How It All Started

Bob Phillips

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

Wednesday, 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!