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...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Double Deglazed Stew

Pam and I met in French class, so it is appropriate that this evening's meal includes a bit of a language lesson. Autumn has been warm and slow in arriving, with leaves lingering longer than we ever remember them doing. But finally in the past week or two our thoughts have turned to autumnal favorites, and one of those is beef stew -- known in the Hayes family as WETS, which is STEW backwards.
The healthiest part of this dinner, and the only part that really would photograph well.
Pam found a NY Times stew recipe and jotted down the major ingredients for me. I was intrigued by one in particular -- cognac. And oddly enough, we were out of cognac, so I went off to a newly-expanded package store (packie) in our town to fetch some. It was a greater challenge than I expected, but I did find some. Good news for this dinner, and good news in general.

I followed the recipe more or less as written, though readers of this blog know that some exceptions are certainly following. The first of these was that I did not begin with salt pork; I used an equivalent amount of butter and a little salt instead, cooking the onions and shallots in butter, and transferring them to a bowl. I then added the lightly-floured cubes of beef (store-bought organic -- our farmers-market source for local beef is gone for the season) in two rounds.

While the aromatics and beef rested in the bowl, I broke out the cognac for deglazing, and in that moment realized what it is -- the use of any cool liquid in a hot pan to break up the bits that are stuck -- in a sugary glaze -- to the bottom. This is the beginning of many sauces, and as someone who loves the charred bits stuck to any pan, a very welcome step. Using a bit of cognac made it even more satisfying! From The Reluctant Gourmet, we learn that those bits on the bottom are called fond -- not because I am fond of them, but because this is the French word for bottom, like fundamental, foundation, and so on.

So this stew -- like other French beef stews we have made -- is as much a vehicle for sauce as anything. The use of cognac in deglazing was just the start. The Dijon made the sauce rich and flavorful, without a mustardish edge. I was curious about the second suggested mustard -- Pommery. A substitution post on Chow Hound taught me two things: 1) any whole-grain mustard would do in a pinch (we did not have any, and I was not going out again); and 2) this specific recipe is a popular use of Pommery mustard.

The final touch was a red wine, and regular readers will not be surprised to see that I used a small amount of Malbec, reserving the rest for a brilliant pairing. Together with some freshly-baked biscuits, we enjoyed this stew immensely. Our cognac should last until the next time we prepare it, and we have time to pick up that grainy mustard!

Oh right: the double deglazing! I almost neglected to explain the title. Our weekend galley has an electric stove, which I am trying very hard to learn how to use. My initial simmer on medium instead of low started scorching the stew before I knew what was happening. I moved the pan off the heat, scooped most of the contents into the large bowl that was on hand, and put it back on the heat with another splash of cognac. The back of the spoon liberated a second round of fond, perhaps making this even better than it would have been.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Lime Butternut Squash Soup

Another tasty recipe from the Civilized Caveman. I was surprised by how much flavor this five-ingredient soup had, The lime was more prominent than I expected. The preparation was rather simple. I had to peel and cut the squash which took some effort, and the steaming took some time so I used that time to make our favorite cornbread to accompany the soup. Once the squash was steamed I drained the water and added the rest of the ingredients and used my immersion blender to blend it right in the same pot. It was super creamy, and very thick. James and I also added some fresh nutmeg to it, because it is butternut squash after all!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Paleo Potatoes

We are still not quite sure what the Paleo diet is all about, but a friend recently recommended a recipe from a paleo web site (let that sink in) that looked delicious. And we are happy to report that it is!

Cooking Caveman, Professional Husband, and blogger George posted this simple and delicious preparation for sweet potatoes. He opens his article with some general advice about sweet potatoes, which is to bake them. I would take his suggestion a step further -- rather than baking them on a foil-lined tray, I coat them with oil and then wrap them in foil for baking. In either case, I like his suggestion to bake a bunch of them at a time so that they are always handy for various kinds of cooking.

I followed his recipe for Stuffed Sweet Potatoes pretty much as written; I'll describe a few caveats here.

First, I will point out that the URL for this recipe is in his "pork" directory because a little bit of bacon is involved. Although the bacon definitely contributed to the flavor of this dish, a vegan version would certainly be satisfying as well.

Second, I paid little attention to quantities. I used only two sweet potatoes, so I should have halved all of the other ingredients. Instead, I simply worked in units known as "whatever is most convenient." So I stayed with the 4 strips of bacon called for, but one entire bell pepper, a small onion, and an apple, rather than fractions of each. Pam remembered that we still had one bag of frozen mixed greens from the summer, so I used these instead of spinach, which would have been more tender.

Third, rather than the oven, I used our Big  Green Egg both to roast the sweet potatoes and to cook the bacon. Once I got the Egg to 400F, I put the wrapped sweet potatoes in it, along with a grilling stone we recently purchased at Vermont Country Store (in Vermont -- not available online). At about 30 minutes, I opened up the Egg long enough to put the bacon on the stone (four strips was about all that would fit). At that temperature, it took about 10 minutes for the bacon (thick sliced) to cook crisply. I then cooled it and cut it into small pieces.

The rest was easy -- I happily followed blogger George's instruction to use an indispensable cast-iron skillet to cook up the onion, pepper, apple, dried cranberry, bacon, and greens. I used unsweetened dried cranberries. During the meal I realized that this time of year in Massachusetts, I could have just used fresh cranberries.

I had left the sweet potatoes in a bit over an hour at this point, which was just fine -- the softer the better. I sliced them in half, fluffed the centers a bit, and spooned the stuffing (more of a topping) onto them.
Further evidence that food photography is best left to the professionals (as on Blogger George's site). But this was so lovely in real life that I had to capture it. 
This dish scores quite well on the nutritious-delicious-easy-cheap trade-off matrix. Good on all of these counts, and surprisingly flavorful for a dish with no sauces or spices. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that we paired it with a Malbec, nor that we heartily endorse this pairing!


Since I was careless with proportions, we had plenty of the topping leftover. I was kind of hoping for this result, even tough I did not have a clear idea what to do with it. We decided that it would work well as part of a lunchtime quesadilla during the week. Mmmm.


Geography note: As we understand it, the paleo diet is limited to things that people would have in the Paleolithic Era, which extended from the onset of human use of stone tools 2.6 million years ago through the end of the Pleistocene (Ice Age) 10,000 years ago. During this period, humans were found either in the "Old World" or the "New World" (eastern and western hemispheres) but with no communication between the two. Sufficient connections to create recipes with ingredients from both hemisphere did not come about until the Columbian Exchange that followed the incursion of Columbus onto various islands in and around the Caribbean in 1492. The ingredient list for this recipe is transatlantic, so its deliciousness would have to await Columbus -- and really the Internet.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Cream of Tomato Soup

One of the things I like about fall is that it is such a great time to have soup. I found this recipe in Deborah Madison's New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. 
I followed the recipe mostly as written. I skipped the optional tomato paste, and used my immersion blender rather than pouring the soup back and forth between the pot and my regular blender. The soup was flavorful and perfect for a chilly evening. I served it with some crusty yogurt bread that I made in my bread machine.