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...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

It's Maryland Day!

Maryland holds a special place in the hearts of the Nueva Receta bloggers. Not only is it the land of Pam's birth, it is where we met and fell in love. See the whole story here. We started celebrating Maryland Day a few years ago, which then morphed into a year long project of recognizing the anniversary of each state with food, books, and movies. We no longer do every state, but do try to remember Arizona, Texas, and Maryland every year, and often our honorary home in Wisconsin as well. We began this year's celebration with coffee in our Maryland-themed mugs, accompanied by fresh-baked basil-corn muffins from the Dishing Up Maryland cookbook.

I began by mixing 1 1/4 c. Flour with 1/2 c. Cornmeal. I used twice the amount of cornmeal that the recipe indicated because I did not have the fresh corn kernels called for. I mixed this with 2 T. sugar, 3 t. baking powder, and 1/2 t. of salt. Once these were mixed I added 1 c. milk, 1 egg, 1/4 c. Canola oil and 1 T. chopped fresh basil (which was harvested right out of our windowsill). I divided the batter into 12 muffin cups and baked in my convection oven for 20 minutes at 375. James and I enjoyed these warm from the oven with a pat of butter. Savory taste with a wonderful texture, we will definitely make these again - perhaps late in the summer when we can be sure to add the fresh corn kernels.

(Note from James:  Pam was the  "I" who prepared the muffins above and the shrimp pate below. The muffins were even better than I thought they would be. Light and airy, sweet and just slightly savory. Much more suitable for breakfast than it might sound.)

Dinner comprised two more recipes from Dishing Up Maryland - an appetizer of shrimp pate and a chicken salad. The pate was easy to make, and put James in mind of the old Bass-o-Matic gag from the original Saturday Night Live. The cooked shrimp (about 3/4 lb.) was put into a blender along with  2 T. softened cream cheese, 3 T. softened butter, a healthy dollop of mayonnaise, the juice of one lime, 1 chopped garlic clove, a bit of dill, a generous helping of Old Bay (what would Maryland Day be without that!) and a few shakes of Tabasco sauce. I used the pulse setting until everything was finely chopped and evenly distributed. We spread the pate onto some good artisan bread. Delicious, and with plenty of leftovers so we can enjoy more tomorrow.
We picked this cookbook up in Nantucket!
Dinner was a delicious salad from the same book. We could not use ingredients from Washington County's Rinehart Orchards, as suggested at the top of the recipe, but managed to make quite a tasty salad with the store-bought apples and pears we can get this time of year. To make the salad, we (James taking the lead on this one, both in the kitchen and on the blog) modified the recipe entitled Apple and Pear Salad with Grilled Chicken and Pecans, on page 160.

We were fortunate to have firm apples and pears. I sliced the top and bottom off of each so that some skin would be retained, but not too much. I sliced them thin and set them aside. I then heated blood-orange-infused olive oil in our indispensable cast-iron skillet, to which I added three boneless, skinless chicken breasts, also sliced fairly thin. The recipe had called for grilling chicken, but at the end of a long -- though beautiful -- day this was not in the cards. The high-temp saute worked well with this tender, organic chicken.

Meanwhile, Pam rinsed spinach greens and arranged them on plates, adding the fruit slices, crumbled feta, and chopped walnuts (pecans having not made it onto our shopping list). We then added the chicken and a dressing I had made by vaguely following the recipe and whisking together about 3T each of the blood-orange olive oil and regular canola oil, together with about 1T each of Dijon, honey, and serrano-honey balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt.

The result was a salad that was both sweet and substantial, with many vibrant flavors. We paired it not-so-perfectly with a Snake Dog IPA from Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Maryland (home of our favorite oil and vinegar emporium). We had found it this afternoon in a shop in Concord after we had celebrated the day with a nice jaunt around Walden Pond. We had been hoping for a Maryland wine -- which would have paired beautifully -- but were happy to find several beers and ales from a brewery we have already enjoyed. The beer/wine clerk was delighted to learn it was Maryland Day, so that he could let his wife and father-in-law (from Bethesda) know that he had marked the occasion. We chilled the ale thoroughly and it was delicious -- more like an extra course than a side beverage.

Leftover plans: Maryland Day will be the culinary gift that keeps on giving. Monday morning's breakfast will feature omelets made with some Vermont extremely sharp cheddar cheese, some eggs from a friend in Bridgewater, and the remainder of the pear and apple slices. We had a bit of chicken left over, which we stored in the dressing -- a kind of post-cooked marinade. We do not know quite how we use this, but it will be put to a good use, and the delicious shrimp dip will of course not be lingering long in the fridge!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

After reading this article about the science of making food addictive in the New York Times, I knew I would need to read Michael Moss' whole book about the subject. The author describes how the three titular ingredients are combined, along with a bunch of nasty preservatives, in a variety of ways into convenience and snack foods in order to make consumers want more. Food researchers have discovered how these ingredients activate the pleasure centers of our brains, and study how much of each of these ingredients we can stand - the bliss point. And, as it turns out, there is no bliss point for fat! There is no limit to how much fat food manufacturers will add to prepared foods, because consumers will just keep feeling better and better about eating them. In fact, I was very surprised to read that  some prepared food producers were actually advocating government regulation on added fat in order to level the playing field. Right now Kraft, Nestle, Pepsico, et al appear to be in some sort of arms race to get the biggest snack food share, by having the foods that will make their consumers the happiest through fat. It was not surprising to learn that the rise in consumption of convenience food is correlated with the busyness of the lives of baby boomers, who will often skip breakfast in order to get to work for an early meeting, or just have a quick bite at their desk, then rushing home to take their children to sports practice or other extra curricular activities. The more people skip meals, the more they will snack.

There were a lot of things that made me cringe while reading this. Especially the description of how Lunchables were invented, and then marketed directly to kids. While I will admit to always keeping chicken nuggets and boxed macaroni & cheese on hand when my daughter was little, I take some pride in the fact that I never fed my daughter one of those yucky things. She even asked once when she might be able to have one, after all, her friends at school brought them all the time. "Never" was my simple answer.

This book will definitely make readers reconsider they way they think about food, even for those who have already done so!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hot, Sweet ... and Hot

We love to watch programs about food, most of which explain new and different ways in which our food systems are bad for us. Occasionally, we indulge in a show that simply relishes delicious food, with little or no regard to the things we usually try to regard in our own food. (See, for example, our posts on Sandwiches You Will Like, and the colossal sandwich we made as a result.)

The 2010 short series Best Food Ever certainly falls into the category of decadence divorced from reality, if the first episode, "Sensational Sandwiches" is any indication. The fact that such an indulgence appears on a network known as "The Learning Channel" is an indication of just how low the bar on educational television has been lowered.

But watching has no calories, and some local sense-of-place geography comes through in programs like this, so we enjoyed the first episode as it jumped from diner to restaurant to sandwich stand around the United States, Top Ten Countdown style. We could not imagine eating most of the sandwiches: those that looked delicious were incredibly high in fat, and most provided enough food for a family.

We were very intrigued, however, by The Mighty Cone from Austin. At first glance, this seems like the KFC Famous Bowl that I ridicule so heartily in my Dignity Desert post. In this case, however, the convenience food is the result of a specific request to scale down the price of one of the most popular dishes at a high-end Austin restaurant, in order to bring quality food to a public festival. We could not argue with that premise!

The film -- available above on Netflix -- describes both the original recipe and the modification. Below I describe the modification of that modification, to suit my own cooking style and the ingredients we already had on hand.

First, I skipped the aoli sauce altogether, deciding to take this one sauce at a time.
Second, I improvised an ancho sauce. I could not find one in the store and the recipes I found online seemed like quite a lot of work for a couple tablespoons of sauce. So I whisked one tablespoon of Asian pepper sauce (some times called "rooster" sauce) into 1/4 cup of light mayonnaise.
We had two boneless, organic chicken breasts on hand (NOT from the chickens I transported over the weekend, incidentally), which I sliced into 1-inch strips.
Meanwhile, I crushed together in one bowl:

  • 1/2 cup Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, in place of corn flakes
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 ounce sesame seeds (since this is all we had)
  • generous helping of red-pepper flakes
In another bowl, I whisked together about 1/4 cup each of olive oil (blood orange infused), serrano-honey vinegar, and Amaretto liqueur (to compliment the almonds).

I heated equal parts of the blood-orange olive oil and Canola oil in our indispensable cast-iron skillet, and once it was hot, I dredged the chicken strips in the dry mixture and tossed each into the pan, Once seared, I lowered to medium-high heat and turned each strip until cooked through.

We each put a small, softened tortilla (I wrap them in waxed paper and microwave for 30 seconds) on a plate and added a few of the hot, sweet chicken strips. The coating did not adhere nearly as nicely as it does in the original version, so we scooped some of the sticky mess on top. At the table, we topped with store-deli Cole slaw and a bit of the chilled pepper sauce.

We paired this with some general purpose Merlot, to good effect. The result was VERY hot, VERY sweet, and possibly habit-forming.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2-2-2 Pancakes

Pucker courtesy of
Acclaim Images
Readers of this column will know that one of my favorite breakfast creations is the pancake, and a search of this blog for word pancake will yield many variations and stories, including this one of course.

This story is a short one. To the usual pancake recipe, I added some quickly prepared apples. I heated two tablespoons of butter, sliced two small apples (using one of these corer/slicer things, and then cutting the slices in half) and cooked the apples on high heat until they just started to brown on the outside.

I then poured over about two ounces of sour-apple liqueur. I have used brandy in the past, but did not feel like evaporating the expensive stuff this morning. I kept the apples on high until the liqueur was mostly evaporated, and then stirred the pieces into the batter.

Simple and delicious.


We always use King Arthur flour, and have been known to visit the headquarters store for kitchen gear. So when the experts there offer a recipe for Simply Perfect Pancakes, I push past "My pancakes are already perfect" to see what they have in mind.

First, I notice that my pancakes never look quite this perfect, so I should pay attention.

I also notice that the recipe is generally quite similar, but that it recommends only baking powder, not baking soda. (I use both.) It calls for apples, but only in certain circumstances. Most interesting are the adjustments for particular weather conditions. Living in an old New England house, the heat and humidity differences are substantial enough to warrant close attention to these variations.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Whipped Butternut Squash

I made this recipe almost a week ago. As simple as it was, I just didn't take the time to write about it. We are down to just a few frozen veggies from last year's CSA - a bit of squash, and some mixed greens. I found the recipe for Whipped Butternut Squash on and made two minor, but very tasty adjustments. The squash had already been cooked and frozen, so I started out by thawing it. When it was soft enough, I put it in the blender along with some butter, sour cream, and nutmeg. I set the blender for puree and when everything became a light, fluffy mixture, I removed it from the blender, placed it in a ceramic bowl and put it in the microwave to warm it up. It tasted like Christmas.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Table Extended

When choosing a dinner to serve a visiting author, famous for his writings on Latin America, we wanted something new and interesting but also easy to prepare. We therefore returned to Extending the Table, where we found a simple chicken dish simply called Gingery Meat Stew on page 243.

I began by making the rice over which the stew would be served; had I paid better attention, I would have prepared it later, but I turned off the heat in plenty of time, so the rice could be held on the stove top. To prepare it, I heated 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in our stainless-steel saucepan. I used a special oil infused with blood orange, which would give the rice continuity with the main course. I toasted 1 cup of basmati rice in the oil, then added 2 cups of water, bringing the mixture to a boil. I covered it and left it on a very low boil until all of the water was absorbed, about a half hour.

I then heated some of the same infused oil (instead of the margarine mentioned in the book) in our indispensable cast-iron skillet, where I sauteed one small, finely minced onion; 1/2-inch of grated fresh ginger; and about a half-teaspoon each of cumin and turmeric. (The recipe calls for a "dash" each of ground coriander and turmeric, but the different spice mix in greater quantity seemed to work quite well.)

Once the onions were a bit brown, I stirred in one 15-ounce can of organic tomato sauce, one sliced onion, and one teaspoon of chili powder. I heated this until bubbly, and then added 1/4 teaspoon salt and one tablespoon honey (instead of the teaspoon of sugar called for) and one pound of organic, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces. (The recipe calls for beef or chicken.) I added about a cup of water (not in the recipe), covered this and let it simmer for about an hour.

As we enjoyed conversation in another room, I actually neglected to check on this as often as I normally would have, so that it ended up slightly blackened. It seems to have benefited from my neglect, the result being a thick sauce resembling marinara but with chunks of succulent chicken and a lot of complexity.

This paired very well with a very complex 2009 Malbec from Hinojosa wines in Argentina. The wine was selected in a local shop the day before, based on a sign that read "excellent" and the coincidence of naming with one of our favorite musicians. The author, by the way, dubbed the result "a fine meal."

The ginger was on hand, by the way, because we will soon be using it in the bottling of our own ginger-infused wheat beer. If that beer is successful, it will be a good excuse to extend the table for this gingery dish again!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Wheat Bread Rising

This week's Nueva Receta is an Easter bread with a Passover lesson. Those familiar with the Old Testament story know that unleavened bread is associated with Passover because the Israelites did not have time to stay up late waiting for the bread to rise.

Our story begins with a youth-group fundraiser at our church, for which Paloma agreed to make some bread. Her first attempt was a kind of macaroon with which I helped her last weekend. She read the directions carefully and we followed them closely but the results were underwhelming.

So this weekend we tried a simpler wheat bread. Pam and Paloma followed one recipe closely but the result -- though tasty -- was more doughy than breadish. We hesitate to speak ill of our friends the yeasts in this increasingly zymurgical household, but we think they let us down this time.

So we turned to our trusty More-with-Less Cookbook in search of an easy recipe to begin late on Easter Eve. Pam and Paloma found Easy No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread on page 58 and I set out to the store in search of younger, fresh-faced yeast.

I whisked together 3 cups of whole wheat flour 1/2 cup of sugar 2 tablespoons of salt in three packages of that fresh newborn yeast. Yes, three packages! meanwhile Paloma heated 2 cups of water 2 cups of milk and a half cup of canola oil to 120°F. We added this mixture and two eggs from nearby Hanson Farm; Paloma used our hand mixer on low speed to mix until moistened and then on medium speed for three minutes to make a smooth batter. (Our hand mixer is among the most neglected items in our kitchen, but the recipe called for it specifically.)

This concluded the "easy" portion of the recipe, which now called for the addition of 5 to 6 cups of white flour. Paloma gamely stirred as I added the flour cup by cup, but as it was transformed from batter to dough, more Dad-sized muscle was called for. We covered the mixing bowl and with some trepidation I began the midnight watch. After ninety minutes of playing around on the computer, I checked the bowl and was surprised to see that the towel seemed to have been pushed up slightly. It was our largest mixing bowl, but those yeasts had pushed the dough right up to the top. On that predawn Easter morning, it had risen indeed!

I punched down the dough, divided it between two oiled loaf pans, and in just 15 min. found it had risen again. I bake at 375, and after a half hour I removed the upper rack from the oven and continue baking for a total of 45 minutes. The result was two of the airiest wheat breads we have ever had. One was a success at the youth-group auction in the other was a welcome addition to an Easter dinner with friends.