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, February 25, 2017

Blue Jean Mac & Cheese

Once again, Pam has proven her prowess at finding recipes that can be made with ingredients on hand in our larder. It helps that we keep the kitchen well supplied with a variety of ingredients and very few prepared foods. It also helps that we have a lot of cook books. But mainly Pam is just very good at this.

Knowing that we had some bacon remaining from earlier dishes. Pam looked for a recipe that would make good use of it. She turned first to Comfortable in the Kitchen by Meredith Laurence, also known as the Blue Jean Chef (BJC). I think she might have a television show. The book had been a gift of my mother, and features slightly sophisticated comfort foods, such as the Comfortable Crusty Chicken and ginger salmon we blogged about last December.

On page 80, Pam found Bacon, Tomato and Green Pea Mac 'n' Cheese. The recipe begins with heating the oven to 350F, and then bringing a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. It calls for macaroni or "other short pasta" which in this case meant penne. A couple minutes before the pasta was done, I added 1-1/2 cups of frozen peas. I had never thought of doing so at this early stage, but will certainly do so in future casseroles. When strained, the pasta and peas just rested in the colander while I continued to work with the indispensable cast-iron skillet.

The recipe calls for 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved. At Pam's suggestion, I used a can of diced tomatoes, placing them in a sieve early in the process so that they would be well drained.

There I had been cooking bacon. The BJC called for six slices, chopped into one-inch pieces. I had missed that detail until just now, and failed to chop up the bacon. Fortunately I had gotten it crispy enough that it easily broke into pieces in the mixing bowl. I removed the bacon and then cooked a small, finely-chopped onion until it was translucent and added six tablespoons of flour and one tablespoon of mustard powder (the BJC had suggested only two teaspoons). I then gradually whisked in four cups of milk (not too cold) until a roux was formed, brought it to a gentle simmer and cooked it until thickened.
Photo: Comfortable in the Kitchen
I removed the skillet from heat and then stirred in the grated cheeses. I used a total of about three cups of sharp Vermont cheddar and parmesan, but the BJC calls for 3 cups Gruyere or Swiss, 2 cups cheddar, and one cup parmesan.

Once the cheeses were incorporated into the sauce, everything went into a big mixing bowl for thorough stirring. I then combined panko crumbs (in lieu of the homemade bread crumbs BJC suggests) with thyme and parsley (again substituting dry herbs for the fresh ones called for) as a topping. I put the penne mix in a 9x13 casserole and topped it with the crumb mix. I baked this for about a half hour.

The result: excellent comfort food and plenty of it. It will be a significant part of this afternoon's Saturday linner. The only drawback to this recipe is that it turned what is often a one-dish recipe into an every-dish-we-own recipe. This made me grateful for our dishwasher!

Dos Nuevas Recetas that we invented ourselves

It has been over six years since we started this blog. We usually find our recipes within our collection of cookbooks, although lately we have be finding more on the interwebs. Last week, however, we collaborated on a meal in which each of us created a new recipe, with one shared ingredient. Pam made a pasta-berry salad; James' innovation came in the way of a new steak rub.

I had found a thick, grass-fed sirloin that I wanted to use as a main course. I set it on a plate, and pierced it several times on each side with a fork. Regular readers will know that I frequently prepare a rub based on something I learned from our friends at Equal Exchange -- a mix of black pepper and ground coffee (fairly traded and organic, of course). In this case, I used home-roasted, hand-ground coffee from East Timor by way of our other friends at Deans Beans. Something I learned the first time I used this combination is that the amount of pepper and the amount of time resting with the rub should both be limited, so that the pepper does not begin to pre-cook the meat. In other words, it is possible to over-do this. But using about 1:4::pepper:coffee and resting for 20 minutes or so seems to work well.

Just before grilling -- on the Big Green Egg -- I added a couple of ingredients to the steaks. First, I sprinkled each side lightly with Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Then I pressed fresh blackberries into each side, using a fork to get them stuck a bit better. This was a bit messy. I then grilled at about 450. One problem with the coffee rub is that it masks the steak, so there are no visual clues to doneness. I should have used the Thermapen, but instead ended up putting it back on the grill once I had divided it. No harm done.

We had decided to use bow-tie pasta in some sort of side dish with the steak, and Pam remembered that we had previously made some mighty fine fruit-and-pasta dishes (see Pasta with Grapes and Strawberry Pasta). We had just made a trek to Trader Joe's and bought blueberries and blackberries, so we decided try inventing a new recipe. The cooked pasta (about 2 cups) was mixed with a handful of each of the berries, along with a sliced banana. Pam made a dressing by mixing about 6 of each berry, a tablespoon of honey, and a tablespoon of blueberry balsamic vinegar (from L.O.V.E. Oil and Vinegar Emporium), and 2 tablespoons of chopped mint leaves in a blender. The dressing was tossed with the berries and pasta. An eye-pleasing, as well as palate-pleasing dish, and it turned out to be a perfect complement to the steak rub...
Love will keep us together.
But blackberries tied this meal together.
Final verdict: this meal was just a bit different, delicious, and fun to make. And of course it paired well with Malbec.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Company Egg Dish

Last week we wound up with 2 1/2 dozen eggs in our house. Luckily I remembered that I had saved a link some time ago claiming to have The Only 40 Egg Recipes You Will Ever Need. There I found this recipe for Baked Ranchero Eggs with Blistered Pepper Jack Cheese. In addition to a recent house guest who will be with us through the spring, we had invited a friend to join us for dinner as well. Since this called for a dozen eggs it seemed like it would make plenty of food, and use up some of our plethora of cackleberries. The recipe itself was simple enough to follow, although it did take longer to prepare than I anticipated, so I am glad I started the prep work early. It is cooked and baked all in the same cast-iron pan, so fortunately clean up is pretty easy. This was a big hit with everyone, and made for dandy leftovers as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Yummy Valentine Fudge

For Valentine's Day, Pam found a recipe by searching in one of our several romantic cookbooks for recipes that would use ingredients we already had on hand. As the book sat open on the counter for a day or two, we each realized that it was a recipe we had enjoyed before -- Grape Snausages. It ended up being a little different this time,in a good way: I had purchased hot Italian chicken sausage without any particular plan, and it made for a nice hot-sweet main course.

For dessert, Pam (the brains of this operation, as careful readers will have noticed by now) suggested a recipe source that has served mainly as a decoration since we received it some while ago. Java Jolt is a cute little box of cards, each with a recipe or two involving coffee.

I looked through the entire box, and found just one that looked feasible for a holiday that was to fall on the busiest day of my week.
The card entitled Avalon Gold Rush begins with a story about real, old-school fudge like we still find here in New England. It then offers quite a simple recipe for a short-cut fudge.
I varied this only slightly. First, I knew that in my hands, the foil-lining method would just be a way to get shreds of foil into the fudge. So I used a silicon pie-pan liner that my mother had recently given us (and that Pam had remembered). Although we actually had Amaretto on hand, I decided to use cherry Schnapps (this was Valentine's Day, after all). We of course do not have instant coffee on hand, so I added about a half cup of coffee left over from the morning. (We usually do not have leftover coffee, but I had reserved some on purpose.)

The result was yummy, soft fudge that is so rich that we have enjoyed the tiniest of servings over the course of the rest of the week. My Valentine pronounced it extremely delicious.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Quesadilla Pie

James and I do love Mexican food, so when I noticed this recipe for Cheesy Chicken Quesadilla Pie on my Facebook feed, and realized that we also had a few chicken breasts just waiting to become part of a nueva receta we starting making our plans.

This simple dish uses one large tortilla shell as the pie crust. It is placed in the bottom of a spring form pan and then toppings and batter are added. Once everything is in the pan it is baked for about 20 minutes. We forgot to get the green chiles the recipe called for when we went shopping, so I substituted a dollop of hot pepper jelly in the toppings, which turned out to be a good idea. This was simple and delicious.We will definitely be having this one again.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Orange-Cinnamon Pancakes

Image:from a Shortbread Recipe on Saturday Evening Post.
Two things readers of this blog might know about me: I am passionate about pancakes, and even more passionate about Nicaragua. And for the past few years my annual visit to coffee lands has included CEN, a cloud-forest research station that is fascinating for its ecology projects, its beauty, and its breakfast! When we are lucky, the research in charge, thespian, physicist, ethnopharmacologist, and all-around genius Dr. Alan Bolt makes us pancakes.

I cannot possibly replicate his pancakes at home. First of all, I am not Alan. Second, I have no cinnamon trees nearby. But this morning I had success with a CEN-inspired adaptation of my usual pancake recipe. In place of a small amount of nutmeg, I used a lot of ground cinnamon -- probably two tablespoons. Instead of a mix of milk and yogurt totalling 1-1/2 cups, I used 1 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of orange juice. I increase the leaving agents (baking powder and baking soda) just a tad. I completely forgot sugar, and I used olive oil instead of melted butter.

The results: light, delicious pancakes. CEN's reputation for pancake mastery is still intact, but this was a fine way to start our snow day!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Shrimp in Tomato Cream Sauce

This recipe comes from the W.I.N.O.S (Women in Need of Sanity) Cook with Wine cookbook. It didn't take long to make, and was quite tasty. Next time I make this, however, I will be sure to prep all the ingredients before beginning to cook. I did some chopping, cutting, and grating in advance, but once the cooking starts on this things move so fast it is best to have everything ready. I did realize that the shrimp (which goes into the sauce at the end) and the angel hair pasta have similar short cook times (about 3 minutes) so I did put the shrimp in at the same time I started cooking the pasta. I think this would also be very good as a vegetarian sauce if one wanted to leave the shrimp out.

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins

Well, we're finally back in the game for 2017. We had a rough start to the new year and mostly were trying to keep our heads above water in January, so scouring recipe books/sites fell to the back burner (so to speak). This weekend we finally had some breathing room and took the time to get back to cooking and blogging. The recipe for Jordan Marsh's Blueberry Muffins showed up on my Facebook feed on Saturday morning. As luck would have it, James had recently bought some blueberries and they were just waiting to be used. I've made blueberry muffins many times before, so I checked the recipe to see what was special about these. The magic comes from crushing some of the berries and adding the juice to the batter, which gives them a moister texture. They really are good. Also, importantly, I discovered the New York Times Cooking app for my iPad. It is superior to using my browser and going to the New York Times cooking page online because it does not constantly close while I am cooking.