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...

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!

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