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, June 30, 2012

Recipe for a Perfect Evening

The first and perhaps second thought to come to mind on a hot Friday evening in the summer might be to simply "veg out" at home. Much of the year, that might be the best option, but during the summer, we always have a better alternative. And if we have planned ahead, we might even be joining some friends in the fun.

We are at risk of becoming "regulars" at a vineyard, but we do not mind. The Russell family of Westport -- about a 40-minute drive south of us -- began Westport Rivers as a family hobby about five years before Pam and I got married. We learned of it only after moving to this area, but have visited with increasing frequency over the past several years. We enjoy visiting because we have learned a lot about wine there, the Russell family and their staff are very friendly, and it is just a beautiful spot where the land is well cared for.

The same climate that makes Westport perfect for viticulture also makes it a very nice place for a picnic. Only a few miles from the Atlantic, it enjoys the shelter of land and the moderating temperature of the sea. And all summer long, Friday evenings are for music on the lawn from 6 to 8 p.m. This year, the fee is $10 per carload to attend, then any alcohol must be purchased on site -- some of the best beer and wine around make this a very reasonable condition. The licensing is kind of funny, so we always bring our own glasses and corkscrew. Most people bring picnics, but this year some local businesses are set up with barbecue and even a nice raw bar last evening.

The music changes week to week, using a small barn as a sound board. It is usually a solo or very small act, mostly but not entirely acoustic. Last week we enjoyed singing along with Toph and Tom, guys a couple years younger than us who played everything we ever sang along with on the radio during high school and college. Last night, it was very different and equally enjoyable, as Rebecca Correia put on a very engaging show of her own varied and original music, along with her friend Joe Doyle from Nashville.

Last week our decision was last-minute and we just enjoyed the barbecue on offer, along with some Chardonnay. This week we had made even less of a plan, but decided to bring along some fruit, and a hasty but delicious salad of pasta, tuna, and fresh peas from Colchester Neighborhood Farm, part of our practice of finding at least one use of a farm-box item every day. This idea -- totally Pam's -- meant we had a cool, healthy salad whose bland, creamy softness was offset by crisp, fresh peas.

In addition to Chardonnay (some things do not change), we did augment the feast with shrimp cocktail from a local vendor. It was inspired, in that the cocktail sauce included a significant dose of black pepper. When I thanked the raw-bar manager for this lesson after the show, he said he had no idea: he had just opened the jar. But I will definitely be keeping this in mind for future shrimp encounters.

Is Cheese a Vegetable?

It may not be difficult to believe that I have already returned to our new super-market-checkout booklet Cooking with Beer, not even week after the terrific scallops-with-stout dish that was part of a recent very busy evening in our kitchen. Although the photo looks like mush, Pam and I were both pleased to notice Cerveza Chicken Enchilada Casserole on our first perusal. The result was a genuine guilty pleasure with Tex-Mex roots.

At the very beginning I altered the recipe slightly. It calls for small amounts of carrot and celery, but we had frozen tri-color bell peppers on hand, suggesting a substitution that would be both thrifty and more fitting. When we repeat this dish -- which clearly we will want to -- I will use bell peppers again, but also some hotter peppers. This dish is scrumptious except for a lack of piquancy.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I brought one cup of Mexican beer and two cups of water to a boil, along with the veggies, a dash of salt, and the juice of one lime. I then added two chicken breasts and cooked through -- about 12 minutes. I forgot to let it cool before shredding the chicken -- in the pan -- with two forks.

Then I began to assemble the dish; the recipe calls for doing this in three rounds in a slow cooker, but it was getting close to dinner, so I used a casserole dish and just two rounds, each like this:

half a 10-ounce can of enchilada sauce -- half a 9-ounce bag of tortilla chips -- half the chicken mix -- a bit of chopped onion -- shredded cheddar cheese

REPEAT, then pour the rest of the bottle of beer over the whole thing.

The recipe mentions 3 cups of cheese, but I think I did a bit more. It calls for 4-5 hours in a crock pot, but I cooked at 350 in a convection oven for about 30 minutes, then cooled to 325 for about 15 minutes more. Crispy on the edges, bubbly on top, and delicious all over!

Perfect pairing for this dish, of course, is beer, Mexican if possible but our home-brewed English ale worked just fine. This dish makes particularly good leftovers, either heated through in the oven or microwaved in small batches.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


After a couple of years of making beers and ales (which we continue to do), we started making wine earlier this year. While thirty bottles of Barolo are aging in our basement, a giant carboy of Chardonnay is coming together in our kitchen. After fermentation, we began a process of finishing, which removes cloudiness from the wine. We did the same thing with our red wine, but the effect was difficult to discern as it progressed.

This week we are noticing that the clarification takes place very gradually and evenly from the top down, once again validating the theory of gravity! With this white wine, the effect is easily visible. It really looks like wine at the top, and the bottom is a sludge of expired yeast almost two inches thick. In between is the layer awaiting clarification.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Busy Kitchen

Monday morning was spent dodging (not very effectively) downpours as we went into Boston for errands, mainly the provision of a travel visa for our daughter's upcoming service trip to China. The late afternoon found me in the kitchen juggling (somewhat effectively) three little projects.

I began with a slight variation on a very familiar recipe -- a smoked pepper dip for a small gathering on Tuesday. It is a perennial crowd-pleaser that calls for roasted red peppers and commercial salsa. I always try to use a chipotle salsa -- usually from Trader Joe's -- supplying even more roasted peppers. This time I used Arriba! Fire-Roasted Mexican Chipotle Salsa, available at my local grocery, and decided to roast the additional peppers myself.

I had been intimidated by this process for years -- which is why I have not yet made my own mole from scratch -- but tried it a couple of times in the past year or so, and I am now fairly confident putting an entire bell directly on the front (super) burner of our stove. The keys are, I think, to turn the peppers frequently and to be unafraid to char them quite thoroughly. In this case, I roasted one bell pepper and one jalapeño, giving the dish a bit of extra piquancy.

A strange but important part of the roasting process is the sweating -- the peppers go into a sealed bag for about ten minutes, after which it is a simple matter to remove the vast majority of the charred patches of outer skin.

The resulting dip was delicious -- a few test bites had to be taken -- probably one of the best I have made -- and I have made this dish at least 100 times. It can be served either warm or cold; since I was almost a day ahead, I set it aside to cool and then turned my attention to brewing some raspberry whitbeer -- my first foray into fruit-flavored beer. I am still a novice brewer, but competent enough to keep the kitchen relatively clean while progressing through the various steps required to create wort (unfermented beer) and get it set up for initial fermentation. Once I was done with steeping the grains and adding the malt, hops and spices (a first for me), I put the whole shebang in sink full of ice water to chill it for the final step.

Because it was starting to get late (by our early-bird dinner standards) I decided that I could continue brewing and still get started on our dinner, which was made possible by two things we had picked up on Sunday. The first was one of those little recipe books from the grocery store. We had gotten rid of many of these when we cleaned up the cookbook cabinet a few months ago, but could not resist one entitled Cooking with Beer. Pam had thumbed through the booklet as I drove us to Fresh Catch in Mansfield, and we settled on an intriguing recipe involving sea scallops.

The recipe called for hoisin sauce -- which we had never used -- and other ingredients that we already had on hand. I made one unusual error. I did not notice that the recipe called for drained beans, so when I blended the beans with a few other ingredients for a sauce, I did not realize that it was way to thin. Ordinarily, I would just keep cooking to reduce the sauce, but it was far too thin, and sufficient cooking to reduce the sauce would have overcooked the scallops. Fortunately, Pam suggested corn starch as a compromise, and it worked fairly well.

The scallops went beautifully with an Argentine Malbec called Loca Linda (I called this "Pretty Crazy" but the company prefers "Crazy Beautiful"), which we purchased at currentVintage, a dress shop on Nantucket that is also one of our favorite wine stores.

After dinner, I pitched a little yeast into the wort, gave it a stir, and covered it with a lid and airlock. As I write this just over 24 hours later, the dip is mostly gone (a crowd-pleaser for the small crowd we entertained this evening), the scallops are a scrumptious memory, and the beer is fermenting in the next room, bubbling up about twice each minute to assure me that the yeast are now working overtime!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Celebration Foods

Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP
Although the Hayes-Bohanans have been honored as bakers by no less an authority than David Sedaris, we cannot take credit for the besan burfi shown above. Yet.

Followers of this blog know that we enjoy preparing, sharing, and tasting foods. We also like to learn about the geography of food: if food did not have a geography, everyone would eat the same stuff. Since that clearly is not true, we can learn a lot about geography from food -- and a lot about food from geography.

It is also true that all of us have "ordinary" foods and "celebration" foods. One of the most common ways we mark special moments in time or special gatherings with other people -- or both -- is through the preparation of special foods. The foods that mark weddings, homecomings, religious or civic holidays, and the passing of seasons are not foods we could afford to prepare and consume every day.

 The photograph above comes not from Casa Hayes-Boh, but from a nice little photo essay from National Geographic, describing celebratory foods from around the world.

We have actually made and/or eaten a few of the foods shown. I have not had the Vietnamese banh chung, which looks remarkably similar to Nicaraguan nacatamales, though I imagine the resemblance is superficial.

Because we are always looking for inspiration to try new foods -- and learn some geography along the way -- I am willing to bet that this blog will feature attempts at preparing  at least a few of these dishes at home. Living near greater Boston, we can probably find others prepared more expertly and enjoyed in their cultural context nearby. This is especially true of the aforementioned banh chung; we have dabbled in pho, but we might leave this to the experts, at least the first time.

The photo essay includes one dish we are not likely to take up. Even though it is the most widely known food of my own heritage, we are not likely to be making or even sampling haggis any time soon. For any Scottish celebrations that arise, we will have to be satisfied with the beverage side of the menu!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Apple Sa-Té

In the spirit of Pam's recent post about timely use of our farm-box bounty, this evening's dinner was a use of our latest Colchester Farm harvest that was simple, nutritious, easy, and delicious. Read on -- I think this was quite successful and readily adapted to other available ingredients.

Pam started by preparing a salad with mixed leafy greens, sliced radish, and bean sprouts. She mixed up one of our favorite dressings -- one cup olive oil and a 1/4 cup each of mustard, honey, and balsamic vinegar. These stayed in the fridge -- alongside a Sauvignon Blanc -- while I prepared a stir-fry.

I did so with some trepidation, as my "stir fry" often seems to be more a stew than anything else. In this case, I made a couple of adjustments that resulted in a lighter, more flavorful meal. First, I melted butter in a small pan, stirred in one cup of basmati rice, and then added 2-1/4 cups of water. I brought that quickly to a boil (thanks to our super-duper burner, for which I am very grateful).

I moved the rice to a simmer burner and then heated a generous splash of olive oil on that same high burner. When it was hot but not smoking, I tossed in a package of firm tofu. This I had cut into four large blocks to drain in a sieve, and then cut into cubes the size of Vegas dice. I then added two large pieces of garlic rabe (not the head, just the stalk, which was thick enough to require snipping rather than slicing) in 1/4-inch pieces and about five large, hastily-sliced scallions. I added about a half cup of peas that I had just liberated from their pods and one small, finely-chopped apple. Yes, an apple for a bit of sweetness and texture.

All of this was cooking at high heat as the basmati (which cooks more quickly than most other rices) neared completion. Here is where I think I got smart; rather than adding a heavy sauce as I have often done, I added two or three squirts of soy sauce so that the tofu would brown a bit and then stirred in about a teaspoon of Asian chili Sa-Té paste. I stirred over high heat for only another minute before declaring dinner served. The result: a fresh, tasty and easy meal with a lot of local ingredients picked just a few days ago from nearby soil.

A Dandy Dressing for Fruit Salad

This week we picked up our first Community Supported Agriculture farm box of the season from our friends at Colchester Neighborhood Farm. We received a lot of leafy greens, some radishes, strawberries, rhubarb, zucchini bread, and a few other goodies. As the summer goes on the bounty will become bigger, and we will feel especially blessed as we wonder how we will manage to eat all the good organic food. We made ourselves a sign to hang in the kitchen that simply asks "What did you use from the farm box?" as a reminder to see what we can employ from the harvest when preparing meals. This week we used the greens and strawberries to reprise the Lemon-Pepper Shrimp and Strawberry Salad we made last year for our anniversary, and I used the rhubarb to make a topping for fruit salad. I boiled 1/2 c. each of water and honey together, then added the chopped rhubarb (I don't have a quantity for the 'barb, I simply used the amount that came in the box, which was roughly "a small bundle".) This I simmered for 10 minutes, until it turned to mush. I used my potato masher to completely liquefy it, then poured it over a mix of apples, blueberries, bananas, grapes, and peaches.  We ate it as part of our picnic at the Westport Rivers Winery Summer Sunset  Concert. I think next time I will use less honey, the sweetness seemed to overwhelm the tartness of the rhubarb. Looking forward to making another salad this weekend with the rest of the greens.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A New Lunch and a New Dinner

To make up for last week, when we were on vacation and prepared no new recipes, I made two today. I noticed that we had some celery in the refrigerator, and we had just bought apples and grapes. Since we always have a supply of walnuts, I realized that we had what we needed for Waldorf salad, which I've eaten before, but never made myself. The dressing was made with 3T of mayonnaise, and 1T of fresh squeezed lemon (fortunately I found a lemon hidden in the fruit drawer as well) and a bit of fresh ground pepper. This was tossed with one chopped apple, about a dozen sliced grapes, 1/2 c. of thinly sliced celery, and 1/2 c. of toasted walnuts. Simple, crunchty and delicious.

For dinner we tried Rice Pilaf with Dates and Almonds. I still had quite a few dates from the charoset I made for our anniversary party, so this recipe from The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home looked like a good use for them. I heated 1T each of butter and olive oil in my indispensable cast-iron skillet and sauteed 1 chopped onion, and one minced garlic clove. Then added some frozen tri-colored peppers. Spices went in next: some fresh ground allspice, 1t turmeric, and a 1/2 t. cinnamon (now the kitchen really smelled good). I cut up a handful of dates and added them to the skillet, then stirred in 3 c. cooked rice and some parsley. Finally, I added some sliced almonds and stirred until everything was heated and well mixed. Tasty and satisfying with a lot of flavor, texture, and color.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Recipe Reserves

Nueva Receta began not only to accentuate the positive of new recipes, but also to eliminate the negative of the never-prepared recipes that haunt the shelves and recipe boxes of all cooks.

In the current issue of our denomination's magazine, I enjoyed finding "A Recipe for Connection," in which writer Nancy Bentley reflects on the reasons we keep recipes that we do not really intend to use, as she describes the deep joys of perusing them and ultimately of sharing them.