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...

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!

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