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...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mulligatawny soup with chicken, rice and lime

A most delicious comfort food from The Bean Bible, by, aptly named, Aliza Green, mulligatawny soup is well worth the time it takes to prepare. One pound of chicken thighs was boiled for 20 minutes in soup stock. The chicken was then removed, and cut into pieces once it was cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, I chopped two garlic cloves, the hunk of ginger I had in my refrigerator, 2 jalapeno peppers, and 2 onions. All of this was sauteed in six tablespoons of butter in my indespensible cast-iron skillet. To this I added a teaspoon of cumin, a 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of dried cilatro, and one teaspoon of mustard (all of the spice measurements deviate somewhat from the recipe, based on our personal preferences, and what we already had on hand). This mix was placed in the soup pot, along with one pound of lentils. After it was heated to a boil, the heat was turned down to simmer for one hour. I also cooked 3 cups of rice in a separate pan during this time. I allowed the soup to cool for about 15 minutes then poured it, by batches, into my blender to puree. Then, back into the soup pot where the cooked rice was added, along with the chicken and juice of three limes. We did not top our servings with nigella seeds as the recipe indicates, as James could not find them under any of the names given in the recipe book (nigella, kalonji, or charnushka).

This took over two hours to prepare, and there was quite a bit of clean up involved as well. Once everything was served we had to wash a saucepan, skillet, stock pot, juicer (ours is manual, not electric), blender, 2 cutting boards, and various utensils, in addition to our dinner dishes. As I said, well worth it. This spicy meal was filling and delicious, and left our home with a tantalizing aroma that we are still enjoying today.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Celebratory Loaf

For Thursday's dinner, we had decided to try a turkey loaf from Jane Brody's Good Food Book, which regular readers will know is a frequent favorite for simple, good foods.

At the grocery that morning, I had picked up one extra treat, a mango. Just a couple months ago, we had bought a mango splitter, Kevin Walzak's miracle device I had heard about on NPR seven years ago. Mangoes are the most readily available of the many tropical fruits I came to love during my 1996 summer in Rondônia, but I always make a huge mess with them. We are always cautious in our kitchen-gadget purchases, but the delay-to-cost ratio was pretty high on this one, and I was glad finally to have acted on a long-overdue and simple desire. My efforts lacked the symmetry of the Oxo stock photo, but I did have much better results than I have ever had with Mangifera indica.

Back to the main course -- Terrific Turkey Loaf on page 440 promises to be rich but low in fat, and it was. It begins with sauteed garlic, celery, leeks or onions, sweet red peppers and mushrooms. These are mixed with ground turkey, egg, fresh parsley, and bread crumbs and placed in a lightly-oiled loaf pan. An interesting innovation is that the loaf pan is placed in a larger pan, into which boiling water is poured to a one-inch depth, to keep the humidity in the oven high so the loaf does not dry out.

I departed from Brody's instructions in a few ways. First, I do not think I reduced the vegetables quite enough, and for this reason I chose a small casserole instead of a loaf pan. And though I looked at the recipe list several times and saw the pinch of nutmeg, I somehow forgot to add it. Finally, instead of the "fresh bread crumbs" of one slice of bread, I used packaged crumbs, and probably not enough. I think this is what made the loaf a bit soupier than it should have been.

The result was delicious, though a bit slow to cook. I think fresh bread crumbs would have worked better and allowed this to firm up better, and I think leeks and that pinch of nutmeg would have made the flavor even better.

What made this celebratory? At the very end of the work day, Pam received a letter from our provost, informing her that her application for promotion -- from Associate Librarian to Librarian -- had been approved. Academics only get a couple of promotions over their lifetime, so this was a big deal.

How to celebrate? A common impulse is to drop everything and run out to eat, and at times we have done that. But we did not even discuss scrapping a perfectly good dinner plan for something that would cost more and probably not taste as good. Instead, Pam got out the good silver and put a bottle of 2004 Vintage Rose from Westport Rivers in the fridge while I started the loaf. We had purchased this bottle for Valentine's Day, but careful readers will recall that for that meal we decided on a peppery Savignon Franc from Sakkonet. The line "pink champagne on ice" is now stuck in our heads, but thankfully the fruity notes of this champagne-style rose are balanced, and the wine went surprisingly well with the loaf.

Incidentally, our favorite vineyard began as a hobby in the year before we got married; a bottle or two may be on hand when we celebrate our own silver anniversary in early May!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tamale-Style Beef

The decision of what to prepare on February 14 could not be taken lightly. As former Arizonans we were acutely aware that this year marked the Valentine State's centennial. The meal had to have a southwest theme, and be worthy of two souls whose love transcends any Hallmark drivel, and be easy to prepare after working all day. The solution was found in The Well-Filled Tortilla byVictoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman. The recipe? Tamale-Style Beef. As Wise and Hoffman point out "making a tamale is an arduous task" and is traditionally done only at Christmas time. The tamale-style beef tortilla is an-easy-to-prepare meal, that can turn any day into a fiesta. We began by sauteeing onions and garlic rabe in our indespensible cast-iron skillet. Then added one chopped cubano pepper, and chopped steak which had marinated in Cachaça. (The recipe actually called for ground beef, but I read it wrong, and simply put "beef chuck" on the list, which James couldn't find in any case, so he just bought a steak and cut it up, which we agreed probably made the dish way better.) Next we added one chopped tomato, 1 cup of corn kernels, a bit of fresh oregano, and a dash of red pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup red wine. This was cooked until the liquid evaporated. The filling was wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla shell along with some of the Crema Mexicana we still had left from our ajiaco recipe. This was the perfect blend of sweet, spicy, and creamy (what could be more sexy?). It was paired perfectly with a peppery Savignon Franc from Sakonnet Vineyards. See James' post on Loving Coffee to find out how our dessert went. That Intercourses cookbook does not fail!

If you really couldn't think of anything more creative than candy, flowers, and dinner in a crowded restaurant to celebrate Valentine's Day you didn't deserve to get laid. Start planning now for next year.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Loving Coffee

This is a bit of a departure for the Nueva Receta blog -- discussing a recipe a few days before we try it. The reason is simple: this recipe is for Valentine's day, and we think that some of our readers and friends might benefit (ahem) from having this post ahead of the holiday. As regular readers know, the purpose of this blog is more fully to employ the many books on our well-laden shelf. For this particular holiday, thoughts go immediately to Intercourses, a wonderful book we mentioned in Valentine's and anniversary posts last year.
Because Valentine's Day is also Arizona Day -- and this in fact is Arizona's centennial -- Tuesday's main course will be taken from a The Well-filled Tortilla, a book that somehow became our family bible when we lived in Tucson. While Pam searched out a recipe there -- check in Tuesday or Wednesday to read about that -- I perused the dessert "sexion" of Intercourses, with a special focus on coffee.

We chose "espresso cream" from page 32, for its simplicity and the promise of something a bit different than the usual. We will drain 1.5 cups ricotta cheese, and beat it together with 1/4 cup cream, until smooth. We will stir in 2T freshly ground, dark-roasted coffee beans (from Selva Negra, the most romantic coffee farm I know -- it has its own wedding chapel!) and 2-3 T sugar. The recipe calls for 4 t brandy -- we will use a coffee brandy, and probably be generous with those teaspoons.

This we will chill all day, and after dinner we will divided it into romantic cups and garnish with toasted almonds, a couple of coffee beans, and some mocha beans from Hilliards. (The recipe calls for chocolate-covered beans, but Hilliards was sold out and Star**cks has discontinued them. This seems a very reasonable solution!)

Next Valentine's Day, by the way, we hope to replicate the coffee martini we enjoyed recently at Imagine Restaurant and Bar in Granada, Nicaragua. We have the key ingredients (and will be sure to have fresh Selva Negra coffee on hand when the time comes), but we will need some coaching, which we hope to get next summer when Imagine's owner visits New England.

I have written elsewhere about the perils and pleasures of combining coffee and alcohol; this recipe seems to be well inside the pleasure zone!

NOTE: We ended up being short on coffee brandy (tragedy!), so I used about a tablespoon each of coffee brandy and 43, a Spanish vanilla liqueur. I did not grind the coffee as finely as I should have, but this still turned out quite nicely, and I am recommending it to my friends at Selva Negra.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nuestra Ajiaco

Some readers of this blog will be aware of my strong interest in coffee and coffee shops, which I share with one of my favorite comic-strip heroes, Adam of As I've written on my own blog, I always check this comic for coffee references, and am often rewarded.
Today's entry on Nueva Receta began with this strip, published October 8, 2011, when a coffee pun led our hero to inquire about a Colombian potato soup. I had not heard of ajiaco, but was quickly able -- through the wonders of the Internet -- to find this recipe from Andrea Meyers

The recipe calls for several kinds of potato, including criollos, which, again, I had not heard of. Meyers provides a couple of alternatives, but I was very fortunate that a student whose family is from Colombia was able to find criollos for me in a market in Boston. He gave me a 1kg bag of the frozen, one-inch potatoes just before the end of the year. Yesterday, I finally put them to use.

The recipe as written calls for twelve pounds of potatoes, and since it would be feeding only two of us, I scaled down to a one-third recipe, though I did use two rather large chicken breasts in the first step, when technically I should have used about 1-1/2. I boiled the chicken, removed it from the water, and then added the three kinds of potatoes. Unfortunately, I did not realize the difficulty of finding guascas, an herb in the daisy family that goes by many names.
Even without this signature ingredient, and even though I boiled the potatoes for only three hours instead of four, this was a delicious soup. We used most of the toppings called for -- including genuine Mexican crema, very aromatic cilantro, and capers. We opted to put chunks of avocado in our bowls, rather than serving separately with rice, as the rice really seemed to be superfluous with all those potatoes. One other compromise: we could not find corn on the cob, so we tossed frozen, organic corn from last summer into the soup itself, rather than resting it on top.

This was a fantastic soup, and even before it was finished, I had ordered some guascas from Amigo Foods, to use with the remaining pound of criollos in our freezer.