Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Crustless Greek Quiche

In Recipies on July 27, 2011 at 11:38 am

I had a serious zucchini jones going.  Since I refuse to buy the overpriced squash at my local food mass (corporate) retailer and old Abe has joined Jack in one last race, going to the downtown farmer’s market has been on hold…

…as well as zucchini cooking.

Then, I visited the nearby Drake Neighborhood Farmer’s Market (previously praised on Phyne Dyning).

There, I was able to procure zucchini with which to put down the squash monkey that was on my back.

What better way to enjoy my fix than in a crustless quiche with definite Greek tones.

The basis for the recipe is not my own.  I got it many years ago from The Frugal Gourmet.  Readers may recall Jeff Smith, the person wearing the Frugal Gourmet’s apron.

Sadly, Smith will likely be remembered by my readers for molestation allegations that put his culinary sun into eclipse.

Such a shame, the man had real talent.  He was passionate about food and gave up his career as a Methodist minister to pursue a life as a chef.  Smith never returned to prominence as a television chef after the scandals that brought him down.

He died in 2004 of natural causes.

Smith may have been accused of some foul things, but I cannot dismiss the entire man as being foul.  Therefore, the Phyne Dyner is delighted to give credit to Smith for his impact on the Phyne Dyner’s early years as a home chef.

Smith’s recipe for a basic, crustless quiche can be adapted to whatever ingredients the home chef can imagine.  I am particularly fond of his recollections of the dish as a “Summary Quiche”, so named because his assistant chefs were fond of cleaning out the show’s coolers and using the previous week’s main ingredients in a Friday afternoon quiche.

Crustless quiches take much of the headache out of quiche-preparing.  Crusts are “nice”, but can be over-filling, get soggy, or can be a pain in general.  Removing the crust from the equation makes quiche cookery fast and easy for the home chef.

I previously published a similar garden quiche.  This one has wonderful Greek flavors and a pungent garlic-lover’s tone.

Here we go!

You will need:

1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced

½ of a small onion, chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 TBS olive oil

4-6 oz white mushrooms, thinly sliced

½ package chopped spinach, thawed and wrung nearly dry

3-4 TBS finely chopped FRESH basil

1-2 TBS finely chopped FRESH oregano

8 oz cottage cheese

8 oz crumbled feta

5 large eggs, beaten

¼ C flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ C milk

2 oz pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a whisk or fork, beat the eggs until frothy.  Add in the milk, baking powder, flour, salt, cottage cheese, and feta.  Mix well and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté the zucchini, mushrooms, and onion until the onion just becomes translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for two minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.

Pre-heat oven to 400F.  When the veggies are cool, toss in the chopped spinach, herbs, and season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Add veggies to the basic quiche filling already prepared and mix well.  Lightly oil a casserole with vegetable oil and pour the veggie filling into the casserole.

Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove and sprinkle with grated Romano.  Reduce heat to 350F and return the quiche to the oven for 25-40 minutes.  Cooking times vary significantly according to the depth of the casserole!  Check for doneness at the lower end of the time, using a bamboo skewer.  The quiche is done when the skewer is removed clean from the center of the quiche.  Continue baking until done, checking every 10-15 minutes if you get paranoid.

Remove from the oven when done.  Allow to cool to “very warm” and serve with a fresh salad and a stout red wine.




Poached Cod with Mustard Sauce

In Recipies on July 27, 2011 at 10:51 am

Poaching is one of my favorite ways to prepare fish.  Properly done, poached fish leaves much of the natural oils inside the flesh of the fish.  This keeps the fish moist, delightfully soft in texture, and extremely healthy to eat.

Salmon lends itself nicely to traditional poaching methods and thin fillets of tilapia are simply delightful when “packet poached” in foil with a bit of curry and lemon juice (recipe published previously on Phyne Dyning).

“Dry” fish, such as cod, present a bit more of a challenge.

Cod has very little oil in its flesh and, unless properly poached, one can drive that little bit of oil into the poaching liquid where it is lost and will leave the cod tough and “dry”.

The answer is to poach the cod at a lower temperature and remove it from the poaching liquid as soon as it is done.  Here, we will begin making the reduction when the cod is almost fully poached by turning the heat off on the fish and allowing it to finish unmolested.

As with many poached fish and seafood dishes, the following recipe’s “secret” is a flavorful court bouillon (COOR boo-yon, meaning short broth).

A court bouillon is typically a very aromatic acidified stock (often using lemon juice or white wine) that is cooked only for a short time.  It is not served directly with the dish.  It may be served, however, reduced (as in this recipe), mixed with a roux (as part of the dish) or with additional flavorings and served alongside the dish (as in this recipe).

(NOTE:  For readers fond of shrimp, this recipe may be adapted to make a wonderful grilled shrimp entree.  Cut the recipe for the court bouillon by 2/3 and make the buttered reduction with ½ of the mustard called for in this recipe.  Grill the shrimp, brushing the mustarded “beurre blanc” on the shrimp before turning and apply several times until the shrimp are fully cooked.)

Cod works well for this dish because cod lacks an overwhelming fishy flavor that would detract from the delicate flavors imparted by the poaching liquid and the buttery smoothness of the accompanying sauce.

Sound like fun?

You bet!

Here we go:

1 to 1 ½ lb cod fillets or loins

1 to 1 ½ lemon (juiced and reserve zest)

1 C Italian parsley, chopped

6 C water (see below)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2-3 bay leaves

¼ tsp ground allspice

1 tsp whole black peppercorns (gently cracked with a mallet)

2 TBS grainy brown mustard (or dijon mustard)

¼ C butter

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

The amount of water you will use depends on how thick the fish is and how big the pot is that you are using to poach it in.  I suggest a (covered) vessel big enough to place all of the fish in without crowding and deep enough that the thickest fish portion will be covered by at least one-half inch of poaching liquid.  A stockpot works well.  Or, splurge on a fish-poaching pan with a rack.

How much water?

Simply pour water into your cooking vessel until it is a depth that is at least ½” over the top of the fish (But do not add the fish to make this measurement.)  Now measure the water (or estimate it).  If the amount of water used is significantly greater than 5-6 cups, you should adjust the ingredients for the court bouillon upward proportionally to avoid making it too weak.  Generally, six cups will work.  Do not obsess on this!

Place the zest from the lemon into the poaching vessel.  If the lemon was waxed, carefully scrub the wax away before zesting!  Add in the onion, bay leaves, allspice, peppercorns, lemon juice, and parsley.  Add the water and bring to a gentle boil.  Boil gently for 20-30 minutes.  Reduce heat and allow the liquid to cool to about 160F.  The liquid should be steaming well, but no bubbles should be present.  Add in the fish pieces and add more water if the fish is not entirely covered by the liquid.  Cover.  After five minutes, check the temperature of the water (should be around 160F) and adjust the heat as needed and re-cover the pot.  Total cooking time will vary from 7-12 minutes.  A clear glass lid is a real lifesaver for home chefs making this dish!  When the fish appears opaque and firm, fork-test it.  Turn off the heat when it just begins to flake at the ends.  The center will not be done, but it will finish cooking while you make the reduction and mustard sauce.

Carefully spoon off 1 cup of the poaching liquid into a small saucepan.  Bring to a rapid boil and add the mustard.  Reduce the liquid to ½ cup (watch carefully!) and then stir (or whisk) in the butter.  Check for seasoning and add salt/pepper as needed.

By this time, the fish will be fully cooked and not overcooked and dry.  Remove to a plate and spoon a bit of the reduction/mustard sauce over the fish.  Serve the remaining reduction in a small ramekin at the table.

I recently served this with a cooked medley of wild and basmati rice, alongside steamed Normandy-style vegetables flavored with a bit of anchovy paste, melted butter, and dill (see recipe elsewhere on Phyne Dyning).  Accompany with a small garden salad and a bit of white wine.

The recipe and adjunct instructions for this dish may be a little intimidating.  But, once you make this at least one time, it will take about 45-60 minutes of total time to make this wonderfully delicate fish entrée.

“What I’m Drinking” returns!

In Lifestyle on July 22, 2011 at 9:50 am

I pulled down my folder labeled “PD Drafts” and discovered that I had not reprised my What I’m Drinking column on Phyne Dyning.

 No, I did not fall into a Hemmingway-esque depression when my official sommelier, Casa di Vino, closed in June.  Nor was I tempted to take a ride on the temperance wagon.

Nope, the column was not AWOL for lack of subject matter.  It is the one column, aside from those poking a thumb in the state’s eye, where I had a virtual cornucopia of material.  I simply (Yep!) forgot to write the column.

Now, the Phyne Dyner absolutely disdains posers in all forms.  And, you will find no larger populations of posers than in a wine shop.

“What an interesting finish…”

“It has a hint of rosewood…”

“My palate tells me this was corked too early…”

My arse!

Most of the people gargling wine in front of each other could not taste a burning tire wrapped in a corpse.  My own brother was horrified years back when I dared bring “jug” wine to his home.

This from a guy who once drank half of a Coors bottle of snuff spit at a rodeo dance without noticing it was neither cold, nor beer.

Nor do I pay much attention to the back label of a wine bottle.  After all, that is were the wine garglers learn their poser’s lexicon.

Away and avast with all that.  The Phyne Dyner shall now hold forth on what he knows about…


Winking Owl Chardonnay

First off, the owl on the bottle is not winking.  That is a grimace and it is what you look like after drinking Sterno.

And it is not “Chardonnay” it is “Chardonnaaaaaaaay”…emphasis on the “nay”.

The stuff is $3.99 at Aldi Foods.

I assume the back label had some Poser-Speak about “fruity tones and an almond finish”.  My submission for the label would read, “musty decaying wood flavors artfully mingled with feminine hygiene spray”.

Kitchen Sink White Table Wine

 Available from that higher-end wine retailer, Costco, at $4.99…this wine proves you get what you pay for.  A whole dollar more than Winking Owl and you can tell the difference in taste.

It actually is a very crisp wine.  Delightful when chilled.  But then, so is Drano.


Okay, amateur hour is over.  Time to get to the Pro’s Corner.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (also the name of a party store in Texas) has decreed that vodka is a neutral grain spirit.

A neutral grain spirit has no taste.  In fact, one of the prized characteristics of status vodkas is a “clean” (“no”) taste.  Once the stuff has burned its way to your gullet, then you start to notice flavors.

Impurities, perfumes, and added flavorings are responsible for those aftertastes people either desire or disdain.  The better a native vodka is distilled and filtered, the fewer aldehydes, phenols, and other chemicals lurk in it.

“Nonsense”, say the experts.

“Is so”, says the other side.

There are many sides to the argument and you can find studies to support each side.  This is when the real experts weigh in…

…advertising copy writers.

Wherever there is murky water, count on marketing types to spin it into whatever direction best fits their client’s need to fleece people out of their hard-earned bucks.  When they become astute at lying and spinning, many advertising people drift into the pro-leagues…

…professional politics.

For example, when the price of cocoa soared, chocolate bar companies began adding air to their chocolate.  The principle is simple: the more free air you put in a product, the less costly ingredients the package contains.  The volume (size) stays the same and the price remains constant.

Because you get less chocolate and more air!

Enter the liar’s club of advertising.  One cannot advertise “NOW with less chocolate!”

But, one can advertise that the chocolate is “NOW creamier!” or “NOW with fewer calories!”

Shall it be written.  Shall it be done.

The same holds for vodka.

Without spin, people will not cough up $45 for a bottle of Grey Goose when a bottle of $5.89 Barton’s is essentially the same thing.

I once performed a simple experiment on some visiting friends.

We had not yet dutifully returned our empty vodka and wine bottles in accordance with state edict.  I had a nice collection of (empty) premium vodka bottles.  There were dead soldiers of Belvedere, Grey Goose, Chopin, and Absolut neatly stored under my bar.  I also had a copious number of Phillips bottles that were still full.

(Photo: "sirazal" Deviant Art)

I partially refilled each of the premium vodka bottles with Phillips Vodka.

A small group of us congregated on the patio one lazy Saturday for our Twelve-step Program meeting…this is a social support network where you drink until you can only take twelve steps before falling down.

As a special bonus, I offered drinks made with everyone’s favorite vodka.  On the way out of the house, the drinks got “mixed up”.

I asked everyone to sort it out, since there was no way I was going to pour drinks down the drain when they contain such high-dollar vodkas.

“Ah, this is my Belevedere”, crowed one guest.  “Ewwwww!” cried another, “This must be that rot-gut Dead Goose.”

It was all Phillips!

According to Reuters Money, people drink “status vodkas” solely for their status image.

I promise a repeat experiment where “premium” vodkas are decanted into empty Phillips bottles.

Who says science is boring?

Shall I unscrew it for you, sir?

A lot of people would have a better time if they simply drank what they enjoy, rather than putting on a show for the rubes.

Today, anyone with a credit card can be a food critic or wine expert.  We see them clustered around each other, pontificating on their knowledge of good food and drink.

Mrs. Phyne Dyner recently uttered these words of wisdom about “good” sushi that was declared “good” solely because it came from a trendy, downtown eatery:

“How do you know good sushi from bad sushi, if you’ve never eaten bad sushi?”

And, therein, is wisdom.

In order to appreciate good drink, one must start with bad drink.  The posers skip this essential step in learning.  They jump right to the “good drink” and hope everyone will assume that they have worked their way through the bad stuff.

It is a practice akin to claiming to have a doctorate without even having attended community college.

So, why not drink what you enjoy?

Mrs. Phyne Dyner actually enjoys stuff like Boone’s Farm and Arbor Mist.  When we were invited to a BYOB party at the home of a retired Texas state judge, Mrs. PD unabashedly toted in a (chilled) bottle of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine.

Folks who showed up with “nice” bottles of wine were soon asking her if they could try a taste of her Boone’s Farm.

“It’s what I drank in college.”

Within a half-hour her bottle was empty and a “wine run” was proposed to re-supply enough Boone’s for the entire compliment.

By midnight, several bottles of “nice” wines stood, ignored, on the bar.  Once the pretense was dropped, people actually had fun.

So go out and buy some swill.

It’s what I’m drinking.

Head over to the Drake Neighborhood Farmer’s Market

In Shameless plug on July 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

If major local news sources are to be trusted, nothing good happens in the Drake neighborhood.  It is the place of “guns, gangs, and drugs”, according to the mantra of the immaculately coiffed suburban blondes on the tee-vee.

The notable exception to what the perfumed set was saying about those other farmer’s markets was the opinion of Cityview readers who voted the Drake market “best”.

We simply had to visit the Drake market.  After all, I had a serious zucchini jones goin’ and our trips to the downtown market have been curtailed by the necessity of caring for two very old dogs.

Just look at what we bought!

The market sits on the parking lot of the First Christian Church at the corner of University Avenue and 25th Street.

We were greeted by Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-changin’”.  How apropos!

Two cheerful ladies handed out carry bags to market patrons and a warm smile was on the face of every vendor we met.

In the market proper, we found about twelve hopeful vendors.  None were selling clothing or future dumpster ballast (bric-a-brac).  But there was plenty of artisan breads, fresh poultry, asparagus, sweet corn, peppers…

…and zucchini to be had!

We heard no kvetching about “baby strollers and dogs”, even though many vendors had kindly thought to set out water for visiting pooches.  About a hundred and fifty people milled through the market during our half-hour visit.

It was a nice crowd on a scorching afternoon in the neighborhood.  Notably absent were the legions of accountant types and insurance bean counters wearing identical Hawkeye or Cyclone attire.  That fact probably also was a factor in the no kvetching observation too.

We walked through the market and sized up the produce.  It was gorgeous and the vendors were doing a brisk business because of it.

There were a couple of food stalls, but the market’s patrons did not seem to be interested.  The foods they were selling looked tasty.  So, I assume many people were thinking about finishing their necessary marketing quickly so they could retreat back into some cooler air at home.

Because of the heat, the market had a business-like air about it.  There were pleasant conversations and smiles all around, but people seemed anxious to finish their shopping and leave.

We quickly selected our squash, a pound of asparagus, and a dozen ears of “peaches and cream” sweet corn.  As we left the market, I realized that I had left my camera at home.  Because I was mentally smacking my head over my forgetfulness, I forgot about the passable camera on my phone.

A local hilal (sic) grocery kindly donated free parking to market patrons and when we left the market we were sure to go inside to give our thanks to its proprietor for the generous use of the shared parking lot.

Afterward, we did a post-mortem of our visit to the Drake Neighborhood Market.

The produce on display was very high quality.  Some appeared to have been brought in from grower’s wholesalers (the boxes stacked in the vendor’s trucks tipped us off), but there was a nice representation of homegrown stuff too.

Shoppers at the market were just as discerning as those at the downtown market.  We overheard an exchange between a vendor and a shopper over a basket of nice looking tomatoes.

“Are they hydroponically grown?” asked the shopper.  The vender looked a bit perplexed and replied, “They’re right out of my garden.”

“Are they organic?” persisted the shopper.  “They are garden grown and my whole family eats them every day.  So far, no deaths.”

The shopper threw her head back and laughed heartily.  She selected a basket and paid for them.

Such was the good-natured character of the shoppers and vendors.

While the Drake market could use a few more artisan vendors, we considered that the extremely hot weather (for Iowa) may have kept some of them away.  Unfortunately, there was a paucity of items like sweet potato vines and squash blossoms.  Again, maybe the vendors who carry these items were simply absent for the day.

However, our consensus opinion was that the Drake market is a worthwhile and delightfully laid back place to visit.

We can hardly wait for our next visit.

The Drake Neighborhood Farmer’s Market is held every (Summertime) Wednesday from 4pm to 7pm.  Visit their Website at

Russian-style Baked Chicken and Potatoes

In Recipies on July 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

After a few days of grilled veggies and meats, Shabbat found us wanting something a bit different.

I consulted my draft copy of Shabbat in One Pot.

Yes, I know I forgot to wipe down the plate!

The recipe for Russian-style Baked Chicken and Potatoes caught my eye.  The recipe is delightfully simple and even makes use of a seasoning blend available from Penzey’s Spice Company rather than individual herbs and spices.

The seasoning blend is called, Tsardust Memories Russian Style Seasoning.

The label lists its ingredients as salt, garlic, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and marjoram.  The blend is great on meats of all kinds and it renders an almost cake-like flavor to potatoes.

I decided on some simple buttered green beans with red pepper accents as an accompaniment.

The main-dish is simple and easy.  You will need:

2 chicken quarters or four thighs, skin removed if you like

2 VERY large russet baking potatoes or 4 normal-size potatoes

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 TBS vegetable oil

1 and ½ tsp Penzey’s Tsardust Memories Seasoning

½ tsp paprika

salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Pour the oil into a large Dutch oven or roasting pan and swirl it about to thoroughly coat the bottom and the sides.  Generously sprinkle about one teaspoon of the Tsardust over the chicken pieces placed in the bottom of the Dutch oven.  Cover chicken pieces with sliced onion.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Reduce oven to 350F, turn the chicken over, and dust it with a bit more of the Tsardust.  Place the potatoes in the juices, turning them several times to coat them with the juices.  Sprinkle the remaining Tsardust on the potatoes and give them a couple twists of freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle them with the paprika.  Cover and return to the oven for one hour, checking every 20 minutes to be sure the pan does not dry out (it won’t).  Remove from the oven and check for doneness using an instant-read meat thermometer.  If the internal temperature of the chicken is at least 180F, the meat is done.

While the chicken is baking, prepare the green beans.  The bit of lemon zest in the recipe makes the flavors of the peppers and beans “pop”.  Here, you will need:

1 pound fresh green beans, strings removed

½ red, sweet pepper cut in thin strips

¼ C chopped sweet onion

¼ C margarine (Heart Smart pareve if desired)

1 tsp lemon zest

½ tsp dried marjoram

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a medium non-stick skillet over low-medium heat.  Melt the margarine and then add all of the ingredients at once.  Cook for about fifteen minutes.  If the pan sizzles, reduce the heat.  Overcooking the dish washes out the beautiful colors in it and leaves the veggies limp.  This is a dish where “longer” is better than “hotter”.  As a result, the veggies come out with a bit of crispness and with a wonderfully herbed butter flavor.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.

These are great recipe combos for Shabbat dinners when you have guests to attend.  They are so simple that you will have time for visiting with a minimum number of dashes to the kitchen.

In the home of the Phyne Dyner, guests congregate in the kitchen to watch the show.  It is part of the way I hope to encourage others to take up the apron of a home chef and serve meals at home that would be worth paying for in a restaurant.


See-food Gumbo

In Recipies on July 20, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Yes, I know.

I recently published a recipe for gumbo.  This is not a repeat post.  My last gumbo recipe was a fast and easy version using a boxed meal as a starter.  Today, we start from scratch.

Okay, this is not a weekday-after-work-and-the-kids-are-a-screamin’ quickie meal.  This one lends itself better to weekend cooking.  Although the gumbo needs only cook for about an hour, the prep-work takes a bit of time.

I like to have all of my ingredients prepped if they are added at the same time or within minutes of each other.  So, I chop and dice everything and toss it into one big bowl, or into several small ones if the ingredients are added separately.

Back to the gumbo!

Gumbo is a true peasant food and a characteristic of true peasant foods is that they can be prepared using DNA (“Darned Near Anything” or “See” food).  In the case of gumbo, virtually any meat can be used…and virtually any meat has been used by folks around the Gulf Coast where the dish “grew up” in America.  Folks around the bayous use everything from alligator, snake, frog, shrimp, squirrel, ‘possum’, and whatever fish can be hooked, noodled, or netted.  Despite the variety of meats used in gumbos, most Yankees tend to believe there is only “shrimp gumbo”.

Not so!

Shrimp is not allowed to cross the threshold of Casa de Phyne Dyner.  Consequently, I am grateful that gumbo can be made with virtually any meat…or be made entirely meatless.  A vegetarian friend in Texas (go figure!) introduced me to a very fine bowl of “tofu gumbo”.

Cajun and creole foods are one of the “holy trinity” of favorite restaurant foods Americans order when dining out.  Rounding out the trinity are Italian and Mexican cuisines.  I find this interesting.  Many of the frequently ordered dishes from these cuisines are easily prepared at home.  Why wait to have great gumbo dining out when you can make great gumbo at home?  ‘Tis a puzzlement!’

Let’s get started!

A good roux is essential to making good gumbo, as well as many other dishes of the Gulf region.

Roux is simply flour, fried in fat (oil, butter, grease) in a 1:1 ratio.  Heat the fat in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over high heat.  Slowly stir in the flour and fry it until it reaches the “right” color for the dish you are making.  Dark brown, almost chocolate, has an intensely nutty flavor that compliments stronger meats and vegetables.  Or, a light golden roux may be used for delicate dishes (not all Gulf Coast food is bold-flavored).  I make several cups of it every time I bake bread.  It stores well in the fridge, and stores almost indefinitely in the freezer.  Just break it down into one-cup portions when it cools.  I store mine in freezer bags.

For our “See-food” Gumbo you will need:

1/2 C flour

1/2 C vegetable oil

2 C finely chopped onion

1 1/2 C diced celery

2 C sliced okra

1 C finely chopped green pepper

1/2 C finely chopped red pepper

4 bay leaves

1 TBS anchovie paste

4 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 tsp dry thyme (or 2-3 tsp fresh)

1 TBS Worchestershire sauce

2 skinless chicken breasts (and/or 8oz smoked sausage)

8-16oz (white) fish fillets or loins (cod, tilapia, etc.)

4 tsp file powder (ground sassafras)

2 TBS dry parsley

6 C water

salt and pepper

For heat add one of the following:  1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1-2 minced jalapenos, 2-3 minced banana peppers.  Make it as fiery (or mild) as you like!  If you like “HOT”, mince the peppers with their seeds.  Heat is very subjective, so start “mild” and work up to “hot as Hell” while the gumbo cooks.  You can always add more heat.  But, once added, it is in there for good!

NOTE:  Or, use any meat you like!  That is why gumbo is truly Phyne Dyning!

Heat the water to boiling.  Add the whole chicken breasts and return to a boil…then reduce to simmer.  Cook for 20-30 minutes.  Remove the chicken and set aside to cool, RESERVING the cooking water.

Make the roux by frying the flour in the vegetable oil until it is a deep brown (6-8 minutes).  Some cooks do not care if it burns a bit…some do.  Just do not allow it to turn to charcoal!  When the roux is dark brown, stir in the onion, peppers, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and celery.  Fry in the roux over medium heat until the vegetables soften (about 8 minutes).  While the veggies are cooking, cut the chicken breasts into small cubes.  Stir into the vegetable-roux.  Add four cups of the chicken cooking water to the vegetables-roux.  Stir in the anchovie paste, dry parsley, file powder, Worchestershire sauce, and okra.  Also, add in the cayenne or other “hot stuff”.  (NOTE:  I use dehydrated slices of whole jalapenos!).   Cut the fish into bite-size pieces and drop into the gumbo.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  After 5 minutes reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes and stir frequently.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed just as the gumbo finishes.  Recheck the seasoning and adjust just before service.

Some cooks add uncooked white rice to their gumbo.  I do not.  I serve my gumbo, spooned over a bed of cooked white rice.

Texans tend to eat their gumbo with plenty of cold beer or iced (sweet) tea.  I learned to eat mine, like a Cajun, with glasses of room temperature (cheap!) red wine.  This is a meal that can stand alone, or serve it with pickled vegetables or other condiments.

The Phyne Dyner talks about “stuff” (Part Deux)

In Lifestyle on July 19, 2011 at 11:49 am

It has been a few months since we talked about “stuff” here on Phyne Dyning.  The published blog is a little less than a year old and the concept crossed the one-year mark several weeks ago.  We are still here and still writing about the Phyne Dyning lifestyle.

Since the past few months have brought new followers to the chosen lifestyle of Phyne Dyners, maybe this is a good time to sum up the Phyne Dyning philosophy?

(Photo credit: Brad Marakian)

Phyne Dyners do not merely march to the beat of a different drummer.  A true Phyne Dyner marches to the music of an entirely different band.

Poke around the blog a bit and find out for yourself that Phyne Dyning is not a “foodie” blog…it is so much more than that passing fad.

Dying media

The local newspaper, The Des Moines Register, continues its struggle to remain relevant.

Newspaper readership (nationally for all pubs) continues to slide by nearly 10% every year.  The Register’s racks at my local mass food retailer are as ignored as the laxative aisle, except by a few octogenarians who buy both.


Future home of the Des Moines Register

Now in its death throes after sacking writers (?), the Register frantically tries to attract readership, any readership, with its online format.

There, they treat their online readers to a cornucopia of banner ads and crawls which readers swat away like mosquitoes.

It its bid to encourage civility, the Register conducted a purge of “offensive” online comments (and commentators).  The effort was well intentioned, but stories now enjoy comments numbering in the tens, by the same dozen or so online Register-approved regulars.

If the Romans took the gladiators and wild animals out of the Coliseum, nobody would have attended their games either.

I wish him well

On hiatus, but still a better read than the Register, is The Cookauthor of the dining and food blog at

The Cook now wears the owner/chef hat at a new vegetarian/vegan eatery in the downtown Skywalk.

He and I share many similar attitudes about food reviewers, food carts/trucks in the late-night downtown, and many other issues.

I wish him the very best with his new place and hope he finds time to pound out a few thoughts on his keyboard from time to time.  In the meantime, poke around his blog archives.

A tip from Mrs. Phyne Dyner

Potato salad is a big hit at our house when the weather turns hot.  We are not huge fans of air conditioning and would probably entirely disdain it, if not for our elderly hounds.

When I left for a paying gig last weekend, I told (plaintively begged) Mrs. PD to whip up a big bowl of ‘tater salad so we could use up our supply of big baking potatoes.

Rather than boiling the aforesaid ‘taters for twenty minutes, she popped them into the microwave and “under” baked them.  After letting them cool, she slid the skins off and cut them down for the salad.

No added residual heat from boiling pots!

Hound update

Long-time readers know about our brace of elderly greyhounds.  (Lord) “Jack” has been slowly slipping away, but remains happy to be with us.

Now, “Abe”, our most-senior hound has joined Jack in a final race.  As with Jack, I also carry Abe outside so he can lurch about the garden.  One of my daily chores is to deal with his pile of wet nappies.

Abe (L) and (Lord) Jack (R)

Despite all of this, both old men seem to enjoy their lives.  They wildly careen about at mealtimes and then collapse on their beds in front of a fan.

Most painful for us are “well-meaning” comments from people who “know best” that it would be better if we “put them to sleep” (the euphemism for “kill”) so we “can get on with your lives”.

The old boys will let us know when the time comes.  Killing them for our convenience is not an option.

From the “What in the heck are you thinking?” desk

One of my morning coffee pals was grousing about his employer the other day.  He works in a small company with about fifteen other workers.  There have been no raises for workers for well over five years and “Christmas” bonuses were eliminated while the company, according to the owner/boss, “tries to remain competitive”.

As everyone who works for a living knows, prices have gone up.  Despite “no inflation” (?!), things cost more than ever and worker’s wages have remained flat.  The mantra of many employers has become, “Be damned grateful you have a job.”

One of my pal’s coworkers has a house facing foreclosure and another coworker has daily fencing matches on the telephone (at work) with a credit card company.  They have not been “irresponsible”.  Up until two years ago, they were just like everyone else.

The boss, who knows not the word “raise” and who eliminated holiday season bonuses without notice, is going to tour some of Africa on his upcoming vacation.


The end result of "Let 'em eat cake" philosophies

He circulated a sheet of paper to collect email addresses from his workers, “So I can send you pictures from our vacation.”

 But wait! There’s more!

Last month, the boss invited his workers to go out to the parking lot and “check out” his new car.


The elitism continues downtown

The battle against food carts in late-night Des Moines continues.

Food carts provide a portal for entrepreneurship in food service.  While the carts are not a grand investment on par with a brick-and-mortar restaurant, their (up to) $20,000 price tag for a mere pushcart is not mere falafel crumbs.

What does “Duh Moynes” do to encourage these entrepreneurs?

It forces them to move off (not merely stop serving food) promptly at 1:30am…when bar patrons begin pouring (literally) into the downtown streets.

Injustice rules long before closing time…

The bladders of patrons, full of beer consumed in the downtown bars, become the responsibility of food truck vendors who are required to provide toilet access within 500’ of their wheeled eatery!

The local police, anxious for a lighter workload, have labeled food carts and trucks “violence magnets” and the peacekeepers clamor for the carts to vanish.

It begs a question or two…

Why are the coppers tolerant of brick-and-mortar places that sell food after 1:30am?  Why doesn’t the city shut down all cafes and restaurants…why just the food carts?

Of course, the problem must be the carts…not the mass quantities of beer, well drinks, and drink specials consumed in downtown bars.

Des Moines doesn't bother with's more subtle.

If collections of people around carts (or anywhere) promote violence, why are people permitted to congregate by the thousands at the Iowa State Fair?  Why do the police tolerate I-Cubs games?

Left to the wisdom of police leaders, to prevent violence, Iowans will be allowed to sit quietly at home with their hands neatly folded in their laps.

It boggles the mind.

And that is why I am not only a Phyne Dyner…I am the Phyne Dyner!

Thanks for reading!






Sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, capers, red peppers…spell “Heaven”

In Recipies on July 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Phyne Dyners will recall that the home of the Phyne Dyner recently completed a month-long shugyo (Japanese: “austere training”) consisting of meatless dining.  The close of the month inspired us and made our palates more appreciative of the flavors so many of our fellow Americans take for granted.

Our Independence Day steaks were pure ecstasy!

Today’s recipe hails from our latest shugyo experience.

This is a recipe destined for a great future.  The ingredients are healthy beyond belief.  There are sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, garlic, sweet-red peppers, bold olives, and strong tones of capers, garden fresh basil, and oregano.

The sun-dried tomato is one of my favorite ingredients.  Anyone who has experienced dried “anything” will attest to knowing that the flavors of dried (raw) foods is exactly like that of fresh…magnified many, many times.  Consequently, the “berriest” berries are dried berries.  A sun-dried tomato will give you all of its flavors in one, compact package.

They are pungent-sweet and the sunshine within them explodes on the tongue like a Roman candle.  Ahhhhhh!

Next on the flavor parade…fresh red-sweet peppers.  When combined with the flavors of tomato…pure Heaven!  We often serve roasted or sautéd red peppers with pasta.  They taste like…Summer!

Remember, these are the foods of our human ancestors!

The recipe also uses bold, kalamata olives.  They have a “meaty” flavor and texture.  Please do not substitute those horrid black, California olives!  When using kalamata olives in any dish, always be sure to feel each slice for pits and pit fragments.  Blowing out dental work with an olive pit…is the pits.

The spinach adds a third, bitter, dimension to the dish.  “Bitter” has bitter connotations.  However, when presented alongside the very sweet sun-dried tomatoes and the “camphor-esque” flavors of fresh basil…the “bitterness” of the spinach recedes to a mild undertone or “foil”.  It also adds a delightful green freshness to an otherwise “red” plate.


…the herbs!

Fresh basil and fresh oregano are essential to this dish!  It is possible to prepare this dish using dried herbs (use 1/3 of the amount specified), but using fresh herbs will make it BEYOND spectacular.  I beg you not to substitute dried herbs (unless it means forgoing the dish).  Many supermarket mass food retailers sell fresh basil and oregano.  Try them and vow to grow your own herb garden next year!

And, to top it off…


Capers are immature peppercorns preserved in brine.  They are a staple in many Mediterranean and North African dishes.  On (infrequent) lazy Sunday mornings, we love capers with kippers (or salmon) and eggs.  Just be sure to rinse them carefully, lest your sodium intake explode.  By the way…serve your kippers, capers, and eggs with carefully crafted “mimosas” of mediocre champagnes and OJ.  Experience a decadent “rich man’s brunch” for less than $5 per person!  (This is Mrs. Phyne Dyner’s favorite “breakfast in bed”.)

I digress!

Here is the recipe.  A (*) indicates that a substitution is possible.  In my opinion, this recipe is best prepared using the ingredients specified.  However, a minimally passable representation of the dish can be made using substitutes.  The substitution list is included.  After all, Phyne Dyning is about making “do” with what we have and the Phyne Dyning lifestyle disdains all things pretentious.  I beg you to try the dish in whatever form you can…THEN go for perfection!

Here we go!

8 oz (by weight) mostaccioli pasta*

2 TBS olive oil (from oil-packed tomatoes)

1 large sweet red pepper thinly sliced

2 C oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped**

2 C spinach leaves, finely chopped***

4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 large onion, chopped

1 C kalamata (or any bold, dark olive), chopped

½ C (packed) fresh basil, minced

1 TBS (packed) fresh oregano, minced

¼ C capers, well rinsed

½ C “Phyne Dyning Romano Blend” (below)****


* rotini or penne pasta

** or simple vacuum-packed sun-dried tomatoes with 2 TBS olive oil added

*** equal volume of frozen, chopped spinach

****store-brand Romano cheese

Phyne Dyning Romano Blend:  To one cup of finely grated pecorino Romano cheese add… ¼ C Panko breadcrumbs, 1 tsp sea salt, ½ tsp freshly ground pepper.

Prepare the pasta according to package instructions.  I prefer mine to be slightly al dente and undercook it by a minute or two.  Drain and rinse the pasta and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and red pepper to the oil and sauté for three minutes.  Stir in the garlic and sauté an additional two minutes…being careful not to allow the garlic to brown.  Reduce heat to low-medium. Add in the tomatoes, olives, spinach, capers and herbs.  Cook, uncovered, for 5-6 minutes.  Toss in pasta.  Remove from heat.  Fold in the Phyne Dyning blend or store-bought Romano cheese.  Toss well to blend.

Serve with crusty bread, a stout (!) red wine, and a fresh garden salad (lots of fresh feta!).

I absolutely guarantee that you will forget that you are eating something “healthy” when you sit down to a plate of the above.

It is a flavorful and satisfying food…decadent enough for a Roman emperor…but humble enough for a Spartan warrior.

Enjoy! (All rights reserved 2011)

What an anarchist taught me about patriotism…

In Editorial on July 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm

The Vigil (Photo: Shrieking Tree Blog)

For over a year, a group of protesters has adorned the corner of University Avenue and 22ndStreet, adjacent to the dying Valley West Mall.  Some days they quietly stand, holding signs, demanding the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and decrying torture.  On other days, they clamor for attention from passersby aided by a bullhorn.

When I first saw them, I admit that my first reaction was one of mild amusement.  Des Moines just is not the kind of place where people protest, or even speak up.  It always seemed to me that Iowans are content to stand in quiet, orderly lines waiting for loose-meat sandwiches.  Disagreement appeared to be limited to anonymous name-calling on the forum pages of the city’s only daily newspaper.

Because the protest (they call it a vigil) appeared so out of place, my amusement gave way to curiosity.  In an unremarkable state where all nails are dutifully hammered flush, what would motivate these folks to risk further notice from the hammer?

An acquaintance, and member of the vigil group, directed me to Youtube where the group posts videos of the goings-on during their vigils.

I was hooked!

Members of the vigil group are witty, articulate, and armed to the teeth with counterpoints to “facts” recited by indoctrinated fans of torture by the state.

When harassed by the West Des Moines police (a fairly regular occurrence), they calmly stand their ground.

I am particularly enamored of their video entitled, “Police Tell Us It’s Okay to do Legal Things”.  The opening frames of “I Pledge Allegiance to the United Corporations of America” are a close second.

I strongly doubt the West Des Moines police would take as much interest if the group were handing out little “Support the Troops” magnetic ribbons.  Taking time from their daily battles against “guns, gangs, and drugs” to hammer down the nail that stands up appears to be a regular pursuit by WDMPD officers who seem to hate freedom as much as they hate the Taliban.

Again, what would motivate these folks to be attention magnets for the hammer?

Perhaps they are outraged that their government would condone child rape as a mechanism to extract information from detainees?

Omar (center) in happier days. (Wiki Leaks Center)

In fairness, Omar Khadr (age 15 at the time of the interrogation) was never raped.  He was tortured.  In addition to physical torture, an American interrogator threatened him with rape if he did not provide information as demanded.  Khadr was eventually convicted (by a seven-member military tribunal) of killing an American soldier.  He was sentenced to a forty-year term in prison.

Aside from my concerns about the impartiality of any tribunal in matters where the case involves the death of someone wearing a similar uniform as members of the judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, and jury…I have other issues.

From the American Declaration of Independence:

“He (King George III) has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.”

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”

“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences.”

“For depriving us, in many Cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.”

Many people see no problem with what we have become.  “Terrorists” are people we are told are “terrorists” and these “terrorists” are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

Then, there is the story about the hapless Dilawar.

Dilawar owned a modest taxi service that supplemented his peanut farming in Afghanistan.  When US soldiers stopped his cab after an attack on a US base, one of his passengers was searched and found to be carrying a “suspicious” cell phone and a voltage stabilizer.

It seemed irrelevant to his eventual killers that Dilawar had no electricity at home.  He was spirited away to the Bagram torture center.

Dilawar, when his abusers were finished with him.

Diliwar was severely beaten, hung by his arms from the ceiling, and died of a pulmonary embolism (directly resulting from his legs being “beaten to a pulp” by US interrogators).

His death occurred a mere five days after his apprehension.

Again, to be fair, Dilawar’s abusers were brought to “justice”.  A few of them were convicted and given slaps on the wrist in comparison to the forty-year sentence imposed on Omar Khadr.

The only similarity is that Khadr and the sadistic killers of Dilawar were provided trials by the US military.

How about the case of Ahmed Errachidi, a London chef who was denounced to the CIA for a bounty payment of $5000?

Ahmed Errachidi "Dear Chef Errachidi: We apologize for any inconvenience..." (BBC Photo)

To be fair, I will specify that a US military tribunal cleared Errachidi of charges.

I wonder if he got one of those corporate-style, “we apologize for any inconvenience”, letters?

Again, to be fair, a lot of Afghanis (and others) really do not like America.

To be fair, it must be observed that spiriting away sovereign citizens across an ocean or two, beating a few of them to death, and depriving any number of innocent people of their liberty for years (in conditions ironically similar to the “Hanoi Hilton”) tends to upset people anywhere.

England’s similar behaviors angered America’s Founding Fathers to the point that a bunch of farmers gave an eventual beat-down to what was then the world’s mightiest army.

It would seem there is a lesson for contemporary America in our own history.

Okay, I get it.  Now I understand why these half-dozen or so young “nails” refuse to be hammered down.

But what about their methods?

The vigil-holders use a variety of props to make their point.

They dress in orange jumpsuits and wear black hoods in a fashion identical to detainees and US torture victims.  Occasionally a member will lay on a cross in Jesus fashion.  They wave, place on the ground, and stand on a flag.

Ah, the flag.

No, it is not the flag.  It is a facsimile of the US flag.  It differs by virtue that the stars have been replaced by familiar corporate logos.

When waving the flag failed to arouse reactions from spectators, the group began laying it on the ground and walking on it.

That got attention.

I find the video content absolutely enthralling.  The angry veteran listens to the group’s explanation.  After a few minutes, it is clear that he is thinking about what the group is telling him and the lights seem to come on for him.

He eventually leaves.  He does not agree with the group’s methods, but he is thinking about their message.

And that was the intention of the vigil-holders.

I have to admit I have some mixed feelings about their flag antics.

From a distance, the piece of cloth looks every bit like an American flag.  I certainly understand how this may distress people.  I would be similarly upset if I saw a group of neo-Nazis burning a sefer Torah (Torah scroll).

(NOTE:  Torah scrolls are pricey, often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This is an amount typically out of reach for even the most productive neo-Nazis.  Therefore, seeing a skinhead burning a real sefer Torah is only a remote possibility.)

I also understand the point made by the vigil group’s front man, Justin Norman.

“Why is it that people get more upset about a symbol than they do about people?”

It is an excellent question and a valid point.  If I had to tear a US flag to shreds so I could manufacture a makeshift bandage with which to staunch the flow of blood from a severely injured person, I would do so without hesitation.  If I had to set fire to a US flag so I could ignite a life-saving fire in the midst of an Iowa winter, I would do it.

(NOTE:  And yes, I would use a sefer Torah to start a similar, life-saving, fire.)

So, what is wrong with attempting to save lives by being disrespectful of a mere facsimile of a US flag?

Mr. Norman makes that point eloquently.

Why are passersby benign to acts of torture committed, in their name, by their government…but incensed by a facsimile of a national symbol on the ground?

How can passing Iowans look at the autopsy photo of Dilawar and not feel the same outrage?  Is it because what the flag represents is “real”, while the dead Dilawar is not real to them?

How would they feel if, instead of Dilawar, the dead man’s name were “Sorensen”, “Williams”, or “Jones”?  What if it was their loved one who was anonymously denounced, abducted in the dark of night, taken to a distant place, tortured, perhaps killed by his torturers, or returned years later without as much as an apology.

Would they say, “Well, to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.”

I do not like seeing our flag, or a close representation of it, laying on the ground or being trod upon.  I am not distressed out of patriotism, or what passes for patriotism these days.

I am distressed because the vigil group fails to understand that the American flag does not represent any past or current US government.

The flag represents an idea.

The flag represents an idea that every human being is created equal and that every human being has inalienable rights bestowed on him/her, not by governments, but by a Creator.

I want Justin Norman’s group to stop placing a representation of the American flag on the ground.  They will not stop until we do something.

The fastest and most efficacious way to get them to stop is by us demanding that America stop acting like the very tyrant Americans shed over two hundred years ago!

The American Declaration of Independence belongs to Americans.  But, the principles behind it belong to every human being.

Every time I see the vigil with its mock flag in the dirt, I am mildly distressed.  At the same time, I am overwhelmingly elated.

Except for the behaviors of a few members of the West Des Moines Police Department, I know that all is well with liberty in America.

And while the self-described anarchists within the vigil group may wrinkle a brow in puzzlement of my assertion, their group is as patriotic as any action by any soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman.

What America should stand for, stands regularly on the corner of University Avenue and 22nd Street…in front of a dying mall.

To be sure, there are likely people who have committed, or conspired to commit, evil deeds behind the razor wire of detention centers.  Justice demands that they be held accountable for their crimes.

The emerging American Dictator

Less than 1% of detainees have been convicted of anything and one does not create justice by imposing injustice upon the innocent or by rampant cruelty upon the guilty.

We are what we believe.  It is time for America to return to believing in the reasons that compelled them to rebel against the injustice and cruelty of the Crown.

It is past time that our own government started acting like Americans, and not like a tin-hatted, banana-republic dictator with a funny moustache.

Phyne Dyning is not just about food

In Lifestyle on July 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

We became water conservation addicts during the ten years we lived in the desert country of West Texas.  There, our monthly water bill could exceed the cost of the electricity we used to keep cool.  We left West Texas with a genuine appreciation for water stewardship.

Although we now live in a region where monthly rainfall matches the annual rainfall amounts of West Texas, we continue many of our water conservation practices today.

It is part of our Phyne Dyning lifestyle.

Water ‘ranching’

As Phyne Dyners, we keep a small, but active container garden.  It keeps us in cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers of all types, eggplant, and “free” herbs.  In the absence of rain, it consumes about three to five gallons of water per day.  Our ornamentals consume another three to five gallons per day.  That can be up to three hundred gallons of treated (city) water per month.

Consequently, we ‘ranch’ water.  That is to say, we harvest water and put it to our use.

In Iowa, a single rain barrel fits our needs.  In West Texas, we had a battery of ten such barrels connected in series to collect roof runoff during infrequent, desert downpours.

During periods of no rain, our single barrel can provide three to ten days of water for our plants, depending on the needs of the plants.

If we go without rain for longer, we begin supplementing our barrel with water that would otherwise go to waste.

Water salvage

It takes about 1.5 gallons of water to run through our hot water system before the hot water reaches us for dishwashing or showering.  If the rain barrel is low, we capture this water and pour it into the barrel for later use.

We find we can reclaim about ten gallons of water per day just by collecting cold water as we wait for it to get hot for a shower or other washing needs.  This is treated water that would otherwise go right down the drain.

We shudder to think of leaving the water running in a sink for the 2-3 minutes it takes to brush our teeth.  Doing so is a wasteful practice that can consume hundreds of gallons of treated water per month!

While we carefully wash all produce destined for our table, we reclaim about 60% of the water we use for vegetable washing.  This gets added to the rain barrel reserves.

It is all part of a Phyne Dyning lifestyle

Now that we live where water is plentiful, I have to admit that our practices do not have much of a financial impact.  The monetary savings that result from our water stewardship are minimal at best.  However, that a practice does not pay monetary dividends is not a good reason not to engage the practice.

Like many aspects of a Phyne Dyning lifestyle, the benefit of its aspects are in the discipline the lifestyle requires.

Although we enjoy having a deep freezer full of meats, we recently took a month-long meat free shugyo (Japanese, meaning “austere lifestyle”).  The practice required us to think about our food and gave us a sense of accomplishment that cannot come with wolfing down a Big Mac over the kitchen sink or in hoping our presence in a posh eatery will be noticed by our Facebook “friends”.

When we returned to our meat-eating diet a month later, the steaks we enjoyed were beyond sensational!  That is not to say we missed meat.  We ate very well during that month and enjoyed some spectacular meals.  Rather, the austerity gave our lives the mind-blowing uniqueness that is signature to Phyne Dyning way of life…a lifestyle where you are not part of the all-consuming human herd.