-hands-make-light, work repast. 

While we were cooking my sister also informed me that my niece's beau loves Bobby Flay, to which James and I responded "who's that" and she answered that we were making one of his recipes. We do not watch the Food Network (or any other network for that matter).

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Blue Jean Mac & Cheese

Once again, Pam has proven her prowess at finding recipes that can be made with ingredients on hand in our larder. It helps that we keep the kitchen well supplied with a variety of ingredients and very few prepared foods. It also helps that we have a lot of cook books. But mainly Pam is just very good at this.

Knowing that we had some bacon remaining from earlier dishes. Pam looked for a recipe that would make good use of it. She turned first to Comfortable in the Kitchen by Meredith Laurence, also known as the Blue Jean Chef (BJC). I think she might have a television show. The book had been a gift of my mother, and features slightly sophisticated comfort foods, such as the Comfortable Crusty Chicken and ginger salmon we blogged about last December.

On page 80, Pam found Bacon, Tomato and Green Pea Mac 'n' Cheese. The recipe begins with heating the oven to 350F, and then bringing a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. It calls for macaroni or "other short pasta" which in this case meant penne. A couple minutes before the pasta was done, I added 1-1/2 cups of frozen peas. I had never thought of doing so at this early stage, but will certainly do so in future casseroles. When strained, the pasta and peas just rested in the colander while I continued to work with the indispensable cast-iron skillet.

The recipe calls for 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved. At Pam's suggestion, I used a can of diced tomatoes, placing them in a sieve early in the process so that they would be well drained.

There I had been cooking bacon. The BJC called for six slices, chopped into one-inch pieces. I had missed that detail until just now, and failed to chop up the bacon. Fortunately I had gotten it crispy enough that it easily broke into pieces in the mixing bowl. I removed the bacon and then cooked a small, finely-chopped onion until it was translucent and added six tablespoons of flour and one tablespoon of mustard powder (the BJC had suggested only two teaspoons). I then gradually whisked in four cups of milk (not too cold) until a roux was formed, brought it to a gentle simmer and cooked it until thickened.
Photo: Comfortable in the Kitchen
I removed the skillet from heat and then stirred in the grated cheeses. I used a total of about three cups of sharp Vermont cheddar and parmesan, but the BJC calls for 3 cups Gruyere or Swiss, 2 cups cheddar, and one cup parmesan.

Once the cheeses were incorporated into the sauce, everything went into a big mixing bowl for thorough stirring. I then combined panko crumbs (in lieu of the homemade bread crumbs BJC suggests) with thyme and parsley (again substituting dry herbs for the fresh ones called for) as a topping. I put the penne mix in a 9x13 casserole and topped it with the crumb mix. I baked this for about a half hour.

The result: excellent comfort food and plenty of it. It will be a significant part of this afternoon's Saturday linner. The only drawback to this recipe is that it turned what is often a one-dish recipe into an every-dish-we-own recipe. This made me grateful for our dishwasher!

Dos Nuevas Recetas that we invented ourselves

It has been over six years since we started this blog. We usually find our recipes within our collection of cookbooks, although lately we have be finding more on the interwebs. Last week, however, we collaborated on a meal in which each of us created a new recipe, with one shared ingredient. Pam made a pasta-berry salad; James' innovation came in the way of a new steak rub.

I had found a thick, grass-fed sirloin that I wanted to use as a main course. I set it on a plate, and pierced it several times on each side with a fork. Regular readers will know that I frequently prepare a rub based on something I learned from our friends at Equal Exchange -- a mix of black pepper and ground coffee (fairly traded and organic, of course). In this case, I used home-roasted, hand-ground coffee from East Timor by way of our other friends at Deans Beans. Something I learned the first time I used this combination is that the amount of pepper and the amount of time resting with the rub should both be limited, so that the pepper does not begin to pre-cook the meat. In other words, it is possible to over-do this. But using about 1:4::pepper:coffee and resting for 20 minutes or so seems to work well.

Just before grilling -- on the Big Green Egg -- I added a couple of ingredients to the steaks. First, I sprinkled each side lightly with Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Then I pressed fresh blackberries into each side, using a fork to get them stuck a bit better. This was a bit messy. I then grilled at about 450. One problem with the coffee rub is that it masks the steak, so there are no visual clues to doneness. I should have used the Thermapen, but instead ended up putting it back on the grill once I had divided it. No harm done.

We had decided to use bow-tie pasta in some sort of side dish with the steak, and Pam remembered that we had previously made some mighty fine fruit-and-pasta dishes (see Pasta with Grapes and Strawberry Pasta). We had just made a trek to Trader Joe's and bought blueberries and blackberries, so we decided try inventing a new recipe. The cooked pasta (about 2 cups) was mixed with a handful of each of the berries, along with a sliced banana. Pam made a dressing by mixing about 6 of each berry, a tablespoon of honey, and a tablespoon of blueberry balsamic vinegar (from L.O.V.E. Oil and Vinegar Emporium), and 2 tablespoons of chopped mint leaves in a blender. The dressing was tossed with the berries and pasta. An eye-pleasing, as well as palate-pleasing dish, and it turned out to be a perfect complement to the steak rub...
Love will keep us together.
But blackberries tied this meal together.
Final verdict: this meal was just a bit different, delicious, and fun to make. And of course it paired well with Malbec.