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...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Boxing Day Shrimp

According to the New York Times cooking page "buttery potted dishes are...popular throughout Britain". We had never heard of this sort of dish, but were certainly game to try it. It was my first attempt at clarifying butter, which I don't think was entirely successful. I don't have any kind of a strainer in the lesser-equipped beach house kitchen, so I had to make do with just spoon. We also don't have any ramekins (at either house), so instead of individual pots we made one big pot, and simply scooped out the shrimp from it and divided it onto our individual plates. As far as the ingredients go, we mostly followed what was written, but skipped the anchovies and celery seed, and just substituted some other spices for flavoring. This was relatively simple, and the leftovers are even easier. Since this is a chilled dish we only had to take the pot out of the refrigerator and make some toast when we wanted to enjoy this again the next day.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Right Muffins

Our much-anticipated-annual-Christmas-Eve-lobster dinner with friends was made even better this year by the discovery of this savory recipe from the Granny's Muffin House cookbook.

Dinner was scheduled at 4:00, but we arrived at noon to help with cookie baking, and to pick up the crustaceans at the local fish monger. The recipe specifically says to "serve these hot, while the cheese is still meltin'" so I brought all the ingredients in individual containers, and mixed them up at around 3:30 to put in the oven. These are more like biscuits than muffins, and turned out to be a most excellent complement to the lobster. Head nodding and smiling commenced all around the table as first bites of these were taken. 

Just as surely as we will now always listen to George Michael sing "Last Christmas" on Christmas day, Cheddar Onion Muffins will now and forever be a part of our Christmas Eve celebration.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Going Dutch

When planning for a recent dinner at Whaling House, Pam cracked open the Vincent Price cooking tome, and found a simple Flemish recipe for steak -- Hollandsche Biefstuk (Dutch Beefsteak) -- and sauce. Really, it was gravy, but this is a very classy book...

Neither steak nor sauce photographs well,
so I am including this nice image of Mr. Price,
from the cover of his tv cookbook.
I began by tenderizing the steak with a heavy spoon. The recipe includes an admonishment to do this, since the steak will be cooking quickly. I then mixed 2T wine vinegar, 1t salt, and 1/2t pepper. I rubbed this mixture onto both sides of the steaks and let them rest on a plate for a half hour.

I then melted 1/4 cup of butter in an indispensable cast-iron skillet, and sautéed the steak for 4-1/2 minutes on each side. Actually, that is the timing specified by Mr. Price. Why the timing is so precise when the temperature is not specified at all, I'm not certain. Still, it seemed to bring the steaks to a good, medium doneness. The directions advise "moving it around while it cooks" which I just learned is what distinguishes sautéeing (as in "jump") from frying.

Keeping the burner on, I then set the steaks aside in on a warm plate, and added 1/2 cup chopped shallots to the butter remaining in the pan. I stirred these until browned and then spooned them onto the steaks. I then stirred into the butter (it is getting a workout here) 1t potato flour, 1C beef stock, and 1/2C beer. Actually, I used wheat flour and because we had no beef stock I used about 1/2 cup chicken stock, a bit of Worcestershire, and 1C beer. I stirred this until blended and a little bubbly, and then added 1/2t fresh thyme, 1t sugar, 2T fresh parsley (Vincent loved his parsley), and a bit of salt and pepper.

Vincent asks us to put the sauce in a gravy boat (thus revealing what this really is -- steak and gravy), but I used a little pitcher instead. Meanwhile, Pam had mashed a couple of potatoes (they are not just for Thanksgiving any more).

At this point, I will step back to the shopping for this dish. Careful readers of this blog might notice an increase in our use of beef about a year ago. This has been concomitant with our purchase of a Big Green Egg grill and with the availability of organic, grass-fed beef, mainly from a local farmer's market. We have often bought such a steak and then looked for a way to prepare it. This time, I went to the grocery store in search of a particular cut -- sirloin -- and settled for the most similar cut -- rib eye (I know, this is not so similar, but it was about the right thickness). All of the grass-fed beef available was in thick chunks that I did not think would be suitable. So I bought a couple of right-sized slices of ordinary steak.

Results: delicious gravy for the steak and potatoes, but not very inspiring flavor in the steak itself. Given the carbon and water footprint of steak, I want to have it only when it is going to be extraordinary. So I will make this dish again, but only with a more sustainable and delicious beef. And if I can figure out a way to grill rather than sautée, I will do that, too!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

¡Ay, Patrón!

The title of this post refers to one of its least prevalent ingredients in this evening's preparation of champandongo, which I have also called Aztec Lasagna. See that post from earlier in the year for the geographic and literary background of this dish, along with a link to the basic recipe.

Since we have now made it several times, this post will focus only on the small departures from previous efforts. The first change was in the roasting of the peppers. We are fortunate enough to have two kitchens -- one in a place we find most weekends. The smaller "galley" at Whaling House has the essentials but not the frills, and it is where we are re-learning how to cook with an electric stove, just a few years after I had gotten comfortable roasting peppers directly on the burner of our gas stove.
Not a great photo, but at least I managed not to melt my phone!
Our alternative approach has been to buy roasted pepperrs (imagine!) or to roast peppers in the Cloverfield kitchen (yes, it is named for our former dog) before coming to Fairhaven. Friends recently told me of another way -- oven roasting. I did so this evening, and got the peppers both charred and gooey at the same time. I used one dark-red, long bell pepper and one jalapeño. The result was especially good for use in a sauce, as they were quite soft after I sweated them in a covered bowl. The only difficulty relative to roasting over fire was that the outer, charred skin was difficult to separate.

The other departure from our April endeavor was quite tiny -- when I was nearly done with the mole (mol-AY) sauce, I added just a splash of coffee-infused Patrón tequila. Thus this dish from a story in Coahuila (northern Mexico) used an ancient sauce from Puebla (central Mexico) and two ingredients from Oaxaca (southern Mexico). The other ingredient was the chocolate, brought recently from a friend who had visited Oaxaca last summer with our daughter.
How much coffee-infused tequila? Just a splash or three.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sauce in the Sauce; Fish on the Fish

A few years ago, my university created an office to coordinate our science outreach programs, and of course we needed a catchy name. As a coordinator of our EarthView program, I was actually part of the committee that settled on an acronym within an acronym -- CASE is short for the Center for the Advancement of STEM Education, and STEM in turn is short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. So CASE is an acronym that is built not just of words, but of words plus another acronym.

I was reminded of this kind of word-building when I made a teriyaki sauce described by Blue Jean Chef Meredith Laurence, for a grilled salmon recipe on page 182 of Comfortable in the Kitchen -- the source of a chicken recipe I posted just yesterday.

As instructed, I started the coals in our Big Green Egg and then prepared the glaze while they heated. The glaze ingredients are:

4T soy sauce (See? Sauce within a sauce.)
1/4 C orange juice
3T honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t fresh ginger root, minced
pinch hot red pepper flakes

I brought this to a boil, whisked, and simmered until thickened. That easy.

We actually had all of these ingredients on hand in our weekend kitchen -- that is how much we are all about the well-prepared pantry -- so my shopping had been only at the fishmonger. Still, I made one substitution. I used Worcestershire instead of soy sauce,  Hence the fish-on-the-fish: Worcestershire includes anchovies.

I coated both sides of the salmon filet with a bit of vegetable oil, but rather than place it directly on the grill, I put it on a grilling stone (mentioned in previous posts). I put it skin-side-up at first, and then turned it, and drizzled the above sauce on it.  Near the end of cooking, I drizzled the rest of the sauce on it.

I believe I should have put the stone on earlier in the cooking process. Because it had been cold before I brought it inside to scrub, it was still slow to heat. The results were still good -- the fish was almost succulent. But a few more minutes of heating before I put the fish on would have given it a better sear.

We enjoyed this with some simple buttered noodles and a Fat Bastard 2014 Syrah -- perfect pairing all around.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Comfortable Crusty Chicken

Some while ago, my mother gave us a copy of Comfortable in the Kitchen (which we are) by Meredith Laurence, also known as the Blue Jean Chef. When I noticed it on our shelf I did not remember having used it, so in the spirit of this blog, The author is known as an educator both of real chefs on both coasts and of ordinary home cooks in various venues, especially television.

I decided to look through it first in choosing a Thursday--night dinner. (Careful readers of this blog might know that Thursday night usually features seafood from Kyler's Catch, but my Thursday-night rowing is on hiatus, so I needed to find landlubber fare.

As I flipped through the pages, the title Parmesan Crusted Chicken with White Wine Cream Sauce jumped off the page. I quickly compared a couple other titles and this seemed to be the strike the right balance between how hungry we were (somewhat) and how hard I was willing to work (somewhat).

Being in that lazy mood, I did not really plan side dishes. Pam had noticed some peas in the freezer, which I steamed just as the main dish was nearly complete.

And in the grocery I noticed fresh cranberries, so I got about a pound of them. I put them in a cast-iron saucepan with about a half cup each of whiskey, water, and brown sugar -- I boiled and stirred this throughout the preparation of the chicken, taking it off the heat just near the end so it could cool slightly.

Since I had to go "foraging" for most of these ingredients anyway, I did not make any substitutions. Also, per usual practice, I did not trouble myself too much with measurements.

1/4 cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a dash more in the sauce
freshly ground black pepper (I did not notice the "freshly" part until just now)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used three, and cut each in half)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 shallot, finely chopped (I used one small one)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped (but they are already tiny!)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream (I used light)

This recipe is basically a slightly up-scale version of my usual fried chicken. I began by heating the oil in the pan. Then I coated the chicken lightly with flour, dunked it in the egg, dredged it in a blend of Parm and Panko, and placed it directly into the pan to cook -- about six minutes per side. I had put a wire cookie rack onto a cookie sheet so that the chicken could rest on the rack in a 200F oven while I prepared the sauce. I like this idea -- it prevents the coating from coming off entirely as it would if resting on a platter.

To make the sauce, I drained most of the oil from the pan and then used the remainder to sautee the shallot, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf for just a minute or two. I then added the wine, cooked for another couple of minutes to reduce, and then simmered with the cream for 2-3 minutes more. I added pepper and removed the bay leaf.

I divided the chicken between our two plates, adding some peas and cranberries to each. A good, lazy meal. Since white wine was in the sauce, we enjoyed a nice oaky Chardonnay with this meal, a break from our usual winter warmer of Malbec.

Verdict: A delicious meal we will be repeating.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

photo from

James and I bought a rather large bag of sweet potatoes a few weeks ago, and have been using them in various recipes (both old favorites and new temptations). I noticed that we had several cans of black beans in the cupboard so I started looking for a sweet potato and black bean soup recipe. I thought I would be able to count on good ol' Deborah Madison for this one, and was surprised to discover that her great big vegetarian cookbook in fact does not include such a recipe. My next stop was the New York Times Cooking pages. Once again, I was disappointed. So I next turned to where I hit the jackpot with this hearty chili.  The ingredient list is rather long, but I am now such a foodie that I had everything in my own pantry (or at least a reasonable facsimile of everything). This isn't especially difficult to prepare, but it does take some time. The sweet potatoes have to be peeled, diced, and roasted. Additionally, the cooking time for the chili is close to an hour.  I made a few minor changes to the ingredients. The recipe calls for coating the sweet potatoes along with a chipotle pepper in olive oil. Since I keep a big bottle of chipotle- infused olive oil in my pantry I just used that to coat the sweet potatoes. (If you are in need of such a bottle I got mine at Lebherz Oil and Vinegar Emporium - they deliver!). In lieu of water I used the coffee that was left in our carafe from our morning brew. And, instead of of the teaspoon each of cocoa powder and sugar called for I used two small pieces of Mexican chocolate which turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. Topped with fresh cilantro and sour cream this was rich in colors, flavors, and textures.We both quite enjoyed this meal, and it paired perfectly with a bottle our own Barolo wine. In fact, I don't think we've ever had anything that so perfectly complemented the Barolo. There is no doubt that we will be making this one again.