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...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eating with a Favorite Beverage

Before I became a geographer of coffee, brewer of beertrekker of wine, and sipper of scotch, I often called Tabasco my favorite beverage.

The famous red sauce is still right up there, so for dinner Thursday, I turned once again to Tabasco Brand Cookbook, which has fueled a number of this blog's more savory entries. Because beans are healthy and keep well, I prepared a full recipe of Trapper's Camp Beans, though the quantity from a full pound of dry beans may have been a bit much, and the healthfulness compromised by the inclusion of bacon and sausage. The latter is ameliorated somewhat by the small quantity of bacon (1/4 pound) and the choice of the turkey variety of Polish sausage.)

This recipe begins with soaking a pound of beans overnight (I used great northern, which is the basis of Boston baked beans, but pinto and yellow eye are also suggested). The next evening, I added cooked bacon (again from Fresh Catch), chopped leeks and onions, vegetable broth (in place of chicken), and a whole onion studded with cloves. I brought this to a boil with marjoram, thyme, sage, bay leaf, garlic (frozen from our farm share last summer), and sliced carrots. I then simmered this on the stove for an hour, then stirred in diced tomatoes and sliced sausage before baking for another hour. A bit more time would have been better, actually, to thicken the mixture.

Oh, yes, several glugs each of regular Tabasco (called for) and Chipotle Tabasco (my idea). Tabasco is another of those ingredients -- like wine and most spices -- for which I generally eschew careful measurement.

Sole Fish Recipe

Over the past decade, Nantucket has become a favorite -- though infrequent -- destination for us. Each time we visit the island (the only place in the U.S. where a county, town, and island are coterminous and cononymous), we enjoy perusing the shop at Bartlett's Ocean View Farm. At some point -- we remember not when or how -- we acquired the farm's cook book, which is a perfect example of the need for this blog project. We are nearly certain that we have never cooked any of its recipes.

At the big box store last weekend -- where we do stock up on some staples -- we considered getting some fish. We decided instead to buy some locally, from our favorite fishmonger (we love that word, too), which we have featured on this blog previously.

Back home, I scanned the cook book shelf for a likely title, and noticed the word "ocean" in the Bartlett book. I should have noticed the cornucopian cover (all veggies) and the word "farm" instead. I use the word "sole" in the title of this post for three reasons, the first of which is that page 89 contains the sole recipe with "fish" in the title. (I did later see tuna -- grilled or canned -- as an ingredient in two tomato dishes that seem like good bets for next summer.)

The second reason for the use of the word "sole" is that the Fish au Gratin recipe calls for "flounder, sole, or scrod," and although all three were available at Fresh Catch, I chose the sole. ("Scrod" is a New England term that can mean "cod" or can mean "whatever fish we feel like serving today." By this definition, scrod is always an option!)

Cooking only for two, and wanting only the fresh dish, I purchased just a half pound, though the recipe calls for a pound and half. With the fish at 1/3 of the specified amount, I decided to cut the other ingredients, in order to have something a bit saucy! This worked out very well, actually, but I'll use the original quantities in this discussion.

I preheated the oven to 475F, placed the sole fillets in a baking dish, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper (recipe says white pepper for looks) and a half-cup of chopped fresh parsley. Then I melted 2T each of butter and lemon juice, in which I sauteed a half pound of sliced mushrooms. Adding a tablespoon of flour to thicken, I then added 1-1/2 cups heavy cream and a couple tablespoons of Vermouth. (OK, I did not exactly measure the vermouth -- I never do.)

After this thickened, I poured it over the fish, sprinkled a tablespoon of shredded Parmesan (again, I never measure this, and probably did a bit more than called for, but not more than required!) After it was already in the oven, I remembered to add finely-crushed breadcrumbs, which was a nice touch, and paprika. I baked for far less than the 20-25 minutes in the recipe, because these fillets were so thin.

This turned out delicious, accompanied by a big baked potato each. Actually, I saved a bit of potato for the next day, and since Pam was making herself a tuna sandwich, I accepted her offer to share so that I could make a tuna potato for my lunch! (This simple recipe is described on my geography of food page, at the bottom.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Zucchini Soup

If, like me, you have recently discovered a frozen chunk of shredded zucchini in a ziplock bag in the back of your freezer, then this is your lucky day. This recipe, found in my seldom used Extending the Table cookbook, is warm and delicious for a winter's eve. I sauteed an onion and a clove of garlic in 4 T. of butter to begin, then added the shredded zucchini (still frozen, although I had taken it out of the freezer last night). Then I added a cup of water and a vegetable bullion cube. At this point the recipe says to "simmer 12 minutes" which, coincidently, was about the amount of time it took for the zucchini chunk to melt. To this, I added a dash of salt, and a bit of fresh ground pepper, and a healthy dose of basil, followed by 1/4 c. white wine. At this point, everything was poured into the blender and pureed. This made two servings, each served with a dollop of plain yogurt. The cookbook says to "serve with sandwiches and fresh fruit". James and I discovered that homemade skillet corn bread and a side of Easiest Cranberry Relish are also fine accompaniements to this soup. It was perfectly paired with the same wine I used in the recipe.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Marinated Turkey Blobs

Late last year we started having our milk delivered (yes, you can still do that!). With our first order we received a bunch of welcome gifts including a package of "turkey tips" which had been in the freezer for about six weeks. Last night I decided it was time to cook them, and found this recipe for marinade from which I modified a bit. I poured olive oil, Worsichire Sauce, and lemon juice, into a bowl, and to that mixture I added some garlic rabe (frozen from my CSA over the summer), some dried basil, black pepper, and brown sugar, then ground up about 1/2 a dozen cloves. I opened the package of turkey expecting to find small chunks of turkey, but instead there were two big hunks (blobs). It still worked out fine to marinade the blobs, which I did for about 2 hours. After which, I poured everything into my indespensible cast iron skillet and covered to cook for about 20-25 minutes (turning the turkey occassionally). The turkey was cooked through perfectly, and the marinade carmelized making a tangy/sweet sauce.We enjoyed this with some steamed string beans (also frozen from our CSA over the summer) and homemade biscuits. The meal was perfectly paired with some rye homebrew.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


For the past several years, I have made traditional, Mexican-style tamales some time between Christmas and New Year's Day. We describe that experience on the Texas page of our Celebrating the States blog.

Each January since 2006, I have had the opportunity to make nacatamales, which is a Central American variation. Larger than a tamale and with a wider assortment of components, it is wrapped in several layers of banana leaf, rather than a single corn husk. Having learned recently that frozen banana leaf is available at PriceRite in Brockton.

As we have in several recent years, we had our lesson in assembling nacatamales at the home of Doña Petrona, one of the women who hosts my students on my annual Nicaragua study tour. Our participation was limited to the assembly; Doña Petrona and other community members had already spent hours creating the components.

Gathering together several pieces of leaf, we placed a cupful of corn dough (masa) in the center. The masa was made from a combination of parboiled, ground corn and potatoes. We then placed a "salad" that was essentially pico de gallo -- chopped tomato, onion, and garlic, soaking in water -- on top. We then added a couple small pieces of bone-in chicken, probably caught from the yard that morning, and a second masa. It was only on this trip that I learned that this red dough was the same as the as the first, except for the addition of achiote powder.

Once we assembled these parts, we had the option of adding a tiny red pepper before wrapping the whole assembly like a birthday present. It is important to wrap these tightly, because of another difference between nacatamales and their Mexican counterparts. Rather than being steamed above boiling water, the nacatamales are boiled in the water; any leakage would create a weird soup and soggy dinners.

Each member of our group assembled a nacatamale - including one vegan and some with more or less pepper. We then participated in some other activities for the rest of the afternoon, rejoining at the Petrona house, where about half of us managed to identify our individual dishes, but all were richly fed.

We include this photo of our student Jen, just because of the juxtaposition of the human and canine activity -- each working unaware of the other. Check this blog in coming months, when we will try our own version, and our dog will doubtless be involved as well.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bien Organizada

As readers by now know, this blog is a joint effort of a geographer and a librarian. It is a dialectic between exploration and organization in which the quest for the new is dominant. But without some semblance of order, the recipes we love so much would never be found. And though our collection of cookbooks is large and growing, it behooves us from time to time to reign it in. During this winter break, we (mostly Pam) did just that. The result is a rather less jumbly couple of shelves, south of the oven, north of the microwave, and under the bread machine.

We purged a few books, mostly those that rely heavily on branded products ("box" foods) that are increasingly scarce in our kitchen. In a few cases, we kept books from which we have never cooked, since redeeming such treasures is a major goal of this blog. Others we discarded even though we had used them a lot, since their use is far in our graduate-school past. The large green volumes on the bottom shelf are scrapbook-style binders containing many individual recipes from various sources, mainly newspapers and the sides of boxes. Pam has labeled them with some very broad categories; as we hunt for reliable favorites (such as my crepe recipe), we like encountering other unused or underused surprises.

The one knick-knack on these shelves warrants explanation. It is a ceramic porrón, which is a kind of wine pitcher common in Spain. This is one of two we were given as both a memento and essential piece of equipment during a night of following minstrels through the streets and tunnels of Guanajuato during our 1989 summer tour of Mexico.

Easiest Cranberry Relish

For the start of the new year, we decided to clean up our cookbook shelf, and found a bunch of loose recipes and pamphlets shoved behind some other things. One of the things we discovered was a pamphlet of cranberry recipes. I had a pound of fresh, local cranberries on hand so I adapted the recipe I found for cranberry orange relish to fit the amount of cranberries I had. I put the rinsed cranberries in my blender and added 4 whole clementines. I wasn't sure whether to leave the rinds on or not, so I compromised and peeled two of them. I ground up the cranberries with the clementines and then moved the relish to a bowl, to which I added 3/4 c. sugar and mixed well. I chilled the relish for about two hours before serving as a side dish to our roast chicken and macaroni and cheese dinner. The relish was sweet and tangy, and a perfect addition to the New Year's Eve meal.