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 7, 2019

Two easy corn and tomato salads for summer

Corn Salad with Tomatoes, Feta, and Mint
As is often the case with New York Times Cooking recipes, the name of the dish is the ingredient list. In this case, olive oil is the only additional ingredient, but as it turns out, I didn't use it anyway. I had saved the recipe a few days ago, but I couldn't open the recipe online last night when I made the salad so I wasn't able to determine if I was missing anything. And it was fine without the olive oil. I used cherry tomatoes, and fresh sweet corn from the local farmer's market, and mint from my garden. Everything was sweet and fresh.

Update: One perk I have at my job is that my office is next to a meeting room where food is often served. Any leftover food is fair game to take home (I keep Tupperware in my office for just this reason). The day after I made this salad I cut up a cooked chicken breast (procured from the meeting room) and mixed it with the leftover salad for a cool, summer main dish. Both the salad and the chicken's flavor were improved. 

Sweet Corn Salad
Also from the New York Times, this has some overlap with the previous recipe, but in fact has a few more ingredients. The corn, tomatoes, spring onions, and basil were all procured at the farmer's market. I skipped the marjoram. James and I both agreed that the red wine vinegar was overkill. The acidity from the tomatoes would have sufficed. Otherwise, another simple, sweet summer salad.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Loco Moco

We've had a bit of a hiatus on keeping up with trying new recipes, but mostly it's because we were having new experiences traveling in South America to see a total eclipse of the sun, and tasting wine.

But we're back now and ready to take on some new cooking challenges. James made cheeseburgers on Wednesday night, and we had about 1/2 pound of leftover ground beef so I went to the New York Times cooking page to find something new we could do with it. Loco Moco is a Hawaiian dish. I selected it because we already had much of what we needed. It was a bit tricky getting everything timed to be ready at the same time (burgers, fried eggs, rice, caramelized onion) and that was without actually making the gravy indicated in step four.

The result was good, and flavorful. I found that I liked it best when I had a taste of everything on my fork and I expect it would have been better with the gravy. Next time I will not skip that part.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

BLT Pasta

This easy dish is just what it sounds like, and perhaps better than it deserves to be. When I asked Pam for suggestions about dinner, she found this NYT recipe in her saved list, and remembered that local bacon was in the freezer from a recent delivery.

The Hiram
The ingredients are few, and I did not worry too much about proportions. As I have seen with other recipes involving spinach, I rightly guessed that the entire 5-ounce bag of arugula would reduce to a reasonable size as it wilted, though writer Colu Henry was correct that it was a bit unwieldy at first, even in Hiram, our rather large indispensable cast-iron skillet. At that stage, rather than stirring in the traditional sense, I lifted large spoonfuls of the pasta from the perimeter of the pan and set it in the center, repeating until regular stirring was manageable.

The recipe also has few steps, but the third step reads like an entire tango. I simplified this a bit, adding the bacon all at once and the reserved pasta liquid as I saw fit. I did not note emulsification or glossiness, but nonetheless had a good sense of when the sauce was ready.

This dish scores very well on the delicious-nutritious-easy-cheap trade-off matrix. My selection of quality local ingredients made it slightly less cheap but still quite reasonable. This paired nicely with a side dish of fresh local strawberries and a well-chilled Pinot Grigio. We are looking forward to the cold leftovers today!
Dying phone battery made for a fuzzy photo of this pleasing dish.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Clovey Chicken

The name refers to the flavor of cloves, not our former dog Clover, the misunderstood Puerto Rican street hound. Yesterday I prepared ham sandwiches that Pam has made a couple of times. I was in charge of our picnic with friends at Westport Rivers Sunset Music, so the Exceptional Picnic Fare seemed appropriate. (They were a success: my friend Rob suggested I could open a sandwich shop when I retire! It would have this one sandwich and some very good coffees.)

Looking for something light and simple this afternoon that would use some of what was left over from the picnic, I noticed a small package of boneless, skinless (or nearly so) chicken thighs in the freezer. I thawed them carefully and then tossed them with a small amount of olive oil and coated them on both sides with freshly ground cloves.

I then heated a bit more olive oil in a small, indispensable cast-iron skillet and added the thighs once the pan was hot. I allowed them to brown until cooked almost through, and turned them, once browning on the other side.

I then added the super-simple sauce that had worked on the sandwiches: equal parts grainy mustard and peach preserves. I thought of using the cloves because they had worked well in combination with this sauce on the sandwiches yesterday.

I failed to test for doneness while on the stove, so I microwaved them for one minute further. They paired nicely with deli redskin potato salad and In the Buff Chardonnay from Newport, another local vineyard.

And now ...

... the moment you've all been waiting for: a photo of that other Clovey, who we adopted -- through a local shelter -- from the streets of San Juan, where she had spent her first year. She was fiercely loyal to all three of us, but rather unpleasant with most visitors, so few of our friends knew her.

Gumbo Season(ing)

(Way, way overdue post)

As readers of this space know, we often turn to The Wiccan Cookbook on cardinal and cross-quarter dates, and so it was on our most recent vernal equinox, now almost a full season behind us. Authors Jamie Wood and Tara Seefeldt include gumbo as an option, explaining that since fish come from eggs, any fish dish is a good vernal celebration.

That was as good a reason as any for me to undertake gumbo, a dish I have probably had a half-dozen times but which I could not define with any clarity. All I know is from my weak understanding of Professor Hank Williams, to wit:

I had no idea how to spell file or what it meant. (Like, Mexican mole, though, it is spelled like a completely unrelated English word and pronounced differently; sometimes it is spelled filé, but it is not pronounced that way either.) From the cookbook I discerned it was some kind of spice, perhaps even an important one. I tried three grocery stores without finding it, and bravely assumed I could substitute some other spice for it.

I eventually realised that it is made from sassafras, and that there is no substitute (according to the Internet, which usually yields abundant suggestions for such things).  Okra can be used instead, but that results in a different kind of gumbo; it is not a substitution in the usual sense.

The main ingredients are seafood, though, and the "first do no harm" rule of Maryland cooking suggests that Old Bay would be a safe bet.

So I proceeded accordingly. First, I made slow rice, which the authors insist is important. I put 2 cups of rice in 4 cups of water with a little olive oil and left it covered in the oven. I think I had it there for 90 minutes or so at about 325F. The authors suggest two hours, but do not specify a temperature.

I then made a roux in a skillet, warming olive oil and mixing in a little flour. I stirred it until it looked good to me, but never achieved the appearance of a copper penny described in the recipe. I was, however, careful to not let it burn, as admonished.

In another pan, I used another dollop of olive oil to sauté one large onion, two red bell peppers, and six stalks of celery -- all diced. Once softened, I added two 15-ounce cans of whole tomatoes, the better part of 8 cups of chicken broth, and a couple of bay leaves. I simmered this for 20 minutes. I then added about a pound each of fresh fish and shrimp. I simmered for about 10 more minutes, careful not to overcook the seafood. I stirred in the Old Bay, and we removed the bay leaves at table.

The result was better than it deserved to be, and I have already received plenty of gumbo file from Penzey's for next time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Pepper-forward Pasta

When looking for a dinner idea yesterday, I went to the original intent of this blog -- making use of the unused pages in cookbooks we already own. I headed to our easy chair with The Well-Filled Tortilla and Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet. Followers of this blog -- or those using the search box at the top of the screen -- will know that we have made very good use of both of these volumes (though most of our Jane Brody references are to her earlier Good Food volume.

Because I had made quesadillas (with cheese!) for lunch, I opened Brody's book first. Because I had recently purchased a few boxes of Rao's penne pasta, I looked at pasta entries in the index, rather than thumbing through the book at random. I quickly found Fusilli with Hot Sausage, and quickly decided that penne would be a very reasonable substitution -- especially since Brody grants "or similar pasta" in the ingredients list.

I followed the directions on page 224 pretty closely, except with regard to proportions. Having purchased a pound of hot italian sausage, I used it all for Brody's first step (my second; see below). I  removed the casings and crumbled the sausage as I cooked it over medium-high heat. I then put it into a bowl (it was lean, so no draining was required).

My step before Brody's first step was to roast the peppers. The recipe calls for a 6.5-ounce jar of roasted peppers. Since my adventures with Mexican mole sauces, I almost never purchase roasted peppers, preferring to cook them directly on the stove. In this case, I went a little overboard and roasted three large ones on the rarely-used oblong center burner. I had done this and placed the peppers in a sealed bowl for sweating while I worked the indispensable cast-iron skillet.

Roasting peppers, in progress. I let them get much
more charred than this.
At some point I heated a pot of water with a little oil and salt. I never rush a sauce, but it is good to have the water ready when it is time to cook the pasta.

While the peppers were sweating -- I added some olive oil to the pan, reduced the heat and slowly cooked one diced onion (I have no idea how its size compares to the called-for 1-1/3 cup) and two teaspoons of garlic.

Just kidding about that quantity of garlic:
My friend Joe has convinced me
never to measure garlic again.
After I scraped, seeded, and cored the peppers, I pureed them in a blender with a can of tomato paste (instead of 2 tablespoons) and a little olive oil. I often do this when substituting home-roasted peppers for those that are bottled in oil. At this point I started boiling the pasta.

Once the onions and garlic were softened, I returned the sausage to the skillet and added the puree along with a modest dousing of cayenne pepper and a small bag of frozen corn. Yes, frozen corn. Because Jane Brody said so. The sauce was to simmer for 10 minutes -- it was quite thick, so I added a little bit of Malbec. Never a bad idea.

Once the penne was al dente, I drained it and combined it in a bowl with the sauce and several finely-sliced scallions.

The result was more delicious than photogenic, which I expected. That is why I favored this space with in-progress photos, rather than the final dish. We will definitely be adding this to the repertoire!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Coq au Vin

An artistic look at our meal
photo credit James

During a recent Costco run James brought back some chicken thighs and I found just the thing to make with them in the W.I.N.O.S (Women in Need of Sanity) Cookbook which features recipes made with wine.

I halved the the recipe (below) as there were only two of us, and I used plain water in lieu of chicken broth, and used a fortified Pinot Noir instead of brandy, but otherwise followed it as directed. I frankly was worried that it wouldn't turn out well (despite the fact that it was made with wine) as it seemed I'd overcooked everything, but once I put it all together it wound up abundantly flavorful and with some lovely texture. We served it with rice on the side and paired with Malbec (the same wine I used to cook it).