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, November 28, 2014

Feast with Friends

Cranberries (James)

The day before Thanksgiving, as an icy drizzle began to fall on our town, I called a friend a few blocks away, to let her know I would be driving to her house. She waited at the door, so that she would be ready to trot out with a precious cargo -- a large bag of large cranberries -- so that I could rush them from her freezer to ours.

During this year's harvest, she had been moonlighting in quality control at Ocean Spray, the grower-owned cooperative that markets our region's most important crop. Work in QC means taking samples that cannot be put back into the commercial supply chain, so our friend has more delicious cranberries than she can handle, and she rightly surmised that we would put some of them to good use. 

Image: Chiltepin was Chile of the Month last April for the World of Chiles online chile club.
Rather than our usual rum-based preparation, we decided to try something from our previous home in Arizona, from a survey of Thanksgiving culinary traditions recently published in the NY Times. Of course cranberries do not grow in Arizona, but chiles do, so this would be another entry in our sweet-hot series.

I made a few substitutions in the recipe; if it is successful, I'll invest some time next year in getting it right. First, whereas our local grocery store in Tucson had an entire aisle dedicated to chile peppers, here our options are much narrower. I am certain I could have found the chiltepin called for in this recipe, but used some dried peppers of unknown provenance we keep on hand for just such emergencies. Two other omissions I cannot blame on geography: I simply forgot to put a lime and an orange on my shopping list, and decided four grocery runs in two days would have to be my limit. So I omitted the lime-zest garnish and substituted a splash of Triple Sec for the orange zest.

Preparation was quite simple, actually: I brought everything (including the cranberries directly from the freezer) to a simmer in our indispensable cast-iron skillet and then kept it on a very low simmer for about 20 minutes. I then transferred it back to the fridge.

I am especially intrigued by the chiltepin, which resembles both coffee and cranberry fruits. We have a good location for chiles in the sunny front yard of our house, so hope to have some harvested and dried by this time next year.

The Bird (James)
As we have for the past couple of years, we purchased a free-range turkey from Misty Knoll Farms in Vermont, delivered as part of our regular dairy order from Crescent Ridge. Among the many things for which we are thankful are companies such as these, and our financial ability to support them. One should not ask why ethical, healthy food is so expensive, but rather what corners are cut to make so many other foods relatively cheap. A few years ago, we learned that we could free up room in the ovens -- and have better turkey -- if we prepared the turkey outside. Rob began preparing the coals in an ordinary grill early in the morning, and when we arrived he put a pan on them to hold some white wine and to catch drippings. I had rubbed the turkey with a paste of paprika, garlic, and olive oil, and we set it right on the grilling surface, but over such low heat that it just roasted in a winy mist. As it neared the safe-food target temperature, Rob added a couple of slivers of milled oak for smoking. (Stuffing, by the way, was prepared in separate baking pans.)
Roasted, not grilled.
Beets from the Farm Box (Pam)
Our last farm box pick up for this season was several weeks ago. We had eaten and/or frozen most of what we had from this year's "harvest," except for the last of the beets. We are not crazy about beets, and have tried all manner of ways of preparing them to hide the flavor. Some recipes have turned out better than others. I ran a search on for beets to see if there was something new to try and found a recipe actually called Thanksgiving Beets which was pretty simple, and made use of a lot of spices. so I figured it would do a good job in covering the bitterness that we don't like. Although there were not a lot of beets, and there was a fair number of people (13) at dinner, only about half of this dish was eaten. We did have one true beet lover at the meal though, who was happy to take all the leftovers.

Dessert (Pam)
One of the special things about Thanksgiving dinner is that there are so many desserts to try. This year's options included homemade double-crust apple pie; homemade pumpkin pie; homemade bread pudding; homemade Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake with Bailey's Cream Cheese Icing (Pam's contribution). I emphasize that all of these are homemade because virtually all those who partook in yesterday's meal also had a hand in preparing it.

We got the Bailey's Bristol Cream a few months ago from an estate sale (the same one where I got the biggest bottle of wine. Ever. Which was also enjoyed at yesterday's dinner). The cake was rich, but not too sweet, and appeared to be a bigger hit than the beets.

It was a feast of foodies, with many of the victuals grown locally, in some cases at the same house where they were prepared.

Franksgiving Follow-Up

Thanksgiving is the holiday that keeps on giving -- in the form of leftovers -- and as we continue to reflect with gratitude on our many blessings, we also continue the feast, beginning with our Franksgiving hash.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Great Pumpkin Cookies

I'm not sure how I found this recipe, but I remember noticing that it called for one cup of pumpkin, which was the amount I had leftover from some other recent baking project which I cannot now recall. In fact is has already been over ten days since I made these cookies, it's a wonder I even remember making them. I know that I forgot to add any spices to the batter, even though I intended to put in cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Nevertheless, the cookies were enjoyed by all. That is because I did remember to bake a batch without raisins and nuts for my daughter, who eschews such things. James and I preferred the ones with the extra flavor and texture.

I also forgot to mention when I first posted this that the recipe called for 2sticks of butter. That seemed like a bit much, so I used one stick of butter and one banana.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chicken Rendang

Map: Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge
Almost 2/3 of the population lives on the Malay Peninsula,
with most of the rest occupying northern Borneo.
For this evening's dinner, I had decided yesterday to return to the core purpose of this blog, which is to encourage us to take a fresh look at the familiar recipe books in our kitchen. It was to be our first unscripted Saturday in our own house in a couple of months, and there was no excuse not to pull a book off the shelf and look for something new. It was also our first Saturday after the end of our farm-box season, so local vegetables, though they could be involved, would not dictate the menu.

I opened Extending the Table, an excellent collection of recipes from throughout the world, and started scanning the index for the main ingredients we had on hand. We quickly settled on chicken rendang (rendang ayam), which I later realized would be my first foray into Malay cooking.

I began by finely chopping an onion, one dried chili pepper and three garlic cloves. I grated  hunk of ginger root with our microplane and tossed all together in a small bowl. Once I had heated olive oil in our indispensable cast-iron skillet, I added these and sauteed gently until the mix was golden brown and beginning to caramelize. I then added one pound of chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces, 1 cup of water, half of a 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk, and about a tablespoon of lemongrass paste. We were looking for fresh or dried lemongrass, but when we found the paste and neither of the other forms, we declared our quest successful enough. I heated all of this until boiling, and continued for just a few minutes until the chicken was nearly cooked through.

I then added the rest of the coconut milk and a tablespoon of sugar, returned to boil briefly, and then I lowered the heat and simmered for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, I sliced a cucumber (diagonally, as the recipe suggests, and with "racing stripes" as I always do cucumbers) and put it in the fridge. Near the end of the simmering, I cooked rice in a separate pan. At 90 minutes, the chicken was extraordinarily tender and the sauce greatly reduced, but still like a sweet gravy. We served it over the warm rice, with cuke slices on the side.

This paired very well with the lemony 2012 Rkatsiteli from our friends at Westport Rivers.

Where to find many of our cookbooks ...

Most of the cookbooks mentioned in this blog can be found in the Cook Book section of the online book store I helped to set up for our church. I encourage readers to do the opposite of what often happens -- use the online store to learn about books, and then buy them locally if you can. But if you are going to buy online, doing so through our store does return a small kickback to our community.
Sreenshot: First Parish Online Book Store