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...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Franksgiving Tradition

Our friend Korin and her family celebrate Wanksgiving -- a Wednesday-Thanksgiving feast since she is nurse who is always on hospital duty for Thanksgiving (which is conveniently held on Thursday; if it were a Monday holiday it would be Manksgiving, which makes no sense). Anyway, when we saw her briefly yesterday (the rest of her family joined us for a second celebration), we started to discuss today, which unfortunately is known is Black Friday. We decided to call it Franksgiving, and thus the name of our post for a hash that has become our traditional morning-after breakfast.
Food photography is a special skill, which I do not possess.
Trust me: the hash is better than it looks!
We are cheating the "Nueva Receta" concept a bit, as we open the recipe book each year for this, but our excuse is that it is too good not to share with our readers. Plus, we did use a new way to make coffee. I coarsely ground some coffee prior to starting the hash, so that I could prepare the coffee while the hash cooked.

Pam peeled two sweet potatoes (a small and a medium). I cut them into large chunks and steamed them (in a steamer basket set over a small amount of water in a saucepan) for ten minutes, just to soften them. Meanwhile, in our indispensable cast-iron skillet I sauteed a finely chopped onion and some bell pepper (we usually keep some chopped frozen peppers on hand for just this kind of thing) in butter, and somewhat smothered them with cumin and black pepper.

I then added a cup or so of diced turkey leftover from yesterday. We had never really noticed that our recipe calls for smoked turkey, and Pam commented that we were fortunate that this year our turkey actually was smoked. For the first time, our friend Rob and I had cooked a huge local turkey on his Weber grill. He is a wood-worker who happened to have a few nice slats of oak with which to smoke the bird at the end. Once I had browned the turkey and the onions were translucent, I diced the softened potatoes and added them.

Then I started the coffee, made a whole new way. It was actually a couple months ago that we became convinced to try a vacuum pot, which is said to make even better coffee than a French press. Once our Bodum Santos (since renamed PEBO) arrived, however, it looked a bit complicated, and something that would require a bit of extra care the first time.

Of course, Franksgiving is the perfect extra-time day! Armed with the succinct manufacturer's directions and an instructional video from I Drink Coffee. The video was not quite as instructive as I had hoped regarding the placement of the filter, but we had enough information to proceed. (The video is good, but please see several caveats at the end of this article.)

While the hash was cooking down, with confidence gained from seeing the demonstration online, I started to boil the water in the lower chamber while the coffee waited in the top. Then I cracked some eggs onto the hash and covered it, while the water boiled. After a few minutes, the water started to work its way into the bottom of the upper chamber, mixing with the ground coffee. Once the water quit rising, we let it steep for another minute or so (as suggested in the video). Once we removed it from the heat source, the pressure-differential (erroneously called a "vacuum") was reduced, and the coffee drained back into the lower vessel. This show alone is worth the trouble!

By this time, our ciabatta (grocery store variety, left over from our own Wanksgiving dinner) was toasted and the eggs were poached atop the crispy hash. Actually, the coffee distracted me slightly, so that the egg yolks were a bit harder than I might have liked. The overall result, though was very satisfying -- warm, crunchy, soft,  sweet, savory, and nutritious all at the same time. The coffee was fantastic, though as Pam suggested this might remain a weekend and holiday treat, as it is a bit time-consuming compared to French press. As suggested in the video, the sweetness was really brought out, and the brew had no sediment. As Pam said, there was not a trace of bitterness. The coffee was a highly decent but not exceptional blend -- the fair-trade, organic Vermont Country Blend from GMCR -- and tasted better this way than any other time I have had it. I cannot wait to try it with the next batch of single-origin coffee, which I expect from El Salvador in the next couple days.

Here are those caveats about the coffee video. In the video, Mr. Slawek suggests putting the pot on a "cold" surface after boiling, but of course Bodum warns against that, and he did not actually put his pot on a cold surface after all, but a soft, room-temperature surface. He also suggests putting the burner on "high" to boil the water; that advice applies to the small burner he was using, but would have burned the handle if I did that with our superburner. Another do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do piece has to do with removing the pot from the flame. This is about one minute after most of the water has risen to the top. If all of the water were to somehow be removed from the bottom, the whole thing would shatter. One minute or so after the water stops rising is fine, and thankfully it is not likely to boil completely away. Finally, Mr. Slawek pours the coffee into plastic cups, which of course undermines much of the benefit of better brewing.

Oatmeal Spice Bread-Fail!

Back in May, I committed to using my bread machine at least once a week, and I have to admit, I have not kept up with that very well. I do use it more than I had been in the last few years, but hardly once a week. Freshly recommitted after having read William Alexander's book, 52 Loaves which documents the author's quest for the perfect loaf through baking one loaf a week, by hand, in a real oven, I figured it really shouldn't be that hard to find time to use a bread machine, for goodness sake. Last Sunday I selected Oatmeal Spice Bread from the Gold Medal New Bread Machine Cookbook which tell the baker to "greet the morning with fabulous French toast made from this sugar and spice bread." Who could resist. This sweetbread calls for brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Yum. I had to use my kitchen math to adjust the recipe to fit into my 1 pound machine, so I am not sure if I miscalculated something, or selected the wrong setting on the machine, or perhaps left out some important ingredient, but this was not bread in any sense of the word. When it machine beeped I opened to lid to find an unrisen square of doughy substance at the bottom of the pan. When I removed the "bread" from the pan I discovered it was about 2" thick, and when I cut into it found it not cooked. I had to throw the mess away. At least the house smelled good for a few hours.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Champandongo Magic

Hispanic Kitchen
We did not even know there was a contest, but the winner has been chosen. The best casserole in the world is -- without doubt -- Champandongo. Much of this blog is about eating healthy, local, environmental-friendly food. This post is a bit of departure -- a cross-cultural culinary experience that is pure indulgence.

This particular experience began almost two decades ago, when we saw the film Como Agua Para Chocolate in an art theater in Tucson. Around the same time, Pam read the book, whose title in English is Like Water for Chocolate, referring to a temperature -- literal and figurative -- just below boiling. More recently, Pam showed the film to her Spanish 101 students.

Laura Esquivel's story is that of Tita, whose love of cooking is intertwined with her forbidden love for her brother-in-law, Pedro. Every twist of the plot turns on food, whether it is the longing induced by teardrops in a wedding cake or the burning of the loins engendered by chicken in rose-petal sauce. The magic in this tale of magic realism comes from the food, so Pam assigned her students recipes from the book, which they prepared, wrote about, and then shared at a gathering in our home last week. (This aspect of the assignment seemed a bit odd for an 8:00 a.m. class, but the food was so delicious that we hardly noticed we were eating a rich and savory dinner for breakfast.)
Chicken with rose-petal sauce:
Best shared with someone you love.
Most of the dishes were familiar to us, but the champandongo is a lesser character in the story, known only as a fancy meal Tito serves on a special occasion to a fiance she does not love. It is based on mole (pronounced MOL-lay) sauce, a complex concoction of chocolate, sesame, and chiles that we knew from our long-ago summer in Puebla. Unlike highland mole that is simply ladled over roasting poultry, however, the champandongo incorporates the sauce as one of many ingredients in what is most comparable to lasagna. We were very impressed with the example prepared by Pam's students, particularly since one of the team who made it is a vegetarian but nonetheless went to the trouble to prepare the mole from scratch, something that not even we have attempted. He did not get to experience what turned out to be quite a satisfying meal, and one that inspired us to follow up with our own version.

Pam found the recipe on Hispanic Kitchen -- a delightful social network for foodies. The recipe is fairly simple and clearly written, though a couple of the ingredients are a bit tricky. Most confounding at first was the Manchego cheese, a sheep's-milk cheese from the part of Spain from which Quixote's Man of La Mancha got his name. This was available from our local grocery store, and resembles Parmesan but with a sweeter flavor. We took a short cut on the mole sauce, using about half a jar (about three times what the recipe calls for) of the Trader Joe's version.

The result is pure indulgence -- cheesy, complex, sweet, and spicy all at the same time. What completed the experience was a perfect wine pairing. The recipe suggests a "smoky red wine," so we decided to try one of two red wine we recently purchased on the Coastal Wine Trail. Good red wines are rare in New England, where the growing season is too short for them to develop, but we had recently encountered two. Of these, we are saving Sakonnet's the peppery Cabernet Franc for a steak dinner, so we chose the 2006 Elms Meritage from Greenvale by default. Imagine our delight when we read the tasting notes: "wonderful aromas of berry, smoke and subtle spice."

A meal perfectly paired with its wine, and
even the glasses match!

No Recipe Potato Chicken Chowda

Most of November has been quite warm here in Massachusetts. One might say "unseasonably" so, but based on the last 10 years or so, I would say, it has become, rather disturbingly, pretty normal. Anyway, yesterday the weather actually turned cold, and grey, and so it seemed that chowder season was finally upon us. I took the opportunity to make use the last chicken breast that was in our freezer, along with the organic yukon gold potatoes we purchased recently to prepare some comfort food for my sweetheart and me. I have made a lot of chowders before, so I figured I'd done it enough that I could create my own. After defrosting the chicken breast I diced it into small pieces and cooked them in my indespensible cast iron skillet in a bit of canola oil. Meanwhile, I boiled 2 cups of water and dissolved two teaspoons of "better than boullion" into it. To this I added 2 cups of lowfat milk, the cooked chicken, 5 small peeled and diced potatoes, a diced onion, a minced garlic clove, a bay leaf, and a bit of sage, salt and pepper. Once it boiled I turned it down to simmer and let it cook while I prepared Deborah Madison's buttermilk biscuits (except I substituted plain yogurt for the buttermilk). During the last few minutes of soup simmering I added some greens that I'd frozen during our CSA season.  Everything turned out just as I hoped. The chowder was warm and creamy with a lot of texture and flavor, the biscuits were perfectly browned, and the company was sparkling. The only thing that could make this any better would be a couple of bottles of home brew. Luckily, we had some!

I'm looking forward to enjoying the leftover soup and biscuits for my lunch today.

Oddly, I'm looking forward to reading this...

An unpublished food autobiography of the company's founder, Colonel Harland Sanders, was discovered in KFC's archival storage facility.
Earlier this month, a KFC employee found Colonel Sanders original "food autobiography" in the company's archives. According to this press release, the document tells of Sanders' passion for "home style cooking" and hard work. One can only imagine what he would say about the KFC Famous Bowl. Here is something I would never consider cooking at home. Blech.
Mashed Potato Bowl

Monday, November 14, 2011

Melty Tuna Melty

As Pam noted in the "Best Tuna Melt" section of her New Jersey entry on Celebrating the States, my usual open-mindedness with respect to food (and most other things, other than Dunkin' Donuts), generally fails me when it comes to tuna. I do not eat tuna salad unless I am at home, and then only if I have made it or a trusted family member has made it under my supervision. For me, incidentally, it is not really a "salad" since it only has tuna, mayo, and ground black pepper.

As Pam rightly predicted in that same entry, my willingness to eat -- and even enjoy -- a tuna melt in which the tuna was polluted with celery and onions did not mean I had turned over a new leaf in this area of gastronomy. Strict limits are still in place. (Sorry to call onion a pollutant -- in its proper place, of course, I love it! Its proper place is anywhere but tuna salad.)

The bottom line, I suppose, is that I have some issues with the preparation of tuna. I rarely prepare tuna melts, but for some reason today I had a hankering for them, and arriving home for lunch just a few minutes ahead of Pam, I decided to surprise her with one (one each, that is).

I made tuna "salad" in my conventional way -- a can of tuna in water (squeezing the water in our dog's food dish -- all of our dogs have loved that) with a minimal mix of reduced-calorie mayonnaise (Hellman's: let's not even talk about Miracle Whip, since this is a family blog) and fresh-ground black pepper. I grilled this on regular whole wheat sandwich bread with freshly shredded Cabot cheeses (Monterrey Jack and extra sharp cheddar), in the style of grilled cheeses about which we've been blogging of late.

Nothing terribly innovative so far, except that this is the first tuna melt I have made since we got grilled-cheese religion, and I stacked the shredded cheese as high as it would go, giving it plenty of time to melt down before flipping the sandwiches.

Here is the innovation, though: on my own sandwich, I added a couple tablespoons of what I call "hots" -- jarred, crushed red pepper. I often order this on deli sandwiches, but never thought to get it for home use until I recently noticed it on a grocery shelf. In this case, it is Gouveia brand, imported to New Bedford from the Azores (an Atlantic archipelago that is part of Portugal).

I would never have thought to blog about this, because it was a simple recipe, but Pam pointed out that we have not posted much lately, so to keep up a weekly pace, I should mention it. Though the meal (which included milk, tortilla chips, and canned peaches with cinnamon) was not fancy, it did meet the main criteria for lunch: nutritious, delicious, easy and cheap!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Market To Market

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, dancing a jig;
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog;
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog;
To market, to market, to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.

So wrote Mother Goose, and generations have had this jingle stuck in their heads. So when Rick Sebak and his team from WQED-Pittsburgh decided to make a paean to public markets throughout the United States, they chose the opening line as both their title and a bit of a quest.

I watch a lot of films about the geography of food and teach many aspects of it in my classes. The films that show what is wrong -- drastically wrong, criminally wrong -- with our food systems are important and sometimes even enjoyable. This film is different and quite important, as it leads by example. 

To Market To Market to Buy a Fat Pig is a pure celebration of that which is most right about food in the United States. (See Netflix listing -- available in streaming format.) The film explores farmers' markets in nine of these United States. The markets differ in all the ways that markets vary. Some are recent inventions while others have enjoyed a century of continuous operation. Some attract dozens of shoppers; others thousands. Some operate in fixed buildings every day of the week; others are set up in tents on city streets. Some are supplied only by local, organic farms; some include seafood; some include a lot of food pre-packaged or prepared on the premises.

In our own community, a small group of residents have worked over the past years to build and sustain Bridgewater Farmers Market. Results have been a robust mix of successes and difficult lessons, but the market seems close to a critical mass of both vendors and shoppers. As the film makes clear, no single model is appropriate to every community, and Bridgewater continues to work toward a model that will serve this community well.
Farmers markets are about getting closer to one's food, those who produce it, and others who happen to care. In a good market, we can find out more about that food and the conditions under which it is grown, fed, or caught. Several markets in the film offer seafood, as did our Bridgewater market for a few weeks this summer. Markets also encourage cooking -- the actual preparation of food from ingredients -- which we find making a bit of a comeback as the economy tightens and people look for ways to improve their lives while saving money.

I am proud to be playing a small part in the cultivation of a farmers' market in my own town, and equally proud that a young person who once studied coffee with me is now well-known as the manager of one of the most successful markets in the Boston area, the Union Square Farmers Market in Somerville.

Educators who wish to show this video to their classes may find my viewing companion (Word format) useful. Feel free to adapt to your own class, and please notify me if you do so.

Home Cookin'

Last Sunday, Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur comic shares a curmudgeonly view of cooking at home. Indeed, a lot of what is "cooked" in homes is merely heated up by legions of "box food people." I am happy to report, however, that a growing number of young people are interested in cooking.

This very morning, Pam's Spanish class is converging on our house to share dishes they created in relation to their study of Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). Last week, students attending a Real Food Challenge event at BSU brought a fabulous assortment of dishes they created themselves.

When I asked students in my introductory environmental geography class how many of them (or their parents) grow at least some food at home, about 2/3 raised their hands, and many beamed as they listed the home produce. In the film To Market, To Market to Buy a Fat Pig, one of the market managers explains that his goal is to encourage home cooking.

Dining out is still enjoyable, of course, if it is actual dining. But as a friend who once worked in food service told us, the four major food groups in some restaurants are bags, boxes, bottles, and cans. We've found that all too often, eating out has meant paying much more for boring food than good food would have cost, with the only benefit having been that someone else did the dishes. And with a dishwasher in our kitchen, that is a mighty slim benefit!

So, we find ourselves in restaurants only when it is necessary in order to meet people or get other things done, or when we know that the chef can make something better than we can make it ourselves! We often find ways to avoid the former, and the latter becomes increasingly rare.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Here's the thing about Jerusalem Artichokes...

We just don't really like them. At the end of our CSA season we received a bag of this root vegetable, which had also been included in the early harvest. Our first attempt at making them palatable can be found here. Over the weekend I decided to try a recipe suggested on Colchester Farm's own blog and followed the instructions for the Cherokee Spiced Jerusalem Artichokes. I thought perhaps since the recipe calls for honey the sweetness might make them more to my liking. These need to marinated for several hours before serving, so I prepared them right after church on Sunday, and then James and I went to a play, and then did some shopping for a project my Spanish class is doing (stay tuned for links to recipes and other information about Like Water for Chocolate!) As we were finishing the shopping James mentioned how looking at all the good ethnic food had made him hungry. And I, without enthusiasm replied, "well, we have that jerusalem artichoke salad to look forward to when we get home." At which point he suggested we let it marinate another day, and that we order a pizza instead. So, finally, on Monday we served the 'chokes, along with some chicken breasts in mango sauce. "They aren't horrible," said I. "They're weird" answered James. This was the best we could say about them. I did finish my serving, but James, who took about 1/2 what I did, left some on his plate with a sarcastic remark about his eyes being bigger than his tummy. Later in the evening I was reminded of something we were told the first time we had them: that they were a "gassy vegetable." Right. Next season I think we will skip them.