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...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Louisiana Yam Muffins

I make a traditional lasagna each year for Christmas dinner. Cooking the sauce is an all-afternoon affair, which is then layered with a ricotta cheese mixture, and shredded mozarella cheese, and lasagna noodles. This year, I added special muffins to the menu. I could not resist this recipe when I saw that it called for Tabasco and coffee - James' two favorite beverages. I also had half a sweet potato in the refrigerator, which after I steamed and mashed it, gave me the 1 cup that the recipe calls for (it does specifically say that yams or sweet potatoes can be used - I am not really sure what the difference is, anyway). The recipe also calls for 1 c. each of cornmeal and all-purpose flour; 1/4 c. sugar, 1T baking powder, 1 1/4 t. cinnamon and 1/2 t. salt. The dry ingredients were mixed together in one bowl, and in a smaller bowl I mixed 2 eggs, 4T canola oil, the sweet potatoes, coffee (1/2 c.) and Tabasco (the recipe says 1/2 t. but I just shook some into the batter. I am sure it was more than 1/2 t.). The wet and dry ingredients were mixed together, and then baked at 400 degrees for 16 minutes in the convection oven. There were a lot of flavors to be tasted in this. It was just sweet enough, and the coffee flavor came through. I probably could have added even a bit more Tabasco for more kick.

Eggnog Pumpkin Pie

To finish off Christmas Eve's Day of Delightful Dining. I made Eggnog Pumpkin Pie. This was a recipe I  modified from the Classic Pumpkin Pie recipe I often use during the holidays from The Pumpkin Cookbook. After cutting, steaming and pureeing a smallish pumpkin I added 2 eggs, 1/2 c. maple syrup, and 4 T flour. The recipe also calls for 1 c. light cream, for which I substituted a cup of eggnog. I also added some ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. I did not measure any of the spices. I just threw in what seemed like good amounts. I think I could have added more. I poured the mixture into a homemade graham cracker pie crust and baked at 400 degrees for about an hour. The recipe said it would take about 30 minutes, which I think is usually the case when I make the "classic" pie. I guess with eggnog it takes longer to set. In any case, the pie was delicious. I good holiday treat.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day of Delightful Dining

Our Christmas Eve tradition, since 2005, has been to have lobster with friends in East Bridgewater, each year making it more of a day-long event. Yesterday was perhaps the best so far, and not just because their kitchen -- which has been under development this entire time -- is near completion (and perfection). No, it was mainly the company and also the food, drink, and music that made the day perfect.

Lobster is lobster, so there was not much room for culinary innovation on the main course itself. Rob -- raised on the Connecticut shore and possessed of two great lobster pots -- cooked six lobsters to perfection, with melted butter being all they needed.

In thinking about a side dish to complement the lobster, my mind turned naturally to Paul McIlhenny's Tabasco Brand Cookbook. This scion of the Tabasco-making family was smart enough to partner with a real writer -- Barbara Hunter -- for this work, so the book is like a small Louisiana Bible. I turned to it both for the Christmas Eve side dish and for breakfast on Christmas day.

My choice was Piquant Onion (p110), which I insist on pronouncing with a bad French accent. Small white onions -- a bit larger than pearl onions, but no larger than an inch or so, typically sold in mesh bags -- are browned in butter and then simmered for the better part of an hour in a mixture of broth, tomato sauce, and vinegar with sugar, thyme, bay leaf, and raisins. Yes, raisins.

To prepare for cooking in our friends' kitchen, I created a piquant-onion kit, assembling most of the ingredients in our own kitchen, knowing that they would have the basics (butter and cornstarch) and the essential cast-iron skillet.
I seem to recall using this kind of small onion recently, but I do not remember spending so very much time with them. The tricky part in this case was to peel them while keeping them whole. It would have been tedious, but for the fact that I was doing the job under ideal conditions: a nice counter top in a new but homey and huge kitchen, good company, good music, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and a festive chef hat!
Once the onions have been permeated by this sweet/sour mixture, it is thickened with cornstarch and zinged with Tabasco. The word "piquant" is appropriate, as the result is quite flavorful and complex, and not dominated by the heat. It worked very well with the lobster, fingerling potatoes, and macaroni.
The result was pleasing both to the palate and the eye. This will be a regular part of Hayes-Bohanan-Waterman-Rue holidays to come!
The title of this blog post comes from Rob's comment near the end of the day. In addition to the dinner itself, we shared various nibble and nips, including a toast to our lately-departed friend Anna, out by the fire. For this we had Portuguese aniz liqueur in ornate glasses with a requisite coffee bean in each. The title of the post should in fact it should be pluralized, since the good food has continued into Christmas day itself. I prepared omelet (p36) made with a little home-brewed rye beer and Tabasco, with fresh-grated Parmesan. I used twice as much Parm as called for, and should have used twice as much as that.

Of course, the cheese was grated with our stainless-steel box grater, a heavy investment when we purchased it years ago, but the last grater we will ever need. And we were able to inaugurate our whimsical cow cutting board (made of bamboo), sent for Christmas by none other than Lori, our beloved COW (Cousin Of Wisconsin). We were just realizing that ours should be a three-cutting-board kitchen, and then this arrived. Of course, cheese was its first project! The eyeglasses are another part of essential kitchen gear -- two twisted up for regular use, they stay in the kitchen so we can consult recipes without foraging in the rest of the house for glasses.
But the omelets were nice and light -- saving appetite for Pam's famous and delicious lasagna in the evening!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Eggnog Muffins

Today's recipe is in honor of my friends Anna and Rachel. Anna died earlier this year due to complications from breast cancer. The cookbook, Granny's Muffin House came from her kitchen. She gave it to me about two years ago, insisting that I loaned it to her, and she was just returning it. I told her I had never seen the cookbook before, but in her usual stubborn way would not let me leave without it. This is the first time I've used it. Rachel is a co-worker who just returned from a very long sick leave. We always have coffee together on work days. I told her when she returned I would have exceptional coffee for her, and make some muffins. I am so happy she is back. She gives this recipe two thumbs up.

Granny's Muffin House is conveniently divided into seasons, so that bakers can find recipes with ingredients that are seasonal. I opened right to the Winter section, and found the recipe for eggnog muffins. We had a bit of eggnog (3/4 c.) left from our recent Crescent Ridge Dairy Farm delivery, which turned out to be just enough for this recipe which also calls for 2 c. flour; 1 T. baking powder; 1/2 t. salt; 2/3 c. sugar; 1 egg; 1/3 c. melted butter; 1/4 c. rum and some nutmeg for sprinkling on top. Baking was at 400 degrees in the convection oven for 16 minutes. I don't think I've ever made a batch of muffins that called for a tablespoon of baking powder, and these turned out to have tall peaks.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Easy Salmon

A couple of days ago we decided to have some salmon that was recently delivered from our new dairy. We were to have it alongside one of our family favorites, mashed potato casserole (detailed below). I turned, as we often do, to our well-worn Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. As we've noted before, this book is the simplest in famed series of books from a famed vegetarian restaurant, but it includes a section on fish.

The recipe is described as teriyaki. It calls for soy sauce, but I substituted Worcestershire sauce, which I boiled briefly with some minced, fresh ginger. I strained the ginger and mixed it with sherry, sugar, and minced garlic. The recipe had called for Chinese cooking wine, rice wine, or dry sherry. Sweet sherry did not seem to do any harm, though! I simply soaked the fish in this mixture for about 45 minutes, while Pam made the potato casserole, and then pan-seared it in our indispensable cast-iron skillet. The result was flaky and tender on the inside, sweet and crispy on the outside -- a simple and delicious way to prepare salmon.

This worked very well with the casserole mentioned above, which Pam prepared in the usual Hayes-Bohanan way. She mashed potatoes -- leaving the skins on and blending with some butter and plain yogurt. Then she layered it in a deep baking dish with steamed greens (frozen this summer from our CSA) and topped it all with freshly-shredded sharp Cabot cheddar cheese. This is one of our household's favorite comfort foods, and was appreciated by our daughter, who had just arrived home for the holidays.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Having a Three-Way

Although eating a three-way sounds more like a scene from The Slutcracker than a respectable lunch, it may be the most popular lunch item in painfully straight-laced Cincinnati. In May of 1990 we were at the Contemporary Arts Center on the morning of its infamous arrest on obscenity charges, and the NC-17 rating was introduced the same year, arguably in part because of the prudishness of the Cincinnati Post. So it was jarring to hear the respectable local citizenry routinely seeking a "three way" at lunch time, and to hear such things advertised on television and radio, and so far from Las Vegas.

As you may have guessed by now, the Cincinnati Three Way is nothing more than a popular lunch item. It is, in fact, the ultimate comfort food of the Queen City. Throughout this week, we have been fortunate to have a variety of foods, from our own kitchen and elsewhere, in abundance. So after a lunch of leftovers, we still had plenty for dinner. I had committed to building some sort of casserole on the excess linguine I inadvertently made when reprising my Linguine Valenzana (this time with saffron and without tomato sauce). But then I had a sizable tray of chili and a HUUUGE tray of cheese sauce leftover from a catered luncheon at school yesterday.

Thus Pam's brilliant suggestion that we make recreate Skyline Chili's most famous dish. It turned out pretty well, actually, and was well paired with our rye home brew, though as far as we know the Cincinnati chain does not offer beer with its chili.



A perfect meal for us would be delicious, nutritious, sustainable, and cheap. Few meals can meet all of these criteria, and lately we've settled on too many that emphasize delicious over all the others. But this meal was certainly cheap -- almost free, really. And though as a product of the corporate catering food system it was probably not very sustainable not in terms of the sourcing of ingredients, it did have this virtue. We reduced waste by having a meal of food that would probably have been discarded otherwise. That chili is all gone, and I imagine our daughter will be happy to help us with that cheese sauce! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Three Sweet Words

As I wrote in the Tortilla Heaven post nearly a year ago, at the beginning of this project, The Well-Filled Tortilla is among my very favorite cookbooks. Often, when scanning our collection for a new recipe, I will grab this volume, even if I also take another from the shelf. It is organized by the main filling ingredients -- veggies, chicken, beef, seafood. This weekend, I started near the end and found a few favorites we had made recently. I was also surprised by the number of seafood entries, which I had not really noticed. I was especially surprised by the illustration of how to dissect a squid, which I found somehow unsettling.

I kept thumbing toward the middle of the book, when three words jumped out at me. Three words that I cannot believe I had not noticed together: tequila, sausage, and mole. (I always feel obligated to stipulate that mole is not a rodent in this context, but a savory, sweet sauce: mol-AY. The words were especially intriguing because we had a half jar of mole sauce left over from our recent Champadongo ecstasy.

This recipe (Tequila Sausage with Chocolate Mole Sauce, p 108) actually called for me to make sausage, but not in the gruesome way one might imagine. Rather, I simply mixed a pound of ground pork with minced garlic, rubbed sage, fennel seeds, cayenne, salt, and tequila. The recipe called for 2-1/2 pounds, but for just the two of us, a pound was more than enough. I cut back a bit on each of the other ingredients, except the tequila. Rather than prepare and cook it right away, I let it meld in the fridge overnight, so that the spices and tequila were absorbed.

Dinner this evening was then quite simple -- steam a couple soft tortillas (30 seconds in the microwave, rolled up in waxed paper), heated the mole sauce in a saucepan (though I guess a molepan would do), and then cooked the sausage with a bit of oil in a hot cast-iron skillet. I cooked the sausage until crispy, meanwhile chopping a cold tomato. The result: hot, spicy, sweet, salty, and not too heavy. Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Wait is Over!

Chicken in Rose Petal Sauce
Our November 1 post about Jersusalem artichokes gave a teaser about a new blog Pam's class was creating based on recipes from the novel and film Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). We continued the stroking with our November 18 post on Champadongo Magic. The blog "Como Agua Para Chocolate Recetas" is now up and ready with photographs, recipes and commentary. Like the "Nueva Receta" blog, although the title is in Spanish, the posts are in English. However, we did happen upon another blog of the same title, that is written in Spanish, but it does not appear to be based on the story.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If Elvis and Paula Dean Had a Baby, This Sandwich Would Be It

June 2013 Update: Anybody finding this post after the Paula Deen scandal might be interested in a provocative essay about Deen on the Dangerous Minds blog. Richard Metzger's screed references earlier Deen scandals and asserts that a combination of factors led to the speed of her fall from celebrity. Much more constructive and instructive is an Open Letter to Paula Deen from Southern food blogger Michael Twitty, who uses her fall from grace as an opportunity to educate all of us about broader patterns of culinary injustice. Meanwhile, WBUR blogger Caryl Rivers suggests that the Deen story is a distraction from real concerns about race.

I uttered the sentence above at the first bite of this evening's sandwich bomb. We knew it as an Elvis Sandwich, based on our September viewing of Sandwiches You Will Like. (We thought that film would be trouble, and we were right!) But the sheer decadence of this sandwich put me immediately in mind of Paula Deen. Since I mainly know her from occasional NPR segments, rather than print or television, I decided to check the spelling on her web site. Finding the above teaser as the banner at the top of the main page confirmed my inkling that this might have been her kind of sandwich.

The recipe from Peanut Butter and Company in New York City is quite simple: fry bacon, butter bread. Put one slice of bread on a hot griddle, spread with peanut butter, top with banana slices, top that with bacon, and apply the other piece of buttered toast. Grill until brown on the outside and melty on the inside. It is a simple recipe, but not entirely an easy one, as applying peanut butter over a hot griddle to buttered bread is rather a sticky prospect. The term "hot mess" seems to apply.

By the way, we used Cabot butter from Vermont, yogurt bread made in the bread machine by Pam this afternoon (that's Stonyfield yogurt, of course, again from Vermont), rather ordinary bananas as we found no fair-trade types at the grocery this time, and bacon from Nodine's Smoke House, purchased at the nearby Peaceful Meadows dairy store. We love bacon and would eat it all the time were it not bad for us and even worse for the pigs. So we eat it infrequently and from the highest-quality, most local sources we can, instead of factory farms.

We let the bread cool thoroughly and I sliced it as thinly as I reasonably could, but as with all our bread-machine bread, it provided ample heft for these sandwiches. As Pam arrived home from her recorder lesson, the bacon and all the other sandwich makings were ready; I had even preheated the griddle. So the following progression took only about five minutes, ending with sandwiches that were golden-brown outside and gooey inside.

I kept them on the griddle long enough to pack them down a bit. Then I cut them in half (sailboat-style) and served them with chilled, pure apple sauce from Hanson Farm. And a lot of milk, just as Elvis might have done! We agreed that they were far tastier than expected, but also far more filling. Next time, a single sandwich will do for the two of us!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fish of Distinction

At the 2008 annual meeting of Massachusetts Colleges Online, I was honored to receive the organization's teaching award, the Course of Distinction Award, better known as COD. Somebody put considerable thought into the naming of the award, which recognizes online instruction in one course from each member institution each year. The keynote speaker that first year the award was given spun a marvelous tale (or tail) filled with allusions, puns, and imagery related to Gadus morhua.

I was delighted that in addition to the recognition, I received a Boston-area prize with a family connection: a ceramic Gurgling Cod from the Boston jewelers Shreve, Crump & Low. The Shreves must be distant cousins on my mother's side, and a Sacred Cod, after all, adorns the chamber in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and our most prominent peninsula bears its name. Author Mark Kurlansky explains the importance of the fish -- particularly in our region -- in his brief and wonderfully geographic work Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

This is all by way of explaining why, when we arrived at Fresh Catch in Easton to select a couple fillets for this evening's dinner, I did not hesitate to suggest the fresh, wild-caught cod. Though it was not cheap, it was available, and though it once was a staple common as lobster, it is now relatively rare, something for a special occasion.

The special occasion was our first use of Bruce Carlson's Cooking Seafood and Poultry with Wine, a palm-sized delight that we picked up in the beautiful shop at Sakonnet Vineyards a few weeks ago, during our months-long transect of the Coastal Wine Trail. When Pam suggested that we actually use the book that has been bouncing around these past few weeks -- in keeping with the purpose of this blog -- I agreed, and we simply turned pages from the beginning until we saw something that looked feasible with moderate effort today. (As I wrote in July, I am still not altogether confident in my seafood cooking abilities.)

Poached fish on page 28 seemed just the thing for today, especially since a few of the ingredients were already on hand. The first step was to buy Chablis, which we had not purchased in years. The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of this or some other white table wine, but where a recipe mentions a specific wine, I usually try to find it. This was itself educational. Stopping by one of our favorite local shops -- Russo's -- we started to browse and were not seeing the Chablis. The clerk -- who I think knows me as a slightly-above-novice wine buyer offered to help us find what we were after, and could not suppress a grin when we asked for Chablis. He pointed to the section where the pedestrian wines are kept, the ones in bottles 1.5 liters and larger. Then I understood -- the large bottles, low prices. Since we've started getting more wine at places like Sakonnet and Westport Rivers, we had not spent much time with table wines, and we never really understood that the Chablis varietal in general is associated with these wines. Incidentally, it was a bit sweet and simple compared to local wines we've been drinking lately, but it was certainly a good accompaniment to this dinner.

Oh, yes, the dinner: After the shopping expedition -- saving on the wine and going to a budget grocery for many other items, so that splurging on the critical ingredient cod was not a budget-buster -- we set about preparing what turned out to be a marvelous fish. I finely diced a half of an onion we had on hand (the recipe calls for one small, which seemed close enough) and spread it on a couple layers of foil, which were in turn on a backing sheet. (The recipe calls for heavy-duty foil, but we used regular stuff, with a second layer just in case of leakage.) I then spread the two beautiful fillets over the onion, close together. The recipe suggests 1.5 pounds; I had about 1.8 pounds in the two fillets. Carlson suggests that if the fillets are very thin, they should be rolled up and held with toothpicks, but these wild cod were plenty thick.

Then I dotted a small amount of butter on the fillets and sprinkled on the remaining minced onion, some chopped parsley, ground black pepper and a little salt. Then, careful to form a package around all this with the foil, I poured 3/4 cup of Chablis over the fish, folded over the foil to make a cooking pouch. I then baked the whole assembly for 20 minutes at 375 (slightly faster, actually, in the convection oven). Then I started to prepare a very simple pasta dish -- fettuccine with a bit of olive oil and Parmesan.

As the baking of the fish neared completion, I prepared a roux of 3 T butter and 3 T flour. When I brought out the fish, I formed a spout of one end of the foil package (a bit of a trick, but if I can do it, anybody can) and poured the wine/fish liquid into the measuring cup. I then let the fish rest while I whisked the liquid into the roux. Then I added a half cup of light cream and over medium heat briskly whisked it until I had a fairly thick sauce, adding a few drops of lemon juice at the end. (Thankfully Pam helped with a lot of the preparation and handling, so that I could focus on the right heat and whisking for the sauce.)

The next tricky part was re-configuring the foil into a sort of box so that I could pour the sauce over the fish. I did not want the parsley and onion to be swashed over to one side, so I poured the sauce over an inverted spoon to keep it even. Then I sprinkled the whole thing with a generous portion of freshly-grated Parmesan (yes, Parmesan in the main course and the side dish) and placed it under the broiler for just 3-4 minutes. I am nervous about broiling and brought this out when it was not quite as browned as I might have liked, but the result was fabulous -- just a bit of golden caramelization on the top, rich creamy and flavorful fish in the middle, and just a bit of crunchy, pungent onion underneath. It went very well with the simple pasta, which did not need a real sauce of its own.

This recipe made enough for at least four people, and will definitely be in our "company's coming" repertoire from now on.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Franksgiving Tradition

Our friend Korin and her family celebrate Wanksgiving -- a Wednesday-Thanksgiving feast since she is nurse who is always on hospital duty for Thanksgiving (which is conveniently held on Thursday; if it were a Monday holiday it would be Manksgiving, which makes no sense). Anyway, when we saw her briefly yesterday (the rest of her family joined us for a second celebration), we started to discuss today, which unfortunately is known is Black Friday. We decided to call it Franksgiving, and thus the name of our post for a hash that has become our traditional morning-after breakfast.
Food photography is a special skill, which I do not possess.
Trust me: the hash is better than it looks!
We are cheating the "Nueva Receta" concept a bit, as we open the recipe book each year for this, but our excuse is that it is too good not to share with our readers. Plus, we did use a new way to make coffee. I coarsely ground some coffee prior to starting the hash, so that I could prepare the coffee while the hash cooked.

Pam peeled two sweet potatoes (a small and a medium). I cut them into large chunks and steamed them (in a steamer basket set over a small amount of water in a saucepan) for ten minutes, just to soften them. Meanwhile, in our indispensable cast-iron skillet I sauteed a finely chopped onion and some bell pepper (we usually keep some chopped frozen peppers on hand for just this kind of thing) in butter, and somewhat smothered them with cumin and black pepper.

I then added a cup or so of diced turkey leftover from yesterday. We had never really noticed that our recipe calls for smoked turkey, and Pam commented that we were fortunate that this year our turkey actually was smoked. For the first time, our friend Rob and I had cooked a huge local turkey on his Weber grill. He is a wood-worker who happened to have a few nice slats of oak with which to smoke the bird at the end. Once I had browned the turkey and the onions were translucent, I diced the softened potatoes and added them.

Then I started the coffee, made a whole new way. It was actually a couple months ago that we became convinced to try a vacuum pot, which is said to make even better coffee than a French press. Once our Bodum Santos (since renamed PEBO) arrived, however, it looked a bit complicated, and something that would require a bit of extra care the first time.

Of course, Franksgiving is the perfect extra-time day! Armed with the succinct manufacturer's directions and an instructional video from I Drink Coffee. The video was not quite as instructive as I had hoped regarding the placement of the filter, but we had enough information to proceed. (The video is good, but please see several caveats at the end of this article.)

While the hash was cooking down, with confidence gained from seeing the demonstration online, I started to boil the water in the lower chamber while the coffee waited in the top. Then I cracked some eggs onto the hash and covered it, while the water boiled. After a few minutes, the water started to work its way into the bottom of the upper chamber, mixing with the ground coffee. Once the water quit rising, we let it steep for another minute or so (as suggested in the video). Once we removed it from the heat source, the pressure-differential (erroneously called a "vacuum") was reduced, and the coffee drained back into the lower vessel. This show alone is worth the trouble!

By this time, our ciabatta (grocery store variety, left over from our own Wanksgiving dinner) was toasted and the eggs were poached atop the crispy hash. Actually, the coffee distracted me slightly, so that the egg yolks were a bit harder than I might have liked. The overall result, though was very satisfying -- warm, crunchy, soft,  sweet, savory, and nutritious all at the same time. The coffee was fantastic, though as Pam suggested this might remain a weekend and holiday treat, as it is a bit time-consuming compared to French press. As suggested in the video, the sweetness was really brought out, and the brew had no sediment. As Pam said, there was not a trace of bitterness. The coffee was a highly decent but not exceptional blend -- the fair-trade, organic Vermont Country Blend from GMCR -- and tasted better this way than any other time I have had it. I cannot wait to try it with the next batch of single-origin coffee, which I expect from El Salvador in the next couple days.

Here are those caveats about the coffee video. In the video, Mr. Slawek suggests putting the pot on a "cold" surface after boiling, but of course Bodum warns against that, and he did not actually put his pot on a cold surface after all, but a soft, room-temperature surface. He also suggests putting the burner on "high" to boil the water; that advice applies to the small burner he was using, but would have burned the handle if I did that with our superburner. Another do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do piece has to do with removing the pot from the flame. This is about one minute after most of the water has risen to the top. If all of the water were to somehow be removed from the bottom, the whole thing would shatter. One minute or so after the water stops rising is fine, and thankfully it is not likely to boil completely away. Finally, Mr. Slawek pours the coffee into plastic cups, which of course undermines much of the benefit of better brewing.

Oatmeal Spice Bread-Fail!

Back in May, I committed to using my bread machine at least once a week, and I have to admit, I have not kept up with that very well. I do use it more than I had been in the last few years, but hardly once a week. Freshly recommitted after having read William Alexander's book, 52 Loaves which documents the author's quest for the perfect loaf through baking one loaf a week, by hand, in a real oven, I figured it really shouldn't be that hard to find time to use a bread machine, for goodness sake. Last Sunday I selected Oatmeal Spice Bread from the Gold Medal New Bread Machine Cookbook which tell the baker to "greet the morning with fabulous French toast made from this sugar and spice bread." Who could resist. This sweetbread calls for brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Yum. I had to use my kitchen math to adjust the recipe to fit into my 1 pound machine, so I am not sure if I miscalculated something, or selected the wrong setting on the machine, or perhaps left out some important ingredient, but this was not bread in any sense of the word. When it machine beeped I opened to lid to find an unrisen square of doughy substance at the bottom of the pan. When I removed the "bread" from the pan I discovered it was about 2" thick, and when I cut into it found it not cooked. I had to throw the mess away. At least the house smelled good for a few hours.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Champandongo Magic

Hispanic Kitchen
We did not even know there was a contest, but the winner has been chosen. The best casserole in the world is -- without doubt -- Champandongo. Much of this blog is about eating healthy, local, environmental-friendly food. This post is a bit of departure -- a cross-cultural culinary experience that is pure indulgence.

This particular experience began almost two decades ago, when we saw the film Como Agua Para Chocolate in an art theater in Tucson. Around the same time, Pam read the book, whose title in English is Like Water for Chocolate, referring to a temperature -- literal and figurative -- just below boiling. More recently, Pam showed the film to her Spanish 101 students.

Laura Esquivel's story is that of Tita, whose love of cooking is intertwined with her forbidden love for her brother-in-law, Pedro. Every twist of the plot turns on food, whether it is the longing induced by teardrops in a wedding cake or the burning of the loins engendered by chicken in rose-petal sauce. The magic in this tale of magic realism comes from the food, so Pam assigned her students recipes from the book, which they prepared, wrote about, and then shared at a gathering in our home last week. (This aspect of the assignment seemed a bit odd for an 8:00 a.m. class, but the food was so delicious that we hardly noticed we were eating a rich and savory dinner for breakfast.)
Chicken with rose-petal sauce:
Best shared with someone you love.
Most of the dishes were familiar to us, but the champandongo is a lesser character in the story, known only as a fancy meal Tito serves on a special occasion to a fiance she does not love. It is based on mole (pronounced MOL-lay) sauce, a complex concoction of chocolate, sesame, and chiles that we knew from our long-ago summer in Puebla. Unlike highland mole that is simply ladled over roasting poultry, however, the champandongo incorporates the sauce as one of many ingredients in what is most comparable to lasagna. We were very impressed with the example prepared by Pam's students, particularly since one of the team who made it is a vegetarian but nonetheless went to the trouble to prepare the mole from scratch, something that not even we have attempted. He did not get to experience what turned out to be quite a satisfying meal, and one that inspired us to follow up with our own version.

Pam found the recipe on Hispanic Kitchen -- a delightful social network for foodies. The recipe is fairly simple and clearly written, though a couple of the ingredients are a bit tricky. Most confounding at first was the Manchego cheese, a sheep's-milk cheese from the part of Spain from which Quixote's Man of La Mancha got his name. This was available from our local grocery store, and resembles Parmesan but with a sweeter flavor. We took a short cut on the mole sauce, using about half a jar (about three times what the recipe calls for) of the Trader Joe's version.

The result is pure indulgence -- cheesy, complex, sweet, and spicy all at the same time. What completed the experience was a perfect wine pairing. The recipe suggests a "smoky red wine," so we decided to try one of two red wine we recently purchased on the Coastal Wine Trail. Good red wines are rare in New England, where the growing season is too short for them to develop, but we had recently encountered two. Of these, we are saving Sakonnet's the peppery Cabernet Franc for a steak dinner, so we chose the 2006 Elms Meritage from Greenvale by default. Imagine our delight when we read the tasting notes: "wonderful aromas of berry, smoke and subtle spice."

A meal perfectly paired with its wine, and
even the glasses match!

No Recipe Potato Chicken Chowda

Most of November has been quite warm here in Massachusetts. One might say "unseasonably" so, but based on the last 10 years or so, I would say, it has become, rather disturbingly, pretty normal. Anyway, yesterday the weather actually turned cold, and grey, and so it seemed that chowder season was finally upon us. I took the opportunity to make use the last chicken breast that was in our freezer, along with the organic yukon gold potatoes we purchased recently to prepare some comfort food for my sweetheart and me. I have made a lot of chowders before, so I figured I'd done it enough that I could create my own. After defrosting the chicken breast I diced it into small pieces and cooked them in my indespensible cast iron skillet in a bit of canola oil. Meanwhile, I boiled 2 cups of water and dissolved two teaspoons of "better than boullion" into it. To this I added 2 cups of lowfat milk, the cooked chicken, 5 small peeled and diced potatoes, a diced onion, a minced garlic clove, a bay leaf, and a bit of sage, salt and pepper. Once it boiled I turned it down to simmer and let it cook while I prepared Deborah Madison's buttermilk biscuits (except I substituted plain yogurt for the buttermilk). During the last few minutes of soup simmering I added some greens that I'd frozen during our CSA season.  Everything turned out just as I hoped. The chowder was warm and creamy with a lot of texture and flavor, the biscuits were perfectly browned, and the company was sparkling. The only thing that could make this any better would be a couple of bottles of home brew. Luckily, we had some!

I'm looking forward to enjoying the leftover soup and biscuits for my lunch today.

Oddly, I'm looking forward to reading this...

An unpublished food autobiography of the company's founder, Colonel Harland Sanders, was discovered in KFC's archival storage facility.
Earlier this month, a KFC employee found Colonel Sanders original "food autobiography" in the company's archives. According to this press release, the document tells of Sanders' passion for "home style cooking" and hard work. One can only imagine what he would say about the KFC Famous Bowl. Here is something I would never consider cooking at home. Blech.
Mashed Potato Bowl

Monday, November 14, 2011

Melty Tuna Melty

As Pam noted in the "Best Tuna Melt" section of her New Jersey entry on Celebrating the States, my usual open-mindedness with respect to food (and most other things, other than Dunkin' Donuts), generally fails me when it comes to tuna. I do not eat tuna salad unless I am at home, and then only if I have made it or a trusted family member has made it under my supervision. For me, incidentally, it is not really a "salad" since it only has tuna, mayo, and ground black pepper.

As Pam rightly predicted in that same entry, my willingness to eat -- and even enjoy -- a tuna melt in which the tuna was polluted with celery and onions did not mean I had turned over a new leaf in this area of gastronomy. Strict limits are still in place. (Sorry to call onion a pollutant -- in its proper place, of course, I love it! Its proper place is anywhere but tuna salad.)

The bottom line, I suppose, is that I have some issues with the preparation of tuna. I rarely prepare tuna melts, but for some reason today I had a hankering for them, and arriving home for lunch just a few minutes ahead of Pam, I decided to surprise her with one (one each, that is).

I made tuna "salad" in my conventional way -- a can of tuna in water (squeezing the water in our dog's food dish -- all of our dogs have loved that) with a minimal mix of reduced-calorie mayonnaise (Hellman's: let's not even talk about Miracle Whip, since this is a family blog) and fresh-ground black pepper. I grilled this on regular whole wheat sandwich bread with freshly shredded Cabot cheeses (Monterrey Jack and extra sharp cheddar), in the style of grilled cheeses about which we've been blogging of late.

Nothing terribly innovative so far, except that this is the first tuna melt I have made since we got grilled-cheese religion, and I stacked the shredded cheese as high as it would go, giving it plenty of time to melt down before flipping the sandwiches.

Here is the innovation, though: on my own sandwich, I added a couple tablespoons of what I call "hots" -- jarred, crushed red pepper. I often order this on deli sandwiches, but never thought to get it for home use until I recently noticed it on a grocery shelf. In this case, it is Gouveia brand, imported to New Bedford from the Azores (an Atlantic archipelago that is part of Portugal).

I would never have thought to blog about this, because it was a simple recipe, but Pam pointed out that we have not posted much lately, so to keep up a weekly pace, I should mention it. Though the meal (which included milk, tortilla chips, and canned peaches with cinnamon) was not fancy, it did meet the main criteria for lunch: nutritious, delicious, easy and cheap!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Market To Market

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, dancing a jig;
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog;
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog;
To market, to market, to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.

So wrote Mother Goose, and generations have had this jingle stuck in their heads. So when Rick Sebak and his team from WQED-Pittsburgh decided to make a paean to public markets throughout the United States, they chose the opening line as both their title and a bit of a quest.

I watch a lot of films about the geography of food and teach many aspects of it in my classes. The films that show what is wrong -- drastically wrong, criminally wrong -- with our food systems are important and sometimes even enjoyable. This film is different and quite important, as it leads by example. 

To Market To Market to Buy a Fat Pig is a pure celebration of that which is most right about food in the United States. (See Netflix listing -- available in streaming format.) The film explores farmers' markets in nine of these United States. The markets differ in all the ways that markets vary. Some are recent inventions while others have enjoyed a century of continuous operation. Some attract dozens of shoppers; others thousands. Some operate in fixed buildings every day of the week; others are set up in tents on city streets. Some are supplied only by local, organic farms; some include seafood; some include a lot of food pre-packaged or prepared on the premises.

In our own community, a small group of residents have worked over the past years to build and sustain Bridgewater Farmers Market. Results have been a robust mix of successes and difficult lessons, but the market seems close to a critical mass of both vendors and shoppers. As the film makes clear, no single model is appropriate to every community, and Bridgewater continues to work toward a model that will serve this community well.
Farmers markets are about getting closer to one's food, those who produce it, and others who happen to care. In a good market, we can find out more about that food and the conditions under which it is grown, fed, or caught. Several markets in the film offer seafood, as did our Bridgewater market for a few weeks this summer. Markets also encourage cooking -- the actual preparation of food from ingredients -- which we find making a bit of a comeback as the economy tightens and people look for ways to improve their lives while saving money.

I am proud to be playing a small part in the cultivation of a farmers' market in my own town, and equally proud that a young person who once studied coffee with me is now well-known as the manager of one of the most successful markets in the Boston area, the Union Square Farmers Market in Somerville.

Educators who wish to show this video to their classes may find my viewing companion (Word format) useful. Feel free to adapt to your own class, and please notify me if you do so.

Home Cookin'

Last Sunday, Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur comic shares a curmudgeonly view of cooking at home. Indeed, a lot of what is "cooked" in homes is merely heated up by legions of "box food people." I am happy to report, however, that a growing number of young people are interested in cooking.

This very morning, Pam's Spanish class is converging on our house to share dishes they created in relation to their study of Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). Last week, students attending a Real Food Challenge event at BSU brought a fabulous assortment of dishes they created themselves.

When I asked students in my introductory environmental geography class how many of them (or their parents) grow at least some food at home, about 2/3 raised their hands, and many beamed as they listed the home produce. In the film To Market, To Market to Buy a Fat Pig, one of the market managers explains that his goal is to encourage home cooking.

Dining out is still enjoyable, of course, if it is actual dining. But as a friend who once worked in food service told us, the four major food groups in some restaurants are bags, boxes, bottles, and cans. We've found that all too often, eating out has meant paying much more for boring food than good food would have cost, with the only benefit having been that someone else did the dishes. And with a dishwasher in our kitchen, that is a mighty slim benefit!

So, we find ourselves in restaurants only when it is necessary in order to meet people or get other things done, or when we know that the chef can make something better than we can make it ourselves! We often find ways to avoid the former, and the latter becomes increasingly rare.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Here's the thing about Jerusalem Artichokes...

We just don't really like them. At the end of our CSA season we received a bag of this root vegetable, which had also been included in the early harvest. Our first attempt at making them palatable can be found here. Over the weekend I decided to try a recipe suggested on Colchester Farm's own blog and followed the instructions for the Cherokee Spiced Jerusalem Artichokes. I thought perhaps since the recipe calls for honey the sweetness might make them more to my liking. These need to marinated for several hours before serving, so I prepared them right after church on Sunday, and then James and I went to a play, and then did some shopping for a project my Spanish class is doing (stay tuned for links to recipes and other information about Like Water for Chocolate!) As we were finishing the shopping James mentioned how looking at all the good ethnic food had made him hungry. And I, without enthusiasm replied, "well, we have that jerusalem artichoke salad to look forward to when we get home." At which point he suggested we let it marinate another day, and that we order a pizza instead. So, finally, on Monday we served the 'chokes, along with some chicken breasts in mango sauce. "They aren't horrible," said I. "They're weird" answered James. This was the best we could say about them. I did finish my serving, but James, who took about 1/2 what I did, left some on his plate with a sarcastic remark about his eyes being bigger than his tummy. Later in the evening I was reminded of something we were told the first time we had them: that they were a "gassy vegetable." Right. Next season I think we will skip them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pho Fame

In our recent Faux Pho post, we described how and why we made pho, the traditional noodle dish of Vietnam. Little did we know that our creation would become locally and briefly famous, as part of a photo essay on a pho-noodle lunch at the Bridgewater Public Library. Our trusty, wedding-present crock pot received a bit of media limelight as well!
The event was organized by the Bridgewater One Book One Community committee as part of a series of events related to the reading of John Shor's Dragon House. Bridgewater Independent reporter/photographer Charlene McNeil beautifully captures the event, in which Anh Nguyen described her life in Vietnam, her flight just ahead of the fall of Saigon, and her life in the United States since 1975. As the photos reveal, the audience was mesmerized by the life of this delightful and unassuming woman.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A New Cocktail that I just Invented

Take the fruit of 1/2 of a rather small watermelon, remove seeds and put in blender. Add the juice of 1/2 a lime, a handful of fresh mint leaves, and a jigger of apple schnapps. Blend well. Refreshing.

You Had Me at Gratin

We do have other good cook books, but as readers of this blog have surely noticed by now, Deborah Madison's tome is the Bible of our kitchen. As the name implies, it is full of vegetarian recipes, but they are available to everyone. Of course that is true of all vegetarian recipes, but I think what Madison means is that these are recipes that are so enjoyable that carnivores will not whine about the "sacrifice" they are making by eating lower on the food chain for a meal or two.

Our latest foray began in an interesting way. We had accumulated a few squash and fresh herbs over the past couple weeks, and were looking for an original way to use them. Pam turned to the index of VCE and found something that used the stuff we had -- or reasonable substitutions, such as butternut and pattypan (flying saucer) squash for the zucchini squash specified.

I must say that I consented to the choice Sunday night without looking at it, and in fact on Monday morning I realized that I had failed even to note the name or page number -- Summer Squash, Herb and Rice Gratin on page 286. Fortunately, Pam marked the recipe itself and noted the link back to the B├ęchamel sauce required. Unfortunately, the combination was not going to fit well between the evening's scheduled meetings.

In the end, all was well, as I was able to substitute ingredients and cut corners enough to make the dish fit in our time and ingredient constraints. The shredding of butternut squash is more time-consuming than zucchini, especially since we insist on shredding with our high-karma manual shredder, rather than any kind of electric gizmo. I did the shredding as quickly as I could, in order to give the lightly salted squash a bit of time to drain while I worked on the sauce and cooked the rice.

B├ęchamel sauce is sometimes described simply as "white sauce," but in the case of this recipe the scalded milk is first infused with onions and other herbs. We took a walk on the wild side -- as we so often do -- and just threw in all the herbs we had on hand. The infusion is done simply by scalding the milk with these ingredients and letting the chopped onion and herbs sit in the hot milk. Given the need to hurry, I kept the milk over a very low flame (cooking with gas!) and let it steep for just 5-7 minutes or so.

Here is the tricky bit, which I somehow actually did as instructed: Once I was satisfied that the milk was adequately aromatic, I poured it through a sieve into the bubbling butter-and-flour roux. As I write this, I realize that I could have sieved the milk and then whisked it into the roux, but that's not what Deborah Madison told me to do!

The basic idea of this recipe is to divide this herbish/onionish white sauce into two parts, mixing one part with rice and shredded squash for the bottom of the pan and mixing the other part with shredded Parmesan (see trusty shredder above; it got a work out) as a cheesy top layer. Then the whole thing gets browned in the oven.

"Gratin" means cheese, at least to me, which is why I dove into this recipe, despite my better judgment. The result was good enough that we will try this again, when we have a bit of leisure to do it right. We will refrain from mint, which was interesting but probably not ideal with the other herbs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Watermelon-Lime-Mint-Feta salad

From the ultimate authority on vegetarian cooking, Deborah Madison, comes this unlikely taste treat. We got a small watermelon in a recent CSA pick up, and since James is allergic to them, it was up to me to make sure it got its proper due. I noticed this recipe in Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone while I was looking for a good squash recipe (stay tuned - James will blog about same, soon). I cut up half the watermelon into chunks, squeezed the juice from half a lime, tore up some fresh mint leaves, and a sprinkled a bit of feta plus a dash each of salt and pepper on top. This was quite refreshing, and made a perfect light meal. Total prep time - about 5 minutes (including going to my garden to get the mint). My greatest challenge was spitting out all the seeds. Either eat this alone, or make sure you are among good friends.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Free-Form Apple Pear Cranberry Tart

Free-Form Apple-Pear-Cranberry Tart
photograph from the Cooking Channel.
In last Tuesday's CSA pick up we had a small bag of pears, and on Wednesday this recipe appeared in our local newspaper. Except for the cranberries (and the vanilla ice cream!) we already had the other ingredients, so after a trip to the store we were ready to start baking. We made this together on a beautiful fall evening. Following the instructions, we began with the crust. Things went well, except that I had to dig around in the freezer for a whole stick of butter. Good thing the recipe calls for the butter to be "chilled". Indeed. It also says to use your fingers to mix the dry ingredients with the butter. Uhmmm, no. That's what pastry cutters are for.

We ran into one snafu while making the filling which, in addition to apples, pears, cranberries, calls for 1 teaspoon of orange zest. We each ate an orange for breakfast this morning, so, knowing that we would be making this recipe later, I took the zest off of one before cutting it. I put the zest on a plate and put it in the refrigerator. The zest was to be mixed in with some sugar, cloves and cornstarnstarch, but when I went to get it out it was not in the double-secret spot under the drawer where I left it. James had cleaned out the refrigerator after church and figured, reasonably, that an uncovered hidden plate was one of Paloma's silly leftovers, and since she has been away at school all week, threw it away. No matter, James came up with a great solution: Triple Sec! We sprinkled this over the fruit mixture as a substitute for the zest. Brilliant.

The crust was rolled out into something like a circular shape then placed on parchment on a baking sheet. The filling was added and the sides of the crust folded over top. It was brushed with egg, and sprinkled with sugar and baked. Wow! Was this good - especially served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A damn fine dessert, or, in the immortal words of my father, eating the candles off his second-birthday cake, "mmmm, good pie!"

Monday, October 10, 2011

Faux Pho

Twice a year the Bridgewater One Book One Community steering committee selects a book for a community wide read with programming. This fall the Committee selected Dragon House by John Shors, a novel about Vietnamese Street Children. Two of the main characters in the book, Mai and Mihn, like to eat a noodle soup called pho when they have enough money. The Committee decided to have "Pho for Lunch" as the first of its fall programs. Two different recipes were provided to the Committee members to make for the event. Although the Lunch does not take place until Saturday, I decided I should do a kitchen test, since the recipes looked complicated. I took both recipes, and using elements of each, came up with the following:

3 cups of vegetable stock from cans
4 cups water
2 onions
1 very large garlic clove-minced
1.5 T soy sauce
2 inches of ginger root cut into rounds
1 peeled carrot cut into rounds
a dollop of red wine vinegar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1.5 t brown sugar
2 basil stems
1 stem cilantro
Additonal ingredients:
rice noodles
4 oz. firm tofu - cut into chunks
8 fresh shitake mushroom - chopped
basil leaves
cilantro leaves
scallions - chopped
All broth ingredients went into a soup pot which I boiled and then simmered for about 45 minutes. I strained and discarded solids.
The rice noodles I prepared according to the package. While they were cooking, I stir fried the tofu and mushrooms together.
When the noodles were ready, I divided them into 3 bowls, ladled the broth over, and added the mushroom/tofu mix.
The basil and cilantro leaves, and the chopped scallions were set on the table to use as toppings. James and I added them; Paloma did not.
Final verdict - everyone agreed it was tasty and a good comfort food. The noodles were very difficult to keep on our spoons though. Paloma figured it was meant to be eaten with chopsticks.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cod with Spicy Orange & Black Cherry Sauce & Couscous

From Clean Eating Magazine James found this recipe for Cod with Spicy Orange & Black Cherry Sauce with Couscous. I used tilapia, rather than cod, because we had some on hand. Making this recipe started with a trip to the grocery store to buy the green onions, carrots, black cherry All-Fruit and couscous. I did a lot of chopping and dicing for this recipe, and used many pots, pans, and utensils. The broiling time for the fish was minimal (8 minutes), but the prep work was time intensive. I made a few adjustments to the recipe as written. I skipped the cayenne pepper, and rather than placing a slice of orange with its peel on top of the fish before broiling, I used a grapefruit spoon to scoop out the wedges to top the filets, which necessarily also meant that there was a lot of juice on top as well. It did not adversly affect the fish, and all worked well especially when topped with the sauce. I was not sure about the couscous because I remembered not liking it and was going to use rice instead, but James convinced me that the couscous would be fine. And it was. This was a good, romantic meal with lots of colors, flavors, and textures - visually appealing as well as tasty. We served Chardonnay from Westport Rivers Vineyards with this one.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pan Frances

Who doesn't love French toast? This morning I decided it would be a good idea for a late breakfast (I suppose it could be called brunch), and then I realized we had half a loaf of some rustic white bread left over from the delicious spaghetti dinner Pam made last night.

Full disclosure: this was just a nice loaf from the nearest Trucchi's grocery -- nothing we did ourselves and nothing too fancy. Still, we did give it a little thought, as in spending a few seconds thinking about whether we should use this or use the wheat sandwich bread on hand. I don't know why we hesitated. Not only was half a loaf better than none, half a loaf was just right!

I made a simple batter of three eggs, beaten with an equivalent amount of one-percent milk. I added some pure vanilla and cardamom for flavor and a smidge of baking powder for fluffiness. I then sliced the bread into one-inch slabs and heated up the indispensable cast-iron griddle, melting just a small amount of butter on it. I was a bit concerned as it heated and I caught a whiff of the Old Bay from our most recent crab-cake meal, but in the end this was either not noticeable or blended with the inherent saltiness of the bread.

I noticed that the bread was both firm, so that it did not fall apart in soaking, but also large-pored, so that it did not hold a lot of batter. The crusts were rigid, though, so once the first side had browned, I drizzled just a bit of the batter over the bread, "trapping" some of it in the middle. Quite a bit ran onto the griddle, but nobody was harmed by that. Pam noticed a bit of a custardy center in the final product. We had considered a multi-grain bread last night, but the texture of this white bread was probably better.

And the final product was quite nice, indeed, I must admit. Served with some warmed, local maple syrup (you'll find no Aunt Jemima's in Casa Hayes-Boh), it was just perfect: mostly sweet but a little savory, mostly soft but a little crusty. Cold, organic applesauce and a fresh batch of Sumatran coffee rounded out the meal.

Sometime soon, though, I will prepare a rustic loaf of my own, just for this purpose!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tomatillos -- Muy Local

Photo from What's Cooking America
In her post on sammiches, Pam mentioned our front-yard tomatillo patch and suggested that I write about the salsa I made a few weeks ago. There may be a technical difference between salsa and pico de gallo ("chicken beak"), but in my mind the former has liquid and the latter is just finely-diced solids, more like a relish.

We got our tomatoes planted a bit late this year, it seemed, late enough to realize that groundhogs would be a serious issue, so I created the San Quentin of tomato pens in front of our house. I watched the plants grow, even as various flowers outside the "compound" were chomped to the ground as soon as they sprouted. I knew we had a variety of plants -- as Rob always provides for Pam's late-May birthday, but I was surprised when I realized that they were mostly tomatillos. We eventually concluded that some clever ground hog may have gotten to one of the regular tomatoes.

Although we lived in the Southwest for seven years and ate plenty of tomatillo salsas and picos, I had never actually worked with them before this summer, and had certainly never seen them on the vine. Nor had I given much thought to how the parchment layer gets formed. I had always assumed it was just a layer that grew with the fruit and eventually got pushed off. I was therefore fascinated to see that it was more like a little scrotum (I guess Chinese lantern would be a more polite analogy, but take a look some time and tell me I'm wrong) that emerges overnight and gets filled over the next week or so. When it is full, the fruit is ready.

I harvested a handful, perhaps a bit shy of fully ripe, sharpened a knife and chopped them into fine dice. I added a bit of whatever hot pepper was at hand (could have used a bit more), along with finely-chopped onion. I think that was all. It was amazing! Fresh, local, organic, simple, and delicious! It was a bit tart and so flavorful that I found myself just shoveling it in, sometimes using a spoon so I would not fill up on chips. It is that good.

It also puts me in mind of the pico at a small restaurant I visited last January in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. We went on two consecutive days. The first time, several of us took the pico as a topping. The next day the buffet line ran out of it quickly, as several of us treated it more like an entree. Mine was not nearly as sweet as that one, which was based on sweet, red tomatoes, but until I can return, it was a nice substitute.

Sandwiches that You Will Like

Taking its name from an old sandwich shop slogan, this documentary visits sandwich shops all over the country to find out what is unique and special in America's hometowns. From Beef on Weck in Buffalo, New York; to the Philadelphia Cheesesteak; and the Maid Rite in Marshalltown, Iowa; and many others to the north, south, east and west, we found out all about why some folks take special pride in their hometown flavors. We'd heard of Elvis Presley's favorite sandwich before, grilled banana and peanut butter with bacon, but we watched one being prepared at Peanut Butter and Company in New York City, and now have a true hankerin' to try one. Next time we can get some good bacon it will be put to good use! This is a fun movie to watch, but maybe not so much for vegetarians. With a few exceptions, "a lot of beef" is how I can best sum up the sandwiches featured in this film. The companion website does not include any of the recipes featured in the movie, but it offers an opportunity to purchase a cookbook, and provided one "teaser" recipe (not found in the film) and so I prepared the "Spiedie" a favorite of locals in Binghamton, New York.

The first thing one must be aware of is that this dish requires a minimum of 24 hours to marinate, so preparation must begin at least one day in advance.

I took a few liberties with the marinade, using red wine vinegar instead of cider vinegar, since we had the former, but not the latter, and I also added tomatillos from our garden, just because I had so many of them. (And, I will take this opportunity to thank my friend Rob for providing me with the tomatillo seedlings from which James has also made a tasty salsa (you should post that, honey) ). I also used fresh basil and mint because we had those in our garden as well. Otherwise, I used the ingredients as listed. I also deviated from the recipe by not putting the meat on skewers, and simply cooked them on our indespensible cast iron griddle. These were served on nice soft hogie rolls with a side of organic mashed potatoes. Delicious.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Around this time each year, we start to dread the eggplant. If cooked to absolute perfection, we find it just tolerable. And we don't know how to cook it to perfection. A few weeks ago, an early specimen came in our farm box, just after our daughter learned that she actually liked eggplant parm from a couple different restaurants. I tried my hand at it, using a salt-and-drain method so it would not be too soggy. I actually got it TOO dry and way to salty! It was passable but not scrumptious.

Then I noticed a Facebook friend at least a thousand miles away was reveling in her ratatouille, and somehow I knew that it involved eggplant. So I asked her for recipes, and she obliged with several. The first was all I needed: If Weapons-Grade Ratatouille would not do it for me, nothing would! Besides, she had gotten the recipe from a recent installment of radio's best cooking show, Lynne Rossetto Kaspar's The Splendid Table. (For a no-cost, no-fat culinary indulgence, just listen to this radio program some time!)

I looked at the recipe at least a dozen times before preparing it, partly to assess the ingredients list and partly to brace myself for the battle to come! I was put in mind of Lori Petty in the 1995 cult classic Tank Girl. Was I up to the challenge? Would this end up being just another stew, or would it live up to the bold adjectives Francis Lam ladles on the recipe as posted in Salon?

By working almost entirely with local ingredients (substituting fat, local scallions for the leeks and dried thyme for fresh), and cooking the pureed peppers and tomatoes even longer than Lam suggested, I think I made a very decent first showing. Because of my teaching schedule today, I completed steps 1-3 around noontime, and started on step 4 almost four hours later. Even with the convection oven, it took a while to get the small-dice eggplant and squash as brown as I wanted, but it was worth the wait.

The result was a very satisfying contrast of flavors and textures, especially when topped with just a sprinkling of extra-sharp Vermont cheese.

As I readied myself for this endeavor, being only familiar with the dish in vague terms related to the Disney film of the same name, Pam mentioned that the witty, delightful, and famously rotund children's author Daniel Pinkwater had mentioned this dish as part of his weight-loss program. Indeed, it is the second step of a three-step program by which he lost roughly 50 pounds. He offers a flexible recipe, but I will stick with Mr. Lam's version, as Mr. Pinkwater combines two words that I never like to see in the same sentence: "eggplant" and "soft." Other than that, I'm going to be doing my best to take his advice!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Stuffed Tomatoes

There is nothing like tomato season. I am glad tomatoes are available year-round, but there is nothing like the fruit of the late summer - so full of flavor and texture it almost seems crimnal to add anything to them. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist this recipe from last Wednesday's Brockton Enterprise. I began by scooping out the middle from two large tomatoes, bought at the Bridgewater farmer's market, and setting them in a small baking dish. I cooked up some sausage I bought from Brown Boar farm; and added onion and garlic from our farm box, along with rosemary, oregano, toast and vegetable broth. When the mixture had cooked down, I stuffed the tomatoes with it, and cooked at 400 for 20 minutes. Then the tomatoes were topped with shredded mozarella and baked another few minutes to melt. These were colorful, juicy, and flavorful.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Not Your Diner's" Chicken Salad

In diners and delis, of course, chicken salad is a cold salad consisting mostly of chicken chunks held together with mayo with perhaps a bit of celery. It is served in a sandwich or on top of a couple slices of lettuce. Pam sometimes orders this in diners, but I rarely do, being innately resistant to any mayonnaise salad that was not made by me or a close family member. It's just a thing I have.

At Casa Hayes-Boh, "chicken salad" means something very different. It would be more aptly called "salad chicken" since it is mostly salad, with just a bit of chicken. We prepare this fairly often, so it is not exactly "una nueva receta" for us, but it might be new to some readers.

I suppose it is inspired by the commonly-offered "chicken Cesar salad" that we see in many restaurants, but somehow this is a bit more special. It varies a bit each time, with yesterday's salad coming together particularly well. Here is what we did:

The salad base was lettuce, a cuke, and a few assorted greens from our Colchester CSA. We added a huge tomato we had just purchased at the Bridgewater Farmers Market, parsley from the grocery and some basil from the pots on our porch.

To this we added one chicken breast -- I marinated it in margarita mix (any citrus juice would do), Worcestershire sauce, and Seagram's 7 (any inexpensive whiskey would do). With a tiny bit of canola oil, I seared the chicken over high heat, and then cut it in the pan -- of course it was an indispensable cast-iron skillet!

We put this on top of the salad and tossed with a generous dose of Pam's famous dressing:
3 parts canola oil and one part each of balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and local honey. This is tastier, healthier, and less expensive  than most commercial dressings.

We paired this with a 2009 Riesling from Westport Rivers. If you are trying this at home, however, we must advise that German Rieslings are unlikely to work; South Coast Reislings -- especially those from Westport Rivers -- are semi-semi-dry, not cloyingly sweet.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Company Rice and Beans

Another recipe from the wonderful Jane Brody's Good Food Book. We were able to use some of our CSA farm box bounty in this delicious dish - which I must say is suitable for company.

We used up every grain of the rice we had left in the house to make this. The recipe calls for 3 cups of cooked rice, which means 1 cup dry rice, and 2 cups of water. We knew we had rice in several different containers and hoped that the small amounts we found in each would equal a cup when added together. The goddess was with us as we watched the last of the rice top off the 1 cup measurement. While the rice cooked I gathered the ingredients for the beans, which included onion, garlic, tomatoes, what I thought was a zucchini, fresh oregano, and one can of black beans. Starting with the chopped onions in my indespensable cast iron skillet, I cooked them until soft, then added the minced garlic. Tomaotes, of several colors (red, orange, yellow) were chopped and added, and then I cut into the zucchini, and discovered it was really a great big cucumber. No worries, that yellow thing from the farm box that looked like a ufo I knew was some sort of  squash so I made an executive chef decision and substituted it. Finally I added the drained black beans (Brody says black, red, or garbanzos all work equally well). I left this to cook on low heat until the squash was soft enough, then served over the rice. Topped with shredded cheddar, this is a visually appealing, as well as appetizing, and healthy dish.