Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dolmades from Solar Power

When we set up an appointment with a solar power company to talk about how to move forward for our future electric needs, I had no idea this would be the result: dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves.

This is the way it happened: Bernie set up the appointment, and gave me the option of sitting in on the presentation and process -- I had things to do and didn't want to be bothered. When the representative arrived, Bernie greeted her out in the front yard garden and chatted with her about it, because she was so impressed with the growing food and wanted to come live there. Bernie needed to call some past electric company records on his computer, so he handed the rep, Lamis, off to me to show her the back garden.

She noted the lemon tree, the plum tree, the shady oasis -- and then dove for the grapevine that stretches twenty feet along the fence. "Do you make stuffed grape leaves?" she asked. "Oh, no? Okay, I'm going to cancel my lunch meeting and show you how!"

We quickly ascertained that I had all the necessary ingredients on hand, and then we listened to her presentation and what design we'd need for a solar power system. Done, she turned to me and said, "Let's get some grape leaves!"

Grape leaves for stuffing should be young and tender, about the size of your hand with fingers outstretched. No stems. We returned to my kitchen with handfuls of leaves, and began. Here are all the ingredients we used:

Grape leaves, blanched for a few seconds in a pan of boiling water
1/2 pound ground lamb, browned with
3 fat cloves of garlic, diced.
2 tomatoes, diced
a small handful of fresh parsley, minced
1 cup of rice, steeped in hot water for the time it took to prep everything else
1/4 onion, sliced into rings
another tomato, sliced
olive oil
tomato paste
beef broth

The lamb, garlic, tomatoes, parsley and rice, with a drizzle of olive oil, the salt, pepper and cumin got mixed in a bowl. One by one, we rolled up teeny spoonfuls of the mixture into the blanched grape leaves. The mixture is placed in the middle, just above the stem stub, the sides are folded in, and then you roll it all up to the top. It holds together remarkably well.

Lamis squirted another tablespoon of olive oil into the bottom of a pot, put the onion rings and tomato rings in (to keep the grape rolls from scorching) and then stacked the rolls tightly together. She mixed half a little can of tomato paste with water, poured that over the top, and then added a cup of beef broth.

A small plate was put on top of all that, to keep the grape leaves from moving around and unraveling. "Bring it to a boil," Lamis told me, "and then turn it down to low and simmer it for about an hour." Off she went to her next appointment.

I am truly glutted tonight from those incredibly delicious dolmades. Bernie nearly fell to the floor at his first taste; Lillian pounced and gobbled a plateful when she got home from school. Honestly, I have never tasted anything like them, even though I have been served "dolmades" at restaurants and potlucks before. (The past dolmades get quotation marks from now on.)

And the other surprising thing was the encounter with Lamis as well. Her family is Middle Eastern in origin; my ethnic roots are in Mexican culture (and of course Central Pennsylvanian, where I grew up in my Dad's home town), but there was nothing strained or false in harvesting food together from the garden and sharing camaraderie in the kitchen while we prepped and talked about our family histories.

It was a tremendous amount of fun.

Around 2pm the phone rang. It was Lamis, making sure that I'd turned off the dolmades, and very happy to hear that we loved them.

I hope to hear from her again.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

With warm weather allegedly coming home to roost this next week, it was time to switch over the kohlrabi planter to a cucumber garden. Here are my lovely kohlrabi, washed up and leaves removed.

Peeled, sliced into half-inch slices, blanched for 80 seconds, ice-bathed for 4 minutes, allowed to dry, flash-frozen, and packed into 10-ounce bags, it all now resides in our freezer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Chard Harvest

 First things first: get your pot of boiling water ready, with an ice bath nearby, and a plethora of toweling to dry things off a bit, and a timer. Not shown is the colander for the ice bath, so that you're not fishing around in that pan trying to get your chard pieces out.

Then you get some energetic younger person to drag in 1000 tons of chard from the garden, and cover your table with it. Then you whine and wheedle them to separate it into bundles of a dozen stems each.

Next step is to admire its leafy beauty, because you grew the stuff in a raised planter box in your front yard. Then it is time to begin the processing.

Using your chef's knife (which you have sharpened to the point of being able to slice though your daughter's calendar edges on the wall) you run the edge of the knife down the back of each stem, separating the colorful center rib from the green leaf. When you have a stack of leaf halves, you curl them up to make a tight little log, and then cut thin strips, making adorable little pinwheels of green. Cut the pinwheels in half and put them in a prep bowl. Next, chop the ribs into bite-sized colorful pieces and put them in a separate bowl.

Blanch the greens for 1 minute, ice bath them for two. Blanch the rib bits for two minutes, ice bath them for three. Put them both on a cookie sheet and flash freeze them before packaging them for eating when the weather is too hot to have fresh chard.

When you can finally stand to even look at chard again, cut a white onion into halves, then cut THIN ribbons and saute them in a tablespoon or two each of butter and extra-virgin olive oil. Add the chard, and cook until tender. Add a bit of salt and some garlic powder, and at the very end, a few squirts or squeezes of lemon juice.

This will provide the impetus for planting chard again next fall. (Or early spring if you live in areas where the ground freezes.)

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Uhh...Happy New Year? When Was That?

It's not surprising that January went by quickly, what with NFL playoffs and ridiculously mild weather to begin the new year, but what about since then?

The week before the Superbowl, I came down with the flu, obligingly brought home from Kindergarten by Joma. What a shame, because John had bought me two big packages of chicken wings to cook up for gameday snacks. I mean, what is a Superbowl for but eating goodies all day and hoping the Patriots lose? But although my fever had broken by Sunday, the lung and throat irritation made it impossible for me to cheer as the Eagles won, and for the next six weeks, I was worthless. I slept sitting up (in a sling chair with pillows propping me on all sides), then graduated to the couch where I could sleep propped at a little less of an angle, and after a week into March, was able to lie down in my own bed.

Whew! Twas shitty, let there be no doubt.

Nevertheless, February brought THE longest bloom of the almond orchards I've ever experienced, and their perfume of our air was glorious. I knew I shouldn't be sucking in all that pollen-laden breeze, but I could not resist creeping outside to revel in the beauty of the scent, even if it did make my coughing worse.

And then there was this: my wild almond tree on the north side of the house, planted by some God-sent scrub jay a few years back, was finally mature enough to pop out two lovely blossoms.

I'm looking forward to being alive for a few more years, and hoping that I'm around long enough to stand within my almond tree in its February bloom, drinking in the lovely air, with bees buzzing all around me.

Also I hope that the medical profession does a little better at homing in on which strain of flu their vaccines prevent. I sure don't want to lose two months again next spring.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Not Good Art

Now that Christmas and Thanksgiving are past, I felt I could finally talk about this image from BHG in 2016.

The photo credit is a person named Andy Lyons, with "Prop Styling" by Sarah Cave.

What was the title? "Turkey with Gonads"?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Back to Meat

Some weeks ago I posted a recipe for marinated tri-tip steaks, and promised that the next time we made the dish, I'd do a better explanation of how to cut the tri-tip into steaks.

The red arrow is the point where you want to begin slicing.

Working in cuts of about an inch or so wide, you work back from that point, which allows steaks cut against the grain of the muscle -- the first step in tenderizing a cheap cut of meat.

Kind of an aside from the topic, it's not a budget-breaker to get a good knife. I bought a Victorinox 6-inch chef's knife, perfect for my rather arthritic little hand, and I use the bejabbers out of it. Worth every penny, and it just glides through the meat.

There -- that's the first cut of steak. Tiny, but that's okay. They get bigger. You can kind of see the grain of the meat running from bottom right to top left at a 45 degree angle.

As the strips get wider, you just cut them in half when you're done with each strip. Don't peel that fat off (except for the fibrous top layer, which looks like skin and is nasty) because the marinade turns the fat into a seasoning bomb.

The part of this roast that had me a bit peeved was the area where you can see the grain, where the butcher had trimmed the fat away. Dangit, when I buy an "untrimmed tri-tip" I want my fatty goodies.

So there you have them, lovely little fat-marbled steaks that will soak in that marinade and make your eyes roll up in your head as you eat them, beautifully caramelized on your charcoal grill.

I'm still loving turkey leftovers from Christmas dinner, but just looking at these pictures again makes me want to rummage in the freezer for a tri-tip. Maybe for New Year's ... can I substitute a tri-tip for pork and sauerkraut and still have New Year Luck?

In other meat news, Bernie rolled out his LEM sausage stuffer (his Christmas present) yesterday and made up a batch of his excellent sausage mixture. It went smoothly and easily, and we ended up with nine pounds of gorgeous, delicious sausage.

Looks just like Peachey's Farmers' Market back in Amish country in Pennsylvania in the early 80s. Yum.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Blue, Green, and Yellow

Every six weeks or so, Chewy.com delivers a 44-lb bag of dog food to our porch. It's inside a box, and to minimize the movement of the bag of dog food, the box is then stuffed with brown packing paper.

Last year I used the brown paper as Christmas gift wrap -- with sprigs and spots of color to decorate up the neutral tone.

This year, I thought I'd try something different and dye the wrapping-paper-to-be with Rit liquid dye. I had a number of wads of the packing paper, so I put the hottest tap water I could get into a kitchen trash can, added a big pot of boiling water, a whole container of Rit Royal Blue (8 oz), and stuffed the paper in.

Some of the packing paper more or less disintegrated into shreds; some made some really cool patterns (the second batch will be the wrapping paper), but the color was INTENSE and infected my imagination, as I happened to have squirreled away a heavy corrugated cardboard panel that came with my studio Football TV.

With some purchases of green and yellow Rit, I set to work, dyeing paper and unfolding it on the front lawn to dry.

Armed with the dried papers, a couple foam brushes, and Mod Podge, I more or less completed this decoupage torn paper panel today.

I say "more or less" because there are a couple areas I want to tweak, including removal of the blue stripe in the ochre area.

It was a ton of fun, and I look forward to trying other projects like this.