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...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Solstice celebration

As promised, when I wrote my "best latkes ever" post, today I tried the Bourbon - Rosemary. Almonds from the Wicca Cookbook.

Today is the solstice, the shortest day of the year, a time to celebrate the return of the sun with family and good food. My daughter is home from boarding school and the family is enjoying some quiet time together before becoming busy with visiting and travel. My husband and I especially miss her at mealtime when she is away and savor her company as much as the food when she can join us. What would have been a simple dinner today (store bought frozen crab cakes and baked potatoes) was made into a celebratory meal with the addition of the sweet and savory almonds. They were rather easy to make. The whole almonds (one cup) were toasted in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Meanwhile I boiled together 1/3 c brown sugar, 4 T bourbon, and 1 tsp of water. Once this mixture was thickened I added the almonds and a mix of 1 T dried rosemary leaves, a bit of cayenne pepper, a dash of salt and a teaspoon of cumin. Once everything was mixed thoroughly it was placed on a buttered baking sheet to cool off and served. James and I loved them. Paloma ate one to show that she was adventurous.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

RomCom without a Recipe

This evening, after a wonderful pizza that Pam made without a recipe (and a side of applesauce that I had made without a recipe), we watched the delightful film Today's Special. It is a romantic comedy that does not follow the usual recipe (spoiler: there is no "boy loses girl" scene), about a chef who learns how not to follow recipes.

It is a most enjoyable food movie and romance and growing up. Watch it just because. And if you have Netflix, it is available streaming.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shrimp Taco

As Pam mentioned in recent posts, this has been a week of returning to the original mission of this blog: delving into our ample collection of cookbooks! As readers will notice, we sometimes simply search a few popular recipe sites (I'm loving Hispanic Kitchen, and All Recipes never fails to match available ingredients), rather than using the books. Not that there is anything wrong with it!

Still, going beyond one or two well-worn pages in our existing books is part of the project, and we've been rewarded with a couple of good meals recently, and tonight we continued that trend, dipping into one of the first cook books we purchased, The Well-Filled Tortilla As a search of the word tortilla on this blog reveals, we have hardly neglected this family friend, but we did find something new in its pages this week. It was about a year ago -- in my Landlubber Arrives post -- that I decided not to be intimidated by seafood.

Tonight's dish (well, last night at this point) was so easy -- despite having to make a few judgment calls -- that I really could have tried it years ago. The title on page 195 is practically an ingredient list for a dish that I prepared in less time than it has taken me to write about it -- Shrimp with Lemon-Chili Cream Sauce. I will describe it as made, which is with smaller portions and a couple of slight adjustments to the recipe. I did prepare all of the chopping of things ahead of time, because this is cooked so fast that the sauce and the filling need to be ready at about the same time.

For the sauce: Into a saucepan (aptly named), I put 1 cup of light cream (instead of heavy), a half of a finely minced Hungarian hot pepper (in place of a yellow wax chili pepper), the juice of half a lemon, a dash of salt, and a tablespoon or so of chili powder. I then had this handy to heat up and whisk with one hand as I cooked the shrimps with the other.

Preparing the tortillas: I rolled two large, store-bought tortillas in a sheet of  waxed paper and microwaved them for 30 seconds. This is our default method for softening tortillas, and it works really well. I also sliced half of a yellow bell pepper into thin strips, and then cut the strips in half. I skipped the shredded lettuce.

The shrimp: Here was the judgment call. First of all, we love shrimp but know a bit too much about the damage done in harvesting them, so I regret not finding a better source than the large bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer. We had about a pound of already cooked shrimp, and the recipe called for raw shrimp. So I was really just heating them. I thawed them first, of course, removed the tails, and drained them. Then I heated Canola oil in our indispensable cast-iron skillet, as I also started heating the sauce (above). I tossed the shrimp in with some salt, and stirred until they were hot. If I were starting from raw shrimp, I would have cooked them until they were opaque, but they started out that way. In either case, it takes no more than 3-5 minutes to cook shrimp.

I removed the shrimp from the heat and continued whisking the sauce. We noticed that it was pretty thin, so added a sprinkle of corn starch, which thickened it right up. We then divided the shrimp and sliced peppers between the two tortillas, spooned over the sauce, and folded them up in the expert fashion of former Arizonans. Still, the sauce oozed out a bit.

This was, I have to say, spectacular. The magic was in this sauce, which authors developed specifically for shrimp (so as not to overwhelm its delicate flavors), but which they recommend for other shellfish, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey, duck, and even blanched vegetables. I can certainly see this easy sauce complimenting a nice fish fillet.

We paired these tacos with the some 2006 Brut RJR from Westport Rivers, a "91" and a Gold Medal winner. Rather than wait for a special occasion for champagne-style wines, we keep them on hand, and turn good meals into special occasions when the pairing seems ideal. Beer is a natural choice for a dish like this, but sparkling wines also go quite well with Mexican or Mexican-inspired fare.

Dessert: We do not usually have dessert, but we had something handy that was well paired with the bubbly. A friend who now lives on the Left Coast brought us an assortment of excellent chocolates today (in recognition of our upcoming chocolate course), and we opened the first one this evening. The Cherry & Chili Dark Chocolate Bar from Theo and the PPC Farmland Trust was an obvious choice, and we were slaked with 1/4 each of the three-ounce bar. With the Brut, of course!

The best latkes - ever

Every year in honor of Hanukkah we make latkes. We have progressed in our 25 years together from a box mix, to actually shredding our own potatoes, and this year I serendipitously noticed a recipe in a never-before-used cookbook: The Wicca Cookbook: Recipes, Ritual, and Lore by Jamie Wood and Tara Seefeldt. Divided into nine sections (one each representing the 8 pagan holidays, plus an extra one for cooking with children) I happened upon a latke recipe while looking for something I might prepare for the upcoming Winter Solstice (stay tuned later this month for Bourbon-Rosemary Almonds!).The latke recipe is similar to the one we've been using for years from Deborah Madison, but this one includes apples in the mix. We peeled and grated 4 potatoes and two small apples and mixed them together. To this we added half  of a medium chopped onion, one egg and a dash of salt. We had recently read an article explaining the importance of the oil when cooking latkes, so I heated more than usual in my indispensable cast iron skillet, then added the the batter by large spoonfuls into the hot canola oil. I had to sacrifice the first pancake (but isn't that always true) while I was learning how to make sure they stayed crispy and didn't become an oily mess, but the rest turned out great. A perfect combination of textures - crispy, creamy (from the sour cream topping), and chunky (from James homemade apple/pear sauce). These were sweeter than our previous recipe, and required a bit more patience while cooking. These were so good, James even ate the "sacrifice" pancake. He asked afterwards if the recipe included flour, at which point I told him that I thought it did, but I  forgot to put it in! We enjoyed our homemade Chardonnay with this meal.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A maiden voyage into a new cookbook

Last summer while visiting Nantucket, we spied a cookbook called Dishing Up Maryland, and even though we already had so many cookbooks we knew we could never possibly exhaust all the recipes waiting to be prepared, we, nevertheless, could not resist purchasing this one from our home state. And then it sat on our cookbook shelf for six months. So, in the spirit of actually using my cookbooks (which was why I started this blog in the first place) rather than looking up a recipe online, I took it off the shelf and picked a recipe. The cookbook is divided by the four seasons, and although the calendar, and quite frankly, the warm temperatures, still say it is fall, I selected "Rockfish in Tomato Saffron Cream Sauce over Rice" from the "Winter" section.

We began our preparations at Fresh Catch in Mansfield, Massachusetts. The cookbook said that rockfish is also known as striped bass, which was what we expected we might find at the fishmonger, but rockfish was not to be had by any name. We were advised that haddock would be a good substitution, so we bought that, and it was not cheap.

Back at home I got out my trusty indispensable cast-iron skillet, and melted 3T of butter, to which I added 3 small chopped shallots. After these were sauteed, I added a stalk of celery (cut into 8 pieces); a large pinch of saffron threads, 1/3 c. of white cooking wine, a pinch of garlic salt, and a one-quart baggie of frozen tomatoes. The recipe said to use a 12 oz. can of tomatoes, but we hardy New Englanders know to freeze or can some of our harvest if we don't want to eat tomatoes that taste like wood later in the year.All of this was cooked down for about 10 minutes. The fish was then added to the skillet, which was kept on a low simmer for another 10 minutes. The fish was removed and set aside, covered, on a plate, while the sauce cooked down some more, and rice was cooked. When the rice was ready, I removed the skin from the fish, cut it into small pieces, and put it back in the pan along with 1 cup of heavy cream. This all cooked for about 5 minutes more.

The result was exquisitely tender fish in a delicious and savory sauce. The sauce probably could have cooked down a bit more, as it was very watery, which was why I did not see any need to puree it as the recipe suggests.

Friday, December 7, 2012

All Pesto All the Time

Earlier this week I made spaghetti with my favorite ground-turkey/tomato sauce. Since I did not use all of the ground turkey that I thawed in the sauce, I had just enough left to make two turkey burgers last night. I usually like to put some kind of fruit (apples and/or cranberries) in my turkey burgers, but we were out of both, so I went looking online for some other ideas. I wound up adapting a recipe I found at to use some of the pesto sauce I cleverly froze this summer (made with the basil from my garden, and garlic from my CSA). I had just under 1/2 pound of turkey to which I added a small handful of breadcrumbs, about 1/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese, a small minced garlic clove, and about a tablespoon of pesto sauce. I formed two patties and cooked on the stovetop until they were no longer pink inside. I also cooked a small serving of spaghetti and mixed it with the most of the rest of the pesto sauce, leaving just enough sauce to drizzle on of top each of the burgers. The burgers were eaten on buns, with a side serving of pasta with pesto. This was a delicious and satisfying meal, made complete with a bottle of our homemade chardonnay.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Green Potato Soup

As described on my
Geography of Food
page, 2008 was YOP.
It is over, but we still
The soup is green, not the potatoes!

(If Dan Quayle could have done what I just did -- spelling the spud as singular and plural -- he might have been an ex-president by now.)

This evening we have a gratuitously non-vegetarian dinner because we are being thrifty with our Thanksgiving turkey. After the main meal, the sandwiches, the hash, the stuffing-egg cups, and the amazing turkey-rice soup, we still had broth. I am sure this evening's recipe could be made with a vegetable-based broth just as successfully. We we would never have found this recipe without broth, however, because it was broth that led us finally to open Jean Childress' little Soup Cookbook from the Country Kitchen Collection.

This booklet combines the author's interest in simple dishes, drawing, and calligraphy -- each of its 32 recipes is hand-lettered. She published a few dozen thematic booklets, mainly in the 1980s, and they seem to be out of print these days, though circulating among used-book shops. We have no idea where or when or how we received our copy.

I began the green potato by peeling and cubing six medium potatoes (the recipe calls for four large) in four cups of broth. After 15 minutes, I added one medium onion, finely chopped, and two bags of greens frozen from our summer farm share. The recipe calls for one pound of kale, and this seems to be roughly equivalent. Throughout the summer, Pam would blanch and freeze any greens we did not use, so that we could do exactly this with them in the winter. I added another four cups of broth and salt and pepper to the soup, though not the 2 teaspoons of salt called for!

After cooking another 20 minutes (extended by 5 because the greens were frozen), I ran all of contents in a blender and returned it to the cooking pot, where I added one half cup of light cream and blended through. In retrospect, I should have baked some bread to go with this. In the event, we had it with "liquid bread" in the form of our home-brewed English Ale.

Verdict: YUM! The broth actually makes a difference. Thanksgiving Day, we slowly roasted our free-range, Vermont turkey from Misty Knoll, between two small piles of briquettes in an old-school Weber grill. Near the end, we put in hardwood to make this a smoker, and the flavor combined well with the garlic-paprika-olive oil rub I had applied hours earlier. Now weeks later, we got a creamy, delicious, and smokey potato soup with plenty of nutrients.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Saucy Vegan Sauce

Image: Mass Dept of Agriculture
Pick-Your-Own Page
Today's entry is about making quick use of a lot of apples purchased a week or more ago that I wanted to use while they were still decent. And a couple of pears.

I took the lot of them -- about seven smallish apples and two big pears -- and cut them down to small bits. I normally leave skins on apples when I cook with them, but I felt like trying to make a saucy sauce, so I peeled them. Also, I usually employ a handy apple corer to start the job, but these were small enough that I thought I should avoid the wastage by taking a couple extra minutes to make and trim small wedges myself.

The assembled bits covered the bottom of our indispensible cast-iron skillet. Over them, I sprinkled about a quarter cup each of granulated white (though the organic stuff is not really that white) and brown sugars, along with a generous sprinkle each of cinnamon and nutmeg. Without stirring, I covered the pan and put it in the oven at 250 for over a couple of hours. (I turned it off when I realized I had to leave the house for a long while; it did not seem to hurt anything.)

Then I added about a half cup of Nicaraguan rum (any rum would do, I'm sure, though I'm fond of the brown, aged rums). I left it uncovered for another hour or two, using a potato masher to squish the fruit after much of the liquid had evaporated. I let it cook down a bit more, and then put it in the fridge until dinner time.

Careful readers of this space will realize that this apple recipe bears a striking resemblance to the Cranberry "Recipe" Recipe (that's not a typo) we posted in October. The differences are that I cooked this a lot longer, and that I eventually did stir (even crush) the sauce. More importantly, I reduced the sugar because apples are sweeter than cranberries and I reduced the rum because I realized that two cups worth required a lot of time to evaporate, and was a bit of a waste.

When cooled, the sauce was a good side dish for our standard sweet potato quesadillas (which do not really need a sauce), accompanied by our White House Honey Brown Ale. I was able to cook the vegetables for the quesadillas in the same pan as the cranberries (barely wiped clean), adding a bit of sweetness to the savory main course.

The sauce itself was deliciously cool, sweet and spicy, though with enough body that it might have served even better as a pie filling.