Saturday, September 23, 2006

mole'chiladas, 3-beans and a sweet thing (friday night's menu)

Man, I love chocolate. On my trip into the Sierras, I ate it everyday, as I am sure many other backpackers do. It is certainly a time when you can justify the calories. Chocolate is a good way to have a high-calorie per unit weight food (not the best, but palatability can be a huge factor in the back-country,) it is good for fiber (that is, if you like it dark, less sweet, and in quantity) and needs no preparation (in bar form.) This photo, upon review of my trip, was taken on the first night that I didn't eat chocolate for dinner. The previous two nights were too cold to justify spending time cooking much of anything. When the wind calmed for a day, and I feasted on that gorgeous Sierra afternoon and evening (see previous post) I was full when it came time for dessert. I may have skipped eating chocolate that night, but I thought about it. I thought mortar and pestle. I thought mole. This sat in the rock-like vessel of my head, and was ground around for a few days until my first real opportunity to cook something that would take much more than an hour. With a guest from the past having dinner with us, I had occasion to make what had been mashed. Dark chocolate ancho mole.

I knew what I wanted in it, but the proportions were lacking. I began my search for a new recipe by consulting recipelink and decided that as usual, recipes are really just outlines. The resulting concoction is something I am quite proud of.

I began with 2 ounces of dried ancho chili peppers that I seeded and stemmed and put in warm water to soak for about an hour. While this was happening I ground 1/2t coriander and 1/4t cinnamon stick in the mortar. To this I added 1T sesame seeds and almost 1/2c blanched slivered almonds. When this was a nice consistent paste I added 1/4t ground clove and then began adding the chili peppers after mincing them in batches. Upon pastiness being reached I added 2 large cloves of minced garlic and about 2T powdered chocolate. This looked nice, but needed the dried fruit component (raisens?) The monkey suggested that we go out in the yard and pick some blackberries and I thought, "what a great idea!" so we went out in the yard and harvested some blackberries and strawberries (they are on the way to the blackberries.) About 1/4c of mixed berries made it in the mole and I continued to pound, pound, pound, grind, grind, grind. In went 1/2 a yellow onion (chopped) and then yet more grinding and pounding. At this point there was too much in the mortar to contain, so I opted to start sauteeing the paste in a few tablespoons of olive oil, figuring that the onion would break down just fine. Over a medium heat, I heated the chocolatey paste for about 15 minutes and then added about 1c veggie stock and began simmering. This continued for about an hour, with frequent additions of 1/4 - 1/2 cup of stock to keep it from becoming too thick. In the end, it was a thick dark paste, begging to become enchilada sauce.

As this was cooking I boiled some water and added 1c israeli couscous. After ten minutes I drained it and gave it a qiuck rinse and then added some canola oil to it while I began chopping 2 nectarines and 1/2c toasted and salted almonds. I added these to the couscous with the juice of 1 lime and a good 1/2t of "oh Peggy Hill, this need nutmeg!." The result was nice, but not as sweet as I was envisioning so I added some agave nectar to taste. Hmmmm, still not right. I look down at the monkey as she grabs a dried fig from the counter and once again I am inspired. In goes about 8 fried figs, all chopped up, and now it is just right. All together, it was sweet and nutty, and kinda like a dessert pasta salad, if you can picture such a thing.

I'd also been jonesing for a 3 bean salad, and Barbara had bestowed upon me a ton of fresh herbs during my last visit so I was primed for an herby, oil and lemon coated salad. I used 1 can each of organic garbanzos, white kidneys (cannellini) and pintos. To these I added from the garden 4 small diced tomatoes, 1 largish zucchini (julienned for a short noodle-like effect,) 1/2 cup thinly disced baby carrots, 1/4 cup chopped basil, 1T oregano, 1t rosemary, and 1T of fresh thyme and 1/4c parsley from Barbara. For the dressing I used 1/4c of the mildest olive oil we have and the juice of 1 lemon, plus salt and pepper to taste.

With the salads complete, I sliced 1/2lb of crimini mushrooms and a large onion and began sauteeing them in some olive oil. Shortly after, I crumbled in a block of tofu (quickly sliced and hand pressed.) After the onion and tofu were getting golden yellow, I removed the mixture from the pan and added veggie stock (2c maybe) to de-glaze. I then added about 1c of the mole and stirred it in. The resulting sauce was intoxicating. I soaked 3 tortillas (blue corn) at a time in the sauce and commenced enchilada construction. Along with the sauteed mush/onion/tofu combo I added grated vegan spicey cheddar. With 6 enchiladas in a small square pan, I doused it with the remaining sauce, a touch of the cheddar, and baked it covered with foil at 350 for about 30 minutes.

The baked mole'chiladas completely satified the chocolatl yearnings. The bean salad was tangy and herby, while the couscous was sweet and nutty. Together, they tested many parts of the palatte, and to me, seemed to please them all. It was a foray into some new territory, that resulted in "Ohh, that's good" from a few at the table (see ya soon M.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

fine dining at 11,162 feet (approximately)

Sorry for not posting anything in the last few weeks, but I've been busy planning a trip into the Sierras to see big mountains and wildflowers like these, and do some fishing. Of course, I planned on bringing some sourdough starter, so I also had to do some experimental baking before taking off for the high country.

Pictured here is my "backpacker's oven" in the fancy granite kitchen of camp (without the fiberglass and asbestos cover, as my experiments at home didn't warrant the use of it.) Under the pan, hidden by the windscreen is a pepsi-can alcohol stove, fashioned at home before the trip. Nothing too fancy, but an art nonetheless in getting the results you want. As the finest cooks will tell you, practice, practice, practice.

I hiked out of the North Lake trailhead (near Bishop) with the intention of going up over Piute pass and into Humphreys basin with a destination of Desolation lake. Being as though the average elevation of the basin is about 11,000 feet, I knew it was going to be cold and I would want to cook some hearty food to nosh on (when the weather would cooperate that is.) I had been told that the fishing was great in the area, so naturally some fresh trout would be on the menu.

Talking to other backpackers on their way down, I heard reports that Tomahawk lake had plenty of brookies and a few goldens. Considering the weather, I aimed away from the barren realm of Desolation and found a place to hunker down at Tomahawk. That afternoon, I tried fishing, but my line was freezing up as it came out of the water and was forming icicles on the first eyelet of the pole. Not exactly fun fishing weather. I made some tea, ate a Lara bar and chocolate for dinner and decided to try my luck tomorrow.

The next morning after some hearty oatmeal and STRONG coffee, I got to fishin'. I let the first three go, and then after an hour or so of no luck, I vowed to keep the next one I caught. Luckily I hooked up with a nearly 14 incher. Before the fish became lunch it looked like this:

After being beheaded and cleaned, rubbed with chili, onion and garlic powder, as well as salt and pepper, and fried up in a pan, it looked something like this (I had already eaten the tail section before snapping the photo, so the fish did actually fill up more of the pan.)

Mmmmm........blackened brook trout. Now that IS tasty. So, that was lunch, what about dinner?

I had fed the starter I brought with me on the previous day, but the cold temperatures and hellacious wind had frozen it near solid during the night (ambient air temp was in the mid 20's when I got into the tent at 6:30 pm, with the windchill factored in, it was single digits!) After the delectable lunch, when things were nice and warm (we're talkin' 11,000 feet remember, so this means 60's) I kneaded some dough and placed it inside the tent on the black nylon of my sleeping bag to rise, with the door flap open and a shaft of sunlight striking the pan directly. This blocked what tiny breeze there was, and proved to be the warmest place around, so after a few hours my dough had risen at least 50% and was ready for some toppings.

That's half whole wheat dough with italian seasoning, as well as onion and garlic powder mixed in. One bag contained grated gruyere and parmesan (done with the world's smallest grater,) and the other pine nuts. The plastic cup holds a mix of reconstituted sundried tomatoes and wild mushrooms.

Baked, it was most excellent. In fact considering the view, and my appetite, it was one of the finest pizzas I have ever had.

It was such a nice day in the Sierra, I held up a slice, and toasted to the Glacier Divide to the South (that's Muriel Peak and Mt. Goethe for those who care,) vowing to recreate this pizza for whoever is brave enough (or is that CRAZY enough) to come on my next fine dining trip above timberline.

Thank you mountain gods, for allowing me to experience one of the nicest days of this fall in our heavenly Sierras.......

Monday, September 04, 2006

conchas ahumadas de tia

This was the scenario for most of yesterday afternoon, opening the lid to have this fine view. I'm convinced that long-time smokin' masters actually develop "smoke eyes," and have the ability to discern what the food looks like through smokey haze.

Todays wood is almond (once again from the family farm.) It burns nicely and lends a sweet smoke flavor. When it clears a bit and I can see, it looks like some of the regulars are there: salmon, ahi, pork ribs, and whats this......scallops?

Aren't those supposed to be cooked fast, and barely?

During the last smoke session, Aunty came up with an idea. "Hey D, what do you think about smoking some scallops?" Uhh......I don't think I've ever heard of that one, maybe its for a reason. "Yeah, like some of the big ones, so they don't fall through the grate, or dry out in 5 minutes. I think they'd work just fine, maybe brined like the last fish you made.....the sweetness of the scallop would go nicely with the smoke." It was a fine point. "Maybe I'll buy some at TJ's and we can try it the next time you fire up the smoker." So, with friends coming over this weekend, I had occasion to fire it up. I talked to Aunty and she gave me a bag of enormous frozen scallops. I put them in a brine made with water, salt, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, shallot and garlic. The same brine was used for the fish. The ribs were done with a "special" new rub consisting of brown sugar, salt, fresh ground cumin, coriander and pepper, paprika and cinnamon. All of the respective meats were then put in the fridge overnight.

The ribs were yummy, the salmon and ahi damn fine, and the scallops........well they tasted great, but the consistency was a bit strange while they were still warm (maybe thats why I hadn't heard of them before.) We let them rest, put them in the fridge and tried them later. Much better cold. In the future, I think I'd slice them finely, and garnish something with them or julienne them and make it an ingredient in a cold salad.

Or leave them whole and just eat them, cause they sure were pretty.