This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Dinner Bash

Welcome to a new year of The Fork in the Road blogs. I hope your new year has started off on the right foot--healthy and happy!

Our New Year's Eve Dinner Bash theme this year was American Rustic. Meaning pretty much whatever our participants interpreted it to mean but basically foods from the past, and our mains, at least, were to center
around foods we caught or hunted ourselves. We have two hunters in our circle of friends and I am a fisherman of sorts and so we had what we needed.

Our menu:

Appetizers: Salmon spread


Mains: Salmon en Croute (Salmon in pastry), Elk Stew, Pheasant

Sides: Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Root Veg
etables, Curly Kale Greens and Ham Hocks, Spinach Salad and Brown Rice Salad

Desserts: Indian Pudding and Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler

Beverages: Champagne, Wines, Hard Cider, Tea and Coffee
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

My recipes were the Salmon in Pastry and the Brown Rice Salad. The salmon sounds a bit pretentious and French and its official title would make that a correct observation. However, meat wrapped in pastry is an American recipe often made in our early history so in my mind it qualifies. Salmon en Croute is basically, salmon wrapped in a pie crust. It is actually pretty simple to create yet it presents like it took hours of trouble and that its creator must be a chef of amazing ability. I must admit it did have me worried since I had never made it before (something I do not advocate) and so I was very nervous about how it would come out.

2 salmon filets
pie crust (store bought or made ahead)
zest from one lemon
fresh dill

fresh basil

1/4 pound of butter, softened
course ground mustard
salt and pepper
eggs, one beaten whole, the other separated using only the white

Remove the skin from the salmon. Dry the filets well. salt and pepper filets.

Spread the butter mixture over one of the filets and the mustard over the other. Place one filet on top of the
other so the tail end is on top of the head end. This ensures the thickness is more uniform helping make the salmon cook more evenly. Also, be sure the butter and mustard sides of the filet face each other so they can melt into each other.

Butter Recipe:

In a mixer soften the butter. Blend in bits of the fresh dill and course cut (with scissors) the basil leaves into the mixing bowl. Add in the lemon zest and salt and pepper to mix with spatula blade on the mixer. Spread mixture over the top of one filet.


Mustard:
Squeeze the mustard right from the bottle over the other filet and spread.

Place the two filets on top of each other with the sauces facing each other and so the ends of the filets are roughly the same thickness.
Place the filets in the center of the pie crust. Brush egg over the exposed pie crust and fold the crust over the fish making a neat package. Roll the package onto a baking sheet.

Brush egg white over the top of the package. Salt and pepper. Using the back of a knife, gently make cross hatching lines diagonally across the top of the package. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees until the pie crust is golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.


Bon appetit

Out With The Old

The end is near! 2011 is on its way out and the events of an as yet untried 2012 looms large. What will it bring? The end, as the Mayan's calendar suggests? Or maybe our little planetoid out here on the edge of the Milky Way will be struck by an undetected piece of space debris and sent into a permanent winter. Well, nothing to be done about that, so let's get on with it.

Welcome 2012! Cue the hats and noise makers!

Our family plans at least two marvelous trips overseas in the weeks and months ahead. First, off to Thailand for a a two week, first-time visit to that southeast Asian country. Then a longer trip to Spain and Portugal. I'll be blogging on those two adventures after we arrive back home.

Too, I plan to continue blogging on food matters. My first recipe find of the year will appear in the very next blog. Recipes used to create some of the dishes at tonight's New Year's dinner bash, with the Usual Suspects, will be posted with photos so stay tuned.

Our cruising adventures aboard my beloved Key of Sea will no doubt find their way into the blog. I'm looking forward to the new direction my life will take as a retired member of society. Volunteering, substitute teaching, gardening, photography, books I'm reading, will all be fodder for A Fork in the Road over the next year. So whether the world all comes crashing down, or not, stay with me. Let me know what you think. And whatever you do, do have a very Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ah, Geez, Not Again!

Do I really have to go through this again? Tidying up once more? Turning in my keys? Saying goodbye once more? I already did this last June. It was heart wrenching and bittersweet that time. Now here I am staring it in the face again.



On Friday, December 16th at 3:10, the school bell will ring and I will stand at the door to the classroom and accept the hugs and goodbyes and the "we'll miss you Mr. Gs" from my class. Then I will take one last look around the room making sure it is straightened for when their teacher returns in January. I'll turn off my computer after turning on the "out of office" feature on my school e-mail, again. I'll pick up my coffee cup, lock the door and sign out at the office one last time.


This class of students are among the very best, if not THE best class I have had in 0ver 33 years of teaching. They are also just really nice people. I'll miss that. A lot!


So as the last few days come and go, I am trying to let the day switch into slow motion, enjoying every moment as if it will be the last. Because the likelyhood is that it will be the last. Oh, I'll sub for a day here and there, but long-term gigs don't come along very often and to have it include a class like this one. . .well, that happens once in a lifetime.


I know they'll be in very good hands when I leave. My teaching partner of 16 years will be back and she'll make math come alive in ways I can't. She'll teach them to play the ukuleles in the room, to love poetry and she'll be there to come back and see next year.


I move on to enjoy a 9 month sabbatical my wife has earned from the University and we'll travel across the planet to places we've never been and that will be so much fun! But I am going to miss this class, terribly! If I am lucky, maybe Ms. Vaughn will need to take another day or two off as the year progresses and I will be available to come back even if only for a day. I will look forward to that.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftover Idea!


With six Thanksgiving weekend visitors in our house, our daughter and her husband plus 2 couples friends of theirs, we needed to stretch the leftovers to the max.

By this morning, we had gone through the turkey and ham leftovers. We were down to the last few bits and pieces of this and that.

I stared into the fridge wondering what I could do with what was left to make a tasty breakfast this morning before the crowd headed off on the long drive back to their homes and our home returned to its quiet normalcy.

A hefty bowl of mashed potatoes, another of dressing sat staring back at me. Hmmm. Potato pancakes with a twist?

The dressing had chunks of sourdough bread, onions, celery, sausage, Granny Smith apples, raisins and dried cranberries.

I dumped the potatoes and dressing into a larger bowl, added 3 eggs and folded the ingredients together.

A large skillet with a few ounces of olive oil rolled around in it over a medium heat and we were ready to go.

I formed 6 inch patties (or rather my daughter did this cooking part) and placed them into the hot oil. A few minutes on each side and the pancakes were ready. They were creamy and chunky at the same time. When you think about it, it was a complete breakfast in a single patty. Meat, potatoes, fruit, eggs and veg.

They were all eaten with lots of yummy sounds coming from all corners of the table.

Options:

Sprinkle the tops with a bit of grated cheddar cheese or hot sauce or, as some did, some English Daddies sauce.


It could also be dumped into a greased 8 1/2 by 11 casserole and baked topped with grated cheddar cheese.

Just another way to use up those leftovers.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 Menu Announced

Our family and friends will gather on Thursday of next week and fill our home with laughter, music, games and I am sure plenty of lively conversation. Everyone will contribute to the feast. All twenty-two of them at last count. Empty nesters, single folks, young couples far from their own family, friends or friends.


Every bed will be filled and the couches and the inflatible beds. Folks will gather around the fireplaces and in the hot tub. When the dinner is over and cleared up, folks will wander off in different directions. Some will take a hike or take a nap. Later on, someone's head will surely be searching the fridge for a midnight snack and some will return from their hikes looking for hot cider or cocoa. It is sure to be a great weekend!


So, here it is folks! A drum roll, please!!!


The Thanksgiving menu for 2011 at the Guelker-Cone family and friends annual feed will be:


Appetizers


Cheese and Pate Plate

Rotel Dip with Fritos

Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese, Capers and Red Onions


Dinner


Smoked Slow Roasted Turkey, smoked inmy own smoker

Smoked Slow Roasted Spiral Ham, also smoked in my smoker

Mashed potatoes

Apple Cider Gravy

Cornbread and Sausage Dressing

Cranberry Fluff Salad

Corn Casserole

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Hazelnuts

Green Bean Casserole

Pineapple Casserole

Fresh Vegetable Platter

Rolls and Butter


Assorted Desserts:


Pies and Cookies


Beverages


Wines
Cider

Coffee and Tea


Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pork Vindaloo a Hit!

Thanks to Sunset Magazine, our first foray into Indian cuisine came out a complete success. The Pork Vindaloo recipe in their latest issue was attempted in our kitchen over the past two days with the goal of serving it to our group of Usual Suspects! A rich combination of fire and spice, this vindaloo was a big hit at our recent dinner and provided us with days of leftovers. Do be cautious with the chiles as the Arbols are a spicy beast. I tasted the stew after I browned the meat to check for the heat level and wound up adding more chilies but still only about 3/4 of what the recipe asks for. Proceed at your own risk!

Ingredients


2 pounds of pork butt or shoulder or lamb, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
2-inch piece of cinnamon stick, shattered
6-8 dried red Thai or Arbol chiles, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
3 tablespoons cider vinegar, divided
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp or 1 tablespoon of tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon minced ginger
10 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil, divided
3 white onions, cut into half moons
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
3 Roma tomatoes, cut into big chunks or 1can small can of whole tomatoes
4 green cardamom pods, split
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1/4 cup toasted chopped cashews
chopped cilantro (optional)

Preparation

1. Rub pork all over with 1 teaspoon of salt. In a spice grinder combine peppercorns, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, half the chiles and paprika. Grind to powder and turn into a bowl with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of vinegar, the tamarind, ginger, garlic and 1 teaspoon oil. Place cubed meat into a gallon zip lock bag and pour spice mixture in with the meat. Seal the bag and squish the contents together until well mixed. Chill overnight.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Fry onions until browned. Scoop out and set aside. Add remaining oil and add meat. Cook until browned.

3. Return the onions to the pot along with brown sugar, tomatoes, cardamom pods, remaining whole chiles (split them before adding), 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours or until meat is very tender. If stew is very liquidy after an hour, continue simmering with the lid off. Season to taste with salt, vinegar and cayenne if using. Top with cahews and cilantro.

Serves about 4-6

Serve the Vindaloo over a saffroned Basmati rice. We doubled the recipe and cut down a bit on the chiles. Be careful, they are hot!


Bon Appetit!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick OR Treat?



58 years ago today, I was born to my parents, in Bakersfield, California. I joke to friends that my mother always told me that when I was born I was more of a trick than a treat. Not actually, but it's good for a laugh.


So, 58 years! Man, where'd the time go? I was looking at an old driver's license of my grandmother's the other day and realized that it was a photo of her when she was 56 years old. I thought that was ancient way back then. Of course, now days it's considered middle age, except for a few businesses that offer a "senior" discount that includes those 55 and above. You bet I take advantage of it, too.


I joke with my students that I am as old as dirt or that I used to have to dodge dinosaurs on the way to school when I was a kid. Some of them are guillable enough to believe it for a minute or two. Then they smile and say, "Ah, Mr. G!" and giggle.


On this, the 58 Halloween of my life, nothing would make me happier than to be old enough once more to go trick or treating in my old neighborhood. The old lady on the corner gave out homemade caramel apples. That was always our first stop. Then there were the stay-at-home moms who made popcorn balls or made up bags of treats tied with a neat little bow. Those homes where the approach to the front door was a scary walk through a jungle of jack o' lanterns and cob webs, graveyards, scarecrows and ghouls. We all huddled close so as to be a little less scared as we made our approach to the door and hollered "trick or treat."


Now days kids don't dare take anything homemade. It has to be manufactured and even then it gets x-rayed or cut up and carefully inspected before it can pass the lips of any little goblin. In our neighborhood, for years now, not a soul has come by our house. We leave the light on. Everyone on our block knows us. But no one comes.


Kids go from store to store in the mall or have parties at church or at home, but trick or treating seems nearly a thing of the past in our neighborhood. It's sad really. But I have lovely shivery memories of the haunted house at the school carnival the week before Halloween, where everyone who made it through the maze of older kids jumping out to scare you while holding their guts (cooked spaghetti) in their hands or their eye balls (grapes in red jello), and we would be handed a slimmy uncooked chicken wing when we exited.


Halloween night the streets were filled with little ghosts and goblins, witches, Superman and other super heroes of the day. Few parents were out and about. We just made the rounds of our neighorhood where every home knew who you were. Then we marched home with our grocery sacks sagging with the loot of the night to be poured out on our bedspread, counted, sorted and traded with other siblings who had too many of your favorite candy. The counting and sorting went on for days until we lost interest. Then, over a few weeks, the bag became the depository for empty wrappers and Halloween was officially over for another year.


Happy Halloween to all my little trick or treater friends out there. I just took a poll of my students at school and 100% of them will be out trick or treating tonight. That's good news! Everyone, please drive carefully.



Monday, October 24, 2011

Back to School

After a summer and early Fall of inactivity and relaxing into my new life as a retired elementary school teacher, I found myself re-upping into the teacher core when I received a phone call from my former teaching partner of 16 years. She asked if she could drop by our home one afternoon. Hmmmm!
Teresa explained that she had health issues and she was asking the school district for a couple of months of sick leave. She wanted to know if I'd be interested in taking over for her. I found myself jumping at the opportunity. It would mean working in the same classroom until the Christmas break. It would mean working with my class from last year. Now they were 6th graders but they were also one of the best classes I have ever had. I quickly agreed.

I began the job October 13th and I'm now in my second full week. The kids are great! The schedule is bizarre! Reading is in the afternoon, science and social studies are first thing in the morning. Reading and math are both an hour and a half long leaving very little time for much else in the day. Still, it is great to be back. Yet, I will also be happy to edge back into the slower pace of retirement, subbing only on days when I feel like it.

More later. . .

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Best Coleslaw You Will Ever Eat

No idle threat. This stuff is crazy good. Now having said that, call me crazy but I have always loved the Colonel's, KFC's coleslaw. But this is way better and it is good either as a side salad for lunch or dinner or a picnic AND it is awesome on a pulled pork sandwich.

I confess, the recipe is not mine. I found it some years ago as part of a pulled pork recipe I have since tossed out. But this slaw was a keeper! It's easy and quick to make, too!

Southern-Style Coleslaw with Buttermilk Dressing

¾ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup Dijon mustard

¼ cup packed brown sugar

3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons buttermilk

4 teaspoons celery seeds

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

3 cups shredded green cabbage (about ½ head)

3 cups shredded red cabbage (about ½ head)

1 green bell pepper, finely diced

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

½ cup grated yellow onion

¼ cup minced parsley

In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, vinegar, buttermilk, celery seeds, salt, pepper, cayenne, and whisk well to dissolve the sugar.

In a bowl, combine ingredients. Toss with the dressing until evenly coated. Adjust seasoning to taste. Place in the refrigerator, covered, to chill slightly before serving.

Serve as a side salad or top pulled pork sandwiches with this incredible slaw.

Yields: 8 Servings

A New Look

A of this posting my blog has a new look. I am not sure of it yet. That is, whether I like it or not, but I am willing to see if it grows on me. or not. So, don't be surprised if there are further adjustments in the near future. But for now, ta-dah! What do you think? Send me comments or suggestions and I'll do some more thinking and tweaking.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Retirement Sets In

My wife went off to her first day of work today. I got up with her at 7 am and fixed her breakfast. Oatmeal with apple sauce and a sliced banana, coffee the way she likes it, and a couple of slices of turkey bacon. A kiss goodbye and she was off to work. I stayed home. I'm retired.

So, while she headed off to department and university meetings, luncheons and planning meetings, I tidied up around the house, did the laundry and got dinner ready. My big adventure out of the house was the 50 yard walk up the street to the mailbox to collect our mail. Oh, I nearly forgot. I started a shopping list. I think there are two items on it so far.

I'm not sure what will come next. I'm not feeling like I ought to be somewhere or doing something. I'm perfectly happy staying at home. I know that will change in time. I'll feel the need to get involved and do something. But for now. . .


Friday, September 9, 2011

A Big Fish Tale

The annual fishing trip to Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada has wrapped up. Three days filled with fishing for King and Coho salmon and Halibut off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

With my friends Ken Marshall and Rick Scribner, we headed from our home here in Bellingham, Washington to the rustic fishing village with Rick driving and towing his 24 foot Campion Explorer fishing boat. Each year for the past 5 years, Rick has taken us to this amazing fishing ground where we have been dazzled by the shear numbers and size of the fish we catch. This year was no exception!

Despite the fishing not living up to Rick's description of what it had been like two weeks prior, when the fishing was the best he could remember in many years, we managed to do just fine. We had to work at it though. Our days would start with a couple of great fish and then things just died. Then we'd get the occasional bite or two and then nothing. Around the early afternoon, when the tide changed. the bite would be on and we'd get hit hard again. Then things trailed off with long periods of no action which Rick left wondering what to try next. Our fishing guide to these waters and fishing teacher, was in constant motion switching out lures, trying other depths (always with a 7 involved, 67 feet, 87 feet). But by the end of the day we had fish in the boat and some big ones at that.

By the end of the first day we scored several Kings, a few Coho and I caught one halibut when Rick dropped the lure to the bottom to try something different. All of a sudden, I'm hauling up a 20-25 pound halibut, the only one of the trip.

Day two started out the same as the first day but in the afternoon the weather turned wicked. Swells 8-10 feet high, fog persisted all day with intermittent sun breaks, and the wind started up. It was miserable by late afternoon and we finally packed it up and headed in with another hard fought load of fish.

I didn't expect much for day three with regards to the weather. The report indicated more of the same from day two's storm, but a tapering off of the wind and seas by afternoon. So we headed out of the Ucluelet inlet expecting a very rough ride. The inlet was deceivingly calm, but when we made the turn to head into open water we were pleasantly surprised to find the sea was about as calm and flat as it ever gets. The weather turned out to be fantastic the entire day. In fact it seemed to get even better as the day went along. We had gorgeous views of the mountains that lined the shore 15 miles away and the water was absolutely flat calm.

The fishing was pretty much the same as it had been the previous two days except that we started to pick up more Coho. We had caught Coho the previous two days but as luck would have it, we caught mostly natives instead of the hoped for hatchery fish. The difference being that the adipose fin located between the dorsal and tail fins is removed on the hatchery fish. So when you catch a Coho you need to carefully look for the absence of that fin before you bop it on the head and roll it into your holding tank. The fine for possession of one of these natives is $100. The exception to this rule is based on where you catch the Coho. There are areas of the fishery where you can keep these natives, so be aware of this rule while fishing in the region.

The biggest thrill for me on this trip occurred while I was doing my usual bird dogging of my line. I can stare down my rod tip for hours waiting for the least little nibble to indicate the presence of a potential adversary down in the depths. The time to really pay attention occurs when the rod tip begins to jump and then suddenly springs from it's normally arced position. This indicates that a fish has pulled hard enough to release the line from the down rigger pin. In one quick move you need to get to your feet, grab the rod from the rod holder and begin reeling in.

I don't recall which of us it was, but someone suddenly had a fish on and is sometimes the case when it looks like a possible keeper, we began bringing up the other lines in the water to give the fish plenty of room and to keep it from entangling the other lines. I began reeling in my line and it had nearly reached the surface when something hit my plug hard and leaped out of the water. Coho? They often attack lines right at the surface. But this fish didn't feel like a Coho.

It felt like a King and Rick seemed to think so as well. When the line started reeling out, I knew I had a battle on my hands. I tightened the drag a bit to make the King work a little harder to take my line, but he continued running off more line. Rod tip up, I reeled like mad between runs. Slowly, but surely I brought the King up closer to the boat. Our first look at him after about a 10 minute tug of war was a jaw dropper. It was definitely a big King. Even now, close to the boat, the King wanted to play. He kept swimming back and forth and occasionally diving, but by now, with the pressure I kept on the fish and the fact that he was tiring, it was only a matter of time and whether he would throw the hook, a real potential threat using barbless hooks.

Rick held out the net and as I slowly guided the fish in close to the side of the boat, the big King was scooped up and hoisted aboard. I learned that I had caught a Tyee, any salmon over 30 pounds. Rick weighed the King with his digital scale and it came in at about 36 pounds, the biggest salmon I had ever caught.

We caught some other big Kings, Rick landed another Tyee that was a beauty. We also managed to land a couple of really nice Cohos. But I will never forget the thrill of catching my Tyee. Feeling the power of that fish through the rod, the excitement of the battle to bring it in, really connects you with the power of these beautiful fish.

Our trip ended with the final catch of a really nice Coho keeper. We made a high speed run back to port over the flat calm sea. Fish cleaned and put on ice, the boat out of the water, washed down and trailered, we headed off to dinner and a final night of sleep before the long trip home.

If we are lucky enough to be invited back to Ucluelet again next year, I know I plan to be there. The memory of feeling that Tyee on the end of my line is still fresh in my mind. I wonder, is there a 40 pounder out there with my name on it?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dolma or Stuffed Grape Leaves

I seldom see these tasty mediterranean delights outside of ethnic restaurants and delis. To many folks they may seem a lot of work for so little payoff. But really they are quite simple to make, aside from the bit of extra time it takes to roll each one. Yes, you can go to a local deli and buy them pre-made, but homemade dolmas allow you to use up left overs, control what goes into them and you get the bragging rights when your guests oooo and ahhh over these tasty morsels.

Mezzetta brand is my favorite!
You needn't deal with the gathering of the grape leaves themselves. There are several fine companies which take care of that for you. I like the Mezzetta brand, the makers of a variety of olive, pepper and other pickled products. One jar will give you enough grape leaves to make 25-30 or so dolmas, enough to fill an 8 1/2 by 11 casserole. Plenty for an appie at your next party.  

To prepare the filling for your dolmas, either make some cooked rice, white or brown, if you want to be healthy about it. Or perhaps you have some left over rice from a previous meal. Place it into a mixing bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature. Decide what you want to add to the filing mixture. Traditional additions might include ground lamb, pine nuts, currants, mint, onions, tomato paste and any number of spices including allspice, cinnamon, dill and cumin. But don't feel like you need to hold to tradition. Ground beef will work fine. Don't like allspice? Leave it out. Ran out of pine nuts? Leave them out, too. Use what you have in the fridge and spice cabinet. Any number of recipes are available on-line if you just really must have a specific recipe.
My bowl of dolma filling

Here is the sequence of my most recent effort. I used brown rice, mint (chiffonade the mint) from my garden, diced carrots, diced pickled red peppers from a jar I had in the fridge, raisins, shredded parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

I added ingredients to the mixing bowl until I liked the color of the mixture. Mine came out looking like a bowl of paella! 

I drained the jar of grape leaves and then carefully unfolded them so that they laid flat on my preparation surface. One leaf at a time usually although it is okay to use two small ones and overlap them to help make the dolmas more consistent in size. Lay the grape leaf with the veins of the leaf facing up and place the stem end at the top. Spoon a little of your filling onto the leaf just below the stem. You'll get the hang of how much you need after a couple of tries. Fold the right and left lobes of the leaves inward toward the middle and then roll as tightly as you can like you are making a burrito tucking in the edges of the leaf as you roll. Be patient, you'll get the hang of it. 

As you get each dolma rolled, place it into an 8 1/2 by 11 inch glass casserole so they sit snug against each other. Pour broth, either chicken or beef or lamb if you have it, into the casserole and then a dry white wine until the dolmas are covered about half way up their sides. Pour olive oil over the dolmas, cover the casserole with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until the grape leaves are tender. 

I guarantee these tasty tidbits will fly off the plate when you put them out on the table. Buon apetito!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Smoked Salmon


The other day I was shopping at our favorite grocery store in B'ham--The Bellingham Grocery Outlet (BGO). I know the Grocery Outlet is not the classiest place to shop for groceries and it isn't here in B'ham either. But Bellinghamsters of all stripes shop at our BGO and the folks that work there are so friendly and helpful. No, they don't always have what you are looking for, but that is why we shop there first. What we can't find on our shopping list we get at Fred Meyer across town. The other day I was wandering the aisles and came across the end display with the leftovers from a backyard display that had been much larger at the beginning of the summer, garden hoses, tools, cheap yard art, lawn awnings, all sorts of stuff.

Tucked under the only sh
elf on this end display was what looked like a black mini-fridge. A small, hand written sign said, $69.99. Always looking for a bargain, I gave it a second glance and noticed the door had a thermometer mounted on it. Then I realized this was a smoker. I opened it and found that it seemed to have all of the parts needed to put it together. Still not convinced that this was a real deal, I wrote down the maker's name and the model numer, then headed home with the idea of checking it out on line. Amazingly, this particular model and the company itself had received rave reviews from the 20 plus reviewers. I checked several sites to see how much this model should cost. The cheapest price I found was $150 on-line. So I drove back to the BGO and bought one of the two they had left. $70!!! The device went together very easily. The hardest part was getting it from the garage to our back deck where I had decided I would park it next to my BBQ. It's a heavy bear but the two BBQing devices look good next to each other.

My buddy Rick, who has taught me all of what little I know regarding salmon fishing, boating and anything else having to do with the northwest outdoors, gave me about a beautiful filet of marbled King salmon to test out the new smoker. I had found a recipe on-line at a smoked meat forum site. The guy's recipe sounded great and looked great from his photos. So I decided to give it a try.

I made up the dry rub (recipe follows
) in a 12 quart plastic tub with a lid that seals well. I prepped the salmon filet by cutting it into rectangular chunks of 2 or 3 inches by 5-6 inches. Then, according to this recipe, I carefully removed the skin from each piece. Normally I leave the skin on. It's less trouble for one thing. I placed the salmon pieces into the tub with the rub and snapped on the lid. Carefully turning the tub upside down a couple of times, I had the salmon pretty well covered with the rub. Into the fridge it went overnight, about 10-12 hours. Opening the tub about halfway through this process, I could see a lot of liquid had developed, I suppose due to the salt drawing it out of the salmon. I flipped the tub over a couple of times to mix it up a bit and then back into the fridge. The next day I removed the tub from the fridge, opened it up and began rinsing the rub off each salmon chunk, patting them dry and then placing them onto the smoker racks.

The salmon covered racks were left out to air dry for about 10 hours. when the air drying process was about done, I began prepping the smoker. I lined the bottom of the smoker with foil and poked a hole in the foil above the grease drain hole so it can drain into the grease trap under the smoker. I lined the water and wood chip trays with foil and filled them with water and wood chips. I use Alder chips found in most any sporting goods store unless you have a friend who can supply fresh stuff from the woods. These containers were placed on the rack in the smoker. I pre-heated the smoker to 150 degrees, slid in the racks of salmon and sealed the door. Every couple of hours I checked the salmon and spritzed it with a spray bottle filled with apple juice. This gives the finished salmon its glossy finished look.

At about 8 h
ours I start carefully looking at the salmon to see if it is finished. You want to check it with a knife to see if it looks right. Choose a piece of salmon as your test piece. Use the tip of the knife to pull it apart and look for a nice flaky interior. When finished after 8-10 hours pull the salmon racks out and let it cool on the counter. Remove the salmon carefully with a metal pancake turner and place individual pieces in seal-a-meal pouches. Freeze it if your aren't going to use it right away.





Dry Rub Re
cipe

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups course salt
1/8 cup black pepper
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup garlic powder

Blend together. Coat each piece of salmon with the rub and refrigerate over night, turning the pieces at least once during the process. Rinse the rub from the salmon pieces and pat them dry. Smoke them until you have achieved the desired level of doneness.




Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ecuador--Summing Up the Experience!


So, what do you need to know to do Quito?

  • Well, it is a Spanish speaking city so if you plan to go, the better your ability to speak the language, the better your experience will be. We did not find that most people can, like in most European cities, speak English if it really comes down to it. On the streets and in the places we visited, in and outside Quito, you really need to have a pretty good handle on the language.
  • In airports, really high end hotels, in museums and while we were in the Galapagos Islands, English speakers were very available.

  • If you get into a taxi, you better have a clear understanding of what the price will be before you drive off. Look for taxis with meters and insist they turn it on, but don't be surprised if they won't. So firm up that price. You are a wealthy person by most measures to these people or at least they think you are. So, your price for some things may be different than that of a local. Negotiate a price whenever possible and if you can't come to an agreement then thank the person very much, smile and walk away. Don't take it personally. They are just trying to get the best price they can to provide for their family.
  • Like everywhere, not everyone is honest and some people just make mistakes. Always take the time to count your change BEFORE you leave the counter and if you feel you've been short changed, suggest that they owe you a little more. Keep smiling and assume it was an honest mistake. No point in turning the situation into an international incident.
  • Keep small bills with you. In Ecuador, remember, they use U.S. currency so your dollars work here. You will also be given U.S. coins but these are also mixed with Ecuadorian centavos so spend them before you leave the country. A lot of shops won't accept the larger bills of $20 or larger. So when you buy a more expensive item be sure to hold onto those tens or fives and especially the dollars for taxi or bus rides or even dinner. Dollars are also very common in coin form. Ever wonder what happened to those Sacagawea dollars no one wanted in the U.S.? Go to Ecuador and you'll have pockets full of them!
  • Don't drink the water. Buy your water and you may well save yourself from some serious gastric distress. Water is inexpensive. To save money and more plastic bottles from entering the environment, buy water in multi-liter bottles at the SuperMaxi grocery stores and pour water into the fancy water bottle you brought from home for your day out exploring.

  • While were on the subject of water, it is very important for you to make sure you drink plenty of water while at this higher elevation. Being well hydrated will help you in the adjustment to the altitude, and it keeps your energy level higher, too.
  • Toilets! The toilets here are western style with a couple of differences. A lot of places ask you not to flush ANY paper down the toilet. A trash can is placed next to the toilet and that is where all your toilet paper goes. Otherwise, you may clog their sensitive system. Another important difference is that you may find there is no toilet paper in many public toilets. Sometimes it is sold by a monitor who sort of lives in the bathroom. Other places may charge you to get into the toilet. Still others may have a roll in one place in the bathroom and you need to remember to take some with you BEFORE entering the stall. Finally, it's a good idea to grab some from your hotel toilet and stuff it into your daypack or pocket because there will be places where there will be no paper at all.

  • Uneven walks are an issue all over. Wear a good pair of walking shoes and keep an eye out for where you're going. Chunks of sidewalk may loom out of nowhere or a hole in the sidewalk may swallow you up (kidding) or you may be walking where suddenly no sidewalk exists. A turned ankle can really put a damper on things. Keep an eye out for doggie gifts and a myriad other items that just might come out of nowhere.

  • Traffic is absolutely loco in Quito! Pedestrians basically have no rights except on red lights and even then you are responsible for your own safety. Cross at crosswalks and corners only and then only when you are quite sure it is safe. Then look again and run!

  • Shots? There are places in Ecuador where getting shots and or taking malaria medication is advisable. Check on the Centers for Disease Control website to see what you need before you go. Quito and the Galapagos Islands did not require any shots or medications. However, sun screen and insect repellant are a good idea.

Ecuador was an amazing place and I highly recommend it. But decide what method of travel best suits your needs when you decide to go. You can have a really close to the ground adventure, backpacking through the Amazon and across the Andes or you can buy carefully planned tours where you can see most of the country from a bus window.

The Galapagos Islands are going to require you to get on your feet, walk and sweat a little.

However you choose to travel in Ecuador, you will have an unforgettable adventure, meet wonderful people and a simply gorgeous country.

Bon Voyage!