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...

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Coconut Shrimp

I am the first person to admit that I am hard to buy presents for, which is why I tell people not to get me gifts. I already have more than enough stuff, and I can afford to buy myself just about anything that anyone I know can afford to buy for me, so if I want or need something I will just take care of it myself. With this said I have to say that my in-laws really came through with a recent gift of a variety-pack of flavored salts. Each flavor also had a recipe card, so when James asked what he should pick up at the fishmonger on Tuesday I suggested shrimp so I could try my hand at the Grilled Coconut Shrimp (see photo below), even though I wouldn't have a grill.

Instead of skewering the shrimp (as indicated) with the pineapple and scallions, I stir fried everything in our indispensable cast-iron skillet. It didn't take long. I heated some basil-infused olive oil in the pan, while I whisked the salt, honey, chopped scallions, and soy sauce together. Once the mix was in the skillet I added the shrimp and cooked for two minutes, then turned the shrimp over and added the pineapple chunks and cooked for one minute more. All flavors came through for a sweet and savory meal.

As a rule I don't like coconut (or pineapple), but I do like coconut shrimp (and piña coladas)!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Pasta and Sausage

We sometimes include local breakfast sausage in our weekly order from Crescent Ridge (yes, an old-school milk truck comes to our house every Monday morning). We usually use it in just that way -- as patties with waffles or other breakfast food.

When thinking about our food options last night, however, I decided to look for a way to make dinner from breakfast sausage. It was our salon date night, which usually involves supporting a local restaurant. Because we had been dining out nearly non-stop during our recent vacation in the Maritimes, though, I wanted to make a nice date-night meal at home. And because this is the canicula, I wanted stovetop cooking only -- no oven. This meant that my favorite dinner use of sausage was out of the question.

Rather than opening some cookbooks -- which would have been true to the original mission of this blog -- I did what we often do in such situations. I browsed the results of a search of "sausage" on the AllRecipes web site. I looked at a few options, and settled on Bow Ties with Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream -- one of those recipe titles that essentially is the recipe.

I digressed from the recipe only slightly. I used thin spaghetti instead of bowties or penne, either of which would have held the sauce better. I also used fresh tomatoes instead of the canned equivalent. The preparation was simple and the results -- while not photogenic -- were quite delicious!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Two People. Two Recipes. One Great Meal.

It took us two attempts to make this "Start of Summer" meal. Our first attempt was thwarted when we arrived at the fishmonger only to discover that they were out of scallops! We made a plan to be there when they opened on Saturday so as not to be disappointed a second time. James was in charge of the kabob-less Old Bay Scallops. Pam was the chef for the side dish - a tomato-pasta salad recipe from Mary Kay Andrews The Beach House Cookbook.

Being far from Maryland,
I could not find a real
 container of Old Bay.
 But I did find this juvenile
specimen, which
proved serviceable.
The side dish was simple enough. While the spaghetti was cooking I chopped some tomato and onion. The chopped tomato was placed in our row boat shaped salad and some olive oil. red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper were added. Next the chopped onion some baby arugula, and shaved Parmesan cheese went in. The cooked pasta was mixed in with everything and some additional shaved Parmesan was added to the top. A lovely cool salad for a very hot day.

James adds: Let's not underestimate the significance of Pam's second line above. This was no ordinary fishmonger -- this was Kyler's Catch, located at the head of the most important scallop harbor on planet Earth (or any other planet, as far as we know). When we found the scallop bin empty -- and its void status was confirmed -- we had no Plan B. We simply backed slowly away from the counter. So it was with some trepidation that we returned yesterday morning!

We did find the scallops, and used the Old Bay scallops recipe we had found on the McCormick web site last week. When we returned to Whaling House, I trimmed and rinsed them, while melting about a stick's worth of butter. To this I added a heaping helping of Old Bay -- about half of the miniature found above, far more than called for in the recipe, which trifles in fractional teaspoons. As if.

In place of the dried parsley, I used a generous heap of finely chopped fresh parsley. The most important departure, though, was that I eschewed skewers. Rather, I placed the scallops on a baking sheet and brushed them liberally with the butter mixture. I broiled them (not to close to the top) for 5 minutes. I then removed the tray, turned each scallop with tongs, and returned the tray for 2 more minutes. The key with scallops is not to over cook. These turned out perfectly, and as Pam notes above, they paired beautifully with the cool pasta she had prepared, and the even cooler Chardonnay from our favorite vineyard.


The day after we enjoyed this meal, Pam found a remarkable article about the origins of Old Bay, the National Spice of Maryland. Among other things, the article is a reminder of the value of being a country that welcomes migrants in general and refugees in particular. Without asylum, Old Bay itself would be impossible!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Pan-Baked Lemon-Almond Tart

Gotta love a recipe with two hyphens in its name. This one showed up on my Facebook feed from the New York Times Cooking pages and I made it for dessert Saturday evening. It is simple to make, but since much of it is cooked on the stove top it has to be watched carefully, or burning on the bottom can be a potential issue. The recipe calls for ground almonds which I was able to take care of rather easily with my blender. The recipe also calls for four eggs, which gives it a custard-y look and flavor, albeit with a denser texture. I don't usually take seconds on dessert, but I did on Saturday!This was really good.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Super Solstice Salsa (plus a bonus Old Bay recipe)

To celebrate the first day of summer I got out my handy Wicca Cookbook and found a recipe for Cucumber Salsa in the Summer Solstice section. It calls for only six ingredients: chopped cucumber, chopped jalapeño (I substituted peperoncini), chopped cilantro, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and salt and pepper. The cookbook says it is "delicious over fish, pork, beef, chicken or salad". We were already planning on preparing fresh fish for dinner, so the salsa was enjoyed on top of some haddock cooked in olive oil.

I also discovered that Baltimore's Mayor Catherine Pugh had proclaimed June 21 to be Old Bay Day. As a native Baltimorean I had no choice but to find a second recipe that called for Old Bay. We had already decided on pasta as a side dish, so I adapted a recipe I found online (by entering the ingredients pasta and Old Bay into and prepared cooked rigotoni with chopped cucumbers, red pepper flakes, chopped queso blanco, olive oil, lemon juice, and of course some Old Bay seasoning.

This all made for a simple, yet satisfying and refreshing summer meal.

James adds:

This meal paired well with a (not-too-sweat) Riesling from Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery. We took the rest of the pasta there as part of our picnic last night for the Sunset Music series.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Delta Peas & Rice

I was walking through a book store with my mother the first time I learned of Black Eyed Peas, the band. I noticed a display of CDs with the great Sergio Mendes, who was very familiar to me as a fan of Brazilian music. Black Eyed Peas and Fergie were just the people playing along, as far as I was concerned. I did start listening to their music in its own right, and as a featured act, they made me one of the more willing parents attending a day-long concert with my kid a few years later.

I realized just today that it must have been around the same time I learned about the band that I quit encountering the eponymous legume. As I was growing up -- mostly in rural northern Virginia (that used to be a thing) -- we had black-eyed peas frequently. In a sense, my mother introduced me to both kinds.

I do not know whether they are common in some corners of New England, but since coming here, I do not think I have encountered them much at all, nor have I sought them out.

This is all background to why the "Delta Beans and Rice" recipe caught my eye as I was looking through Screen Doors and Sweet Tea this morning, in search of something new and not too heavy for this afternoon's linner. (Since brunch was to be waffles and bacon.)

Martha Hall Foose introduces the recipe with a brief essay, subtitled "Where I Cook," that is rich in cultural geography; I cannot resist sharing it in its entirety:
I once did a presentation at a conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, entitled "The Rhythm of the Kitchen." Leonard "Doc" Gibbs of Emeril Live Band fame provided informative foot-tapping commentary on playing music to cooking. For my part, I tried to stump the audience by making my version of perhaps the most ubiquitous dish in the world, rice and beans, and seeing if people could place its origins just by tasting it. And sure enough, guesses ranged from the Caribbean and Africa to the Carolinas and Portugal. Then the audience got to sample the dish while riffs of classic blues music filled the air. That did it: they all knew and understood where the dish was from, and people were calling it Delta peas and rice all over the place. The dish tastes a little like all the places guessed first and it tastes a lot like the one named last. 
Reading this, I knew I had found our meal. Now to find black-eyed peas. She calls for frozen, which I have never seen. For me, this has always been one of those foods grown in a can. After my morning row, I scoured the freezers at the local grocery to no avail. I eventually found a few cans of the store brand, from which I learned the Spanish name: frijoles caritas (little-face beans).

To prepare the dish, I queued up this collection:

Then I began to follow the simple directions for the dish itself, and organic, oven-baked chicken to go with it.  Enough preamble; here is what I did:

I opened, rinsed, and drained two small cans of black-eyed peas, skipping the cooking instructions provided by the author (since these were already cooked), and set them aside. I also cooked 3 cups basmati rice and set aside.
I then heated 2T olive oil (she calls for soybean oil) and cooked a chopped onion until tender. Then I added 2 cloves minced garlic and cooked just a minute more.
Then I added 2C diced, peeled tomatoes, 1t thyme leaves (I actually put in a lot more than this), 1T apple cider vinegar, 1t sugar, and 1/4t red pepper flakes (again, I did quite a bit more). I simmered this mixture for 15 minutes, then added the peas for a further 15 minutes. At the end, I added the rice to the mixture, heated through, and added 1/4C fresh parsley.

The result: tea-licious! I had included a little bit of thyme and parsley among the seasonings for the chicken, for a perfect pairing. And we were very fortunate that Pam had selected just the right tablecloth for this meal.


Since this post has turned into a memoir of my life with black-eyed peas, I should add one more account for completeness. When we lived in Tucson, we noticed cans of black-eyed peas with jalapeños in our local grocery.
Like this, but without the bacon
More accurately, we noticed cans of black-eyed peas with jalapeños on the label. Being fans of augmented flavor -- and just wanting the company to know there was a problem -- I sent a letter (this was before food companies were online) explaining what had happened. I included all the details I could think of.

A couple off weeks later, I received a letter from Bush's Best, in box containing various cans of beans and an excellent can opener. The letter included an apology for the mishap and a request for more information. From this I learned that even when there is no obvious date on a food package, there is a date encoded on the label that allows the manufacturer to track all kinds of quality issues.

We had long since discarded the can, but I went back to the store and bought another can. Again it has jalapeños on the label but not in the can. I sent the code, and maybe the whole label, to the company. Another week passed, and I received another letter in a gift package as thanks.

From this I learned the importance of writing effective, polite letters when there is a problem -- both Bush's Best and I had done so. I also learned a little bit about food packaging, which would become a major part of my life just a few years later when I worked for the Wornick Company.

As for those beans, I always buy Bush's Best if it is an option (I checked yesterday -- only baked beans). And we used those well-made, manual can openers for over 20 years. The free ones were better than any we have been able to buy since, and definitely better than any electric can opener.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Kickin' It Old School

When I started this blog lo these seven and a half years ago my intention was to make good use of my cookbook collection. Too many of my gems were being underused. Over the years I have found myself using the cookbooks less often, as I find more recipes online. This post pays homage to the original intent of my project. I got out one of my oldest cookbooks New Recipes for Pasta, Rice, and Beans - one of those flimsy magazine-quality numbers you can find at the grocery store checkout line, which I am sure is where I picked this one up, sometime in the '90s. We use it often for its stuffed pepper recipe, but I decided to find a "nueva receta" this time and selected "South-of-the-Border Bean and Bacon Pizza". I frankly don't believe that this is a Mexican dish by any stretch, but I didn't come up with the name. The little cookbook is from Pillsbury, and therefore every recipe includes some name-brand ingredients. I ignored this, and certainly wasn't about to use pre-prepared pizza crust in any case. I made the dough in my bread machine. Nor did I use Joan of Arc Spicy Chili beans. I did used canned kidney beans, and then added some chili powder and other spices. Otherwise, I followed the recipe. It was a tasty and filling meal.