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, January 5, 2021

Reflections on 10 years of food blogging

Ten years ago I posted my first recipe for this blog Classic Italian Soup in Reverse. My previous blog projects prior to this were each one-year type explorations (My Year of Reading "Year Of" Books - 2009 and Celebrating the States - 2010). I don't remember if I had any intentions as to how long this project would last, but I don't think I expected it to hit the decade mark. There are now over 600 posts, which would indicate that although I missed a few weeks along the way (sometimes several in a row) and some of the posts are not actually for recipes, and some recipes were prepared, but never blogged, it would appear that James and I have (more or less) kept up with preparing and posting "one new recipe a week". 

There have been some surprising favorites including:

And some not-so-surprising favorites including: 

At least two recipes we prepared and blogged about twice (we really love both of these dishes:, I don't know why we didn't remember making them the first time):

Important lessons learned:

Some other important things I've learned:

  • I learned to not only enjoy cooking, but to enjoy eating. I am probably 20 pounds heavier than I was 10 years ago. Some of that I will chalk up to aging and menopause, and some of it I will own as just the weight of a person who really likes food. 

  • Although we still prefer cooking with gas, since we bought our near-the-beach house we have learned to cook on an electric stove, and James has become our resident expert on the Big Green Egg.

  • I am very happy that I already knew how to cook and to keep a well-stocked pantry when the pandemic hit. We have eaten out perhaps half a dozen times since last March, and otherwise prepared our own meals, and although I will admit to sometimes wanting to have someone else cook for me I at least have not gotten bored with our excellent repertoire of good meals. I not only know how to cook from recipes, I also know what to do with whatever ingredients I have on hand, I know what to do with leftovers, and how to make good substitutions, as well as how to salvage a meal that seems un-savable.

  • We enjoy sharing our meals as well. We especially like our Christmas Eve lobster dinner and Thanksgiving tradition with friends. I think our most memorable meal must be 2013's Chinese Thanksgivikkah. Wow! Was that really seven years ago?

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Our personal lives are inherently tied to all that we do including cooking.

  • Those who have been following the blog for many years may have noticed that we stopped referring to our only child as our "daughter" a few years ago and started using "our wonderful child" or "our kid". We are the proud parents of an adult trans child, who is also an exceptionally good cook, and who knows how to pick out a gift for us

  • In the first year of this blog we lost our good friend Anna whose death was memorialized in this post about eggnog muffins.

  • Between us we have lost three parents: Pam's father and stepfather, and James' mother. Posts that mention them can be found here, here, here, and here.

  • When we married in 1987 we had three living grandparents between us. We lost two (Pam's grandmother and James' grandfather in 1995 and 1996 respectively) long before we started this blog. James' grandmother lived until 2016. My grandmother loved Peppermint Schnapps. We made this cocktail and posted it in her honor early in our blogging project. James' grandmother was immortalized with this post shortly after her death. I did not find any posts in which we mentioned Granddad. But I have to say, he really wasn't much of a foodie.

  • In 2017 and again in 2018 we hosted a student (who is now a friend) from Georgia (the country) in our home. If we had not known Luka we probably never would have tried Khachapuri-Georgian Cheese bread.

  • Our 22-year Easter tradition of dinner with our friend Jackie (mother to our good friend Jenny) and her family and friends was interrupted this year due to the pandemic. The missed meal became more poignant when Jackie passed away this summer. Posts about our contributions to Easters past can be found here, here, and here.

Finally, I have this to say: I am a good cook, and proud of it.

Monday, January 4, 2021

A Sweet, Creamy New Year's Day Soup - and it has bacon!

I googled New Year's Recipes on New Year's Eve and found The Pioneer Woman's website. From her list of 35 recipes I selected Butternut Squash Soup. I actually made it on New Year's Day, even though it says it's a New Year's Eve recipe. I also only made a half batch since the pandemic had only the two of us celebrating the start of 2021 together. I carefully added all the things I would need to make this soup to the shopping list of things James was going to procure, including the titular butternut squash. However, when he came home I discovered that he had neglected to buy one. Although we avoid multiple trips to the grocery store these days, he went back for this most important ingredient once we determined that it was indeed on the list!

As per the instructions I caramelized some chopped onions in the drippings left when I cooked the bacon then added the chopped pieces of squash to the pan along with some salt, chicken broth and water. I cooked everything on the stovetop until the squash was soft. Once I could cut the squash with the side of a fork I asked James for help transferring everything to our blender where it didn't take long at all for everything to purée. Once that was done it went back to the pan where we added some heavy cream and maple syrup. I split into two big bowls, and we topped with the crumbled bacon. So good, especially with homemade biscuits!

This is easily made vegetarian by skipping the bacon and cooking the onions and squash in olive oil and substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth. I image you can skip the cream and make it vegan as well.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Salmon & Asparagus

 Toward the end of last week, I browsed Laura Arnold's Best Simple Suppers for Two: Fast and Fool-proof Recipes for One, Two, or a Few. I hardly remembered this book, though my GoodReads review points to our 2017 Turkey Burger Flavor Symphony post. This time, I immediately found three new recipes I would like to try, and bought ingredients for two of them (check back in a couple of days for the rest of this story).

For honey-mustard glazed salmon, I preheated the oven to 450F and then mixed a couple spoonfuls each of whole-grain mustard, brown sugar, and honey in a small bowl. I lined a baking sheet with foil, and then placed a salmon fillet (about 1 pound) on the foil, skin side down. I covered it with the glaze and placed it in the oven, setting the timer for 15 minutes.

I then prepared the vegetables: discarding the woody ends of asparagus, slicing grape tomatoes in half, and zesting one lemon. I heated oil in a large, indispensable cast-iron skillet and once it was hot added both the asparagus and tomatoes. Stirring occasionally over medium-high heat until semi-crisp (five minutes), I then added the lemon zest and juice, cooking for another minute and then turning off the heat.

I removed the salmon, cooked through and with the glaze slightly caramelized. I had actually made too much glaze, so I was grateful that I could discard the foil rather than trying to clean the pan! As is usually the case when baking salmon, the fillet slid easily off the skin. As I always do, I sliced the fillet so that each of us had the same combination of thin and thick cut.

I plated this with the vegetables and paused for this quick photo as Pam pronounced it delicious!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Zucchini-Feta Pancakes

 I found this recipe in the classic Moosewood Cookbook. I still had some frozen grated zucchini from my garden harvest and we also had some crumbled feta in the refrigerator. 

The recipe called for 4 cups of grated zucchini and I had considerably less than that so I halved the recipe. I figured it would be fine since the recipe also said that it serves four and there were only two of us. There was no problem halving the recipe, except that it turned out that it only made four smallish pancakes, so had we not supplemented the meal with some leftover dressing and cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving we would have been pretty hungry.

The ingredient list as written is as follows (along with my notes for substitutions)

4 eggs, separated (yolks optional)

4 packed cups coarsely grated zucchini

1 cup finely crumbled feta cheese

1/2 c. finely minced scallions

1 tsp. dried mint - I used some fresh parsley instead

a little salt (to taste)

lots of black pepper

1/3 c. flour

oil for frying

sour cream or yogurt for topping

The eggs whites had to be beaten until stiff and then folded in with the rest of the ingredients. The pancakes were light and fluffy and quite good with the sour cream topping. I liked them better than the Zucchini Fritters from my Dishing Up Maryland cookbook (although I never tried the sour cream topping those).

Friday, December 4, 2020

Ricotta Pancakes

 When I saw this on a friend's page recently, I was intrigued:

I have been honing my approach to Deborah Madison's pancake recipe for close to two decades and had dedicated a page on my faculty web site to it before we began this blog. 

Ina Garten's recipe is at first notable for the very forward use of lemon and fig, but her approach is also different in the fundamentals: half of the liquid portion is ricotta and a fifth of the dry portion is corn starch. I was intrigued and decided to give this a try, in part because we had some ricotta on hand. 

The video itself does not provide enough detail to make this recipe work; when I tried to follow links associated with it, I was invited to download an app. Since I do not cook from my phone, I was at a bit of a loss, until the same friend who posted the video sent me the link to the full recipe -- from the app.

In fact, we had most of the ingredients except the figs and lemon on hand, but we had lemon juice. We also did not have buttermilk, but Deborah Madison teaches us that milk with a splash of lemon juice is a good substitute, after being allowed to rest for 10 minutes. Since I never drink buttermilk, I almost never buy it, always using this trick. In this case, I just used more than the usual lemon juice.

In place of figs, I chopped up a couple of small apples we had on hand, scattering them on top of the pancakes as in the video, rather than mixing them in the batter as I usually do. Incidentally, I usually do not peel apples before cooking with them -- it is easier to leave the skin on, and gives them an agreeable texture.

The batter had a distinctive texture -- almost spongy -- and the pancakes were as fluffy as they were delicious. I am glad that I did take time in the afternoon to buy some maple syrup at our local neighborhood farmstand. We had put it off for quite a while, and it was great to have the good stuff for these delicious, breakfast-for-dinner pancakes! 

I rarely find figs in the wild (or supermarket), though I did take care of a fig tree for a rich family in Baltimore during my landscaping days. When I next encounter them (hint to local friends who might know a source), I will revisit this recipe.

Image (complete with figs): Food Network

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Zucchini Frittata

 During the Thanksgiving weekend two different friends each gifted us with a dozen eggs. In addition we received our usual 18 eggs with our weekly dairy delivery from Crescent Ridge Farm so we set out to make some egg-based dinners. First up was was our annual post-Thanksgiving sweet potato and turkey hash topped with fried eggs. Last night's recipe for zucchini frittata came from Jane Brody's Good Food Book (which has an entire section devoted to egg-based main courses). I chose this one because I had some shredded zucchini in my freezer from this summer's harvest from my garden. I also had all the other ingredients I needed on hand.

I started by mincing two garlic cloves (also from my garden) and chopping one onion. I sauteéd these in a lot of butter for about a minute in my indispensable cast-iron skillet and then added the thawed and drained zucchini. Next I beat six eggs to which I also added a bit of whipping cream, dried basil (also from my garden) and some shredded parmesan cheese, and added the mixture into the skillet. I cooked over a medium heat until the eggs began to set, at which point I added some more parmesan cheese to the top and moved the skillet to the oven which I set on broil. Once the top was nicely browned and puffy I removed it and let sit for two minutes before serving.

This was easy, flavorful, and had a lot of texture.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Two Thanksgiving desserts

A Covid Thanksgiving

Our usual Thanksgiving tradition involves dinner with friends. Typically three families get together, with occasional additions. Most years we arrive around noon and begin cooking and drinking wine until dinner is ready at 3:00 or 4:00. After our meal we take a walk and then have our dessert - a selection of pies, cakes and other delectables. This year we maintained our tradition with a much scaled-back version. It rained all day on Thursday, so we moved our celebration to Friday when the weather was better and we could eat outside. It was about 60 degrees out - let's hear it for global warming - so it was actually a nice day dining al fresco. Rather than spending the entire day together James showed up at our hosts' home with the turkey in the morning and he and Rob got it started on the grill, then James came back home and prepared the dressing and we went returned at 3:00 with our offerings.  I had planned on making some cranberry sauce but Lisa said they already had three different kinds, so I made two desserts instead. 

Just like the lunch lady used to make

Growing up and attending public school in Baltimore County in the 1970s I usually wasn't thrilled with the hot lunch offered in our cafeteria, and opted instead to bring my lunch. Exceptions to that rule were pizza day and open-faced turkey sandwich day. In the case of the turkey it wasn't so much the main course that I was interested in as the dessert that came with it - "peanut butter confection". 

I've often thought about how much I liked that crumbly, sweet dessert and it seemed this year was a good time to try to find a recipe (and, after all, we were having turkey). On a bag of confectioners sugar I found a recipe for Peanut Butter Fudge that seemed like it might allow me to create reasonable facsimile of what I remembered. It was a simple recipe with only four ingredients (confectioners sugar, milk, marshmallow fluff, and peanut butter) and I did end up with a super sweet '70s treat that was exactly as I remembered.

Is it cake or pie?

My second dessert came from the New York Times cooking page. I told our hosts that I would bring pumpkin pie, but this recipe is called "Pumpkin Skillet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting" It has no crust, and is made with flour, so it probably is more of a cake than a pie. Nevertheless it was delicious and baked right in our indispensable cast-iron skillet.

This year there were only six of us enjoying our Thanksgiving dinner together. Here's hoping that next year we will be able to return to our usual festivities with everyone in good health.