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, December 31, 2016

Boxing Day Shrimp

According to the New York Times cooking page "buttery potted dishes are...popular throughout Britain". We had never heard of this sort of dish, but were certainly game to try it. It was my first attempt at clarifying butter, which I don't think was entirely successful. I don't have any kind of a strainer in the lesser-equipped beach house kitchen, so I had to make do with just spoon. We also don't have any ramekins (at either house), so instead of individual pots we made one big pot, and simply scooped out the shrimp from it and divided it onto our individual plates. As far as the ingredients go, we mostly followed what was written, but skipped the anchovies and celery seed, and just substituted some other spices for flavoring. This was relatively simple, and the leftovers are even easier. Since this is a chilled dish we only had to take the pot out of the refrigerator and make some toast when we wanted to enjoy this again the next day.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Right Muffins

Our much-anticipated-annual-Christmas-Eve-lobster dinner with friends was made even better this year by the discovery of this savory recipe from the Granny's Muffin House cookbook.

Dinner was scheduled at 4:00, but we arrived at noon to help with cookie baking, and to pick up the crustaceans at the local fish monger. The recipe specifically says to "serve these hot, while the cheese is still meltin'" so I brought all the ingredients in individual containers, and mixed them up at around 3:30 to put in the oven. These are more like biscuits than muffins, and turned out to be a most excellent complement to the lobster. Head nodding and smiling commenced all around the table as first bites of these were taken. 

Just as surely as we will now always listen to George Michael sing "Last Christmas" on Christmas day, Cheddar Onion Muffins will now and forever be a part of our Christmas Eve celebration.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Going Dutch

When planning for a recent dinner at Whaling House, Pam cracked open the Vincent Price cooking tome, and found a simple Flemish recipe for steak -- Hollandsche Biefstuk (Dutch Beefsteak) -- and sauce. Really, it was gravy, but this is a very classy book...

Neither steak nor sauce photographs well,
so I am including this nice image of Mr. Price,
from the cover of his tv cookbook.
I began by tenderizing the steak with a heavy spoon. The recipe includes an admonishment to do this, since the steak will be cooking quickly. I then mixed 2T wine vinegar, 1t salt, and 1/2t pepper. I rubbed this mixture onto both sides of the steaks and let them rest on a plate for a half hour.

I then melted 1/4 cup of butter in an indispensable cast-iron skillet, and sautéed the steak for 4-1/2 minutes on each side. Actually, that is the timing specified by Mr. Price. Why the timing is so precise when the temperature is not specified at all, I'm not certain. Still, it seemed to bring the steaks to a good, medium doneness. The directions advise "moving it around while it cooks" which I just learned is what distinguishes sautéeing (as in "jump") from frying.

Keeping the burner on, I then set the steaks aside in on a warm plate, and added 1/2 cup chopped shallots to the butter remaining in the pan. I stirred these until browned and then spooned them onto the steaks. I then stirred into the butter (it is getting a workout here) 1t potato flour, 1C beef stock, and 1/2C beer. Actually, I used wheat flour and because we had no beef stock I used about 1/2 cup chicken stock, a bit of Worcestershire, and 1C beer. I stirred this until blended and a little bubbly, and then added 1/2t fresh thyme, 1t sugar, 2T fresh parsley (Vincent loved his parsley), and a bit of salt and pepper.

Vincent asks us to put the sauce in a gravy boat (thus revealing what this really is -- steak and gravy), but I used a little pitcher instead. Meanwhile, Pam had mashed a couple of potatoes (they are not just for Thanksgiving any more).

At this point, I will step back to the shopping for this dish. Careful readers of this blog might notice an increase in our use of beef about a year ago. This has been concomitant with our purchase of a Big Green Egg grill and with the availability of organic, grass-fed beef, mainly from a local farmer's market. We have often bought such a steak and then looked for a way to prepare it. This time, I went to the grocery store in search of a particular cut -- sirloin -- and settled for the most similar cut -- rib eye (I know, this is not so similar, but it was about the right thickness). All of the grass-fed beef available was in thick chunks that I did not think would be suitable. So I bought a couple of right-sized slices of ordinary steak.

Results: delicious gravy for the steak and potatoes, but not very inspiring flavor in the steak itself. Given the carbon and water footprint of steak, I want to have it only when it is going to be extraordinary. So I will make this dish again, but only with a more sustainable and delicious beef. And if I can figure out a way to grill rather than sautée, I will do that, too!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

¡Ay, Patrón!

The title of this post refers to one of its least prevalent ingredients in this evening's preparation of champandongo, which I have also called Aztec Lasagna. See that post from earlier in the year for the geographic and literary background of this dish, along with a link to the basic recipe.

Since we have now made it several times, this post will focus only on the small departures from previous efforts. The first change was in the roasting of the peppers. We are fortunate enough to have two kitchens -- one in a place we find most weekends. The smaller "galley" at Whaling House has the essentials but not the frills, and it is where we are re-learning how to cook with an electric stove, just a few years after I had gotten comfortable roasting peppers directly on the burner of our gas stove.
Not a great photo, but at least I managed not to melt my phone!
Our alternative approach has been to buy roasted pepperrs (imagine!) or to roast peppers in the Cloverfield kitchen (yes, it is named for our former dog) before coming to Fairhaven. Friends recently told me of another way -- oven roasting. I did so this evening, and got the peppers both charred and gooey at the same time. I used one dark-red, long bell pepper and one jalapeño. The result was especially good for use in a sauce, as they were quite soft after I sweated them in a covered bowl. The only difficulty relative to roasting over fire was that the outer, charred skin was difficult to separate.

The other departure from our April endeavor was quite tiny -- when I was nearly done with the mole (mol-AY) sauce, I added just a splash of coffee-infused Patrón tequila. Thus this dish from a story in Coahuila (northern Mexico) used an ancient sauce from Puebla (central Mexico) and two ingredients from Oaxaca (southern Mexico). The other ingredient was the chocolate, brought recently from a friend who had visited Oaxaca last summer with our daughter.
How much coffee-infused tequila? Just a splash or three.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sauce in the Sauce; Fish on the Fish

A few years ago, my university created an office to coordinate our science outreach programs, and of course we needed a catchy name. As a coordinator of our EarthView program, I was actually part of the committee that settled on an acronym within an acronym -- CASE is short for the Center for the Advancement of STEM Education, and STEM in turn is short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. So CASE is an acronym that is built not just of words, but of words plus another acronym.

I was reminded of this kind of word-building when I made a teriyaki sauce described by Blue Jean Chef Meredith Laurence, for a grilled salmon recipe on page 182 of Comfortable in the Kitchen -- the source of a chicken recipe I posted just yesterday.

As instructed, I started the coals in our Big Green Egg and then prepared the glaze while they heated. The glaze ingredients are:

4T soy sauce (See? Sauce within a sauce.)
1/4 C orange juice
3T honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t fresh ginger root, minced
pinch hot red pepper flakes

I brought this to a boil, whisked, and simmered until thickened. That easy.

We actually had all of these ingredients on hand in our weekend kitchen -- that is how much we are all about the well-prepared pantry -- so my shopping had been only at the fishmonger. Still, I made one substitution. I used Worcestershire instead of soy sauce,  Hence the fish-on-the-fish: Worcestershire includes anchovies.

I coated both sides of the salmon filet with a bit of vegetable oil, but rather than place it directly on the grill, I put it on a grilling stone (mentioned in previous posts). I put it skin-side-up at first, and then turned it, and drizzled the above sauce on it.  Near the end of cooking, I drizzled the rest of the sauce on it.

I believe I should have put the stone on earlier in the cooking process. Because it had been cold before I brought it inside to scrub, it was still slow to heat. The results were still good -- the fish was almost succulent. But a few more minutes of heating before I put the fish on would have given it a better sear.

We enjoyed this with some simple buttered noodles and a Fat Bastard 2014 Syrah -- perfect pairing all around.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Comfortable Crusty Chicken

Some while ago, my mother gave us a copy of Comfortable in the Kitchen (which we are) by Meredith Laurence, also known as the Blue Jean Chef. When I noticed it on our shelf I did not remember having used it, so in the spirit of this blog, The author is known as an educator both of real chefs on both coasts and of ordinary home cooks in various venues, especially television.

I decided to look through it first in choosing a Thursday--night dinner. (Careful readers of this blog might know that Thursday night usually features seafood from Kyler's Catch, but my Thursday-night rowing is on hiatus, so I needed to find landlubber fare.

As I flipped through the pages, the title Parmesan Crusted Chicken with White Wine Cream Sauce jumped off the page. I quickly compared a couple other titles and this seemed to be the strike the right balance between how hungry we were (somewhat) and how hard I was willing to work (somewhat).

Being in that lazy mood, I did not really plan side dishes. Pam had noticed some peas in the freezer, which I steamed just as the main dish was nearly complete.

And in the grocery I noticed fresh cranberries, so I got about a pound of them. I put them in a cast-iron saucepan with about a half cup each of whiskey, water, and brown sugar -- I boiled and stirred this throughout the preparation of the chicken, taking it off the heat just near the end so it could cool slightly.

Since I had to go "foraging" for most of these ingredients anyway, I did not make any substitutions. Also, per usual practice, I did not trouble myself too much with measurements.

1/4 cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a dash more in the sauce
freshly ground black pepper (I did not notice the "freshly" part until just now)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used three, and cut each in half)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 shallot, finely chopped (I used one small one)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped (but they are already tiny!)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream (I used light)

This recipe is basically a slightly up-scale version of my usual fried chicken. I began by heating the oil in the pan. Then I coated the chicken lightly with flour, dunked it in the egg, dredged it in a blend of Parm and Panko, and placed it directly into the pan to cook -- about six minutes per side. I had put a wire cookie rack onto a cookie sheet so that the chicken could rest on the rack in a 200F oven while I prepared the sauce. I like this idea -- it prevents the coating from coming off entirely as it would if resting on a platter.

To make the sauce, I drained most of the oil from the pan and then used the remainder to sautee the shallot, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf for just a minute or two. I then added the wine, cooked for another couple of minutes to reduce, and then simmered with the cream for 2-3 minutes more. I added pepper and removed the bay leaf.

I divided the chicken between our two plates, adding some peas and cranberries to each. A good, lazy meal. Since white wine was in the sauce, we enjoyed a nice oaky Chardonnay with this meal, a break from our usual winter warmer of Malbec.

Verdict: A delicious meal we will be repeating.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

photo from

James and I bought a rather large bag of sweet potatoes a few weeks ago, and have been using them in various recipes (both old favorites and new temptations). I noticed that we had several cans of black beans in the cupboard so I started looking for a sweet potato and black bean soup recipe. I thought I would be able to count on good ol' Deborah Madison for this one, and was surprised to discover that her great big vegetarian cookbook in fact does not include such a recipe. My next stop was the New York Times Cooking pages. Once again, I was disappointed. So I next turned to where I hit the jackpot with this hearty chili.  The ingredient list is rather long, but I am now such a foodie that I had everything in my own pantry (or at least a reasonable facsimile of everything). This isn't especially difficult to prepare, but it does take some time. The sweet potatoes have to be peeled, diced, and roasted. Additionally, the cooking time for the chili is close to an hour.  I made a few minor changes to the ingredients. The recipe calls for coating the sweet potatoes along with a chipotle pepper in olive oil. Since I keep a big bottle of chipotle- infused olive oil in my pantry I just used that to coat the sweet potatoes. (If you are in need of such a bottle I got mine at Lebherz Oil and Vinegar Emporium - they deliver!). In lieu of water I used the coffee that was left in our carafe from our morning brew. And, instead of of the teaspoon each of cocoa powder and sugar called for I used two small pieces of Mexican chocolate which turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. Topped with fresh cilantro and sour cream this was rich in colors, flavors, and textures.We both quite enjoyed this meal, and it paired perfectly with a bottle our own Barolo wine. In fact, I don't think we've ever had anything that so perfectly complemented the Barolo. There is no doubt that we will be making this one again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Verde .... Es Verdad

(Green ... It's True)

In presenting geography programs with our giant EarthView programs throughout the year, our outreach team gets around. In addition to meeting about 10,000 students per year (that's not a typo), we have the pleasure of visiting schools in several dozen communities around Massachusetts. Sometimes we manage to get a long enough lunch break to do a bit of exploring, and this is something that we geographers never get tired of.

We like new places, of course, and also returning to places around the state (and Rhode Island) that have become favorites. One of these is Ward's Berry Farm in Sharon. This is not far from home, but we generally only get to it when visiting the Sharon Middle School. In addition to a great lunch counter, we enjoy browsing the shop for special sauces, jams and the like. This time, we had a very generous lunch break early in June, so a couple of us explored the plant offerings.

I bought a couple of plants, and one of our students bought me a couple more! (Have I mentioned we have great students at BSU?) These included tomatillos, which we had last had at our Bridgewater home in 2011. Given the scrumptious, eat-it-with-a-spoon salsa I made back then, it is strange that I had not tried another crop in five years.

This time, I planted the tomatillos behind at our Fairhaven house. (I also planted the nopal cactus in the sunny front yard; stay tuned to see if it hangs on through the winter.)

Being an absent-minded professor, I failed to notice the tomatillos as they grew in the midst of some other plants, until I saw something unusual a few weeks ago, took a second look, and realized that they were ready to harvest. Actually, some were ready, but I panicked a bit and harvested all of them. Later I realized many were pretty small and perhaps not as ripe as they could be.

Still, I collected these and then another, larger batch. Some I simply blended with cilantro as part of our Thanksgiving-weekend chalupa* fest, and it made a good, if incredibly simple salsa verde.

(Chalupa -- basically a hard-shell taco, but built on top of a flat taco shell, like a little tower of deliciousness.)

After making the "fake" salsa verde, I still had a lot of tomatillos left (more than shown above), so I decided to make it for real. I was surprised to find that cooking was involved. I did a quick search on All Recipes, and followed the tomatillo salsa verde recipe as posted, except that I paid little attention to measurements and I probably over-blended it.

The result was very tasty but a bit thin. We have kept it in a glass jar (much better than plastic for this sort of thing), and have used it on quesadillas, chips, and similar dishes for several days now.

I like the suggestion of reader Sara Zavesky, who suggests roasting some of the ingredients. I hope to try this next year!


I don't think this is a strictly "new" recipe because I am sure we've made them before, but since there is no blog post about it, and I made a few innovations in the recipe I used I include it here.

Chilaquiles are a spicy Mexican dish (sometimes used as a hangover cure).  I based mine on this recipe from the New York Times cooking pages. Rather than using canned tomatoes I used a bit of tomato sauce I had left over from another recipe, and then cut up two whole tomatoes. I put them in a blender with a bit of jalapeño pepper, chopped garlic, and chopped onion. When it looked like gazpacho I poured it into a skillet to heat. While the salsa heated I poached two chicken breasts. Once the chicken was poached I shredded it and placed it in the skillet with the salsa, then crushed up some tostada shells we had left from a post-Thanksgiving Chalupa dinner and added them to the mix as well. Once everything was heated together they were served with shredded cheese and sour cream.

This is a good recipe for using up any kind of tortilla chips or shells that are starting to stale, or for the crumbs at the bottom of the bag.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Vermouth No Gin

Click to enlarge
When planning for this evening's dinner, Pam suggested I turn to W.I.N.O.S. (Women in Need of Sanity) Cook With Wine, which she had picked up when she joined me for a conference in Quebec recently. This fun, out-of-print title is no longer available from the W.I.N.O.S. web site, and Amazon offers it only through a third-party seller, at a price that I think is a bit higher than what Pam paid at a small, independent bookshop in Sherbrooke.

The extreme whimsy of Jesseph's work -- from the title to the smiley face next to all of the wines listed as ingredients -- belies the quality of the work. The recipe I chose (above) is well-written (except for the lime-lemon confusion), succinct, and easy to prepare.

I chose the Vermouth Chicken Scallopine because we still had part of a bottle of vermouth in the fridge, with no gin nor any interest in martinis. At first glance, we thought this recipe might be an excuse (always welcome) to pick up scallops from the world-renowned scallopers in our neighborhood, but in this case the word simply means "thin slice" in Italian.

I followed the recipe as written, except that I was able to skip the malletting because the chicken I purchased was already thin -- either sliced or smashed, I am not sure which. Because the chicken breasts were already prepared and were thin enough to cook quickly, this dish took only about 20 minutes to prepare. Anticipating that it would be quick, I had put some diced potatoes and sweet potatoes -- tossed with olive oil and seasoned with Old Bay and other spices -- in the oven about a half hour ahead. The combination was quite pleasing, and as Pam noted, the presentation was quite nice.
We enjoyed these dishes with a Pinot Noir, rather than a vermouth-based drink.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thanksgiving Pot-Luck Contribution

This year we spent Thanksgiving with some friends at the Second Annual First Parish Thanksgiving Dinner. About a dozen people chipped in and shared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the Unitarian Universalist church in Bridgewater.
James and I spent the morning preparing Wild Rice Stuffing from the New York Times cooking page. Mostly we followed the recipe as presented, with two small changes. The proportions of wild rice to brown rice were reversed, and we used hazelnuts instead of pecans (only because I didn't put pecans on the list for James to buy because I thought we already had some, only to find out they were hazelnuts).  The dish was sweet and savory -- and the leftovers were divine.

Good food, sparkling conversation, and a warm setting made this a lovely holiday. Also, we brought the biggest bottle of wine ever!
The empty bottle of homemade Barolo wine we brought to the dinner.
Shown here with a regular-sized wine bottle for scale.