The secret’s in the sAuce

My tomato plants are slowly but surely yielding edible fractions. Last week may have been the high-water mark for yield. By Friday, I had ten tomatoes: six of them quite large (fist-size) and four reasonably mature ones (billiard ball size).

Running out of things to do with tomatoes shouldn’t really happen. There is always a need in a recipe, salad, or sandwich (BLTs anyone?). Tomatoes are rather ubiquitous in recipes, garnishes, sauces, or just eating them with salt and pepper. Given their prevalence, they don’t seem that special.

This past weekend, though, was special, because we had a house full of college kids visiting for the BIG football game. My two sons and seven friends stayed over Friday night…I had a golden opportunity to prepare something and as every good host should…we provided food.

Meatball subs – I cheated and used store bought tomato sauce… though if I had a large enough yield I would try to make my own tomato sauce.

Cheese dip with tomatoes and green chiles – again store bought and totally synthetic complete with a brick of melt-a-cheese, 2 cans of diced tomatoes and hotdog chili. No mess, no fuss. But…a family favorite.

I had that pile of tomatoes just sitting there. I decided to make salsa…from scratch.

I have an app on my phone to help learn languages. And I’ve recently been learning Spanish. One of the vocabulary words a few lessons ago was la salsa or the sauce. Language is a peculiar thing. Salsa – to me- has always been that tomato based condiment you get with chips as a free appetizer at Mexican restaurants* – And….it is that…but the word means any sauce.

We’ve come to use the word much like a brand shorthand for a product (Kleenex for tissue, for example). I found that the world of salsa (sauce) is varied and complicated.

There’s salsa roja (cooked tomato sauce), salsa verde (green sauce, made with tomatillos), salsa ranchero (ranch-style sauce cooked with peppers and roasted tomatoes), as well as mole’ and guacomole’ being classified as salsas**. All of these are generally blended or cooked.

I made a coarsely chopped mixture.

So technically I made salsa picada (chopped sauce) or pico de gallo (rooster’s beak???) -if you prefer, as follows:

4 large ripened tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion
1 bunch cilantro (12 stems or so)
1 medium serrano pepper (slightly ripened)
2 tablespoons lime juice
5 or 6 liberal dashes of garlic salt

Chop tomatoes, onion and cilantro and mix in a glass bowl. Finely chop the pepper and add to the mix. Stir and mix liberally with spatula. Add lime juice and garlic salt. Add more to adjust to taste if needed. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before eating (if you can). Get some good sturdy corn chips to eat it.

My sons and their friends devoured it. (before I could get a picture)

I guess it was that good.

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*I recognize it is also a dance style, but I have never tried to dance the salsa. And I’m writing about food here.
**Not to mention the mango, pineapple, corn, and carrot varieties.
There might even be pumpkin or squash salsas in keeping with the autumn season.

The one perfect thing

in the corner
where the buildings meet
is where the wind dives in
to swarm
and spiral in
a reel.

you only know that
because the tattered
blue plastic
jumps and skates
to the left
and the crumpled
kraft paper skitters away
to the right,
both fettered by an unpredictable swirl.

the one perfect thing
is the tumbleweed branch
pushed along
by this dervish
and goaded into rolling away.

An essence of poems

In an extrusion

a mist of poems
read to the pink dusk
of September

-a pearlescent haze suspended-

before some fell like blooms
from a Rose of Sharon

- left to wane and decay with the days to bronze-

And some,

blossomed in full,
agape and yawning with nectar’s tumescence,

 curled tightly in a twist,
a final coalescence suspended
there and left in her mind,

deliquescent.

Rose of Sharon

The Grilling Gene/Chipotle-Beer Marinade

I am descended from a long line of outdoor cooking enthusiasts.

I’ve heard stories about my paternal grandfather, who would dig a hole in his back yard, start a fire and set up up a kettle of lard to deep fry catfish and oysters. I also recall visiting my grandparent’s house as a child and he would cook filet mignon on his charcoal grill.

My Dad is also adept in his grilling skills, and cooks a mean steak and ribs on charcoal.

I have enjoyed outdoor cooking since my childhood, when my Dad would host parties for his students and would cook large quantities of hamburger patties and hot dogs.  I would just hang out near the grill and watch. Back in the days before cable television and cooking networks, I would watch Justin Wilson on public television every chance I got.

This enthusiasm for grilling seems to have passed on to my sons, both of whom enjoy outdoor cooking, as seen by our campfire feast from last Father’s Day weekend.

campfire

I used to cook on charcoal, exclusively, because at the time I couldn’t afford a gas grill.  I was brought up on charcoal grilling, and frankly I like the taste of char-grilled meats.  For a time, I owned a smoker grill and used it for chicken, steaks, pork…whatever would cook.  That grill didn’t make a move with us at one point, and I did without until last year..when my 10 year work anniversary gift  was a smoker grill.  I’ve used it several times over the last year, with excellent results.  An example is shown below from it’s inaugural cook.

smoker 2013

I now also have a gas grill, that I use quite often, especially during the summer.  I use it for convenience, because there is not much setup or cleanup required.  I like to keep the grill charred for flavor purposes.  I cook *everything* on this grill (ribs, chicken, steak, hamburger, brats, hot dogs, pork chops, pork loin…etc) In a nod to my Grandaddy, I once cooked fried catfish and oysters on the side burner, using a large cast-iron skillet and vegetable oil (no lard).

It is quite enjoyable to cook this way. But a major part of outdoor cooking is preparing the dish so that it has the right flavor. Just this week I prepared a set of pork chops for dinner using the following marinade.

1 bottle beer (I used an IPA, because I had it left over – you can use whatever you have)
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper
4 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 chipotle pepper (I used an orange one), cut into 4 pieces.

I mixed all the marinade (except the chipotle pepper) in a large measuring cup and set it aside. I rinsed a package of 4 pork chops, lightly salted them on both sides and placed them in a gallon size plastic bag. I poured the beer marinade over the chops and closed the bag and mixed the contents for about a minute. I reopened the bag and added the pepper pieces to the mix, closed the bag and remixed the contents. This time, I found each of the pepper quarters and squeezed them in the marinade (through the bag). I used the orange chipotle because I like the flavor of the chipotle pepper, but I don’t like it overwhelming the natural flavor of the meat. Certain restaurants tend to overdo it – in my opinion. You can use multiple peppers, a greener pepper (hotter), or a different pepper type if that suits your tastes.

I let the chops marinate in the refrigerator for ~ 4 hours, flipping the bag once or twice during that period. This is something that is variable…I think you can marinate up to 12 hours and it would be fine. Some people adhere to more strict marination times.

I preheated the gas grill for about 10 minutes prior to cooking, then reduced the flame to a medium low setting. I placed the chops on the hot grill surface and closed the lid, cooking for about 7 minutes. I then flipped the chops and cooked the other side, about 7 minutes. I took the chops off the grill and covered them with foil until the rest of the meal was ready.

Along with this, I prepared a bunch of asparagus brushed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and cooked in a foil pouch on the upper shelf of the grill. Some chopped red potatoes were seasoned with ranch seasoning and olive oil and baked at 350C in the oven for 30 minutes. Also, a small ripe tomato from the tomato jungle.

The result:

pork chop

Excellent. I garontee!

bits and pieces

Just some quick observations from the past few days…

Tomatoes don’t ripen very fast in Ohio. I’ve mentioned that I have an extraterrestrial tomato plant growing in my back yard, and the fruit-bearing capacity is phenomenal, yet they’ve been green for the better part of a month. At this rate, we’ll be having fried green tomatoes for a week, come October.

Fried green tomatoes are better when you use corn meal and salt. I tried making some this week using MW Cornbread mix (the sweet kind)…not my best effort. I was trying to use what I had on hand…mistake.

The Rat Patrol was much more violent and “adult-themed” than I remembered. I used to watch this show as a kid – I think it was in syndication by that time though. A friend recently loaned me the DVDs because I wanted to binge-watch the show. While not gory in detail, it certainly has it’s share of gratuitous violence, mayhem, and innuendo.

The square metal spatula that you can buy from that mail order kitchen implement supplier (coddled…cook), has a resonant frequency at B-flat 2 octaves above middle C. Good to know if you are ever in need of a tuning pitch at a party or for spontaneous acapella singing in the kitchen. Make sure it’s clean though.

Re-tiling a small bathroom (WC) is not as daunting a task as I thought it was. Despite knowing the rule that the job will take twice as long as you think and cost twice as much, it wasn’t that difficult. I managed to complete it within a few weeks (I didn’t work on it every day, because it wasn’t a critical need toilet).

begin_n

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I could have done it in a weekend if I were pressed for time. I think it looks nice. The most difficult thing was measuring and cutting the edge bits and pieces to fit the door jams. Still a few minor details to finish, beyond the flooring – but I am proud of the job.

Today’s song of the day is Chicago’s Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Not so much for the lyrics – lots of oohs and yeah yeahs in there – but the spirit of the message and the uplifting sound and harmonies is just right.

resurgo

When I left
my thoughts in the days
after
death,
as tic marks arose
like the blades of grass

-too numerous to count

and for their random stacking
could have buried
my understanding the
true
meaning of

resurrection-
beyond
reanimation of blood and
bone.

it is reinvention
of joy,
in the covered fields
that can be walked upon,
the horizons remote and straddling,
the light and dark places
that replace the terminus.

More snippets from summer

What I’m doing.

“On the first day of my summer vacation…I woke up.”

If you recognize that line, you are probably a child of the 70’s or at least a fan of Cheech and Chong (Sister Mary Elephant).

It occurred to me that my life for the last month has followed this essay format very closely. Should someone ask me about my recent work hiatus, and how I’ve spent my time, I would describe it this way.

I wake up and drink some coffee. I eat breakfast and job hunt on internet boards, send correspondence, apply for some jobs, and read a little news. Then I get a shower, and work on *insert home improvement project.* Occasionally, I realize that I am missing a key item and have to run to the mega-home-warehouse-store to find it.

Is that the same as going “downtown to hang out in front of the drugstore?”

What I’m reading

I recently finished Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return, which interested me because of the time travel premise. There are some good things there: the notion of people having time-jumping ability, the historical period possibilities, and some of the characters are very well written. The backdrop of the story becomes more of romance than a mystery, and it unveils many compelling plot points that are never resolved. I am sure Ms. Ridgway is writing/planning to write more in this series. However, I found myself wanting to know more about the titular river (which is a major plot device in the resolution of this book) – which ends as more of an explanation. I like the universe that these characters inhabit and I love the background mysteries…I just want them to be more than conversational points in a love story. I’ll be on the look out for her second book in this series…and maybe my questions will be answered.

I just started Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton, by Phillip Kerr. Assuming I don’t get distracted by another book, I should finish it soon. This one is showing itself to be a good thriller.

What I’m cooking

Because I have more free time…I’ve been cooking for me and the missus. I’ve discovered that you can do many things with crescent roll dough – besides make crescent rolls. There are many layered “casserole” dishes you can make with an 8 x 8 baking dish and two packages of crescent rolls. My favorite has been layered smoked turkey with bacon and swiss cheese. Put down a layer of the dough and press together to make a crust. Add a layer of turkey (deli sliced), then bacon (cooked), then swiss cheese on top. You can also add a layer of sliced tomatoes in here if you so desire. Add a layer of the crescent dough on top. Scramble two eggs and pour half over the layered concoction. Repeat the turkey, bacon, and swiss cheese layers and top with the last of crescent dough. Pour the last of the egg over the casserole. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cover the dish with foil (loosely), and cook for 20 minutes at 350 deg. in the oven. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Delicious.

And really good the next day for breakfast.