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.