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...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hungry Heart Down in Kingstown

We spent the last weekend in March enjoying wonderful local food and the company of our friend  Susan in lovely North Kingstown, Rhode Island. This puts us in mine of a line from The Boss, in a song that is really about Baltimore: "Here I am, down in Kingstown again."
Susan lives in a delightfully tiny house, but the kitchen is well equipped and big enough for three people to work in at the same time. James and I helped to prepare the dinner that Susan planned for us which included all local, organic food from her local winter farmer's market. Susan did some prep work with chicken thighs and legs before we arrived, marinating them in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, sage, fennel, and some additional fresh herbs. She also included  the lemon rinds. I cut onion into chunks and some very orange carrots lengthwise (without peeling) and placed them on a baking sheet, to which the well marinated chicken was added. It was all baked together until the carrots and onions caramelized. The chicken fat infused with the veggies and lemon rinds making them taste sweet. It was almost like eating candy. We also had fresh steamed broccoli of very vibrant green.

And that's not all...there's more besides...
Breakfast on Sunday was another feast of local food starting with a Rhode Island tradition - johnnycakes! These hold a special place in my (Pam's) psyche because my elementary school, and junior high school in Baltimore County were called Johnnycake (really!). Susan used corn meal mix that came from a local farm, and we were horrified to discover that most of the breakfast johnnycakes served in restaurants in the area come from corn that is grown on a farm in the Midwest. Indeed. In addition to the crispy cakes, we were treated to cheese and herb omelets made from local eggs.

Monday, May 28, 2012

JP Rangaswami talks about the relationship between food and information

A thought provoking analogy for this foodie /librarian

Greece is the Word

Pamela: from the Greek, meaning "honey" or "all sweetness". 

In celebration of Pam's 48th birthday, we decided to try preparing some Greek dishes, (and some others that were, perhaps, a bit less ethnic).

We started the day with sausage and egg sandwiches on English muffins, with a side of pre-fab hash browns.  The meal put us in mind breakfast at a certain fast-food restaurant, a place we have, in fact, not visited in several years now. Both the turkey sausage and the eggs were organic, the latter from our friend Lori. Well, from her chickens. (Pam points out that Turkey is near Greece, by the way.)

As we realized only the next day, we actually had Greek yogurt with our McMuffins.
See a review of this yogurt from blogger Eve Was Right.

Home-brew Oak Barrel
Even while our first batch of wine (a Barolo) still ferments in our basement, we have jumped into our premier attempt at white wine, a Chardonnay. Here the birthday girl stirs the oak chips into the barrel. We look forward to trying some of this late in the summer.

Chefs Pam and James pose in our cozy kitchen with our matching anniversary aprons. These anniversary gifts from James' parents are both kitchy and kitcheny, they are also linguistic -- with "chicken" translated in many of the languages used in our house.

A beautiful Memorial Day weekend. We enjoyed eating alfresco.

For our main course, we once again tried our hand with phyllo dough, this time with a delicious Spanakapita - a mixture of spinach, onion garlic, egg, ricotta, and feta cheese layered between sheets of phyllo. We did learn that left-over phyllo dough is probably not worth keeping, though we did manage to use some as a bottom layer.)

Birthday Baklava was made with phyllo, pecans, and a lot of honey - definitely "all sweetness."
Vexillology challenge: what is the state flag in the middle of Pam's candles? Answer here.

Our dinner, and dessert were both (remarkably) well paired with Mead, a wine made from honey. We had to go to three liquor stores in order to find one that even knew what we were talking about. Pioppi's in Plymouth, Massachusetts (the very first liquor store to open after prohibition) is  the place to go. Rather than go to this trouble in the future, we are just going to start making it ourselves.

At the end of the day, there was nothing for it but to watch Pam's favorite movie of all time.

Is it our imagination, or are all three pictures above of the same couple?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Celebrating Silver

Bloggers on May 9, 1987 in Baltimore, Maryland
We have spent the last month or so celebrating our first 25 years of marriage. The celebration started online, with Pam posting a series of 25 duet photographs (Advent-style) that reflect just a little of the variety of experiences we have been fortunate enough to have together. The memories and online comments from friends all over the world were quite fun.

We then had small culinary celebrations on the actual date -- May 9 -- as mentioned previously, and the celebrating culminated with a local party a few days later. For this, we sought recipes -- old and new -- that we could make in quantity and that we hoped would please a crowd.

It being the end of the semester (as our anniversary always is), James contributed old favorites to the cause, but Pam researched -- and prepared -- a lot of great new recipes that were indeed crowd-pleasers. These included an English Pale Ale prepared over the past six weeks or so and reaching optimal flavor just in time for the event and of course James' famous queso dip. James also prepared a chili whose secret ingredients were a jalapeno-chicken sausage (a substitution for the usual Italian sweet turkey sausage, after a futile search for the latter) and time. That is to say, the secret to chili is starting more than 24 hours ahead and letting it cook beyond what most people would consider reasonable.

Pam remembered one crowd-pleasing recipe from our church auction in years past - charoset - an Iranian dip recipe made with fruits and nuts. The recipe came by way of our friends Frank and Eileen, who love to prepare and serve gourmet meals made from scratch. This recipe was made entirely in our trusty blender and started with grinding unsalted pistachios, walnuts and almonds into a paste. This was then removed from the carafe, into which raisins, dates, a sliced apple, a pear and pomegranate juice were blended. The nut paste was put back in and everything was mixed together. The result is a sweet and nutty, richly textured paste that  tastes delicious on crackers, carrot and celery sticks, and breads.

Knowing that many of our friends are vegetarians we wanted to find an easy, meatless dish that could feed a lot of people. Pam selected "Curried Chick Peas and Tofu" from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home to try out on our guests. Starting by sauteing onions and garlic, and then adding cumin, dried cilantro, turmeric, and black pepper, we added 2 packages of cubed tofu, and then three cans of chick peas (a bit of the liquid went in as well). Finally chopped tomatoes were added. While all of this cooked, we also prepared rice, which went onto the bottom of a casserole dish, to which the chickpeas and tofu were added. It turned out to be one of the more popular dishes at the party. One vegetarian family told us that our party had the most "funky vegetarian food outside of their own house" they'd ever seen. High praise from our hippie friends.

There were a lot of other dishes including one of our favorite appetizers - ham and pineapple on a toothpick. And the crowd-pleasing-deviled-eggs disappeared within the first 90 minutes.We also made one of our favorite cakes - Mocha Swirl Pound Cake from the original Moosewood Cookbook. All of this was supplemented by delicious casseroles, sandwiches, and pastries, homemade by some of our foodie guests.

We are truly blessed with good friends, good food, and a good marriage

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Silver-Dollar Day

Today it is time for another old recipe for Nueva Receta. In honor of our silver anniversary -- we were married 25 years ago today at Seventh Baptist Church in Baltimore -- I prepared silver-dollar pancakes. I used the standard recipe that I adapted from Debra Madison -- the recipe, history, variations, and implications can be found on my Famous Pancakes page. The only difference today was making them small! Thanks to our friend Fran for suggesting this.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mac & Cheese, Please!

Although she does occasionally find other forms of sustenance, our vegetarian daughter is mainly a pastaterian, subsisting for days on noodles in various forms. In trying to apply some of the lessons she has been learning in health classes, though, she is interested in having a lot less "box food" in her diet, and we are delighted to encourage this. We were especially glad to be rid of "Easy Mac" but have also decided to cut back on the regular powdered varieties of mac & cheese as well.

I have almost always augmented the powered versions with real cheese, but I have still welcomed the opportunity to explore other ways of concocting this ultimate comfort food. I learned years ago that simply dumping cheese in with cooked macaroni does not work, as the cheese simply slides off the noodles. We turned -- as readers of this blog know we often do -- to 365 Ways to Cook Pasta, which includes several variations on a recipe called "Your Basic Macaroni and Cheese" on page 16. We did not try the variations -- which involved either meat or things we did not have on hand -- and simply undertook the basic recipe. It calls for heating and whisking together butter, milk, flour, and mustard and adding cooked macaroni to this sauce.

The mixture is topped with bread crumbs and baked. Rather than using the commercial bread crumbs I keep on hand for such recipes, I followed the instructions. I have to admit that I had doubted the outcome, but it turned out well. I simply tore up a piece of hearty sandwich bread, pulsed it in the blender for a few seconds, and then cooked it in butter on the stove top. The result was a very comfortable bit of comfort food for the family and a guest.

Phear Not the Phyllo!

We prepared a meal together for James' 49th birthday, using A Taste for Love, a book we mentioned -- appropriately enough -- last Valentine's Day. More than just a recipe book, A Taste describes entire meal scenarios, each with a theme. We chose just three of the items from a tableau entitled Hollywood Nights.

Making our first foray into phyllo, we prepared the Studio Chicken in Phyllo for our main course. We began by cutting up two small chicken breasts and coating them with a mixture of flour and seasoning salt, then sauteed in olive oil. The chicken was removed from the skillet and kept warm in our warmer drawer. Meanwhile we added 1/8 c of Dijon mustard to the skillet, and some dried tarragon, then whisked in 1/3 c heavy cream.  Once the sauce was thick, the chicken went back into the skillet with it.

Using a small casserole dish, we used melted butter to coat the bottom and then placed 5 pieces of phyllo (each brushed with butter in turn) in the dish. The chicken/sauce mixture went on top, and then another 5 pieces of phyllo (again, each buttered after it was added). The dish baked at 350 for about 15 minutes (using convection) and came out golden brown. It had a delicious tangy-ness, and a crisp texture that you can only get with phyllo.

Our side dish was a modified version of Oscar's Potatoes. We began by mashing the potatoes and adding some parsley flakes, then chilling the spuds for 2 hours. After they had cooled, we scooped out portions of the potatoes and shaped into pancakes. Each was then dipped in flour, egg, and crushed almonds, then grilled on the stovetop until crispy. These were absolutely fabulous. The crunchy almonds gave them texture and flavor. The recipe actually calls for making balls out of the potatoes, and deep frying them; it also calls for bacon. While we're sure this would have been quite delicious as well, it seemed like overkill.

We found the recipe for James' birthday cake (Mexican Chocolate Honey Cake) in the May 2 edition of the Enterprise newspaper. James was immediately drawn to it for the combination of coffee, spices, and mango. This cake is sweetened with honey only, no sugar. (Our honey came from the Golden Stage Inn in Proctorsville, Vermont - run by two of the best innkeepers ever, Julie and Mike Wood.) The cake is made in a bunt pan, and is quite dense. It does not rise much at all. The only leavening agents are 1/2 t of baking power, 1/2 t of salt, and two eggs. The glaze called for instant coffee to be used with 3T water, and 1 t vanilla extract, and 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar. Bah! Instant coffee will not be used in this house! We made and then strained a very strong Turkish-style coffee instead, but then had to add a lot of confectioners sugar because we did not adjust the amount of liquid, and had far too much. It all turned out delicious though, and now we have a glaze for other uses. We cut the cake, then added the glaze to each slice, and topped with a slice of mango and a mint leaf. It looked beautiful, and tasted spicy, and not too sweet. All the flavors blended together perfectly.

 Frugal to a fault, we keep reusing the same numeral candles year after year. It is a good thing we are almost done with our 40s. We had no number 9 candle, so we had to make due with "6+3".

For the mango garnish, we used the indispensable mango slicer we mentioned in an earlier post. The mint leaves came right from our garden.

Back to the third item from A Taste for Love. We had planned to have a Chardonnay with this meal, but then noticed that the scenario calls for Sauvignon Blanc. Heading to the wine department at our local grocery, we were momentarily distracted by the Cinco de Mayo display, sangria tasting, and photo opportunity, but quickly refocused and browsed the Sauv Blancs. Not seeing any local varieties (I had spoken with the wine manager about this yesterday, and knew it was a lost cause), we went into the usual evaluation of the prices (not too low; not too high) and labels. Always a sucker for a map label, as it implies geographically literate vintners (actually, all good vintners have to know some geography), we settled on a Line 39 Sauvingon Blanc 2010 from  from Cechetti Wine Company in Sonoma, specializing in the wines of Lake and Mendoncino Counties. The result was a crisp, bright wine that was a perfect pairing for the dinner and for our viewing of the witty and luscious Barcelona afterward.