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, May 11, 2022

Cenas Sin Recetas

For a special dinner to mark our anniversary, we looked in Laura Arnold's Best Simple Suppers for Two, because there are two of us. There we found a recipe for Caprese Salad with Basil Pesto. We knew we would need to modify the recipe because it called for prepared pesto. We also thought it would be nice to use the pesto we prepared for the salad to make a pasta pesto. 

In the end, the recipe for one dish had become merely a menu suggestion and shopping list for two dishes we already knew how to make. So we set off on a small shopping trip. We rarely go to the grocery together, but we decided to make an occasion of it and we visited Fieldstone Market in Marion with a short list. Because we already had pine nuts on hand, we just needed fresh mozzarella, basil, tomatoes (we remembered this place always has great ones), parmesan cheese, and fettuccine. 

We returned to the small galley at Whaling House, where we each put together two nice, simple dishes. On a platter, we had mozz, tomatoes, a drizzle of basil-infused olive oil, and a sprinkling of dry basil. Pam blended some of that oil, fresh basil leaves, chopped garlic scapes and pine nuts until they made a paste. I combined them in a bowl with fettuccine, a small scoop of the water from cooking the fettuccine, some freshly shredded parm,  and lemon zest. These combined well with a a baguette from Fieldstone and a Gewürztraminer from Westport Rivers. As we dined, Pam remembered to light the candle we first lit together 35 years ago at a church in Baltimore, and that we light on May 9 of each year. (And that I failed to include in this photo.)

Flashback for the next day: While we were in Fieldstone, Pam noticed a small, whole chicken and some fingerling potatoes. We bought both, with vague plans to prepare them in our upright chicken roaster -- a great little pan that we first wrote about in the 2011 Just Peachy post on this blog. (It has been featured many times since then, especially since we get roasters from our friends at Maribett Farm

In the middle of Tuesday afternoon, I rinsed the chicken and removed the package of giblets from the middle. I glanced around the kitchen and decided to fill the central well of the pan with some margarita mix and tequila, which would moisten the inside as the bird roasted. I then applied some lime-infused olive oil, dry thyme and oregano, and a bit of salt. I placed the small potatoes around the base of the pan and roasted at 450 for 15 minutes before turning down to 300 for an hour. At the end of that time, my eyes and our Thermapen agreed that it needed just a bit more cooking, so I increased the heat to 425 for another 10 minutes. The result was a perfectly cooked, very tender and savory chicken. 

Simple chicken, without a recipe. The candle is not the one mentioned above;
it is an "everyday" candle on a sun-moon-star candlestick that was the gift
of a generous colleague. 

It paired well with Malbec, as most things do. A prefect start to our 36th year! 

Friday, May 6, 2022

A Birthday Celebration that created quite a lot of Dishes

A mid-week birthday during final exams means a low-key celebration for James as he enters his sixtieth year. James made his own birthday dinner of an old favorite: Puerto Rican Chicken Fajitas from the Well-Filled Tortilla cookbook. My role was to bake the birthday cake. When I asked James over the weekend what kind of cake he would like he said something with lemon and raspberries. The New York Times Cooking page had just what the (Ph.D.) doctor ordered! Lemon Sheet Cake with Raspberry Whipped Cream.

This recipe is a 12-step program, beginning with preparing the pan. The instructions call for use of a non-stick spray, but I used Crisco shortening. I did follow the instructions to coat the pan, then cover in parchment, and then coat the parchment, which seemed like overkill, but I must say that I have never had such an easy time removing a cake from a pan when it was time to serve. The recipe also calls for vegetable oil. I used lemon-infused olive oil, which really was the right thing to do.

The recipe also calls for an electric mixer in steps 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, and 11. Still don't have one, so a spoon, a whisk, and some strong arms were put to good use.

Lemons needed to be zested and juiced, and raspberries needed to macerate (a word I did not know before) and then strained. Cream needed to be whipped and flour sifted. We used every mixing bowl in our cabinet, one of which had to be rinsed out so it could be used again. We also used more of our utensils than we usually would with one recipe.

The result was a delicious yellow cake with a thick pink topping. This isn't very sweet, so the flavors of lemon and raspberry come through more than we expected, although neither is overwhelming. 

Photos show our sink after we'd already put round one of dishes into the dishwasher, and our "Julia Child" pegboard with lots of space as as all the utensils were being washed. Unfortunately the photograph of the cake turned out blurry, so I won't be posting it here.

So many dishes!

This is after I'd already washed the flour sifter and put it back in its place. We really did use a lot of utensils.


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Algorithm Chicken

 

Photo: AllRecipes user Rebecca Lepore

Although one purpose of this blog is to push us to leaf through the pages of the several dozen cookbooks we own, frequent readers will notice that we are just as likely to seek our inspirations online. 

It seems that it is not only our human readers who have noticed our patterns -- the algorithms were quick to provide assistance yesterday. I went to All Recipes at midday on a Friday. The timing suggests a user seeking an easy meal; the fact that it was me suggests that I'm looking for yet another way to prepare an item that is a staple of our weekly dairy delivery. The fact that it was either one of us suggests that a listicle is in order. This led the ghosts in the machine quite inevitably to put these words front-and-center on the AllRecipes screen: 

12 Top Chicken Breast Dinners That Use 5 Ingredients or Less

I scrolled through the list until I found two that seemed likely candidates: recipes we would both like and without breading because I've been kind of overdoing that option lately. I sent both links to Pamela and her exact words were "Both look yummy!"

I chose Balsamic Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts, a recipe whose title is almost the entire recipe. I followed the recipe almost exactly as written, reducing the balsamic for about 15 minutes instead of 10. I did assemble the dish pretty much as directed, though it was not very pretty (hence the stolen photo above) and I did not believe the toothpicks would make it any more so.

Because I was using our oven as an air fryer at 400F for some potatoes to go with this, I decided not to bake the chicken in the oven, but rather to use an indispensable cast-iron skillet with a lid as a Dutch oven. Starting out a bit hot and then keeping the heat minimal worked well for this; it was cooked properly in 35 minutes.

I regretted not noticing the recipe's suggested inclusion of sautéed mushrooms -- it was written as an afterthought, and not included on the ingredients list.

We both agreed that this was as delicious as it was easy. I liked it as much as Pamela did, even though she is by far the bigger feta fan. We will definitely be making it again, perhaps with a flavored balsamic.

Lagniappe

I am certain that the runner up will be featured here very soon.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

National Grilled Cheese Day

 For this year's celebration (we seem to manage this one fairly often), we found a recipe whose name practically is the recipe: Blackberry Bacon Grilled Cheese. Anybody who knows how to make a grilled-cheese sandwich need only add these details:

  • blackberry refers to blackberry jam
  • bacon refers to crispy bacon, cooked before assembling sandwich
  • cheese refers to Swiss cheese (I used a nice, soft, lacy Swiss)
  • sliced, fresh jalepeños are the only component (aside from cooking butter) not implied in the title
  • grilled refers to sourdough bread (which was hard to find in these days of supply-chain challenges)

We had only Canadian bacon on hand, so I substituted that. It was leaner and less crispy than South-of-the-49th Bacon. This somewhat lighter alternative made for a nicely balanced sandwich.

Photo: Lemon Tree Dwelling

The recipe is accompanied by photos that are far superior to any I could have taken of these somewhat messy sandwiches. The recipe itself helps me to understand why so many people whine about overlong, meandering food-blog posts. 

Nothing in the author's discussion of this recipe related at all to the recipe, unless the reader is aware of the coincidence between National Grilled Cheese Day and National Only-Child Day

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Easy Honey Mustard Mozzarella Chicken: Têm

 This was the title of a recipe Pam read to me as we made the Friday mid-day transition from "we have plenty of food so we don't need to shop for dinner" to the making of an actual plan.

My response was, "I like every word of that title!"

She then read the ingredient list, answering herself with "Têm!" after every word. This is a bit of family lore, dating back to my dissertation travel in Rondônia in 1996. A neighbor who enjoyed sharing a lot of foods with me invited me to cook a big meal in his kitchen. I would need ingredients that I had not yet seen in the area. As I asked him about each thing I would need to make a chicken and pasta dinner, he would nod solemnly and pronounce "Têm!" -- "They have it!" This sounds so much better in Portuguese, so it is how we share the good news that what we need is on hand. (That meal, by the way, became a minor legend. During a return visit in 2000, people would stop me in the street to ask me if I could cook for them again.)

But I digress. We had everything mentioned in the title of Easy Honey Mustard Mozzarella Chicken, plus the additional ingredients: lemon, pepper, and above all: bacon.

This is another recipe that it is taking me longer to describe than it might take a reader to prepare. I began by putting the rice on to cook as a side dish, and then following the recipe almost to the letter. I used a splash of lemon with the ground pepper, since our jar of lemon-pepper was in the other kitchen. And I used some nice fresh mozzarella, which I shredded/crumbled. The only thing I will do differently next time is to put the bacon on earlier in the process; the thick slices we use could not really crisp in 10 minutes. 

Lagniappe

When I don't think a dish will make for a good photo, sometimes I take a photo of the ingredients, or of the dish in progress. Other times I will poach a photo from the recipe website. In this case, just trust me: this is more delicious and easy than it is photogenic. It just looks like melted cheese at the end. The website has 70 photos. I scrolled through half of them before I concluded that there are a lot of ways to make this look ugly. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Cilantro Lime Rice and Beans

There's not a whole lot more to add to this post, once one reads the title. The recipe showed up on my  Facebook feed, posted by a friend. I remembered it on Friday when we were looking for an easy meal for dinner. Serendipitously, we had part of a lime, as well as some cilantro left over from a meal we prepared earlier in the week. Since the only other ingredients listed (besides rice and beans, of course) were water, salt, and olive oil we were good to go. I used the basil flavored olive oil we found at Fieldstone Farm Market (a great grocery store we recently discovered in Marion, MA). 

The recipe can be found here. I used my indispensable cast-iron skillet for this one-pot meal.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Pi Day Pie

Mmm...Good pie!

We were quite pleased with ourselves last Sunday for remembering that Pi Day (3.14) was coming up, and so we got out our Teeny's Tour of Pie cookbook, from which we selected the decadent Bourbon Bacon Pecan Pie. James was in charge of making the crust, cooking the bacon, and whipping the cream for the topping; Pam was in charge of making the filling and baking.

Ingredients for this one include:
6 T butter at room temperature
1 c. packed light brown sugar
2 eggs (the recipe says 3, but I discovered that when a recipe calls for three I can use two to good effect)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. dark corn syrup
2 T. bourbon
3 cooked slices of bacon (the recipe says four, but we only had three so that's how many we used)
8 oz. chopped pecans
Whole wheat crust (recipe follows)

James steps in here to describe his pre-dinner efforts...
Before starting the crust, I cooked three thick slices of bacon, cutting them into small pieces as they cooked. I let them cook over low heat until crisp and then let them drain on paper towels.

This was a simple, basic crust. I did kitchen math on Teeny's Whole Wheat Crust recipe, because it is for a double crust and we would have no need of a top crust or second pie very soon. (Maybe next year we'll do a quiche and a pie on the same day.

The inclusion of a bit of whole wheat allowed us to pretend this dessert was a bit less decadent than it actually was. After cleaning and thoroughly drying the counter top on our Gilligan (kitchen island), I sprinkled a bit of white flour on it. Then I combined 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, 1 tsp salt,  and 1 Tbsp sugar. I then cut in 3/8 cup (3/4 of a stick) unsalted. butter and 1/8 cup (2 Tbsp) shortening.

I sometimes use two knives for this, but I have had success lately with a pastry cutter, pausing periodically to clear the gaps between its blades. Once I had that elusive crumbly texture, I kneaded in cold water and cold vodka, just a bit of each at a time, totalling only 2T of vodka and 4T of water. I rolled the dough into a ball, and then flattened it to a thick disk.

I then used a stone rolling pin to roll the disk out until it was a bit wider than the pie pan. I pressed it into the pan and put it in the fridge while I made dinner. After we ate, it had been chilling for well over an hour, making it ready for Pam' part.

Back to Pamela ...
The butter and brown sugar were mixed together and then the eggs were added (one at a time - stirring after each one) then the salt, vanilla, corn syrup and bourbon. Most of the chopped pecans went in, along with the bacon, but enough pecans were saved to put a layer into the bottom of the pie crust. Once these were placed, the rest of the filling was poured into the crust, and the pie was baked at 350 for 50 minutes. It then set and cooled for another 50 minutes. 

The bacon and the more-than-usual amount of pecans cut down on the sweetness of what can be an overly sweet pie.

James again ... for the first time ever, I used a small mixing bowl and small whisk to make the whipped cream. As we say, rather than a mixer with a mixing attachment, we use a whisk with a rower attachment. Coastal rowing has given me some forearms! I combined about 1/3 cup whipping cream, 1 Tbsp confectioner's sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla and whipped until peaky. We put this on each slice, and I also splashed some bourbon on top of mine.

We had this for dessert following a simple dinner of fried rice. We did not want to overdo things!