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, July 28, 2012

It's all about the blender

A few days ago my friend Nikki posted a recipe for Cucumber Gazpacho with Spiced Croutons on Facebook, and since it is cucumber season (see my previous post) I decided to give it a try. I made a few adjustments to the recipe as posted. I peeled and diced four small cucumbers, added the juice of one lime, one peeled and diced avocado, one small diced onion, some garlic scrape I had frozen earlier in the CSA season, one seeded and chopped jalapeno pepper, and a bunch of fresh herbs (I don't know what they all were, they came in a bundle from my CSA farm box - I am pretty sure it included parseley, mint, and sage, but I don't know what else), and finally some olive oil. All was placed in the blender and set to "liquefy". I let is mix for quite a while, scraping the sides of the blender occasionally, and added more olive oil, but it never did become "a liquid". Eventually I figured it was good enough and put it in the 'fridge to chill for about an hour. We skipped the croutons, but did top it with some plain yogurt and garlic salt. It was velvety smooth, and loaded with flavors, but was more like eating dip than soup. Something I noticed in both of the cold cucumber soups I made was that "the total time" given in the recipes for preparing these dishes don't seem to account for actually doing the seeding, dicing and chopping called for in the recipes. For those who don't have a prep chef working in their kitchens, you will need about 20-25 minutes for this step.

For dessert we made the Raspberry Key Lime Cheesecake Milkshake. I cannot remember how we found out about this, but have been waiting for when we could find some good, fresh raspberries to make it, which we did (this along with the fact that we already had some vanilla ice cream in the freezer made it a good night to try it). I got to use the special "milkshake" attachment for our blender for the first time, and used the "milkshake" button. I pretty much followed the recipe as written for this one. All the flavors came through, and it was perfectly mixed, thanks to the proper devices! Smooth and creamy with a bit of tang. Yum.
Milkshake attachment

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mole L.O.V.E.

During a recent visit to Frederick, Maryland, we found ourselves slurping vinegar straight from little sample cups -- a lot of them! What inspired such strange behavior? The delicious balsamics and infusions of L.O.V.E. -- The Lebherz Oil & Vinegar Emporium, that is.

We learned of the shop from our UMBC alumni magazine -- the shop was founded by the delightful Maggie Lebherz, a recent graduate of the Spanish program from which Pam graduated a few years back. Our visit was even more enjoyable and interesting than we expected. We learned that -- as with coffees and teas -- oils and vinegars can be special either because of special origins and preparation or because they are infused with other flavors.

Samples in the Emporium are free but fine oils and vinegars are expensive, so we had to choose carefully. Fortunately, Maggie mentioned a tantalizing recipe that employs the most decadent vinegar in the shop: 12-year-old dark chocolate basalmic. The recipe in question is Lebherz' own version of chicken with mole (MOH-lay) sauce.

As I mentioned in my Champandongo Magic post last November, I have been a sucker for mole poblano, after first having it in the summer of 1989 on the flanks of Popocatepetl, near its birthplace. "Poblano" refers to the Valley of Puebla, arguably the hearth of mole and of maize. I use "arguably" because the neighboring state of Oaxaca has competing claims on both, and according to a food-travel article in today's Boston Globe, it is home to at least seven kinds of mole!

A few restaurants in our area serve mole, but always as an enchilada sauce or over boneless chicken breast, rather than the bone-in turkey or chicken that Moctezuma intended. For me, that original mole was served over a turkey I had seen wandering around the kitchen only hours before, prepared by ladies who spoke only Nahuatl!

In gathering ingredients for the Lebherz version of mole, we were fortunate enough to have cooking chocolate from Castillo Cacao in Matagalpa, and we were even more fortunate that Pam remembered this fact.

Moles vary, and mine varied even a bit more, with thees slight modifications to the recipe:
  1. Because almonds are mentioned in the directions but not listed in the ingredient list, I guestimated that 1/3 cup of slivered almonds would work. 
  2. The biggest gumption trap that led me to delay making my first mole sauce by two decades was the need to roast peppers. This should have made the listing of one ordinary green pepper welcome news, but instead I was determined to employ this new skill. I was therefore pleased to see passilla chiles in a local grocery, even though I had to go to a separate store for corn tortillas. I roasted them according to the method I mentioned in my Busy Kitchen post last month, along with a half of a jalapeño we had on hand.
  3. The recipe calls for olive oil, for which I substituted Chipotle Olive Oil, also from L.O.V.E.
  4. Finally, the recipe calls for light rum, which we do not usually keep around. I almost substituted aged, dark rum from Nicaragua for a bit more complexity, when I had an even more brilliant (in my mind) idea: Kahlua.
I did not take any photos of the final product -- I expected it to taste much better than it looked, and I was correct -- but I did make a little still life of some of the more colorful ingredients (including the oil and vinegar and a beautiful onion from Colchester) during preparation.

I increased everything in the recipe slightly by about half, both so we could be sure to have enough for guests and so that we could have leftovers. I think I added more broth than necessary; in any case the result was more like a stew than a sauce -- a happier spot along the mole continuum for Pam, but thinner than I would have preferred.

The result was not as photogenic as the tableau above, but it was certainly delicious, served with rice, warmed corn tortillas, and of course beer. It was even better on subsequent days. We finished the chicken but have some sauce left over (yes, leftovers of leftovers), which I hope to fashion into some sort of champandongo.

If I ever find a source to a proper assortment of fresh chiles, I will try the Puebla-style recipe on Epicurious, perhaps modifying it to include the Lebherz secret ingredient. The sad assortment of peppers in our local markets make this highly unlikely, unless I treat the ingredients list as a shopping list for next winter's seed catalogs.

Which I might just do.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I case you are feeling like you have too many cucumbers right about now...

I adapted this recipe for Blender Cucumber Yogurt Soup with Cumin and Paprika from the New York Times.

This time of year we get cucumbers almost every week in our farm share, and sometimes have a hard time eating them all. This was a cool, and delicious way to use about half a dozen of them at once.

16 oz. of plain, low-fat yogurt; four smallish, seeded cucumbers; a bit of paprika; some toasted cumin seeds; juice of one lemon; one peeled whole tomato; and some garlic salt went into the blender until thoroughly pureed. The concoction was chilled for about an hour, and then served in bowls garnished with sliced cucumbers, fresh mint from our garden, and pepper.

A crusty bread rounded out the meal.

More NYT cucumber recipes here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

We Got the Beet

The Go Go's always had the beet! The Rockefeller Center version confirms that these young ladies are part of our generation.

Readers of this blog might already know that beets are among our biggest local-food challenges. We try to eat all of our vegetables, but the icky texture and the aggressive blandness seem to dominate anything we prepare with beets. Once again, kitchen goddess Deborah Madison came to our rescue, with a green salad based on her "Grated Beet Salad with Cumin" (itself a variation of another salad on page 155 of Vegetarian Cooking for All).

I started by preparing the lime-cumin vinaigrette (p 185), a complex and savory sauce whose flavor could not be beeten. I began by mashing one garlic clove (from our Cochester Neighborhood Farm share) with 1/8t salt in our small mortar. Then I combined this with the zest of two limes and the juice of one lime (reserving a little straight lime juice for the chef!), 2T chopped scallions (also farm box) and half a chopped jalapeño. Then I toasted 1t cumin seeds in a dry cast-iron skillet (Madison calls for 1/2t each of cumin and coriander, but I could not find the latter). I cleaned out the mortar in order to crush the toasted seeds, and mixed them in, then whisked in 1/4t dry mustard and 1/3 cup olive oil (completely forgetting that I could have used jalapeño oil from L.O.V.E. --- more on that in a future post).

Now for the star of this salad, which we improved by demoting it to a supporting role. The recipe calls for one pound of beets -- I knew we did not have that much, but I used all we had, which was four or five small beets. I peeled and shredded them (again, see last year's gratin post for shredder details) and blanched them in boiling salt water (that is, I put them in only for a minute). I then drained, blotted, and sieved them so that I would not have a wet mess. At this point, we realized that -- for the first time in our lives -- we did not have enough beets! We were actually sharing this salad with friends, so Pam had the brilliant idea of combining it with cucumbers and greens -- also from this week's farm share -- before applying the lime-cumin concoction.

The result was actually delicious -- the greens solved the texture problem and the vinaigrette provided more flavor than even beets could absorb.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Feast from the Farm box

We picked up our weekly bounty from Colchester Neighborhood Farm on Tuesday, and immediately began to consider what we could have for dinner that would use some of the things we received. The squash was ultimately what inspired us to make an omelet (that plus the fact that we had also purchased some farm-fresh eggs). I started with chopping and sauteeing an onion in my six-inch indispensable cast-iron skillet, then adding the squash, which I had cut into slices. I sauteed a few minutes more, and then added six eggs with deep yellow yolks (we are told the rich color comes from the fact that the hens are fed weeds). I covered the skillet and turned down the heat for six minutes, then removed the cover and added pepper and a pinch homemade garlic salt (a bag of which came in our first farm box pick up a few weeks ago, but which we had not yet used). I topped with feta cheese then put the omelet under the broiler for two minutes until the top was no longer runny. I folded the omelet in half and served. So tasty.  Even though this recipe isn't really "nueva" for us, the omelet tasted so exceptionally good with the farm fresh ingredients I had to share it on the blog.

Garlic Salt

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pops on the Porch

Our family spent the summer of 2000 in the Brazilian Amazon. It was beastly hot and we had a few tricks for keeping cool. One was to take a shower whenever we could. (It was part of Amazon etiquette to offer a shower to guests when they arrived!) We also enjoyed the amazonian version of smoothies (zucos) almost daily. My favorite flavor of zuco was açai. Açai berries are similar to blueberries. There has been some press about them lately because they are considered one of the super foods containing Omega 3 acids, antioxidants, and other beneficial vitamins. They have become easier to find in the United States in the last few years because of their elevated status. On a recent trip to Costco we found a two-pack of açai juice. We have a summer tradition in our house called "pops on the porch" - after dinner we sit on the front porch and enjoy a homemade popsicle. The last two nights we've been savoring vanilla-açai pops. I mixed equal parts açai juice and vanilla yogurt in the blender, poured into popsicle molds, and froze. I think they may be the best popsicles ever.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Oh, Currant!

This recipe is another favorite from The Well-Filled Tortilla. It is very tolerant of variation. We have used raisins instead of currants, for example, and look forward to doing it “right” for the first time with the currants in this week’s share from our CSA at Colchester Neighborhood Farm.
The currants were beautiful during cooking; they eventually merged
with the overall grayness of the filling.
We do not know how authentically Turkish this is, but it has been a favorite recipe of ours for many years. Note that the recipe calls for 2-1/2 pounds of ground turkey; we usually use 1 pound and diminish all other ingredients accordingly. 
Turkish-Style Ground Turkey

3 T peanut or olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
¾ cup slivered almonds
2/3 Cup currants I separated the currants from their stems, which was somewhat tedious and perhaps not necessary, as the stems were very fine and the currants essentially disappeared into the mix.)
2-1/2 pounds ground turkey
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon salt (we usually skip)
2/3 cup dry red wine
18 corn or 12 flour tortillas, warmed just before serving (We often roll in waxed paper and heat in the microwave, and we just start with however many we need for the first round to be served.)

TOPPINGS – optional

1 cup sliced jalapeño chili peppers – preferably fresh (In recent years, commercially-available jalapeños have become larger and milder; the ones we purchased for this recipe were an exception, and I am still regretting that I did not take more precautions while slicing -- the capsaicin still stings!)
4 cups shredded lettuce (we usually skip)
2 cups sour cream (we usually use plain yogurt)
1 cup thinly shredded mint

    Heat oil and add onions, almonds, and currants until onions are wilted and almonds browned; stir in turkey cumin salt, and red wine, cooking until most liquid is absorbed. Assemble with about 1/3 cup turkey in the middle of each warmed tortilla; add toppings, fold over, and serve

Good with beer or the rest of the red wine! Yesterday we used a very modest Pinot Noir, which worked well with the filling, but the piquant peppers would have gone better with a highly-hopped IPA.