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...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tomato Pie

When I was a kid I liked to watch reruns of Gomer Pyle: USMC. I remember one episode ("The Price of Tomatoes") in which a tomato farmer comes under fire for growing his crop on Camp Henderson property. The issue is resolved with the base agreeing to use much of the farmer's bounty in its mess hall. Sargent Carter (Frank Sutton) is less than thrilled with this arrangement. This is evident as he recites a list to Corporal Boyle (Roy Stuart) of all the tomato-based recipes to which they will now be subjected. The list ends with Carter saying "and get this...tomato pie"!

I understood where Sgt. Carter was coming from. I, myself, used to truly hate tomatoes, even the thought of eating one could make me gag. And I could not for the life of me understand where anyone could even come up with anything so unappetizing as a tomato pie! Who even ever heard of such a thing?

Sometime during my twenties I started liking tomatoes, to the point that they are, in fact, now one of my favorite foods. So, imagine my delight at finding a recipe for the legendary tomato pie in one of our relatively recent acquisitions - The Beach House Cookbook.  

The recipe calls for a prepared pie crust. Bah! It really isn't hard to make a pie crust. I don't know why people insist on buying them. I used this recipe for Buttermilk Pie Crust to make my own. It is important to note that you do not necessarily need buttermilk to make a pie crust. I used this recipe only because we already had some buttermilk on hand. I brushed some habañero mustard onto the crust once it was in the pan and baked for 10 minutes at 350.

For the filling we started with some big, juicy heirloom tomatoes from the Fairhaven (Massachusetts) Farmer's Market. I made thin slices, sprinkled them with garlic salt, and set them on some paper towels while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

I next mixed 1/2 c. of mayonnaise, 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese, and a few dashes of pepper. I also cooked six slices of thick bacon to perfect crispiness. Finally I mixed 1/2 c. cheddar cheese with 1/2 c. feta (this was a slight deviation from the recipe as written).

Once all the ingredients were ready one layer of tomatoes went onto the bottom of the pie crust with three crumbled bacon slices on top. The mayonnaise/Parmesan mixture went in next, followed by another layer of tomatoes and the rest of the crumbled bacon. The cheddar/feta mixture went on top, and then the final layer of tomatoes. I also sprinkled on some fresh basil leaves. Once this was prepared the pie went into the oven for 30 minutes at 350, then we let it stand for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. As good as this was when I made it on Monday, the leftovers we had for lunch today (reheated in our indispensable cast iron skillet) were sublime.

(See James' most recent post for another yummy recipe from The Beach House Cookbook).

Mmmm...Tomato Pie

Monday, August 28, 2017

Buttermilk Sriracha Brine

NOTE: This recipe is fairly easy, but not quick. Start at least 8 hours ahead of serving, or even the night before.

The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews is a recent purchase that is rapidly becoming a favorite at our quasi-beach house. A quick search on this blog will show some of the things we have already tried. Andrews finds a nice balance between food that is festive and food that can be prepared without too much fuss. This is just what we wanted yesterday for a dinner with friends we had not seen in a long time and their new baby. (NOTE: We did not try to feed chicken to the baby!)

The recipe we chose is for fried chicken, which I have made hundreds of times using an approach that is quite similar to what Andrews describes. But her recipe includes just a couple of departures from my routine that made this so much better!
The first three ingredients make the brine. A milk brine sounds disgusting, and looks even worse, but I set aside my qualms and just rinsed the chicken pieces and covered them with the brine. I used a full quart because I had more than the called-for chicken. Regular readers will know that Tabasco is one of my favorite beverages, but this time I used sriracha. I did not stop at a teaspoon, though: I gave a couple good overhand squirts, turning the brine a rather ugly pink.

The recipe calls for brining in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. I think I had it in for 5 hours before it was time to start preparations. At that time, I blended all of the dry ingredients, using a couple of overhand shakes of Old Bay (one of our guests being from Maryland) instead of a wimpy teaspoon of poultry seasoning.

Using our indispensible kitchen tongs, I removed each piece from the brine, rolled it in the flour-breadcrumb mix, and placed it on a platter. I gratefully rinsed the brine down the drain!

Here Andrews calls for resting the chicken on wire cooling racks over a lined baking sheet. We did not have racks in this kitchen, so the platter sufficed. The racks would prevent the chicken sitting in puddles of brine, but draining each piece carefully prevented this. An interesting step that I had never heard of was simply to let the chicken rest for a half hour after it has been coated, allowing it to reach room temperature before frying. I decided this was worth trying.

Our beach-house kitchen has an electric stove, and the cast-iron skillet we have here is not large enough to have worked well for this much chicken. So I put a serving platter in the oven at 300F, and then heated some olive oil (maybe a half cup) in a wide skillet until it was medium-hot. I put one round of chicken in until it was darkened on the bottom, and turned it over. I covered the chicken during most of the cooking process to promote more even heating, though I removed the cover (very carefully) a few times to let moisture out.
Photo: Ashley Harris
In this way, I cooked the chicken in a total of three rounds, gradually lowering the heat and adding oil as necessary. When our guests arrived, I had just put the last pieces in the oven, where they continued to heat gently while we had appetizers and fancy beverages, perhaps 30-40 minutes. Because the chicken was in pieces of various sizes, including a couple that were quite thick, I think that this time in the warm oven contributed to the success of this dish. It was tender on the inside, crunchy on the outside, and savory throughout. It went well with local corn-on-the-cob, local tomato-cucumber salad, and not-local Malbec.

We concluded that in the future, when choosing between pan-fried and oven-fried, the correct answer is: BOTH!
Corn silks: one per kernel.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Pasta with Mint, Basil, and Fresh Mozzarella.

One thing I really like about the New York Times Cooking app is that in most cases the name of the recipe is the recipe (another thing I like is that the app doesn't close on me while I'm in the middle of preparing my meal). This simple summer meal has a few more ingredients than is indicated in the title, but to those of us with a well-stocked kitchen a call for garlic, or Parmesan cheese, means nothing more than to check our supply of staples. I am not also afraid to substitute ingredients. In this case I used walnuts instead of pine nuts.

Since we were able to make use of the mint and basil growing in our yard this tasted especially fresh.

Vanilla-Honey Soft Serve Ice Cream

In 1988 James and I received an electric ice-cream maker as a gift for our first wedding anniversary. Knowing that we would never use it I put it in a pile of things to donate to a rummage sale. James stopped me insisting that we would of course be taking great advantage of such a device as part of our graduate-student lifestyle. I only argued a little bit before I sighed and agreed that we could keep it for five years and if, at such time, we had not used it I could then give it away. During those each of those five years James was steadfast in his belief that this year was the year we would indeed make some ice cream. He was especially sure of this when we moved from Oxford, Ohio to Tucson, Arizona. After all wouldn't we always be wanting a cool creamy treat once we got to the blistering hot desert? When we arrived at year seven of our marriage (and yet another interstate move) I insisted that the ice cream maker had been given more than its fair shot and did not need to make the trip to south Texas with us. Au contraire, James retorted. After all, wouldn't the Rio Grande Valley have even higher temperatures than the Sonoran Desert? and then we would really and truly want that ice cream. Finally At year eight James reluctantly conceded and let go of the ice cream maker. We donated it to a multi-family yard sale. It didn't even make it out to the main event, as one of our friends who was also participating in the yard sale snatched it up immediately upon seeing it. Ultimately we did get to have some ice cream made with the seven-year old gift, as said friend invited us over to make some ice cream with it. That was in 1995.

We have not made ice cream since. Until now.

I saved this recipe from the New York Times last year specifically because the first sentence starts with the words "You don't need an ice cream maker..."

This was rather time consuming and made a hella dishes. I also should have checked to make sure some of my key kitchen utensils were not deep into a dishwashing cycle before I started. I managed even without a whisk, but it surely would have helped. The ice cream did turn out all right though. Once I had the final mixture ready I split it in half. One batch went into ice cube trays as indicated in the recipe, and was frozen then removed and placed in a blender with a bit of milk to make the custard. The other half was put into popsicle molds. We removed the pops and ate them on the porch as is our custom. They were quite tasty.

And I did it all without an ice cream maker.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Turkey Burger Flavor Symphony

Simple Suppers
I am not quite sure how this book leapt from the shelf into my hands recently. As readers of this space know, we already have plenty of cookbooks, and the whole point of this blog is to tackle some of the thousands of untapped treasures already on our shelves. Besides, we are not afraid of complicated recipes.

We are, however, only two diners most of the time, with our child now a grown-up a thousand miles from home. And some evenings, we are not prepared to go full-crêpe just for dinner. So pick it up I did, and we were very pleased with the first result, entitled Turkey Burger Sliders with Spicy Lime Mayonnaise.

I use the word "entitled" to signify the author's intent to create sliders, even though I simply made regular-sized burgers. Either way, this is a delicious variation on turkey burgers, with three parts: the burger, the toppings, and the mayo.

The burger itself includes grated ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. I used a lot of ginger, which added a very nice note to the symphony of flavors here. The mayo included fresh lime juice and sriracha sauce. I used the proportions called for, and ended up with mayo that was both too thin and way too abundant. I could have made a soup with it. Next time I will just add a dash of lime and bit of sriracha to a much smaller dollop of mayo than the 1/2 cup in the recipe.

Finally -- the toppings are brilliant. I used a potato peeler to make very thin slices of cucumber, which went on top of the burger, along with a small pile of cilantro leaves. I think this is the first time I have ever used cilantro without chopping it -- just cut a big handful of it away from the stalks. The recipe calls for chopped red onion as well, but sliced up some scallions we had on hand.

This went very well with a fresh fruit salad Pam made, using an infused blackberry ginger vinegar from our friends at Lebherz and a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Note: Laura Arnold includes plenty of vegetarian and seafood meals in this thin volume -- stay tuned to see which of these we try.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Skillet Pasta with Summer Squash, Ricotta, and Basil

A wonderful summer dish this one showed up on my Facebook feed a few weeks ago. I followed this one pretty closely. I think the only thing I did different was cooking the pasta in a separate pan while I sauteed the onions, garlic, and squash. We served this as a side dish with a T-bone steak we cooked on the Big Green Egg. A lovely meal.

Blackberry Fool

I found this recipe (from after I realized that there were blackberries growing on the side of my house, and that I could harvest them by reaching through my bathroom window! I was inspired to search for recipes with blackberry and mint as the ubiquitous herb was growing next to the berry vine. This dessert was super easy to make. I made one modification and chopped the mint to blend with the berries and confectioner's sugar, rather than simply using the mint as a garnish. The hardest part was waiting the 15 minutes for the confectioner's sugar, berries, and  mint to meld!