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, January 12, 2019

Chipotle Chicken Improv

Many thanks to our friend Fernanda for inventing this dish and posting it online. Pam's response as soon as she saw a photo of Fernanda's invention was "James, we're making this!" Fortunately, we had all of the ingredients on hand, except a butternut squash. Here is how I proceeded, modifying our friend's recipe only slightly.

I began by hacking apart a large butternut squash -- I think we're a bit out of season, so it was harder than I remember in the past -- and cubing it. I then sauteed onion and garlic in some olive oil until translucent and added the squash. I continued on medium-high heat until all was fairly soft.
Meanwhile, I cut a package of Free Bird chicken breasts into big chunks, 3 or 4 per piece. I browned these in a large pan, adding a little salt and a half a package of chipotle rub from the inimitable Salem Spice.
At this point, the whole house was already smelling delicious! I poured the vegetables into the pan with the chicken and added about 2 cups of low-sodium, free-range chicken broth. I covered and simmered for about 15 minutes, and then continued simmering uncovered until the broth had reduced. The result was not as photogenic as what Fernanda had posted, but it was delicious, more like a stew, perhaps because I had gone farther in softening the squash.
We garnished with cilantro and enjoyed this, paired with tap water (we had Malbecked for lunch) and found it to be delicious! The sauce was more like a gravy, though it had no flour in it. We will definitely be repeating Pollo la Fernanda!


Fernanda's more visually appealing original version, ready for a cookbook cover.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Bourbon Turkey Bourbon

After a weekend of somewhat adventurous cooking, I decided to try something simple for Monday evening. A green bell pepper in the fridge got me started on a plan, along with Bourbon Street Style marinated turkey tips that I had added to our weekly dairy delivery.

The first step in this non-recipe recipe was to start thawing the turkey tips as soon as they arrived. About an hour before dinner, I put the tips -- with their brine -- into a small bowl. The print was too fine on the ingredients label for me to be certain, but the brine has little if anything to do with actual bourbon. Fortunately, this is Casa Hayes-Boh, so I reached into the Gilligan (our kitchen island cum liquor cabinet) and grabbed the bourbon I had picked up at Stroudwater Distillery last summer. I poured this over the turkey and brine, and topped it off with a few tablespoons of (Saint) Newman's Own honey barbeque sauce.
Not a green bell pepper.
Photo credit: this very blog!
Once the enhanced marinade had been underway for about a half hour, I started to heat a pan of water for pasta and then started to fire-roast that pepper. (See my Busy Kitchen post for details.)

While the pepper was sweating, I heated olive oil in our indispensable cast-iron skillet and chopped an onion. I sliced up the pepper and added it to the onion, simmering (med-high) until the onions were translucent.

Meanwhile, I put penne in the boiling water and shredded some parmesan.

I then used tongs to remove the turkey tips from the marinade and added them to the hot pan. Some of the "tips" were about double the size of others, so I cut them in half right in the pan. I continued cooking until browned, adding a bit more of that honey barbecue near the end.

The pasta was al dente just as the turkey was cooked through and the sauce slightly reduced. The result was a very nice sweet-and-sour entree that paired well (as we often notice) with Malbec.
It tasted far better than it photographed.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Yashim Weekend (a Two-fer)

If you look to the right of this screen and scroll down a bit, Dear Reader, you will encounter the archive summary that I have captured and included to the left. Each triangle opens the months of a given year, with additional triangles revealing our individual posts. The parenthetical digits are a tally of our posts for each month and year.

The earliest years were our most active, with a brisk pace of two posts a week in 2011 and one and a half for a few more years, and averaging the titular one post per week for a few years after that. In 2018, alas, our pace has fallen off. With the holidays (which include a lot of comfort food and little time for experimentation) behind us and my sabbatical ahead of me, I decided that this weekend was my chance to build on last weekend's success and try to establish a stronger pace for the new year.

I was ambitious enough to bring Jason Goodwin's Yashim Cooks Istanbul: Culinary Adventures in the Ottoman Kitchen to our weekend house, and lazy enough to select two of its easier (or so it seemed) recipes.

I did not realize until after the fact (thanks to my favorite librarian) that January is National Soup Month. I am glad that my choice for a simple dinner Friday evening was a lentil soup, perhaps the simplest recipe in the whole book and ideal for Friday evening. It is the first recipe attempted by the fictional detective Yashim in the mystery series that led to the creation of this most unusual cookbook.

For this I sautéed onions and garlic in a mix of butter and olive oil (decadent!) and then added a potato (peeled and hand-shredded), red lentils, vegetable stock (in lieu of the called-for chicken stock), and a few spices.

This simmered for about a half hour; in the final few minutes, I prepared the soup's topping. I heated olive oil in our indispensable cast-iron skillet and stirred in mint leaves and a combination of crushed red peppers and paprika. This was the perfect compliment to the rather subtle flavor and creamy texture of the soup itself. Next time I'll search look in different grocery for the pul biber Turkish pepper and I will use more of the mint, since it shrivels.
Yashim Cooks
Buoyed by the success of the soup, I tried something a bit more ambitious on leisure-cooking Saturday. Chicken with pomegranate and walnut seems to be among the simplest recipes in the book, and though it was not complicated, I should have started it a bit earlier in the afternoon than I did. The first step was to prepare a pomegranate syrup. Since I could not find it in our local grocery, I followed the simple recipe that Goodwin provides on the page before the main recipe.

This is really just a simple syrup -- he calls for 1.5 pints of pomegranate juice, 1 cup of sugar, and the juice of one lemon. He cautions that this is more of an activity than a recipe, and advises "vigorous and relentless stirring" for up to an hour. So I turned on my WBUR app and settled into my whisking zone. At the time I made the video above, all was going well, though I was beginning to wonder about the crucial word "until" in the directions, as in "until it reduces to a syrup."

I have made other syrups, and used what has worked before, which is simply a wild guess that when the volume had been reduced by about 2/3, it would be close to ready. I was, in fact, afraid that it might be a bit thin. My relentless vigor, it turned out, was for naught. As soon as I removed the pan from heat, the syrup began to adhere to the sides, quickly dry out, and smoke. I tried to salvage what was left by pouring it into a bowl, but the physics were still operating the same way. When I got back from disarming the smoke detector in the hallway, there was just a couple ounces of syrup, rapidly reducing. I poured it into yet another bowl, forming a perfect hard shell.

An hour into the process -- but all caught up with the TED Radio Hour -- I turned the page to the recipe at hand. Fortunately, I had prepped a few things with my non-whisking hand. This dish begins with browning chicken thighs, and then removing them to a plate. In the same pan, I sautéed onions until translucent and then returned the chicken to the pan, on top of the onions. I added water (broth was another option) and later finely chopped walnuts (Goodwin suggested a mortar or electric blender, but I just minced madly for a while), turmeric, a few other spices,

At the end, I generously garnished with the seeds of one pomegranate. The result was quite delicious, despite the absence of pomegranate syrup, and I will definitely try this again. But I will leave the question of "until" to the professionals by purchasing the syrup somewhere.

Watch this space for more Yashim cooking. We have been in Istanbul only once, during a layover last year on our way to Jordan.  Our experience -- though quite brief -- of food in that part of the world is my motivation to delve more deeply into this volume!

Lagniappe: I am posting a teaser here about National Clam Chowder Day -- February 25 -- in hopes that readers will help me remember that one a couple days ahead of time (as I will need to plan a visit to the fishmongers).

Friday, January 4, 2019

A tasty combination

Knowing how much we enjoyed cooking seafood, for Christmas our thoughtful child went to an olive oil and vinegar shop and asked the proprietor what to recommend for cooking fish. They walked out having purchased some Baklouti Green Chili Pepper Olive Oil and Alfoos Mango White Balsamic Vinegar. But that's not all they did. They then went to a Spirit shop and showed the condiments to the shopkeeper and asked what wine to pair with them. A 2016 Poully Fuisse from the Maison Louis Latour was the answer.

Last night we stopped at our favorite fishmonger and picked up some haddock. While James went rowing Pam stayed at the beach house to prepare the fish. It was simply cooked in plenty of the olive oil then drizzled with the vinegar before eating. The spicy-sweet combination of flavors did indeed blend exceptionally well with the wine. 

So glad we raised our child to be a food and wine snob. And happy that we did not use all of the oil and vinegar so we can enjoy this dish again!

Classic Beef Stew (Wets)

Gift card in hand, we headed to Trader Joe's on the day after Christmas and bought (among other things) some stewing beef. I wanted to make a childhood favorite using the classic beef, potato, and carrots mix I remembered from my youth. It seemed only fitting that a classic dish should come from a classic cookbook, so I used the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I made only minor deviations from the recipe. Instead of vegetable juice cocktail and "instant beef boullion granules" (I don't even know what those are) I used a can of tomato sauce and some beef stock from a box. I also used tri-colored baby carrots instead of sliced carrots, and skipped the celery all together. 

Some tasty comfort food for the holiday week. 

A final note on the title of the post: when I was growing up my father always pronounced the name of this dish backwards - "wets".

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Med-School Turkish Chicken

During the fall 2018 semester, I had the heaviest teaching load of my semester, and though I continued to cook a lot, I did not take much time for innovation. I apparently took even less for blogging about it -- not only did I fall off my share of the once-per-week blogging, but I even did cook a new recipe and forgot what it was before I could get it into this space. Sorry, dear readers.

With grades (though not grade-haggling) from that semester behind me, I am happily embarking on a very different sort of semester: a sabbatical! I will still teach an online course (the chance to do extra work is my university's approach to equitable pay), but will have no in-person classes. I have plenty of academic work to do, but at my own pace. Which means more blogging, including food blogging.

It is perhaps appropriate that my comeback recipe is from fellow academics. Some time in the early 2000s (no publication date is given), the International Club of the University of Massachusetts  Medical School self-published Mélange (An International Cookbook). The publisher -- Fundcraft -- is still very much in business, but its on-line ordering is not working at the moment, so it is not clear whether the book is still available. I have no idea how or when we acquired it.

These are not professional cooks, but rather professional students sharing their favorite recipes and, by extension, their cultures from throughout the world. It is a wonderful little volume we should consult more often! As far as I can tell, its only previous appearance here was Pam's 2013 Syrian Rice post.

So, what did I cook? Contributors Fiorenza and Erdem Orberk call it Cerkez Chicken, in reference to the Caucasian people who were displaced to Turkey by the Russian invasion of the 1830s. Herewith, the recipe as they wrote it:
Click to enlarge
I was looking for this because we had several boneless chicken breasts that I needed to prepare; I used these instead of a whole chicken, and assumed that "simmer" in this case is equivalent to poach. I simmered them until cooked through. Because this did not yield a genuine stock, I substituted a vegetable stock. I should probably have used less than the 2 cups called for.

We had chopped walnuts onhand, which I further minced, along with half a red bell pepper. (The other half went into our dinner salad.) With no old bread on hand, I used a couple handfuls of Triscuits.

Otherwise, I followed the directions above and added one step that I assume was intended: I put this in a small casserole dish, with the pepper-butter mixture drizzled on top, and baked at 350 for 25 minutes. Honestly, it could have used a bit more heat and a bit less liquid. Still, this was a lean, delicious meal that we will be repeating.

I will also be browsing Mélange in some of my upcoming spare time!

Lagniappe: This geographer could not resist providing a bit more information about the Cerkez (also known as Circassian) expulsion. The map below is from The Politics of Genocide Claims and the Circassian Diaspora, published by Martin W. Lewis in GeoCurrents, January 24, 2012.
Map by Martin W. Lewis; Click to enlarge

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Recetas: The Big Picture

Readers of this blog know that we enjoy cooking and that we cook often. Our kitchens are full of cooking tools and staples; when we shop for food, it is ingredients that we buy. Because most people do not have a blog on "making food" (as it is called), we already knew that we were outliers.

But today's rebroadcast of the Future of Food Shopping story on The Innovation Hub suggests that we -- and people who use this blog -- are becoming quite scarce. Industry analyst Eddie Yoon found than only 15 percent of adults in the United States both enjoy cooking and do so regularly.

He replicated that research more recently -- in a time with more cooking shows on television than ever before are reaching record audiences -- and found that the number had dropped. Only 10 percent of us enjoy cooking and do it regularly. His discussion with Boston-based journalist Kara Miller examines both the decline in interest in cooking and the fact that those who do enjoy cooking are doing so less. They move on to discuss how the food industry might respond to these trends, and none of what they suggest is very encouraging!

As we discuss often with our friends in the Equal Exchange Action Forum, industrial food systems already prioritize convenience at the expense of environmental health, economic fairness, and community development. We hope that some of the hundreds of cooking stories in this blog can help readers find their way to a greater interest in -- perhaps even a passion for -- the preparation of their own food. And whether you cook more or not, please consider joining the Forum.


The discussion with Eddie Yoon is one of three segments in an hour-long episode entitled Watch What You Eat. One is about the growing importance of cooking on television; the other is about the role of the car in making restaurants the leading source of food for people in the United States.