Thursday, January 31, 2008

local winter verde

We've been broke (looking down at belt and tightening one more notch) so now is where we really start paying more attention to the shopping bills and start combing the cupboards for meals. Happy that we put up a lot of stuff this past summer, most particularly in September, it is time for the freezer and pantry to shine. We've been enjoying endless english muffins slathered in jam, but we need to dig deeper into dinners. I had porky goodness on the brain. A roast put in the freezer way-back-when, for occasion just such as this came to mind. Mmmmm, chile verde. Local ingredients, our hard work at food preservation, and craving for succulent pork shoulder in a mouth watering green sauce all came together. It was a Dark Days Challenge inspired: Winter preser-verde dinner.

Pork shoulder and meat stock from the freezer. Tomatillo sauce from one of those crazy canning sessions. More from the pantry in the form of whole wheat flour and homemade salt (not much left these days, might be time to make some again) are ready for dredging the meat before frying it in olive oil and ploppin' in the crock. I just love cooking like this. Defrost, powder, brown, braise. I can handle that. When the weather is cold and damp, nothing says loving like braised pork shoulder.

(sluuuuuurrrp!) Lookin' good!
Green, chunky, seedy. That's pretty darn verde to me. It was now time to work on the rest of the meal as this stewed for a few hours and shrank in volume. Not really due to evaporation but as a few pieces of pork are sampled throughout the process. Who can deny this delight in such braising events? Not me. Nope, and an unh-uh. Can't do..........

And the final result?


It felt so primal and good to enjoy this feast. Hot, local, porky and all. I enjoyed the feeling so much I had seconds. Which, come to think of it is more like thirds or fourths after all the tasting during the cooking. Mmmmmm, here's to no self-control in the kitchen around braised meat!

And wait, I can't forget to give credit a bit here. This verde sauce was lacking in heat compared to another batch I made. In subsequent leftover helpings I gave it punch by adding a few crumby pickled peppers (that you don't even want to know what I had to do to get my hands on a jar of) to the dollop of local sour cream. The first bite and right there it went over the into that: I will remember how this tastes right now and forever, vowing to recreate it with future frustration and never quite get there kind of dishes. Those ones are tricky. Could have been the moon cycle, the humidity and day of the week that all conspired. For sure, the peppers kicked ass. Well, I won't forget to mention the produce and local bounty, but still, for this one, it all came together soooooo well......(licking last bit of sauce off fingers as I finish typing this..........)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

curing bacon

We have a lot of stickers around here. Stuck to just about anything it can seem sometimes, while others, like these, oh-so-deliberately placed. A nice little dancing diorama constructed on the edge of the art and craft table. (You know what they say about idle little hands.) But this little scene makes me think of how just four and a half short years ago I never ever thought it possible for one person to have a wardrobe that is nearly completely pink. Tutus have been in. Pink of course. Worn at the very least every third day, at some point, but typically daily. Lots of pink swirly prancing about, that I now accept completely as part of my daily life. A part of it reminds me of life in the Castro when I was in college. But, like wow, talk about a whole 'nother post.

Anyway, this past holiday season brought many viewings of the Nutcracker. Combining the tutus and all with a date to the SF Ballet production, we now have a self-proclaimed ballerina. Well not just one, as apparently the girls in our family are. Since the wee one tends to stand on his toes when he is upright, I've been joking and calling him a ballerino. Girlie monkey informed me that he couldn't be because he was a boy.
"Oh, really?" I asked.
"Yeah, mommy and me have the ballerina gene.........but I don't think you do daddy."
"Well, you have me there kid, I'm not much of a dancer."
"Yeah with those BIG feet!" she chuckles.
"Uh, right. So, I guess because mommy has the gene and you came out of her, then you must have gotten it from her!"
"Yeah!" squeeled at about 100db, which during the final second went inaudible, likely on into the dog whistle range.
"Well, maybe since your brother came out of mommy too, then he could have the ballerina gene?"
I was just dying to hear her response.
"Yeah, maybe," she sighs.
"Yeah, maybe?"
"Yeah.............but I don't think so. Because he just kind of hops around and doesn't really dance. I'm pretty sure he got that gene from you."
For four, that's a good grasp on genetics. But this isn't about genes, its about that dancing and prancing about that accompanies little ballerinas. So when I say I heard a loud crashing sound coming from the monkey's room last week you'll know the background.

It was supposedly "quiet time," which is anything but in her room, but outside of it in the rest of the place it can actually be nice. Not quite quiet, but tame for sure. So there I was in the kitchen when I heard a loud crash and resultant spill of toys, followed by a uuuhhhh, uuuUUUUUAAAAHHHHHH, UUAAHHHHH, AAAHHHHHHH!

Oh shit! Time to step away from the oven and sprint into the other room while simultaneously yanking the lil' one from his high chair and putting him on the floor where it is safer. The elder monkey makes it to me first and is pointing at her chin and whimpering, tears all down her face and wetting the floor.
"Oh sweetie, what happened? Did you smack your chin?"
"Uhhnnnhhh, huhhnnn."
"Ohhhhh honey, let me see." She lets me check it out and there is a mark under it, but more importantly there is blood in her mouth. "Let me check out your teeth, are they okay" I get out, not waiting for an answer while starting to open her little mouth and have a look. Everything looks good in there. Oh wait, here it is, she punched a hole in her bottom lip when she went down on her face, despite what looks like her chin absorbing most of the blow.
"Looks like you smacked your chin pretty hard and bit your lip pretty good honey. What do you say lets go get your boo-boo bunny for that huh?"
"Yuh-yeah," said with the lips still trembling and the tears slowed down to a trickle.

I look in the fridge and don't see the bunny. I open up the freezer and start looking around. "Sweetie, I can't find the boo-boo bunny, maybe we'll have to give you some frozen peas or something to put on your chin," I say while moving items out of the way and digging around.
"Daddy, we could use that bacon for my chin. I think that would make it feel better."

Anybody fail to see the logic in that one? If so, sorry. Well, okay, here I'll try. My explanation would go something like: to my daughter, bacon can function like a security item, much like a blanket. When she is in pain, she wants security. When she is in pain and needs some icing to keep down the swelling on something, then frozen bacon it is. Sounds like the ultimate fix, mollifying the coolness and comfort needed in the situation with one fix. I'm proud of that kind of thinking in my off-spring.

After twenty minutes of holding it to her face and repeating in a four-year-old version of Homer's voice "mmmmmmm, bacon," I decided it was time to put the bacon on the inside of that chin for some more therapeutic uses. I fried it up. The monkey requested some, citing "oooooh, some nice crispy bacon will definitely make my chin feel better!" She ate about three pieces, making this disclaimer with each piece until I said we needed some to put into our dinner. We had some sweet pea linguine, dry jack and half-n-half just waiting for a cream sauce. I carmelized some onions in the bacon grease, then sauteed up our cauliflower and carrots in the mess thinking I'd hide them in the sauce and kids would love it. I tossed the remainder of our bacon in and hoped it was enough, thinking at the very least it would taste like it was in there whether we saw it or not.

We dished up and sat down.
"Eeeww! That's yuck!" was the response from the elder monkey. She has really been experimenting with this one, saying it even when she eats all of what she had such disgust for. H and I looked at each other and said in stereo cool, more for us then. The wee one seemed to like it just fine, especially the creamy bacony noodles. Elder monkey managed to eat some of the creamy cauliflower. We were all happy the bacon did it's job at being a healing agent. The curative power of bacon. Who knew.

The next morning I was cleaning up and the monkey requested that we have some bacon again. I picked her up to show her that there was no more in the pan, and that although she can smell bacon, it was just hardened fat.
"What's that?" she asked.
I looked at the greasy image and thought I saw something.
"That?" Looking at the forks crossing fat mold. "Oh, I think that's where the bacon fairy must have spent the night."
I pictured the little thing all snug in the grease for the night, and then prying her little self away to fly off in the morning.......

I guess no matter how much anyone tells you, there is no way to really get across how much your world will be changed by your children.

Especially when it yields such tasty dinner.

Friday, January 18, 2008

austral thoughts:


It's one of those California days where it's sunny and mild, right smack in the middle of winter. My thermometer says 67 in the backyard, all protected from wind and alive with hummingbirds. The pineapple sage is abloom. Rosemary too.

Still. There was frost on a few cars this morning and despite the afternoon highs, night has a chill. It's puny by comparison to other environs, but this my friends is winter for here. So, for yummy goods this time of year, well, I guess it's time for something preserved and winter-like. Sauces, jams, chutneys. Beer. But, beer is good in summer too, right? In fact, it's all good in summer.

Didn't you wish it was summer? You could be there you know. Now. Call this a blatant ploy to get you to read my friend Leena's blog. It is. But it's also really about asking you to go here, read about what she needs to complete a Masters in Gastronomy, and then do her the favor and take her survey. It is a matter of life and limb I'm afraid, and if you don't take the survey then pooh-pooh on you. Think: If the Wrangler only knew, he'd be over here breaking my knuckles or something else they probably do to folks in Chicago where Leena is from. Right now. Come on, doesn't the thought of cracked limbs scare you into action?

Wait, I'll one-up myself here and say that if you have not taken the survey, then don't even read any more of this post. Please, exit now. Either take the survey for your own health and the future health of your knuckles, or go home.

This is for scholarly reasons. I'm letting you know right now because time is at a premium. Leena needs your help right now. Your help and input concerning U.S. based food blogs and the effect they may or may not have on traditional U.S. print food journalism. If you are a U.S. resident and have any opinions and/or thoughts about this topic, go take the survey. If you don't, then just go take the survey. If you have not taken the survey yet, and you attempt to read beyond this point, you will explode. Totally and really. Explode, like KA-POW!!!! (Which, by the way, is like, waaaay more excruciating to go through if your knuckles have already been mangled)

If you reside outside the U.S, then, and only then are you exempt. Well kinda, but you still have to go persuade your friends in the U.S. to take the survey. Or you too will explode. Pretty please, with sugar on top? Y'all have through January 28th to pull it together and let her know what you think. Do it.

Well, now, I really hope you do explode, mangled-knuckles-and-all, if you have made it this far in this post without taking a moment for the survey.

Please?..............Take it!

And just in case you think that being a family member, friend, neighbor, or someone else who sees me regularly in real fleshy life makes you exempt from taking it, think: no more christmas cookies, beer or cider, or pretty much anything homemade from the Monkey Ranch for you! Until you have redeemed yourself, and convinced me that you did. (And yes, sorry to sound harsh but this includes you Mom.)

And now, for those who have found it in their heart to complete the survey (sorry, one more time for the lame-o's who haven't done it yet) this is for you:

Holy Crap! What do you do with eight pounds of rhubarb?


Seriously, this is a ton of the stuff. After the high winds and gnarly weather we had around here the week before last, it was getting on high time to go clear out some of the rhubarb that was quite beat up and torn looking. Turns out that most of the leaves were ripped rather well, but the stalks were just fine. Only a few were cracked. So I went out there and got all abusive and tore off most of the stalks that were anywhere past completely upright. I know from experience that the stuff will grow back in, and thick, in just a few weeks. With some tiny strawberries just showing their cute little selves again, it should only be another month or two until we can make my favorite strawberry crack sauce. Maybe I'll have to try a hand at canning some jam in March this year, but I suppose I'll have to check out the storage we have available first. Time for a garage check.

So there we were, out in the garage. Checking on the produce that needs using, preserved items that need consuming, plus some beer and cider that needs cellaring. I can do something about the produce, and some of the beer, in order to make room, but the rest of the hooch I'll have to put in a box and bury deep within the hardly-used-or-accessed back wall of our "garage." It should be nice and chilly in there, as we treat it as only storage and no one ever opens it with any regularity. Seems to me like it would be a nice place to "seasonally forget" about what alcoholic items are available for raiding. The kind that should "age" rather well that is, and need a form of intentional ignoring.

So, winter time and the living is easy. The garden is showing some promise of potatoes and a few onions at least. The blueberries I planted behind it all are not showing to be any worse for the wear of transplanting. The hops too. They're acting dormant right now, but with some new soil around them and tender loving care they just might produce a little crop this year also. The rhubarb, up front and center will flourish no matter what we do, or don't.

There you have it. A brief glimpse of life in oaktown in the middle of winter. Good eats, good drinks, even a little good gardening. Still, it's summertime somewhere else. Namely for the lower half of the planet. Go check it out, and if you're a US resident who has read all this and STILL NOT taken the survey.........well, I guess you're hopeless in the helping out department. You probably never comment here either, you just read and read and read and probably, every now and then think "this guy is such an ass!" But I'll never know if you don't write. So............

Go ahead, let me know. But more importantly, from now until the end of the day on January 27th, 2008, for US residents, GO TAKE THE SURVEY!!!!!!!!

I'll shut up now. But only if you've taken the survey. If not, I'll see you in your dreams..........

If you have, please let me know you did by leaving me a comment. Consider it a form of bragging to the Monkey Wrangler and whoever else might be crazy enough to be reading any of this. Please, please, please?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

persimmon and corn soufflé; californio dreamin' part two

Jan. 12th, 1864
Dear Uncle Garner,

I find myself thinking of you again, as you are the relative that I confide my "new world" produce experiences with; this occasion I made a Kakee soufflé. A "what was that my dear?" you are probably mouthing as reading this. Well, that is right Uncle, a Kakee! It is really a form of a persimmon, somewhat like the ones encountered on my trip through the Ohio River valley, some twenty years or so ago, only this time much larger and easier to deal with if, if I may say so. Anyway, the manner in which these "simmons" (as some call them) came into my kitchen is that an Asian man in the neighborhood, hunched over and hardly able to see toward the horizon (from years of Railroad work I hear, not his current farming ventures) has taken it upon himself to introduce me to these bizarre orange fruits. Upon receiving them, I was in a quandry as to what to call them since he pressed a basket of them into my hand and then proceeded to sneeze. I promptly said "bless you" and placed the gift on the counter. He gave me a look of confusion and began saying over and over what he must have said when I thought he sneezed, with each repetition slower, making a point in pronouncing each syllable sharply: "Ha - Chee - Ya." Seeing my reaction, he quickly smiled, grabbed my hand and began squeezing it as though I were his child, then with a little shrug of his shoulder he spoke in a very reassuring tone and laughingly said "Ka - Kee." I smiled back and repeated: "Kakee!" I can't say why exactly, as both words sat wrong on my english speaking tongue, but I found I preferred Kakee.

I find this new fruit most delectable and very sweet, but with a pudding like consistency that is much too soft for me for wanting to eat out of hand as one would an apple. Maybe making a true pudding with it would be splendid? I had been wanting sweets of late, but my last sack of sugar has been empty for months. Luckily, some relations returning from an area drained by el rio de los reyes had recently given us several jars of honey. I have put this on my corn meal pudding lately, and even spooned it onto toasted pieces of wheat bread. But when I received the Kakee and found I wouldn't be eating much of them uncooked, I thought of combining them with the honey to make a pudding of sorts. With this thought in mind I immediately spoke with my neighbor, a Mrs. DuBois, who seems to have quite the mastery in her own kitchen. She informed me that she had no idea what this "slimey orange pulp in a skin" was, but in a pinch I could at the very least make a soufflé. She then explained how it involves separating eggs and treating the respective parts with the utmost care and attention, yielding divine results both sweet or savory she assures me. The texture of it she described as something we know to be a bread pudding. I was intrigued and made up my mind to try my hand at one. Thus was born the persimmon and cornmeal soufflé.........

now, back to today, or more realistically, two days ago:

So there I was. Staring in the freezer at two cups of frozen orange pulp labeled Hachiya. We had a lot of eggs, a jar of honey on the counter and I was feeling adventurous. I did a search for "persimmon soufflé" and was disappointed with the results. I figured, sheee-iiiit, as a food blogger, I can do something about this. Post a little something, label it accordingly and in the near future, if enough traffic comes my way you will soon be able to use this search phrase and come directly here. Consider it a form of direct action that involves no regard for demographic and whether this recipe is fit for the masses to read on paper. I said to myself: "Self, I will run an experiment. Can little 'ol Monkey Wrangler, use all local ingredients (within 200 miles for this experiment), make a yummy dessert AND have immediate effect on the internet search for persimmon soufflé?" The answer, we shall find out is up to you, the reader.

I had some fun last year about this time, using the voice of a deceased relative, who 140+ years ago lived here as a Californio. It was fun to imagine myself in their shoes with trying to make sense of the "local" ingredients and having to make do in order to feed the family. With the ingredients I chose for this post, I soon realized that this was another great candidate for a similar experiment. All local ingredients, likely available in this part of California mid last century, and made by hand. So here goes nothing.

Have you ever made a soufflé?

They are really much easier than they sound. If you are at all familiar with what an egg can do for you in the kitchen then there really ain't too much mystery about them. Another way to say that is that if you understand the physics and chemistry involved with eggs, this should be easy peasy. I started the whole thing off by taking out my eggs and setting them on the counter to get to room temperature. I gathered up the whole grain products, tasted a spoonful of the honey for calibration purposes, and put my Hachiya pulp in a pot to cook just a touch and then press through a sieve. With everything assembled, I separated the eggs, turned on the oven, and prepped my dish for the fluff.

After much arm breaking whisking, rue making, pudding flop-plopping and the like the experiment was closer to reality. With the fluff carefully placed in the dish and its stiff paper collar in place, I loaded it into the 400 degree oven and hoped for the best. This was a first for many ingredients in a soufflé here at the monkey ranch: sweetened with honey; whole grain wheat and corn used; and pectin thickened persimmon pulp. This was most certainly uncharted territory, that was maybe, just maybe, soon to be charted. Searchable that is.

It worked, it worked!

Well, it wasn't the lightest, fluffiest cloud of egg ever, but considering it was a heavy recipe to begin with, I was most pleased with the results. If you consider yourself a whole grain lover, this is just the thing for you. If you don't, you'd probably think someone just handed you a scoop of bread pudding that must have had some corn bread and graham flour in it.

Well, thank you dear readers for getting through this post. If you are feeling adventurous and really like persimmons, give this a try some time.........

californio kaki n' corn soufflé:

2 cups persimmon pulp
4 large eggs
1/2 c honey
1/2 c cornmeal
1/3 c butter
2 T whole wheat flour
pinch of salt

remove eggs from the fridge at least one hour before doing anything. put the pulp in a pan and cook over medium heat until it plops. remove and press through a sieve into a small bowl. separate the eggs. heat the butter in two quart pot and add the butter, whisking it over medium heat until it bubbles and begins to brown slightly. add the pulp and the cornmeal and stir most vigorously. temper the egg yolks in and cook for another few minutes until a light boil is achieved. set aside and cool to near room temperature. while this is cooling, preheat the oven to 'round fer-hunnerd degrees. prepare your soufflé-appropriate dish and beat the egg whites to a medium peak. casually fold the egg whites into the now tepid persimmon and cornmeal pudding of sorts until almost completely combined. gently and of course still quite casually, guide this mixture into the dish and put into the oven. try not to giggle the oven too much when you first peek at the thing at around 15 minutes into the cooking. somewhere around 20-25 minutes in, the desired brownness will occur and the middle won't be all wiggly-jiggly. remove from the oven and try some before giving to anyone else.........

Hopefully it looks something like this. If not, all I can say is that maybe you should try a real tried and true recipe from a professional! Although I doubt they would make this version, let alone publish something about it, for fear of losing some readers and thus money.

Still, I couldn't find a persimmon soufflé recipe and did something about it. Or so I think, let me know.

Later 'taters! Catch you soon!