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, 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).

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Cod Almondine

When I mentioned that I would be stopping by our favorite fishmonger on the way home, Pam quickly found a NYT recipe for Fish with Toasted Almonds. Nigella Lawson recommends cod or "any other meaty white fish" but since I was headed to Kyler's, I knew I could find an excellent cut of the real deal.
Dining outside, with our fish-themed placemats!
The fillet I purchased was skinless, so the skin-up/skin-down question -- debated in the recipe comments section -- was moot. My only other departure from the recipe was to use our well-seasoned, indispensable cast-iron skillet instead of a non-stick pan. My only hesitation in using this pan for fish is that it can retain fishiness, but it is seasoned well enough that a quick scrubbing with salt (never detergent or soap) will leave it ready for the next dish. I did wait until the oil and butter were bubbling nicely before adding the fillet, so it cooked pretty quickly.

I prepared simple sides of petite peas and penne with a bit of cheese and parsley. The preparation of the fish was so fast that I should have gotten the pasta water boiling before I even toasted the almonds. The result was a delicious meal -- a bit expensive because top-quality cod is not cheap -- but very good on the nutritious-delicious-easy-cheap trade-off matrix. And in reality, it was not much more expensive than fast food.

I cannot buy cod at Kyler's without commenting on the boats tied up outside.
Federal marshals are leasing part of Kyler's pier to impound two ships belonging
to the notorious Carlos Rafael, the "Codfather" who cheated the entire industry
and the ocean itself over many years. While he sits in prison, the honest fishery
folks in New Bedford and beyond continue to recover from his frauds.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Avocado Fish

Looking for something interesting to prepare for dinner recently, Pam turned to Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook -- a slender volume that rarely disappoints and that is mentioned about a dozen times throughout this blog. She found Grilled Red Snapper with Avocado Sauce, which reminded us of several other avocado-related successes we have had with the book.

Knowing that our local fishmonger would be unlikely to have red snapper, I checked for substitutions ahead of time, and settled on monkfish as my fill-in fillet. I was encouraged when a fellow customer at the fish counter spontaneously offered his praise of this particular fish.

The recipe calls for cold-marinating the fish in white wine for at least an hour, then brushing it with butter and grilling for 4-5 minutes per side. I was preparing this meal at Cloverfield (Bridgewater), where I do not usually prepare seafood since it is so far from the ocean and where more importantly, I no longer have a grill! The Big Green Egg I'm always going on about is at Whaling House (Fairhaven), almost within sight of the ocean.

All of which is to say that I did something that is often successful when a recipe calls for something to be grilled: I cooked it in butter over fairly high heat in our indispensable cast-iron skillet, seasoning it with paprika. I then removed the fish to a warm plate and followed the rest of the recipe, starting with the sauteeing of onions in the residual butter. I then whisked in flour and salt. Once the oniony roux was complete, I stirred in sour cream, horseradish, and diced avocado.
Before the sauce
I know ... this sounds weird. Avocado does not belong in gravy. But Hopkins and Lockridge have led us to the enjoyment of stranger-sounding concoctions than this, so we plated this with optimism, and paired it with the same white wine I had used for the marinade. (Sorry, Dear Readers, I forgot to take note of the variety.)
After the sauce. At least the lighting was nice.
The result: certainly better than it looks, but not as good as I had hoped. It seems there are a few reasons. I am terrible at buying avocados, and this one was a bit too firm. And it really seems likely that avocados do not belong in this sort of gravy. Grilling might really have brought out better flavor in the fish.


Foolishly, I did not read the recipe introduction until after I had prepared the meal. Ironically, it makes the case for skipping the sauce entirely:

"This recipe can be prepared with other types of fish, but for my sake [not sure which author this is], please use red snapper. Red snapper takes me back to a beach in Puerto Escondido, an untouristy, beautiful stretch of sand, rocks, and waves on the Pacific side of southern Mexico. Sun-burned and tired, we stumbled onto this open-air restaurant on the quieter end of the beach. Each of us ordered the snapper -- it was prepared simply, just a whole fish grilled with lemon and cilantro. We were living a postcard that night with the palm trees and hammocks swaying around us, and the salty air brushing against our lips. All to say, you may borrow this memory as garnish for your grilled red snapper with avocado sauce."

Birrrrthday Cake

A couple of rules about Casa Hayes-Boh birthdays:

  1. The celebration starts early, with Attainment Day. Careful readers of this space will notice a few recipes that I prepared for May 26 celebrations in recent years. 
  2. The honoree gets whatever kind of cake they want, providing either a category or a recipe for someone else in the household to make. Pam made my favorite "Stirring Up" Mocha cake to celebrate my birthday earlier this month, for example.
  3. We have blanket permission to pronounce "birrrrthday present" like Sméagol/Gollum much more than would otherwise be acceptable.
All of which is to say that Pam requested that I prepare a sprinkle-festooned Rainbow Sprinkle Cake, courtesy of New York Times Cooking.

Photo: Romulo Yanes for The New York Times.
 Food Stylist: Vivian Lui.
To make the cake, I followed Julia Moskin's instructions carefully, with two small exceptions: I did not try to cut any convexities off the cake layers, though I did put the bottom layer on its plate with the dome side down. Also, I did not measure the vanilla -- I add it in dollops, which is why my frosting was more tan than white.

The result was a somewhat dense but delicious cake. It was colorful enough to draw compliments from our birthday guests. Lacking a food stylist, however, it was not quite as photogenic as the cake featured in the Times

I wish I had read some of the comments online before I began; had I done so, I might have heeded the advice of one reader who suggested making only half the called-for frosting. I had enough left over to frost at least one more cake!

And now only one question remains: what, if any, is the difference between frosting and icing?