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, April 9, 2016

Biriyani #3

This evening's entry reflects a true Nueva Receta moment. That is, I walked over to the cookbook shelf, selected a volume, and looked through it until I found something I could make with the main ingredient (chicken breast) on hand. I then went shopping for the rest of the ingredients. In addition to celebrating good food in general, the purpose of this blog is to push us to open those books that fill our shelves. (Our numbers are pretty good, actually -- a few dozen cookbooks, and about 50 new recipe attempts each year.)

The book I chose is a bit of ephemera known simply as Mélange: An International Cookbook. It has neither author nor publication date, though it emerged around the year 2000 from the International Club at the University of Massachusetts (Dartmouth, maybe?) and was printed by Fundcraft, a small press in Tennessee that specializes in cookbooks for non-profit organizations.

The introduction describes how the book evolved along with international programs at the university, and reminds me very strongly of the mainly international community that lived in student apartments that we visited frequently when we attended the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Michelle Diegnan is listed as editor of this spiral-bound volume. We can only imagine the hours she poured into this effort, working with "recipes" that originated more as oral traditions from around the globe than as any specific set of instructions.

As I paged through the volume, I found a recipe for Biriyani, a chicken-curry-rice dish whose directions were just a bit too complicated for me to grasp right away. Turning the page, I found simpler approach to the same concept -- the differences between the two implying that a great deal of flexibility is allowed in the preparation of this south-Asian dish.

Drawing on the two recipes, I will simply describe how I made it.

Knowing that this dish would not look as good as it would taste, I did not photograph it. Rather, here is a nice photo of our recently-upgraded lanai, moments before serving!
I began by blending 2T vanilla yogurt (plain was specified, but vanilla was fine) with 1T each of turmeric and chili powder into a paste. I then cut up two chicken breasts into large chunks, and coated them with the yogurt paste. In a separate bowl, I washed by soaking and then sieving, 1-1/2 cups of basmati rice.

I set these aside and then heated 2T butter in a dutch oven.

To this I added five cloves and one cinnamon stick. When these were "popping" I added a finely chopped onion, cooking until brown. I added minced ginger and garlic, heating a bit more, and then added the chicken and two chopped jalapeño peppers (serranos were called for, but we live in a pepper-deprived part of the world).

I stirred this fairly often, until the chicken was almost cooked through. Then I added 3 cups of boiling water (I liked this idea -- boiling water in a kettle so that adding water does not slow down the cooking) and the juice of one lemon along with quite a bit of finely chopped cilantro. To this I added the rice, reduced the heat to simmer, and covered until cooked -- 15 more minutes.

The result: win-win-win. This is relatively easy, quite spicy, nutritious, and delicious. It went well with a bit of Chardonnay.

Aztec Lasagna

Lovers Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatepetl in front of the mountains that bear their names. These mountains divide the Valley of Mexico (City) from the Valley of Puebla. Read the romantic legend at Inside Mexico. My first encounter with mole was on the flanks of Popo in 1989.
We recently revisited a favorite recipe for friends we had not yet cooked for. We could tell they were a bit trepidatious about champandongo -- a dish that has meat, hot peppers, and cocoa, among other ingredients. But they were brave, so we took the opportunity to prepare one of my favorite weekend (i.e., long prep time) dishes.

Champandongo  is one of the lesser-known menu items in Like Water for Chocolate, in part perhaps because its preparation is not detailed in the movie version, nor is it associated with any magic realism, as are so many of Tita's other creations throughout the story.

As we've reported on this blog, mole (pronounced MOH-lay, not like the rodent) can be prepared in quite a variety of ways. I used the champandongo recipe found and followed by Pam's students in 2011 as a starting point, modifying only the way the sauce itself is prepared. I used ordinary tomato sauce in place of the tomato soup, and of course roasted my own poblano peppers, rather than using canned green chiles. I used poblanos because both this recipe and the peppers originate in Puebla, where Pam and I spent a memorable summer in 1989, and it is where we discovered mole -- a taste I enjoyed right away, and that Pam acquired over time.
Champandongo kit: meat filling, tortillas, mole. 
In place of the cocoa powder called for in the recipe, I used a package (2 disks) of dark chocolate from Taza. I would have used one of the other varieties with chili, but the regular dark was fine. I simply powdered it with a cheese grater. I then used ALL of the mole I prepared. I am not quite sure why the recipe calls for making a lot of mole and using only a small amount. The more, the better!
Don't skimp on the Manchego cheese!
The result was quite good, especially served with a bordeaux, which I had read as a recommendation with another mole recipe, and with Negra Modelo, a brown beer that I first encountered during that Puebla summer. Our friends enjoyed their first mole encounter, though their reaction to its spiciness suggests that I could have skipped the cayenne or the jalapeno that I had slipped into the sauce.

After preparing this and bragging about its Aztec roots -- the first people who prepared this for me, after all, did not even speak Spanish, only Nahuatl -- it occurs to me that flour tortillas are quite a departure. True Aztec lasagna probably needs corn tortillas. Perhaps next time I'll try them, at least in one side of the dish.


Since we were serving this at our seaside Whaling House, our friends brought us a whale cake to share. It was delicious! (And no whales were harmed.)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Vincent Price Scallops

As I recently wrote on my Environmental Geography blog, my early birthday gift to Pam is a fiftieth-anniversary edition of Mary & Vincent Price's A Treasury of Great Recipes. It is a lush volume based on travel to many of the great restaurants of the world a half-century ago. My particular focus was on a perfectly horrific coffee recipe, but we are confident that most of what fills these pages will be as delightful as our first use of the book -- a simple recipe involving scallops!

The recipe for "Cape Cod Scallops Sauté Meunière" is one of several from the venerable Locke-Ober restaurant in Boston. The menu and woodcut illustration of the restaurant exemplify the kinds of places that fill this volume, and evoke the atmosphere of a restaurant established when Ulysses S. Grant was president of the United States.

Because Boston is a place that loves its history, I assumed we might be able to make a bit of a pilgrimage, but alas, it closed without fanfare in 2012.
The comments sections in the article about the closing and in an article about the opening of Yvonne's in the same location reveal a lot about the changing geography of its immediate neighborhood and of generational differences in the reputation of the original restaurant. Most amusing is the retort aimed at someone who dared call Locke-Ober's clientele stuffy: "Go eat at Taco Bell!" So opinions varied; we certainly will be avoiding the New England Boiled Dinner recipe on the page facing this scallop dish, putting us on the younger side of the divide.
Photo by my dad shows my rowing buddies and I getting out of the way of an earlier scallop delivery.
We found this dish to be as delicious as it is simple. Starting with fresh New Bedford scallops from Kyler's Catch, I dredged them in flour (shaking off excess, as advised), and placed them in hot oil. The recipe calls for a cast-iron pan, which I should have used. I was not sure the one available was big enough, though, so I used the enamel skillet to pretty good effect.

Once the scallops were browned on both sides, I removed them from the pan, poured off excess oil (I will simply use a lot less oil next time), and added butter, parsley, and fresh lemon juice. I whisked these together as the butter melted, and poured it over the scallops.
The recipe calls for 1/4-inch depth of cooking oil. I used less than that, and will use even less next time.
The result: delish!