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...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Romantic Farm Box Fare

With the parental visit over, and our daughter away on a sleepover it seemed the time was ripe to for a "nueva receta" from Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook. I had spotted the recipe for basil-eggplant soup when browsing the cookbook earlier this year and marked it with a plan to make it whenever we got some eggplant in our farm box. As it turned out this week's pick-up included just about all the ingredients we needed to make this delicious soup. I started by boiling and peeling some of the fresh tomatoes, and then peeling, dicing and boiling the eggplant. While the eggplant was cooking I sauteed some onions and garlic (also from the farm) in olive oil. I then added the tomatoes and eggplant to the pot with the onions and garlic, and then added 1 3/4 c. chicken stock, a bit of cayenne and some pepper. This was simmered for about half an hour. While the soup cooked I made the basil paste with 2 T. olive oil, 1 c. fresh basil (from the farm) and some feta cheese. These were put in the blender until a well mixed. The soup was then ladled into bowls with a dollop of the basil paste. Paired with some of our own IPA homebrew, and served some bread on the side it was a filling meal. It was a beautiful evening so we ate al fresco.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Have Some Mead, Honey!

It has been well over a year since we wrote about mead in this space, when the original fermentable (predating coffee, beer, wine, and perhaps even tea) was paired with both dinner and dessert for Pam's birthday. A year prior to that, we had shared some over our 24th anniversary dinner.

Mead goes way back!
Cambria Griffith, edibleWESTSIDE
Many bees had contributed to that birthday dinner, which included honey in just about every bite and sip (since Pamela means honey). We had found a wonderful mead to accompany each of these meals, but toward the end of the latter one, we had pretty much decided we needed to make our own, and started the process shortly thereafter.

The process began, of course, with a little bit of reading. All of our zymurgy projects to date have involved kits -- from places such as Beer Wine Hobby in Walpole -- that required very little research. We have been the paint-by-numbers artists of the beer and wine world so far.

I was attracted to Ken Schramm's Compleat Meadmaker, whose title is a meme based on a classic VW hippie owner's manual, the original "idiot" book. If Muir and Gregg could get me through the rebuilding of a 1965 Vee-Dub, surely Schramm could get us through our first batch of this ancient, golden elixir. It was from Schramm that I learned just how long mead has been around -- predating most world religions -- and just how simple the ingredient list is.

All that is needed for mead is honey, water, yeast, and patience. A lot of each, except for the yeast! But where to get 15 pounds of honey? That's right, for a 30-bottle (5-gallon) batch, we would need almost enough honey to balance the family doglet on a scale. One approach would be to get several big jars at Costco, but that did not seem right at all. Why make mead at home without any local ingredients? So I turned to my friend Lori of Moonsong Farm, about two miles from our house. This allowed me to support a local business and would justify the commitment to the local community of pollinators through our modest efforts in the NWF Garden for Wildlife program.

Details are in the book, but the process essentially involves careful heating and cooling of a honey-water mixture in a sterilized vessel, the addition of a small amount of yeast, and closer with a water-locked lid. Following that, we simply waited, and waited, and waited before transferring the solution to bottles. For a small portion of the batch, we added priming sugar (adding sugar to honey sounds strange, but it was necessary), and using beer-bottling techniques instead of wine, to contain the resultant pressure. In this way, we created about two cases of "flat" mead and a half case of carbonated, "sparkling" mead.

After a lot more waiting -- a total of about ten months -- we slightly chilled and then opened a bottle of the wine-style mead. At first we both noticed a bit of astringency at first, but the flavor seemed to mellow and improve with each sip. We certainly look forward to the rest, and to sharing it with friends!

These very bees may have been involved!
I look forward to the advice Schramm offers on other fruits, as we recently enjoyed more the wines of more than a dozen fruits (small samples of each!) at the inimitable Kerrigan Brothers of Appleton. For future batches of straight mead or mead-fruit blends,, we may also use a pump-operated wine filter to reduce cloudiness and bring out the terrific colors of honey and fruit wines!

Friday, August 9, 2013

A simple summer dish

Our CSA sent us an e-mail earlier this week with an update to their blog that contained some new recipes. There were several things we would like to try but the Cumin-Spiked Shrimp with Summer Bean Salad was the one that we could make without having to go to the grocery for additional ingredients. Since we are getting ready to go on vacation we are trying to eat what we have on hand, rather than shopping.

I began in the morning by putting the frozen, pre-cooked shrimp into the refrigerator to thaw. About an hour before we ate I began mixing the other ingredients. One can of black beans, rinsed and drained, was added to some diced zucchini (a substitute for fresh corn, which we did not have). I also substituted a small chopped onion for the scallions. I added some sliced cherry tomatoes, 2 small, minced garlic cloves and then added some lime infused olive oil, a splash of lime juice, and a bit of cumin (I didn't measure, I just eyeballed it) and mixed well. I topped it with the thawed shrimp and placed everything back in the refrigerator to meld for about 45 minutes. This was refreshing and tasty. I think it would make good picnic food.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Flavors from summer's bounty

On Maryland day this year I made basil-corn muffins from a recipe in the cookbook Dishing Up Maryland, explaining at the time that I did not have the fresh corn kernels that the recipe called for, and I would try them again in late summer when such would be available. Since our farm box this week included four ears of corn on the cob, and we still had some fresh basil from the previous week, it seemed the time was right for a do over. The corn was exceptionally sweet and made for some delightfully moist and tasty muffins. Also in this week's farm box were some of those most ubiquitous of summer veggies - zucchini, and it so happened that on the opposite page of the cookbook from the corn muffins I noticed a recipe for zucchini fritters. This was a simple recipe that complemented the muffins well for a wonderful dinner. I started by shredding and draining 2 medium zucchini. While that drained I mixed 3/4 c. flour with 1 t. baking powder. To this I added 2 beaten eggs and 1/4 c. milk. The recipe called for fresh thyme, but I used parsley, basil, and cilantro instead, since that was what was in my herb bundle from the farm. Once the herbs were added, also threw in 1 t. of pepper flakes. Once this was ready I added the zucchini and mixed well. I heated our indispensable cast-iron griddle and poured some vegetable oil onto it. The batter was dropped onto the griddle and then cooked on each side for 4-5 minutes. The hot peppers gave these an unexpected kick.