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, February 23, 2011

The Adventures of Food Boy - the movie

Begin with the basic premise found in the classic '80s movie Teen Wolf , throw in a couple of Animal House allusions, add peanut butter, pastrami, and mix well. The result?

The Adventures of Food Boy

Although not entirely orginal, this film about a lad who discovers that he has the ability to conjure up food from his hands, does have some rather funny moments, and a few surprises. Lucas Gabreel, plays Ezra (a.k.a. Food Boy) who is baffled by the lunch meat that flys from his hands during his bid to become Junior class president. He learns from his grandmother that he has inherited a "gift" and he must not only learn to control it, but to use it for good - not evil. Ezra, who thought his grandmother was just an old lady sitting around waiting to die, is chagrined to find himself under her tutelage. As well he should be! He also discovers there is more to life than getting into the Ivy League. Even my teenage daughter admitted to liking this one.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Just Peachy

This being a busy week at Casa Hayes-Boh, our "nueva receta" is a new dish, but not one that followed a recipe. Yesterday I roasted an organic chicken (purchased Saturday at Trader Joe's) in a manner inspired by a passage from Field Days, a book about a Sonoma County farm that we are reading as part of this blog project. Peaches are among the many bounties of the Wilson farm, and the book mentions a family member cooking a chicken with peaches and peppers. When local peaches come into season later this year, I look forward to experimenting with these ingredients.

Meanwhile, I improvised with some pleasing results. I began by rinsing the chicken and rubbing it with black pepper. (From the Boston Globe, I recently learned that my suspicions about jalapeños are true: the peppers that are commercially available are becoming larger and milder. When the peaches arrive this summer, I will also be on the lookout for more authentically piquant peppers. For now, ground black pepper is highly adequate.) I then placed the chicken in the Tumbleweed Potter Chicken Cooker that we acquired a year or so ago at a church auction. We had used the roaster successively in our conventional oven, and it worked even better in our new convection oven. The vertical orientation of the roaster allows the entire outer surface to be cooked to crispness, and the convection enhanced this effect.

Another feature of the vertical roaster is a chamber in the center on which the chicken rests. It looks rather odd, but filling this with liquid helps to cook the chicken more evenly while making the interior moist to the point of succulence. It is also a chance to impart flavors; in this case I filled the chamber with some flat beer from a home-brewing batch that I failed to condition properly. I then smothered the outside of the chicken with peach salsa (again, Trader Joe's). The salsa imparted a flavor that was somewhat spicy and very sweet, with a very thin, hard glaze. Much of the actual fruit ended up in the bottom of the roaster. I had reserved some of the cold salsa to serve at the table, and it was indeed a perfect complement. (Another perfect complement was a Riesling from Westport Rivers, which makes a wine from this grape that it not overpowering in its sweetness.)

Finally, we rounded out the dish with scalloped potatoes based loosely on my mother's recipe (though I use less cream) and some steamed peas. I put the potatoes in the oven about a half hour after the chicken, and both turned out pretty well. This went very well for my first use of convection, and I think I learned how to make the next effort even better.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Inaugurating the new oven

Our new oven was delivered and installed on Wednesday, but since we had plans on Wednesday evening, we did not have a chance to try it out until Thursday. After picking Paloma up from school yesterday we each grabbed a cookbook and starting looking for a good recipe with which to break in our new appliance. Paloma picked up Jane Brody's Good Food Book (she says she was in the mood for good food!) and selected Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. This isn't a completely new recipe for us, as we make some variation of Shepherd's pie a few times a year, but it is usually loosely based on a recipe I clipped somewhere. Brody's recipe had a few things we don't normally include, for instance tomaotes and greens. But like any other time I make this dish, I don't really follow the recipe exactly anyway. In fact, Brody suggests that the ingredient need not be followed exactly, and that it is okay just to use up whatever vegetables are on hand. Taking that advice, last night's version included asparagus, green beans, baby onions, and garlic, in addition to the tomaotes and greens. We also threw in some soy-based "crumble" as a meat substitute. The instructions said to cook the vegetables in a pan, and then transfer to a 2-quart casserole. No My Friends! No I say! What could Ms. Brody have been thinking? If there was ever a job for the indepensible cast-iron skillet this is it. The vegetables were cooked in the skillet, and then the mashed potatoes were added on top of them, and then topped with shredded cheese, at which point the skillet when directly into the preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. I believe all three of us had seconds of this dish, although James and Paloma both agreed that they prefer the recipe I usually follow, as it makes a bit of a gravy, which this one did not. I think I liked this one better, though.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cheesy Chicken Rolls

One thing I don't like to do on Valentine's day is eat at a restaurant. Why eat out on the busiest night of the year with a bunch of other couples who don't have the imagination to do something different? This year James and I decided to dust off two little-used cookbooks (Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, and A Taste for Love: A Romantic Cookbook for Two) and make dinner together. We actually did this yesterday (on Valentine's eve), knowing that we would not have an oven for a few days starting today. We are having a new oven delivered later this week.

James wrote about preparing Black Bean Fritters from Intercourses in a separate post. I took the lead on creating Cheesy Chicken Rolls from A Taste for Love. This was a rather complicated recipe with 16 ingredients, which I only simplified down to 15 by using one cup of cottage cheese, rather than 1/2 a cup of that and a 1/2 cup of ricotta. We began by baking boneless chicken breasts for 30 minutes at 350, and parboiling 6 lasagna noodles (the recipe said to boil 4, but it looked to me that the filling would make more, and I was correct). I sauteed asparagus (a substitution I made for broccoli, which James does not like as well) and mixed it with the chopped chicken, cottage cheese, egg, chives, and a bit of nutmeg and pepper.The filling was then spread onto the noodles and the noodles were rolled and placed in a casserole. Finally, the topping was made with flour, butter, vegetable broth, milk, and mustand and cooked on the stovetop until thick. This we poured over the noodles and then garnished with paprika. The stuffed noodles were baked at 350 for 25 more minutes. This all took about 2 hours, but it was worth the wait, and after all, it was a special occasion. James and I both liked them. Paloma doesn't eat meat, but did eat one of the Fritters, which she declared "okay". I thought they were a perfect complement to the Chicken Rolls, though, and there was enough of both for leftovers for lunch today. I think the Rolls would be especially good if I were to add pine nuts to the mix next time. We enjoyed a bottle of 2000 Blanc de Blancs sparkling Chardonnay from Westport Rivers Winery with this meal. James declared the dinner "perfect for blogging and snogging!" Yes indeed!

Black Bean Fritters

To accompany the delicious chicken rolls that Pam prepared (and about which she will be blogging separately), I prepared black bean fritters, which I found after a pleasant perusal of Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook. It is part of an entire section that extols the sensual and culinary properties of a bean that has, at times, been forbidden in the diets of the chaste.

The recipe (page 76) calls for diced zucchini and bell peppers, which I prepared ahead of time, along with dry ingredients to make a sort of dough. I doubled the recipe because I realized that one can of Goya black beans would provide twice what I needed. The combination of tender beans, a bit of dough, and the succulent peppers was perfect. The overall effect is something like falafel, but with more complex flavors and textures.

For some reason, I did not make the tropical vinaigrette (page 77) that was supposed to top these fritters. Honestly, it is probably just that I generally don't think much of vinaigrettes, and I confess that I did not even read closely enough to realize that this one would have been good. Instead, we just served it with sour cream (ruining the otherwise vegan status of this dish). At the last minute, I remembered the Karoo Kafe fruit chutney that Pam had opened recently for our Oprah's turkey burgers. It was another perfect opportunity to show off the hot-sweet flavor of this South African specialty!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mushrooms and Greens Gratin

This recipe, from the New York Times, was listed under the heading "Vegetable Casseroles for Frigid Nights." With temperatures here in New England down into the teens and single digits of late, it seemed like we were officially in the "frigid" category, so I tried this recipe using a mix of local, organic greens that I had frozen over the summer, and substituting Monterrey Jack cheese for Gruyère, since we were out of the latter. I realized after I put it in the oven that I had neglected the step of adding milk and eggs. The recipe says this is okay, but I think I would have preferred to include them. If only I'd gotten to the second page of the printed directions! It was a good use of the many frozen greens we had, and James really likes things that have a crusty cheese topping. Paloma tried it, but mostly just ate the cheese part. She did accidentally get some greens though. She pronounced them to be "too chewy". I have to concur with that. Next summer when I put greens in the freezer I will be more careful to remove all of the stem.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Food" for thought

Some interesting things to think about from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman.

Anything containing olives should be labeled!

Yesterday one of my colleagues presented on eating habits of college students who work in the fast food industry. The lecture was enlightening, and lunch was served. I suppose, in keeping with the theme, the food was not the usual corporate sandwiches and overly sweet cookies we generally receive on campus. Instead we munched on "autumn pear" salad with baby spinach and almonds; minestrone soup; and roasted vegetable club sandwiches with cheese. The dessert choices were custard cake or Valentine-themed cupcakes. I tried the soup, salad and cupcake. Additionally, warm rolls were available, again, a deviation from the usual room temperature hard rolls we expect. Two types of rolls were offered: bread sticks, and rolls with something that looked like currants or raisins baked in. I wondered aloud to one of the other attendees what it could be. Going on the theory that it was probably currants, I took one. Alas, one bite later I had to throw the darn thing away. I really hate olives!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Potatoes with Creamy Tomato Sauce

James found this Colombian recipe in our Extending the Table cookbook. We both worked a little late last night, and then had to pick up our daughter from school, and we wanted to finish dinner in time to attend a Student Immigration Movement panel discussion at the University at 7:00. I told James I would start dinner while he went to fetch the girl. My first challenge was removing the tomatoes from from the freezer. I had one ziploc baggie of local, organic tomatoes frozen from the summer left, and I really wanted to used them for the recipe. However, the bag had gotten pushed to the back of the freezer where it molded itself around the wire shelf before it completely froze. I had to use a blow dryer to melt the tomatoes enough to extricate them from the wire. From there, though, the dish was easy to make. I sauteed some onions, then added the tomatoes, and sauteed a few more minutes. Then I added 1/2 & 1/2 and some spices to the mix. Meanwhile I sliced and boiled some potatoes. Just as the potatoes were ready, I added shredded mozzarella to the tomato mix. I served the potaotes topped with the creamy tomatoes and added green beans as a side dish (which also tasted good mixed with the tomato). This was a rib sticking, satisfying, and tasty meal. We even managed to get our ususally tomato-eschewing daughter to try it. A perfect dish for a winter's day.

The Future of Food-The movie

Deborah Koons' documentary about the loss of diversity in food, really tells the story of food's past, present and future. Viewers learn why the potato famine hit Ireland so severely, but not Peru, which grew the same variety of potato, but also many others; and how the Supreme Court's decision to allow genes to be patented has had a tremendous, negative effect on the small farmers. Monsanto comes off as the evil corporate agribusiness, as well it should. Having infiltrated the federal government at the cabinet level with former executives in the positions of Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Secretary of Agriculture, Monsanto has put several small farmers out of business by discovering their own patented seeds in the the farmer's fields - seeds that blew into the fields without the farmers' knowledge or desire. Nevertheless, the courts have found in favor of Monsanto in several cases, even while acknowleding that the farmers could have done nothing to prevent the seeds from germinating in their fields. Interestingly, today I received this information about the deregulation of Monsanto's genetically modifided "Roundup Ready" alfalfa seeds. There are no laws which require the labeling of genetically modified foods in the United States.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Last night Paloma and I prepared dhal, which we chose for several reasons. First, we had picked up the book Extending the Table at Ten Thousand Villages in Asheville a couple of years ago, and I think we had not yet used it. Second, our recipes so far have been uncharacteristically leaning toward beef, and it was time to do a vegetarian recipe. Dhal, in fact, is vegan. Third, Paloma is preparing for a summer service trip to India, so the whole family is learning as much as we can, including the cuisine of the country.

The book is something we will be using a lot more often, now that we have started. We have been using the original edition of the More with Less Cookbook for many years, and which has a "new" edition and seems to have inspired a small series. Others -- which we have not yet seen -- include Simply in Season and Simply in Season Children's Cookbook. The beauty of Extending the Table is that it is draws on culinary traditions from throughout the world -- it even has a geography index. Along with recipes that are mostly healthy and environmentally friendly, the book teaches cultural geography. I learned, for example, why the rice and beans I eat in Nicaragua are called "painted rooster."

We prepared the dhal together, and Paloma took quickly to my detailed tips on how best to prepare onions and garlic. We ate the dhal on the same day that we finished watching Ghandi, a film the rest of the family had not seen, and that I had seen only when it was originally in theaters in 1982. Ghandi's complete commitment to peace and justice -- and his refusal to sacrifice one for the other -- remains inspiring. The film is also an important reminder of the incredible arrogance and cruelty of colonialism, even in very recent history. Finally, it is important to understanding the current configuration of the Indian subcontinent.

Back to the dish itself: The recipe (on page 156) lists ginger and cardamom as optional ingredients; we included both. I could definitely taste the ginger and recommend including it. Cardamom is much more subtle, of course, but I will include it next time, too. Oddly, Pam had put just a speck in our morning coffee yesterday, and I had included it in the pancakes I made for our snow day together. Cardamom does not usually get opened three times in a day at our house, but it was a good thing. The recipe lists split peas and lentils as alternatives; a friend who prepares this all the time says they are both good. We used split peas because we've had them in our freezer for ever, and we will probably make a few more batches that way before trying the lentils. According to the book, one difference is that the split peas need soaking, which I did by the quick method. The recipe suggests that it can be "made fiery hot with ground red pepper or chili peppers." I put in one finely chopped jalapeño, which worked well without getting anywhere near "fiery" territory. The last thing I'll mention about the preparation is that prior to the final stage of cooking down, the dhal resembles a soup. The recipe's comparison of the final product to refried beans helped us to know when we had reached the right consistency.

As Paloma reports on her India blog -- dhal was a hit in our house, and this staple of Indian cooking is likely to become a "Staple on Maple."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Farm Store Welcome

As Pam mentioned at the opening of this blog, it is about eating and preparing food, but it is also about good food writing. One of Pam's finds is a 2009 publication, Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in California, by Jonah Raskin. Pam has been reading it to me over the past couple of weeks, and I have appreciated its connections to the film Food Fight, which was brought to our campus by Chris Taylor and Thetis Sammons last year.

As Pam read today, I was particularly interested in the following passage for two reasons. First, the description of the bustling store, its helpful employees, and its connection to the farm reminded me of a couple of rewarding visits to Wilson Farm in Lexington, Massachusetts during the past year. Second, it is a sweet example of intergenerational learning about food in general and about the importance of seasons in particular. Herewith, from pages 70-71:
On the occasion of my first visit, I saw cars arrive and shoppers going into the Red Barn Store with backpacks and bags of canvas and paper. I followed the shoppers and, like them, looked at the produce, and I drifted into conversation with a woman standing next to me. She defined herself as a "locavore." "A what?" I asked, not having previously heard the word. "A locavore is a person who shops locally," she said. "That's precisely what I'm doing now." And I watched as she selected teh vegetables she planned to cook for supper.
The Red Barn Store is a veritable paradise for locavores. For nine months of the year, from April to Christmas, when it closes for winter and a much-needed break for the staff, Gael del Mar, Patrick's girlfriend, runs the store with help from two young women, Estefania and Courtney. In many ways the Red Barn Store drives the farm. The shoppers I saw arriving were insatiable for the organic fruits and vegetables on hand and couldn't seem to get enough of the items they wanted. When would the tomatoes arrive? a young woman wanted to know. Why wasn't the corn in the store? another asked. It would all be here when it came into season, Gael explained, but for now they would have to wait. Why not shop, cook, and eat what was available, she suggested to the importunate buyers, expressing much the same approach as Henry David Thoreau, who urged his contemporaries to "live in each season as it passes" and "open all your pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature, in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons."
This was clearly a new concept to the young woman who had asked for corn and was obviously accustomed to buying whatever she wanted at almost any time of the year. "Why don't you have strawberries?" she asked. "I saw them in Safeway." Gael replied, "We don't grow strawberries here." With that, the young woman took Gael's suggestion to buy what was in the store and in season, and she filled her basket with beets, fava beans, celery, kohlrabi, radishes, Savoy cabbage, and several bouquets of flowers. The older woman, who had introduced me to the word "locavore" and was now paying with a check at the counter, turned to the younger woman and said with a smile, "Welcome to the world of locavores."

Oprah's favorite Turkey Burgers

Reader's of last year's "Celebrating the States" blog know that I read Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant for my Illinois book. Okrant followed all of Oprah's advice for one year, and prepared some of her favorite recipes, including the Mar-a-Lago Turkey burger. I recall that Okrant said that she spent about $50 on some special  ingredients, including some hard-to-find Major Grey's Chutney, in order to make these. She did rave about them though, saying both she and her husband loved them. I decided to try making them, but I used the fruit chutney that was already in my cabinet. I imagine Okrant probaly also had to buy the Chipotle Tabasco sauce that the recipe calls for, but that is already a staple in my house (henceforth known as a "staple on Maple" because we live on Maple avenue, plus, it rhymes).So although we had to buy a Granny Smith apple, and celery for this, we didn't spend anything like $50. I followed the instructions to saute the apple, onion, and celery, and then mix all the other ingredients together and let it meld together for two hours.This really allowed the flavors to come through, and the fruit chutney topping gave this just the right amount of sweetness. The celery and onion also gave it some crunch providing all that texture I like. I think turkey burgers are best when they are prepared with something that has fruit in it. The turkey burgers I made from Jane Brody's recipe while good, didn't have the sweet flavor. One thing Brody said though, is that you can't think of turkey burgers as hamburgers, and she is right. If you want a good ol' hamburger, prepare it your favorite way and enjoy, but don't try to prepare a turkey burger the same way. You will probably be disappointed.