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...

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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wine Popsicles

When we first started this blog we found this website that lists American Food Holidays for every day of the year. We discovered that James' birthday is Home Brew Day which is the main reason why we now own home brewing equipment (and actually use it too!). My birthday, however, is Grape Popsicle Day, and up until this year I just haven't been interested in celebrating my birthday with stupid grape popsicles. But then, sometime between my 53rd and 54th birthdays it dawned on me that wine was made from grapes, too. And so I googled "wine popsicles" and 10 recipes appeared before my very eyes. This year I was in Maryland celebrating my birthday with my extended family so my sister and I selected the Red Wine Fudgesicles to make together. We used the Zinfandel wine recommended, and then followed the simple steps to heat the wine, and add chocolate chips and milk. They tasted just like you would expect fudgesicles to taste, with just a hint of the wine flavor coming through as well

Blogger and her sister enjoying the fruits of their labor.


Lagniappe: My niece made me a Boston Cream Pie for my birthday cake!
See the recipe she used here.

What started out as a steamy day (perfect for a frozen treat) in western Howard County Maryland turned ominous when the heavy rains began. The mood at the party quickly turned as we all watched the videos one of our favorite places - Main Street Ellicott City - flood for the second time in 2 years.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Coconut Cornbread

A brunch guest with gluten sensitivity pushed us out of our usual waffle routine. I know: waffles can be gluten-free, but not in our routine. Rather than taking a chance on redesigning my waffles with visitors coming, I retreated to a relatively simply solution: cornbread.

At first glance, this would be simply simple, not relatively simple. But the scrumptious cornbread that Pam often makes for us (which seems to be missing from this blog) uses some wheat flour along with the cornmeal. Information specialist that she is, she quickly found a gluten-free recipe for Southern (With a Twist) Cornbread on the Fountain Avenue Kitchen site.

Readers will see that blogger Ann has taken a great deal of care with this recipe, and has incorporated feedback from some of her readers. I prepared it almost exactly as written, with two small changes.

I heated our indispensable cast-iron skillet in the oven before adding the oil, which was simply a matter of not reading that part of the directions carefully. The pan was so hot, though, that I think the effect was exactly as intended. The recipe calls for 2T coconut oil and invites substitutions. Pam recommended chipotle-infused oil from our friends at L.O.V.E., and I decided to use one tablespoon of each -- some heat but also some extra crispiness.

The other departure from the recipe was to use a 12-inch pan instead of 10-inch. I am glad that I did not really think this through, because the resulting thinner bread should have made me check for doneness a bit early. I let it go all the way to 18 minutes, though, and the result was perfect crispitiness! (Patent pending on that Hayes-Bohism)

Penguin Christmas potholder is always in season.
Even more than perfect, in fact. We live in a crooked, circa 1885 house, which means that our oven cannot be made level. This caused a bit of the oils to accumulate on top of one side of the bread, and I greedily selected a piece from that side!

Everyone agreed that this was a delicious cornbread, and it went perfectly with the kumquat-habanero marmalade that our guest brought for us.

Lagniappe: Cornmeal

A note about the cornmeal: following the guidance in the original recipe, I selected a medium-ground cornmeal. I looked at several brands, but could not find any without a caution about the possibility of wheat contamination because of shared equipment. So I made the bread and saved the package to show our guest before serving it. This was OK in her case, but I can imagine some gluten-related conditions requiring more careful sourcing.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

First Flan

We have spent each of our 21 Easters in Massachusetts with various members of the same extended family, local friends who have taken our family under their wing each spring. This year, we decided to contribute two sweet items to the feast: the hot-crossed buns about which Pam wrote last week, and my first flan. I had made flan from an instant mix once before, but this was my first real flan, and both of our dishes qualified as first-time-ever for us.

Our hostess had mentioned that some spicy, Latin-American food would be on the menu, which is what inspired me to seek a flan recipe, and to use "spicy flan" in my online search. In preparing to write this blog, I realized that this brought me to a lavender flan recipe, not for the spiciness of the flan itself, but for the name of the recipe site on which it is found. In any case, it turned out to be an excellent find, though I had to substitute a key ingredient and change the baking method in a substantial way.

First, the substitution: I could not find lavender in either of the forms suggested, so I used cardamom at the same juncture in the instructions. This worked very well, but I am curious enough -- and this flan turned out well enough -- that I will seek out lavender and try this again. I describe my equipment change further below.

I began this recipe with the caramel (a word I really don't know how to pronounce). I opted not to follow the multi-tasking instructions at this point. The 10-minute prep time on this recipe is completely bogus in any case, but I prolonged things by simmering the sugar solution first, and not doing anything else until it had turned a sweet, sticky brown. I did this in part because I only have one suitable saucepan, and in part because I have only two arms, not the six required to do things in the sequence described.
My caramel was much darker than that shown on the recipe page, but I have no regrets. It did, indeed hardened immediately when poured out. And I managed not to burn myself or the dog (who lingers in my kitchen sometimes).
The main part of the flan batter is made in two stages, and this does seem to matter. I did make a minor substitution, one that I make in most of our baking endeavors.
In place of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, I used a standard whisk with a rower attachment.
Pouring the batter onto the caramel was much easier than I expected, the caramel having hardened so quickly.

The main equipment change had to do with ramekins, which are essentially individual, ceramic muffin tins. They come up in recipes every once in a while, but they are one kind of kitchen equipment for which we have not yet taken the plunge. The recipe details the complicated placement of ramekins in a larger pan to ensure very gentle heating of the flan. Instead, I created what was essentially a double pie pan, with warm water and a wet towel between a glass pie pan and a ceramic serving dish.
I added the hot water between layers carefully.
The result: a delicious flan, but one we had to serve pie-style, with the caramel serving as a crust rather than a topping. Our hosts were sufficiently enthused that they are on the lookout for after-market ramekins to get into our kitchen before next Easter.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hot Cross Buns

My family and I were invited to Easter dinner by my friend Jenny's mother, Jackie, in 1998 (my first Easter as a Bay Stater). Since that time I enjoyed the holiday meal with Jackie every year. Dinner moved from Jackie's house to Jenny's house a few years ago (and I have offered our house for next Easter), nevertheless the tradition remains. Another tradition that started in 1998 is that I would always consider making hot cross buns to share at dinner, but then, after looking at the recipe and figuring in dealing with preparing an Easter basket, going to sunrise service, and my attending "regular" church service as well, it just wasn't going to happen. With my child now grown and living in another city, and the realization that I really didn't have to go to sunrise service I decided to go for it, and make the long awaited bread. The recipe came with my bread machine (see image below), a gift from my mother in 1997. I can't believe the machine still works. I used it a lot when I first received it, but for the last several years it has been used perhaps only once a month. Anyway, the hot cross buns turned out great, and were a big hit a dinner. They were also very big.