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, May 30, 2017

Birthday leftovers

Some thirty years ago James and I spent our wedding night at a hotel in Columbia, Maryland. The following morning we had breakfast at a restaurant on Main Street in Historic Ellicott City called Side Streets. The restaurant is long gone, but we have a lasting memory of the delicious first meal of our first full day of married life - an Eggs Benedict-esque repast made with crab meat in lieu of ham.

I was inspired by the leftovers of my birthday meal (Oysters à la Gino) to make something similar to our matrimonial breakfast for brunch on Memorial day. All of the oysters got eaten at dinner on Saturday, but there was a fair amount of crab and bacon filling leftover, which James baked in a tiny casserole dish. I spread some of this filling on each of two pieces on Naan bread and broiled for about a minute. Meanwhile I fried two eggs, and then placed one on top of each of the crab/bacon/Naan piles. I added some shredded Parmesan cheese and then broiled again for another minute or so until the cheese melted. Nothing wrong with this meal, except that I wish there were more!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Birthday Feast: Oysters à la Gino

Careful readers of this blog might remember that last year my birthday gift to Pam was a cookbook by Vincent Price, with whom she shares a birthday (decades apart, of course). He traveled the world as a celebrity, and made a habit of going into the kitchen in many of the world's finest restaurants. So we have a new birthday tradition: something from A Treasury of Great Recipes.

As I noted in last year's birthday post, Price was succinct to the point of being cryptic. His recipe for Oysters à la Gino is a perfect example. Parsimonious with the ink, this is more a puzzle than a recipe. I believe this has to do with the sources of the recipes: note cards from some of the world's most accomplished chefs.

It includes numbered steps, but it absolutely cannot be completed by following these steps in the order presented. Rather, one must read each step and do some preparation work for it before actually executing them.

The first step I took is in the "Presentation" portion of the recipe. Shuck the oysters and place them in a bed of salt on a platter. I filled the platter with about 1/8 inch of salt -- just enough that the oyster halves could be set in without tipping too much. This was my first-time-ever oyster recipe, and I knew I was underprepared. But I did not know by how much! I consulted YouTube, where a pleasant fellow makes it look easy. It is not, but fortunately the first couple went well, so I knew it was possible. I had gotten through about six when my secret weapon arrived -- our friend Rob who grew up in coastal Connecticut, where these things are taught in kindergarten. He managed to shuck the rest, despite our lack of equipment.

Note to self: no more oysters until Tuesday's Amazon Prime delivery.

Similarly, Béchamel sauce is mentioned in the preamble and in the ingredient list, though it is called for in step #3 of the recipe. I made mine at that stage, which was a mistake. It caused me to rush the rest of the steps, combining everything in one pan when the ghost of Vincent would probably still want me to have 3 or 4 pans on the stove.

Another note: the recipe is for 6 oysters. I made 15, applying very loose math to the rest of the ingredient list. The end result, was fantastic: pleasing to the eye and to the sophisticated palates of the entire birthday party. It paired well with our home-brewed IPA as well as Malbec.


The aforementioned loose math resulted in a lot of extra filling, which I put in a tiny casserole dish with plenty of Old Bay seasoning on top. Stay tuned for Pam's brilliant idea for a use of these leftovers in tomorrow's seaside brunch.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Key Lime Basic

Image: All Recipes
Ours looks just as good!
As I sit down to write a quick post about the simplest of several birthday-weekend cooking adventures, I am surprised to see relatively few earlier posts on key lime pie on this blog. It is one of Pam's favorites, and Key West is among the places I've not been yet that I most want to visit.

Following our household rule on birthday desserts -- birthday person gets whatever they want -- I've taken a few stabs at this pie before. And we have NOT purchased one at the local grocery. This year we agreed on a classic recipe from our mainstay recipe web site. I followed the recipe to the letter, so there is not much to report here. As I write, it is cooling in the fridge, to be enjoyed after a seafood feast in our back garden.


Excuse me?

Yes, this is just a cooking technique. It something people do to chickens, and now I am one of them. We have a bit of a feast planned for Pam's birthday, but I also wanted to do something for her attainment day dinner the evening before. It was there that she found a word new to both of us, in the title of a recipe that is also available on the Big Green Egg web site: spatchcocked chicken.


It turns out that this really is a thing. When Pam read that part of the recipe to me, I was concerned that it might not be as easy to do as the blithe description suggested. So she suggested that I do what has become second-nature for all DIY endeavors, and sure enough, I found spatchcock instructions on YouTube, courtesy of Food Wishes, a project of our go-to web page, All Recipes.

So we got a chicken -- rather a big one, contrary to the suggestion in the video -- and set it in the fridge until it was time to start preparing dinner. It was both good news and bad news that I had not actually read the entire recipe before I started. Bad news because I had to skip most of the directions. Good news because had I read the recipe, I would not have tried this at all, and that would have been a missed opportunity.

In the end, I did a very simple version of the original recipe: cleaned and rinsed the chicken, removed the backbone as shown and cut the chest bone (it's a bit gruesome, I have to admit) so that I could lay the chicken flat on a pan. Then I brushed it with olive oil, rubbed coffee on it, and put it on a 300F grill (Big Green Egg). After 20 minutes, I brushed Stubbs hickory barbecue sauce on one side, flipped it with my handy tongs, and then brushed the other side. After another 20 minutes, the thickest parts of the meat read 165F as they should, but some parts were still below 140. So I did not get quite that even cooking that is promised with this method. For food-safety reasons, I let it grill another 10 minutes or so -- still uneven but safe throughout.
Thankfully, the end result was delicious and moist throughout, though not quite as moist as it will be when I try this again. I will do the overnight brining called for in the original recipe, and will make the rub and sauce described. Still, this was very successful and I am encouraged to try again soon!

Those items wrapped in foil are sweet potatoes. As I often do with Russet potatoes, I put a little oil and salt on them and put them in the Big Green Egg ahead of the meat grilling. In this case, that meant cooking them for far longer than I intended, but there was no harm in that! They were quite hot, soft and delicious -- made even more so with a dab of Amish butter.
This paired very nicely with a Cabernet Sauvignon we had picked up from the clearance table at our local wine store.

Irish Coffee Muffins

In her 2011 Eggnog Muffins post, Pam tells the story of how we came to acquire the fun little Granny's Muffin House cookbook, and of her first use of it. From this we learned that author Susan Ashby is a big fan of baking powder, and that she knows her way around a muffin!
When I asked Pam what she would like for her birthday breakfast, she remembered the book and a recent gift of Trader Joe's coffee flour. Yes, coffee flour! It was given to us by our friends Courtney and Warren, two geography alumni who had traveled to Nicaragua coffeelands with me.
Image: Red Rooster Coffee
As the label indicates, this flour is made from some of the outer parts of the coffee fruit, which readers should note has a higher caffeine concentration than do the seeds we know as coffee beans. These parts are removed as part of the pre-export processing of coffee, and rarely seen or used outside the industry itself. The processed version resembles cocoa and does have a bit of a mocha aroma.

The coffee flour includes some recipes on the label, but also suggests improvising with other recipes. So we decided to modify Granny's recipe for Irish muffins, and we are glad we did. I began by setting the oven to 400F and then sifting together:

1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup coffee flour
1 tablespoon (!) baking powder
1//2 cup sugar

After sifting, I used a whisk to blend the dry ingredients more fully. I then used a spatula to mix in -- gently:

1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup coffee liqueur (we could have used Kahlua, but had espresso liqueur on hand)
1/4 cup Irish whiskey (we substituted Canadian, since someone seems to have finished off our Bushmills!)

This was a bit sticky, but I managed to spoon it evenly into 12 muffin cups. I think this is the first time I ever got the quantity right on a muffin recipe! I baked this for 20 minutes while making the rest of breakfast, and served it with Amish butter.

Verdict: delish!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

And Now a Pie

Tonight's dinner was a two-step, leftover invention. A fortnight ago, I had made Chipotle Orange Roast Chicken, which was a sweet-hot, wonderful thing. And despite three decades of Latin and Southwest cooking, it was the first time I had purchased a can of peppers in adobo sauce.

One can; three meals
Even that small can had been more than I needed, so I put the rest in a glass jar in the fridge (this is a much better way to store things than are plastic containers). A week later, I made simple burritos with the rest of the sauce. I boiled some boneless chicken thighs and shredded them with two forks as I cooked them in oil with garlic and onion. I then added a adobo sauce and a small can of tomato paste (to moderate the intense flavor of the chilis) and a bit of water. This made a lovely filling for burritos. I could have included some rice for balance, but it was quite good as it was.

What does this have to do with pie? We -- and especially Pam -- have been intrigued by the Indian flatbread naan of late, and decided that our weekend meals would be small pies made with these breads, a package of which we had purchased at Costco. Pam heated the oven, put two naan breads on a cookie sheet, and divided the leftover burrito filling between them. She topped each with shredded pepper-jack cheese from Cabot (our regional farmer-owned dairy cooperative). This made two delicious and filling pies, which we topped with Cabot sour cream.

The pies paired perfectly with a Merlot made from Long Island grapes and vinted across the Acushnet River from us at Travessia in downtown New Bedford.

Not-ordinary Turkey Burgers

A few years ago, we discovered that mixing in a shredded apple greatly improves the texture of turkey burgers, which can often be a bit dry and crumbly. So I was intrigued by the recipe for Turkey & Spinach Burgers in our Big Green Egg Cookbook. I was even more intrigued by the inclusion of a tomato-based pesto.

Lazy blogger alert: I went to a bit of trouble to photograph the ingredients lists, rather than type them. The basic list is:
I followed this pretty carefully, except that I used one bag of spinach, which might have been 10 ounces, and one pound of ground turkey. I've never seen white and dark ground turkey sold separately. I don't measure salt and pepper, but I'm pretty sure I used a lot less salt than called for. I mixed these, along with the garlic, in a bowl and then formed them into four patties.

I started by lighting the grill, because that takes a while, and then I wilted the spinach. To do this, I rinsed it and then placed it in a large pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Stirring occasionally, the full pot of spinach was quickly reduced to something like a cupful. I used "regular" spinach; next time I will use baby spinach so that it is more leafy and lest stemmish.
I blended the mayo and mustard in a small serving bowl, as this is a topping for the table.

I then started the pesto. so that it would be ready before I began grilling.
The recipe calls for draining the tomatoes, reserving 1/4 cup of oil, and then adding back another 1/4 of oil. I simply used the whole jar (8.5 ounces) and added oil until it looked right. The recipe calls for using a food processor, which we do not have. In such cases, we always use knives or our blender; in this case, the blender did not work very well. Next time I will chop and mix these ingredients in a bowl before smoothing them in a blender.

I cooked the burgers on a cooking stone -- rather than directly on the grill, because I always end up with 1/3 of the burger stuck in the grill. The stone works great -- I just need to be sure it is quite hot when I am ready to put something on it. In this case, of course, it was the patties. I think I grilled them at 450-500 for about 8 minutes on one side, 4 on the other, then another minute or so with swiss cheese on top. I seem to have gotten the doneness right, which for me remains mostly a matter of luck.

I took set the burgers aside on a plate and then brushed the pesto onto each half of the wheat buns (I used large kaiser rolls -- highly recommended for this messy meal), set them on the grill, and closed the egg.

I then went inside to finish up my mac-and-cheese comfort-food side dish. This led to my only real error -- for buns directly on the grill, two minutes was much too much, and they were a bit charred by the time I retrieved them.

The end result, though: absolutely delicious turkey burgers with several vegetable groups well represented!

NOTE: The cookbook is essential for Big Green Egg owners who want to get the most interesting results from their grills; some of its best recipes can also be found on the recipe section of the manufacturer's web site.

Friday, May 5, 2017

You can never have enough strawberry and basil

James' birthday was yesterday, so naturally we celebrated on the day before yesterday. When I asked him what kind of cake he would like he asked if I'd saved any recipes online lately. It just so happened that I had noticed a recipe from the Christian Science Monitor for a Strawberry Basil Chiffon cake with Strawberry Basil Sauce a week or so ago and since we both so love strawberries and basil (although had never thought to try them together) it seemed the time was right to try this recipe out.

The ingredient list calls for seven egg yolks and seven egg whites, which both go into the batter, but the whites have to be whipped first. The recipe says to use a stand up mixer to whip them, but we own no such device. We usually just whip things by hand, but I decided to see if I could get peaks to form by using the immersion blender. Fail. They got very frothy, but never got stiff. I used them anyway, but the cake was probably not as light as it was meant to be. It was, however, still moist and delicious. I used just a bit less sugar than called for as I always want to be able to detect all the other flavors. The result was good. The cake was not too sweet and the flavor of the strawberries and basil were distinct. While the cake was a bit tricky, the sauce was super simple, and only took about 10 minutes. We served the sauce warm over the cake, along with some vanilla ice cream. The moist cake and warm sauce contrasted well with cool and smooth ice cream.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tea & Crumpets!

In addition to my coffee classes, I enjoy teaching a one-credit colloquium on tea and climate change each semester. It started as a one-semester idea, but the BSU Honors students keep hearing about it and asking that it be offered again. And I so much enjoy working with these delightful, curious students that I keep agreeing to do so.

This semester I invited the students over for an informal gathering at Casa Hayes-Boh on Reading Day. Since I serve tea in class every time, I needed to do something different to make this occasion a little fancy, so I decided on crumpets ... not really knowing what they are. Crumpet is of course the elf name adopted by David Sedaris in The SantaLand Diaries, but that was not helping me as a cook!

Thanks to the Interwebs, I learned that they are something like a pancake and something like and English muffin. I also learned that they are best served fresh off the griddle, and I was fortunate to find a simple crumpet recipe on AllRecipes. (I'm ashamed to admit that I did not even check with Deborah Madison first!)

Because I had never even had a crumpet and would therefore not know how to correct any errors midstream, I followed the recipe to the letter. I even measured the temperature of the water and milk before stirring them into the flour mixture. As with all yeast-leavened recipes, this one calls for storing the dough in a warm place. Our house does not have any warm places between September and May, so I set the oven to 170F and then turned it off, simply to provide warm storage. It seemed to work very well.

Once the batter had risen -- though it was a bit thinner than I anticipated -- I gave it a good stir and then put it in the fridge until the tea was brewing. Next time I will go ahead and start the crumpets before the tea, because keeping them on a rack in a warm oven does seem to be just fine.

I did stray from the recipe in one way -- I had no crumpet rings! I thought that a reasonable substitute would be easy to find in our local grocery, but I was mistaken. So I ordered some online -- and experience my first failure of Amazon Prime. I guess I deserved that for no planning ahead and finding a local shop. So the cookie and biscuit tools I found made for some cute, if slightly untidy, cakes.

Thank goodness for our indispensable cast-iron griddle! 
The result? Scrumptious, spongy little cakes, perfect with local Trappist jams, no butter. Having neither our own cow nor a clue, I was not able to offer clotted cream.