Drivel Food

Treehugger: TreeHugger 100-Mile Thanksgiving Challenge

Treehugger: TreeHugger 100-Mile Thanksgiving Challenge

Beth and I are strongly considering taking the 100-Mile Thanksgiving Challenge. But it’s a bit difficult. (I guess if it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge, now would it?)

So far we’ve found a decent variety of ingredients all grown or raised locally – beef and pork, mushrooms, cheese, pumpkins, squash, and beans. But I doubt we’re going to find some of the stuff that’s pretty traditional for Thanksgiving. For example, I doubt there is a flour mill within 100 miles that mills wheat grown within 100 miles of here. So that eliminates most kinds of bread, rolls, pie, and cake. There’s a turkey plant right here in Broomfield, but I don’t think they have a retail outlet and I have no idea where their turkeys come from.

And just try finding salt, pepper, wine, beer, or soft drinks where all the ingredients are from 100 miles or less from Broomfield! Even Coors, with their famous “Rocky Mountain Water” (formerly “Rocky Mountain Spring Water” but they dropped the “Spring” a while back) uses hops from too far away.

Drivel Food

another thank you note

I forgot to mention this, though it happened several days ago. Not even a week after I got a thank you note from the people at Stang Auto Tech, for taking my truck there for service, I got another personalized thank you note from the owner and head chef at a restaurant we visited a couple weeks ago. The restaurant is called Rioja, and it’s on Larimer in downtown Denver. The food there was very good, although the service from our waiter wasn’t outstanding. But it was nice getting a card from the proprietors afterwards, thanking us for our business. I thought maybe I’d written a mini-review of Rioja, but I guess not. Anyhow, it’s expensive and didn’t seem unusually Mediterranean (which is its supposed theme), but it was quite tasty.

Food Music

Conviviality Love Circus photo

Just in case you missed the “Conviviality Love Circus” play, here’s a photo of the cast. Unlike last year’s Conviviality cast photo, you can actually see me in this one! We had a cast reunion party Friday night and watched the video of the show, which was a hoot.

Touch the photo with your pointer to make it bigger.


Ah, it’s got Nutrasweet!

I figured out why the new Coca-Cola BlaK has only 45 calories (see yesterday’s blog entry, below). It’s because it’s got a mix of high fructose corn syrup and aspartame (Nutrasweet) as sweeteners! The coffee flavor does a pretty good job of masking the hideous taste of the aspartame.


Coca-Cola BlaK

Have you heard of this new beverage from Coca-Cola? They’re calling it “Coca-Cola BlaK“. I saw it at the store today so I had to buy one to try.

According to the company’s press release:

Coca-Cola BlaK is a sophisticated, premium blend of Coca-Cola, natural flavors and coffee essence. The effervescence and rich flavor of Coca-Cola BlaK provide the perfect pick-me-up for people looking for new ways to stay refreshed any time of the day or night. “Coca-Cola BlaK is a uniquely invigorating beverage that is full-bodied in flavor and as refreshing as you expect Coca-Cola to be,” said Katie Bayne, senior vice president, Coca-Cola Brands, Coca-Cola North America. “There is no other beverage available today quite like Coca-Cola BlaK. Imagine the refreshing taste of an ice-cold Coca-Cola that finishes with a rich essence of coffee. Only Coca-Cola can deliver that distinct combination of flavors.”

Since I’m not a coffee drinker, the “coffee essence” isn’t anything too special to me, but they’re taking the “premium” part of the product description pretty seriously. It’s sold in a single 8-ounce glass bottle (that’s 2/3 the size of a normal can of Coke) at a definitely-premium price. On the plus side, the drink only has 45 calories, which is a notable change from the 150 that a can of Coca-Cola Classic has.

It definitely doesn’t taste as sweet as Coke does, but I’ll have to wait a while to see if it’s the “perfect pick-me-up” which is, I assume, their way of saying there’s lots of caffeine in here. The taste doesn’t suck. It’s strangely different. I guess it tastes like Coke mixed with coffee and not as sweet. I poured it over ice. Not sure how it would taste straight out of the bottle.

Speaking of Coke, when we were in the Bahamas the week before last, I had a Pepsi or two. Boy were they good. As you might imagine, soft drinks there are made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and I can tell the difference. I should’ve brought some back with me, I guess.

Oh, and since I’m writing this blog entry under the category of “Food” I should probably mention that I made some really good barbecued beef ribs for supper last night. Tonight, we’re having a friend over, and so I’m smoking a beef brisket. We’ll also have fresh baked bread and grilled corn on the cob and strawberry shortcake. Should be yummy! And then to celebrate National Ice Cream Day we may go over to our neighbors’ house to share some ice cream.

Food Recipe

Borracho Beans

It wasn’t until I took a Spanish class that I learned that borracho means “drunk”. I’d had borracho beans at restaurants before but didn’t realize the source of the name. They’re called borracho because the beans are cooked in beer. Here’s my recipe.

4 cups cooked pinto beans
1/2 pound bacon
1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 can of cheap beer, preferably left over from a party
ground pepper
cayenne pepper

Cook the beans in advance. You want 4 cooked cups of beans, not 4 cups uncooked. Cut the bacon into 1″ pieces. Chop the onion and the garlic. Cook the bacon in a pot until it’s almost crispy. Add the onions and garlic, sauteeing in the bacon fat.

Then add 10 dashes of cayenne pepper (more or less depending on preference), some ground pepper (again, to taste), and the rest of the ingredients including the beans. Cook all these on medium heat for a while. Leave the cover off to let some (but not all) of the liquid simmer off.

This makes 3 to 6 servings, depending on how hungry you are.

Food Recipe

Blue Corn Lamb Tamales

Ok, this is a big undertaking. I’ve only done this once. But before I get into the details, let me give you some background.

I came up with the idea for this recipe not long after reading a Hopi cookbook. As you may or may not know, the Hopi (and the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico) are masters of corn. They have several varieties they use for different purposes. And one of these is the fairly uncommon blue corn. If you’re not a fan of southwestern cooking you may not even be aware that there is blue corn, and even if you are you may have only seen blue corn tortillas and chips. Blue corn has a sweet, nutty taste compared to the common yellow or white corn most of us are used to. And it’s not nearly as widespread. Because of this, it’s more expensive.

Now, about the filling. Anyone who’s ever had tamales has surely had pork tamales. Pork seems to be the most common filling, though beef and chicken are also seen. But pork really isn’t seen that much in native southwestern cooking. Ever seen a Hopi herding pigs? I figured mutton seems to be a lot more representative of Indian cooking in the desert southwest. And after thinking about this a while, I thought blue corn, in addition to giving tamales a very unusual appearance, would give a sweet nuttiness that would combine well with the gaminess of mutton.

So I came up with the idea for blue corn lamb tamales. The toughest part was getting the two key ingredients.

The dough for tamales is made from what’s called masa. It’s not the same as corn meal, nor is it the same as corn flour. Masa is corn flour that’s made from corn which has been treated in a special way with lime (not the citrus fruit but the mineral). Masa that’s made from blue corn instead of yellow corn is called harinilla. I looked locally in the Denver area for some place that sells it, and couldn’t find anyone who does. So I had to buy some mail order from a store in New Mexico. I found a couple of online stores that carry it, though the one I bought from doesn’t list it anymore.

Then came the lamb. My local supermarket, King Soopers, doesn’t carry much lamb. They have some lamb chops but what I really needed was a lamb roast. I talked to the butcher and we decided I needed a half a leg of lamb. So, he special ordered a leg of lamb, cut it in half, and sold me the smaller half.

Next, I found 3 different recipes for pork tamales online and took the best parts from each of them and turned them into my own, which I will reveal now. I’m splitting this process into three main parts – making the filling, making the dough, and putting it all together.

The Filling

1 pound shredded, roasted lamb
6 oz. dried red Anaheim chiles (the package I bought was labeled “chile de ristra” and I can only assume they were dried Anaheims since that’s usually what ristras are made from)
1 can of condensed chicken broth (Campbell’s, for instance)
3 tablespoons Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons flour (regular wheat flour)
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
vegetable oil

Roast a half a leg of lamb until it’s adequately cooked on the inside. This’ll take two to three hours in an oven of around 400 degrees, depending on the size of the lamb and how well done you like your meat. Once it’s thoroughly roasted, let it cool to the point you can rip it apart with your hands. Pull all the meat off the bone and shred it by hand into small pieces.

This should give you about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of shredded lamb, but you won’t need that much. You only need 1 pound. Save the rest for lamb curry (recipe not included here) some other day.

Set your 1 pound of lamb aside because it’s time to make chile sauce. Boil the dried chiles until they’re pliable. Then clean them under cold water, removing seeds and stems and anything else that isn’t the skin of the chile. Heat a little oil in a saucepan and saute the chiles lightly, just enough to release the flavor. Then soak them a few minutes in cold water.

Fire up the blender and puree the chiles along with 2 cloves of garlic, 1 can of chicken broth, and the oregano. Add water as needed to make it all blend together nicely. Many recipes say to strain your chile puree at this point to remove any remaining chunks of chile skin or seeds, but I’m lazy and didn’t do that.

Now sautee the remaining clove of garlic in oil, press the yummy juice out of it and remove the rest. Add the flour and salt, stirring it all together. Then pour in the chile puree. Stir and heat to simmering. You now have a beautiful deep red chile sauce.

Add the shredded lamb to the sauce, along with enough water to make it all juicy. Simmer it all together for a while, stirring regularly. Once you’re tired of simmering and the flavors are all mixed together, you’ve finished the tamal filling. Set it aside.

Now, before you start making the dough, it’s time to limber up the dried corn husks you’re going to use to hold the tamales together. You should have

2 bags (12 ounces) dried corn husks

Soak the husks in a pot of hot water for a couple hours or so. You’ll probably need to put a heavy plate on top of the husks to keep them submerged.

The Dough

36 ounces (6 cups) harinilla (also called blue corn masa)
2 cups lard
1 can of condensed chicken broth (Campbell’s, for instance)
2 tablespoons salt
vegetable oil

In a bit mixing bowl, whip the lard with an electric mixer. Whip it. Whip it good. You want it to be light and fluffy. Whipping lard isn’t easy and it’ll take a while if you use an electric hand mixer.

Slowly mix in the harinilla, along with the salt, the chicken broth, and a can of hot water. Crank up the mixer power and whip it more. You should be getting a nice blue goo. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and enough water to get a good consistency. You want this to have the consistency of pancake or cake batter so you can spoon it into the corn husks easily.

Putting It All Together

First, take a break. You probably earned it from all the whipping. Besides, your corn husks may need to soak some more. Once they’re wet and pliable, take some out of the water and pat them dry. It’s time to assemble the tamales.
Take some of the worst looking corn husks and rip them into long strips. You’ll use these strips to tie the ends of the tamales closed. Some people use string for this, which is stronger but not as pretty.

The other recipes I read to figure out how to assemble these had some complicated instructions that I could never get to work. I think the problem was either that I’m not as coordinated as the people who wrote these recipes, or my corn husks weren’t as big as theirs. Anyhow, I settled on a process that worked well for me. It’s very simple and I’ll explain it here, but you can form your tamales however you want.

Take a corn husk and spoon in about 2 tablespoons of dough. Spread this around into a little rectangle that will be the outer layer of the tamal. One edge of the rectangle should be up against the edge of the corn husk. Now, spoon 1 tablespoon of filling in a line on top of the dough, with dough sticking out on all sides. Fold over the side of the husk that has dough up to the edge, wrapping the filling in the process. Wrap the rest of the husk around. Pinch the top and bottom together and tie them each off with one of the strips of husk you made.

What you should end up with is a thing that has the shape of a big Tootsie Roll. The tamal is in the middle and the ends are nicely tied off. Keep making these until you’re out of batter or filling (I ran out of batter first). Then it’s time to steam them.
If you’ve got a steamer, great. Use it. I improvised by putting a little cooling rack type thing inside of my largest pot. Put water in the bottom, not quite touching the rack. Toss in a coin. This trick is to give you an audible signal how fast the water in the bottom is boiling.

Pile the tamales on top of the rack and cover the pot. Fire up the burner and let it all steam for 3 hours. As far as I know, it’s not possible to overcook them. Since they’re just steaming, they’re not going to burn. The coin will shake around in the boiling water to let you know it’s working. If the coin stops, you probably have boiled off all the water and need to add more.
After 3 hours, the tamales are done and ready to eat. You can also freeze them for another day. Or give some to your friends, because you’re going to have a lot of tamales, probably around 40 or 50.

I recommend serving these tamales on top of some borracho beans, with shredded cheese on top.

Food Recipe

Pico de Gallo

Todd’s Fresh Salsa (called “pico de gallo” by those in the know)

8 Roma tomatoes
4 tomatillos
1/2 jalapeno
1/2 yellow onion
1 cup cilantro
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
juice of 1/2 lime

Roma tomatoes are much better for salsa than the big round tomatoes are. Roma tomatoes have more “meat” to them and less water. My mother loves this recipe but has found she doesn’t like tomatillos very much, so she makes this salsa without them and puts in a couple extra tomatoes instead. Frankly, tomatillos don’t add a whole lot of flavor, but are a little tangy and add some green to offset the red from the tomatoes. If you can’t find tomatillos in your part of the world, this recipe will still be good without them. But you MUST have Roma tomatoes, not the kind you slice for hamburgers.

Rinse the tomatoes and skin and rinse the tomatillos. Skin the onion. Rinse the cilantro in cold water using a colander. Cut the stem ends off the tomatoes, then cut them each in half lengthwise. Cut the tomatillos in half lengthwise, too. Throw them all in a food processor that has wide blades and is turned off. Cut the onion into 1″ cubes and toss those into the food processor along with the jalapeno and salt and pepper.

Set the food processor for the lowest setting and hit the Pulse button. It’s important to avoid using a high speed or letting it go too long. If you do, you’ll end up with very finely chopped salsa, which is runny and doesn’t impress your guests. So, just hit that Pulse button a few times until everything’s broken up a bit. Now, put in the cilantro and squeeze the lime juice in.

Hit the food processor a few more times until everything’s mixed together, with chunks of about 1/4″ in size. Put it in a bowl and stir it around a little, before putting in the fridge for half an hour or so. When it’s time to eat, stir it around a little as it has a tendency to settle.

Don’t make it more than about 3 hours before you want to eat it. This salsa is incredibly yummy when fresh, but loses its excitement value (which comes from the pungency of the fresh cilantro) fairly quickly. So, it doesn’t make good leftovers. But that’s fine because you’ll never have any left over, anyhow. People chow down on this stuff.

Food Recipe

Creamy Guacamole

Here’s how to make Beth’s favorite guacamole.

1 avocado
2 Tbsp salsa
dash of salt
dash of ground pepper
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of onion powder
dash of garlic powder
2 Tbsp sour cream

This recipe has evolved over time. Beth likes guacamole to be creamier than I used to make it, so I started adding sour cream (the 100% natural kind – I make no guarantees how this would taste with the stuff that includes gelatin and fillers). If you have just made some fresh salsa using the recipe below, then use that. Otherwise, any store bought salsa is o.k.

Step 1 is to get the meat out of the avocado. I used to make a mess trying to peel the avocado first, then I learned an awesome trick by watching a Mexican waiter in southern California. Now I use this method all the time. Slice off about 1/4″ of the stem end of the avocado and toss it out. Then, slice the avocado all the way around lengthwise, down to the pit. This will leave you with two avocado halves that are just held together by the pit in the middle. Now, pull them apart. One half will stick to the pit and you can pull the pit out with your fingers or pry it out with a knife. This is the cool part: use a common tablespoon size serving spoon to scoop the avocado meat out. The curvature of the spoon should be very similar to the avocado, so you can get every last bit out without wasting any or making a mess.

Step 2 is to make the guacamole salad out of this fine avocado. Slice the avocado halves up into little chunks in a mixing bowl. Then, add all the other ingredients and mash them together with a fork. When things are mashed enough, you can start to stir to make sure the sour cream is distributed evenly.

If you aren’t going to eat it right away, chill the guacamole in the fridge. Throw the pit (sure hope you didn’t throw it away!) into the top to prevent the guacamole from turning brown. Enjoy with salty corn chips.


Grilled Atlantic Salmon

Buy some salmon. Fire up the grill. Then make this marinade:

Grilled Atlantic Salmon Marinade

1/2 cup extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp dill

Brush over salmon on both sides before and during grilling on open flame.