How It All Started

Bob Phillips

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

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Better than Oprah

Turkey and apple are not a traditional pairing, but they are a perfect together. I rarely order omelets in restaurants, for example, but enjoyed a scrumptious turkey-apple-bacon-brie omelet just last week at Duesenbergs in Catonsville. (The coffee was horrific, though!)

As Pam wrote back in February, shredded apple brings a lot of flavor to a turkey burger and greatly improves the texture. My effort yesterday was a further modification of the modified Oprah recipe that Pam made so marvelously in the winter. Starting with a half pound of ground turkey, I added some sliced, local scallion tops, herbed bread crumbs, and half a shredded granny smith apple. I simply mixed these ingredients together and formed the patties. I then heated a little canola oil in our indispensable cast-iron skillet, added the patties, and covered so they would fry and steam at the same time.

After flipping the burgers, I topped each with a generous spoonful of Trappist mango pepper jelly from the monks in Spencer, Massachusetts. I then lowered the heat and we read together for a while so that the burgers would cook through and the jelly would turn to a nice glaze. We put them on soft, multi-grain buns. We knew these would be good, but were not prepared to be overwhelmed by the savory, hot sweetness and amazing texture of these burgers.

We decided that our friend Anna -- who brought us the jelly -- is now responsible for keeping us supplied permanently. Or we might just order it by the case!

These burgers worked perfectly, by the way with one of August's (or near-August's) great pleasures: Pam's fruit salad, with peaches, bloobs, the rest of that apple, and a banana -- tossed with mint from our garden and our Pam's "secret weapon" for fruit salad: margarita mix. Some home-brewed pale ale completed this memorable meal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Spaghetti with butter, parmesan and browned bacon

Recipe no. 204 from the 365 Ways to Cook Pasta Cookbook begins with 4 slices of smoked bacon, purchased from Brown Boar Farm a few weeks ago when they made a special appearance at the Bridgewater Farmer's Market. We enjoyed the delicious-smelling kitchen while we prepared the spaghetti, and shredded the parmesan cheese. Once the pasta was ready, melted butter was added, the bacon was crumbled into it, then tossed with the cheese and fresh basil, which I retrieved from the front porch. The recipe calls for parsley, but basil was a fine substitution. This was a delightful summer dish. And since the resident vegetarian was away at camp this week, we didn't even need to make a separate bacon-less plate for her. We washed this down with some Little Penguin Shiraz.

Astute readers will no doubt notice that there was no "nueva receta la semana pasada". We were away visiting family in Maryland, and did no cooking. In lieu of a recipe, however, I will recommend a restaurant for anyone traveling on Rt. 80 through Union, Connecticut. Traveler's Food and Books Restaurant is just what the name says. Go for some good, diner-type food, and take a free (used) book with you when you are done. There are also books you can buy. Ask for a table near the picture window in the corner for a good bird-watching.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Landlubber Arrives

I have been cooking for forty years -- starting with basics at home, then old-school home economics (at my old school), then years of experimentation, travel, and reading. After all that, I have a few definite areas of weakness. One is that I never cook anything with the moldy cheeses, because I will not eat them. The other is that even though I love seafood, I am generally intimidated by its preparation. I have been reluctant to overcome the combination of expensive, unfamiliar, easy to overcook but nasty (in my view) if undercooked.

These have been my excuses, plus, seafood is easy enough to find in restaurants or at our friend Rob's house. In fact, we have an annual Christmas Eve lobster feast in which my main chore is to drive for the lobster run and keep the beer stocked.

After 14 years as a New Englandah, though, it seems past time to embrace this culinary arena. The first thing was to decide, as I did a few years ago, that a variety of fish could be managed by the 10-minute rule, which is that cooking at medium-high temperatures, fish should not be cooked for more than 10 minutes per inch of thickness. This has worked out pretty well. A bit of trial and error has led to some success with a variety of fishes.

Recently we have gotten  bit more adventurous, as a fish monger has been among the regulars at the weekly Bridgewater Farmers Market, just a short walk from our house. (We can feed our minds there, too, as our church has a book sale at the market each week. I recently found a fun coffee book there.) Having had mussels last weekend -- from the very same market -- prepared by the aforementioned Rob and his wife Lisa -- we decided we were ready to try it for ourselves, and picked up a two-pound net bag of the bivalves, along with two modest salmon steaks.

For the mussels, actually, I hate to admit that it was not just the preparation that was a stretch for me. Even though I have been to Bertha's on several occasions -- THE Bertha's in Fell's Point, that is -- I had rarely consumed mussels. When I was a student visiting Bertha's, it seemed that the beer (including my first Anchor Steam) was priced more efficiently than the seafood. And after I could afford restaurant seafood, if I was in Maryland, I always defaulted to Callinectes sapidus.

Be that as it may, on Sunday I was ready to prepare the mussels, following as closely as we could the example Rob and Lisa had set the previous week. I sauteed some green onion tops and garlic, then added water and wine. The local grocery did not have vermouth, but rather than make a separate stop, I purchased some Sauvignon Blanc, pouring half of it in the pot and half of it in our glasses for a perfect pairing. I sprinkled cilantro over the whole lot, brought the broth to a boil and covered the pot. After 2-3 minutes, the mussels started to pop open, and they were indeed delicious. I think I was a bit impatient, though. Next time -- and there will be a next time -- I will give the critters another minute or so, because we ultimately discarded those few that did not open on their own. 

Image: Cornell Fish
For the wild salmon, we turned again to Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, a standard in our home that Pam mentioned in her Fish is not a Vegetable post back in March. As with the previous seafood endeavor in this book, I used Worcestershire in place of soy in the creation of "teriyaki broiled or grilled fish." I whisked it together with ground ginger (we were out of ginger root, so this step was actually easier than the recipe suggested), sugar, minced garlic, and Japanese cooking wine (which we had on hand and substituted for the Chinese cooking wine). I simply marinated the salmon in this mixture and then pan-fried it for about five minutes -- with the pan covered. The result was succulent, sweet, and tart. The sauce mildly caramelized, so that this dish was actually quite amazing!

For both of these dishes, we had starchy sides -- rice and potatoes, respectively -- with beans for protein for our vegetarian daughter. Both meals were healthy, tasty, and satisfying. We cannot wait to see what the fishmonger has next time we are at the market!

Another winner from Grilled Cheese, Please!

Chapter 7 of this book, on Regional American Grilled Cheese would have served me well during my Celebrating the States project. On Sunday I prepared the "Californian" which, according to the book reflects California's "agicultural bounty." This includes raisins, almonds, goat cheese, Monterrey Jack cheese, and chiles. The chile and cheeses go between slices of cinnamon-raisin bread, upon which butter is spread and then topped with slivered almonds before grilling. I wasn't sure about including the chiles in this one, but the sweetness from the raisins made a perfect complement with the spicy chile pepper. Another magnificent contrast was the gooey cheese and the crunchy almonds. A perfect sandwich, especially when served with sweet potato chips.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Featured Chefs

Our first entry for the month of May was for a recipe that Pam had originally posted on a commercial web site -- our adaptation of Laura Esquivel's succulent and sensual recipe for unforgettable poultry. I was just reminded that another standard recipe of our house has made it to a commercial site: my recipe for queso dip is the only reason I get invited to some parties (at the least, I'm not allowed to show up without it). The dip also attracted the attention of, which featured me as a "chef" for a month back in October 2009.

My fun recipes page includes some other favorites that have not yet made us famous.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hail, Caesar!

This week's story is about a salad so simple that it barely deserves the term "salad," yet I cheated on the recipe! When we reached the end of last week, however, we realized that we had not chosen a blog-worthy recipe, but we had a cookout invitation in hand and a full head of organic romaine lettuce from our CSA in the fridge. So we decided that this simple salad would be our featured recipe this week. Fortunately, though the salad is simple, the story is not!

Caesar salad is my favorite salad -- plenty of cool romaine, shredded or shaved Parmesan, croutons (which I love on any salad) and decadent dressing. I repeatedly delude myself into thinking that the fiber and vitamins from the lettuce offset the saturated fats of the dressing. Many restaurants offer a grilled chicken version that I will sometimes order as a main course, but usually I have just the salad. I remember at least one restaurant that offered a "half" version. When I inquired, I learned that this meant "only" a half a head of romaine was used! I also found a restaurant that did not include any form of Parmesan cheese, which is just wrong.

My friend Rob enjoyed the salad I prepared yesterday, but insists that it was not "real" because it did not include anchovies. According to Susan Stamberg's Roots of Caesar Salad story, however, anchovies were a later addition to the Prohibition-era dish. Actually, anchovies are almost always present in almost homeopathic concentrations, because anchovies are an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, and that sauce (a.k.a. "Woostah-shur") is present in Caesar dressing.

Helen & Cesar Chavez with RFK
read more at Latino Like Me
But I've gotten a bit ahead of the story. Caesar is not only a favorite salad; it is a treasured word in our house. My middle name is Kezar, a Maine variant of the German variant Kaiser (Wilhelm II probably having something to do with my family's creative spelling). It can also be spelled Cesar, as in the great labor leader Cesar Chavez (see also RFK/Cesar connection).

Because we had determined not to name a child James Kezar V,  in fact, we had decided that if ever we had a son, "Cesar" would have been his name.

What does Prohibition have to do with this salad? Quite simply, Tijuana was an easy get away for Los Angeles film stars at the time, and a group that dropped in on chef Caesar Cardini in 1924 were looking for something filling to go with their booze. Cardini scrambled to put together something from what he had on hand, which explains the odd combination ingredients that are found in the salad to this day. Apparently the name of the salad (connoting an emperor) and the lettuce (connoting his empire) are just coincidental!

The Tijuana connections are interesting for me as well. My first foray into Mexico was in Tijuana in the 1980s, and it is the scene of much of Kerouac's On the Road. The stereotypes -- some well earned -- arising from its various vices are sent up in Manu Chao's amazing and satrical Welcome to Tijuana, an essential element in my teaching. I am looking forward to seeing a new documentary film of the same name.

Finally, just a bit about the salad at hand. Despite the fact that I had already purchased Newman's Own Creamy Caesar Dressing, making this the simplest possible salad, I lacked confidence at the last moment. Should I cut or tear the romaine, for example? Our usual mainstay, author Deborah Madison, was of no help, apparently considering this too simple even for her book of basic recipes. Or maybe she does not consider this salad vegetarian, given the fishiness of the dressing.

Based on the Caesar Salad I recipe on, I decided to rinse and then tear the entire head of romaine (after chopping off the hardest part of the heart), toss it with about 1/3 cup of the dressing, a generous handful of freshly-shredded Parmesan, and nearly an entire bag of croutons (specifically sold as Caesar).