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...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Avocado and sun dried tomato fettucini

Another recipe from Intercourses: An aphrodisiac cookbook. This one mainly because we had some avocados, rather than for any romantic inclinations.

The recipe was simple, and I improvised a few things to come up with a rather tangy, and perhaps too acidic, sauce. Ultimately I used 5 sun dried tomatoes (in olive oil); a splash each of red wine vinegar and lime juice; about 2 T. chopped scallions; about 2T. Chopped green pepper; 2 T. chopped walnuts; 1 avocado; and a handful of shredded Parmesan cheese. Everything (except the cheese) was placed in the blender and mixed. The Parmesan was placed in a serving bowl and cooked fettuccini was added. The sauce was placed on top then all was mixed together. All of us ate this, but none of us raved about it. If we try it again we will use a lot less lime and vinegar, and more cheese.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Secret Ingredient is L.O.V.E.

We planned our Valentine's dinner for over a week, with one overriding goal: no crowded restaurants for us. With a little work and forethought, we knew we could have a superior dinner with no reservations. Each year at this time, we recall an evening spent wandering from restaurant to restaurant, skipping a 20-minute wait only to find a 40-minute wait, eventually settling for a dinner that was made enjoyable mostly by our readiness to eat anything.

Once we established the Valentine's-Day-at-Home tradition, actually, we have endeavored to make it both a romantic and delicious experience, and this year we seem to have done quite well. We each prepared an entree, waited a bit, and then each of us created part of dessert.

James: A week before the event, I accidentally recycled the newspaper in which I had seen a very intriguing recipe for steak tips with mole (moh-LAY) sauce. Librarian Pam said, "Have no fear!" (or words to that effect), since newspaper recipes are all syndicated and will show up easily on some other paper's site. About 2.5 seconds later, I was looking at Beef Mole with Buttery Baguette, courtesy of The Oregonian.

Fans of this blog will know that we have an affinity for mole, more properly known as mole poblano, after the Mexican state of Puebla, where we spent the summer of 1989. Although I love making "real" mole, it was nice to find this "express" version of the recipe, a gringo simplification that required no pepper roasting and a simplified ingredient list. I followed the recipe as written, using our new immersion blender for the sauce itself. Just as I was bringing it to boil, I realized that two vinegars from our friends and fellow Retrievers at Lebherz Oil and Vinegar Emporium (hence the L.O.V.E.) would make it even better. I added the dark chocolate and espresso balsamics, and as with our first mole encounter in July 2012, it turned out loverly, indeed! (Careful readers will recall that the chocolate balsamic also figured in the success of our award-winning mocha cake later that year.)

Pam: I knew that I'd find an appropriate Valentine's Day recipe in Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, but Wow! How could we have imagined how great the strawberry pasta would turn out! This super simple recipe had only a few ingredients. To the 1/4 pound cooked spaghetti I added some shredded Parmesan cheese and then about a dozen pureed strawberries and some melted butter heated with 1/4 c. heavy cream. This was all tossed together in one bowl and then garnished with fresh chopped mint leaves. It was sweet, incredibly creamy, and a perfect complement to the chocolate in the mole sauce. It truly had a sensuous flavor and texture. Everything was served with sparkling Brut Curvee "RJR" from Westport Rivers Winery.

Pam: After allowing our fabulous dinner to settle a bit we made our dessert and coffee. A Facebook friend posted this recipe for "Cake Batter Ice Cream" (essentially an ambitious banana ice cream). We already had frozen banana slices in the freezer as anytime I have a banana go past ripe I slice it up and freeze it to use for smoothies. These had been frozen for several months and gave our blender quite the workout. It actually began to smoke. I modified the recipe a bit to use ingredients we had on hand, although James did go out and get romantic red sugar sprinkles to put on top! Smooth, creamy and sweet!

Proportions are 4 ripe, frozen bananas; a t. each of vanilla, and almond extracts, 1/4 t. baking soda; 1 T. agave nectar; 1 T Butter Pecan syrup; sprinkles to taste.
James: The two-shelf collection of cookbooks that got this blog started includes several that are specifically about the romance of preparing and sharing food. One of these is called quite simply Coffee Love (which is incidentally also the title of the PG-13 section of my Geography of Coffee web site). Leafing through the book, my eye settled quickly on CafĂ© de Olla on page 52. I started one cup of coarsely hand-ground Sol y Luna coffee from my good friends in the Corrales family. It is not dark-roasted, but it was grown and prepared with love, and just happens to be some of the best coffee on the planet. I added 1/2 teaspoon of anise seed and a two-inch piece of cinnamon stick to one quart of cool, filtered water in a saucepan. I had hoped to add four ounces of piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), but had to substitute a half cup of regular brown sugar and a tablespoon of molasses. I brought all of this gently to a boil, while briskly stirring with our molinillo. After letting it simmer for 15 minutes, I filtered it. The recipe does not specify how to filter it, but no better method could be found than our trusty Chemex.

The result was surprisingly delicious -- I usually do not like to have anything at all in my coffee except for coffee, but this was an exception worth making. It was quite good while hot, though the flavor did not withstand cooling very well at all. Next time, though, I hope to use real piloncillo, and a real olla instead of our steel saucepan!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Heritage Chili

With chili, it is never just one thing. When done right, everything that is added to the chili makes it better. This evening's chili (which of course started cooking around sunset yesterday) came together especially well. It might be my imagination, but I have to credit a secret ingredient -- one inspired by my Scottish heritage.

It all began with a calendar item we noticed last fall -- the second annual brewfest aboard the fantail of the USS Massachusetts in Battleship Cove, Fall River. We had a chance to learn some nautical history, honor veterans, and enjoy an extraordinary variety of beers in a unique setting, so we got tickets right away. (If there is to be a 3rd annual, it has not yet been announced -- fingers are crossed!)

Among the most interesting beers was a Scottish ale that was aged in bourbon-infused oak. I did not note the brewer and could not find a recipe -- nor do I have any oak barrels. But I did purchase a kit for Scottish Wee Heavy, along with some French oak chips that are like those I use when making red wine. It was not difficult to find bourbon in our kitchen. I soaked the chips in the bourbon, and then put them in the fermenter with the ale. I think it is going to be terrific when we open them in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, we had a little problem on bottling day -- not enough caps! We had already started to the process, and realized we would have the equivalent of a wine bottle's worth of beer that we would not be able to bottle. That is, it would not be proofed or sealed, and would just be flat beer -- albeit it a flat beer with strong, complex flavor.

So guess what was the first ingredient in the family crock pot -- a bit of oakey, bourbonish, wee heavy!  We don't yet know how the beer will be, but the chili was magnificent -- sweet, tangy, and complex.

(Incidentally, a quick search of this blog for the word chili reveals that I have still not divulged the basic recipe, though I described the other key ingredient -- time -- in our silver-anniversary post. The rest of the story will be told ... eventually!

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

As an aging hippie I could hardly pass up a recipe for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme Bread. I can't even believe I never noticed the recipe before! Although I will admit to rarely opening the Gold Medal New Bread Machine Recipes book (copyright 1999). The recipe called for 1 1/4 c. water; 2 T. Butter; 1 2/3 cup EACH white and wheat flour; 2 T. dry milk powder; 3 T. sugar; 1 1/2 t. salt; 1 t. EACH dried parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. and 1 3/4 t. yeast. I set the machine on "2" (Regular). As with last week's bread I  found myself with a beautifully perfectly round mound on the top of a nice brown bread. We enjoyed the herbal flavors on tuna salad sandwiches. Perfect. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Applish Waffles

Deborah Madison is back -- among our heaviest and most-used cook tomes is Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, about which we have written frequently. Even such carnivores as Bill Clinton enjoy a good waffle; so Madison's inclusion of waffle recipes is indeed a service to "everyone."
Gary Trudeau alienated his friend Bill Clinton when he chose the waffle as the president's icon in Doonesbury. 
It is especially a service to me, the chief waffler of this house. (Insert snide commentaries here.) We had a waffle iron back in grad-school days, but it was the small-square variety, whose non-stick surface made a kind of cement of our batter. After many mornings spent scraping our waffles out of the iron with chopsticks, we concluded that this would be a restaurant-only meal for us, though we did spend some of our early parenting years in an unseemly relationship with Eggo.

Eventually, we took a chance on a Belgian-style waffle iron at a church rummage sale, and found that it worked well for us, at least long enough for us to get hooked on the concept again. We eventually purchased a new Waring Pro, which has worked out very well for us. The recipe that came with the iron was a strange, two-part riddle like something out of the Common Core, so I turned to Madison, whose batter is quite simple:

3 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups milk or buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil or melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (we use pure vanilla at Casa Hayes-Boh)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

I sifted the dry ingredients together into a bowl. (Up until recently I would have whisked them, but our baking-expert friend Betty recently convinced us of the value of a sifter. We purchase gadgetry for our kitchen only after months or years of deliberation!)

For the wet ingredients, I took a somewhat different approach. If buttermilk is an option for a batter, I rarely buy that ingredient, but nor do I like to use ordinary, flat milk. To get the right texture, I will sometimes add a bit of lemon or lime juice to milk, giving it a few minutes to curdle slightly. More often, I mix plain yogurt with plain milk. In fact, this is why we usually keep plain yogurt on hand (in addition to its use as a healthy alternative to sour cream as a taco topping). But I had neglected to pick any up lately, so I took a walk on the wild side: I put a cup of apple-flavored Greek yogurt in a measuring cup, and added plain milk to bring it to 1-1/2 cups.

I then used Pam (no relation) to prepare the iron, and made two waffles. The second smart thing I did was to wait until our darling teen was awake to offer her a waffle, rather than trying to wake her on a Saturday for the purpose. Win-win-win!

Bread Machine Pesto Bread

We've had our bread machine for 16 years. It came with a bunch of recipes, but we tend to stick with the same half dozen or so. Occasionally, though we go ahead and try something new, and so I did this week. James baked biscuits to go with the minestrone soup he made earlier this week. When we had some of the leftovers the next day I made some pesto bread to go with it. The pesto was prepared by me over the summer with some of the basil from our CSA farm box, and then frozen. I thawed it easily under running water. The ingredient list otherwise included 1 c. water; 1T. sugar; 1t. salt; 1 2/3 c. each white and wheat flour;and 1 t. yeast. Of course once everything goes into the machine one simply waits for the finished product, and hopes that it doesn't cave in before it's done. In this case I have to say that I don't believe I have ever seen a more perfectly rounded loaf, and in such a  beautifully even brown tone. A sight to behold. And tasty too. A perfect complement to the soup, and it made for a delicious grilled Provelone cheese sandwich for lunch yesterday.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Minestrone Debut

I eat minestrone perhaps twice a year, and had never thought of making it, unless opening a can of Progresso counts. Then I saw a recipe for Sausage, Tomato, and Squash Minestrone in the Boston Globe magazine, and decided it might make a good dinner this week. I was right!
Nothing against Progresso, actually,
but this time I did it from scratch!
I only noticed the introduction after looking up the online version of the recipe -- its connection to football is not what sold me. Rather, the fact that many of the key ingredients were already in our fridge or freezer closed the deal. In the freezer was a pound of Italian sausage and some frozen squash. The recipe calls for butternut, but yellow squash was just fine. Pam had blanched and frozen it in season months ago. We also had a few of the other items on hand from other recent endeavors, so shopping for this meal was minimal.

A slight miscalculation was our assumption that we had kale. From our summer farm box we still have many green items in the freezer, and we both assumed kale to be one of them. I could not find it when the time came to put it in the soup, so we missed a few vitamins and a bit of fiber.

I found that it took me far longer than 7 minutes to cook the sausage through. I was a bit short on the called-for 1.5 quarts of chicken broth, so I added tomato juice to compensate. I also used a full cup of pasta. Otherwise, I followed the recipe quite faithfully. Were I to do it again, I would use two cups of pasta.

The overall result: perfect for a winter's evening, waiting for a snow storm. It will probably be even better tomorrow during the storm -- hearty food for shoveling! Given the simplicity of the ingredients, this was surprisingly flavorful. I recommend it!

Imbolc Snowflake Cakes - FAIL!

February 1 is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, known as Candelmas, or Imbolc, it is pagan holiday, and the reason we celebrate Groundhog's Day. Recognizing this special day, I took out my Wicca Cookbook and found the section on Imbolc and set out to prepare a special dessert - Snowflake cakes. There were very few ingredients; only chopped pecans, butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and flour. I formed small balls from the mixed ingredients, and baked as directed. The recipe said that they would spread out to look like lacy snowflakes, this much was true. What didn't happen was any kind of "setting". When I tried to remove them from the cookie sheet, they simply crumbled apart. James and I ate a few of the crumbly bits, but most of this just got tossed. I am not sure whether I got proportions wrong when I tried to half the recipe, or if I needed to bake at a higher temperature, or for a longer period, or perhaps some combination of these problems. Anyway, I doubt I will try this again.