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...

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.