Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Latkes? Again?

In Recipies on November 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm


Soon, these will blaze brightly.


I love latkes…for about three to five days.  But by mid-Hanukkah, I begin looking for alternative traditions to the customary fried potato pancakes.  This year, the Phyne Dyner is bringing two alternatives to the table; just before those “latke blues” set in.

Our first substitution comes from Turkey and our second comes from Catalonia.  What are they?

Come back in a few days and we’ll cook them together.


Wild Rice, Walnut, and Mushroom Pilaf

In Recipies on November 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Take your sidedish to the "wild" side!

It is only fitting that a Native American staple stands proudly alongside other dishes on the Phyne Dyner’s table each Thanksgiving.  For eastern and northern tribes, wild rice was (and remains) a favourite.

This year, the Phyne Dyner was determined to set the Mediterranean centerpiece of the meal, a peppery whole rosemary chicken, alongside a wild rice and native mushroom pilaf.

The result was spectacular.  The earthy tones of the pilaf were a delightful foil for the chicken’s sunny tones that set by its sharp paprika and red, green, and jalapeno peppers.

1 C wild rice

3 C low-sodium chicken broth

1 small shallot, minced

2 tbs small walnut pieces

½ C dried morel mushrooms

3 sage leaves (or ¾ tsp dry, rubbed sage)

1 tsp olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh-ground pepper

Bring the broth to a rapid boil, then stir in the rice.  Reduce heat to simmer and cover.  Cook for one hour, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Reconstitute the mushrooms by heating 2 cups of water to a boil.  Carefully rinse the mushrooms under running water and add to the boiling water.  Boil the mushrooms for about 3 minutes.  Then, cover the mushrooms in the water and set aside for at least 30 minutes.

In a small sauce pan or skillet, heat the walnut pieces over medium-high heat until the nuts begin to “sweat”.  Do not allow the nuts to burn or darken.  Add 1 tsp olive oil to the pan and add the minced shallot.  Saute just until the shallot begins to soften.  Reduce the heat to medium.  Carefully drain the water from the reconstituted mushrooms and chop them finely before adding them to the walnut and shallot mixture.  Shred the sage leave into this mixture (or add the rubbed sage) and add this to the walnut, sage, and mushrooms.  Heat over medium heat until aromatic.

Carefully drain any remaining water from the cooked wild rice.  Stir in the walnut, shallot, and mushrooms.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve hot.  Makes about 4 cups.

Roasted Whole Rosemary-Pepper Chicken

In Recipies on November 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm


This makes a very festive presentation for holidays.

This is a delicious whole-bird version of a peppery rosemary chicken recipe one can find all along the eastern Mediterranean coast.  It is traditionally prepared using chicken pieces and baked as a one-pot meal.  This version is as tasty as the original and the oven-roasted whole bird makes a dramatic presentation at table.



1 whole roasting chicken

1 very large sweet onion (think softball), thinly sliced

1 large green bell pepper, cut in chunks

1 large sweet red pepper, cut in chunks

2 small to medium jalapeno peppers sliced (seeds removed for less heat if desired)

1 tsp sharp Hungarian paprika

1 tbs dry rosemary leaves

olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.


Carefully rinse the chicken, paying special attention to the inner cavity.  Pre-heat the oven to 400F.  Place the chicken in a roomy roasting pan, breast up.  Do NOT tie the chicken if you are accustomed to doing so with other roasted birds.  Brush the top of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Dust the chicken thoroughly with the paprika, then scatter ½ of the rosemary leaves on top.  Carefully layer the onion slices on top of the chicken and scatter the remaining rosemary on top of the onion slices.  Cover loosely with foil.  Bake for about 45-55 minutes, or until the onions just begin to go limp and turn translucent.


Reduce the oven heat to 350F.  Scatter the red and green pepper chunks on and around the chicken.  Scatter the jalapeno slices on top and into any juices.  Cover with foil and return to the oven for about an hour, checking periodically to make sure the pan does not go dry (Keep “peeking” to a minimum.  I’ve never dried one of these birds out and keeping the cover on tightly enhances the rosemary flavours.)


Remove the foil after about an hour and return to the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the skin becomes golden and begins to split.  A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should read 180F when the bird is fully cooked.


Remove the wings and legs to plates and transfer the rest of the bird to a large casserole.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the onion and peppers alongside the chicken and served pieces.


Serves 4-6

Video tips for Phyne Dyners on FaceBook!

In General Information, Tips and Hints on November 24, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Just (barely) in time for Thanksgiving, Phyne Dyning launched its first video tip “Using the Steel” to keep those carving knives sharp.

All I need, is a samovar

In Recipies on November 10, 2010 at 1:51 pm

The Russians are a people of large appetites.  Meals of potatoes, barley, sausages, and dumplings cooked in mixtures of butter and sour cream comprise a typical Russian menu.


Next to the English, the Russians have perfected interludes to the day where tea is featured.  The poorest Russian household has a charcoal-fired samovar smoking merrily in a place of honor.


A samovar is a combination water heater and tea-brewer.  At the top of its chimney resides a small metal pitcher or flask where the tea is brewed into a concentrated essence and around the chimney’s base, a water jacket keeps water just below boiling.  A bit of tea essence is placed in a glass and hot water is added to give just the right dilution.  Sugar, enough to induce a diabetic coma, is added before serving.


The Phyne Dyner has coveted having a samovar for many years, along with a hookah.  I have since acquired a decent hookah, but a modest samovar runs to a month’s wages.


Clearly, the Russians place a value on tea.


It only stands to reason that Russian tea is served with something a bit more substantial than a delicate puff pastry.


Enter, the lepeshki.


These almond-flavored biscuit-cookie-dinner rolls are dipped in thick gobbets of extremely sweet whipped cream.  The lepeshki itself has a firm, not doughy-not crisp, consistency that makes dipping in “something” an almost necessity.


I have tried these with coffee, with a “meh?” result.  A tea, flowery or stout, is the best accompaniment for lepeshki.


2 C self-rising flour


1 egg

½ C confectioner’s sugar

½ C sour cream, best (OR buttermilk)

½ tsp almond extract

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 tbs milk (omit if using buttermilk)

½ sliced almonds


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Sift the flour, a pinch of salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.  Separate the egg.  Reserve a tablespoon of the white and mix the remainder with the sour cream (or buttermilk), almond extract, vanilla extract, and milk (if using).  Add this mixture to the flour-sugar mixture and kneed to a soft dough.  Roll the dough, in batches, into a sheet about ¼-inch thick.  Cut into 3-inch circles with a cookie cutter or drinking glass.  Place on a well-greased cookie sheet.  Add about 1 tsp water to the reserved egg white and mix thoroughly.  Paint the egg white mixture on each cookie with a pastry brush and sprinkle with sliced almonds.  Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden.  Cool on a wire rack.  Serve with a bowl of whipped cream and steaming glasses of tea.

It’s time for us (U.S.) to get “civilised”

In Lifestyle on November 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I lament the American loss of teatime.  An unfortunate consequence of the American Revolution was our subsequent abandonment of the afternoon tea.

The Ozzies broke with England, albeit with less fanfare, but held fast to the English custom of afternoon tea.  The equally rebellious Irish enjoy “tay” and India, another reluctant host of the English empire, also held tight to the practise…err, practice.

Americans got the coffee break.

“Coffee break” does not even sound civilised…err, civilized.  Breaking anything lacks civility.  One “makes time” for tea.  One does not “break” for tea.

Therefore, our previous complaints with the Crown not withstanding, our severance of cultural ties with our cousins was America’s loss.

Losing teatime was a catastrophe to us Yanks.  It is a loss to be lamented.

I enjoy coffee and I cannot imagine facing the day without the obligatory “morning cuppa”.  Without it, I would not be civilised…err, civilized until well past the cocktail hour.

The choice of beverage for a tea does not matter.  There is the civility of taking the better part of an hour to enjoy a tidbit and a respite from the day’s endeavors which matters.

That it is “teatime” does not requisite that the beverage consumed be tea.

My four-ish o’clock in the afternoons of late have been sometimes interrupted with steaming cups of jasmine tea and a tiny plate of Russian lepeshki (almond cookies) to be dipped in whipped cream.  Sometimes baklava, espresso, and a bit of arak stand in for the tea and lepeshki.

I am always the better man for having made time for tea.

Therefore, the Phyne Dyner highly recommends that the afternoon tea be resumed as a national custom of the United States.

After a quarter of a millennium, it is time for America to become civilised.

The Phyne Dyner recommends “allspice”

In Shameless plug on November 10, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Things got spiced up in Des Moines when “allspice” moved into the vintage storefront district in the city’s East Village.


Located at 400 East Locust Street, “allspice” brings much more than herbs and spices to a bustling clientele the owner describes as “everyone from the curious cook to the experienced chef”.


(NOTE:  The ever-opinionated Phyne Dyner believes “spice shop” to be an unfortunate understatement and that “olive oil and balsamic vinegar boutique” more accurately and dramatically describes the real “allspice” experience.)


My pixels in praise of Penzey’s Spice Company had barely dimmed from the screen when I literally stumbled onto “allspice” on a Sunday two weeks ago.  Unfortunately, the shop was not yet open and has no Sunday hours, but I was determined to visit with them during business hours.


It seems a lot of people had the same plan last Saturday.  For, as we walked along in the East Village, at least three others asked us about the location of “that new spice store”.  Within a few minutes we grew to a modest throng of spice-seekers.  The Village makes for a pleasant stroll on a sunny day.


Soon, the aroma of exotic herbs and spices announced we had arrived.


The shop is European elegant and brightly lit.  This is not some dingy cooking apothecary.


There are, of course, the obligatory rows of shelves laden with herbs and spices of every variety.  But the real stars of the “allspice” show are its gleaming vats of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  Each vat contains a couple of gallons of what can best be described as “chef’s ambrosia”.  About ten varieties of olive oil and olive oil infusions are offered alongside a slightly larger number of balsamic infusions.  Tasting cups stand ready next to each small vat.


Tasting olive oil?


Absolutely!  These oils are not supermarket jug oils.  Each shining container is labeled with a (very accurate) taste description of the oil or balsamic within.  I spent well over an hour wandering among the shops wares; tasting sniffing, sampling.


Equally intriguing as the oils, balsamics, herbs, and spices…are the shop staffers.  The owner, a former local attorney, modestly describes himself as an amateur foodie.  An English-trained former nanny rounds out the staff with her to-the-mark assessments of flavors and a delightful repertoire of herb and spice-related world travels she enjoyed as a side-benefit of her former professional life.  The entire “allspice” staff exudes knowledge and expertise.


Move over, Penzey’s, “allspice” will be a contender.  Phyne Dyners who are deprived of an ability to visit the brick and mortar version of “allspice” will soon be able to enjoy virtual visits at their still in development website (


Prices for “allspice” herbs and spices are highly competitive with Penzey’s, with a generous jarful selling for around five dollars.  Its oils and balsamics retail for under twenty dollars per 375ml and the owner is promising curious, but frugal, customers smaller bottles that will facilitate experimentation without emptying one’s purse.


Time will tell if Des Moines is ready to spend about $15-18 on bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and the East Village is the best local venue to test that market.  The Phyne Dyner (vigorously) applauds “allspice’s” decision to locate in the East Village, rather than becoming another (easily overlooked) “trendy posh-shoppe” adorning a strip mall in the western suburbs of Des Moines.


The “allspice experience” is irresistible and it will become a regular stop on the Phyne Dyner’s supply excursions and I have already begun building my own collection of fine olive oils and balsamic vinegars bearing the “allspice” label.


I walked out of the shop with a pomegranate balsamic that will be one of the brightest stars in one of my upcoming Phyne Dyning cooking events featuring tapas.  After over an hour of ecstatic hovering over dabs of oils, I had to literally force myself to leave.


This is clearly something much more than a “spice shop” and, despite the advantages of e-commerce, “allspice” is something best savored in person.


The “allspice” shop is open M-F 10-6 and Saturdays from 10-4.

Variations on an (eggplant) theme

In Tips and Hints on November 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm


"What will the Phyne Dyner come up with next?"

The Phyne Dyner no sooner published a fried eggplant recipe when the bumper-crop had another batch sizzling in the skillet.


Rather than doing an eggplant redux, the Phyne Dyner will simply issue an update.  Ready?

Wait for it!

Substitute a can of fried onions, those things that adorn those gack-awful cream-of-mushroom soup and green bean concoctions, for the panko, cracker crumbs, or matzoh coating.  Just open the can into a zip-close bag, seal it, and beat the stuffing out of it with a rolling pin or tenderizing mallet.  Do not beat the onions to a powder, the bigger pieces add crunch to the dish.  Omit the herb sprinkles and enjoy the sweet fried onion flavor…this is especially welcome if you get a batch of eggplant that is bitter, despite your careful salt-sweating it.

Until now, a coating of dry falafel mix was my “first runner-up” to panko.

While we’re on the topic of falafel coatings!  My adult ADHD kicked in.

Try coating chicken quarters with dry falafel mix.  Dip the chicken in a slightly beaten egg and then press it into a plate full of dry falafel mix.  Bake at 400 degrees on each side for 20-30 minutes.  You’ll get chicken pieces so crunchy and tasty, a whole army of colonels will surrender to its flavour.