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 20, 2013

Merlot, Cravo e Canela

Each week, the Boston Globe Magazine presents a trio of recipes around a common theme. As winter draws nigh, the theme this week was warm, mulled wines. Of the Gluhwein, Glogg, and Elderflower options, I chose the first, simply because I knew I could find the ingredients handily.

Once Pam's annual lasagna was in the oven and the kitchen was clear, I began preparing the grog. Since we had no guests for dinner, I halved the recipe, using just one bottle of Merlot. I used the juice of five clementines along with a couple strips of the rinds. I heated the juice with brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon (hence the Sonia Braga reference in the title of this post).

I then added the Merlot and simmered it for an hour, so that the syrup would combine with the wine, and the wine would be infused with the spices and fruit. I then fortified the mixture with cherry schnapps (brandy or kirsch would have been fine as well), and removed the solid infusants.

I placed just a bit of rind in each of two warmed mugs, and filled them up with this perfect winter warmer. A more soothing beverage would be difficult to imagine.

Now if only Netflix carried Barreto's classics!

Hot Sweetness or Sweet Hotness?

One great thing about living in Massachusetts is the availability of fresh cranberries. Through the fall and early winter, we buy them frequently and try various preparations (as a search of this blog for the word "cranberry" reveals).
Andrew Sorivani, NYT.
The latest variation is from David Tanis, as published in the New York Times. His Spicy Red Pepper Cranberry Relish is easy to make, especially in our indispensable cast-iron saucepan. We printed the recipe before his correction, which advises the addition of a half-cup of water, but it worked fine without it. The only other change we made was to use Anaheim peppers, since our local market did not have any red jalapeƱos. (The cranberries themselves came from nearby Hanson Farm, natch!)

We are about to put this in the fridge so it will be well-chilled in time for dinner, but a sampling of the warm relish suggests this will be amazing, as suggested by the title of this post!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pan d'Nog

Pam and I met in French class, as the world knows, and though she was about 100x the French student that I was, I do like to dabble in the cuisine and language when I can get away with it, and therefore took the liberty of creating the faux French title for this post.

Crescent Ridge ...
But, of course!
This evening's breakfast-for-dinner dinner did not rely on any books. Yesterday I made a large loaf of French bread in our bread machine ("French bread" -- especially when it is shaped like a cinderblock rather than a torpedo -- being American for "white bread for snobby grown-ups"). Even with the help of our dinner guests (delightful BSU students), we had half a loaf remaining. Pam almost toasted some of it this morning, but decided to save it for a French toast evening.

All of our indispensable cast-iron pans (except for the one we reserve for coffee-roasting emergencies) needed cleaning, as did much of the kitchen. So I eased into this meal by doing some cleaning and some pan-reseasoning. The griddle had last been used for cod, so I decided desperate measures were called for.

After scrubbing it a bit, drying it, and seasoning it in the oven with olive oil, I could still make out the cod. I love cod, of course, but not in French toast. So on top of a hot stove, I cooked about a quarter cup of Triple Sec orange liqueur. (I first checked to see that it was 15 percent alcohol, or 30 proof; this is well below the 100-proof level, at which flash fires can occur.) As the liqueur evaporated (and started making the kitchen smell really nice), I added a bit of butter, and got ready to cook.

What I cooked was a modification of my usual approach to French toast. Since we had eggnog in the fridge, it made little sense to mix together its components (eggs, milk, vanilla). It could be used alone as a batter, but I could not resist a couple of small modifications: to a shallow bowl full of nog, I whisked in a glug or two of Triple Sec, a dusting of freshly-shaved nutmeg, and a teaspoon of baking powder.

I then dredged one-inch chunks of the French bread, filling the already-hot griddle with the pieces. I cooked cooked them on medium-high heat, turning a few times. Because I was not certain I had soaked the batter in, I did something a bit unorthodox -- I used a small spoon to poke divots in the bread, and then to spoon leftover batter over each slice. This helped to ensure a nice texture throughout.

Served with local maple syrup, this was a very yummy treat.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Starbuck's Spiced Holiday Coffee

I took this recipe from a free download called Christmas Gifts for Coffee Lovers. Since I am married to a coffee lover, I figured it was at least worth a look. There was nothing in it that I could imagine I would spend any money on that we did not either already own. However, it did include a bonus coffee recipe which I made over the weekend.  I played with the proportions a bit since I was making only two mugs-full.

Below is the recipe as it appears in the Guide:

2/3 Cup ground dark roast coffee beans
4 cinnamon sticks, crushed or broken into small pieces
6 Cup water
1/2 Tsp. ground cardamom
2/3 Cup honey
Half-and-half or milk

Mix together the coffee and cinnamon
sticks. Using the coffee-cinnamon mixture and
water, brew coffee by your customary brewing
method (we strongly recommend using a French
Press). Add the cardamom and honey to the hot
coffee and stir until the honey dissolves.
Serve warm. Pour about 2/3 cup coffee into each glass.
Pass the half-and-half or milk.

I used two cinnamon sticks, and considerably less honey. I did put in the full amount of cardamom. This was warm, creamy, and spicy. It tasted like Christmas. A good treat for a snowy day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shrimp, pasta, pesto

Over the summer I made, and froze, some pesto made with basil from my garden. I also had some shrimp in the freezer so after poking around on the website I adapted a recipe I found there to make pesto shrimp with fettuccine. I put the frozen pesto into a saucepan and heated on low until it was liquid. I was going to add some milk to make it creamy, but when I open the refrigerator I found some sour cream and decided to experiment. I added a dollop of the sour cream in lieu of milk and continued to heat and stir. It looked a bit funky, but a taste test confirmed that I had made a good choice. I let it heat slowly while the pasta cooked, and added the thawed shrimp to the sauce as the pasta cooking was winding down. The fettuccine was divided onto two plates, then topped with the pesto/shrimp sauce. This had a good mild flavor, and was an easy prep for after work.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chinese Thanksgivikkah

Lovely Lilly offers insistent
affection throughout
the day. She is also
the chief tripping hazard.
Thanks to Yaqin Sun
for most of the photos
in this post.
Where to begin? Thanksgiving is always a special day for us, but this year was unusually bounteous, and we are especially grateful. We were fortunate to layer many new elements on a day already full of fond traditions around food and friends.

The tradition has developed over the past decade or so, with the day spent at the ancient, rambling home of friends along the Matfield River a few miles away. Since our doglet would pose a choking hazard to their dog -- and she would also be an annoyance and a flight risk -- we leave little Perry at home. We always plan a mid-afternoon respite trip back to our house, because this is a dinner that we know will be hours in the making and more hours in the enjoying.

The turkey arrived at our house on Sunday, a special addition to our weekly milk delivery from Crescent Ridge in Canton. No thawing questions arise, as we simply keep this very fresh turkey well chilled in a picnic cooler until we are ready. One of this dairy's many regional partnerships is with Misty Knoll Farms in Vermont, which provides delicious, free-range turkeys while caring for the land in northwestern Vermont. As in the past, we bring the turkey early, to roast in a standard charcoal grill. The turkey is first rubbed with a paste of finely minced garlic, olive oil, and paprika -- something we have done for years at the suggestion of Jane Brody's original Good Food Book.
Overlapping pans and dishes were a hallmark of this day; a kitchen both vast and cozy was the stage for a dance of cooking, cleaning, tasting and serving throughout the day. 
The stuffing also follows Brody's recipe in a very general sense, and preparations began early. James put two loaves of whole-wheat bread in a large bowl some time Monday, leaving it out to stale. On Thursday morning, the slices were cut into cubes, to which was added chicken broth, chopped celery, local cranberries, chopped walnuts, a couple of local eggs, and a package of sweet Italian sausage. Although this decadent concoction is called "stuffing," it is baked outside the bird, in two large casserole dishes.

Although we were aware that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving would overlap this year, it was not until we heard a Thanksgivikkah story on NPR last weekend that we realized just how rare this would be, why it was happening, and best of all -- the culinary opportunities presented by this coincidence. We opted not to brine the turkey in Manicevitz, but we did try two other recipes.

The first of these was a sweet-potato noodle kugel; we have often made kugels with apples, and were intrigued by this variation. I neglected to buy cottage cheese (and would not dream of buying any on Thanksgiving Day itself), so substituted a package of cream cheese. In place of a food processor, our trusty potato masher made quick puree of the softened sweet potatoes, with virtually no cleanup required. We also substituted Honey Bunches of Oats for corn flakes in the topping, combining them with finely chopped pecans. We wish we had remembered that one of several vegetarians at our feast is also highly allergic to nuts -- we will make this dish a bit differently next year so that this is a vegetarian option for all present.

The other Hanukkah-related addition was latkes with cranberry-apple sauce, inspired by the menu mentioned above, but using our own recipes. For the latkes, we beat two eggs in a bowl, then simply peeled and coarsely shredded in a couple of pounds of potatoes in. Adding a half an onion, cut into fine, long slivers and a bit of flour, it was easy to toss together a batter. Rather than squeeze the water our of the potatoes using a sieve, salt, or other method, we simply squeezed each patty as it was formed , before dropping it onto a cast-iron skillet with hot oil, and pressing it a bit to flatten. The sauce was a variation on what we call "recipe" cranberry sauce, though I have learned to use a small amount of good, aged rum rather than a large amount of cheap rum. With a bit of cardamon, this was a very pleasing brunch item, popular with the entire crowd.

Of course no Hanukkah celebration would be complete without a menorah, which burned brightly through the meal and beyond. Keeping with tradition of course, the candle was small and specially designed so that it would need neither trimming nor extinguishing.
No Thanksgiving feast is complete without a "kid's table," a tradition I would rather have avoided if we could, especially since one adult was at that table, which we preferred to call the "youth table." James felt a bit guilty about this, but remembered that we were both at a kid's table as recently as our 40th year! In any case, the young ladies at that table did very much seem to be enjoying themselves.

Local seafood prepared by our hosts helped to fill the middle of the day, as we nibbled on bacon-wrapped scallops and clam pizzas, along with the latkes and delicious Chinese snacks. Rob had also prepared a special polenta, in recognition of the fact that the main dish at the first Thanksgiving was probably corn mush.

Those snacks were part of the other special dimension of this year's celebration was the participation of two students from China. Yaquin is a BSU student who has studied both coffee and tea with James, and who has been in the United States just over two years. Jane is our daughter Paloma's roommate at CSW, who has been here for just a few months. Since Paloma has been to China and is learning Mandarin, it was especially good that they were able to join us. We enjoyed their company and they enjoyed being part of this very American experience.

Shopping together on Wednesday, we had gathered ingredients for delicious egg rolls (much more flavorful and healthy than anything I have had in restaurants), stuffed dumplings, and rice pudding. Their food and company will stand out as a special Thanksgiving memory for many years to come. And because it is 2013, very traditional scenes such as the one below are already circulating on the Chinese Internet. It is a small world, after all.
But wait! Don't forget dessert(s)!

Earlier this year this image of a "piecaken" went viral on Facebook.
Pam was intrigued, and is always up for a challenge, but something just didn't seem right about this. When a recipe online was found that began with store-bought pie (what!?) she began brainstorming and recipe searching in order to make a piecaken from scratch that would also include traditional Thanksgiving flavors (and wouldn't look quite so gross). The quest ended with this recipe for a pumpkin spice cake and this one for a no-bake pumpkin pie. Both were made with pumpkin puree from a pumpkin, not a can. Two layers of the cake were baked, then the pumpkin pie (without the crust, so it was really pumpkin custard) was prepared using the same size pan. Parchment paper was placed inside the pan first to make removal easy. The custard was kept chilled until just before serving time, then was sandwiched between the two layers of cake. Finally the homemade cream cheese frosting was added to the top. It was one of several dessert choices, including traditional pumpkin pie, apple pie (pictured below with the piecaken) and bread pudding all made by our favorite teen baker, Clara; as well as a rice pudding brought by Yaquin and Jane. The piecaken was delicious! Flavorful, full of texture, and not too sweet, but still decadent enough for a special occasion dessert. All other desserts were also given high praise.

All in all an especially memorable Thanksgivikkah feast with fabulous food, and wonderful company.