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...

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Simply Hot

Pam and I scanned the recipe shelf as we contemplated a Nueva Receta for this week, and for some reason our eyes rested on the same title: The Tabasco Cookbook, a slim volume written by a scion of the McIlhenny family on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of my favorite sauce (almost my favorite beverage).

Every page exudes Paul McIlhenny's upbringing in the midst of culinary legend. Many of the recipes we will save for seasonal ingredients, a larger crowd, or the availability of seafood. The vignettes of Tabasco lore sprinkled throughout make this a particularly good cookbook for browsing.

After a few minutes of noting recipes best suited for a different day, we chose "Craig Claiborne's Ultimate Hamburger" on page 88. (The name was familiar, but it is only upon finding his obituary that I realized he was both a food writer for the New York Times and a native of the Mississippi Delta.

The recipe is simplicity itself. Start with good ground beef and handle it minimally, just enough to form patties. Heat a cast-iron skillet to a searing temperature, sprinkle it with salt and then sear each side of the burgers. Once flipped, cook for three minutes or to desired doneness and then top with salt, pepper, Tabasco, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and fresh parsley. Transfer to buns and serve.

I digressed just slightly from this recipe. My one failing is that I got the skillet -- which I had just reseasoned -- hot but not searing hot. I will be braver next time. Second, I added a little Mexican cheese. I also used basil because we had it fresh and a little lettuce and tomato. Next time I will skip the cheese, cut back on the salt (the cheese combined with Claiborne's prescribed salt was just a bit much), and also skip the vegetables.

Regarding the salt, Pam pointed out that it was nicely balanced by the Wild Oats Shiraz we paired with this meal, and I agree.

It is fitting that as I prepared this, I listened to an interview about simplicity, food, and flavor that I am writing about separately under the title We Eat Giant Babies, forthcoming on my Environmental Geography blog. It was a hopeful interview, in which a food writer expresses the view that people really are starting to understand what we have lost in big-ag food systems, in terms of both health and flavor. A simple recipe works well if the food -- in this case the beef -- is real food with its own inherent flavor.

Actually, the title of this post is a bit of a lie. The pan was hot, and hot sauce was involved, but the author rates this as one chile on a four-chile scale, and we have to agree. Even New Englanders can try this without fear of excess Scovilles.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Getting Figgy with Breakfast

One of our favorite places to visit on the South Coast is Partners Village Store (and Kitchen), which is a great collection of small businesses, all of which thrive where none of them could survive alone. That is, about a dozen retail shops share both the space and the staff of 2-3 friendly and helpful clerks. The stores are full of charming gifts, books, toys, garden items, and clothing. Some of it is a bit expensive, but some of it is not. This is a business model that could work just about anywhere that a community wants to break the big-box-store cycle.

It was in the bookstore section of Partners that we discovered the kitchen calendar (aka Casa Hayes-Boh Nerve Center) for the current year. How could we not purchase a calendar made not only for the kitchen, but for this very blog? Besides having a folksy title, The 2015 Old Farmer's Almanac Recipes Calendar has una nueva receta cada mes -- a new recipe every month!

Careful readers will notice that this is MAY and we have not yet made anything from the calendar, but today was our day to start, and the result was delicious. I will stipulate for the record that this recipe turns healthy, vegan food (an apple and some figs) into food that is neither (with the generous addition of pork sausage), but it still was delicious. And maybe a clever reader will figure out a way to apply this concept to healthier and more sustainable ingredients.

The recipe calls for six large "baking" apples and a pound of sausage, I adjusted both quantities downward. As I browned the sausage, I cut the top 1/2 inch from each apple, leaving it with a flat top. Then I removed the core and most of the flesh, keeping the bottom and sides intact, about a half inch all around. This was not easy -- I used a small knife and a grapefruit spoon to get what I could without wrecking the cups I was forming. I chopped the apple into small bits. I added this and a few figs (the recipe calls for dried, but I used a few whole figs, again in small bits) back into the pan, along with cinnamon, brown sugar, and lemon zest.

I mixed this thoroughly and spooned it into each apple. There was plenty that would not fit, which I put in a small baking dish. I put the apples in a larger baking dish and sprinkled each with a bit more cinnamon and brown sugar.

I baked at 375F for 25 minutes, because I thought 40 minutes was too long. The result was an apple cup that was still firm to the bite, filled with deliciousness. It was not, alas, very pretty, even had my phone managed to focus better than this:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tostadas Mayoníficas

This recipe puts the mayo in Cinco de Mayo.

We are still catching up from the culinary bounty of two weeks ago, when three feasts in a row preceded a flurry of academic work. We did blog about the delicious tartlets that we made for my attainment day on Saturday the 3rd.

We did not blog separately about my birthday feast on Sunday the 4th, -- which was a re-enactment of the first meal I prepared for Pam -- because the recipe is already on my web site. I prepared the main course as described, noticing a few problems with the ingredients lists in the process; I'll update those soon. This remains a major endeavor, and one worth undertaking at least once a year. I will add that our ability to pair wines has greatly improved over the past thirty years, with Westport Rivers far outshining Paul Masson. Aside from cooking, I spent my birthday reflecting on the day itself, and ending the day by indulging in a movie starring the most famous person to share my birthday.

All of this was prelude to a very nice dinner with friends on Monday the 5th, Mexican Independence Day.

JUST KIDDING! As Latin Americanists who have spent a lot of time in or near Mexico, we know that Mexico's Independence Day is on September 16 and celebrates Miguel Hidalgo's famous Grito de Dolores in 1810. May the 5th, in fact, marks neither Mexican independence nor any other date significant to the entire country. Rather, it is a local holiday in Puebla, akin to Bunker Hill Day in Boston. The holiday celebrates the defeat of French invaders in Puebla on May 5, 1862, and because Pam and I spent the summer of 1989 in that city, we have taken an interest in the holiday, and I have included some information about the battle and about Puebla more generally on my geography blog for kids.

It was shortly after our summer in Puebla that marketing geniuses at a San Antonio beer importer decided to start promoting the holiday throughout the United States. Clearly they were on to something, as our country suspends its 364-day-a-year antipathy to celebrate Mexico, or at least the excessive consumption of Mexican beverages. Thus has May 5 has become, for us, a date to celebrate Mexico, but as far as possible from Mexican restaurants!

To make this happen, we invited over a couple of friends and turned to our old standby The Well-Filled Tortilla, in which Pam found a tostada recipe entitled "crab, watermelon, and breaded chili strips." This is another of those recipe titles that includes have the ingredients, from bottom to top, this recipe is simple:

  • tostada shell (this is like a giant, round tortilla chip)
  • lettuce
  • watermelon cubes
  • breaded chili strips
  • lump crab meat
  • tomatillo mayonaise
  • abundant cilantro

Since I never liked watermelon much, we substituted a chilled honeydew melon, which was a perfect compliment to the crunchy, savory ingredients. A single large melon also left plenty to be used in fruit salads and smoothies for the rest of the week.

The recipe -- like several in this book -- is a sort of Russian nesting doll, in that some of the "ingredients" are actually other recipes. The first of these is the chili strips. I wondered how slices of chili would hold batter, and it turns out that the answer is "not well" so that in this instance "breaded" was more like "fried with corn meal." This was not a bad thing, though, and this layer added crunch and a lot of flavor.

The recipe calls for lump crab meat to be picked from whole crabs. This is not really possible this far from Maryland, but I hoped to find some lump meat in local fish markets. What I found was simply imported, canned crab, but since we were fairly well committed to this recipe, I bought some. And since I had no idea how much crab we would actually use, I bought two, one-pound cans, one of which turned out to be plenty for for adults to enjoy this meal.

The tomatillo mayo is an even better example of a nested recipe, as it calls for combining mayonnaise with salsa verde and a few other ingredients, and of course salsa verde is an entirely separate recipe. It was well worth the effort, though, to make a cool, tangy mayo that allowed for the weak pun at the top of this article! More importantly, it was a fabulous topping for this recipe and held up well in the fridge as a more flavorful substitute for mayo all week.
4Matic Crab
This dinner far exceeded the 20 to 40 minutes indicated for preparation time, and was messy both on the plate and in the kitchen as a whole. It was delicious and highly satisfying, however, and paired well with both Negra Modelo (one of those beers at the center of reinventing the holiday) and margaritas.

We are likely to try it again some day, but for the remaining can of crab in our fridge, we are mostly likely going to "Crispy Crab and Breaded Chili Strips" recipe -- another of the nesting-doll variety. It calls for cooking the crab with some wine and garlic, and placing it in a soft tortilla with the same chili strips as those used above.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Serving Up More Maryland

During this busiest time of the academic year, we have slowed down for a birthday weekend of blogging, walking, light chores, and of course cooking. The big food day will be today, my attainment day, much of which will be devoted to some very important crepes, but yesterday was also a good one for culinary innovation at Casa Hayes-Boh.

Early in the day, while at Costco we broke one of our cardinal rules, which is to avoid anything to do with crabs unless we are actually in Maryland. We made an exception with the purchase of some prepared crab dip, with which we made a nice little lunch. Pam lightly toasted English muffins, topped each half with some of the dip and a slice of Swiss cheese. She broiled them for a few minutes, and we were slaked until dinner time.

And for dinner, Pam had selected a really remarkable dish. This was definitely a two-person project, because it involves phyllo and neither of us is very deft with that material. While Pam made the layers of layers, I worked on the filling, as described in Dishing Up Maryland. The recipe is one of those whose title lists most of the main ingredients -- "Wild Mushroom Tartlettes with Goat Cheese and Bacon" -- though admittedly the recipe is worth reading for a few other key ingredients that make this a very scrumptious meal: various forms of fruit; marmalade; shallots; thyme; and red wine. A dollop of the soft goat cheese was placed at the bottom of a six-phyllo layered muffin tin, the bacon/mushroom/fruit mixture was placed on top of the cheese and then the tartlettes were baked at 400 in a convection oven for 20 minutes. Definitely not a dish to photograph-suffice it to say that it was quite brown. It was, however, delicious and textured with a wonderful combination of sweet, savory, creamy, and chewy.