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...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cajun Shrimp

We think of our Mini Moosewood (see *note below) as a vegetarian cook book, but it is actually pescatarian, and in it we found a simple recipe for preparing shrimp -- Cajun-style. I began with a pound of fresh, uncooked, huge shrimp directly from our favorite, seaside fishmonger.

I melted butter and olive oil in our indispensible cast-iron skillet while I chopped a small onion and four cloves of garlic. It turns out I could have used half an onion, but I'm glad I included all that garlic. As the aromatics softened over medium-high heat, I peeled and rinsed the shrimp. The recipe suggest keeping them intact, but that seemed like a messy way to eat dinner. Maybe it would have been more authentic, though.

I then added the interesting combination of spices called for in the recipe: rosemary, thyme, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and paprika. I did not measure any of this, but I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the peppers, and I don't regret it!

I then added a splash each of Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and Sauvignon Blanc. I continued cooking and stirring for just a few minutes, until the shrimp was pink and opaque.

We followed the book's suggestion and served this with nothing more than some nice crusty bread, and the rest of that chilled, dry wine.

*Readers of this blog will notice that this is one of our most frequently-used books. It is probably the best one for beginning cooks, or anyone who often cooks for just 1-2 people to invest in. Unlike the other books from the same famous restaurant, this focuses on what the Moosewood chefs prepare for themselves, and is therefore the perfect balance between quality and simplicity.

We purchased it in 1996, when I was leaving Pam home alone while doing dissertation work in the Amazon. Pam wanted to be sure she continued our tradition of eating real dinners, but was not sure that would be easy by herself. Because of this book -- plus the kindness of friends and her own determination -- she managed to have an actual dinner every single night of that three-month solitude.

Chicken Courvoisier

Whenever I think of brandy, I think of one of the executives in my defense-contractor days. Yes, I had defense-contractor days, with a food supplier, and we were not operating on nearly the kinds of fat margins that the weapons people make. But there were occasionally business dinners to be had, and this particular VP only ordered Courvoisier with his meals. So it has become the only brandy I usually think of, and I picture a nice meal with Wiggy (as this exec was known) and my other friends back at the food company.

After a hectic early fall, our schedules have become a bit more relaxed this week, so we took the time to do what the Nueva Receta blog project is all about. We pulled a couple of cook books off the shelves and started thumbing through them for something untried (by us). Knowing we had some chicken in the freezer, Pam's eye fell on a tiny booklet called Cooking Seafood and Poultry with Wine, by Bruce Carlson. It is published by Hearts and Tummies Cookbook Co., and we actually acquired it a couple of years ago at the lovely gift shop at Sakonnet Vineyard.

The recipe calls for a whole chicken quartered, which implies skin, bone and a generally different feel. But we had chicken breasts and decided to work with them. Once thawed, I dredged them in flour and placed them heated olive oil in our indispensible cast-iron skillet. I browned the chicken lightly and then set it aside on a warm plate. I then put an onion (cut into chunks) some "baby" carrots (we know there is no such thing, but you know what I mean), and minced shallots in the same pan, again browning lightly.

Before and after the flame. The initial flare was quite intense; by the time Pam could get close enough for a photo, it was the subtle glow seen above, like the Marfa Lights.
I then returned the chicken to the pan, doused it with brandy, and lit it. BOOM! it went briefly before glowing for about a half-minute. I'm not sure what the effect of this was, since it did not caramelize the onions or anything like that, but it was a nice show. I then covered and simmered for 20 minutes. I then added Grüner Veltliner from -- where else? -- Westport Rivers in the stead of the Riesling in the recipe, along with mushroom caps, covered and simmered another 20 minutes.

I will try this again sometime with whole chicken pieces just to see how the sauce might differ. This sauce was very light but pleasing, and I was reminded more than anything of the vegetables we would have with Sunday-afternoon pot roast when I was a kid.  We served this with my signature oven-roasted potato cubes, and of course the rest of that Grüner Veltliner.

The next morning, the "way-back" feature on Facebook reminded me that it was exactly a year ago that we had made our first foray into the flaming-brandy world, with an amazing coffee drink, a café brûlot!
We had a bit better luck with the timing of our photography last year.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lumberjack Stew

In Casa Hayes-Boh, the Sedaris family is a favorite source of high-brow/low-brow humor. We have read and heard almost everything brother David has written, and have made a couple of pilgrimages to see him in person. He once even gave us cake mix, and his inscription "...with the honor of meeting bakers ..." makes his copy of Holidays on Ice one of our household's great treasures. David specializes in tawdry word play for the NPR set; his twisted sister Amy takes the family business to a new level, most notably as a middle-aged former sex worker attending high school in Strangers with Candy.

Amy has a distinctly domestic side that is expressed -- with a bit of a twist -- in I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, which has been our guide for a couple other Nueva Receta entries. The book offers recipes in the context of entire home-entertainment events organized around a particular kind of guest.

As the title of this post suggests, for a few pages she applies her fertile imagination to the prospect of a visiting lumberjack. Queue up the obligatory musical reference, which my own Male Bonding Band has been known to perform on occasion.

Welcome back ...

Amy's Lumberjack Crosscut Stump Stew is part of a (fantasized) evening's entertainment with a strapping arborist, for whom she would also prepare a stack of white bread and her Lumberjack's Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. She also suggests a series of gift ideas for visiting lumberjacks, from an ax guard to tea tree oil shampoo.

The stew itself is rather simple to prepare -- we adapted it slightly to the cookware we have in our smaller kitchen at our Whaling House in Fairhaven. We began with very good, very local beef that we acquired at the farmer's market held each Sunday at Fairhaven High School (a.k.a. Hogwarts -- have a look). It was packaged specifically as stew beef by  J.H. Beaulieu Livestock and Produce Farm in Fairhaven, scarcely a mile away.

I browned the cubed beef in olive oil on high heat and then transferred it to a crock pot (not the casserole that Sedaris calls for). I then cooked a chopped onion and two minced cloves of garlic in the same pan the beef had been in, and added crushed tomatoes (she calls for puree), red wine, and a bit of balsamic (in place of white vinegar). To this I added a bit of sugar (trusting in Amy), salt, pepper, whole cloves and a stick of cinammon. I simmered them all together briefly and then transferred the whole mess to the crock pot.

After one hour, I boiled a package (10 ounces) of pearl onions in water, rinsed them and removed the outer skins, and then added them to the pot for another hour and a half of stewing. (NOTE: Pearl onions are great, though working with them is tedious.)

Meanwhile, Pam prepared drop biscuits from our kitchen bible by Deborah Madison. We enjoyed the biscuits along with some local cinnamon apple sauce, local milk (for Pam) and the decidedly non-local Malbec that had been used in the stew (for James).

The result -- a delicious, hearty stew that served as both lunch and dinner, with perfectly autumnal spice. As good as it was, it will be even better next time, when I will cook it at least an hour longer to make sure that the local, lean  beef has time to get uniformly tender.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Simple Sausage

I'd like to say that I found some wonderful,  free-range sausage for this recipe, and if we do come across some in the future, this might be how we use it. But the reality is that we took the easy way out this time, implementing a simple recipe that sounded scrumptious on the radio, and eager to try it during a very busy time of the semester. And we're glad we did!
Using grape wallpaper, because this dish does not photograph well, as evidenced by the effort made on the recipe web site.
According to a recent broadcast of the radio version of America's Test Kitchen, grapes and sausage are practically a staple in Italy. Who knew? The on-air discussion was mainly about why this works so well and what the best options would be for preparing the dish, but the pairing was discussed as one that would be familiar.

And now it is. I followed the directions almost to the letter, quickly browning the sausages before adding the grapes and onions, with some water to steam the sausages until cooked through. As promised, the result was both charry on the outside and moist in the middle.

The deviations were small. First, since I used turkey sausage instead of pork, there was no fat to drain. Also, I used dried oregano instead of fresh and neglected to go out to the yard for late-season mint.

For the finish, I used a couple ounces of Rkatsiteli from -- where else? -- Westport Rivers, leaving most of a bottle for us to share.

The result was as sweet and savory as the radio folks had promised; the only thing I'll change next time is to be sure we have a good bread to serve alongside this.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Creamy Polenta with Kielbasa and Apples

I adapted this recipe from this one from the New York Times.  I saved the recipe when I saw it a few weeks ago, so when I noticed that James had requested the kielbasa with our weekly milk delivery I thought it would make a fine substitution. James also suggested adding the apples. The other change I made was that I made the polenta with milk, rather than water because, try as we might, we were unsuccessful in slowing the tide of the milk delivery (look for another milk-laden recipe coming soon!).

This was simple to prepare, richly textured with a good combination of sweet and savory flavors, and quite filling to boot!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Roast Chicken with Cumin, Honey and Orange

This one came from the New York Times. I won't detail my experience, you can find the simple recipe here. I will say that it took a lot longer to cook than it should have. After over an hour of baking the thermometer read 167 degrees, but the center was clearly pink when we cut into it. It did taste good, the honey gave it a nice sweetness.


As a member of my town's One Book One Community Steering Committee I help to plan events around the theme of each of our chosen books. This fall we are reading The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb by Nicholas Rinaldi, and last weekend we held our opening event, complete with refreshments, of course. In addition to the juices, coffee, and pastries we served a drink mentioned in the Tom Thumb book - Syllabub. Tom and his bride, Lavina drank an alcoholic version made with wine, but we served a version made with juice. It was quite simple to make, and only required a few ingredients:

I mixed equal parts whipping cream and apple juice (I used 2 cups of each) with the juice and grated rind of one lemon. Everything was poured into a plastic container with a tight fitting lid and shaken until frothy (the recipe I used said to "shake until the sound changes from sloshing to muffled"). It didn't take long at all. I poured the mix into small sample cups with lids to take to the event. The juice and the cream separated a bit by the time we served it, but this is the way syllabub is meant to be drank. I found it to be a rather fun and tasty drink, and was, therefore, surprised that so few of the attendees tried it, especially since the sample cups were only about the size of a shot glass. Really, what's the worst that could have happened if they didn't like it?

James and I did try an alcoholic version at home later that evening. We used ginger-flavored brandy in place of juice and skipped the lemon. I might try it with a bit less alcohol next time.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

We'll Call This The Acushnet

As we mentioned in an eponymous post in 2012, Sweet Potato Quesadillas are among our favorite dishes -- nutritious, delicious, easy, and cheap -- and something we prepare frequently. This recipe alone has been worth the modest cost of the  "Mini Moosewood"  we purchased two decades ago.

The point of the book is simplicity, so we have always followed its recommendation to use commercial salsa, though we are careful to choose a really good one.

Last week, noticing that we still had a surfeit of fruit in the house, I decided to improvise a salsa that would use some of the fruit. I finely chopped one each apple, peach, jalapeno; two medium tomatoes, and the remnant of a large onion. These I mixed with just a little white vinegar (not having any apple-cider vinegar on hand). I chilled it we spooned it generously onto the quesadillas, along with some sour cream.

This indeed made one of our favorite dishes even better than usual.

Those following along at home will realize that this is quite a lot of salsa for two quesadillas, even if smothered in salsa. Good observation! We made good use of the rest, though, mixing into one of James' famous day-long chili concoctions. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Lagniappe: But What About the Name?

Over the past few months, we have begun making regular drives through the town of Acushnet, Massachusetts, which is between Bridgewater and Fairhaven. A few weeks ago we were surprised to see this usually quiet town buzzing with activity as it celebrated its annual Apple Peach Festival..We later learned that this is a major point of pride in the town, so this dish is named in its honor. We assume that the festival will afford us an opportunity to enter -- and perhaps win -- an apple-peach recipe contest at some future date.