Monday, January 31, 2011

One should always pay attention

I *love* mussels! These are not mussels.

Mahogany Clams

I was just dying for mussels. I didn't see any mussels but the nice man behind the counter said they were out back, in the refrigerator, and he went and got me a bag. You know, I didn't even look until I already had a pan on the stove and...nope, not mussels.

So of course I forged ahead.

This is (I think..) a Neapolitan recipe for mussels. You get a really large skillet very hot, put your mussels in, pour in a cup of dry white wine (or vermouth, I like dry vermouth), add some chopped garlic and a couple of chopped tomatoes, cover it and a few minutes later the mussels are open. You add some chopped green onion and cilantro and serve it all in a big bowl. The mussels are *delicious* and the broth is to die for.

So I used the mahogany clams.

First time I ever had mahogany clams. They were ok. Not as good as mussels. Not as good as our local steamers. And they didn't drive away my craving for mussels!

So..lesson learned. One should always pay attention!

Edited to note: As a bowl of steamed shellfish, mussels or littleneck clams would have been better but, I do think these would have been very good in a seafood stew. I'll have them in seafood stew for sure.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Enough snow

If this doesn't say "Winter" I don't know what does:

29 January 2011

We've had worse winters but not for a while. I think we have enough snow thanks. There's another storm in the forecast and I guess the end of it is supposed to be ice. An ice storm on top of this stuff will be just great.

It's not hard to keep a training program going when it gets like this. It's impossible.

L is as strong as an ox and all kinds of willing. Although there were some stains in the snow. Behind where my car was. And they were just...just...well, wrong. Showing my sweety these stains were harmless was an unexpected challenge! She wasn't being bad. She was really frightened. That's what happens when you ride hardly a couple of times in a couple of months. But like I've said a hundred times I know she really does have the heart of a lion and we pressed on!

There's snow *everywhere*

I can feel her working really hard getting through snow almost up to her belly!

We did about a half mile through this stuff and that was quite enough.

I can practically drag my feet in the snow in some places!

We worked the driveway a little but we have to be careful of the ice where it's been plowed. There really isn't any way to have a program without indoor facilities this time of year. I just try to get us out enough so we don't completely fall apart!

Here's a plan that's working! Yes, soup really is helping make Winter a little more bearable!


My standard soup base is equal parts of finely chopped celery, carrots and yellow onions. About 1/3 of a cup each. For an Italian inspired soup I add a clove or two of finely chopped garlic, a generous pinch of Italian Seasoning, and some red pepper flakes. I sweat that mixture for 6 to 8 minutes with a pinch of salt in some olive oil.

Then I add a 14 1/2 oz. can of diced tomatoes.

In this case, for minestrone, I added 2 cups beef broth and let it simmer for about 40 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and added a half cup each of cannelini beans, corn and green beans and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes. I would have put some noodles or rice in it too but I was having pasta for dinner so I didn't.

This was delicious soup and the cold and snow didn't seem so bad.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beef. It's what's for dinner.

I do eat an awful lot of seafood but I enjoy a steak every now and then too.

I really don't know where this technique came from but I've been doing steak this way for years now.

I preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and I use a really hot, a scary hot cast iron griddle. I usually don't fix steak in the winter because I set off the smoke alarms if I'm not very careful.

First, I oil the food, not the pan. I heard Bobby Flay say that about grilling a few years ago and it makes sense. I don't think I've oiled a pan since. I brush some canola oil on each side of my steak. Then I grind on a little salt and cracked black pepper.

My steak then goes on the griddle for one minute. I turn it over and I do the other side for one minute. Then I put the griddle in the oven for one minute plus one minute for each inch of thickness. So a 1 inch steak will be in the oven for 2 minutes.

And I get a close to perfect medium rare steak every time.

Rib eye is my favorite but I like NY strip too. I never marinate or use any sauce, like they say in Texas, the steak speaks for itself.

This Dry Blueberry wine went well with my steak and I have a funny story here. I don't like this wine very much. But I really want to like it. Really. It's made from wild Maine blueberries. How can I not like it! Well, I think it went well with the steak and I didn't like it all that much but the second half of the bottle was much better than the first half.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Crab Risotto

In the running for one of the best things I've ever eaten:

Crab Risotto

So I better get it down before I forget what I did. I made it up!

I researched crab risotto recipes and every single one of them used chicken stock. Well. I really wanted *crab*. I wanted to get hit right between the eyes with seafood flavor. So I used a quality seafood stock:

I used a 6 oz. foil pack of lump crab. I put it in a bowl and I squeezed a half a lemon over it.

Put the stock in a sauce pan and heat it to near boiling. I covered it to keep it from reducing. I sautéd 1/4 cup of chopped onions in some olive oil with a tiny pinch of salt until they were soft. I cranked the heat up and added about 1/2 cup of arborio rice. Think Rice-A-Roni when you do this. Coat all the rice with oil and let the rice toast a little. When I see the skillet start to smoke I let it go another minute or two and...

Then add 3/4 cup of white wine. I used pinot grigio. By coincidence this was *perfect*. I'd never had it before. I just like pinot grigio and crab.

When the wine boils away start adding the stock a ladle at a time. And stir. Often. As the stock boils away and is absorbed by the rice, add more. It's roughly 3 to 1. Three parts stock to 1 part rice. So for 1/2 cup of rice have a cup and a half of stock at a near boil. And put some water on too in case you need it.

And here's the hard part. Do it until it "feels" done. You'll know. It can take 15 or 20 minutes and it's worth the trouble.

Taste it when you think it's near done. For flavor and texture. I like creamy rice that's a little al dente. I didn't need any more salt in this.

When it's done turn off the heat and add the crab. Mix thoroughly. I then sprinkled maybe a tablespoon and a half of fluffy freshly grated parmesan cheese over it and chopped chiffonade of fresh sage, maybe a tablespoon.

Finally when I served it I sprinkled on some Old Bay. I didn't cook the Old Bay into it because I thought it might turn pink.

This was absolutely delicious.

And whoa look here! A fine dessert! I love espresso and it goes with everything.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Officially Miserable

There goes the heating bill.

23 January 2011 7:00 am

Bring. Me. In.

This time of year it seems I do an awful lot of this...

We did ride yesterday but we weren't gone long. We got whacked pretty good by that last storm.

L is strong and she's fit but she is off her peak. It's hard to keep your training on track without indoor facilities this time of year. I could really feel her working in the deep snow and she stumbled on a berm left behind by a plow. A nice enough ride as it was but much more and it would have been more work than fun. Which is ok when it's necessary but when it isn't? Not so much.

So of course comfort food comes immediately to mind when it's cold and snowy. This is a classic comfort food favorite! Creamed salmon with peas on toast.

Here's some interesting trivia! This recipe was first published in The Lookout Cookbook (pdf) in 1938 by the US Forest Service. It's on page 14. I'm partial to rustic food and this is about as rustic as it gets.

Basically, you make a white sauce, add canned salmon, mushy peas, and serve it over toast.

I have messed with the recipe. I've used fresh grilled salmon, I've used fresh poached salmon, I've added mushrooms, pearl onions, I've used frozen baby peas, I've used fresh peas, I've added dill, and cilantro, and parsley, and *nothing* beats the original recipe. Except for a pinch of salt it's all right here:

Make a white sauce. Use equal parts butter and flour. Melt the butter in a skillet, whisk in the flour, and when it's all pasty, add whole milk, about a half cup for each tablespoon of butter.

The canned salmon works best. And the mushy peas from a can. I make a somewhat thick white sauce and I thin it out with the liquid from the peas. Canned salmon has bones so open the can into a bowl and pick the bones out. The last thing I do I add the peas to the sauce. You just want them warmed and you don't want them to get all beat up.

Use a really nice rustic crusty bread for your toast.

This is right up there with meatloaf, macaroni and cheese and pot roast when it comes to the ultimate in comfort food.

And remember! Brandy is a fine dessert any time!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The best of 2010

It's along about this time of year I go through last year's pictures looking for what I think is the best. I can take 10k pictures in a year. Digital cameras have made it so easy! Just go ahead and click away it's not like you're spending anything on film.

It's a minor obsession and people are now so accustomed to me taking pictures of everything they don't even notice anymore.

My favorite picture from 2010 is:

Summer Table

For technical merit I love the light. I shot 6 frames of this table setting at different exposures and angles and I used a flash for a couple of frames. In fact here's the same picture in this post with a different crop and a flash filling in the shadows. I think the natural light however makes it feel more like summer and I like the long shadows. That was in August and I think it looks like it.

I like the composition. The salami platter leads your eye into the frame from the lower left corner where it then wants to run the length of the basket, curl around the caprese salad and run up along the bottle where it then exits the frame from the top right. I think it flows in a pleasant way.

And the subject of course is a favorite thing, at a favorite time of the year.

It's very hard to pick a single favorite from a year. I have a lot to choose from! But as I went back and forth I just kept coming back to that picture. The year had many highlights and lowlights and that picture makes me feel good.

I've talked about seasonal favorites here and here. One goes through dry spells now and then so sometimes I just don't have a seasonal favorite.

Oh and this, by the way, is my Spring 2010 favorite! But that's just me.

Spring 2010

You see, I remember that day like it was yesterday. You know that very first day in the Spring when it looks like Spring, it feels like Spring, and it smells like Spring? Where *everything* just says "Spring"? This was that day last year. L and I had the most enjoyable ride. I can't think of a better way to welcome the Spring and with the way I hate Winter that's a huge thing for me. I can get almost manic when I feel the Spring coming.

I find maybe 1k of those 10k pictures are worth keeping and some of those I think are quite good.

Some several lifetimes ago I made my living as a photographer. So let me share 3 secrets to taking good pictures:
  • Learn some technique. You need to know how your camera works. Experiment and learn how the settings impact the image. And you don't need all kinds of equipment. I have a "nice" camera and I take *tons* of pictures with a little compact pocket camera. And you know what? I've taken the same pictures with the "nice" camera and the pocket camera and compared them and find the images generally compare favorably.
  • Learn composition. There are some hard and fast rules but the one of the best ways to learn about composition is to study things you like. When you see a picture you like in a magazine stop and look at it. Study it. Try to figure out what it is you like about it. Do the same thing when you watch TV. Or see a movie.
    And, as part of learning composition, be mindful of backgrounds! The single biggest mistake most people make is looking at what they're taking a picture of. Rather than looking at the whole picture.
  • Take lots of pictures! Odds are when you take a lot of pictures some of them are bound to be pretty good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Field Trip!

Of course you know I just loved this.

Fermenters barrels!

Did you know wine barrels can cost up to $1500 each?! I had no idea.

We went to visit Nashoba Valley Winery and toured the winery.

Just as luck would have it..we enjoyed a private personal tour! We were the only ones there. How cool is that!

Nashoba Valley Winery is a 52 acre orchard in Bolton Massachusetts that's been making fruit wines for many years now. Before you think "Boone's Farm" - Nashoba Valley is highly regarded and they produce lovely premium wines.

For dessert their raspberry wine with dark chocolate truffles is an all time personal favorite dessert.

They distill their own spirits now! With the first (and only?) - legal - farmer's still in Massachusetts.

Cute little still

The still yields 5 gallons. I tasted the single malt whiskey that came from that still and it was holy crap good.

We enjoyed our visit. Our tour guide, Laura, I think was her name, was warm and gracious and we tasted several wines during our tour. I thought the Vidal Blanc would go really well with some white fish, like flounder or haddock and I'll buy it sometime. The Riesling was very good but it was a little sweet for me. The St. Croix I thought was interesting and I can't decide about the Stawberry dessert wine. I might have to sample more of that!

And they brew beer at the orchard. In some cases they use their own hops they grow right on the property.

A trellis of hops. I love hops!

So it turns out this visit was about as bad as going to a tack shop! Just once I'd like to go to tack shop and leave without spending a hundred bucks!

I had to get some of their grappa. I love grappa. And some elderberry brandy (that will help chase away the cold), and some Dry Blueberry wine. And a small assortment of beer and hard cider. Their shop has very nice wine racks and very nice hand made glassware. So I had to get a nice martini glass as a memento.

We had a really good time although I don't think the personal private tour is at all common. I understand that normally the tour group size is limited and there are typically quite a lot of people. And they can be lined up 7 or 8 deep at the tasting bar. I don't think I'd like that.

But we had a great afternoon here!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dress warm!

I really don't mind the snow so much. It can be very pretty:

Winter Wonderland!

It can be stark:

It is very distinctive. You know the season immediately when you see either of those pictures.

But I just *hate* this:

15 January 2011 7:00 am

That's too close to zero for me and I'm *really* miserable when it goes below zero. There's no way you're going to be comfortable when it's below zero!

But the horses don't mind the cold and they *love* the snow!


Um, b'bye

Little sister loves this stuff too!


I love happy horses!

What. You don't wanna play?!

Sure. I just can't keep up!

Ever ride in the deep snow? Bareback? A good strong horse working through the deep snow is magical. Lots of "lift". I walked through that stuff and it's hard but she never even breathed hard. Must be nice!

Coming home's the right time of year for one of these!

And it's a *perfect* day for braised lamb shanks!

My universal red meat braising liquid:
  • Finely chopped celery, carrots and onions, equal amounts
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 14 1/2 oz. can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire or A-1 sauce, which one depends on my mood
  • Pinch of salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
I browned my lamb shanks on all sides in a little canola oil in a cast iron dutch oven. A tablespoon or so. That took 8 to 10 minutes.

I removed the shanks and I sweated the celery, carrots, onions and garlic until they were soft and translucent. That took about 8 minutes or so. Then I cranked the heat to high. When it was hot I added the wine and let it boil off for a couple of minutes.

I used negroamaro.  I usually braise with what I plan on drinking and, as a pairing, I think the negroamaro was excellent with lamb.

The experts say "earthy and rustic"

Then I added the chicken broth and tomatoes. I also added some dried rosemary and dried thyme to the mix, I think they go really well with lamb.

When that all came to a boil I put the lamb shanks into the liquid, covered the dutch oven and turned the heat to low and let that all simmer for 2 or 3 hours.

That's pretty much the way I braise everything - from pot roasts to brisket, in that same braising liquid.

Here's a tip: I rarely have 2 or 3 hours to be braising things on the approach to dinner time. So I'll frequently do it ahead of time and then, as dinner time approaches, put it on the stove for the last half hour or 45 minutes.

Strain the liquid before serving. Sometimes I put the strained stuff in a blender and add it back to the liquid to thicken it.

I love garlic mashed potatoes with just about anything that's been braised.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow day

What's this, *another* blizzard?!
12 January 2011 10:15 am

The skiers must be thrilled. I can hardly wait for Spring!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A good horse

What's wrong with this picture?

Move your mouse over the picture

We were out riding and a friend was taking pictures. We went up on to the field for a better background and I noticed my left rein all of a sudden had all give and no take. Well. The knot had come loose and I lost the rein! Of course I should check my tack better. Another lesson learned.

But my point, you don't need reins to halt your horse! What you need is a well trained horse. As a matter of fact, my friend taking the pictures didn't even know I'd lost the rein until I dismounted to fix it:

Sure it's training. But it's temperament too. L is the best horse. This is why I feel compelled to blog about all this stuff. She really is something special.

Oh! I stand corrected.

There is another thing I like about wintertime. Clean feet! Running around in the snow cleans their feet. Look at these beautiful feet! Yes, she's barefoot. She's never been shod and these are beautiful feet.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The lighter side

Well the footing still sucks. Sheets of ice under the freshly fallen snow is very treacherous stuff. I really do hate this time of year.

So... let's eat!

This time of year of course is comfort food season and that's about the only good thing I have to say about the wintertime. But even during the wintertime I enjoy something from the lighter side of the menu now and then. And no this is not bland and boring!

Celery Salad on Soba Noodles

This is a summertime dish but it's flavorful and refreshing anytime. Nothing could be easier to prepare.

Blanch some celery stalks in boiling water for a minute. Fish them out and shock them in ice water. Take them out and dry them in some paper towels. Split them down the middle and slice them into sections - however you like. Anywhere from 1/4 inch to an inch or so. Just make them uniform.

The dressing:
  • Two tablespoons soy sauce
  • Two tablespoons sesame oil (Sesame oil is good stuff. Use it more often!)
  • One tablespoon honey
  • One teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • Some finely chopped red onion
  • Some jalapeño or serano wheels
Put the celery over some cold (soba, udon or lo mein) noodles.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together. Sometimes I add a little sriracha sauce.

Pour the dressing over the celery and noodles and toss them together.

Hmmmm...what on earth would you pair with Celery Salad on Soba Noodles? Well I just happen to have (smack my forehead) - sake in the frig! Yes. Goes perfectly.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tying troubles

The footing went bad this past Sunday. Everything froze. And we don't have an indoor. It's snowing now and hopefully the snow help re-establish some footing.

Back here I described some problems with L and cross ties. She likes to break them. She's a big strong girl and she learned she could break cross ties at will. Either quickly or slowly. Sometimes I could see her doing a slow lean and I knew within 30 seconds the cross ties were just going to pop. When she did that I had time to smack her in the butt and get her to knock it off. But other times she'd be fine and the next thing you know I had some broken cross ties.

So of course the obvious question here is what did I do about this?

I'm not a trainer. Smacking L in the butt was my trainer's advice and it worked but I wasn't always quick enough.

I learned about tying. Learn the quick release knot and practice it until you can tie it in your sleep. I didn't always use cross ties. Sometimes I'd use a rail or a post and of course sometimes I'd have to tie her off to a trailer. I wanted her to learn that she couldn't break loose so she had to be tied hard and fast. With a bull snap. But of course I didn't want anyone getting hurt either. If you've never seen a horse trying to break loose from a tie that won't break it's very scary. And of course you always want to have your wits about you when you're handling horses.

Now this actually worked. L's a smart girl. She learned she couldn't break a one inch cotton rope with a bull snap and she quit trying. But she still broke cross ties and...there's no reason I shouldn't be able to cross tie her.

Then along comes...
The Clip

Product Review!

The Clip from SmartTie Products. This Clip is designed to let a 1/2 or 5/8 inch nylon line to pay out with some resistance when it's pulled hard. It has some give. The rule of course is pulling your horse is just going to make your horse pull back. So this thing gives when the horse pulls and the horse stops pulling.

My trainer thought this was a good idea.

Like magic, in my case, this works like a charm. The only real challenge was finding ropes. You see, all that nylon lead rope that's 5/8 inch? It's really 3/4 inch. A 3/4 inch rope will not give through the Clip. It's the same as tied fast. And nobody has 1/2 inch nylon lead rope. Oh, I could have bought 5/8 nylon line from a yacht supply company but they all have $100 minimum orders.

Well. Web to the rescue! I found Debbie Hanson on the web and she'll make you anything you want from any kind of nylon rope you want. Something got screwed up and she did right by me - I have nothing but good things (supplier review here?) to say about her.

So I have 3 of these Clips and a spare. I keep two around the barn and I keep one in the trailer. Rigged up with 5/8 inch nylon rope. And L and I haven't had a tying problem in ... oh... 3 or 4 years now.

I've since found there are other such tying things out there but the Clip is the only one I've used and I'm very happy with the Clip.

Here, make some seafood soup!

I made this one up, inspired by something I had for lunch in a local Chinese restaurant.

  • 1/3 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup carrots cut into match sticks
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine (vermouth or dry sherry would be good too)
  • 1/3 cup snow peas
  • 1/2 pound fish cut into ..oh, 2 inch strips. Haddock or cod, I used haddock.
  • 1 1/2 cup seafood or fish stock
  • 4 oz. clams, whole or chopped, cooked, I used canned
  • 4 oz. bay scallops
  • 4 oz. lump crab (from a package, cooked)
  • 4 or 5 medium shrimp, like 41/50
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch dissolved in an ounce or so of water
  • salt to taste
  • cracked black pepper to taste
  • chopped cilantro - as much as you like
Sweat the celery and onion in the tablespoon of butter in a large sauce pan with a pinch of salt and a generous pinch of fresh ground black pepper until they're soft and translucent. This might take 6 or 7 minutes over medium heat. Really cook them down. Then add the carrots and raise the heat to high. After a minute or two when things look like they're cooking add the wine and reduce it by almost half. This will just take another minute or two.

Add the seafood stock and bring to a boil. Add the corn starch and reduce the heat. Let the broth get a little silky. Reduce the heat to low and...

Add the fish. Let this cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the scallops and the shrimp. After another 3 or 4 minutes turn the heat off, add the clams and the crab and the snow peas. Taste the broth and add salt until you like it. Cover and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Add cilantro and serve. This was OMG good and makes enough for two.

The spirit of this recipe is to just load your favorite seafoods into a flavorful broth and heat them up. I think some green peas would be a good substitute for snow peas and I'll try that sometime. I think some clams in their shells, about a pound maybe, would be good instead of canned clams but I just didn't see any I liked when I was at the supermarket. Canned clams are actually pretty good. And I think some lobster would be really good in this soup too.

I had a chardonnay with my soup but I think a pinot grigio would have been a little better with it.
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